Dwimmermount is a beast of a book: several hundred pages long and packed full of pulpy science-fantasy. The dungeon was developed and written by James Maliszewski of Grognardia fame, but edited and published by Tavis Alison and Alexander Macris from Autarch. Dungeon of Signs has a thorough review well worth reading. I agree with much of what Gus has to say about the book.
Translating sparsely worded notes into something that not only makes sense to others but is thoroughly usable by them is harder than it looks, particularly when one has, as I have, come to appreciate firsthand the benefits of sparseness. Having run many levels of Dwimmermount numerous times with groups of different gamers has taught me to find liberation in a certain degree of vagueness, as it gives me flexibility to tailor the dungeon to whoever is currently sitting at the table with me.
There was clearly a disconnect between James and Autarch when it comes to the level of detail expected of a D&D module. The introduction to Dwimmermount touches on this. Autarch finished the book, and so had the final say when it came to the descriptions of the rooms in the dungeon. They are often quite long. Many people seem quite happy with this outcome. I find the level of detail a bit overwhelming. Often times rooms describe things that really don’t need to be spelled out. I prefer terser descriptions: it’s easier to parse out what’s important.
Level 3B begins as follows in the printed version of the book:
In the south-west corner of this room is a tall fountain constructed of white alabaster. The fountain’s surface is decorated with arcane symbols, while the fountain’s basin is visibly discolored, being darker, almost blackish, in places. Covering the basin is a vitreum canopy.
At present, the fountain is not working. If the Power Generator (Room 10) is turned on, the fountain can be activated from the Control Room (Room 3). If activated, the fountain begins to circulate azoth. The vitreum canopy covering the fountain protects spectators from being splashed by the toxic quintessence, but equally prevents them from gathering it. The hemisphere is immune to damage from weapons and similar physical attacks, but if it takes more than 50 points of damage from spells or magical effects, the material will shatter and allow direct access to the fountain itself. 7 gallons of azoth can then be collected per minute, up to a maximum of 1,200 gallons, although this can only be safely done by a character in an environment suit. See Appendix F, Azoth (p. 379), for more details on the properties of azoth.
The areonite pipes that feed the fountain are too small for humanoid creatures to traverse, and highly toxic besides. If the characters somehow get into the azoth pipes themselves (e.g. by diminution), see Chapter 6, Overview of the Dungeon, p. 77, for details on where they might travel.
The room is currently occupied by four throghrin, who guard the steps from Rukruk’s Throne Room (Room 34) on The Reliquary (Level 2B) from interlopers on this level.
Throghrin (4) [AL C, MV 120’ (40’), AC 6, HD 3, HP 13, 12 (×2), 10, #AT 1, DG 1d8 (battle axes), SV F3, ML 10]
The throghrin keep a chest containing 3,000 sp near the steps. If hard-pressed by attackers from this level, the throghrin will abandon this treasure and retreat upstairs, hoping the chest will distract intruders long enough for them to gather reinforcements.
That’s pretty meaty. Who is going to get through that sitting at a table? This is one of my big complaints with a lot of the Goodman Games modules as well. A lot of room descriptions are interesting, but also far too long. Actually, this is probably a fair complaint of most modules published today.
James’ draft of this room for the book is a bit shorter, but hits a lot of the same notes.
In one corner of this room is a strange fountain made of whitish stone and decorated with arcane symbols and covered with a glass-like material. The fountain’s basin is visibly discolored, being darker, almost blackish, in places. At present, the fountain is not working. The controls to activate it can be found in Room 3. If activated, the fountain begins to circulate azoth. The material covering the fountain is immune to damage from weapons and similar physical attacks. However, if it takes more than 50 points of damage from spells or magical effects (wands, etc.), the material will shatter and allow direct access to the fountain itself.
The room is currently occupied by four throghrin, sent down by the hobgoblin king on Level 2B.
Throghrin (4) [AL C, MV 120’ (40’), AC 6. HD 3, HP 13, 12 (x2), 10, #AT 1, DG 1d8, SV F3, ML 10]
The throghrin have a chest containing 3000 sp that they guarded zealously.
He doesn’t spend time talking about gallons of Azoth, or go into too much detail about the what needs to happen to re-activate the well. Both descriptions suffer from burying the lede: they discuss the monsters currently occupying the room after talking about an inert well and how one might go about reactivating it. What’s more important the moment a player walks into this room? This seems like the sort of thing that should come up while editing a book. (I guess the stat block stands out regardless of where it is in the description.)
From seeing James’ rough play notes for other levels of this dungeon, and seeing how he has run games in person, my educated guess for what the original room description was is the following:
Since starting this blog the amount of D&D I’ve been playing has increased greatly. I continue to participate in the Encounters games held at Dueling Grounds. In addition to those games I’ve been playing a fair amount of old-school D&D: a weekly game run by Brendan of Untimately and occasional games run by James M of Grognardia and Reynaldo of Baroviania fame. After playing so much D&D recently I find the differences between the modern incarnation of D&D and its older editions are quite stark.
D&D Encounters is very much the pathological case of a 4th Edition game. Each session is distilled down to the core of 4th Edition: mostly combat with a tiny bit of role playing. For many people D&D Encounters is their first introduction to D&D. After playing in these games for several months now my feeling is that they teach bad gaming habits. Killing things is more or less the only option open to players to resolve conflicts. You might be able to avoid a fight, but there is a disincentive to do so because then you would probably end up with a very short game. Because each Encounters session needs to transition into the next there is also no room for exploration or change. You can’t take a session in a wild new direction. This isn’t true of 4th Edition, obviously, but is of D&D Encounters. I think a good DM can do a lot to keep the game interesting, but the structure of the adventures hinders a lot of creativity.
The Dwimmermount sessions I’ve participated in are actually similar in scope to the Encounters sessions. Dwimmermount offers a good alternative to running a pick up game. Each session is more or less a self contained unit of adventure: you begin on some level of the dungeon and end things back outside. There isn’t some overarching story that ties the Dwimmermount games together. The story is the exploration of the dungeon; the story is what you and the other players choose to make it. Each session can end in all sorts of strange ways because there is no need to lead into the next chapter of a particular adventure.
I’d love to see a D&D Encounters game that was just a dungeon crawl, but i’m not sure that will ever happen. The current structure lets people discuss the game they played in like they might a TV show. Everyone doing their own thing doesn’t facilitate that sort of conversation.
Combat is fast in the older editions of D&D. This is because it’s very abstract. My old-school D&D sessions often feel like they are full of accomplishment. In a few hours you can do a lot: lots of exploring, lots of fighting, lots of puzzles. 4th Edition is much more tactical and meticulous in its presentation of combat. An Encounters session is usually an hour and a half, give or take, and the bulk of that time is spent on a single fight.
I think most people would agree that faster combat is better, but the way 4th Edition handles combat is not without its merit. Because 4th Edition combat is far less abstract you can talk about that fight in a level of detail you don’t often get with older editions of D&D. Dungeon’s Master’s recaps of his Encounter’s sessions are usually quite long, despite the fact they are primarily a description of a fight, because the pieces that make up combat are quite expressive. You really feel the ups and downs of a fight in 4th Edition. In the last game I played we had a round where almost everyone was down, we were on the verge of a total party kill, only to manage a big come back big the next round. It was amazing.
I’m curious to see if the structure of the public play events Wizards of the Coast runs will change with the release of D&D Next. Combat in D&D next is much faster so adventures wouldn’t need to be modeled as a series of fights. They would presumably still be quite linear, but I suspect you could accomplish more per session than you do in the current Encounters program. There are rumours that the next Encounters game will be more varied in what happens week to week. We will have to wait and see.
After a short break we continued our delve of Dwimmermount. We were joined by two more players: another magic-user, and the dumbest fighter ever–the poor guy had a Wisdom score of 3–who was played to perfection by Steve Conner. It turns out those two characters were with us all along, of course.
At the foot of the steps down to level two were a set of lifeless bones wearing armour with weapons at their side. That’s certainly unusual. Our cleric tried to turn them to no effect. You can’t turn a bunch of bones, after all. We walked further down the steps and then they sprung to life. (Maybe you saw that coming.) So began an exploration of the second level of Dwimmermount.
We headed South, finding a room with 6 pillars. Each pillar was made out of a unique material, and each had a character inscribed upon it. In a normal game we would have spent much longer puzzling out what this room was about. As we were playing for a fixed amount of time we quickly moved on. This came up often when exploring the second floor. Because this was a convention game we didn’t dedicate as much time as probably would have in a normal game trying to understand what the rooms we encountered were about. There were lots of strange and interesting rooms on this floor we quickly glossed over. Our focus was more survival and gold.
From here we went East, eventually stumbling upons the ruins of a library. Some careful searching revealed a secret room filled with a cache of books we assumed were of some value. The dilemma: there were hundreds of pounds of these books. We each grabbed one, and decided to move on. We would come back for them at some later date. (Well, in our imaginations, I suppose.)
We moved North from here, passing a room with shattered statues and a stone gargoyle we proceeded to shatter ourselves. We were waiting for it to spring to life. Nope. James informed us that room was now completely full of broken statues. Destroying things was a recurring theme with our party.
Further on we found a room with writing on its walls we couldn’t read. The funny thing about this situation was that we had previously had a conversation about Read Magic / Language being a useless spell because no one ever wastes a spell slot on it. Both our magic-users had charm and sleep. We couldn’t figure out what to do about the writing so we decided to make a sketch and back track.
Heading North once more, we came across another set of pillars. There were four of them, each made of glass, and they ran floor to ceiling seemingly beyond this level in both directions. Each contained one of the four elements. We were going to move on, but someone had a pretty great idea: the air pillar was empty, so why not smash it open and jump down to a lower level of the dungeon. (OK: maybe “great” is the wrong adjective to use with respect to the idea.) We got to smashing and eventually broke enough of the pillar we could send a man through. The problem: we had assumed we had found an empty pillar; in fact air was zipping through the pillar very quickly. We spent a fair amount of time throwing things down the hole to see how fast they sped away, and if we could hear them landing somewhere safely. After some scientific research we decided jumping down was probably not a good idea. Steve’s fighter needed to be talked off the ledge, so to speak.
The very next room we encountered contained several large glass tubes, with doors. Guarding the giant empty tubes were hobgoblins. Our magic-user didn’t feel like another fight so he shouted, “sleep!” and that was that. We decided we would carry one hobgoblin with us to interrogate later. The rest? Well we fed them to the dungeon disposal system we had just found in the previous room. They zipped away to places unknown.
We explored a little bit more, and would have continued to explore indefinitely had Brendan not asked, “can we grab all of those books we found in the secret room, head back to town, try and level up, and then come back to the dungeon ‘two weeks later’”
And so it came to pass we found ourselves levelling up characters in the middle of a one-shot. James didn’t bother rolling for random encounters, something i’m guessing he would do if this was a normal game. As such our exit was without incident. My character actually didn’t earn enough gold to get to the next level, but other players fared better. (We each were grabbing odds and ends as we made our way through Dwimmermount, hence the disparity.) The hobgoblin we were lugging around was now a charmed hireling known as long hair, because we had fed him a potion of hair growth while he was unconscious. (We learned it was a potion of hair growth when his hair started growing.) With that we headed back into the dungeon, right back to where we left off. Once again, I suspect James skipped a few steps to speed things along.
The very first room we encountered when back in the dungeon was once again full of hobgoblins, but also a metric ton of treasure. God damn it! If we had explored one more room before heading back to town we all would have definitely gained a level.
From here we once again encountered a series of strange rooms we didn’t have time or energy to investigate fully: a triangle painted on the ground, probably magical; a room full of statues of gods with their heads replaced, and finally a locked door. We could hear what were probably horrible monsters behind it, so it was probably for the best the doors were locked.
We were running short on time. We back tracked to the start of the level and made our way East. We replaced one charmed hobgoblin hireling with another, after the first was killed in battle with the second. We pressed on, but ultimately our search for a way to the third level wouldn’t be fruitful. No one can say we didn’t try.
The game was a lot of fun. James wasn’t to fussy about a lot of the more tedious rules one would probably pay more attention to in a typical dungeon crawl. We weren’t really tracking time, how long torches last, etc. I think these things can be an important part of the game, but if you are only playing for 3-4 hours, there are much better things to focus on. James also drew the map of Dwimmermount as we explored. (I made my own copy, as I knew I’d want to write about this game later.) This all helped the game run quickly and smoothly. I felt like we accomplished so much in such a short period of time.
This game was probably the highlight of my time at OSRCon. I felt like we had a good group, and that we all had a good time. If you have a chance to play in a game with James I recommend you take it.
We began with 5 players. We rolled up characters using the original D&D rules, and for a change my rolls weren’t half bad. Strength was my highest score so I decided to play a fighter. We used Brendan’s random equipment lists to pick items, so this whole process was very quick. Buying items is probably the slowest part of the character creation process in D&D. I think we all had characters ready to go in about 10 minutes. The bulk of that time was probably spent trying to find the saving throws tables in the old D&D books.1 When all was said and done we had three fighters, a magic user and a cleric ready to go. We also brought two hirelings with us: Mary the Torchbearer, known for her ability to carry a torch, and a porter of no real repute.
Like all good one-shots ours began at the foot of a dungeon. Our group had marched into Dwimmermount in search of gold, presumably. The stairs into Dwimmermount entered into a room with 5 statues. Thankfully they weren’t booby trapped. Neither was the room. When playing the previous day in Ken St. Andre’s Tunnels and Trolls game, our group spent a very long time trying to get into the dungeon. It’s possible that in James’ actual Dwimmermount game this room is full of machine guns, but if you only have a few hours to play it probably doesn’t serve you well to kill all your players a few minutes into your game. We had 4 doors to choose from, one for each direction, and we chose to go East.
I was ready to just walk into the next room, but Brenden, a more patient and prudent player, thought we had a better chance with this dungeon crawl if we proceeded a bit more cautiously. From this point on every door we opened (that had a circular pull) was opened by looping rope through the pull and tugging the door open. Before we ventured into any room we’d listen for noise first. In this fashion we ventured East till we came across a circular room with a set of masks hanging on the wall. One mask was missing, and in front of where it should have been there was a long dead man, now just a pile of bones. I know what you’re thinking: it’s a trap! And you’d be right. Examining the skeleton revealed the missing mask. There wasn’t any indication on his body that he’d been hit by some sort of projectile. Looking at the wall we could see a small hole where the mask would have sat, so we guessed there was some sort of poison gas trap protecting the masks. Now I was ready to just move on, happy I’d avoided the booby trap. Smarter and/or greedier heads prevailed. We decided to carefully loop our rope through the eyes and mouths of the masks and then tug them all off the wall from a safe distance. Sure enough we could hear the room filling up with gas as the masks hit the floor. Our first “loot”: who wouldn’t want creepy death masks from a dungeon?
From here we ventured South. We ended up on the Eastern edge up of a long corridor. There were plenty of doors to open. We ignored the double doors to the East: never trust double doors. The first set of doors to the South eventually led us to the stairs down to the next level. We weren’t quite ready to head down yet.
We walked back to the long corridor and checked out the next room to the South. We found a library with some books and maps that looked like they might be of value. More loot!
Further South was another door behind which we could hear the muffled voices of something, we couldn’t be sure what. One of the other fighters and myself got in place, and we busted that door open. We encountered a bunch of monsters, who looked monstrous and maybe vaguely dwarven. They were small, anyway. We shouted, “surrender!” but they weren’t having any of that. Myself and the other fighter made short work of the first wave that approached us. The rest started to flee. The magic-user in the group thought we just weren’t speaking the right language. He shouted “surrender and join us”, but this time in dwarven. That didn’t go over too well. The ones that were fleeing ran back, angrier than they already were. Lucky for us we were wearing plate mail.2
At this point we could have continued South. We had heard some noises coming from that direction. Maybe we would have encountered more of these crazy definitely-not-dwarves. We decided the best course of action was to start making our way down as deep as we could into Dwimmermount. We were being a bit too cautious for a convention game. I mean, I hadn’t even named my Fighter.
James has a very slick hardback version of the little brown books that he built using his copies of the old Wizards of the Coasts PDFs and Lulu. I was surprised and how good the hardbacks Lulu produces are. It made me want to print up some PDFs. ↩
It costs next to nothing in OD&D. I think by the time you get to 2nd Edition it’s thousands of GP. ↩