Sunday, October 7, 2012

Played Dwimmermount Last Night. Sucked.

Last night we played our second session of Dwimmermount.  We're not going to play it again.

Here's the thing--as a player, I want my character to kick some ass, be awesome, and have a tale to tell back at the tavern so he can get some action with the serving wenches.  You know, Conan, or Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser style.  That to me is the motivation to play an adventurer.

Dwimmermount, at least the first level that we played, provided me with no chance for any of that.

I know it wasn't the players or the DM, because we've played together in different settings under different rule sets and have achieved all of that awesomeness.  Erik Tenkar, of Tenkar's Tavern, ran Dwimmermount as written, which is what we all wanted of him.  He's a great DM.  He has run games full of awesome in the past.   Dwimmermount just didn't come through as a fun environment.

Why?  Let me count the ways...

Way too many empty rooms.  Boring.  There's a reason no one uses Gygax's rule of 1/3  of the rooms ought to be empty and boring as shit anymore.

Rooms with stuff that on its surface looks interesting, but in the end is just a needless distraction that doesn't lead to anything cool.  Ever.  Not even once in a while.  There was one room with ghosts around a table.  They gave no clues to greater mysteries,  they provided no combat opportunities, they were nothing but a waste of time.  We all just said "Eh, whatever," and moved along.  How pathetic is it that our level of apathy towards the mystery of the dungeon is such that we just ignore a room full of ghosts around a table?

There was a room with half dozen balloons.  No one is stupid enough to go into such a room, so we shot them from outside.  One exploded and caused the others to explode.  Would have done damage had we been in there.  Again, who would be stupid enough to be in there?

There was another room where nothing aged.  Why?  Who placed it there?  Why place such a massive investment of magical energy (time stop being a 9th level spell) into a room with not a goddamned thing in it worth anything?  At the end I just wanted to smash everything in the room out of frustration.

Then, random rooms with stuff in it for no reason.  In one room, in a corner, is a bag with 1000 gp.  Why?  Empty otherwise, except for the orcs we drove off.  Orcs, with 1000 gp.  Exactly 1000 gp.  It's a very exact dungeon.  Another room had debris in it.  After killing the rats in it, we spent 30 minutes looking thru rat shit and found 2000 cp.  Why?  Oh, and there was also some other crap like a pin and a comb worth some money.

Did I mention that between all these rooms were a never ending stream of empty useless rooms, filled with debris whose sole boring purpose was that if you searched them you would attract wandering monsters?

And then we come to a door with a poison trap, save or die.  He died.  Well, he had 30 minutes to die, so he did what any adventurer would want to do, he tried to go out in a blaze of glory, so that he didn't feel that all the events leading up to his death weren't the biggest waste of time ever.  He ran forward, triggering every trap, taking a swing at everything he saw, until he was dead.

Truthfully, I wanted to follow him into death--the dungeon was that boring. 

Now, could you imagine sitting around the bar with your fellow companions, nursing your grievous rat bite wounds, chugging a beer and telling your story of badassness to the other patrons and adventurers and serving wenches in your never ending quest for fame or glory as an adventurer?

"And then we found another room!  And it had nothing in it!  And another! And another!  And another! And then we fought rats!  Big Rats!  With Big Teeth!  Here, look at the wound in my ankle!  And I searched through the ratshit for half an hour and found all these coins!  Apparently rats can count well, because there were exactly 2000 of them.  And a fancy comb for my Lady!"

"What, you want me to use a comb that's been covered in rat shit for decades?  What kind of cheap whore do you think I am!  Take your pissy comb and rat-shit covered hands somewhere else!  And by the way, you stink like a dead rat too!" as she pours the beer in his lap.

Where's the grand tale of adventure in that?  Would it make a good movie?  Would you pay eight bucks to see it on the big screen?  Did we do anything awesome?  Did we encounter weird ass shit and survive by the skin of our teeth, using our wits and courage to overcome the obstacles?  Was there at any point an opportunity or a need to be creative with the stuff in the environment to further our ends?  Was the environment itself creative and mysterious, leaving us a with a sense of awe and wonder?  Did it make us want to explore further?  Did it open up further layers of a mystery?

Or did we just push and pull at meaningless torch sconces that didn't move, hoping for a secret door and an end to the boredom, as we tripped over yet another empty crate in yet another empty room and attracted yet another 1d6 orcs armed with rusty shortswords carrying 3-6 sp each ?

Shoot me.

Just make it cool, man.

Make every dungeon something that no matter who DM's it, the players and their characters have a cool story to tell the next day.  I mean, most of us do mind-numbing meaningless boring shit from 8-6 every day.  At night, we roll the dice and want an escape into something cooler than our cubicles.  Just give that to people. 

I'm just glad I didn't invest in the Kickstarter.


  1. What was in the empty rooms? Were they mostly like "empty room, obviously bare, choice of directions", or were they like "empty room, pile of miscellaneous rubble and some rotten barrels", or were they like "empty room, filled with human bones / hundreds of melted candles on ledges / lewd carvings of people copulating with snakes"?

  2. more like the rotten barrel, old furniture and empty crate variety

  3. That does sound kinda lame. I like the empty room rule myself but there's no reason they can't be interesting.

  4. There were lots of rooms with mosaics from the Thulian Empire, and all the statues we found had their heads replaced with this dude that was a big thing back in the day.

    I don't mind finding things that don't make sense yet, but when I find things that don't make sense and I have no reason to care if they do -- as happened here -- it's a little disappointing.

    Like those ghosts we found. They were playing chess or something. We saw them, they kept playing chess. No way to interact with them, examining them didn't tell us anything, nothing.

    "I guess someone left the TV on." Move on.

  5. I loved that "someone left the tv on" comment :)

  6. "nursing your grievous rat bite wounds" is a great bit of writing. SOmeone should start the next Wheel of Time spinoof that way.

  7. It was over just such complaints over too much meaningless dungeon dressing that the players in my first D&D campaign deposed me.

    29 years ago ...

  8. I played in the first part of this game but I couldn't make the second. Now I am sort of happy, while I had fun playing with you guys Joe was right, empty rooms were boring. I think that if all that stuff lead to some big over arching story it would be sweet, but from what I saw it didn't and that makes me a sad panda. Maybe the gm is supposed to make something out of it, but it's a module shouldn't they have everything in them already?

  9. Going by your description, this is exactly what I would expect in Dwimmermount. Haven't you been reading Grognardia the last few years and seen what James thinks is cool?

  10. A boring, exact man wrote a boring, exact dungeon? I'm shocked!

  11. Holme's sample dungeon had a lot of empty rooms and I always hated running it when I was young. There was always a good chance that players would just hit empty room after empty room.

    When I've run the dungeon recently, I stocked every empty room with something odd, weird, unique, puzzling, interesting. Nothing that would kill players but things that would just interested, cautious and a bit off balanced.

    I see an "empty room" as an opportunity to freak players out.

    heh, it doesn't take much.

  12. @ bliss_infinite: Interesting to bring it up... Holmes' sample dungeon may have empty rooms but it also has some cool and fun things for players to do and interact with. Based on Joe's description of Dwimmermount it has nothing like that! Sounds agonizingly pointless... Ugh.

  13. Sorry, but an empty room is supposed to be made interesting by the GM. The onus is on the GM, not on the product itself, to create adventure, excitement, interesting scenarios (and I'm not just talking about treasure, traps, and monsters). The product, the dungeon, is a tool. The GM must wield it.

  14. Some people like to explore. Some Game Masters like to improvise little details on the fly for sparsely detailed rooms. Some people like tactical combat, some people like diplomatic negotiations. Some prefer great tasting beer, some prefer less filling beer. I think a lot of condemnation of a particular style could be avoided (and a lot of time saved) if Game Masters and Players all sat down beforehand and talked a little bit about what kind of game they are actually going to play.

  15. @Dance
    Dwimmermount is not like "In Search of Adventure". It is supposed to be the "legendary" Dungeon JMal has Refereed for a few years.
    From a product that was pimped like Dwimmermount through JMals Blog and by Autarch and that raised moe than 48K through Kickstarter I expect a finished product not some half assed dungeon where I have to fill the rooms with interesting stuff.
    Of course every DM fiddles with the dungeon and changes stuff. But that is optional and not mandatory.

    Of course the product is a tool and I can work with a barebones approach. I can even work with just a dungeon map.

    But Dwimmermount was not advertised a a barebones dungeon.

    Look at other big OSR Dungeons: ASE, Stonehell and Barrowmaze.
    Some might not like ASE Gonzo elements, some might not like the one page dungeon design of stonehell and some do not like the many Undead in Barrowmaze. But so far I have read not review that complains that these dungeons are boring.
    So they seem to have something that is missing from Dwimmermount.

    Therefore IMHO it is not the DM in this case but the product that is lacking.

  16. @KristianH: I will grant you that the Dwimmermount product may very well be a much more inferior product when compared to the hype that surrounded it. And I think James does deserve some ire because the movement toward completion of the product has slowed considerably. But still, I know what it's like to be a GM as a busy adult, and sometimes you just don't have the same ability as you did when you were young to make things entertaining. I guess that's where I'm coming from, as I am hard on myself when I look back on a session and see where I could have done better to add some spice to "empty" dungeon rooms.

    But you're right, there are sub-par products out there. A GM needs to spend some precious free time to make it really sing. But that's tough these days!

  17. In all fairness, some megadungeons are more geared towards campaign play, and reward careful investigation to reveal underlying mysteries that impact the campaign, while others are more geared towards one-shot adventures and guarantee lots of whiz-bang action in every delve. Neither is objectively better than the other; they are just aimed at different audiences.

  18. @Dance:
    I am with you there. A busy family life and a stressfull job tends to blunt my ability to be creative and fill the blanks on the fly with interesting stuff. I know that I either have to prepare in advance (write down ideas etc.) or trust the adventure to give me what I need.

  19. I agree that such dungeons are boring, but it's what I too would have expected. Room, monster, treasure; room, monster, treasure. I bet playing in the original Castle Greyhawk would have been much the same.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.