A month’s worth of sessions – a megadungeon reflection update

Quite a few more sessions have passed since the first look back at running an open-table megadungeon, so it seems appropriate to have an update.

From the Barrowmaze GM Screen

Affairs so far

Of the 41 sessions so far (current global matters have ensured the capacity for rather a lot of games in a short space of time) I have GMed 33 – it’s been great to see several of the players step forward and take the reigns to run through their own adventures dotted around the regional map, using the same player characters but not imposing upon the Barrowmaze material. Consequences both good and bad carry over.

Most of expeditions have some form of recorded account of what happened which is gratifying to look back on and very helpful for comparing with my own notes which, for all their useful prompts and reminders, aren’t all that easy to work through chronologically. The wiki accounts work as a very handy calendar!

As well as written reports, some players have been chiming in with some illustrated depictions of characters and events, and even coded a memorial to all the dead player characters and hirelings.

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Courtesy of Tony’s player, Kabaldo

Further details on the characters and expeditions can be found on our campaign wiki.

In addition to pushing into the Barrowmaze, some expeditions have tried exploring further afield, both coming across unknown locations and following hooks discovered while carousing, so I have been prompted to expand the module’s regional map somewhat, and have seasoned some of the hexes with some other, shorter modules to add a bit of variety to the proceedings.

Barrowmaze as a module provides a good number of possible hooks for a GM to build upon, and plenty of room for brand new elements to be introduced.

I re-aligned the module’s cartography so that the regional map’s cardinal directions mapped that of the barrow fields

One particular location of note that the parties have come across so far is the tower to the south west of Helix. The characters had been clearing of its inhabitants over the course of a few sessions, one of them hoping to turn it into a ranger outpost, until they used a magic item found in a barrow to summon some undead to cover their escape from a were-rat infested cellar. Unfortunately they summoned the most powerful creature on a d100 table and, since their escape involved dousing the cellar with oil and setting it alight, ticked it off rather. It has claimed the tower and is upsetting the natural order immediately around it.

What was simply a location taken from a Basic Fantasy RPG adventure has evolved to merge with the overall story of the Barrowmaze.

The players have also started mapping the barrow field itself, though having started doing so quite a few sessions in, the current version is missing a lot of the barrows they’ve already found and cleared. If it were me, I’d be devoting an expedition or two just to try and map out most of the barrows. *cough cough*.

But who am I to force players into anything?

At my last calculation, the expeditions so far have uncovered just over a quarter of the small barrows in the great field above the megadungeon, and three entrances into the big beast itself. Despite spending a fair number of sessions exploring it, they have barely scratched the surface of the actual Barrowmaze dungeon.

Each hex is ten minutes’ travel on foot.

Game time

Off-White Cube’s long-distance travel rules seem to have worked well enough for trips out to other places of interest, but I find myself waiving away a lot of their consequences in the interest of getting the party back to Helix without having to roll on the dreaded ‘lost in the mists’ table. Perhaps I need to be a bit stricter, either with timekeeping leading up to the return or with just accepting that the characters get ‘misted up’ and risk dying to a die roll.

It’s either that or longer sessions, and I’ve found the 2.5 – 3 hour-long session is about as much as I can take online – your attention as a GM in particular is focused for so much more of the game time than is usually the case in a face-to-face session. Even when players are discussing plans together, I’ve found that I can’t sit back and tune them out while I work on another facet of GMing – the conversation is always being subconsciously flagged as something the brain needs to keep tabs on.

This is perhaps exacerbated by the larger scope of play now – whereas before the discussion at the beginning of a session was largely how many hirelings to get and which direction to approach the barrows from, now there are more destinations to consider, NPCs to interract and commit dastardly intrigue with, and things to spend money on. I feel vindicated at least in limiting the amount of mundane shopping that gets done thanks to quantum Supplies – that could easily add half as much time again to the planning phase.

Burning pockets

I introduced the opportunity for characters to have a bit of downtime activity in between expeditions to get rid of some of their cash.

To go carousing, at the start of a session a player can choose roll a d6 and multiplies the result by 100 – that is both how much gold they spend and how much XP their character gains from their activities. I then roll up a carousing result (players can choose the choice of activity: drunken debauchery, pious reflection, scholarly study or wilderness trekking – tables all a messy collection from various corners of the internet) and the character suffers the consequences / reward. Characters are walking around with ill-advised tattoos, deeds to abandoned mines, heavy fines and a mysterious yet-to-be-identified egg.

It’s turned out to be a nice little mini-game, with characters risking going into debt to some utterly nice and savoury characters in an attempt to reach the next level before setting off on the next expedition, and has proved to be a pretty good money sink for the substantial amount of treasure that the Barrowmaze yields. Turns out if you’re careful enough to survive, you can level up very quickly after very few expeditions. There have been buildings to buy, and one player has across successive characters looked deep into what it would take to fortify a bunker so that characters might be able to start an expedition from amongst the barrows.

Bodycount

It’s been interesting to see how players cycle through exploration habits. There is always a point at which confidence grows even amongst the most cautious, and they go for just one more room, then something goes wrong and someone nearly / actually dies and the character jumps at their own shadows for another few sessions.

The fact that this is an open table with different characters taking part in each expedition gives the GM a fascinating glimpse at players caution or encourage others who are at different stages in this cycle, and then find themselves receiving just the same caution and encouragement a few sessions later.

Off-White Cube continues to be a fairly forgiving system, but one that still instils a tension and wariness. I hope that none of the 11 character deaths so far felt like they were unavoidable.

CHARACTER (PLAYER)CLASS (LEVEL)CAUSE OF DEATH (WHEN)
Lynn (GeneralPacman)Thief (1)Ambushed by a giant scorpion (expedition 1)
Dhra’gaar (DuskTemplar)Wizard (1)Swallowed whole by a whirling bone abomination (expedition 7)
Yaztromo (Mihau)Channeller (1)Hugged by a wight (expedition 10)
Sgt Rumpus  (ChillBlinton)Barbarian (1)Chilled by a wraith (expedition 16)
Wee Davey (Si_S)Druid (3)Pinned to the wall by a sonic swordfish (expedition 21)
Kalis (DuskTemplar)Duellist (2)Fire-trapped (expedition 23)
Longusfaber (BaaL)Fighter (2)Charmed by an undead bloodsucker (expedition 31)
McDump (Baht Bought Bot)Fighter (1)Caught by a wight (expedition 33)
Toasty (Wee Davey)Bard (1)Pitted against a clockwork scorpion (expedition 35)
Finkel the Spearman (Wizard Lizard)Fighter (2)Became 40 years younger, aged 28 (expedition 36)
Skroot (Baal)Adventurer (2)Accidentally relieved from ooze-based misery by Buck (expedition 38)
To say nothing of the 15 combatants, 8 porters, 2 wardogs, hired fighter and weaponised mimic

Going forward

Four months of campaign providing 41 sessions has been quite full on. I’ve enjoyed it as a creative outlet which hasn’t been hampered by current global matters, and they’ve provided some helpful structure to the working week. Lockdown seems to be easing back a little bit in the UK, however – I’m back in the office regularly now, and energy levels in the evening are lower than before now that there’s two hours’ worth of (desperately needed) walking being incorporated back into the daily commute. We’ll see if we can keep up ten sessions a month!

So far Barrowmaze has been terrific fun, and very convenient for a low-prep-inclined GM.

Now that wizards are at higher levels (and thus access to decent polymorphing spells) and druids have shapeshifting abilities, there’s been talk of arranging some Mausritter games with magicked characters incorporating a different perspective in the Barrowmaze universe – I’m quite keen to see if we can make that work.

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