We just finished playing the third and final session of Tomb of the Iron God last night, and I thought I’d write a bit of a retrospective of the game from my perspective as a GM.
This was an old-school dungeon crawl adventure using the Swords & Wizardry Complete rules. There were 5 players for the first session, and 4 for the second and third, with each session lasting 3 hours. We played on the G&BS Discord server, and used Owlbear Rodeo for the map and Google Slides for the character sheets. The characters were a mix of pre-gens and player-rolled, and all started with 2,000 XP and a minor magic item.
Osberd the Pious was played by @Farty.
I prefer to have mechanics take a back seat, at least from the players’ perspective, so they can engage with the world rather than the rules, or what’s on their character sheets. I’ve very happy to make the game as simple as “Tell me what your character does. I’ll tell you what happens next, or maybe ask you to roll some dice.” However, doing that requires building trust with the players, because otherwise it’s very easy for them to think that you’re being arbitrary or unfair when things don’t go their way.
It’s also quite an adjustment for players who are, uh, passionate about mechanics. And especially if you’re known for holding somewhat… idiosyncratic opinions about things like descending armor class, sometimes you’re going to have to show your work.
- “You rolled a 12, and the homicidal baboon has an AC of 6, so that’s 18. You need a 19 or more to hit.”
Or maybe you have players who aren’t used to the GM making certain rolls…
- “Yeah, there were killer monkeys behind the door you just listened to. I rolled a 5 on your listen check, so you didn’t hear them.”
With this group, the grumbles were (I hope) in jest. But just remember to always be fair, and be ready to offer an explanation when the outcomes are surprising.
Here’s what I had going on (more or less).
When you’re doing a dungeon crawl, especially with newer players, there’s a tendency to just treat it as a series of rooms to loot. That wasn’t the case here. Everyone in this group is an experienced GM, many of them with more years of experience than me. That changes the game, in a good way. I didn’t have to do anything for to get them into character. They all knew who their characters were, what they were doing, and why. And they talked about it, to each other, in character! That made it so much easier on me as a GM, because they were self-motivated to engage with the fiction.
One thing that I was happy with and will continue to do is ask players to select an MVP after each session, using whatever criteria they like. That player’s character gets a 10% XP bonus, or 100 XP (whichever is greater). Once or twice it was suggested that the award should go to whichever character it would be most beneficial to have level up, but the discussion always ended up being about which player did an exceptional job playing their character.
Always give the players a little something when they make the game fun.
- I pitched this as a 2-3 session game, but the module was big enough that we could have easily gone to 6. The players ended up seeing about 1/2 of the dungeon, but I think we wrapped it up well at least. Maybe there will be a followup at some point, after the current gaming queue empties a bit.
- I chose the wrong combat system. S&W has a lot of options, and I picked the phased combat system based on Holmes Basic, just to try it out. The first combat encounter in session 2 was rough, and in particular the players were thrown off by movement happening at the end of the round after melee. We got the hang of it in session 3, but I think I should stick with simpler combat rules in the future. @Harrigan will certainly have more to say about this.
Well, it was worth a try.
Overall, I think the game was a success, and most of the credit for that has to do with the players. If you’re on the fence about trying your hand at GMing for this community, my recommendation is to just go ahead and do it. You will have a good time, and you will learn things.