Random Encounters for a Dynamic World and Emergent Sandbox Narrative

One thing about sandbox games, you never know what your players will latch onto.  You may have created a ton of content around the fringes of your civilization, even plan for players to go off in totally different directions than they end up going. All of that preparation only to have players latch onto a single nugget and invest all of their time and effort concentrating on a single region!

That’s what we’ve done in our DCC game; after finding that abandoned sugarcane plantation, all plans for exploration went out the window, and the focus of our game has shifted to restoring and securing the farm.

This game has really brought to the forefront the importance of book-keeping, time-keeping and random encounters to maintaining an immersive experience.  It also allows for a truly dynamic game world that includes the four adventure plot classifications.

Our last session was filled with a number of skirmishes around our farm that led us to declaring all-out war against a neighboring smuggler-fort.  Chance and an unpredictable enemy strategic AI (determined by random encounter rolls, natch) meant that a lot of our previous plans for establishing peaceful mercantile relations went out the window.  I’ve attached the in-world session report below for those who are interested, but I’d like to share the nuts and bolts of what happened.

Not only has our DM been rolling for encounters for the travelling party, he has been rolling for the farm as well; this would force us to keep investing our time and resources in the project because leaving it to its own devices could mean disaster should it come under attack.  We’d posted guards, but casualties can mount if the farm suffered a particularly bad week or two.

Times when we were en route to the farm, the farm suffered a couple random encounters of its own; the golden bear we’d been hunting struck, but that was a predictable annoyance.  What really messed up of our player-scheming was an encounter that the DM rolled for in which a couple of the Pirate hunters stumbled on the farm at night.  Our mercs earned their pay by shooting at intruders; the Pirates didn’t know what hit them, but it meant that diplomatic relations would be rocky at best if we could establish them.  We decided that we needed to bring up reinforcements, so we went back to town to hire more mercs.  Right as we arrived with reinforcements, the town was in the midst of another random encounter of its own.  The Pirates were reconning in force, but did not expect a small army of 20+ soldiers and a pack of hunting dogs to show up in the middle of their foray.

A combination of random encounters and fortuitous timing led to our decimating the local organized threat to our little outpost.  Now we just need to get the palisade and guard towers up so the farm can better defend itself from white apes.

The plantation may thrive someday, but it shall be born in blood.    Pashi met a disgraced treasurer from west over the seas named Cirra who volunteered his blade to our cause.  Helene bought a coon dog named Shiloh, and Elyse bought a pony named pony.  Our motley crew set forth to the northern guard tower where we left the guards a map of where they could find our plantation and make their weekly patrols.

On the way to farm, we saw a deer in the tree that had been eaten on by something.  We found disaster had struck when we’d arrived at the workers’ camp.  The golden bear had attacked the night before, and though it was driven off, three workers had been killed.  The following night was equally filled with danger; on the first watch, pirate scouts stumbled on the camp and one was shot dead by our mercenaries.  Second watch, a panther showed up and was not driven off before it had torn Shiloh in two.

On the dawn of the third day, we debated what to do: Namia said the golden bear only showed up to drink at the stream about once a month; the more pressing situation was what to do about the pirates.  We’d speculated for some time that they had been bandits or smugglers, though the possibility had remained open that they were simply woodsmen or libertarian survivalists.  The previous night’s incident threw a bit of a wrench in our plans to approach them peacefully as business partners.  We ultimately decided that we should return the body of slain pirate under a flag of truce to the pirate fort.  No talk, no negotiation, just a simple message that we were returning something that belonged to them.  We left the body outside the fort and returned to the plantation.

With multiple apex predators in the forest about the farm and possibly a hostile pirate enclave nearby, we determined that we would need more soldiers and more workers.  We left with the promise to return with more men and supplies and asked Leah Hawkeye to hold on as best she could until we returned.

Back in town, we spent day 5 buying 6 dogs (one to replace Shiloh and five to leave with the mercenaries and workers to help in a pinch and raise an alarum when danger was near.  With the plan to sell rum to the pirates out the window, we made inquiries in town and found that there was no domestic producer of rum in the region; this gave us leverage to seek investment capital from a local tavern keeper.  We secured an investment of 250 gold which we used to hire more workers and levy additional troops: 6 archers, 6 heavy footmen and a Sergeant, Heinrich the Vast.

Before leaving we made inquiries about the new dungeon that had sprung up in the middle of the bay a week or so before.  Though we had pressing issues, we thought to at least make inquiries about it.  Elyse suggested finding a cleric who could perform an auger for us.  The best we could find was Balia Valra, a priestess of the Serpent, who looked at the entrails and told us it wouldn’t sink and drown us all for at least three days.  While Pashi flirted with Balia, Elyse cased the small temple.

Keeping the farm from being destroyed by bandits and wild animals sounded more important than drowning in the bay, so we marched off toward the guard tower.  From the tower, we set out for the farm, offering to show the seven guardsmen the way on their new patrol route.  Our small army of 3 party members, a henchmen, 6 dogs, 20 soldiers, 4 workers, two mules and a pony arrived to find the pirates were attempting to recon in force; Leah Hawkeye had holed up with her troops and the workers in the old house and the pirates had not expected to meet so much resistance.  The pirates were massacred; save for the two we captured, those who tried to flee were torn apart by dogs or ridden down.

Elyse interrogated the survivors; while we got mixed intel on the pirates, we learned that they had a poorly guarded ship that they sometimes used to harass merchants and get supplies with.

We determined that the we had to deal with the pirates before any further work could be done safely on restoring the plantation.  We spent the night with heavy watches, as we had over 30 souls gathered about the temporary housing.  The watch that Helene was on heard the horrid cries of the fearsome white apes of the north.  A couple of the monstrous beasts appeared at the edge of the clearing, but quickly ran when they were showered with a volley of arrows.

In light of the diverse range of apex predators roaming tthe woods, we decided that the best bet was to send the workers back to the guard tower until we returned.  The seven guard patrolmen escorted the workers and the two prisoners back to the tower while the 22 mercenaries and hunting dogs accompanied us off toward the cove where the Pirates kept their ship.

At night, we stole their long-boat, and while the mercenaries provided a noisy distraction on the bluffs above, we rowed up to the pirate ship.  The pirates got a few arrows off at us, and killed one of the archers who had joined us on the boat, but we quickly overwhelmed the few defenders.  We took the prize ship and its cargo back to town to sell off.  The plan now will be to hire more guards and more workers; hopefully when Valora has the time, she’ll be able to nuke to pirate fort so we don’t have to set in for a long siege.  On the plus side, the pirates now will have no access to food or supplies in their fort; we can wage a war of attrition if need be, but we’re now a major force in the region.

Attached is a map of our plantation; most of the structures present besides the Old House, a shed, and one long-house are just part of the foreman’s plans for future construction.  As you can see, given enough time, we’ll have quite the stronghold and, once the rum starts flowing, revenue stream.

Helene hit level 2 and, with a sizable loan from Helene, Elyse reached level 4 by having commissioned an impressive silver wasp statue dedicated to Vespia; she hasn’t been attacked by wasps since she became a worshiper, so as far as she knows, something’s working.

 

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Plotting a Plantation

Thought this was neat and you might enjoy if I shared it.  The scan didn’t pick up the graph paper’s details very well, so I added a few labels in paint.

plantation

I volunteered to be party foreman for the restoration of the abandoned sugar cane plantation we’re rebuilding.  Anyone who actually knows a thing or two about planning farms could probably point out why this is terribad, but it’s probably good enough for D&D.

Phase 1: Set up temp barracks (10 x 20), warehouse (40 x 40), tool shed (10×10), and 4 temporary long houses (20 x 30 each).

Phase 2: construct three 10×10 wooden guard towers (fairly simple ones, covered platforms 12′ off the ground).

Phase 3: Repair the Old House

Phase 4: Distillery (40 x 30), 2 small warehouses (30 x 30), small stable (30 x 30)

Phase 5: Introduce farm workers to begin working fields. Build two small cart bridges over the spring stream. (20’ x 10)

Phase 6: Begin work on palisade; Palisade Phase 1: 2070’ of walls.  two 20’ gates.  Six 30×30 guard towers. Four 10 x 10 gate towers.

Phase 6: Build additional housing (five more 20 x 30 long houses) and 30 x 40 for special personnel; SW old Guard Tower dismantled; E Guard tower moved to center of east palisade wall.

Phase 7: Expand warehouses (40 x 40 to 100 x 40, 30 x 30s to 40 x 50 and 50 x 60)

Phase 8: Expand distillery to 40’ x 80’, expand stable to 30’ x 60’.  Build 90’ privacy fence between old house and distillery for Namia.

Phase 9: Extend palisade north and east to free up more arable land.

Phase 10: clear and cultivate additional acreage.

Our DM will be tallying up construction expenses.  We’re going to have our work cut out for us looking for a way to pay for all of this.

Update: here’s a better quality scan.

map_plantation

An Example of Emergent Narrative

One school of thought looks at the DM as a Storyteller with a narrative he wants to get across.  The players fill the rolls of actors in this story whose primary purpose is to help move the DM’s story along through all of its beats.  In this case, the characters often become critical to the fulfillment of the narrative, so player absence and character death can be crippling to the DM’s plans for completing his story.  While the latter is avoided by fudging in favor of characters in an effort to avoid ‘ruining the story’, the former cannot be mitigated and can lead to arc and even game collapse.

The other school of thought looks at the DM as a referee and curator of a playground.  The players fill the role of both storytellers and actors in a fully improvised narrative.  Story emerges naturally from play, oftentimes in unexpected and exciting ways which could not be foreseen.

To show an example of this latter school of thought in practice, I’d like to share the last player session report of the DCC game I’m in, written by James “JamesOfJames” Shepherd.

First a few points of context:

Though we started out in a megadungeon city, game is purely hex crawl sandbox right now.  We have over a dozen characters spread out among almost as many players.  No one is a “plot essential” character, nor is there any “plot” other than what happens in the sessions.  We only had a few of us there for this session (Blaxjax, a fighter; Pashi, James’ cleric; and Elyse, my thief), but an incredible amount of stuff happened.

It was a busy two weeks for Blaxjax, Elyse, and Pashi.  (Pretend names are spelled correctly.)  We watched Blaxjax get absolutely pummeled in the fighting pits of Zig’s cult, but Pashi made out on her side bets against him and Elyse picked some pockets (which will become relevant later.)  His opponent – a lightning-fast fighter named Jadi (rhymes with ‘body’) Amar – thanked him for the chance to go up against the renowned Blaxjax and asked to join the party and lead a life of adventure.  A newly-heard rumor gave us our direction – apparently, some days’ travel north-east of town, in a saddle in the hills, there are crystals which have healing properties, though they require some blood to be shed to work.  Since Pashi’d been working on healing the crippled and needy and starting a rough hospital in town, she suggested they check out the rumors, and swing by where the party of hunters/bandits was last seen on the way.

Jadi, who apparently missed his calling as a folklorist of the region, was somewhat unnerved by the forest to the north (which Elyse dubbed the Watcher’s Wood.)  He told of bandits in the region who ate their victims.  In the woods, we shot a warning arrow above some deer – since Crusher and Vixen were well-provisioned already – and they bolted, as less-creepy deer would be expected to do.  After arriving at the meeting point, we followed the hunter’s trail north and west.  The small band spotted an old fort on a peninsula, still mostly intact, housing around fifteen persons.  Grossly outnumbered, we turned back the way we came, and met another hunting party carrying deer back toward the fort.  They were surprised to see us, and seemed about to draw weapons – luckily, Pashi mentioned that she was a priestess of the sea-god Owscheith, and the hunters responded favorably.  They claimed to be sailors, who compete for business (what business was unspecified) with merchants in town.  We parted peaceably, even on some good terms, though there was some lingering distrust – several of their number still seemed to be sizing us up as we left.

Wary after coming upon so many well-armed and dubious folk, we posted an extra watch and tried to leave a false trail to a cold camp.  A bear wandered in while Pashi was taking her turn at rest, but the three on watch successfully scared it away with little trouble.  Jadi had a nightmare of dark wings and dark clouds, though he didn’t want to discuss it, and the next morning, Elyse opined that the forest felt cursed to her.  As the forest thinned to the northeast of where the hunters were first encountered, we came upon a boar (which we avoided) and then to what seemed to be an abandoned sugar cane plantation, left to run wild.  We could see little but the two story house with its caved-in roof and a large cistern on the back side – Jadi warned of a place where a well-to-do family used to eat passerby in the region.  After Elyse heard singing on her stealthy approach, Pashi cautiously approached, the rest of the party under orders to do what was needful, including paralyze her with poison, if things seemed amiss.  Approaching openly, the singing stopped, and a figure with green hair emerged from the water.  She gave her name as Namia, and asked if we had any rum to drink.

Taking the excuse to consult with the party, Elyse offered that she’d heard of creatures like this before – it was probably a nymph, and was unlikely to harm us, if not necessarily trustworthy.  We shared our libations and talked through the rest of that third day of travel – Namia told us of the curse placed upon the Watcher’s Wood.  Long ago, to make a long story short, there was much bloodshed and atrocity committed, and the land was cursed.  She advised against committing any barbarous acts in the wood, though she said if we hunted what we needed, we should come to no harm.  We talked at some length that day and the next, resting and hearing a great deal said and sung about Namia’s favorite subject, the creations of man and their fall into ruin.  The songs had a sweet sorrow to them.  We broached the idea of re-settling the plantation, which pleased Namia greatly, especially if it meant more rum for her to drink.  After the second night, we headed to the east, where Namia thought there were hills which could fit the rumors heard in town.

Pashi took Jadi aside on the way and got him to open up privately about his nightmare.  He talked about a black cloud with glowing red eyes and dark wings chasing him, toying with him, always faster than him.  Comforting him, Pashi said she could understand how such an uncanny out-maneuvering the lightning-quick fighter could be unnerving indeed.  The party chanced upon some giant beetles, which seemed to focus on Pashi at first.  As Elyse withdrew to safety, leading Crusher at a run, she goaded Vixen into the fight, who charged into one of the three beetles surrounding Pashi.  Blaxjax and Jadi joined the fray and made short work of the beetles.  While healing wounds after the fight (and harvesting the beetles’ glowing glands,) Pashi was stricken with shame at the abysmal account she gave of herself in the fight and remained humiliated the rest of the day.  Continuing roughly east, we came across a large sinkhole late in the day, roughly 100′ across and some 25′ deep.  Getting well away from the unstable terrain, we set up camp.  Continuing southeast into the nearest hills, we came upon a shack in front of what seemed to be a cave or mine.  Blaxjax kicked in the door, finding four barrels of silver ore in what amounted to a tool shed.

Realizing the value of the find, we immediately loaded two barrels to each mule and left behind an assortment of rations and inexpensive starting gear, allowing the mules to move at half-speed back toward town.  As we finished redistributing the loads around noon this sixth day, lightning without an apparent storm erupted – noted folklorist Jadi Amar told us that this was rumored to be a portent of the cannibals he feared in the area.  Heading back through the forest as directly as possible, we pushed through the night to make it to the northern watchtower in short order, and then on toward town.

Back in Greyhold, we bought four tents and eight bedrolls, as we decided we’d had more than enough of sleeping on the ground.  We also hired on nine carpenters and a nine mercenaries led by [Leah?] Hawkeye, an expert markswoman.  Stopping by the guard tower the next night, we explained our plan to resettle the plantation a day’s travel through the Watcher’s Wood to the guards posted there, and requested that they make weekly patrols.  The seven guards demurred, since they were undermanned at their post.  After arriving back at Namia’s plantation, we filled in the carpenters’ foreman and sergeant Hawkeye about the dangers in the area; the cannibal-bandits and the fort to the west in particular.  They weren’t especially pleased, but that’s why they got hazard pay.  We promised we wouldn’t leave them at risk for too long, and promised to take care of any threat the fort may pose shortly.

Returning to town, we lobbied the town’s government to increase the patrol at the northern watchtower, which they did for a small bribe.  There should be weekly patrols between the tower and our farmstead and the garrison should be doubled to fourteen guards.  Discussing what should be done about the fort, Pashi volunteered to scout the fort, since we suspect the sailors are the same group as the fort’s inhabitants, and they reacted well enough to her at first.  (She is willing to come up with some manner of subterfuge if need be – plans laid to signal when she might open the gate from inside, or perhaps poison the garrison with some of the near-ridiculous amounts of toxic and deadly substances we’ve been amassing.)  The plan was agreed upon as a general strategy, since we have no solid evidence that the fort is a threat, and there’s little to do but pick off hunting parties failing solid intelligence on the fort’s defensive situation.

A freak storm blew up, and Pashi threw caution to the wind, heading toward the shore to ride out the storm in honor of Owscheith.  Little seems to have come of that, though sailors newly-arrived in port report of a previously-unseen island in the approach to the town’s harbor.  Blaxjax tried his luck once more in the fighting pits of Zig and won, losing Pashi some gold but gaining the favor of the warrior god.  Back at the Happy Harpy after the bout, Pashi tried to talk Jadi into being the face of the party’s rum brand, when the time came, but he declined – Blaxjax is by far the superior fighter, in his mind.  Elyse offered some true-to-life drawings she picked out of a mark’s bag during the first bouts some two weeks ago (I told you this would come up again.)  The lewd drawings are recognizably of a noble’s young (not *that* young) daughter apparently engaged in some tryst; Elyse suggested that we use these ‘artworks’ as our label.  Pashi approved of the plan – a small release at a selected gathering of the town’s upper crust seemed destined to bring interested parties forward to pay sizable sums to have the label changed.

tl;dr – we found a fort, then an old sugar cane farm inhabited by a lush water spirit, then a bunch of silver in a mine to the northeast.  we plowed the money into restarting the farm, but didn’t find the healing crystals we set out to find in the northeast, and have promised our hirelings to clear the area of bandits soon to make the farmstead safer.

In more rote fantasy arcs, characters get strongholds, castles and kingdoms, because that is the natural progression of things.  In free-form open world games with emergent stories, they can build plantations, plan distilleries and aim to corner to local rum markets by playing factions off against each other.  This wasn’t some grand planned out design by our DM; he just put the tools at our disposal – a hex with a bandit fort, a hex with an abandoned sugar cane farm, a few hexes of creepy cursed woods, rumors and some stuff from random tables – and let us run with it.  Even the supply puzzle aspect with our mules became a fun element when questions arose like “If we had to ride a mule to escape something, how much equipment will we have to dump?” and “How much vendor trash, spare equipment and rations do we cut loose so we can strap on all of this silver and get out of the wilderness at half-speed before something kills us?”

The best worldbuilding emerges on the micro, rather than the macro, level.  No one is going to remember the names of the races or lost cultures or the extensive history of your locations.  They may not even remember the names of the various gods, except for the ones who are immediately affecting the party by way of their clerics and cultists.  It’s the ruined farms, the dolmens, the weird statues, abandoned cairns and forest outposts that will stick with players.  They won’t remember the ancient king’s name, but they’ll remember that the woods to the north is full of bears.  They won’t care about the fall of some kingdom on a distant shore, but you’d better believe that when a vendor is selling “snake proof boots”, everyone at the table will be all “aww, man! Snakes!” and be on the look-out for caves filled with slithering serpents.

Thanks again, James, for letting me share this, and a big thanks to our DM for running this kind of game for us!

The DCC Honeymoon Is Over

I still love you, DCC.  We’ve had some great times together, and I look forward to many more.  It’s just I’m starting to notice how long you take to get ready, sometimes you chew with your mouth open, and you’re always leaving lights on.

DCC really puts its best foot forward.  The level 0 funnel is just so much fun; it’s beautiful in its simplicity.  It’s light even compared to B/X!

But then everyone starts getting levels…  I absolutely loved playing my thief, and I’m realizing that a big part of that was just how easily the thief class played.  Roll for thiefy things and roll for combat (except I never rolled for combat, because thieves should not be fighting)!  But man!  The fighters with their stupid Deed dice, declaring their stupid deeds, and the magic users having to pass a freaking 8 pound book back and forth across the table to check all of the crazy spell tables.  Everything grinds to a halt, and even simple push-over combats can end up seeming like arduous affairs.

The crit and fumble tables, while inspirational for flavor, typically don’t make any sense in context of what’s going on, especially for any ranged attacks or thiefy backstabs.

Any fix for wizards would fundamentally undermine the feel of magic in DCC.  So the real fix is to have multiple copies of the book.

Fighters, though… Drop the deed.  Keep the deed die if you want.

So, thoughts for a FrankenDCC:

  • Take DCC’s 0 level funnel as a foundation.
  • Do some ratios, figure out the equivalent Class XP between B/X and DCC’s tiers.  Use those instead of the ones out of DCC.  Classes should level up at different rates.
  • Use B/X for hit dice and DCC for level-specific abilities/attacks.  Ignore crits or have crits do max damage.
  • Use Holmes for magic (sorry, B/X!) but use spells and spell tables from DCC.

Honestly, though, none of that solves the problems of DCC’s clunkiest elements.  There’s almost nothing that DCC does at the table mechanically that B/X doesn’t do smoother.  I do really like how weird the magic is in DCC’s implied setting, but god, the game balance!  A magic user can either be a magical Gatling gun or damn near useless depending on where he falls on his tables.  I also kinda wish scrolls and spellbooks were a thing, because I actually like Vancian magic.

I do still love DCC, but when I see even the fighters’ turns taking a relatively long time and combat dragging long enough that people are shocked when they find out that an encounter only lasted 3 or 4 rounds, I just get this feeling that something is wrong.  It could just be that DCC does not accommodate parties as large as the one I’m in very well.  Slow-down is not an issue I noticed until we were regularly having between 7 and 9 players, and one that I would not have begun to imagine when there were 4 or 5 of us.  But it’s a testament also to B/X that it can, perhaps better than any other system I’ve played, accommodate large groups of players with minimal slow-down.

Oh, yeah, we beat a bear!  It wasn’t the right bear, but we beat A bear.  And yeah, the hug would’ve killed me in one hit if my magic cursed half-plate of doom didn’t also have damage reduction.

Don’t Mess With Bears!

One of the adventure hooks that our DCC group is considering investigating is the reports of a “golden bear”. We aren’t sure if it’s just a bear with yellowish fur or a mystical bear with literal golden fur, but we’re pretty sure that it’s a bear. A bear in the woods. Perhaps one of many bears in the woods.

With goblins and bandits and cultists and wizards and whatnots, it’s pretty easy to underestimate a bear. But you really shouldn’t. In fact, just the other day, John C. Wright was remarking about how scary bears are.

Worst case scenario, we end up having fight lots of bears while looking for the one bear in particular. How bad will it be? I don’t have DCC in front of me, but I do have some Bear stats for comparison.

AD&D
Black Bear: AC 7, HD 3+3, Attacks 3 1d3/1d3/1d6 + 2d4 Hug
Brown Bear: AC 6, HD 5+5, Attacks 3 1d6/1d6/1d8 + 2d6 Hug
Cave Bear : AC 6, HD 6+6, Attacks 3 1d8/1d8/1d12 + 2d8 Hug

B/X
Black Bear: AC 6, HD 4, Attacks 3 1d3/1d3/1d6
Grizzly Bear: AC6, HD 5, Attacks 3 1d4/1d4/1d8
Cave Bear : AC5, HD 7, Attacks 3 1d8/1d8/2d6

AD&D Bears’ B/X cousins don’t get the hug attack (generally an instant kill against low to mid level characters), but are still ferocious. As DCC leans towards 3e, I’m guessing the Hug is in. Any one of these by itself would maul a 2nd level character regardless of system. They move fast, are hard to kill and can tear you apart like you were nothing.

Don’t mess with bears! They are not your friends, they are not people, and they will kill you.

I was going to include a video at the end showing some bear attacks, but frankly a lot of them were just too freaking gruesome and horrible.

 

Some Observations on DCC Magic

Some of the initial honey-moon sheen is coming off of DCC.  I mean, we all still love it, but now that we’ve been playing it for a couple months, we’re starting to find the bits that are something of a headache.

The magic system is one of the biggest things that stands out as unique to DCC that keeps it from just being a stripped down 3e.  From what I see on the net, it’s very much a love it or hate thing for some folks.  We’re still enjoying it, but it has its issues.

Without spellbooks, MUs function a lot like the Sorcerers in 3e, and with the random spell selection, it’s hard to make decent strategic spell selections or develop your character as you would in a game like AD&D or Holmes Basic.  The Mercurial Magic table offers a lot of neat and wild effects, brutal and grisly spellburns can supercharge your casting, and the crazy range of effects each spell gives off after its cast gives a really unique flavor to the magic in DCC.  But maybe it is a bit too complicated.

A long time ago, I’d extolled the virtues of low-level play because players need only be aware of a handful of rules general to the game and one or two exclusive to their class; a 1st level mage typically must know one additional rule: their 1st level spell.  In a system where 1st level mages have more extensive spell books, they might need to know a couple extra rules, but each spell is really just a single new rule, described in a couple sentences, that a player must be aware of.  The problem we’re having with magic in DCC is that a spell is not just one more rule but two or more tables – an entire page of rules – for each spell they know.  And frankly, that’s not something that players can just remember.

Where in B/X, you always have a general idea of what your spell does and how it works. At most you might need to brush up on some language or check the range if you’re trying something weird.  In DCC any spellcasting is going to involve a quick but thorough review of at least a full page possible outcomes of casting the spell.  And when you’re sharing one, at most two, copies of the DCC rules, it can drag combat to a screeching halt.

We had our first battle that involved an enemy magic user, and our party now has several casters.  It was actually a push-over battle, but it felt far more arduous than it actually was because the DM and the three casters at the table had to keep passing the book back and forth, checking our ranges, effects and rolling on spell result tables.  DCC is in desperate need of a discount players’ edition.  The DCC core book is one of the most beautiful game books I’ve ever seen, but it’s also one of the most impractical.  If you’re in a game where not everyone has a copy of the book, it’s helpful for the book to be smaller and lighter than a cinder block.

That said, I don’t have a problem with the magic system itself.  The flavor of the various effects have as big an impact at the table as the mechanics behind the spell.  And one advantage, I suppose, of the complexities of the various manifestations of spells is that it does keep players in the dark as to what they’re up against; for the same reason a MU player has to check the book every time he casts, it’s harder to meta-game and be able to call whatever spell is being cast against the party.

It’s beautiful to watch: when a party doesn’t know EXACTLY what they’re facing, they assume the worst.  In my old B/X game, a wizard who’d cast mirror image and shield was perceived as an unstoppable monster because he would swat arrows out of the air instead of attacks just missing him; that detail had my players so freaked out that they didn’t stop to think “maybe he just has improved AC against missiles”.  In our game the other night, an enemy caster just mangled herself to cast a maxed out version of shield.  Or at least we think it was shield.  Big black rift in space surrounding the caster, projectiles and even spells having no effect…  Everyone was completely terrified of it… until we just bum-rushed her and killed her one or two hits.

So, I LIKE that there are weird crazy spell manifestations and the spells have varied effects based on the wizard’s strength and their roll, but moreso than any RPG I’ve played, MU players need their own copy of the rules or photocopies of their spells.  There’s too much to memorize and too much to short-hand onto your character sheet.

A part of me is hoping my spellsword will die so I have an excuse to play my thief again without being the guy who alternates between characters.  She’s in a bit of demand, though.  My having said she might be around somewhere as a back-up got retconned by the rest of the party into “she’s back at the town; let’s take this chest back to town for her to search it for traps.”  If anything, I’d be one less person having to toss the book around like a hot-potato any time combat rolled around if I switched back to a non-MU class.

Two Boss Fights, Two Rounds (and Two Games About to Change…)

I haven’t talked a lot about the AD&D game I’m in lately, in part because we haven’t played in a bit and also because I don’t always want to play-summary all of the games I’m in.  But this deserves a highlight for badass boss fight.

First, a little background.  This game is running an extremely impressive homebrewed megadungeon whose conceit is that it was created by a powerful godlike mage as a refuge for an elven tribe, but it has since fallen to crap, is overrun with monsters and the elves are just barely hanging on in one corner of the second of several levels.  Earlier, we’d helped the elves by clearing out a pocket of Lizard men, just kicking the shit out of them and their king, but there was still a dragon somewhere on level 2 and an army of troglodytes in the south.

Somehow we managed to smooth talk our way into the troglodyte lair, “We’re here to offer our services to the mighty dragon king!  Oh, you hated the Lizardmen?  We killed those guys.  We can kill the elves, too!”  The human(oid) guardsman took us deep into the heart of the troglodyte territory, and we passed probably a hundred or so of them on the way, and I’m just thinking “aw, man, we are so screwed”.  We’re at last taken to some wizard guy who is at the tail end of a sermon about how the Lizard Men will soon be destroyed, as will the elves and soon the dungeon level will be ruled by the dragon and its troglodytes.  We give our bona fides and demand an audience with the dragon so we may do him homage before killing the elves.  The wizard brings in a huge white dragon.

Our elf wizard makes a wisdom check, realizes something is up with the dragon, says “I will light and burn incense and oil in your honor, great dragon lord!” and to our surprise, he chucks a flask of burning oil that hits the wizard and the dragon.  I hold person on the wizard, the druid and his pet tree-thing go for the dragon and the paladin runs the held wizard through.  Druid and his pet both score big hits on the dragon.  1 round.  The dragon shrinks down, dead, a polymorphed ice lizard.  The troglodytes watching the entrance run.

We go down where the wizard had led the fake dragon from.  Damn if there’s not a real white dragon, laying asleep (open roll) on a pile of treasure on the far side of a ravine.  We come up with a crazy cockamamie plan: the elves had given us a magic carpet earlier.  We quietly fly over the ravine, drop off the druid, paladin, and fighter/cleric (me), and the wizard flies over the dragon.  He lights 5 bottles of oil and drops them all on the sleeping dragon.  The dragon dies horribly after suffering 10d6 damage, but in its death throes it catches the elf-wizard with its breath weapon.

We declare that we will rez the elf whatever it takes*, because anyone that badass deserves it.  Two boss-fights, two rounds.  The DM was pretty amazed we pulled it off.  We’re pretty amazed we pulled it off.

We’re going to wrap up the second level of the megadungeon and put that game on hiatus to do some Star Frontiers after the holidays.  That might well scratch my sci-fi itch, but I kind of hope we’ll finish the megadungeon someday (I think our DM only has some of the level below us written up), because I really want to “solve” the mystery of the place.

 

Things are about to take a shift in the DCC game I’m in, too.  We’re leaving the originally conceived urban setting to do something of a Westmarch style campaign in the wilderness.  I’m really going to miss the urban dungeon, because it’s so unlike anything I’ve played in and has been a lot of fun and quite the wild ride, but I’m always interested in trying new stuff.  The downside is that my old character won’t make much sense or be very useful in a wilderness game.  Plus a lot of the character objectives I’ve set for her are based in the old location.  I’m considering leaving her behind and using my alternate (a decent spellsword).  He’d certainly be more useful in a fight.  But the thief has been so much fun!

I can’t make up my mind, so, I’ll leave it to my readers: