Wednesday, May 25, 2016

More on longer delves in Felltower

So the other day I was noodling on about longer delves in Felltower. I got some interesting suggestions, most of which I waved off.

It's probably annoying to give me advice, because my answer is frequently, "No, not that."

Part of this is just me. But most of it in this case is because I'll know the solution I want to try when I see it.

Also it's because my goal in this case is:

- a player-facing solution, with minimum in-game effects;


- a single solution that fits many circumstances;

but also

- primarily addresses the meta-game issues from multi-session trips in the dungeon while keeping the go-and-return delve setup.

Obviously, safe rooms, one-time same zones, helpful-wizard-in-a-room, dungeon towns, etc. are an in-game solution to longer delves.

But all of those add a place for the PCs, mid-session, to rest, recuperate, and potentially resupply. I don't have an issue with that in some cases. Sometimes, that's what I want - and I've put safe zones like that in my game. The PCs know of one in the Cold Fens, at least one in Felltower, and one that they could potentially use as one also in Felltower.

While they'd explain why a PC can drop out and be safe, so would a sufficient amount of handwavium and willing suspension of disbelief. They also fail to easily explain how new PCs would get there, especially if access to the multi-session areas of the dungeon is restricted in some way. You know, "We read the cursed scroll, how did you get here?" "There was a spare cursed scroll." Or, "We jumped through the closing gate, and it turns out we could have waited until you showed up?"

Like I said, though, I don't need them to accomplish some of what I'd like to do. Neither would they solve the rest. And they'd add complications - a "dungeon town" you can rest in means it's possible the game is now based out of Dungeon Town. I might like that, but it doesn't solved the cursed scroll issue. It doesn't help when we're quitting mid-gigantic-combat because people have to leave because of real-world concerns.

And pausing mid-combat if we have to isn't a big deal. We've done that multiple times and I expect to do it again.

When we stop a session, we pause game-world time for those characters. So if you play on 1/10/2016 and do three sessions in the dungeon that last half of one game-day and the last one is on 4/23/16, and then the next time we play is on 5/24/16, how does time pass? Simple. You were in the dungeon on 1/10/2016 until 1/10/2016, left, and were having downtime until 5/24/16.* We do fixed downtime actions, costs, etc. so it's no more or less than you'd get anyway, just more time passed.

It's also an issue that I expect some of these longer delve areas to be planned delves, but others to be surprises. Sometimes you know there is a one-way door, a one-shot access point, a gate that you can only open once, etc. and you go right there and start the delve. Other times, it'll be one last door, I just pull this lever, let's just read the scroll now in case it's healing, this is probably a secret door to a treasure vault not a treasure-filled-temporary sub-level, etc. It's not really about multi-session trips through the deep dark caverns and sleeping in dungeons or how do I do downtime in a dungeon. It's when Players A, B, C, and D do something that takes a couple of sessions and then next session I have Players B, C, D, E, and F.

Ultimately, what I'm trying to figure out is how to still have a pick-up game where people come and go. A game where we start and end in town whenever possible, just for the sheer logistical ease this has for the players and the GM. A game where delves are rewarded, not sessions, encouraging go-and-return delving and keeping a move on, because dragging things out ultimately lowers the rewards earned. But also to have larger areas that will necessarily take multiple sessions. All solved with a minimum of in-game modifications or additions that could have unforseen consequences.

That's a tough combination, I know that.

Some things I can handwave, sometimes. Others, not so much. And experience when it actually happens will shape it all. But still I need to have some basic rules down so I can see how they work when it comes up. I like the bits I have so far, but the core issue - players coming and going - I still don't have solved. But I expect I'll know what I want to try when I see it.

* Just to simplify further, you ordered a magic item when you left that three-session delve, it would be put down as being purchased on the day you told me you wanted it . . . turns out you forgot to order it until the day you told me. No back-checking, back-ordering, etc. unless circumstances explain that - like when Vryce's player said, "I'll fully re-equip, can I do that when I'm about to run Vryce?" so we back-dated his purchases to then. Because it wasn't back dating since he asked back then . . .


  1. Part of this is unavoidable - sometimes things will just take longer than expected. Your existing methods largely handle this.

    Part of this is your own darn fault - you deliberately included stuff (pocket dimensions etc.) that doesn't fit with your preferred format. I don't think you want to deliberately remove those things, but your existing method might need some tweaking.

    You mostly covered this idea, but I suggest treating these "Extended Delve Areas," whenever possible, like Cold Fens. New roster, temporary delve base, only lasts until players are finished with EDA. I realize that a (safe place to rest level) delve base and source of new 250 pt delvers won't fit in with every EDA, but you can probably squeeze some in with minimal stretching. (I once had a Party in a sealed dungeon find a new PC as treasure in a chest and no one complained). Since these conceits only need to last a handful of sessions it should be sustainable.

    1. If I'm understanding you correctly, each EDA would basically be a side-campaign that will eventually re-merge with the main campaign?

      The reason the Cold Fens and Lost City worked the way they did was we wanted a new campaign area for new PCs. It's trickier to do it with existing PCs. I do like the idea of new players coming in might have to make a new character to be found in the area. I encourage people to have multiple PCs, after all.

      I still don't see an overall need for a safe base in those EDAs, though. If I dump the players in some hellhole they can't escape for 2-3 sessions, it's one thing to say, "You discover a prisoner and it's this new PC!" and another to say, "I'll give you a temporary base area when this situation comes up." I can't promise that.

      Acknowledging that some areas are large enough to be a new mini campaign and PCs who enter will need to stay there for a while is a good concept for me to work with, though, for sure.

    2. You are understanding me correctly. You are right that you don't need a safe area - it's just nice if there's some way for the extended delve to result in extended CPs.

      Not required, but nice.

    3. Well, I don't want to encourage them to get comfortable. :)

      By CPs do you mean character points? I'd still award them, in all circumstances, only on return to the surface and actual town. You may get a multiple on return, but none until then (except MVP, which is immediate upon end of a session.)

      And to answer the inevitable question from my players, no, you don't get multiple XP if you do a delve faster than I expected. If I think three sessions, plan for 3x XP, and you do it in two, you get 2x.

    4. The concept of our group delving faster than expected is the true definition of Dungeon Fantasy. ;)

  2. I am currently involving several groups of Northport players in trying to establish a "Dungeon town" for thr purpose of extended runs.

  3. Just as a tangent, I was impressed by the way StoneHell (which Peter pointed me at) sprinkled the whole giant crazy layer cake with shortcuts and potential safe houses that I think would make a "One delve a session" work quite well for over 90% of it's content.

    Aside from the very bottom level, PCs who are mapping stuff out should be able to get from the surface to their current frontier relatively quickly.

    Occasional use of diplomacy instead of violence should result in safe places to stay if that is their thing as well.

    This being a DnD variant, unlucky or ambitious adventurers might also discover they have gotten way out of their "depth," but only if they are unaware of the genre conventions.

  4. Here's a thought (he said, soon after reading the "I'll probably say No" manifesto). If there's an area that you'd expect the party to get caught up in over multiple sessions, why not include some sort of gimmick that allows them to get back to town X number of times, then burns out?

    Maybe there's a statue of Sterick in a room somewhere, and doing the right ritual creates a magical link between it and the big statue that they pass by on every delve, but the corrosion of the burning void damages the little one a bit more each trip.

    This would allow you to set up and enforce a "par" for certain areas while also avoiding the meta-game weirdness that comes from time passing, players becoming present or absent, etc. Nu?

    1. The issue there is that to get around the issue of players coming and going, I'm allowing for:

      - total rest, healing, resupply, improvement, recruiting, research, etc. between sessions.
      - have to come up with a lot of gimmicks.
      - go-and-return special areas, encouraging "go, then come back, then get really really really ready for the next trip because we might not have another left." Instead of encouraging completion of the area, I'm encouraging saving some "in case we want to go back" and running away to come back when you can win an overwhelming victory. Or never.

      Think of the druagr, if you remember them. 33 tough, well equipped draugr with a lot of obvious loot. Extra pay on tap for part of that loot. Easy to go to and return from. Still there, because no one is every quite ready to go.

      I will admit I do have areas that allow rapid transport back and forth in Felltower. I even have an item or two that will effectively get you back to town without having to climb out of the dungeon. But I'd rather not build in "bail on this and come back later" just to ease the player issues.

      I do like the diminishing resource transport ritual, though, I might need to use that even if not for this!

    2. Hmm.

      - Maybe the transportation is time-limited and players "snap back" to the host statue after an hour or something? It does make it more gimmicky, but perhaps you could spin it as a mechanism for guards within to sortie to the outside. That would give them time only for one in-town action, but would admittedly mess up the time and the "player roster changing" issue, at least without some more fussing around. ("Oh no; Bob clapped Joe on the shoulder and for some reason Joe came back with us instead of Bob!"?)

      - I don't see the problem with just having one gimmick and working it into the dungeon as a recurring element, really, especially if it's only used with special areas that you'd expect to end up becoming multi-session delves.

      - I remember the draugr, yeah. I feel like the "snap-back" option would at least make this a non-issue?

      Well, it is admittedly a sort of kludge fix that invites other complications later on. I'm glad to have contributed a useful idea, at any rate! :)

    3. The snap-back might actually work well for some areas - you can go in, but your time there is limited!

  5. First I'll say that I don't think there is one solution to cover all situations. But including things like "dungeon towns" are part solutions.

    I would just let your players know that if a game ends in the dungeon then when they play next, their character may not be where they left them. Then if your players are OK with GM control of PCs, you could try "intro scenes" where some events took place between sessions: "Bob got bit by a plague beetle and decided to head back to town.", "John tried to explore on his own, got lost, then bummed into the rest of the group."

    Another solution from when I first started playing RPGs was the "Trickster" NPC. This was a very powerful wizard/jester who could alter the dungeon, teleport characters, and play other "tricks" on the party. Having a PC suddenly disappear then reappear in a latter session (usually locked in a large chest, or captured by orcs, fixes the problem, but might be a bit silly for your game.

    1. I'm fine with the occasional "so-and-so wanders back to town" but I don't really want to control PCs. As long as I have some basic approach that I can use to deal with most of the situations, I'll probably be okay.

      Trickster Wizard would be a rough fit in the game as it's actually run, though, as easy as that would make it.


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