Monday, December 13, 2010

Whitebox Sunday - Meet the Syndaens of the Ceiling

Gaming has slowed for me since my first baby arrived this summer. The two D&D campaigns I’ve been running have pretty much been on hiatus. No longer!
On Sunday the L.A. whitebox gang reassembled to continue the scary adventure that’s been on pause for 6-7 months now. It was a nice warm, sunny December afternoon when we gathered in an old victorian near Koreatown, had some French pastries, mulled wine, smudged little brown books, lead minis, and the old mint green character sheets.

The party spent the session traversing a catwalk suspended over a large viscous, sparkling underground sea thousands of feet below. The ceiling of the cavern is covered in phosphorescent fungus. In the distance the ceramic city of Wiggin’s Drop hangs from the ceiling.

The party met their first Syndaens – the all-female caste of laborers who tend to the fungus fields on the ceiling of Wiggin’s Rent cavern. The party stumbled upon a mature 8’ tall Syndaen, Naias, and her two 4’ tall clones. The triad was fighting insectoid Harvester monsters on the ceiling. Syndaens wield boomerangs to protect themselves while working the fungus fields. The party decided to join the fight against the Harvesters, afterwards making friends with the Syndaen triad.

It turns out the Syndaen’s were on a quest to extract a mythical male of their race from an ancient and isolated ceiling shrine overtaken long by foul goblins. (I love goblins.) The party joined up to help the Syndaen’s on their quest, and the session ended as the group found a back entrance to the shrine where a wall had been damaged.

I resumed using a DM screen for this session, which is something I've been trying to get away from for a while. I’m still undecided about DM screens. I feel like they put up a psychological barrier between the DM and players, but on the other hand they’re really good for hiding maps and queued-up minis.

An awkward subject came up after the session. Several other folks have expressed interest in joining in this game, but we were all concerned it might be problematic for the group to get too big, both in terms of too many players slowing the game down, and also in terms of the increased difficulty of organizing lots of different people with challenging schedules. We were talking about capping the group at six players... It's sad to exclude fun and interesting people though... Need to think on this more...

Here’s what it looks like when someone casts a difficult spell:


  1. That!

    I feel you on the use of a screen. I think it makes sense for D&D, where you may need to hide your maps and to stage your minis.

  2. @Video: So that's why combat rounds are one minute, and being engaged in melee interrupts spellcasting! I feel for the ordinary joe fighting-men whose job it is to stand tough with goblins in front of them and that guy behind them...

    @Big groups: My average with White Box is 7-10, and I've run for as many as 14 without too much problem. The rules handle lots of PCs well ("everyone in melee roll to hit, tell me if you hit AC 2!"), and if you agree to have the party return to a place of safety at the end of each session (or otherwise come up with a justification for new PCs to appear and others to step offstage) having a big group can be a good solution to individual scheduling problems ("here's when I can DM, whoever else can make it is the party"). Whether this would work for you depends on your style of play - smaller groups are better for exploration of individual characters & their relationship, big groups have to be about exploration of the environment and what's going on at a larger, less-personal scale.
    - Tavis

  3. That is a rather good session pic actually.

    How fortunate to be able to turn away players! Huge parties were definitely more the norm in the old days, and logistically it should still be possible, assuming your players approach the game with the respect needed in such an environment. That is, not holding too many side conversations or creating distractions for the others generally. Not that I would know - I'm just saying! I mean, if they're all hanging on your every word than it shouldn't be a problem. I suspect DMs simply don't demand or receive the respect the way they once did. May I suggest a short bull whip be hauled out and cracked once or twice should attention seem to wander? I've found this to focus attention wonderfully.

  4. It is because we have difficulty coordinating schedules that I like to have a large pool of players. That way we have a much better chance of hitting quorum. We usually have a consistent core and some of the peripheral characters flit in and out from session to session. Of course, it helps that we have a settings where it's easy to explain the coming and going of characters.

  5. It is distracting to role playing with people who have cat heads?

  6. "everyone in melee roll to hit, tell me if you hit AC 2!

    Interesting you mention this. I just started trying this halfway through this last session. Worked great! Tavis is right, though, that whitebox D&D is great for accommodating large groups.

    In terms of all the comments about group size... My feeling is that 8 would work well for this game, given the ratio of roleplay to exploration to combat. Luckily off-topic chit-chat is never a problem in our games - everyone is always focused on playing, which is great!

    As far as players dropping in and out between sessions - we've had a bit of this and I think it's fine. It's usually easy to bring new players into a game (rescued prisoners, etc.), but it's a bit more tricky for characters to drop out. This campaign has been evolving to where the players are moving deeper and deeper into a mysterious world, so there isn't the traditional homebase where characters can hang out at the inn between adventures.

    The party IS traveling with a Human Door NPC that can transport them to an isolated wizard workroom deep in the center of the planet. Maybe I can figure out a reasonable mechanic for using this wizard room to "store" out-of-play characters. If I Am The Door gets killed though, the consequences could be quite bad...

    Anyway, I like being able to have peripheral characters come and go. I need to figure out a way to make it work for this campaign....

  7. You could use an Adam Strange type mechanic. Have all the characters get irradiated with some kind of funky radiation, which makes them vanish into another dimension without warning. Then alter on they reappear.


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