Hand-waving Dungeon Travel

The party that’s been exploring Stonehell has reached a point where getting back to the yet-unexplored part of the dungeon and then out again is taking too much of the play-session, at least if I roll for wandering monsters as they travel and restock the likely places like the Orc’s guard-post.  In the old days, we used to freeze time in-between sessions… the party wouldn’t overnight in the dungeon, but we’d break in the middle of things and resume there next time.  This was pretty much a necessity when you were squeezing a few minutes play in at lunch-time or in study hall, but it carried over into our Friday night games as well.

I’m a little reluctant to go that route with the current game, preferring the party to start and end outside the dungeon–both because the line-up of characters changes when one kid or the other has a sleep-over or Elyssa is away performing or something, and because even if we froze, so far every session at least one character has been knocked around enough to require rest and recuperation even if nobody except Revenge has been injured  beyond the ability of one of Horatia’s miracles to revive.  So I’m considering just hand-waving their entrances and exits unless they’ve got monsters in hot pursuit.  For one thing, now that most of them are second level and considering the damage they’ve caused, the number of times the Orcs’ morale checks have sent them fleeing, and the psychological warfare they’ve been employing (they’ve actually taken the time to gut many of the Orcs they’ve killed in order to reinforce the impression that Horatia’s god regularly does this to their opponents)  it would be fairly easy to justify the Orcs starting to give them a wide berth.

If you run dungeoneering expeditions, how do you handle this?  Do you let parties camp overnight in the dungeon?  Do you make sure there are shortcuts so they don’t have to traverse lots of explored areas?  Or do you just do what I’m contemplating and say, ok, twenty minutes later you’re back at the closed portcullis…what do you do now?

Exploring the Contested Corridors

Friday we had a good long session of the game with the kids, where they explored more of Amityville Mike’s Stonehell dungeon, in particular the 1C section: The Contested Corridors.  The game continues to go well, and much enjoyment is being had by all.  There was one more character death this time, Grace’s character Horatia, but a succesful dying prayer (natural 20) restored the character to life in a spectacular fashion, though much in need of rest and recuperation.  The party continues to be more and more impressed with Horatia’s make-believe god Horatio, which Grace plays to the hilt.  It will be interesting to see if they ever do figure out that the god she claims to be worshipping isn’t the one she’s actually devoted to.

They also leveled up, all except Charlie’s new character (replacing the deceased Revenge) and Elyssa’s new-to-the-campaign fighter, Biff.  Mostly that involved getting another dice worth of Stamina points, since nobody opted for trying to increase any stats, and choosing a new Talent, plus selecting new spells for the Mages.   I’ve replaced the specific effects of spells  like Magic Missile, Burning Hands, and Shocking Grasp with more generalized versions where when you learn the spell you pick the element (from a list of available elements) along the lines of Trappings in Savage Worlds.   Mac’s Rogue (Thief/Mage) decided to specialize in Electrical magic, in return for the vague promise of future benefits for having done so;  Tommy’s Mage decided to branch out, so he can now cast either the Ice or Poison versions of the two elemental spells he knows: dart and fan.

I had hoped to spend some time RPing the interaction with the Adventurer’s Guild and with Rowena the Healer, an NPC they just met and daughter of Contus the boat-man, who ferries them to the island with the dungeon as needed. But the kids were getting a little antsy, and needed some good hack-time.  One of the things I’ve found about GMing Stonehell is that there are really more empty rooms than the kids will put up with.  Part of that is Mike leaving plenty of space for GMs to insert their own stuff, and part that there’s a certain logic to not having everything cheek-by-jowl to everything else,  but I’ve been sliding more and more towards having something to do or think about in every room.   Some of the time I’m just shifting the location of a random encounter so that it’s either  in the room or comes upon them while they’re checking it out, but I’m also starting to just wing extra stuff, like the giant crab pretending to be a table, or the secret compartment beneath the broken statue containing a copper bracelet that grants immunity to the lightning that the trapped suits of armor cast.  I’ll be interested to see what they do with that, once they figure it out.

The orcs continue to be a source of great amusement; making them comically stupid has worked out really well.  The highlight of the session was when Tommy (the youngest) managed to fool a big crowd of orcs who were attracted by the sounds of them fighting the giant crab by shouting through the door in orcish “They went the other way!”  It’ll also be fun when they meet the bogeys (shemped goblins) and find out that not all monsters are that gullible.

One thing they’re not very good about is running away when the odds aren’t good.  So far, it’s worked out ok for them, but so far they’ve been quite lucky with some of Horatia’s miracles.  On the other hand, at least one of the miracles wouldn’t have been necessary if they hadn’t been really unlucky with one of the orc’s damage rolls. I’m wondering if I should tweak the rules for extra damage hits slightly; I had thought that I made really bad hits rare enough, but now I’m not sure.

Names and Language in Nonesuch

Anything the players want.  That’s what they do anyway, and I know from bitter experience that once I start in on listing appropriate names for cultures and races it’s just a short step to a naming language and then a full-blown death spiral into conlangs.  So Umbry, Auxi-lock, Revenge, Expendable 1401, Tomato, Hermia/Horatia, Caboose, Hurlon, Poden Persas, welcome to the Land of Nonesuch!  Hope you survive the experience!

Well, except for you Revenge, better luck next life.

One thing I haven’t really settled is how many languages there are and how many the characters know.  Originally I was allowing each character one extra language per INT bonus, so pretty much all the characters had one or none. Everybody in the kids’ game wanted Orc, because that was the first group of humanoid monsters they ran into, and they were fun to talk to.  Now I’m thinking that will be kind of dull when they run into other monsters, unless they speak common, and I’m also wondering if I’m taking too American a view of foreign languages.  In a setting where you’re exposed to them regularly, it probably shouldn’t be so hard to pick them up.  Maybe one extra spoken language per point of Int over 9, and one dead language per Int Bonus?  It would be something to do with Int for non-Mages, given the system doesn’t really emphasize skills.  And I want characters to be talking to the monsters, even the hostile ones, because that’s where the RP is.

Thoughts and suggestions?  How do you handle it in your games?

Humanoid Monsters of Nonesuch

Here’s a sketch of the various humanoid monsters common to the Land of Nonesuch.  The goal is to make them, not unique, but distinctive and recognizable…if they’re mooks, they’re not generic interchangeable mooks.  On the other hand, I want to avoid the “in this world, Orcs are descended from flightless birds, and are the proud descendants of an ancient and cosmopolitan culture, more like feathery elves” that I’m sometimes prone to.  I want them to be reminiscent of common fantasy and folklore, if slightly skew. Some of these have already made an appearance in the kids’ game.

  • Orcs – magically evolved pigs (totally swiped from Grognardia’s Dwimmermount).  Evil, comically greedy, quarrelsome, and easy to trick.  The Three Stooges of humanoid monsters.
  • Kobolds – magically evolved dogs.  Neutral, generally traders and merchants in the dungeon economy (Rat on a Stick, anyone?), some actually live peacefully in some surface cities.  Something along the lines of Nessie from Too Many Curses or the kobolds from Suikoden.
  • Hobgoblins – mischievous house-sprites.  I know that I just got done saying I didn’t want this to be another “well, in my world” setting, but folklore trumps Tolkien and D&D here.  Good, although tricksy.  Puck is a hobgoblin.
  • Redcaps – these replace the D&D militaristic, organized, larger-sized goblin troopers.  Evil, sadistic buggers who dye their caps in human blood.  Iron boots, iron pikes, and faster than anybody can run away.
  • Goblins –  I’m really torn here.  On the one hand, I have this vision of them as these nasty, deformed little mushroom men out of Goya that use human corpses for compost.  On the other hand, I’m also attracted to the Labyrinth version of goblins (also one of the sources for the feel of this setting), with each one a unique Henson-esque critter.  I could combine the two, I suppose, or have them both be true in different parts of the setting.  Or I could split them into two different kinds of monsters and call one of them goblins and the other… I could call them wirry-cows, I suppose, which would be good folklore but be unintentionally silly to my players.  Ooh.  Bogeys would be a great name for the mushroom-type.
  • Bugbears – more the creepy bear in the woods sort than a generic bogeyman. Definitely not an oversized Hobgoblin war-leader out of Baldurs Gate: Dark Alliance.
  • Trolls and TrollwivesThese guys.  The males are big and hairy, with huge noses and ears; the females are slight and beautiful.  Trolls are one of the PC races in the setting, though you have to roll really well to qualify.
  • Ogres and Giants – Haven’t really given a lot of thought to them yet.  Probably straight out of the Book of Wierd.

The Land of Nonesuch

I’ve been working a bit on the setting for my game with the kids, which is also my backup game for the Bumblers, possibly a play-by-forum game in the future if I get my act together,  and finally an example setting for the system (tentatively titled The Majyc System).  So it needs a name, and possibly a hook.  I’m a little leery of the “elevator-pitch” approach to game settings; too often they end up sounding like something out of They Fight Crime: “He’s an all-American white trash shaman haunted by an iconic dead American confidante She’s a beautiful antique-collecting femme fatale from a secret island of warrior women. They fight crime!”  On the other hand, there’s certainly something to be said for being able to succinctly state what the game is about, and give the players an expectation of the tone and kind of adventures they’ll be playing.  And bog-standard dungeon bash doesn’t sound all that thrilling, even if you’re confident that playing it will be a blast.

For now, I’m calling it the Land of Nonesuch, and working on the premise that (unknown to the current crop of characters) they’re inhabiting a land described in a book of odd and somewhat macabre fairy tales called The Land of Nonesuch, by the mysterious George Jester.  Both the book and the author appear both in our world, and in the land the book describes.  My overall plan, if something so vague and inchoate can actually be called such, is that this setting will let me scratch several itches that I’ve had for quite a while now: running a game in a setting inspired by The Book of Weird, and by the Oz books; getting some use from various cast-off pieces of prior settings (such as the settings of the games with the Three Paladinos, and the one-shot To Rescue the Sun) and swiped from other people’s settings (like Thool, or Dwimmermount); to do some bottom-up setting design, where I haven’t worked out a whole map of the setting and a thousand years of history before I begin; and finally, putting that all together, to do some gaming where I haven’t systemetized everything and there’s not a way that magic or religion works, and I’m not pinging the players with info-dumps.  Naturally, I have ideas on things I want to see in the setting, and spring on the characters, but I want to be much more encouraging of letting the players make up crazy stuff too, and just rolling with it.  I want to recapture, at least for some of the time, some of the much more free-wheeling GMing I did in my youth, where a lot of stuff was decided on the basis of either “Yeah, that sounds good!” or “roll a die, high is good.”