What I'm Backing on Kickstarter:

What I'm Backing on Kickstarter:
Immortal Figures: Gods of Olympus

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Weekend R&R: Dwimmermount

I have a veritable 'love-hate' reaction when it comes to the idea of a mega-dungeon.  Done well, you can have a campaign that can last years and the stories and memories told of such adventures within that campaign far longer.  The varied stories of Castle Greyhawk (or Zagyg if you prefer) and those of Rappan Athuk help fuel a continued interest along with those that started at the dawn of the hobby.  I did not start back in the 70's.  I started gaming in the late 80's and some of my first books were AD&D 2nd Edition material supplemented with a lot of 1st Edition material and Basic D&D (largely the BECMI boxed sets).  The was certainly a move 'away' from the concept of the dungeon as a campaign in this period and I was influenced by it.  I still adored the dungeon but my adventures were never completely centered around the dungeon.  Years later, I often find my players less interested by a dungeon crawl and some even think this sort of 'classic' adventuring an exercise in tedium.  A shame really but I get their reasoning.

A mega-dungeon that is just a very large dungeon spread across numerous levels with only a back story to accompany it makes for a poor campaign experience.  Even if the 'meat' of the gaming experience revolves around defeating X, collecting Y, and conquering Z, such aspirations could be a bit hollow for players seeking a truly immersive experience.  Granted, a lot of this responsibility falls on the shoulders of the GM running the game.  Player participation is obviously needed for the overall game to be a success.  However, there is nothing like a strong body of information to fall back on when running a mega-dungeon to help everyone feel like they are part of the experience as opposed to faceless pieces moved about on a generic chess board.

There are many examples of endless mazes, puzzles, and traps which may have a player want to either pull their hair out in frustration, or simply jump across the table and throttle the GM.  Thankfully, there are some examples worth exploring and playing that elevates it from being just another classic and long-winded dungeon crawl.  Dwimmermount is one such example.

Dwimmermount is divided into three sections -- the first of which provides a wealth of background information and even gives the reader an idea of the challenges the project faced.  The first chapter serves as a fine introduction in the goals, inspiration, and pitfalls that the project measured itself and against and gives the reader the keys to delve a bit more.

The second chapter provides a great history and 'secret' history for your Dwimmermount campaign but the third chapter really does a fine job of adding character to what might be initially mistaken as a regular ol' dungeon crawl.  The third chapter is really about the classes / races you can play in the game.  Initially, when James ran Dwimmermount, he started using Swords & Wizardry as his base ruleset for the game -- with a bunch of modifications and house rules of course.  However, the time is taken to explain the roles of man, to explain how different the Dwarves are in this setting as well as the origin of Gnomes and Kobolds.  Of course, there is also the Elves and the role of Clerics and gods in the campaign.  Aside from necessary character-related creation notes, there is an overview of starting knowledge about Dwimmermount, rumors, and adventure seeds.

Chapter four also shines as it devotes several pages to the surrounding region around Dwimmermount, which reinforces the book as a solid sandbox campaign setting and not just a mega-dungoen.  The fifth chapter details a fortified town because, what's the point of a mega-dungeon if there is no substantial base camp where the party the come back to and depart again and again, expedition after expedition.

Chapters six and seven both start detailing aspects of the dungeon itself by talking about construction, various environments, and factions within the complex. Up to the end of chapter seven, we have around one-hundred pages of material which doesn't detail any of the dungeon itself.

The second section *is* the dungeon.  There are thirteen chapters in this section and each one details a level in the dungeon.  Given that this is a 400 page book, the Dwimmermount itself represents half the book.  Each chapter has a single page devoted to a large map representing the level in question and the section itself opens up to a cross-section of the mountain showing where the levels can be found with a quick and useful page reference.  The entries are clear and concise meaning that they aren't longer than they have to be but aren't devoid of a description either -- a perfect balance.  As simple as entry 13 in Chapter 8, the Path of Mavors, which reads:

'This small chamber once held dried foodstuffs, but it is now empty, except for dust, cobwebs, and the rotted remains of crates.'

Each chapter also benefits from its own wandering encounter table and brief introduction to the level in question for the convenience of the GM.

The final section which occupied the final quarter of the book is where one can find the Appendices.  Appendix A details new magic items, Appendix B details new spells, and Appendix C details new monsters.  These first three Appendices come as no surprise for this kind of gaming book and, for those familiar with various other forms of D&D and D&D-inspired games, a lot of these may even already be familiar.  However, this particular book is the Labyrinth Lord version which was a retroclone of the Moldvay/Cook version of the D&D Basic and Expert sets and didn't necessarily have many of these magics and critters originally.  Some of these things simply had their roots in other versions of D&D.  Appendix D, is a bit more interesting as it presents rival adventuring parties to add to the mix as factions or even hirelings.  Personally, I think these might even be fun to use as pre-generated parties in a pinch.

Appendices E and F are more specific to Dwimmermount although ideas presented here can certainly be extracted for gaming uses elsewhere.  Appendix E covers the 'Four Worlds' and gives supplemental information for the setting in terms of the cosmology.  Appendix F introduces and discusses a substance called Azoth.  There is some really great material here and one of the uses and effects of Azoth is really the lynchpin to this entire campaign.  The implication of this substance is detailed in the final appendix, Appendix G: The Secrets of Turms Termax.

The book ends off with a few tables of some common names, ready to be used at a moment's notice -- be it for an NPC or a player's character.  After which, you have a long list of backers to the project which was initially funded back in April of 2012.  It was a long ride for this one -- physical copies of the Labyrinth Lord version of Dwimmermount began to ship at the end of August of 2014 and the ACKS version (Adventurer, Conqueror, King) began to ship about three months later.  At to the book itself, it's quite nice.

This large hardcover book is a bit beefy for a 400 page book (not including the backer list of names) and wonderfully illustrated.  Artists like Jeff Dee, Mark Allen, Steve Zieser, and Erol Otus to mention just a few, showcase their talent in the book and the layout itself is tasteful and professionally done.  As someone who wasn't very familiar with ACKS when the Kickstarter was first announced, I decided to go for a Labyrinth Lord version knowing that it is a great 'minimalist' D&D approach as far as systems go which makes adapting it to my own preferred system really easy.  It's a functional and great book and some of the extras that came with it (such as an illustration guide), was fantastic.

Less fantastic was the idea that the Illustration booklet and Dwimmermount book shipped separately but, this ended up being more of a pain because FedEx was involved and not at all convenient.  At $40 this book is an awesome steal and I'm very happy to have backed it when I did despite waiting for about two years-and-a-half to get it.  There were a lot of naysayers and flak from some of the backers towards James Maliszewski and Autarch but they successfully got the project to the finishing line and the book looks great overall.  The only criticism is a personal one and really, it's the colors chosen for the cover.  Shades of Lilac would simply not been my first choice.

As to the cost now?  Well apparently Autarch agreed that $40 was a steal for the book and they have decided to raise the cost of the physical book to $75 when it goes into distribution and future orders.  They cite the price of Rappan Athuk (at $100) and the smaller page count of their other $40 book (the ACKS rulebook) as justification for it.  Honestly, I get it but at the same time, I wish it would have been kept a bit lower still.  Maybe $40 was too low.  Scratch that -- it *was* too low.  However, as a black and white book printed using a POD service such as Lighting Source, I do question whether or not the $75 price tag is too high.  I would have rather seen this closer to the $60 range to remain a bit more financially accessible.  At least, the price of the PDF is remaining at $10 which is a superb deal and Autarch can certainly be thanked for that time and time again when it comes to their PDF pricing and policies.

There is no link I can offer up for where you can buy a physical copy of the book as it has yet to enter distribution, you can get it PDF HERE for the Labyrinth Lord version or HERE for the Adventure, Conqueror, King version.

Thanks for reading!

M