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Session 23: The Rats of Thrax

January 4, 2011

How can you tell if your players enjoyed the last session?  Well, one possible way is to check your email a few hours later and see if you get a message like this:

We talked about it for a while and decided that we don’t want to sit around and meditate while massive rat armies horde up around us behind walls of flame. Our plan, instead, is to immediately run for it. We want to go *right now* to the western door of the office, open it, walk across the large hall to its western door (leading to the stairs), drink the potions that will disguise us as rats, open those doors, proceed to the diamond room, and boost ourselves onto the ceiling space next to poor, poor Alyssa. There, we intend to meditate a bit until Clarence can levitate our asses out of there. We’ll have our invisibility potions sort of ready to hand for in case we need to use them, and the whisk-us-to-Oz amulet ready in case all else fails. It’s an important point that we plan to drop at least one volume of the Concordia before using the Sylvester escape hatch, should we need to use it.

 

Putting aside the campaign-specific gobbledygook (some of which I’ll explain later) the take away here is that after the session ended and I bid them all adieu, the players conferred “for a while” about their next course of action.  And concocted a multi-stage plan for the next session with well thought out contingencies.  This is as good a way to tell that I got to them as I’ve ever encountered.  Awesome.

So, what happened, on this the 23rd session of my 18 month long game?  Well, the characters went down through three dungeon levels that they “cleared” long ago,  encountered an enemy that they’ve dealt with on multiple occasions, and grabbed a magical item that they already knew was there.  In other words, as far as maps, treasure and monsters are concerned, there was absolutely no new ground broken.  And again, I point to the above email as proof that it was Awesome.

What worked, exactly?  A lesson learned from Philotomy’s OD&D Musings.

As you may have gathered, the campaign is centered around a Megadungeon in the classic sense.  The eponymous Dungeon of Thrax, as a matter of fact, which is a massive underground ruin of untold depth, ever-surprising dangers, and pervasive mystery.  You know, D&D shit.  For years, I turned my nose up at the very idea of such a thing for the same reason that so many forum dwellers deride it to this day:  a game about kicking in doors and killing stuff, clearing level after level and hauling gold home?  BORING.   I want to throw the ring into Mount Doom and save Middle Earth! And, of course, what they miss and what I missed for so long is that the Megadungeon is… alive.  Living, breathing, growing, changing.  Not so much the walls and stones and stairs and so forth, although they certainly COULD, but rather the shit that lives down there.  The monsters waiting on the other side of those kicked in doors.  They’ve got reasons for being there and motives and plans and just because the players have mapped out one level fully doesn’t mean that things are going to be left alone when they head off back to town.

Exhibit A:  The Rats of Thrax.

Your standard Ratman, really.  Oh, they have a background, an origin story if you will, rooted in the mythic history of the dungeon, but let’s face it, they’re your average, every day ratmen.  They essentially fill the same niche as goblins, a low-level, intelligent enemy that can be scaled up through numbers and cunning.  To my mind, they offer a number of advantages over goblins, the most important of which is that players don’t *quite* know what to do with them the same way they do with Tolkien-esque goblinoids. Goblins you can just slaughter mercilessly and never feel too bad about it and anyone who has ever played D&D knows that deep in their bones.  But ratmen?  Well, maybe you can talk to them?  Make an alliance?  Stay on their good side?  But they’re vain, and tricky, and unexpectedly clever, and a tense alliance went suddenly wrong when the players infringed on shit they didn’t know they were infringing on.  A dynamic, changeable relationship, in other words, which is the heart of any good drama.  Here are two entities with their own motivations forced into interaction with each other:  How will it go?

And there they are, these ratmen, down in the Megadungeon, pursuing their own ends.  When the players leave a room, the ratmen might very well enter, and what will they do there?  It’s been wonderful for the campaign-  a persistent “other” that can be kind of coexisted with, or at least avoided, but that is always *up to something*.  And the ratmen have gotten to my players moreso than any other monster, trap or circumstance, to the point that last session, I SWEAR to you that the players, sitting in their living room playing a skype D&D game, suddenly realized that they’d been whispering to each other for fear that the ratmen in the dungeon might hear their out-of-game conversation.

I steeple my fingers and intone in my best Montgomery Burns voice:  “Excellent.”

(PS:  That totally awesome ratman pic was drawn by Erik Loiselle, and can be seen in its original form HERE.  You can  buy a print of it, or a greeting card.  For ratman themed holidays.)

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. January 4, 2011 4:22 pm

    It sounds like your players had a hell of a good time. Kudos!

  2. January 4, 2011 9:10 pm

    And really, what more could you ask for as a DM?

  3. January 15, 2011 1:44 am

    What is a ratman themed holiday? It sounds awesome, but I have doubts that it would turn out well for the human participants.

  4. January 15, 2011 5:17 pm

    Every family probably does their Ratfest differently, but the important thing is to have a high tolerance for urine and blood.

Trackbacks

  1. The Birth of a Macguffin « The Dungeon of Thrax

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