Monday, October 25, 2010

Eight is Enough

Last Thursday’s game at the Barnof was a rough one. I hadn’t got much sleep all week long (Wednesday night in particular I only got four hours or so) which, along with my Everfull Pint Glass (Vince sat next to me and kept topping it off) combined for a less than stellar performance from Yours Truly.

“Performance?” Yeah…running a D&D game for eight people (we had a new guy join us…we’ll get to him in a sec) is more about performing than playing. You are acting as referee. You are acting as narrator. You are acting as “font of rules knowledge.” You are managing the table (both in-game and out-of-game issues). It can be tricky to say the least. The largest D&D game I ever recall running in the past was for SIX people…and I know that at one point I was literally picked up and thumped on my head via a “piledriver” move. Fortunately, my current group is nicer than that one…but I can see how the piledriver might possibly come out in the future should things go as I predict.

“Once again your cryptic words intrigue, JB,” I can hear readers thinking. “Tell us more.” However, I’m just thinking ahead to What Comes Next in the adventure next to the current state of the adventurers at present and, well, the future doesn’t look all that rosy for our heroes.

[note: just pulled out their character sheets and took a gander...they're not nearly in as bad of shape as I remember]

But that’s all getting ahead of myself…Thursday started later than usual, despite the fact that I arrived at the place on time for a change. I suppose I’ve set a bad precedent for my players…this week I’ll try to get things kicked off by 7:45 or so. Mmm…maybe.

Anyway, this week welcomed a new player to the table: Heron. As with everyone else, Heron turned out to be a swell guy, whose wife has been gracious enough to give him Thursdays off. Interestingly, he’s the same guy who wrote the Trolls will be Trolls adventures for last year’s One Page Dungeon contest, one of my personal favorites. For some reason (probably the name) I just assumed he was from Sweden or something. Instead, he lives relatively close to my Greenwood ‘hood.

Crazy small world.

Heron did manage to show up with copies of the original B/X books (nice!)…along with the usual pencil-paper- dice necessities. Luke had a prior engagement for the evening, and Heron agreed to be plugged in as the party cleric for the session. Actually, I gave him a set of 3x5 cards with random NPC ability scores, names, and classes (I had written these up the week before in the thought that I might give all the PCs a henchman, but stifled the thought due to the sheer number of players that showed), and he picked one of the clerics for his character…than we elevated him to 7th level, gave him a “sea captain’s hat” and some magic items (a scroll or two, some magic armor, a mace +2) and standard equipment (grappling iron was his “unique” item)…and rolled for relationships to other party members. Turned out he’d met Gustav the fighter while running from some wild animals, and he’d met Borgnine the dwarf when “one’s house burned down and the other helped out” (I don’t recall if we ever decided whose house had been burned down).

This seems as good a time as any to mention a couple things:

1) Regarding the Random Relationships: I have no idea how much players actually remember these things…I don’t make any notes of them and frankly, I have a difficult time remembering all 16 relationships between 8 different characters. This is a system to aid the PLAYERS not the DM. It gives them a sense of something shared between their characters, gives them something to kibitz about, helps them to immediately “plug into the game.” I don’t know how useful it is to them in the long term (though the “telepathic rapport” between Sly the Thief and Sweet Tito DID come to the fore a bit this session), but from my “DM’s chair” it SEEMS to accomplish these goals.

2) Regarding clerics: I hate clerics having to memorize spells like a magic-user…to the point that I usually chuck the whole system. This is not very “Old School” of me, I admit, but it’s the way I’ve played since I was a kid playing AD&D. Basically, a cleric has a certain number of spell slots (“prayers”) per day, and can use them as he or she sees fit to beseech God (or whomever) for aid.

To me, this simply makes more sense. People don’t get up in the morning, kneel in prayer, and recite a Christmas list to their deity (“…and I want to Cure Disease twice, and Raise Dead once, and Speak with Snakes, and, and…”). That’s ridiculous. High level clerics, having proven themselves worthy champions, have direct access to their gods and can ask them to intercede on their behalf. Of course, their deity isn’t going to grant an unlimited number of miracles (“God helps those who help themselves…”) and clerics know when not “push their luck” with the prayers (i.e. they know when their allotment of spells are up for the day).

This, too, greatly speeds and simplifies play, so long as the cleric has ready access to the short spell list of the clerical class (as Heron did).

Magic-users and elves still have to study their spell books, of course. The limits of their spell books in B/X helps speed and simplify the choosing of their spells…plus I like SOME Vancian magic in the game!

So, yeah…onwards and upwards into White Plume Mountain. As I mentioned, I had decided to “take the gloves off” for the remainder of the adventure. Or, to put it another way, I had decided to “play hard.” This did not fully happen in the session…as I mentioned, my performance was a bit off all night due to fatigue and booze…but of the players, only the two clerics (Luke showed up later in the evening) managed to remain unscathed.

The characters spent quite a bit of time managing their healing after having camped in the frictionless room. The “1s” were still coming hard and fast for all the healing rolls, and I decided that ALL the characters had a single, “emergency” healing potion stashed on their person. So much for the gloves coming off! This was actually something I’d been considering since the prior session, but had just forgotten to do. These were 7th (and 6th) level characters after all…surely some of their wealth could have been blown on an alchemist or two?

After getting about as “up to snuff” as they could, they proceeded to continue their subterranean trek, soon coming to another crossroads. As usual, they took the left-hand turn ending (eventually) at another door. Listening again (I see why rot grub were invented) allowed Sly to report a whole host of critter-like sounds coming from the other side…though many sounded like critters of different types. Oh, boy!

[most everything that follows is SPOILERS, just by the way]

They kicked in the door to find a huge chamber enveloped in darkness.

But not magical darkness…simply a chamber without light.

[actually...sorry...I'm going to continue this in a new post! Ha!]


  1. That's an interesting approach to clerics. I'll have to give it some thought, but I think I like it!

  2. I'm going to try that method of cleric spells with some players who have never played D&D before

  3. We always used to run clerics this way. The only thing is, clerics are already more generally effective characters at low levels than magic-users are. Therefore, although it makes more intuitive sense, it makes the mu's position even more pathetic :) hehe

    The biggest night I ever had was 16 people playing. I actually loved it! The only time it became a problem was when we got into a combat situation. I mostly fixed that by switching to group initiative (we were playing AD&D 2e) and NOT using minis. In the overwhelming majority of cases, when a party gets into a fight there really isn't anything serviced by saying "oh, I'm sorry Mongo, you can't engage ANY of the monsters.. s.o.l. buddy!"

    As far as picking their targets, it was pretty easy. My players would say things like "I'll attack the same one that Chris is fighting" or "is there room for me to hit the githyanki caster?" and if too many were already on that one, they just picked another target. Usually, whenever a player damages a monster, it's just the next one down the list. If there are a lot of monsters, and several players are working together to hit the same one, I just put their initials next to the damage. That way, if their target lasts more than one round, and they don't switch targets, I can easily apply their hits to the same one next round.

  4. I don't think you'll lose your old-school credentials over the cleric spell thing, though the tribunal may have to convene. Paul Jaquays mentions the same thing in Night of the Walking Wet, or one of those other 1970's Dungeoneer adventures. Seeing as how he's been all but sainted by the OSR, I think you're good.

  5. Do you let Clerics "trade down" and use a higher level spell slot for a lower level spell. e.g. use a 2nd level Prayer to get another Cure Light Wounds?

    My word verification:

    "I swear officer. I never handled the money!"

  6. JB, do you think it would help or hinder our larger gaming session to designate a "caller" to relay party actions to you (and try to stick with it)?

    That beer was tasty; hard to stop drinking when the thief is "buying"...

  7. I heartily agree on clerics. I use a similar solution: what I call divine-petitioners can ask for miracles whenever they want but they have diminishing probability of them being granted.

    Also, really interested in the random character relationships and might try that out next session.

  8. @ Josh: The thief might have been buying, but somehow, I got charged $15 for one pitcher? I was either over-charged or someone slipped one in on me...but it wasn't our usual bartender!

    We'll talk about the caller this week. It's really not a bad idea with such a large group.

    @ Miguelito: It's fun, but it does take management. I do not use miniatures either (I sometimes sketch diagrams)...but we haven't run a really large combat yet. Part of exploring dungeons is fighting in cramped quarters...and without space there aren't all that many folks involved in scrums.

    @ Grat Sax: In the past I have, but I'm not doing so right now. I think there's a temptation to blow all one's spells on healing types (especially in B/X where you only have "cure light" and "cure serious") and that ends up shorting players useful spells when needed. Note some of the clerical spells used in this adventure so far: resist fire, continual light, detect traps, speak with animals, and detect alignment. A lot of those 2nd and 3rd level spells would have been "burned" for healing if the players had their way.'ll have to read the new posts to see what I'm talking about.

    @ Telecanter: I strongly suggest giving it a try, at least for one shots or short campaigns.
    : )