If there’s one thing I suck at in my games, it’s predicting run time.
Back in April, I thought I had one, maybe two sessions left in the first season of my This Empire Earth game. We’ve run two games since then and I still think I’ve got two more sittings before the curtain falls.
I’ve prepared two scenes to wrap up this season of the story and lead into the next. Neither has occurred yet. But we’re so close!
What’s gotten in the way? Some really great gaming.
I’ve written previously about employing John Wick’s Dirty Dungeon technique in my game. Long story short, the method involves engaging the players in the design of the dungeon/encounter/etc. For every “fact” they add to the scenario, they are provided a bonus die. For every five minutes they took in the process, I as the GM received a complication chip allowing me to cash it in at a moment of my choosing as this-fact-ain’t-true. At the end of the session, the players received a whole mess of bonus dice and I’d gotten three complication chips.
They gave me a bunch of fun stuff to work with concerning the bad guy’s headquarters. Such as:
- Corridors are well lit (except for the ones on the left)
- Large airducts
- Guards hate their jobs
- All stairways are spiral, no elevators
- “Guard creatures”
- Lousy PA system
- Jetpack testing facility
- 50’ warbot
- Garbage chutes (2)
- A sign reading “2 days without safety incident”
And a bunch of other details.
In the first game employing the Dirty Dungeon, my buddy Phil was in town. Phil hadn’t played in a tabletop RPG in at least 10 years. In fact, he’d fallen out of love with them long ago. In high school and college, he played all the time. Over the years, though, he’d become more of a video gamer to the exclusion of anything else.
Phil and I talked a lot over the last few months about gaming. I shared experiences at Fear the Con and with my home group. His curiosity piqued, I offered to run him in something the next time he was in town.
I offered Phil the role of one the game’s NPCs, Sheriff Jinks. Jinks is an uplifted chimpanzee and is the character I’d want to play if I were a player in the game. Phil was the first to play this character type in our setting. I have to say, I was very curious to see how it would go.
As eager as I was, I had some concern about bringing an outsider into the game. My players and I built the game and the setting. How accessible would it be for someone new? Were we gonna get buy-in from the newbie?
Turns out we did! Plus, Jinks was awesome. And so was Phil.
Jinks kicked major ass. He proved to be a deadshot, had some nasty moves, and in one particularly memorable scene scaled the rock wall to jump down on two guards smashing their heads together in a bloody mess.
The chimp, despite all the throwing-poo and Lancelot Link jokes, was damned cool.
Likewise, Phil fell right back into the thick of things. He was attentive, had good suggestions, and immersed himself into the game. He’s asked if he can Skype-in for future games.
In the first session, the players plowed through the first level with few problems. Their bonus dice facilitated a number of successes for them.
In last week’s session, the players enjoyed extended combat exchanging weapons fire with a lot of outlaws and genetically engineered “guard beasts.” They even killed and ate the brains of a nice frog lady assassin. Bennies were spent, bonus dice rolled, and many, many wounds were soaked.
We got deep into the weeds on combat in game two. Still new to Savage Worlds, it was an object lesson in how quickly things can go south. One player character very nearly didn’t make it through the last round of combat.
They got their man, though. Outlaw Waylon Hamer was successfully taken into custody. Now the trick for the players is getting out of the place.
One of the things that cracked me up about using the Dirty Dungeon technique is that the players applied no budget to how they would utilize their bonus dice. They knew going in there were three levels. I’d assumed they’d attempt to allocate the dice by level. Say, eight dice per level?
No discussion ever emerged from the players in this regard. Thus at every opportunity, I urged the players to use a bonus die. “Kind of an important roll. don’tcha think? Sure you don’t want to use a bonus die?” In fact, Phil as Jinks used them a lot.
More than half the bonus dice were used up before the first level was completed. All the remaining dice were utilized in the second level. None remain for the third, which they’ll tackle in our next session.
I still have my complication chips.
When it is all said and done, I will have gotten three game nights out of a fifteen minute brainstorming session with my players. True, I had a little more work after the fact – about an hour or so – to lay everything out. Nothing like what I would normally have coordinated for three game sessions.
In the earlier blog, a comment was made by Josh of Brilliant Gameologist fame criticizing the Dirty Dungeon concept. “If you thought that dungeon crawls can get mechanical and tedious,” He wrote, “Imagine if you know everything about the adventure save 5 facts.” Having used the technique, I disagree with the Gameologist.
I think the fun for the players in this was seeing how these “facts” would be rolled out to them. They knew the ingredients, but not how they’d all simmer together in the pot.
Nobody at the table has been bored. The players haven’t, and I know I’m having a great time.
I’m a big fan of Dirty Dungeon. I’ll use it again.
I think I’ve got two sessions left. Which probably means four.
Damn, I suck at this.