[OSR Actual Play] Greysands Campaign - call for IRC players

edited March 2014 in Actual Play
Hey Storygames,
If I'm any judge of creative interests, some very basic maintenance work should suffice: a new clearly titled thread specifically about the online campaign, a clear mission statement, instructions for how to get online, dates and times published 2-4 days in advance of sessions, and some public after-action reporting so interested parties get a sense for what's going on.
There's been general confusion about an old-school D&D game called Greysands that's going on over IRC. This is a clean slate to let the community know what we're doing and invite anyone interested in spectating or participating to join.
We are using IRC exclusively, and the game is open to all comers.


If you have a standalone IRC client, or want to use a different web client, the info you need is:
server: open.ircnet.net
channel: #habavaara

If you have some kind of technical problem that's stopping you from connecting, feel free to contact me via PM, I'll try to help you through it.

If you have doubts whether you'll be messing up our fun, don't. The more bodies we can throw at a problem that don't require payment upfront like retainers do, the happier we'll all be. I mean that sincerely!

Everyone welcome, IRC only, Habavaara.
Mission Statement
In the spirit of Actual Play we want to take our discussions about the procedures and process of old school Dungeons & Dragons and spend time together in play experimenting with different methods, being open to new concepts and examining the scope and limitations of D&D. The game is supposed to be very Jump In And Drive Away - we'll post up links to the shared map, character sheet and quest notes and anyone can advertise for players and build in the world.

[Placeholder M.O. there, really. I'm sure there's a better way to express this.]

Current Players
DWeird, Eero_Tuovinen, Paul_T, Potemkin.

Upcoming Game Times
TBC. Likely Sunday 30th March, Evening (GMT)

[This post is going to get edits as the discussion continues under it with updates on the next game time, active PC lists and mission statement.] All organisation is going to be in GMT, English is at the heart of international relations after all. ;)

Do any other players want to take up the torch and post what Adventures we've had so far?


  • Veav and I played last night. My servant is almost 2% of the way to first level! Veav, alas, fared not quite so well.
  • I had a bit of a rocky start, but the third time was the charm.
  • Oh! I didn't read the log far enough, I thought you quit after the dwarf bit it.
  • I stopped for a while because of dwarf-related grouchiness, but ended up bringing in another guy next time Escargot came up for air.
  • Like I said on the other thread, I'd like to give it a go. I'm free Sunday evening - assuming that GTM means GMT!
  • Yes! Yes! Well, I personally won't be able to make Sunday (it's my Birthday!), but perhaps we can do something quickly this evening if people are free? 2100hrs GMT, I'll run the Wizard's Seafort.
  • I'm already doing an evening of face-to-face RP today, I'm afraid. (It's pretty exciting - having only played odd games here and there for the last year, it looks like we're gearing up for weekly gaming with a group who are open to trying all kinds of different sorts of things!)
  • Is anyone else actually free on Sunday? If not, is anyone free tomorrow?
  • I'm likely out all weekend but there's some chance for later on Sunday.
  • Same here; I'll be watching this thread. And, as I mentioned to Chris in chat, I can offer to run a World of Dungeons game if there is interest in that, to fill out the range of rules being used here.
  • I am likely available on Sunday. As always, happy to GM if nobody else is ready to go. I'm not comfortable playing before Sunday (too much work), but next week is again a new week, and it will be easier to entice me to play.

    Nothing against World of Dungeons in principle, but I'm not interested in splitting the creative energy between multiple mutually incompatible processes; a full-blown old school sandbox campaign is one of the deepest, most complex rpg endeavours in existence, more than enough of a challenge without dispersing attention by trying to share the spotlight between several campaigns at the same time. Of course one could bring in WoD ideas/elements, but at a point where one could call it "playing WoD", it'd be far detached from the Moldway-based developing conventions of the campaign. It'd lack synergy with the work already put into the project, I would expect.

    (That's not to say that alternate GMs and new mechanical, topical, procedural ideas aren't welcome - to the contrary, I think the process is very open in that regard. It would be best to approach it with the attitude of GMing this campaign, though, rather than using these resources - player base, scheduled time-slot, shared venue - to run something else. And this is of course just a personal declaration of interest, which has nothing to do with what others might want to play.)
  • (I'm with Eero on this one, just for the record! I agree in full, I just don't feel qualified to run Moldvay-ish D&D myself. My offer stands in a hypothetical scenario when people want to play but we don't have a sufficient quorum for the game we have currently ongoing.)

    And I should be available Sunday, if all goes well.
  • I would love to play on Sunday, if the timing works out. I'm GMT-7 so we'll see about that. Are there guidelines for character creation?
  • There is a bunch of book-keeping material that we'd like to share, but the Google docs involved are currently publicly editable, so we'd better keep the links to the actual IRC channel for now. (This could be fixed by making the docs editable for whitelist-only, but that in turn would cause overhead in having to authorize everybody in turn as they participate in editing.) One of those docs is a joint character sheet/table that people fill in with their characters.

    Chargen is near Moldway standard, but not creatively dead, so it's best to do it at the beginning of a session, or before the session at the IRC channel - you can come in whenever, pretty much, and it's likely that somebody will be able to help with it. (By the chargen not being "creatively dead" I mean that it's not like a 3rd edition by-the-book D&D campaign where you can just read a book line by line and arrive at a complete character. Assuming that you want anything at all beyond a standard 3d6-in-order stat line, it's good to have another player familiar with the campaign to vet your ideas.)

    In practice creating a character takes like 10 minutes, or 5 if you know what you're doing, so it's not an issue to worry about. The game's style discourages speculative pre-play, so it's not even particularly desirable for players to create characters several days in advance, so they can then stew slowly and grow attached; it is a possibility that your character dies at the first concrete move you make in the game (has already happened like twice so far), so it's better in some ways if you create the character when you need it. (I'm phrasing it like this because of how the normal reasons that games have for favouring pre-creation of characters are somewhat antithetical to the philosophy of this game. "Character discovery" is pretty important as a facet of play, which is why chargen is practically a part of play, not a pre-play chore.)

    In practice: just get on the channel and ask about chargen whenever, and you'll be taken through it by whoever happens to be online. It's not a problem to appear to play character-less, it can be done easily enough in the middle of a session, too. Somebody always has enough time to instruct on it while the others carry play, even if the game has already begun by the time you arrive.
  • Also, in the spirit of advertising the actual content, a few words about the substance of the campaign so far. Anybody wants to chat/comment a bit more about the actual sessions and what we've learned about them, feel free to add in details. I would be personally particularly interested in hearing about what's working and what's not working for individual players, insofar as the actual creative content goes. For me, I'm especially happy with how the setting is taking shape, how flavourful the player characters are, and what good sports everybody are about the high level of challenge in this sort of game - it's clear that we're working with experienced roleplayers who don't hesitate to put their mark on things :D

    We're developing a make-it-up-as-you-go sandbox setting that falls stylistically into a niche sort of halfway between old school pulp fantasy and Gygaxian D&D fantasy; it is a comfortable place for old D&D editions to be in, to tell the truth. It's got things like demihuman player characters, relatively common magic, publicly acknowledged "dungeon weirdness" and so on that you'd expect from TSR fantasy, but it also has realistic and grim social elements such as racism, corruption, violence, religious bigotry and such. Essentially, it's an interesting blend of whatever each player happens to have brought into it. Most importantly for me personally, it hasn't given me that feeling of unthinking religious crypto-racism that TSR D&D often evokes with its alignment-based arbitrary kill orders for different types of non-humans, thanks to a sufficient level of social realism being present ;-)

    The setting mostly has an identity in terms of being the sparsely populated "northern coast" or "northlands" of an imperial polity of sorts. In the first session Mike made the mistake of answering too slowly when somebody asked about the background for his "wizard fort" dungeon, so our ouija board quickly sketched in a bit of history about an ancient "wizard war" between the "Lords" and the "wizard federation", about these lands having been under occupation ever since, about an essentially monotheistic/pantheistic Taoist-style Church created as a sort of counter-balance for the multitude of wizard-cults awaiting the return of the wizard-kings, and so on. It's a bit of a locally post-apocalyptic setting with a dash of Tolkien, surreal underground fantasy and pulp tropes, where old ruins of the federation era still hold artifacts to be seized, magic-users are in turn respected or feared depending on the grasp the Church happens to have on your local hamlet, plate mail is amusingly cheap because of on-going scavenging of ancient battlefields, and so on.

    Our play so far has centered mostly on the astoundingly poor and isolated village of Grey Sands, whose only claim to fame is pretty much that it happens to be across the bay from the Seafort, an ancient ruin dating to the days of the wizard federation. We don't know what's in there in fact (except Mike does, it being his adventure), but we suspect that it was pretty important for the last defenses of the wizard-kings in the war, so could be anything - even council chambers of the Council of the Wise, the ruling body of the federation. So much knowledge of those times has been simply lost during the reconstruction era. We do know that the demihuman tribes seem to have gotten intensely active about the place lately; aside from individual, tight-lipped adventurers like Bodigon the dwarf, we've encountered entire crews of halflings and elves keen on penetrating the Fort; I personally suspect that they know of something momentous that the human adventurers don't, for it is rare for an elf to risk themselves like that for shallow reasons.

    Aside from the wizard fort, we've been doing some hexcrawl and urban adventures on the side, for variety and to explore the setting - I've been running sessions when Mike's been otherwise engaged, essentially. The woods inland from Grey Sands are heavily fae-infested for good or ill; there are dangers, but the truth is that the elves are one of the last truly beautiful and good things remaining of the federation era, what with the wizard-cults having largely descended into degenerative demon-worship and hostile superstition under southern pressures.

    In the last session we explored the occasionally referenced "provincial capital" of Carrion, the only larger city in the local theater of operations. It's basically a Lankhmar/Sanctuary knock-off, fit for all sorts of urban adventuring. The city has ancient heritage, for it's essentially the old civil capital of the war-era federation, then going by the name of Enharza; it was ruled by no wizard-king, but their civil government with its high king or governor ruled from there, allowing the wizards their elitist peace uncaring of the fate of the mundane man. A quite flavourful place.

    Insofar as success goes, last session's medical mystery was the first truly successful adventure that wasn't a solo session, as a few player characters survived and successfully explained the mysterious illness of a merchant factor's daughter. The most successful characters so far are almost half-way to 2nd level, so it is conceivable for one of them to make it, at least if there were another successful adventure in their immediate future.
  • edited March 2014
    I like this description, man. I'd say that's the long and short of it.

    I guess as the other DM (so far) I should probably just round off the above with a few notes from my perspective.

    Going in I'd focused on Moldvay dungeon generation, really wanting to nail the dungeoncrawl procedure. So I'd been generally agnostic about setting details, letting the tables imply stuff about the fiction. This is how we've ended up really focused on Demihumans and Magic Relics - supposedly the justification for these regular high fantasy occurrences is a apocalyptic war between normos and wizards, some of which may or may not have occurred in the Dreamlands, where Elfs come from. There may or may not be Ben Kenobi-esque wizards wandering through Time and Space trying to undo the present. It's implied that the Last War of the Wizards was totally bitchin' and involved a great numbers of lasers, flying techno battlecastles and really off-the-chain pyrotechnics. V. last hours of Krypton meets Flash Gordon. It would be a terrible, terrible thing if the PCs somehow got their hands on a way to, say, wish themselves into the past and disrupt the outcome of events (poss. become legendary heroes/rich/their own ancestors/vaporised by the time masters). Really, the setting is a secondary concern and can just about transport us anywhere it needs so long as we're still thinking about dungeons/challenges and dragons/events.

    The idea is, I suppose, to encourage people to make and run dungeons. This means that the fiction'll get dragged all over the shop as everyone pitches in trying to justify the next character or the next wandering monster.

    Just to pull back the DM screen for a second in regards to the Wizard Seafort: I'd not built it with any kind of fictional intention. It goes up a few levels and down a few and, typically, shit gets harder the deeper you go. There's no Wizardlord entombed in magic ice written in yet, not even the slightest hint that the setting generated after the dungeon has yet been drunk back in and moved things around. The passage to the topmost level and the bottom most are blank, of course. Who knows what the players expect to find in these places - maybe they can offer their suggestions for a random table? 1d12 determines what's in the top-most and deepest room of a dungeon.
  • Oh, Mike missed last session where half of the party ended up taking a trip into the Dreamlands. We haven't yet established what exactly happened there, but they managed to get back safely. That aspect of the adventure was directly inspired by Mike's earlier character creation effort - I'm all for mixing up dreamland'iana here, it being a long-time topic of study for me.

    And yes, in practical terms I am of course aware of the nature of the Seafort, I'm just engaging in constructive denial when I speculate about what might or might not be there. Up to the GM to decide whether they want to revise parts of the scenario, and in what conditions, to reflect the process of setting discovery on-going elsewhere. To me it seems like such a big place that surely it houses some pretty important remains of the wizard-king era :D
  • And we are, indeed, congregated for some dungeoneering and assorted tomfoolery right now. It's the perfect time to join in.
  • Or Watch! Starting very soon.
  • edited March 2014
    new, more accurate-er map available for 10 coins. ask for sly willie at the inn.

    ps: not a scam I swear. probably.
  • I wanted to watch but my client malfunctioned. Maybe next time?
  • This was a sad loss, adventure-wise. A near-disaster at the tavern (which almost turns into a serious fight), and then a group gets lost in the forest, thus far with no one returning alive...
  • edited March 2014
    I was very intrigued by this latter half of the day's session. We opened with a simple social scene that the players complicated amazingly, and then went into some hardcore hexcrawling. It takes some balls from the GM to just let the players wander around optimistically, without a clue about where the thing they are looking for might be :D

    That first part in the tavern was a good example of how trained players tend to be to follow the GM's lead. I mean, here the players knew perfectly well (I think so, anyway) that the GM's task is to merely provide setting, color, NPCs and adventure hooks, yet they still managed to get lost in the set-dressing for like three hours, merely because nobody reminded them about their goal. A more cynical and goal-oriented crew would have declared long before that they're doing things A, B and C, and then leaving to hexcrawl for that Sidhe pool of power.

    Color-wise I like GMing hexcrawl quite a bit, it's enjoyable to see the hexy world open up hex by hex. As I don't have any notes or anything, it's all up to fitting together a puzzle out of the adventures I'm planning for the area, and pure random improvisation. I suspect that these "Old Woods" that proved such a doom for the poor hobbits will feature more later on.

    (Yes, Zzarchov and his gang met their untimely end, the fools. They just couldn't resist a critically successful Charisma check, so left to explore the woods instead of going home as they've been planning for multiple sessions already.)

    Oh, also - easily the most brutal monster of the campaign so far was discovered! I dare anybody to attempt to face the Black Hound of the Old Woods, and live!
  • Ah, you kept playing then?

    Just to fill the forum in: I ran a dungeon crawl for the first half of the evening and then Eero seems to have taken over going into the wee hours and done some hexing. I've actually never done Hexcrawling (ever!) whereas Eero seems to drive his sessions into dungeons infrequently. I'm actually very jealous as I felt last night's crawl was slow, fruitless and muddled in so many ways - I think Hexing sounds less demanding on the DM. Or procedurally less rigorous, perhaps? The players aren't expecting to be shuffling along in a methodical fashion and the passing of information is less crucial?
    There's a danger of this campaign shifting away from the hack-n-slash megadungeon conception I had at the start and moving to a more setting-driven overworld-focused game. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. Perhaps dungeons could be parsed into 150' hexes (1 hex-move per turn) and generated Hex by Hex as essentially a hyper risky underworld travel map? Also mix in some Tunnels and Trolls party-management maybe.
    Is this messing with our Primordial D&D conception, or is this kind of trouble-shooting entertaining?
  • I would be keen to play again, but the night is never going to be a time that I can do. Would anyone like to and be free to play early evening GMT? Say, starting at 6pm and finishing around 9pm?

    (Staying up to play last night was fun, but bad for my health).
  • I don't really see a "danger" of much of anything in the campaign moving and shifting as it finds its form - what we've seen so far is just natural churn, as different players try out different roles, and we find out who are regulars, what they're interested in, and so on. Trying to design whether the campaign's supposed to do this or that in a top-down manner would basically be trying to put controls on the natural process of discovery.

    (Yes, I sound altogether laissez-faire at times when discussing D&D. A lot about my attitudes towards the game is about fixing yourself so you don't mess with what ain't broken. Get the process right, and you don't need to worry about the outcome.)

    For what it's worth, I do run dungeons, but as we've seen, I also don't shy away from a pretty heavy front-load of maneuvers before play ever gets to that dungeon entrance. Basically, I try to let the players loose as early as possible, long before they get to that dungeon. Sometimes that means that they never do, and there is certainly plenty of interesting stuff to do in an adventure fantasy setting outside dungeons, too. And of course here I haven't particularly pushed dungeon content over other things, as we have the Seafort representing the big, fat dungeon angle.

    And yes, there would seem to be a lot of support for an earlier starting time. It might not be a bad idea to schedule a session for e.g. 6pm GMT, four hours earlier than the usual has been. I'm actually somewhat vague as to where that late time-frame came from - I guess it's mostly Daumantas and the Trans-Atlanticans for whom it suits well :D
  • I'm not saying it's broke per se, just slowed in the format to a point of not really delivering as promised. I might slosh the idea about with an early playgroup and see if the Hex-Labyrinth takes shape or whether it's so traumatic and un-D&D that I'm burnt at the stake for arch-heresy of the blackest sort.

    Yes, that's right folks. I'm down for a 6-7pm start (GMT), and it maybe the case that I can run a session and then Eero might come online and I can hand you over - my little duckies! - to Mister Tuovinen, who'll lead on into the wild known! Much play.
  • I got the impression, Mike, that you were churning through quite a lot of computation for each action we took as a party, given the pauses. I'd be interested to know what it was that you were finding time-consuming. Then we might be able to find ways for you to slim-down your process.

    I had fun, despite the slowness, although it would obviously be desirable to get through more real decisions.
  • edited March 2014
    Mostly, I'm a slow-ass writer by nature, so that might explain my pauses. I had a long childhood of daily writing assistance, specially-shaped pens and softly-spoken warnings about failing to attend these studies diligently. Similarly in maths. You must understand that I'm actually incredibly stupid and slow to learn in these areas, so attempting both to language and to numerate together just takes me a moment or two longer than you'd expect. :D IRC is not my ideal play format.

    Mostly my time is spent trying to run the procedure of the dungeon as the players simply walking down passageways. Roll for Wandering Monsters, Describe Location, (re)establish positioning information, Roll for Trap Activation, Confirm new position in Dungeon - this is the repeated sequence that I go through as the players announce "we move down to corridor to the archway," it gets repeated pretty regular with lots of breaks due to confusion, distraction or additional activities. I'm trying to be super attentive to me procedure but each new unitary activity the players perform seems to fill up the mental "in box" really quick.
  • Also: Better mapping software. We are using a Google Docs drawing, which is pretty painful. Does anyone know of anything better?
  • roll20.net has awesome map tools: drag/droppable avatars/icons, multiple layers, incremental reveal of visible portions of the map, even dice and a chat window. But the interface is a little ginky and takes some getting used to.
  • It's working well for the hexcrawl. It's pretty easy to explain positioning and put data into, which is why I want to try generating a dungeon with one.
  • I was quite amused that my character (Arsuin) has essentially turned in an adventure hook: although I do hope to play him again, he could easily turn into that "mad NPC" who hangs around the tavern and tries to convince hapless adventurers to go look for something dangerous out in the wilderness. After all, he's returning to "civilization" without any money*, and obsessed with a single-minded goal which drives his very existence.

    (Actually, it's quite conceivable that he might have gone back to the campsite and gathered what he could find - potentially including some loot from the halflings and/or Sly Willie. I guess we'll negotiate this next time we play!)

    I'm good for a GMT 6:00 time on some days. Today I will show up around 6:30 or 7:00 and we'll see what's happening, if anything.

  • Yeah, mapping and confusion about the dungeon environs seemed to take up a lot of our air time.

    What happened to Nasir, Sly Willie, and the others after Stupid Hans died? When I left the IRC channel, you guys had just stripped off your clothes to make a rope!
  • Ha ha, oh yes! See, so wrapped up in computations that I had no time to sit back and enjoy that the PCs were getting naked to save their guide from the oubliette after an unfortunate rope-based oversight. Dungeoneering on a shoestring is hard, guys - you gotta spend GP to make GP!

    Everyone retreated sortly after owing to injury, death and DM fatigue.
  • I'm good for a GMT 6:00 time on some days. Today I will show up around 6:30 or 7:00 and we'll see what's happening, if anything.
    I will not be free this evening. I could play Friday evening at 6pm GMT if that works for anyone else?
  • I was quite amused that my character (Arsuin) has essentially turned in an adventure hook
    I have a few things to think about from that game that are relevant to my other play, hexy things. But I've considered that long inn scene a lot and I have some thoughts about it. I feel that Arsuin's quest was in a way struggling against the game itself. I mean, it was described as a sort of a poke at the hardcore HP rules, right? That seems like trouble.

    Eero wrote above that we needed to be reminded of our goals. I can only speak for myself, but I wouldn't describe things that way at all. I went into a conversation far enough to be told that there wasn't any treasure there, and then was done with the scene. What more is a thief to do?

    I was a bit surprised (and other bits of conversation between Eero and I established this a little bit more strongly) by the idea that such a magical place wouldn't have gold sitting around, because that is my mental model of D&D. But it seemed like there was not much of a common goal for our characters.

    I think with a greater number of players to make it seem more fair, or with a little bit less time having been spent establishing Arsuin's pool as the frame of the episode, I would have been very happy to announce that I wasn't that interested in going there (or perhaps that someone else would have cut in at that point and said it for me—it could have been a flag for someone less invested in the scene). Instead the right thing to do seemed to be to let Paul do his thing, play his game that was not quite the same as mine until a chance to line them up again came up. Unfortunately, I didn't realize that he thought he was waiting for me to accomplish something—or perhaps that this fact that to me seemed pivotal was just a passing conversation to the others?

    To me it seemed pretty clearly like the end of the conversation: we were talking about directions to adventure sites, I had been offered two others and had said that I was more interested in this one, and the only response was that there was no treasure there. And—as far as going blindly, I did have the hope of a random encounter table featuring lairs or something else interesting, as well as accomplishing some exploration of the world as well as the systems. I'm not sure what your procedures look like exactly for hex stocking, so this might have been putting too much trust in my own feeling of "what D&D is", in systems that I don't know for sure to exist.

    But I don't think either Paul or I were not focussed on goals.
  • (I agree with that assessment, Adam!)
  • If anyone is reading this, DWeird and I are online right now, and will be for the next few hours. I'm offering to run something, but the other players seem to have disappeared.
  • Regarding goals, it should be remembered that there are other rewards aside from gold. For example, it is conceivable that skinny-dipping in such a magical pool could simply just give you experience points. Or you might grow wings. Or die. Who knows. Point is, going for such a pool would probably appeal some characters more than others, depending on how interested they are in the eldritch and the unreal. It is not, however, the case that not having gold available is automatically a reason for an adventure to not be of interest to an ambitious adventurer.

    But yes, I'm totally the sort of GM who'll give you an adventure that has no gold. It's up to you to refuse it and go for something else instead. Admittedly this might cause conflict between characters, but that's just a matter for negotiation. "Hey, my character is not interested in this pool thing. How about I create a new one who is. Or your character could instead go sell glassware to the indians with me, instead of this stupid pool thing."

    Admittedly that doesn't always work to everybody's satisfaction, but from my viewpoint this is also the case with e.g. authorial decision-making (to pick at the solution that TSR chose later on for how D&D should make everybody happy all the time): I could no more align your characters by micromanagement than you could do it yourself, ultimately. At least with creative freedom to maneuver we can sort of say that what we accomplish is real, and reflects our mutual input into the process of play. Sort of the same justification that democracy has: might not cause the best results, but at least you get what you deserve.

    Well, in fact I guess I could sort of try to make everybody happy by promising magical potency to those interested in such, and gold for the rest just 'cause a proper D&D adventure has to have gold in it. That's how a TSR adventure does it: there's this slave population needs saving, and coincidentally the slavers have a big fat pile of gold, too, so you're motivated to go save those slaves. Feels strange to me creatively, but admittedly there is that option if you're willing to compromise on setting logic.
  • Man, "Bottled magic water" sounds exactly like "coin" in my ears. It's simple justification side-step but it totally works. Although you end up with the player trying to sell well-water as magical, but snake oil men tend to get lynched more frequent than most - funny ole world, eh.
  • Eero,

    I have a few questions for you along those lines:

    1. How well-informed do you expect the characters to be, in typical play, about adventure hooks and possible rewards? In the game so far, for instance, we've pursued various adventures, but had, at best, a very vague sense of what the rewards might be (with the exception of being hired, of course, when a price is decided upon) and how dangerous the adventure might be.

    I could see this developing in further play (now we know, for instance, that the Dark Woods might hold a Black Beast or whatever that thing was), but initially, at least, it feels like we're just grabbing at whatever's available, for whatever reasons we want to cook up (e.g. my character Arsuin, I decided, was obsessed with the concept of rejuvenation). Is this something that just comes with time (as the players learn about the milieu and their surroundings), or is it a failure of the players in our case (perhaps in your "typical" game session, the players ask a lot more questions and leave better prepared!), or something else? How well informed are players in a "typical" scenario, when you play in this style, about an upcoming adventure hook?

    2. In terms of offering multiple adventure hooks to the players, how prepared are you, as the GM, to follow up on each one? Are you trusting your own instincts and creative abilities and just brainstorming a few possible adventures ("Hey! How about some halflings who need an escort?"), or coming prepared with several modules, and finding a way to plug each one ("Here's an NPC who wants to look for the Tower of Live. Anyone want to go with him?"), or something else?

    What's this side of the game look like from "behind the screen"?
  • TSR adventure design is not where the expectation of treasure comes from. If we're creating characters with Moldvay's rules, an expectation is present about other parts of those rules (Basic page B52, and Expert 28 as well as of course in monster descriptions). All versions of D&D have a direct relationship of some kind between monsters, adventure sites and treasure. Those aren't things from modules or whatever, they are rules. They are a little different in all versions though, so whatever, but if you want to say "oh well, you could have just gotten exp for it!" I feel like you are talking about nothing at all, because that was certainly not an established or expected fact, and seemed to run counter to the information that we did have (which described the pool in instrumental terms for Arsuin).

    But yeah—I was totally up for going there anyway, obviously—and to try to make something of it either there or on the journey, like bottling the water, yes. I felt that I had agreed basically well before that point to go along with Arsuin's quest, and I wasn't unhappy to do so in the way that we did.

    We talked a lot about succeeding or failing at social challenges after the game. I wish we had failed harder; I tried to make us fail harder. Because I was trying to make something happen—I felt like I had been told that I wasn't getting directions from those guys, which maybe was a miscommunication, but in any case I had had my fun talking to them about the locket and other sites and was uninterested in pixel-bitching for the right words to use. I felt quite frustrated when my second attempt to cause a scene and force us out onto the road again ended in NPCs deciding that it was forgivable.
  • 1. How well-informed do you expect the characters to be, in typical play, about adventure hooks and possible rewards? In the game so far, for instance, we've pursued various adventures, but had, at best, a very vague sense of what the rewards might be (with the exception of being hired, of course, when a price is decided upon) and how dangerous the adventure might be.
    I'd say that it's part of the negotiated nature of play to determine how well-informed characters are. It's a give and take: if the players ask for more info before they commit to the adventure, and the GM feels that he can reveal more (on the basis of credible information sources and actually having something to share), then they get more information. If they're happy to go adventure with less background knowledge, then that's fine, too.

    As with most things, I find this a part of the negotiation primarily because of how we do not actually have answers as to what is "enough" in terms of information and risk-evaluation. I'm sort of like that economist who refuses to put a price on a pint of butter, because I think that the entire machinery of the market is there solely to answer this extremely complex question: don't ask me to determine the price of butter by fiat, for if I could, I would be like the gods themselves. The best I can do is to set up a self-correcting machinery where players will presumably achieve an ideal balance of information.

    Considering yesterday's session, I can assure you that I've seen even more blind play. From my viewpoint it generally looks like players get into these kinds of "intelligence slumps" because they're expecting the GM to sort of carry them. This is a bit embarrassing, I have to admit, as you sort of feel bad for the naive players who are clearly not thinking things through, but you can't really intervene without reducing the fidelity of the scenario. When it feels too much like shooting fish in a barrel I generally do try to make sure that the players have really realized that hey, if you're not going to take care of this thing, nobody is, and you're all just going to die of thirst out in the desert, or whatever.

    From my viewpoint yesterday's performance, as I indicated, was amusing, but not dramatically off the scale. I hope that it didn't feel too arbitrary or unfair, for I believe that this kind of play improves as players learn through failure: next time around you'll have a much, much better sense for what to look out for in terms of possible reasons an adventure might fail for.
    2. In terms of offering multiple adventure hooks to the players, how prepared are you, as the GM, to follow up on each one? Are you trusting your own instincts and creative abilities and just brainstorming a few possible adventures ("Hey! How about some halflings who need an escort?"), or coming prepared with several modules, and finding a way to plug each one ("Here's an NPC who wants to look for the Tower of Live. Anyone want to go with him?"), or something else?
    The vast majority of the adventure hooks I offer have existing backing in the form of a prewritten adventure. Some hooks are in fact different perspectives on the same adventure. Some few are hooks without an adventure; in some cases I have the time to either select or create the adventure itself, while in other cases I'm forced to improvise. I have done a fair amount of improvising in D&D - our big campaign, which was sort of an OSR breakthrough for me in certain ways, was an exception in this regard really - so I'm not afraid to do an improvised thing.

    For example, the urban medical mystery adventure in Carrion (and the city itself, in fact), as well as this pool of power thing, were both essentially improvised; both include premade materials blended in there where opportunity beckons, but in both cases more than 50% of the GM lines were original material. In both cases the hook suggested itself first, and then I either improvised material or melded in stuff that happened to be at hand.

    Zzarchov and his halfling escort is an example of an "adventure" where the reason for Zzarchov's escort thing is a real adventure (Lamentations of the Gingerbread Princess, although I suggest you not look that up unless you want to spoil a major campaign element) - or actually a couple adventures - while the escort hook itself was improvisation. I just wanted a reason for the party to go where the adventure is, and the halflings, having been introduced earlier at the Seafort, suggested themselves as a natural vehicle. We have actually not touched the adventure for which I took up those halflings; everything done with them so far has been incidental consequences, including the Hidden Trollop.

    The Tower of Love (Tower of Duvan'Ku, although again I recommend against spoilage if you want to play), on the other hand, I pretty much presented according to the text; there's been like 2% of improvisation in presenting that material, and that mostly concerning how the adventure proper latches onto the hexcrawling system.

    As you can see, there are plenty of differences in how premade material and improvisation relate to the sandbox, case by case. The general goal is to present a world of adventure where the players have negotiable freedom; the means are improvisation, a library of material, and negotiating with the players. I admit that I don't do much "hard" limiting of player focus, and I tend to "flavour" the stuff I offer in various ways, but it is an entirely legitimate move for the GM to be more open and technical about his negotiation. You could just tell the players that you have these three adventure modules here, and which one do you wanna play - being theatrical about how exactly adventures float up to PC conscious is entertaining, but it's definitely not structurally mandatory. I can do it because I have a bit of a library, a solid head for improvisation, and a very high personal valuation for an organic sandbox environment; many GMs would choke on the idea of e.g. letting players just think that there is an adventure somewhere because they listened to the wrong NPC, while for me something like that is entirely natural as part of organically negotiating a challenge environment into existence. It pays off long-term, even if it might mean that a session or two are spent chasing after red herrings.
  • Good answers, Eero! Thanks.
  • That's a fair enough judgement, Adam - I agree that I do not play Moldway by the book; I don't think that I could, frankly, the way my understanding of D&D (and gaming in general) has shaped out. My brain would probably break if I tried to GM the game strictly as written, to tell the truth - and I wouldn't have too much fun, either. For the longest time I thought D&D a pretty dumb game, and it was only when I developed my own constructive reading, which does throw out all sorts of textual basis, that the game started working for me. Personally I think that my interpretation of the game is more "real" than most TSR texts in terms of making sense and reflecting what a successful GM actually does, but that doesn't make it any more more textual, obviously.

    I guess the key is to note that when I've characterized this IRC campaign as being "based on Moldway" or "using a Moldway chassis", I at least haven't intended that to mean anything except the superficial mechanical conceits the game uses, such as the way attribute bonuses are calculated, or the spell and equipment lists. The actual game system process is something more fundamental than any single technical text of D&D. I haven't even read the GM section of Moldway yet :D

    To be completely explicit: I did not intend to critique player performance above, where I characterized the events of yesterday's session. As far as I'm concerned the play was fine, flavourful and entertaining. I just meant what I said, that it was very interesting to see how it went, and where it failed, even if my perspective on the causes of failure might not be the whole truth. The GM is something of an on-looker in this style of game, in good or ill; you just bring the scenario and see which way the players pounce. In this case the scenario was far from Moldway standard, as can be seen in the fact that it wasn't set in a dungeon to begin with.

    For after action analysis, I should say that the hunters you interviewed about the pool were basically willing to tell you anything they knew. You just never straight out asked them for directions, perhaps because of the deep IC paradigm of the discourse. The closest you came was when you asked about whether it was in the western woods, and they told you that no, it's in the east, in the deep old forest. I'm sure that the in-character paradigm of communication was a trip-up there as well - we could've dealt with the hunters in a more abstract manner ("I go and talk to the hunters - GM, tell me what they know about this topic X"), too, but as you started in with IC dialogue, I answered in kind, and that meant that the discussion meandered here and there. Interesting meandering, though - they'd have never offered to show you stirge nests, or to take you with them to sell glass-ware, were it not for the more detailed discussion. I regret nothing :D
  • Just a reminder that I plan to be around 6pm GMT onwards tomorrow (Friday) evening to play, and I'm hoping some of you fine folks might be around too. As far as I'm concerned the earlier and more promptly we can start playing the better, as I won't be able to stay for that long.

    Of course, if another evening works better for others, that's fine with me. I'm just going with this since no one responded to my earlier suggestion.
  • I'll be then, most likely.
  • edited April 2014
    I won't be online tomorrow for sure, so you'll have to go delve without the crazy Elf! May the deaths be few and far between.

    However, all this has got me fooling around with some D&D hacking myself. I might just start a thread about that. I'm noticing how bizarre the D&D system is - although it's simultaneously remarkably difficult to improve! There are so many little design features which don't seem obvious at first: for example, just how little variation there is in characters, despite appearances to the contrary. Since you roll stats on 3d6, but test them on 1d20, the range from an unusually competent character (say a 15) to an unusually incompetent one (e.g. 5 or 6) is only a 45-50% difference or so in possible outcomes. That's significantly less than is present in a lot of other systems. For example, if we look at the odds of a failure in Apocalypse World, it ranges from 72% (for a stat at -2) to 8% (for a stat at +3), and that full range doesn't even get covered in typical play.

    The difference between the most competent warrior and the least competent (if we're looking at ThAC0) is perhaps only 15% or 20%. Same goes for saving throws; other abilities, like your chances of triggering traps or finding stuff, are identical or near-identical for all characters. This seems like it plays well into a "challenge the player" philosophy.

    Meanwhile, however, arguably the most important characteristic at first level is a character's hit points. Here, for some reason, we have absolutely no qualms going from someone with 8 or 10 hit points (a warrior with good Constitution and a good roll) to characters with only 1 or 2 hit points each! Suddenly we're seeing something along the lines of a 800% difference between characters?

    Stuff like Prime Requisite bonuses (I still do not understand the purpose of this rule at all, unless it exists solely to incentivise people with a particular high stat to play a certain class - and whyever would you need that?) also work to create divergence between characters.

    This has inspired me to come up with a simple hack:


    D&D Hit Point Pool

    Every character has a dice pool which represents their ability to survive. This pool consists of 1d6 per level + your class die + a die derived from Constitution (a d6 by default, but increase or decrease die size by one category for each Constitution bonus - so a character with a 14 Constitution and +1 bonus would get a d8).

    You do not roll these dice when creating your character; you just write it down.

    Let'say I'm a first-level Thief with a poor Constitution. My hit point pool is a d6 (for being a 1st-level character), a second d6 for being a thief, and a d4 for my Constitution: 2d6+1d4. That Con 14 Fighter might have 1d6+2d8 instead.

    You also have a certain number of Hit Dice. Initially, this is 1.

    When your character gets injured, we need to see if they survive. You roll your hit point pool, and keep a number equal to your Hit Dice - usually this means you just keep the highest die. The threat or enemy rolls their damage. Subtract damage from hit points, as usual. If it hits 0 or less, you're dead. If not, write down your remaining hit points: this represents the extent of the damage.

    Let's say my 1st level Thief got hit by some kind of monster which deals 1d8 damage. I roll 2d6+1d4 and get 4, 5, and 3. The monster rolls a 4. Subtracting 4 from my highest die (a 5) leaves me with one hit point: my Thief got hit pretty hard and is very nearly dead!

    I have 1 hit point until I get some healing.


    A full healing process (taking however long, with proper care and resting) leaves a character completely recovered. Erase any current hit point total on his sheet. If the character gets injured again, roll his or her hit points then.

    Minor healing, like first aid and a bit of rest, restores 1 hit point, but only to a maximum of 4.


    I kind of like this; first-level characters don't have to deal with the ignonimity of rolling a 1 for hit points and being stuck with it for life. They're a bit more durable! And with leveling, their durability increases, but only very slightly.

    However, this is balanced with a daunting truth: because you roll your hit points each time you're losing a violent confrontation, there's always a chance - however small - that any hit can kill you. I like this; no longer can you walk around with your 9 hit points, secure that you can take that arrow without worrying about it. There's always a danger, instead.
  • edited April 2014

    * Each time you level up, you can add one die of your class size OR upgrade any existing die in your hit point pool by one die size.

    So our thief who has 1d6+1d4+1d4 would go to 2d6+1d4+1d4 to maybe 3d6+1d4 to 1d8+2d6+1d4 and so on.

    However, as you get to higher levels you can also:

    * Iinstead of adding or upgrading a die, remove the highest die from your pool. In exchange, you can increase your Hit Dice number by one.

    EDIT: You must always have at least two dice in your hit point pool for each Hit Die. So, two keep two Hit Dice, you must have at least five dice in your pool (so that when you remove one, you'll have four left).

    So your 4th level Thief from above could be rolling 2d6+1d4 at first level, 3d6+1d4 at second level, 1d8+2d6+1d4 at third level, and at fourth level he could decide to upgrade his Hit Point pool to 1d10+2d6+1d4, or go to 2d6+1d4, but keeping the best two dice.

    (All in all, the "feel" of this kind of campaign would be similar to "E6". But then I've never personally understood the appeal of epic-level D&D - for my tastes, I've always felt that things kind of broke down at that point, the numbers got too big, combat became a grind, and so on.)
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