Saturday, March 5, 2022

The More The Merrier

 More players means more fun - not just "players at one time", but "players over time" as well.

Although I've run plenty of one-shot con games, twice I broke this pattern and ran more improvised sessions which were linked.  The Saturday session players stomped around an area, and then the Sunday session players were able to experience the influenced area.  The extra layer of organic, emergent gameplay made a big difference!


In the first experiment, I threw together some small hexes for players to explore.  I had a few things fixed on the map, including a starting point, and a random encounter table to use - that was it.  For that first session, I ended up with only two players.  All good!  It was important to me to explain to these guys what I was trying to do - first that they could go anywhere, do anything, engage with hooks or not, etc; and second that I had a second session the next day where they could play again or perhaps other players would have a similar experience.

In minutes, we had Philo the Mental Magician (magic-user) and his bodyguard Brute the Barbarous (fighter) ready to go.  I don't remember everything they did that day, but I recall three things.  By pure chance, they encountered the young green dragon on the encounter table - and rather than engage it in combat (smart choice) the PCs attempted to parley.  A young dragon might have an incomplete understanding of vernacular common...

"Who am I, you ask?  Foolish tiny bipeds, with your membrane-less eyes and backward walking-arms, I shall tell you who I am.  Know that none may withstand my power, none may suffer through it and survive!  Know also that my poisonous breath-clouds will squeeze the life from the lungs of even the mightiest with great expertise!  Therefore, among Man, I am to be known as The Insufferable Choke-Master!"

There was a lot of pandering to the dragon, of course.  I am very grateful that Philo's player did a whole line of Puss-In-Boots questioning about whether the dragon was mightier than This or could he kill That with his breath weapon, finally ending with Philo asking if the dragon were sufficiently mighty to kill himself with his own breath weapon...which allowed me to deliver the line "What an amusing philosophical question!  I confess it would give me great pleasure to choke myself!"  Philo fast-talked the hell out of that dragon - learning about a nearby giant in the process - and thankfully the Choke-Master flew off.  

Later there were some magical garden gnomes who the PCs turned on - the gnomes set to work building a magnificent garden with a brick wall around it.  Brute and Philo were content to leave them to their work.  

Finally, I remember they ended the session by locating the tower of Montalba the Giant, tussling with some of his Very Large Guard Dogs, and ending up having supper with the magical Rackham-styled giant and taking a job as his procurers, since he himself could not leave his castle lest he lose his powers.

All in all, a solid session - some laughs, weirdness, peril.  To prep for the second section, I removed the mountain lion they'd killed from the encounter table, and instead replaced it with an entry of "Philo & Brute on errand for giant".

Kneel before the Choke-Master!


The next day I had five fresh players, several of whom were kids - this was fine, I'm no stranger to running for kids.  This crew elected to take pregens rather than make their own characters, which was a good thing since none of them had played B/X before.  It didn't take long for us to have a pair of fighters, a dwarf, and a thief exploring the hexes.

I don't remember most of what they did that session - shame on me and my note-taking skills - but I do remember that the dice gave us the green dragon again.  This was unexpected but awesome - the dragon was willing to talk, but his opinions and goals were shaped by what Philo had told him (all lies of course) the previous session.

I charge you to quest for some rich, Corinthian leather


A couple years later I tried it again, this time for a pair of sessions which I'd advertised as "B/X for kids".  In this case I didn't use little hexes, I just had a small map with a village, forest, and river, and I ginned up a couple problems to solve seeded in the area, figuring very new players might benefit from something straightforwardly heroic.

My players for this session were three girls, all friends, who I think were eleven or twelve, or some combination of the two.  From the pregen stack, they ended up choosing two fighters and a thief; one of the fighters was definitely the stronger personality and became the de facto leader of the group.  Off they went!

One of the main things I remember them doing that session was dealing with a reputed monster (or maybe one NPC thought it was a haunting) that had been troubling the farms on the outskirts of the village for several days.  There were reports of a monstrous figure with an immense black head, bellowing as it thrashed through the woods, occasionally lurching onto farm property and breaking things.  The PCs interviewed a farmer, the usual stuff, then headed into the woods in pursuit of the thing.

Before long they found the creature bumbling about the woods, and they realized it was a stupid ogre with his head stuck in a cauldron.  They immediately fell to deciding what to do next.  Leader Girl wanted to engage the ogre and slay it for the glory and possible reward.   Second Fighter wondered if they could help the ogre, thorn-in-paw style, and maybe make friends with it.  And the thief reasoned that the ogre would probably starve to death in the next few days anyway, so why not follow it around at zero risk til it falls over dead, then claim credit?  Note carefully that all three of these are classic PC courses of action!  

In the end, they went with fighting the ogre.  Once it was slain, they removed the cauldron, saw some magical writing inside and realized the cauldron probably belonged to that witch the villagers had been talking about... so one thing led to another and returned the magic cauldron and did some work for the witch to round out the session.

Another possible ally brutally murdered


Based on what the girls had said the day before, I didn't expect them back for the Sunday session, but thank goodness I kept the characters, because they came back, and brought a fourth friend!  We were also joined by two boys, so the party now consisted of two fighters, two thieves, a cleric, and a dwarf.  Not too shabby - rolling deep and ready for adventure.

This time around, we saw how engaged PCs drive the action.  Leader Girl knew immediately what the group should do, and it was simple: take all of the cool stuff they'd seen in the witch's cottage, either by slaying the witch outright, or coming up with a plan to steal from her when she wasn't home.  A natural PC, this one.

What followed was a great improvised session involving casing a witch's cottage, trying to figure out her schedule, distracting a witch, and eventually six low-level PCs trying to rapidly loot a witch-cottage in which most of the utensils were animated, gravity was inverted if you walked up the wall confidently, and various weird but minimally-perilous critters were about (some in cages).  It was a Baby Yaga's Hut thing, you might say.

When all your players are 12, you can just steal Witch Hazel as the NPC and they will never know

As the witch returned from gathering potion-components, the players panicked.  They didn't really want to tangle with the witch -- so they tried to put things back the way they were (poorly).  The thief from the previous session remembered the witch mentioning that the writing in her cauldron was to protect her when mixing potions, so she very quickly messed with the writing - I can't remember if she added a stroke in paint or erased a stroke using the cleaning supplies they'd found in the witch-kitchen.

Anyway, the witch returns, the PCs play innocent, witch kicks them out for messing with her house.  The PCs pull back to a safe distance and watch, seeing the witch making her potion through the window...   but without the protective qualities of the cauldron, something goes wrong, there's a small explosion, and the PCs run in to find one dead witch with her face melted off.  The wishing-ring on her knobby hand seemed intact, though...

We ended the session talking about how they could use the three wishes in the ring in a way that would benefit all six PCs with relative equality.  Suffice it to say those characters are still around somewhere on the map, each with a magical mount and weapon.

FOUR YEARS LATER a different group of regular PCs come across the sprawling, topiary-filled garden built and maintained by animated clay garden gnomes.  They did not run into the giant Montalba or the green dragon, but they were around and encounterable.

The garden had become a fully-functional garden gnome-scale town, with a tavern, general store, barbershop, and surprisingly-classy bordello that the PCs refused to visit


Don't stop running your campaign.  If you're doing a con game, it should be part of your campaign (even if it's a module), building on what you've already done, and then feed back into the ongoing campaign.  Run every session like it matters, and then LET IT MATTER.  Let the PCs affect the campaign and setting and put things on the map (or remove them).  That's a living world.

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