Necromancer 1, Party 0

We had our first player character death in Tunnels & Trolls last night.

This was the fourth session of playing T&T, though the campaign began using the minimalist Tunnel Goons rules. We switched over to T&T after 7 sessions due to my feeling that TG required too much additional design work to make it “go” on a long term basis: it wasn’t giving me enough levers to pull on, and as I added more of my own I realized since I was on the way to rewriting TG so it was more like T&T, we might as well just play T&T (fifth edition, with some house rules).

The dead character was Rigo, the first (and, thus far only) player character native to the T&T portion of the game (the others were converted over from TG), played by Carlos who joined us in our 8th session overall and our first session playing T&T. Rigo was the group’s only wizard and this is Carlos’ first RPG experience, so there were a number of reasons this was actually shocking/emotionally rocky in the moment.

The circumstances of his death: the party was making a second attempt on raiding the stronghold of a Necromancer who was up to no good (specifically: trying to capture trolls and vivisect them to use their regenerating parts as the material for creating ever more hideous half-dead servants). During the first delve, the party had managed to avoid much in the way of combat and had found a Protection from Undead scroll on the dungeon’s second level. Rather than push onwards, they decided to head back to town so that Rigo could learn the spell and add it to his repertoire (rather than simply having it be a one use scroll) and then teach it to Rufus (a rogue): the party (rightly) felt this was a good strategic play, giving them a potential leg up on dealing with the Necromancer’s skeleton guards with very little downside, as they had avoided being noticed by the Necromancer or any of his henchmen. (That is, there was no danger that the Necromancer might beef up security in the meantime). 

After using the downtime to learn the spell, the party headed back to the Necromancer’s lair. Apart from Rigo and Rufus (played by Mark), the player characters are Ashlash (played by George), a lizard man warrior, and Rochembeau (played by Rod), a warrior based on the protagonist of the Castlevania game (who has a real hatred for Necromancers and undead). Rochembeau and Ashlash are the powerhouses in terms of melee: both rolling 6 or 7 dice with 10 adds or so.

This time through they made a point to fully clear out the first level and dispatched 5 giant spiders fairly easily. They again went through the second level by avoiding the (mostly) obvious traps and so by the time they reached the third level, it had a been a very easy delve so far (in retrospect, this may have fed into an unrealistic sense of security).

On the way up to the third level, they ran into the Necromancer’s Half-Orc lieutenant, Hagodur: because of a good reaction roll and Rochembeau’s attempt to parley, he agreed to a deal with the party to stay out of their way in return for a share of any loot (but also more or less admitted that if it looked like things were turning against them he wouldn’t be lending any more help).

Hagodur also helpfully pointed them right towards the shrine part of the dungeon level where the Necromancer was currently scheming with three of his cultist sycophants. The party made their way there, though did take time to free some prisoners/would-be-test-subjects.

The party opted for a “break down the door and attack” approach as opposed to using sneakier, more ambush-y tactics. Inside the shrine room, the Necromancer was overseeing a ritual/experiment with his three cultist henchmen. The party busted through the doors and moved to attack them.

Things turned ugly fairly quickly: in the magic phase of the round, the Necromancer got off a Take That You Fiend at a randomly rolled target — which ended up being Rigo. Rigo failed his Luck save (I’m using the suggested house rule of allowing saving throws to mitigate TTYF for any characters with attributes rather than Monster Ratings) and ended up fried on the floor. To add insult to injury, while Rigo did get off his Oh Go Away spell prior to being taken out, the cultists were all at too high a MR to be affected by it.

This didn’t feel good! On the other hand, it felt “right”, as in, honoring the procedures we had decided to use and (from my side) honoring the prep. From my point of view, there’s no way that this Necromancer would not have reacted with his most effective attack against a group of armed thugs breaking into his sanctum sanctorum. I.e. it would have felt wrong to nerf things by having him cast Oh Go Away — or something else less deadly — instead. 

But still it was a shocking moment, seemingly moreso for some of the other players (George especially) rather than for Carlos (though I don’t want to speak for them). 

In the melee that followed, the henchmen outfought the party, though didn’t do any damage due to armor (I realize now that I forgot to add the TTYF into the bad guys’ combat total, but their armor still would have protected them from any more hits – but just barely).

Going in to the second round, I made it clear that they’d be facing down another TTYF from the Necromancer – which meant a greater than 50% chance that another character would be killed. There was some discussion among the players of possible strategies to get around it, but the consensus ended on not wanting to take that risk and to run away instead. 

They managed to get out: no wandering monsters popped up while fleeing from the dungeon complex. They have really changed the situation in that at least for the near future, the Necromancer will be on higher alert. Moreover, any further action is unlikely to have the benefit of the assistance of Hagodur.

This was a significant session! Eero Tuovinen said something which I think is true: in these kinds of challenge based games, the reward cycle doesn’t really kick in until the group has suffered a real defeat – a defeat which stings – and decides to “step on up” in the face of that defeat, to tighten up their play and not make the same mistakes next time. And this tracks with my subjective feeling about how the session went: as a group we’re at a point where we can embrace that kind of play and jump back in with a greater sense of what’s at stake —- or we can say “hey this isn’t really for us, let’s try something else that doesn’t sting in this particular way.”


13 responses to “Necromancer 1, Party 0”

  1. Crawl or don’t

    This topic is perfectly suited to my workup for the next course I'll be teaching, which investigates what fantasy and role-playing have allegedly to do with one another. I'll spare you the dissection of how mid-70s role-playing purposes and rules emerged like an amalgam of swamp-life as people did it and were convinced there was some known way it was done, without any actual such thing in place.

    Here's what emerged, and as it happens the original Tunnels & Trolls nailed it so hard that every actual dungeon crawl since then is nothing but a footnote, and "fantasy role-playing" as a term was, and often is, perceived as incomplete unless this is present as play in some way.


    This image is a work in progress, so imagine the top box at the left to be the GM's job (often called "judge" or "referee" back then), the big box is what we all do in play subject to various authorities, and the lower box at the left is what the player hopes to get out of it. I say again, people may have called this "D&D play," but it was T&T that actually did it as rules – before anything imaginable as an actual D&D rules-set was published. (You read that right; I do not consider the 1974 publication to be anything but a placeholder; it is "rules" only via retconning in light of T&T and the lineage of D&D design beginning with Holmes.)

    Once, this was established, keeping any sort of fantasy involved in it was a Herculean task, as I like to describe it, somehow expecting to keep The Lord of the Rings going on when you're perpetually stuck in the Mines of Moria. A lot of play relied on parodying fantasy rather than doing it, as pragmatically more reliable or even possible. I interpret the body of T&T work by 1982 or so, with 5th edition as the apex rules set, to be an even mix of St. Andre's and Bear Peters' snark and Mike Stackpole's and Liz Danforth's desire for whimsical and reasonably humanized fantasy, with Roger Zelazny's Dilvish the Damned stories splitting the difference.

    Anyway, to my point here. If you're going to play this, there is no alternative: you must play it as the core purpose. The Crawl is, itself, not intrinsic to fantasy or vice versa, nor is it particularly amenable to being fantastic rather than merely funny. It is, however, perfectly coherent, understandable, viscerally compelling, and practical. Therefore embedding Crawls inside fantasy, so that you may seize and adore the latter in play if you can, became "fantasy role-playing." (Snipping here a look at other important games of the time, and at how hard this concept was established, with a look at the notable fantasy games of the late 80s.)

    I've often been puzzled as to why anyone tries to recapture or redesign it, given that T&T 5th edition completely and thoroughly does it. We don't need "old school rules," we have them, right here, done in one as of 1979.

    In the Crawl as conceived at the time, character survival is on the line. It is arguably fundamental, as stated clearly in section 1.2:

    Every time your character escapes from a tunnel alive, you may consider yourself a winner. The higher the level and the more wealth your character attains, the better you are doing in comparison to all the other players.

    Also in 1.2:

    … it is recommended that the GM keep the number of players in his party small – two or three players with up to four characters apiece is ideal. [emphasis mine -RE]

    And in further text about it in section 1.9:

    As long as a character remains alive – regardless of how many adventures he or she participates in – you are "winning." If ill fate befalls the character, or if you overextend yourself in playing your character's capabilities, the character dies and it is your loss. Of course, these games allow you to play any number of characters (sometimes referred to as a "stable of characters") and some will survive and advance, and everyone wins in the end.

    Think of how integrated these points are. I think this was so basic to the way they played that the text doesn't reinforce it in character creation, but it is really important! The notion of a current stable of characters per player was largely lost to role-playing culture, pretty soon. And think about what that means.

    In the T&T way to play, the talk of character death as a "loss" is a condition that does not take the player out of play, because it refers to a piece of how you interact during play, not you-and-play as a whole. However, if you lose the stable concept but retain the Crawl with character death on the line, then character death is shattering: you have not "lost" in the rather reasonable sense of playing T&T 5th edition with three other characters already in play (not created as replacements), but you have failed at playing at all – you are "out" – you have lost at the whole endeavor. At best, play must go through conniptions in order for you to continue, and those conniptions were rightly derided as fictionally and procedurally stupid as soon as they appeared.

    The number of people who tried role-playing once, saw their character roasted, gnawed, slimed, or butchered to death in a single session, left, and never came back, outweighs the actual number of continuing role-players by a factor of 100, as my generous estimate. All because no one realized either of two things: (1) that the Crawl was only one thing that might comprise the cyclical core of the experience of play, and didn't have to be there in order for play to be fantastical; and (2) that if you're going to do it, then T&T had it right the first time that you better play ongoing stables of characters per person.

    I'm going to speak pretty firmly here: you don't play a Crawl game without absolute acknowledgment that win and loss (especially the latter) are in fact at the core of the potential fun, that player-character creation and improvement are explicit resource management in that context, and that your resource management is a tactic in the face of rather stringent random impacts. Tactics by definition do not always work; if they did, the win/loss is no fun.

    It can still be role-playing. It can still be fantasy – and as I say, T&T did actually do this to a very great extent, better than D&D managed to. Role-playing and fantasy can even be intrinsic to how you do it, not mere add-ons. But if you say, "Hey, let's show you some fantasy role-playing," and you don't lay out the purposes and expectations of a Crawl when you should, then the 100:1 effect is going to play out yet again.

    I will be even more blunt: role-players are collectively in horrible denial about all of this. They live in a bizarre trap of thinking Crawl play will deliver a epic stupendous fantasy saga (someday) and that all these means of characters biting the dust will (somehow) not happen if you "care about" or "love" them. The shock you describe shocks me – specifically from George. Why did it surprise him? In this game?! Where on earth would the expectation that this wouldn't happen come from?

    Minor historical note to non-ancient people: no, it's not "like a video game." This is where video games got it from.

    Much more minor historical note, an old Forge thread: [Tunnels & Trolls] Killed me a player-character (spit)

    • The bluntness is appreciated.

      The bluntness is appreciated. Your observations are very much on target and very useful to me. I am especially appreciative to be directed to the text regarding character stables, which I’ve read dozens of times, but had not fully thought out the extent to which it fits into the rest of the procedures of play — i.e. that it is a necessary piece for functional play (or at least a best practice) and not “merely” an option. You are right that my missing this connection has to do with “reading backwards” later ways to play on this earlier text. There is some context to the lack of “character stable” play currently. When George, Mark, and I played Maze Rats last fall, we had a very unsatisfying session: it wasn’t terrible, it wasn’t murky, it was just “blah” and nothing in it fired us up when compared to what we were doing in the other games we were playing around the same time (Legendary Lives, InSpectres, S/lay with Me). We did use character stables in that game — each player ran two characters — and we had some concern that the “two character” approach had contributed to the “blah”-ness. In retrospect, I don’t think this was the case: the issue was more with my uninspired GMing, or, rather, being overly conscious of trying to implement dogma about “old school gaming” at the expense of doing things that I have always done when playing dungeon crawl games. In fact, George played in a very fun campaign of Moldvay D&D using the Darkness Beneath dungeon from Fight On! where we did have character stables, so it’s somewhat goofy that we got hung up on blaming that technical detail rather than look at some more general issues of what didn’t work in the Maze Rats game. Regardless, when we started Tunnel Goons, we opted out of having a character stable, and I did not think to revisit the question when we switched over the Tunnels & Trolls. However, a defacto quasi-stable started to build up because several of the players who had started the Tunnel Goons game with us dropped out, leaving us with former-PCs who were being used as henchmen. Carlos was able to commandeer one of these characters when Rigo died, but I think had he had his own character, from his own stable, to step into the breach, it would have felt — as you suggest — functional rather than merely a patch to get us limping over the finish line of the session.

    • Shooting for complete clarity

      Shooting for complete clarity just in case, for anyone reading: by "stable," the rules we're talking about are not referring to having some characters waiting on tap, ready to join play one by one as their predecessors die. Instead, they are talking about each person playing several characters at the same time during an adventure. As I've seen this in play, a given player may not use all of them at once, but they can if they want.

      So consider the T&T "ideal" example: two to four players, so let's say three, with "up to four" characters each. On a given adventure we'd see 6-12 player-characters in the party, with fewer only found during edge-case situations when one or two or three are separated or doing something really individualized.

      A couple of interesting points about this: first, it allows for a lot of experimental diversity in races and types of character, because weird or skewed-concept starting characters aren't your whole investment. Playing a T&T fairy is a lot more fun as one of the twelve, rather than one of the three and the only one for you.

      Second, if every character is begun at 1st level, then replacements into the stable due to characters' deaths (so one always has three or four) produce another diverse effect: the levels of the party members. They'll very quickly get out of step with one another, so that a given party shows a wide range of levels across the characters. This is a big deal in T&T specifically, because a given dungeon level is extremely coded/designed by difficulty and danger. It also features the otherwise curious notion that you get 100 points just by setting foot in level 1, 200 points just by setting foot in level 2, et cetera … which would make no sense if the party members were all the same level, but becomes a very distinct risk/reward issue of its own when the party members are diverse in level.

      Third, per-character risk is actually minimized or at least can be managed better, because you can strategize how many characters feed into the collective roll for a combat round, and thus preserve some of them from damage if that roll fails.

      Fourth, and expanding our scope a little, note that nothing in the early texts of D&D, AD&D, Chivalry & Sorcery, RuneQuest, or The Fantasy Trip: In the Labyrinth ever says that one player necessarily plays one character. I suggest that the D&Ds make a hell of a lot more sense with multi-character play, and I remember it quite vividly to be the case for at least one player per group, if not more, around 1978. I suspect multi-character play was very widespread, and the origin of single-character play as a rock-solid default is a matter for investigation.

    • In the OSE game I’m currently

      In the OSE game I'm currently playing in, we're running a stable, though not as expansive as the four-PCs-per-player of T&T. We're three players, and we each have two characters. The GM had us make two each, because The Lost City (I know, Ron, I know) calls for more than 3 PCs. One of our characters is the "main" character, with the other one fictionally and mechanically the henchman. The henchman takes up a full share of the group's XP, but when assigning XP only receives half. 

      However, this hasn't translated to play in that henchmen are treated as such, or only played provisionally or as needed; we each run two characters, full-time, all the time, and as far as I can tell we all treat them equal. I agree that a stable makes the Crawl way more functional than it would otherwise be. It's funny to me that I hadn't considered implementing it in my Worlds Without Number game. That's not strictly trying to be "The Crawl", but of course there are dungeons, and of course the idea just never occurred to me. Why not have more than one character per person?

  2. A constant stream of casualties…

    …is what I personally need when crawling, no doubt because of two decades of illusionist play. When nobody has died for a couple of sessions, I begin to get nervous…

    I also think misery needs company because character death does sting (and should). I formulated some thoughts on how to Get ready to die! over at Tenfootpole and recommend Eero Tuovinen's essay The Sacrament of Death.

    In any case, I like the sound of this: Hagodur's good reaction roll and its marked consequences, not nerfing the Necromancer's tactics – this impulse is still strong in me! -, and giving the players time to discuss the situation.

    I'd be interested in a follow-up post about how Carlos took it and if the events have changed the players approach and outlook. I've had players get somewhat detached (naming their characters Prima, Secunda, Tertia etc.), paranoid (which slows down the game) … and hooked.

    • This is a great comment, and

      This is a great comment, and I want to follow up two times. The first concerns the self-protective and understandable detachment, with the example of a player in that T&T game I linked to. She decided that all her characters would be siblings from an enormous dwarven family, which combined engagement in Tolkien-light fantasy + black comedy in a way I associate almost uniquely with this game.

      The second is more substantial, I hope, and continues with the diagram I provided above. I've fixed it up a little so I'll show the new one and then the follow-up concerning what fantasy role-playing (as a dedicated term) became by the mid-to-late 1980s.

      In this version the red is "the GM's job" and the blue is "the player's job." In what might be called the true Crawl, the character survival is on the line; the player has to fight to make it happen and it's given that it very well might not, periodically.


      Around about 1980 (the year, not "The Eighties"), the prevailing notion was that you had to do this in order to get to, i.e., experience, the fantasy. Imagine that last word as quite big in elaborate flowing script. A big part of the GM's job is to provide it and to shepherd you scurrilous pack of munchkins into it, sometimes via a task or quest. For the relevant games of 1978-1981, see DragonQuest, The Fantasy Trip: In the Labyrinth, RuneQuest ("1" and "2"), and 5th edition Tunnels & Trolls.

      But by 1989, this is very different, but without changing the baseline assumption that this interaction of risk and reward is and absolutely, I say again, is fantasy role-playing. It's even become disconnected from the prior fantasy fiction and from older SF/fantasy fandom, but becomes of a piece with the new authors and younger fandom, in the new publishing context of "trilogies of trilogies" and long-running series as conceived and promoted at their outset.

      Now, the Crawl has become pro forma; it's the expected but non-challenging fictional context everyone simply expects has to be in there to conform to genre. (Fantasy as a term, in fact, has lost its big size and exotic font, and is now a category for bookstore shelving, which it previously very much was not, and hence, it is genre.) The GM is still the fountain of fantasy content, in the form of an elaborate setting, some rationale or rules-based concept for magic, and now, in stone, rock-solid, a quest to follow, i.e., "the story" which the pack of you are in.

      Here's the diagram:


      See that? You aren't going to be killed; it's reserved as punishment for bad, uncooperative, "don't care about the story" players. Don't worry about it, this isn't that kind of game. Modern readers may be surprised to learn that "Dungeons & Dragons" was a deeply derogatory term to describe play, childish and stupid, no "story," all about death and gold … even as the Crawl was still codified as the core fictional activity for fantasy, and reinforced like adamantium via the fiction everyone was fire-hose drinking. No! Now we are serious fantasy role-players, now we read the Belgariad, now we embrace the GM's grand fantasy. But it's not fantasy unless the fiction concerns a party on the Crawl, even if a lot of it now happens to be up in the open air rather than in underground tunnels.

      It's no surprise that the player-experience is now all about options, both for the initial build and for the ongoing changes in the character. As long as they play, the character will grow, and play itself doesn't really give you anything to do that anyone in your chair wouldn't get to do or to receive. So the fun lies in whatever Sudoku puzzle logic may be involved in this particular game's character creation options and improvement procedures.

      Jon, are you there? This is really for you. Everything you posted is the historical trap between these two diagrams. How "mean" is the GM supposed to be? Too mean, and you don't get to the fantasy; not mean enough, and the baseline mechanics become meaningless. See the up-and-down arrows for risk in the second diagram? That's the 80s fantasy GM's job: one foot on the accelerator, one foot on the brake, both at once in the way that you're not actually supposed do in a car. You must maintain the proper equilibrium, adjusting to recover from whatever the players and dice do, at all times!

      This is almost too perfect. That's what you were doing as the Tunnel Goons GM, and recognizing it, you went to the source, Tunnels & Trolls … but what do you find? Not fantasy waiting there in all her psychedelic glory, although there's certainly more awareness of fantasy in that form. I suppose you might find it, or at least, creators like Danforth hoped you might make some. What you do find, though, front-and-center and essential in its procedures, is the unmitigated and fully-activated Crawl.

    • Johann – thanks for the
      Johann – thanks for the response. I had read Eero’s essay — and this session led me to reread it before making my post. I also liked your account and advice for running this type of game. Not to go off on a tangent, or to argue with people who are not involved in THIS discussion, but the response to your post basically telling you that all you need to do is “talk to your players” seems to miss the point that talk alone will not prepare people for what this feels like. In general, I think “Talk to your players” is even worse advice/commentary than “all you need is a good GM”, but that may be a discussion for another time. Or, maybe not: I definitely did talk to the players about the lethality of the game, but because they hadn’t felt the sting of defeat, that was just talk.

      Ron – the two diagrams make perfect sense to me, as does the characterization of the early, Tunnel Goons phase of play ending up in the second box. I am interested in your thoughts on how Runequest fits into this and how you would diagram your Spelens Hus RQ game. (And I’m further interested in your thoughts about where the fantasy is supposed to come from in RQ). I ask this not out of completely idle curiosity, but RQ is on deck for me right now and I have been reading some of the classic scenarios (specifically Apple Lane and the Borderlands material) and wondering about the kind of play expected by or implied by those texts, as it seems like it could fall into a trap of the fantasy promised by the RQ text being peripheral to the a crawl-centric experience.

    • @Jon, regarding your response

      @Jon, regarding your response to Johann, count me on the side of "talk to your players" as being horrid advice. I can think of some exceptions but very few, during my history of play, and way too many examples of the badness.

      Regarding RuneQuest, I've written about that very topic here, at Fearshock, decapitation, village insurrection, gaining a fetch. I also include a deeper analysis in my Introduction to Design course, including how RQ play is presumed to transform or graduate from D&D-er to fantasy-protagonist, almost synonymously with becoming a cult initiate or a shaman's apprentice.

  3. Crawl and Stakes

    For several years, our gaming group played a lot of D&D (Moldvay/Cook, 1980-81).  Extremely delve-centered, high lethality.  We lost maybe…. 50-60 characters in that dungeon?  A lot.  But one still sticks with me:

    Pete had been playing the dashing ne'er-do-well Martin le Black for about a year, and he'd reached 5th level.  In terms of this rules set, that is a major accomplishment–people die like flies until about 3rd level, and then you're still running bad risks, but by level 5 you're probably not gonna die like a chump.  Probably.

    Except that Martin had the misfortune of running into some Phase Spiders in the first five minutes of the session.  (For people unfamiliar, phase spiders are super-deadly-poisonous spiders who live invisibly in another dimension until they surprise and poison the fuck out of you and you die.)  Martin got jacked, blew his saving throw, and died instantly.

    I just remember the look on Pete's face.  He'd lost a bunch of characters; he'd seen us lose characters.  But he'd clearly really come to like this guy.  I can't remember how the GM handled it.  Pete may have played a sidekick character for the rest of the session.  But I remember thinking, "Jesus, is this all there is?"

    From a strategic standpoint, there may have been ways to address this.  If we'd hired a sage, maybe we could have learned about the spider ambush, and then drawn them out, or gone around another way.  Or we could have figured out some kind of poison-antidote.  But the thing is, the Phase Spiders Will Eventually Kill You.

    If you keep delving, the laws of mathematics will inevitably kill you, even if you're playing your absolute best.  All long-term delvers are seeking suicide-by-monster.

    Walking away from it, I remember thinking, "What kind of game has no other stakes than these?  For how long is this supposed to be fun?"  For me, that was a sign it was time to get out.  I think Pete and the rest of the crew stuck around for another year or two.  I hope they had a good time.


    • Phase spiders, yes, as well

      Phase spiders, yes, as well as carrion crawlers (eight attacks? c'mon), but especially those most hated of early D&D foes, the wight and the wraith.

      I have a couple points regarding your question about "what other kind of game does this":

      • A whole family of gambling, especially slot machines, craps, and roulette, in which daring the system to hit you with the undeserved big loss is considered a sign of character. These players consider leaving the table flush with winnings to be the real loss condition (admitting you didn't have the guts), and they think of "skill" gamblers like poker players as wussies, not real gamblers, merely bettors.
      • As I mentioned very briefly above, all computer, console, and digital gaming lifted and applied this very thing lock, stock, and barrel. After all, they make no pretense of either "fantasy" or "role-playing," so the thing is free to be the thing, and frankly, they are much better at delivering it than table-top role-playing could ever hope to be.

      Your comment also reminds me of something else in the Three Fantasies course that matters here. I think it's hard to realize or recall that when these systems were published, no one had played them through the length of time and character development that would be required to evaluate the systems at all.

      At first publication, any of them would be considered alphas at best in today's terms. They had not yet played anyone through all those phases and stages of play, not continuously, not all the way. The primary venue was tournaments, i.e., snapshot strategic competitive one-shots. The two practitioners I can safely say conducted genuinely long-term, fiction-oriented play, M. A. R. Barker and Dave Arneson, used methods radically different from anything being published as an RPG.

      Therefore no one in any of these creative publishing groups had any idea whether their starting-character array, the type and rate of improvement, the range and arrival of risk represented by foes and dangers, and the practical longevity of any given character, actually made any sense. Meaning, too, sense of any kind: for fantastic imagination, for an economic sense of return on investment, for fun among friends, for any kind of fictional substance, or for confirmation of "you started as a little X, now you're a big Y."

  4. Character Stables

    John asked at the Discord: "Is it recommended that each player have a stable of 3-4 characters, but play them one at a time? Or to actually run 3-4 characters each all at once, so that it's an adventuring party of 6-12 characters?"

    After the discussion that came out of this post, we switched to the players having a stable of 2-4 characters with them running each of them at the same time. We played 7 more sessions after that before the game went on hiatus (as we switched over to The Pool for a while), though I and at least one other player are excited to pick up where we left off (in the process of delving the first level of The Darkness Beneath megadungeon from Fight On! magazine).

    Based on those 7 sessions, I think playing the stable of characters works really well. One, players can continue to participate even if one of their characters dies. (We've had several more deaths since then). Two, as Ron notes, it makes specialty characters (like Fairies) more feasible. Somewhat relatedly, it allows for embracing really low-powered characters that are fun to role-play (like the involuntary henchman goblin Gnobdark, who is a group favorite, despite having such poor attributes that its possible for him to roll poorly enough in that he contributes a negative score to the combat score).

    In practice, a single player is rarely fully playing more than one of their characters at a time, though this isn't a formalized process in any way and the "spotlight" PC will often switch from scene-to-scene or even moment-to-moment.

    On another Discord sever, I was discussing this with Eero Tuovinen who raised the theoretical concern that playing multiple PCs at the same time would undermine the feature that a player interacts with the game through a sigular point of view: I don't think this has been a problem for us, and I don't think it's really much more different or difficult than being a GM and having to play multiple NPCs at the same time, but you'll have to try it for yourself to see how it feels for your group.

    • My perception reading T&T5 is

      My perception reading T&T5 is that the intention is that each player plays more than one character at once, as opposed to having a stable of characters waiting in the town outside to come into the dungeon in case of death. Here's a quote right from the begining:

      But, with everyone trying to talk at once a game can rapidly degenerate into a shouting match (that can be fun sometimes, too), so it is recommended that the GM keep the number of players in his party small – two or three players with up to four characters apiece is ideal. When it is necessary for a GM to try and cope with more than three players, it may be necessary to limit the number of characters they can use at one time.

      I think this is clear, especially given the last sentence above.


      On another Discord sever, I was discussing this with Eero Tuovinen who raised the theoretical concern that playing multiple PCs at the same time would undermine the feature that a player interacts with the game through a sigular point of view: I don't think this has been a problem for us, and I don't think it's really much more different or difficult than being a GM and having to play multiple NPCs at the same time, but you'll have to try it for yourself to see how it feels for your group.

      I wonder if that's an actual general RPG issue or more of a player's "creative drive" problem due to clashing with a particular gameplay purpose (you could just as well call it a clash of Creative Agendas). Ero knows this perfectly well so maybe there's more context to his comment than we can see here. Anyway, I don't see why seeing the game through a singular character point of view would be especially desirable for a type of gameplay that doesn't really differ all that much from a boardgame/tactical map played with individual characters instead of squads or whatever. I mean, there isn't a world of difference between playing the crawl or playing Advanced Squad Leader. We already do that all the time when playing computer Rogue-likes. If personal identification and tight point of view, clear character behavioural identity, etc, are an issue for the player then there are other games that would satisfy that need better. Mind you, I'm not saying one can't play the crawl with a single character per player or even that it will be problematic if one doesn't do so; what I mean is that playing two or three characters at once per player in a crawl isn't a universal problem that needs to be solved.

      Not sure if the bove made any sense but that's my best try for today.


    • On another Discord sever, I

      On another Discord sever, I was discussing this with Eero Tuovinen who raised the theoretical concern that playing multiple PCs at the same time would undermine the feature that a player interacts with the game through a sigular point of view: I don't think this has been a problem for us, and I don't think it's really much more different or difficult than being a GM and having to play multiple NPCs at the same time, but you'll have to try it for yourself to see how it feels for your group.


      I really can't see the difference between having a player that has a "main character" and 3 hirelings and, the same player having 4 characters. 

      He may decide that those 4 characters are 1 captain and 3 henchmen, or that they are band of brothers, or a dwarf family (to take Ron's account), or an officer, his lieutenant and two soldiers, or whatever. He can play those four characters and make decision for them. He can, if he wants, only characterize only one and describe the other's action, it doesn't really affect the perspective. To be fair, that's even how most people has played D&D with their hirelings/henchmen. Maybe some in tables the DM was  playing and characterizing those henchmen, but most of the time the player would give them orders or the DM would give full authority over their actions/intentions to the player. 

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