Thursday 23 April 2020

Tales From Cyclops Con

Last weekend was Cyclops Con, a virtual convention run by Goodman Games. I ran three events for the convention, using Roll20 and theater of the mind. Mostly things went well,  but I am definitely still learning how to shift from in-person gaming to online.

There are a lot of other things I am trying to juggle, which are taking up valuable mental real estate. This had an effect on my convention, as we shall see.

The Fence's Fortuitous Folly

I ran this game on Friday at 7:00 PM for Gary M. Soldati, Jack Derricourt, Stefan Surratt, Kleighton Smoniewski, Jordan McIntosh, and Stephen Barnett. The pregenerated characters I used were pointed out to me by Jen Brinkman, who may or may not also have been their creator. Among the characters was a Mingol wizard who was blind as the result of a curse, and who had to be naked in order to cast his charm person spell. This offered a particularly good example of how spell stipulations and dooms could affect the game in a greatly amusing way. Another character had a benison allowing him to attack with two weapons in the manner of a core-DCC halfling. Yet another character had a 1st level sidekick.

We started this game by reducing the Luck of PCs who wanted to risk a bit of carousing for the "full Lankhmar" effect, and then jumped into the game.

There is a big chase at the start of FFF, and it was well received. One of the players told me after the game that he had been involved in numerous chases using various systems, but the combination of rolls and encounters in the adventure allowed him to feel the tension of the chase all the way through. This pleased me enormously, because the adventure was written before DCC Lankhmar had any official chase rules. It also uses the d7, which is still my favorite die.

As a result of the choices made by the players, and the time constraints of a three-hour time slot, some possible encounters were missed. Everyone seemed to have a good time, though, and everyone survived.

After the adventure, I did a brief Q & A session, and then went into the virtual tavern to socialize a bit. The adventure was originally slated to run on the Goodman Games Twitch channel, but video resolution issues kept that from being viable.

Through the Dragonwall

Saturday morning at 11:00 AM I ran Through the Dragonwall for James Pozenel, Ophelia Pozenel, Tristan Pozenel, David Oswald, and David Rudisill.

This was a necessarily condensed version of the adventure, just to get the major story elements into play. TTD includes an opening mini-dungeon, a maze that PCs will probably have to thread at least three times, political intrigue, and enough optional encounters to easily provide 3-4 sessions of material. We managed to not only play through the salient points in three hours, but I discovered at the end that I had not gone wildly over (which I had thought) but slightly under.

As the cover indicates, this adventure includes a dragon. In most instances, PCs are going to end up fighting that dragon. In a 3rd level adventure, unless the PCs are both cunning and lucky, this could result in a TPK. In our Saturday session, it resulted instead in half the party lying dead beneath the now-visible sky while the remainder fled to escape the Valley of Two Lands.

Again, I had time for a brief Q & A after the game. Yes, this adventure uses elements from the two Harley Stroh adventures I had converted from 4e, to make a sort of unofficial "Caldwell Cover" trilogoy of level 1, 2, and 3 adventures. These are Dragora's Dungeon and The Curse of the Kingspire. Links to Abraham Merritt stories were also discussed.

The Dread God Al-Khazadar

And then, as it so often does, disaster struck. I was scheduled to run The Dread God Al-Khazadar on Saturday at 3:00 PM, but for some reason I had it stuck in my head that I was running it on Sunday. As a result, I was half an hour late to the game. I apologized profusely, and ran the game over time to make up for it, wrapping things up only when folks had to leave to play other games.

Compounding this error, two players had been given the same pregen character, and one had been given a 3rd level elf I had generated for Through the Dragonwall!

My sincerest thanks to Tim White, Joe Cirillo, Stefan Surratt, Laura Pirkola Williams, Clayton Williams, and Matt Carr for sticking around and making the game enjoyable nevertheless!

When I ran this adventure last year at Gary Con, I had selected a 5-hour slot, and went for nearly 6 hours. Part of the set-up is that the judge is trying to slow the players down, while the players experience an ever-increasing time pressure to resolve the adventure before they all die. There was a lot of material that had to be condensed to make the adventure fit into a roughly 3-hour frame.

Despite the aging-brain generated problems I accidentally created, the group seemed to have fun.

Virtual Swag

Not being at the convention in person to hand out swag, I created some with the help of artist Elias Scorsone, the author and illustrator of Wrath of the Frost Queen.

You deserve a piece of virtual swag for reading this far. You can find it here!

Sunday 12 April 2020

What To Do With The Cowards?

This came about as a response to this post on Facebook. What do you do if you have some PCs who keep hiding whenever there is a fight, and don't do their fair share?


Your job is to present the world, and the consequences in the world that arise naturally from the choices that the players make. Dealing with PCs that cause problems is something that the players should deal with. Let THEM hold back a share of the treasure. Let THEM replace the problem PCs with new party members (which can even be run by the same players).

Be blunt if you have to, or if the players complain:

"They are your characters. This is your problem. Deal with it."

That said, there may be occasions that the consequences for these kinds of choices are brutal.

Intelligent enemies don't necessarily want to face the strongest members of a group. If you watch nature documentaries, you can see how wolves will try to cut off a weaker member of a group. Foes can do the same. It is easy to imagine slavers intentionally drawing the braver PCs out while sending others to collect those cowering in the back. Doppelgangers might employ similar tactics.

The point is, you are not trying to punish players for how they approach the game, but rather consider how the game world would react to the approaches they are using.

At the same time, you want to ensure that situations and opponents vary enough that no one tactic is always the right one. Sometimes, the brave PCs who leap into the fray discover that their opponents are illusory, but the covered pit is not.

In short, it is always useful to consider how your players might respond to the encounters you devise, but it isn't useful - at all - to make encounters that are dependent upon the PCs responding on one particular way. That will be the one encounter where the players confound your expectations. Not always, but often enough that you are doing yourself no favors by planning encounters that way in the first place.

My advice is to let the dice fall where they may, and discover if cowardice is a good tactic or a poor one together at the gaming table. The dynamics of the players within the party isn't your concern. Don't let them make it your problem.

Thursday 9 April 2020

Cyclops Con

Here are the events I am running at Cyclops Con.

Hope to see you there! Tickets go on sale April 10th.