Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Monsters & Manuals - The Care & Feeding of Dungeons In Old School Campaigns

 I have to laugh at something I heard around the table when it came to 'monsters' in the dungeon. We had a bunch of very experienced & jaded players who were all dungeon masters in their own right. They run their own home grown campaigns & so have become a bit jaded at being on the other side of the screen. That all changed over the holiday when we got together. Its essential to play and get in time on both sides of the screen. Here's why.
Suddenly we were a group of adventurers again huddled in a tavern looking desperately for work, money, and to simply survive against an alien world. This was a sword & sorcery setting, there were lots of weird humans, cut throats, workers, & strange types. It wasn't just about breaking into a dungeon, it was about playing at the setting.

By the time we had gotten into the dungeon's ruin's were already knee deep in three plot hooks & looking into the deep end of some dire circumstances. The dungeon master's description dripped with details, the exotic sights & sounds had NPC's drifting through that would later on become important. The lack of Elves, Dwarves, etc. told us everything we needed to know & this wasn't a world inspired by Tolkien or Robert Howard or Lovecraft. This was a home brew world set on the edge of a crumbling empire where the lost, the desperate, the outlaw, & even the stupid all went as the last stop before death.

We had heard rumors of some ruins that had yielded treasures beyond imagination and this town had grown over night. Men had practically come on ships and then deserted them in the port's bay but operations were shut down and now they were desperate to restart but the cruel deaths had them wondering. Something was in the mine killing the men. We signed up with the mine owners as a part of the lynch mob that was going down into the mines. The DM had made a twisting bunch of weird tunnels on a map. We ventured into the darkness & kept track of our torches. Then we heard the first scream and it echoed off the walls. The second was followed by the first, on the ground we found a few scattered gold coins leading off into a side tunnel. One of our number was transfixed by the beast's stare & simply stared off as his guts were torn out!
And that's when we saw it! Our guns went off & for a brief moment the entire scene was illuminated! Then the monster closed and we died!

Yes that was this holiday's brief encounter with an Advanced Dungeons & Dragon's Umber hulk in my friend Tom's 1600's African inspired setting that's a spin off from Accursed & Ancient Terra. What did I learn? Well its essential to sometimes get out from behind the screen and actually play. The second thing is too go back and look at the iconic monsters of AD&D & for that matter even the retroclones to use them in new ways. Yes we died rather badly but that really wasn't the point to the game. It was to take a look at how Tom was setting up his adventures & the spins that he was putting to them. Once again a very valuable lesson at the cost of a PC but the lesson will stay with me.

Right now I still have no idea what's happening under Tom's boom town or why there is an Umber hulk killing adventurers, and miners. Seems I might have to go back to find out!

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