Game Day Session 3: Prep, prep, prep = Success

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 easier!

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 long expired.

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.


Unknown said...

Let's try this one more time. Fun. It all boils down to that eh? Based on what I read, there was fun for the players AND the DM. Righteousness. Party on Garth.

RipperX said...

Fun can sometimes be illusive. I think that D&D can be like fishing, even if it is a bad day, it is still better than not playing it. You've got to experiment with different baits and hooks until you find just the right one, and once you find it, THEN, my friend, then the magic happens! It is just finding that right combination which makes the thing work.

BTW, a 90's reference, excellent. SHWING!!!

Unknown said...

Party on, Wayne!

Good to hear all the prep-work paying off. When I DM, I try to find a balance, so I prep as much as I can before it becomes a drag, but stay enough prepared to entertain my players and keep the game going as fluently as possible. I'm still very much scared of dragging down the courtain and letting my players know the ins and outs and that I need to prepare, and would rather keep the game going half-arsed. But this also means that a lot of stats on enemies are winged (savingthrows) and HP is a ball-park think.

I really want to have the guts to really squise the limit to my encounters, but I have to be careful, because if I turn it too far in a place they can't escape, the game sort of ends... Unless of course I can make it work with some captivity.

You can find plenty of "lists" of tips and tricks for DM's, but having a walkthrough of your preparation and how it plays out, is a great read and something I imagine others, as well as myself, learn a lot from! Having this practical example of trial and error is both great fun, and handy for my own future sessions.

RipperX said...

Yeah, I don't want to be one of those blowhard bloggers who pretend that they always have amazing games. I do consider myself to be a very capable DM, but sometimes we screw things up. 2e is not an easy system to play, it's loose nature is what makes it such a great game when you are firing on all cylinders, but realistically, that is not always going to happen, even for the best of us. I don't want to give the impression that it is. I also push myself to be better, and I think that this blog really reflects that struggle. I'd rather read real game stories, with real blemishes and screw ups, even if they are embarrassing to myself, than to read mechanics written by some guy who may not even be playing the game anymore to play test his theories.

Party on Martin, and thanks for the encouragement!

Brooser Bear said...

Awesome prepwork, and it paid off! How did your fourth list perform in the game?

RipperX said...

The keyword list? You had mentioned it, and so I play-tested it. It gave us some cool things, we found a halfling gem mine in which the halflings were more interested in hearing more about this gnome mine that what they were doing, and a few other fun things. I don't mind coming up with stuff off the top of my head, but you are right, just a quick list of keywords does help create more advanced stuff, and it also takes some of the pressure off of me.

RipperX said...

I'm sorry Martin, I deleted your post on accident. I shall iron my hands.

Brooser Bear said...

Halfling gem mine! I love the encounter.

Unknown said...

Surely, that punishment is befitting!

I think it went something like "TL;DR - I will make tables and list and share my own experience after my next session.";)

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