Our last game had fallen apart, I had just set up a couple
of underpowered encounters that didn’t work. I think that the natural reaction
to the DM falling flat on his face is to over-prepare, but looking back at
things, I don’t think that I did. We had talked about what we wanted to do, and
I got permission to advance my orc time-line. For myself, since I had failed, I
decided to take the game back to its very roots and run a hex-crawl. I created
maps that I thought that I would need, and of course transferred data from our
main TSR map to a blown up hex grid map. This is actually the first time that I
have done this! A full color overland map? Yes, we were entering the fabulous
world of 1e . . . well, not really, this is exactly what the 2e DMG says to do.
I am used to playing at low to mid level games, and travel is rather limited,
but at high levels this is no longer the case.
The goal that the players have set for themselves is to find
the Orc Mine and shut it down so that the enemy can no longer create arms and
armor. I had ran a mine in the past that wasn’t fully explored, that mine was
simply a nightmare scenario that used the mine more as a back drop or setting,
an in and out kind of deal with horrible creatures that could not be, haunting
the halls; so I had a basic map already done, I just needed to make this mine
functional. I am glad that I had kept my rough draft of the mine, it was drawn
in pencil, so I could erase sections and redraw it in a more functional manner.
The mine map is a bit strange, I have always found those
giant poster maps to be impractical, so I always keep them on 1 page that can
be covered by my screen, else a piece of paper. If I had drawn the place to
scale, it would had gone off the paper, so I tend to draw abstract. Most rooms
are to scale, however the halls and super large rooms are not, I can either
write how long a hall really is on the map itself, and I always put the exact dimensions
in the key. Some places, I really don’t want to map at all! Such as the mine
work area itself, it is massive but it isn’t necessarily something that you
want to actually draw in, first of all,
it takes to long, and the second reason is that running an exact maze is boring
on game day. For those areas, I do draw how special rooms interact with the
rest of the map, but I create the fine details in the key.
It is always a decision if one really needs a map or not.
Many encounters can be ran better and more easily without one, but sometimes
space is important. I decided that I needed one more map; the main entrance for
the Orcs, this place should feature really tight security so I drew up a fort,
and keyed that as well.
I wanted the mine to stretch for miles and miles, with
multiple entrances which I added to my over-world map.I also had to beef up my orcs, so I created
classed orcs of different levels. Spells are my current issue, so I knew that I
needed orc spell casters, to simulate different spell lists I created some
random tables of detailed spell lists that I can quickly roll up as they are
encountered. I have all enemy spell casters the same level, and I can have up
to 4 mages and 2 clerics, this list isn’t as done as I wanted it to be, but I
had so much to do that I just let it go at that.I placed major big baddies where they would
normally hang out, and what they might be doing on my key, and set up the
normal security for the place, which is really high because of all of the slaves
toiling away down there. The population is way to big to list everything, so I
created a random encounter list specifically for the mine.
For the over-world, I created even more Random Encounters
lists! Two standard lists based upon similar land detailed in my Grayhawk
boxset, but I did modify it some, I wanted creatures that really would be
there, and wouldn’t give the players any unintentional red herrings. This list
turned out to be really great! The random scenarios worked smooth and it felt
like the world was really alive. A third Random Encounter list which was only
checked in areas under Orc control was my most advanced list; this one
contained details, and sub-lists to roll which would make the encounter unique
each time. Instead of just having Orc, it had a sub list of scenarios and
activities that they are doing at the time.
A fourth list was just filler. Keywords that weren’t all
combat related, but just something that I could quickly roll against to provide
details about what the party stumbles across while exploring an undetailed hex
space. Typically I make this stuff up, and I still do, but I found that the
little bit of effort that went into typing it up made running the game so much
I had created a key to places on the overworld map, many of
them didn’t require any real map, I’d just make it up if the players went
there. I had no idea of where they would go, so I just prepped a huge area so
that they could go anywhere and I was ready.
I did modify the village of Halfhap, making it a Halfling community,
with a few productive gnomes mixed in who would trek out in the foothills and
mountains looking for gems. I added a lost gnome village that was only filled
in via the key, I didn’t need a map for it, even though it was an important
place. I didn’t know if the players would find it or not!
In short, I did not create any set piece encounters. No
events . . . oh wait, I did do that. I wanted to know where the major orc
forces would be, so I created a timeline so that I could track their general
movements and activities in case the players stumbled into them.This
was extremely helpful for obvious reasons.
Play was, for the most part, one of those nice leisurely
games that are productive. I had enough done so I didn’t feel over-whelmed, and
it allowed me to get my confidence back! The party healed up in Halfhap, and
followed cryptic leads to the lost gnome village of Mallowhep. They are
currently exploring the deep underground passages of the old founder, a
powerful gnome illusionist, whose spells are still active even after he has
We did have one exciting happening! I have beefed up my
encounters, and I got to try one. During the night, a couple of trolls sniffed
the party out, and the Ranger (who was on watch) decided to only wake up the Myrmidon
who started the game all beat up from his escape from the mine which took place
in backstory only. I had lied and told the ranger that he only saw 2 really big
orcs, so when the two attacked them, they got the shock of their lives! The
other players rolled to see if they woke up, but everyone failed, so it was 2
trolls vs. 1 full strength ranger and a myrmidon with low hp. The myrmidon was
dishing out some heavy damage, but he was also taking it as well, he ended up
falling. I didn’t kill him because he had started the game in an unfair
disadvantage and we had only been playing for 5 or 10 minutes before this
happened, so I fudged a couple of dice rolls and judged him unconscious and a
prisoner of one of the trolls who picked him up and carried him.
I had also beat the hell out of the Ranger, who wasn’t
dishing out much damage, he was rolling terribly and I was rolling awesome.
Once it was just him vs. 2 very beat up trolls, I covered my map and took down
my screen so everybody could see my rolls. He was able to kill one troll and
get the other to drop his buddy, this troll had 6hp left, and the ranger was
down to 3hp. If he failed, the party was looking at a TPK, and it all hinged on
him winning initiative, and scoring a better than normal attack, because on its
next attack the troll was going to kill him. He ended up just barely winning
initiative, and then rolled a 20. His first damage dice was just a 1, but his
second, which had to be at least a 5 was successful as well.
Afterwards we discussed if I had gone too far, but the
player who played the Ranger said that the encounter was perfect. Even if he
had lost, it was because of his own errors. He thought that I handled it
fairly, granting unconsciousness to the myrmidon, and pointed out that the
encounter would had been a different story if he would had woken everybody up
like he should had.
And, one more technical note, before closing. I didn’t want
to waste time rolling up monster hp, so instead I decided low, med, or high and
just used averages. This kept the game flow going and saved a ton of time! We
all had fun.