While the other two are deep in discussion, Hafiz gets antsy and cuts the discussion short by yanking both of the levers at the same time. The room immediately begins to fill with sand, dropping from the top of the long, cylindrical room, and the other door slides open.
They wisely decide to leave the filling room and go to the open door, being careful to go around the tripwire. While they're crossing, three zombies come from the newly opened doorway- one exiting immediately, and two becoming tripped up on one another, scrabbling to exit the room. The zombies are withered, decrepit things, more akin to uncovered mummies than the traditional freshly dead, but blackened, preserved skin sticks to bones as well as meaty flesh.
Takeno sticks a torch into one, and then the zombie misses its attack horribly, allowing the samurai to grab the zombie by the arm and wrestle it to the ground. Hafiz settles on his own target, and Ralph begins the crossbow barrage in vain. The zombies are quickly slain, and they reach the hidden room.
In the room is a chest and a lever. Takeno excitedly opens the chest, as quickly as possible, and I ask him to roll 2d6. He rolls snakeyes! I inform him that there is 200 gold in the chest, and everybody's cursing him. I laugh, perhaps a trifle maliciously but hey, they could have won up to 1200 gold from the chest!
By the way, opening the chest has released a cloud of purple gas, make a saving throw vs poison. The intrepid samurai fails, and he loses 1d6 CON, for a new total of 10. I tell him not to mark it off his character sheet, and to instead take a note. In his frustration, the samurai kicks the chest, and I jokingly ask him to make another saving throw. He complies, but succeeds. Can't fail all the time, right?
It's at this time that we're all tired, and besides, Ralph's player has to go to work in the morning and it's already getting late, so we call it a night. I look back on the session and think:
What worked well?
- Letting players roll most of the dice. The only time I touched dice was during combat. Determining what side of the portcullis the rear guard was on, figuring out how many zombies were in the next room- I asked the players to roll dice for me for absolutely everything. It was glorious.
- Making up the dungeon as you go along. I know it's not for everybody, but if you can strike a balance between adding things as you think of them and obeying a self-imposed ruleset and style, you can invent fairly colorful and realistic worlds without any forethought or planning. I know I didn't have any.
- Letting the players determine the setting and their relationship. The first post goes into more detail about it, but essentially, you let the players decide where they're going and what they're after, by virtue of what is essentially free association. It's not for those DMs who thrive on pre-planned adventures, unless they like changing them on the fly, and it's not for people who insist on having close control of their stuff. But if you want a quick challenge to your creative and improvisational skills, nothing comes close to having the group of people you're trying to entertain make up the night's entertainment for you.
- Variable Weapon Damage. It works. Takeno's player was looking at the page-long description of weapons, and I told him not to bother, as I'd changed everything. This was met with approval, as nobody really likes looking through lists of weapons and deciding whether one extra point of damage is worth an extra three pounds and nine gold.
What didn't work?
- Having to get up in the morning. Nobody likes having to cut a session short after only a couple of hours, but our work schedules aren't really flexible and there's not a whole lot any of us can do about having to come in extra early sometimes.
- Regular Vancian Magic. Without any sort of explanation about how interesting and bizarre J. Vance's works are, or anything about the implied setting that the characters wouldn't know or likely discover through regular play, Vancian magic kind of sucks. Hey, you get two spells today. I encountered that with our wizard, who had never played a game with Vancian magic, and she wasn't happy. I don't really care if it's the way things have always been done, or if Jack Vance wrote it that way. He didn't have young wizards running around discovering spells, he wrote about mighty sorcerers who already had researched a thousand spells. And D&D isn't really about mighty sorcerers, especially not at first where the limitations of Vancian magic come into play.