Monday, May 13, 2019

HelgaCon: Outdoor Spoliation Ep. 7

In the last reflection on my individual games at Helgacon this year, I also ran:

Outdoor Spoliation Ep. 7

This was probably the weakest performance in my games at Helgacon this year, and I'm fairly embarrassed and sorry for the players involved about what happened here. Particularly because the solution is rather obvious in retrospect, but it's taken me to years of lackluster session to realize what I should have done.

When I started running Outdoor Spoliation games a number of years ago, it was my attempt/experiment at running the OD&D wilderness rules as close to by-the-book as I could manage, using the famous (an truly masterful) Outdoor Survival map as a game board. This was a free-wheeling, free-booting game of amoral ne'er-do-wells in the Fafhrd & Gray Mouser mold, looting treasure and sacking castles willy-nilly in attempt to score a particular number of gold pieces for a "victory" (in-game, rationalized as achieving a level to be made barons by the king).

(Side note: I've done this so much that several of us now accidentally say "Outdoor Spoliation" every time we're trying to say "Outdoor Survival".)

I think at the end of the 3rd season, the players actually succeeded at the goal. I thought that would wrap things up, but there was some demand for me to run it again, so I brought it back two years later. The next year or so after that, the players decided to follow-through and commit to the "barons" idea, taking over a castle permanently and setting up for an expanding dominion there.

So that obviously changed the game a lot, and I haven't quite managed to dial in how to handle that change in action. I realize now we might be trying to do something entirely unique: run a dominion as a team of oligarchs at a once-a-year session at a convention, in a 4-hour time slot. What I've done for two years is to come to the table with a budget and "menu" of possible improvements/investments for the expanding domain (a la the list of investments ideas in OD&D Vol-3, p. 24, under "Baronies"), each with a secret "complication" that would drive the need for some in-person adventuring. In the past I've had as many as a dozen players at the table; this year I had seven.

So problem (1) is that the level of complication and cross-complication to prioririzing the dominion budget can create a round-table debate which stretches on almost indefinitely (this year: maybe 1.5 hours? Ouch). If that weren't bad enough, problem (2) is that maybe half the players or more simply didn't sign up for an hours-long administrative council meeting, expecting the mercenary high action from earlier years, and so rightfully might get distressed or frustrated by that. And the problem (3) might be that once the "complications" are revealed, another (potentially very long) round of debate can take place over which of the resulting "quests" should be prioritized first, and how (e.g., Which is most important to secure? But which are conveniently located close to each other? Can we hire and trust NPCs to any of these jobs? Oh, that spins us back to the budget debate.)

Awkward, and I didn't handle the responsibility to rein it in well at all. Kind of upsetting on my part.

Almost immediately afterward, the answer sprang to mind: If I do this again in the future, I should offload the "domain administration" to an online survey mechanism in the days pre-game, and have people do ranked-choice-voting for the preferred budget priorities or things like that. If anyone's not interested in that component, simple; just ignore that online component, no problem (in fact, that would even nicely simulate that idea that only some of the PCs are willing to take on the burden of rulership roles while others drink and wench until the next plundering expedition). Possibly also address item (3) with a similar pre-game vote on what relevant "quests" to take on, so that D&D action can start more immediately when we get to the table face-to-face.

Ultimately decisions were made, and we did get to play out a little bit of nice negotiation with a powerful and semi-trustworthy lord-wizard, as well as two excursion into the mountains versus alien monsters for critical pieces of the political puzzle. But it was definitely slower-moving than I'd planned on, and not all the players were happy with me failing to meet advertised expectations. Mea culpa.

In this one, Jon's griffon-riding fighter got knocked out of the sky and then death-criticaled by one of a flock of roc-sized cockatrice. He was wished back to life, and then basically melted down again later against a squad of black puddings against which his weapons were useless. He wins the "most stoically abused" award for the weekend.

Favorite random scribble on PC sheet: This one.


  1. How do you feel about the mechanics of the "improvements" and management choices, aside from the fact that you want to move them off-table? Are they producing interesting results for you?