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Thursday, September 17, 2015

Lunch-hour D&D

Okay so I was just doing my thang being on Google+ when Daniel Davis (who also does a D&D Actual Play podcast) asked this very interesting question:

Click the picture to go to the thread.

This sent my mind reeling and here's where it went.

Essentially the question at hand is How can I provide an interesting D&D session within very tight time constraints?

I am reading in the following assumptions:

  • Each session is part of a longer campaign.
  • A session should provide at least one very interesting decision, the outcome of which has a bearing on the unfolding of the campaign.
Furthermore I propose the following principles as a matter of personal taste:

  • A session should be planned and executed in such a way that maximizes the amount of time spent engaging in interesting decision-making.
  • The structure of the campaign respects player agency and allows players a significant degree of agency in directing its development.
  • A session should be compact and run smoothly and swiftly. Frequent backtracking is undesirable; each session should at least offer at least one novel possibility.
So here's a lunch-hour campaign I came up with, assuming 30-60 minute sessions:

Journey to the Center of the Earth

In the depths of an ancient mine is a tunnel that goes on for miles. It is rumoured to lead to a massive dungeon complex that reaches to the Center of the Earth, where the treasure-laden city of the First Ones is fabled to hold riches unimaginable. A bold group of adventurers has decided to delve into the tunnel and see if the stories are true.

This gigadungeon is made up to two types of part: Nodes and passages. Nodes are small- to medium-sized adventure areas, containing the usual dungeon fare. Passages lead between two or more nodes, but are extremely long - they take hours, sometimes days, to cross. The difference between nodes and passages is usually very clearly demarcated and unmistakable; the party will know when they find a new passage. Furthermore, passages are often covered with very visible hints about where they lead (eg., a passage leading to a dragon's would be lined with images of treasure and fire. Or maybe even just drawings of a dragon). A passage may not be explored in the same session in which it is discovered but offers new options for future sessions. A single node should take about 1-3 sessions to clear.

The party travels with several detachments* of hirelings; scouts, men-at-arms, perhaps a sage. These can be deployed in between session to perform their various services: Scouts will provide partial maps and information on a node's inhabitants but will not engage in combat; men-at-arms will patrol previously cleared areas to keep out intruders and stand guard at night; sages will attempt to decipher coded documents, follow up on clues, and are assumed to have researched the dungeon extensively. And so on. New detachments can be enlisted through play, but also lost (scouts abducted, men-at-arms zombified, sages driven mad, etc.). Dispatching a detachment always requires some form of compensation for its services.

The party advances by exploring and clearing nodes. XP is awarded for each node cleared, depending on how deep it is, and a cleared node is generally safe to camp out in for at least a few days, until some new thing comes to claim it. Some nodes are just plain safe. The party always ends the session by heading to a nearby safe node or passage.

Food, light, water, and other consumable resources are tracked rigorously. The party will have to find new sources of these resources as they explore, and will have to maintain a decent stockpile of treasure to keep their detachments paid and happy.

A session goes as follows: During the first 5-10 minutes, the DM tells the results of the previous session's detachment dispaches, if any, and tells the PCs what nodes are attached to their current position and what they know about them. The players choose a node to explore. This decision is binding: This is what they're doing this session. The next 20-50 minutes are spent exploring the node. In the last 5-10 minutes of the session, the PC leave the current node and choose a safe location nearby in which to rest. Rations and water are consumed. The players decide how to assign their detachments and the session ends. The DM will determine the outcome of the detachment's activities and prepare accordingly before the next session.

Note that the detachments actually serve to guide a DM's prep. Passages contain hints about where they lead, which should inform the players' decision about where to scout. This in turn tells the DM which nodes to prep. You may even have a meta-rule that the DM is not beholden to prep unscouted nodes, or that a node must be scouted before the party can explore it.

*Thanks to Chris McDowall for the detachment idea. Except oops I just noticed he calls them delegations. Whatever. More on these here.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Two session reports from San Serafin (as hastily mashed out on Facebook)

So I've been sick this weekend which should mean I'm miserable but instead I've been playing in Mateo's San Serafin games. This is how I told it to my boyfriend via facebook chat:

also this game i played in last night was so much fun

What happened?
ok so it was one of mat diaz's games
and he hacked red and pleasant land into this massive undead city where beasts, the dead, and the living are at war
i was playing as a 14 year-old witch boy with morty's voice
who can do a dance to turn into small animals and tie knots that people become obsessed with untying
none of which actually helped me
but anyway it was mostly ordinary d&d stuff, we decided to explore this huge opera house guarded by a 25-foot caiman
but then we went to the opera and the vampire in our party started booing the singer and the semi-intelligent zombies in the audience got up and started trying to kill him
so i got up and told the audience that we were actors in a new form of experimental theatre that involved audience participation and actors hidden in the crowd
and then like weaved this whole narrative
the vampire gotten eaten anyway but the rest of us got away alive and with a standing ovation
and we got a coat with a map to a manor and stole a witchy coat from the cloakroom and there was a letter in the pocket signed by the king of lepers, who's a powerful NPC guy and witch patron I can learn spells from
we got almost 0 XP
it was great

Hahaha sounds like fun

I should join this game more

What happened to Jessica? [Talking about Jessica Nobletush the Vampire, my Perfidious Albion PC]
well this was mostly his friends from home
okay so he also ran the setting friday night with g+ people
and jessica is already knee-deep in the shit in some other part of the city so I figured I wanted to keep that separate

Oh lol
jessica's having a hard time
he had a turtle that had a ring on it containing the soul of a slain rival
the idea being to punish him forever by trapping him in the body of a turtle
but like
then there were some zombies guarding a gate and they asked me to impress them
so I showed them the turtle
and they bit off its head
and then when i tried to take the ring back they punched me really hard in the face and we ran away
then - remember Mr. Crushmore, his thrall? he was there too
well okay first we run into this terrifying funeral procession thing and the leader gets angry at us for blocking his way
and tells us we have to bring him a living victim
which is fine for me cause i needed to drink some blood
(in retrospect I could have drank Mr. Crushmore's)
Anyway we eventually run into a child with broken legs crying in the road
so anyway obvi it's an ambush and two jaguars attack us and the kid pulls a shiv
so the jaguars were tearing mr crushmore to pieces and there was clearly no saving him so I went into a bloodlust and ate the boy
so I'm down a rival's soul, which might be anywhere by now, a faithful thrall, and there's a funeral procession waiting for us to bring it a living soul
the session ended when we found a human camp
oh and i came up with this plan
where okay so I need to feed but I also need to rest and the jaguars destroyed my coffin while they were mauling Mr. Crushmore
so we dressed up half of mr crushmore in different clothes (he was in pieces anyway) so we're going to ask for two coffins for our "two dead friends" but really we're going to bury mr. crushmore in one and I'll sleep in the other and they'll never know I'm a vampire.
great times in mateo's game lately

Lol not a bad plan

Yeah sounds like it

Let me know when the next game is