NTRPGCON: My Game
I'm going to give a full and complete con report over at the ConTessa blog, but I thought I'd give a detailed play report about the game I ran beforehand, while it's still fresh in my memory.
I've run convention games on air for ConTessa before, but I'd yet to dive into running a game at an in-person convention. That all changed this past Friday at NTRPGCON, where I ran my very first in-person convention games called "Zaya's Promise", a Swords & Wizardry game.
The premise of the dungeon is pretty simple. A long time ago, a little elven baby girl was left at the doorstep of a middle-class childless human family in a forgettable town. The town was usually ignored, even when kingdoms changed hands, dynasties rose and fell, and so on... up until one fateful day when the baby had grown into a small child and the town was massacred by an invading army.
Unable to handle the horrors she was seeing around her, a magical amulet the girl had when she was left there by (presumably) her parents activated, encasing her in crystal. This put her into a stasis, but her mind, which possessed the magical ability instilled in her bloodline, continued to function. In her grief, agony, and horror, she let out a blast that leveled the whole town.
The Queen sent people to investigate, but those who tried to approach the crystal died in hideous ways. Whole units were lost and never heard from. All manner of magic users and clerics were brought in to solve the problem, but none could.
Eventually, the Queen declared the site quarantined. No one was to ever set foot within a two mile radius ever again.
After the quarantine, sailors and merchants passing the site in the night reported seeing a green glow come from the crater. There were rumors that if one listened very closely on a particularly quiet night, you could hear the sounds of construction - all day and all night.
Over time, the site became overtaken by nature. Thick brambles, vines, and shrubbery prevented anyone from getting there without a great investment in time and effort. Adventurers hacked their way in only to never be seen again, and it was generally regarded as A Bad Place to Go.
So, of course, the PCs wanted to go there...
In creating this dungeon, I'm using a random dungeon format that I've started to put together for a project I'm working on. Right now, it's largely random tables, but I'm working on making the whole thing a drop table dungeon.
The general 'theme' of the dungeon is the twisted results of magic gone unchecked from the mind of a child. I wanted a dungeon where there were lots of toys to play with (sometimes literally), and lots and lots of things to *do*, and I thought this was a natural and quick way to do that.
The dungeon is built using an assortment of random tables. There are tables for the room type, any traps that may be in the room, any interactive content, treasure, monsters, or quest items (there are two quests in the dungeon).
Keep in mind, this is just the content of the dungeon itself, not the map... and this random dungeon building is something you do before the adventure, not during the adventure. It's a lot like pick-up sticks in a way... I take the rooms, all of the contents of those rooms, all of the monsters for the whole dungeon, all the treasure, and all the quest items, and I throw them into a big pile on the table.
For the initial run using this method, I had about 30 rooms, 10-ish traps, 2 quests with 7 quest items, and a menagerie of hand-picked monsters that fit the theme. Things kids like... pixies, big kitties, big doggies, unicorns, etc... (and also undead, because someone had to build all this shit... she just never let them go, even after they died).
I used a map from Dyson Logos, and worked up a Word document as I went room by room and rolled up what the contents were, crossing off options as I went to keep everything unique.
The result was a funhouse-style adventure where I raised the proportions a great deal so everything was extra epic. Libraries that were six stories tall, rooms with 2-story tall chandeliers, epic 10-story tall hallways with crystal supports, a candy room with enormous treats (player idea), etc...
The Actual Play Report
My initial fear before sitting down at the table was that the party wouldn't come close to finishing the dungeon in the four hours we had to play. This particular version of the dungeon has 22 rooms. I wanted something nice and big to really get to explore.
The players surprised me, though. We didn't get through all 22 rooms. There were a handful of rooms mostly featuring undead in a wing that didn't get touched. As we neared the half hour mark, I halted things and let the party know which direction they should go to end the adventure so they'd get a chance to see it all.
Rather than kill everything in sight, the party actually thought about whether or not the creatures they encountered were there willingly, if they truly meant harm or were just defending their space, or if they were really and truly evil. They let some blink dogs out of the dungeon, convinced some monstrously huge giant rats there were more interesting things to eat, and spared a few pixies and one of their pet lions after they failed their morale check.
They avoided things that looked too deadly, or found creative ways to deal with them. Rather than face a couple of sea hags, they devised a plan to break the giant aquarium also in the room the hags were in, flooding the bottom level of the dungeon. It didn't do too much to the hags, though.
They got all of one of the quest parts, and missed three of another, simply because they didn't get into that room, and they explored and played with each of the 'things to do' presented to them, finding creative ways to use these things to their advantage.
It was an overall great game that featured quite a lot of adventure, and they got to save the little girl in the end. I even managed to draw the map in such a way that I never had to clean off my game mat to draw a room.
The After-Play Report: What I'd Change
It was definitely a fun game for all involved. I loved seeing people's faces light up when they realized the theme of the room was something out of one of their favorite childhood toys and games.
I loved running the game, and now I badly want to run it again after making a few changes...
Make the dungeon more lethal. It wasn't exactly *easy*, but there were far too few scrapes with death in there. That just requires some tuning of the encounters, no biggie there.
Make things replayable. I counted on people getting excited hey were experiencing part of their childhood in the form of a dungeon. I didn't expect they'd want to do it more than once. I had basic rules for playing Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots, and one of the bots exploded at the end... I think if I'd let them play longer, they could've been distracted enough to have something truly awful sneak up on them.
Bring tactile stuff. I run all my games these days via hangouts, so I often forget about props for in-person games. It dawned on me while I was running the game that it might've been super cool to actually have some pickup sticks there for when they got to that trap, or a deck of cards for a quick game of War, etc... I may just do that the next time I run this in person.
Add more traps based on childhood games. Re-envisioning the games I played all the time as a kid as dungeon encounters and traps is pretty awesome. Mouse trap? Hungry hungry hippos? War? Barrel of Monkeys? Marbles? There's some crazy fun ideas in there....
Compact my dungeon notes. I made one page per room, and I think I could've gotten away with quite a bit less. It made finding certain things a little annoying.
Fewer magic items / jewelry. I thought I'd put more jewelry in there than random money, but that got a bit tedious after a while. Plus, some of the magic items fell pretty early in the game, which went into the 'too easy' feeling I had.
I'm going to make a separate post within the next day or two with all the magic items and traps I used in the dungeon (and maybe a few new ones). I'd really like to run this again. I was terribly nervous when I started, but we got out the gate quickly and I had a great, proactive group, so once I got 'into the zone', it was even more fun and way less nerve-wracking.
The 'random rolled dungeon' part of it worked pretty well, too. I learned a few things about how much detail I want and don't want, which greatly simplifies the setup for each of these 'roll your own dungeon' things. This also gave me an idea of a simple drop dungeon method I'm going to put in the stretch goal of our Swords & Wizardry Kickstarter (in July).
I definitely want to run this one again!