Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Helgacon 12 - Outdoor Spoliation

The final game I played in for this year's marvelous Helgacon was Delta's perennial favorite, Outdoor Spoliation. In the eight years that this game has been a regular feature at this 'con, our wandering party of freebooters has established a Barony, and are working our way up to becoming Counts.

So I guess there are kinda two tracks that this game has kind of coalesced along, the adventuring in the wilderness part, using the map/board from the Avalon Hill classic game Outdoor Survival and the wilderness rules from OD&D (adapted to Delta's wonderful OED houserules) and the running of our fiefdom part, which seems to have become much more prominent in the session of spoliation I missed out on last year.

Regarding the former, I'm still very enthusiastic about it, and Delta runs a great game of old school D&D. We rolled out to the east end of our territory and met with a flamboyant magic item making mage who was totally owning his throne room with a couple of decorative chimeras, he in turn hipped us to the location of a meteor that had recently fallen in the mountains, that would contain the requisite starmetal ore he'd need to enchant some weapons for us. We also went trekking into the mountains to seek out a famed elf animal trainer whose services we'd be requiring for our burgeoning griffin hatchery to train our fledglings into mighty fighting mounts for our awesome fantasy airforce.

The quest to find the elf turned hairy, or more accurately feathery, when we found that the giant birds he'd gone in search of as a new challenge in animal husbandry turned out to be not just rocs, as initially thought, but in fact roc-atrices. Nawsty!

The big mama roc-atrice went out hunting every day, and we'd make tentative invisible forays to scope out its cave, avoiding the nest full of eight foot tall hatchlings. We discovered a cave full of glowing crystals and petrified people and animals, and thought we were maybe dealing with a basilisk, or at worst a medusa somehow lairing with these giant bird beasts, which we were sure were just garden variety rocs. (Even though Delta did take pains to describe them as very vulturey/roostery with spiky red plumes and a sinister mien.)

As we were mulling that, mama bird came back early, and the fight was on, and we finally figured out what we were dealing with when one of our guys got stoned. It's been a few weeks, and I'm not totally remembering how we killed the big one, I think it was with a Fireball or something explansive like that, and then hacked the hatchlings to death as they mangled us with their sharp beaks and claws. My guy Halig Redsaber used his magic sword's annual Wish spell to bring back our petrified pals.

Once all the dust and feathers had settled we went back into the cave and found a petrified elf, who turned out to be the guy we were looking for. I think we hauled him to our sorcerer friend and got him Stone to Fleshed. Happily, since he'd been sidelined as a birdcage decoration for about seventy some years, he was happy to get a job training our griffins.

Our other mission, a bit farther up into the mountains, was retrieving the meteor. This adventure turned out to be a lot rougher on us. The meteor had burrowed deep into the earth, and had riled up some of the underground monsterfauna. I'm afraid the details are faded a bit in my mind, but I do recall we did a fair bit of scouting with an Arcane Eye spell, and spotted some Beholders and some Black Puddings. The former turned out to be Gas Spores, which thankfully got taken out with either bows or fireballs, the latter turned into a nightmare, as we got severely exfoliated by their rubbery, acidy embrace. I do recall Halig getting horribly delaminated, and his magic sword got destroyed (which is kind of a relief too, since the thing was intelligent and always nagging the poor sap)

Either way, we managed to bull through and finally destroyed the oozes, and grabbed the meteor and skedaddled, stinging from being partially digested by the nasty boogers.

So that, in my mind, was all the awesome that was on tap that session. When it's all about the adventuring and doing daring deeds and whatnot, Delta's games are hard to beat.

Now as for the other aspect, I'm afraid I gotta be blunt about it, I don't think castle/fief management is really my bag. I'd put it down to it being the tail end of the 'con and us all being a bit worn out, but there were quite a few incidents of discussions turning into arguments and even antagonism. People got upset or agitated. I know I said a couple things I regretted in the heat of the moment, and for that I apologize to my fellow players.

One point of contention, and one I still hold to my stance about, is that in a management/fief ruling mode, there's this tendency to delegate, which while it makes sense, is also counter to what I feel that core of the game is about. To paraphrase what I said at the table: It's Dungeons & Dragons, not Deliberation & Delegation. If we'd have sent lackeys to go and parlay with the sorceror, as several members of the group strongly suggested, we'd have missed out on a wonderful bit of role play, and in all likelihood the sorceror would have been offended that we didn't come see him in person.

So while it makes perfect sense that as feudal lords we have people to do things for us, I just don't think it's as fun and exciting to have people go adventure for us. (There's a couple of Monty Python gags that are brought to mind, where the Prime Minister's wife has people to do the household chores for her, freeing her up to play snooker all day. And she doesn't even have to go to the trouble of playing snooker, 'cos she has people to do that for her too.) If you're delegating the fun stuff, then what's the point? Efficiency? "Winning" the game? Is that why we're playing? I'll note here that the most sought after reward the game has to offer is "Experience Points". As in, things we experience. Not things we have someone else do for us.

I've noticed this tendency in games where some kind of hierarchy is part of the world building. I've seen it from the other side when I've run a superhero campaign where the characters are part of a government agency with officers above them and other agents in the organization. They sometimes kinda lose sight of the fact that the whole point of the game is for the players at the table and their in game avatars to be the ones doing all the things.

I'm not saying this exclusively a problem of the players, it might be a problem of the setting and what expectations are being set up as well. In real life we understand that we have bosses and maybe people working for us, and we can't do everything ourselves, so when a game presents that as part of the world folks react naturally by how they've experienced it. But I digress, that's perhaps a subject for another time and another blog post.(Edit: I'll also note that I'm talking about settings in the general sense here, not Delta's setting for Spoliation, which is awesome. The fief part of it is kind of an emergent thing that happened between the players and the game's proceeding over the past near-decade.)

There's a large contingent of Outdoor Spoliation players who are very much into the running the fief aspect that has arisen. If that is the direction the game has gone then I can't begrudge them that, but if that's what it's gonna be about, I think I'll regretfully give it a pass next time. That part of it just ain't my idea of fun.

All that being said, Delta runs a fantastic game and in its free form, wandering the woods lookin' for and finding trouble phase, Outdoor Spoliation is an absolute hoot. I guess I'm one o' them ornery types who's happier on the wild frontier, before it gets all civilized 'n tamed.

Thanks for running a great game, Delta. Whatever beefs I might have with the general consensus, the source material and the guy running it are top notch! :)

And so that, my friends, was Helgacon XII. :D

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