Final Thoughts on Dyson’s Delve

This game is now over a week old and I thought I had better get any final thoughts written down before I forget what happened.  I think the other posts have covered most things, so this may be a bit fragmented.  Here we go:

Party Composition – Last year Delta ran a game where we thought we’d be clever by running all human magic-users with paid fighter body-guards.  It did not go very well.  This year the group decided it would be amusing to play all elves.  This had some interesting benefits.  As they all got a free multi-class level in magic-user to start, in the early stages there were a lot of sleep spells which helped them take out large swathes of goblins or humans.  They did better against the ghouls without having to worry about paralysis, and all being able to see in the dark really helped when they started encountering the human cultist levels, as they were able to sneak up on them more effectively.  Delta believed a bunch of the design of level three with the windy passages was meant to screw with the party’s light source, though personally I think it was really just intended to give that abandoned/spooky vibe, but certainly it was one less thing for them to worry about in that area.

It also worked against them once or twice.  At the early levels they were all in chainmail so they could use their spells which left them without a low AC front line, though soon their members started specializing and the more fighter-types started wearing plate and reserving their spell slot for non-combat support (eg. Detect Magic).  They also very nearly TPK’ed when they all failed to save against a harpy’s song – it was only the save bonuses from their dwarven hireling that saved them.  Ultimately, I have to conclude the the best party composition is a balanced one.  While all of a single race isn’t as confining as all of a single class, I still think you want as diverse a group as you can get.

Leveling – The players reached levels right about where I thought they might, which is really mostly down to luck.  I was worried early on that they were being a bit completionist trying to see every room on the first couple levels, but they pushed through it quickly and once hooked by a specific goal they pursued it pretty diligently.  They also benefited from never having a player death.  I was assuming new characters would start out at first level, and we did have one player come in for the second day only so got a bit of a taste for that.  As predicted he quickly shot up to about one level below the party and then remained at that relative point for the rest of the game.  I think the group could have survived a couple of losses just fine, but a TPK would have really blown their chances at reaching the ultimate goal of character level 5. 

On the other hand I also would have liked to see a bit of higher level play.  The fighters did get to play with their first feats a bit at level 4, but we never saw a magic-user hurling fire balls or lightning bolts.  We did have one high level spell get cast off of a scroll (wall of ice) in the very last encounter.  Still, you know it’s a good game when you walk away wanting more.

Languages – I’m not sure if this has to do with the all elf party, but my players also managed to not have a single character with an intelligence over 12.  I use intelligence rolls to learn spells, so this hampered spell access a little bit, but it really came to play around languages.  These days I’ve moved away from the B/X rules that give non-humans a huge list of languages and instead give players common, their racial language, and bonus languages for high intelligence.  In this case we had two players with a negative modifier for intelligence and so I gave them the choice of knowing either common or elvish, and they both chose elvish!  This made for a humorous situation with their dwarf hireling who through misunderstanding thought one of those two players was courting her.  Their inability to speak with each other combined with a stoic dwarven approach to courtship lead to some pretty funny bits.

In game mechanics, this most hampered the use of charm person, which the players used on a lot of goblins, only some of which spoke common.  I started rolling for it randomly as we played, giving each goblin about a 20% chance of knowing common (higher if they were a boss or similar) when it came up.  This is why the players hired a hireling, they really wanted someone who could speak goblin, but unfortunately none of the random hirelings I generated could.  I also really enjoyed roleplaying a con-man who sold them some “common goblin phrases” written out phonetically of which only half were accurate, and included the infamous “bree-yark”.

Wilderness – I had on hand the town and wilderness maps from L1 for a backdrop to the game.  These came up rarely, mostly just showing the wilderness map to give the players a sense of the distance from town to the dungeon, and once or twice I pulled up Pelltar the Sorcerer’s spell list when the players sought out powerful magic for hire.  Ultimately I’m glad we were able to keep the focus on the dungeon with the town stuff mostly being a quick bit of funny roleplay in between, but I also found it reassuring to know I had a whole surrounding environment if the players ever decided it was important to go romping off in a totally different direction.

I think that about sums things up for my birthday game.  It was a great time, and frankly I’d be really surprised if it wasn’t with that group, but overall I think the content went over very well and I’d love to run it again.  I have no specific plans to do so, but I’m happy to put this one in my back pocket and be ready with it for any future D&D campaigns I might run.

15 thoughts on “Final Thoughts on Dyson’s Delve

  1. I’m looking at running Dyson’s Delve online for a few friends to teach myself Roll20, and I’m ripping off your game wholesale. 😀 I’m looking at running it in Five Torches Deep, but otherwise almost exactly as you did it.

    I have a couple of questions as I’m putting this together. I hope you won’t mind if I throw them at you?

    Could you remind me how much you charged for Potions of Healing? Was it 100 or 200 SP per dose?

    How much reward did you have the Abbey offer for the Reliquary for the initial hook?

  2. Very cool, looking forward to hearing how it goes!

    Delta’s equipment lists shows healing potions at 200 sp and mithridate (cure poison) at 1,000 sp. I usually start the group out with a full jug of 6 doses to get them going.

    I had the monks offer 100 gp (aka 1,000 sp) to anyone recovering the reliquary. That feels like enough to get the party’s attention without steam-rolling the treasure in the dungeon (with about 5x that value to be recovered in the reliquary room). If you haven’t read it, I definitely recommend looking at my post on the factions, which includes starting rumors and the extra room where the reliquary is hidden:

    Also if it’s of use, I could post my modified versions of the maps that has all the secret rooms removed. Not sure how usable that is in Roll20, but for my games I would swap the map image for the real one when the players discovered a secret door. This helped keep hidden the fact that there is a secret door while still allowing me to use Dyson’s actual maps for the game.

    1. Excellent, thanks very much. I had actually guessed a thousand SP (I’m going silver standard as well, so converting GP values in the mod to SP like you did), so I’m glad my instincts were on-target there. The players definitely perked up at hearing the reward, so it seems to have worked.

      I was going to have the healing potions at 100 or 200 per dose, but a jug of 6 available for the price of 5, so that matches up perfectly.

      I re-read all your posts on Dyson’s Delve to prep for this, and I watched the broadcasts shortly after they came out (watching, or rather listening to, your Ghost of Lion Castle game now on my commutes; I’ve listened to most of Ten Dead Rats as well but am a couple of episodes behind), but was lazy about going back and checking the videos for those prices. 😀

      Having the modified maps would be fantastic! Thanks so much for the offer! We actually have had session 0.5, and I ran into an issue with secret doors already. Will detail in my next post.

  3. Re: The actual game, we had session .5 on Monday night. I started them in Restenford, as adventurers new to Lendore having arrived a couple of days ago looking for treasure and adventure. We did character creation and discussed my setting and game concepts, but they got some adventuring done too, so it was kind of a combined Session 0 and 1.

    Originally I was supposed to have three players, and I planned to have them each run a PC and have a Retainer; I gave them a price break/deal on their first Retainer each, explaining that multiple ships had recently docked in Restenford with would-be adventurers and out of work sailors on shore leave looking for excitement and money. So besides the usual 10/SP/HD/day danger pay rate, each adventurer could hire their first Laborer or Militia for half price, or alternately a simple 5SP down payment and 1/3 of a share of recovered treasure. That would create a simple party of six, with four shares of treasure if they went that route, for simple math. FtD doesn’t actually have starting gold; I had each PC start with a D6 x 10 SP in addition to their regular starting equipment. Of course, the treasure shares assume survival, which is probably foolish. 😀

    One of the players couldn’t make it, so instead I had the two players each make two PCs, and they planned to each get a retainer (and I adjusted to the option of 5 SP + quarter share, for lazy math), which would give us a party of eight to start.

    They got into the spirit of old school with the character names. The PCs generated were:
    IDunno the elf Thief
    Grey T’Lan the human Warrior
    Blitz Krieg the dwarf Zealot (chose Suture for healing, and the light and mending cantrips to save on Supply, though the facts that Illuminate is Concentration and concentration is interrupted in FtD if you make ANY check is limiting)
    Ignatius the human Mage (chose Charm for his 1st level spell)

    I planned for each PC to start with one roll on your rumor chart and one on the regular chart from L1, and they can pay for more per your rules. In play six still felt like a good starting number, so I had the two players just roll up six rumors as I originally intended. Half on each chart. The ones which immediately got their attention and some follow-up were the ones about the Rat King (from your list) and the one about the Giant Rat biting a child (from L1) the PCs decided to look into that one by themselves (no hirelings), and headed down the street by the wharf, ending up at the burnt-out guard station.

    On the fly I photographed and uploaded the maps for the station and the dungeon under it, and they began their exploration. The two skeletons in the first room dropped Grey (he’s down 4 Strength from a wound, but didn’t die), and the chest in there is floating around gaseous as they failed to disarm the trap. Blitz has been rolling hot and has successfully cast Suture three times, so they’re otherwise topped up. They did find the secret door in the room, which has a lovely bit of treasure in the chest, though they failed to unlock that one. They’ve just opened the secret door on the OTHER side, and the skeleton (and ghoul, though they haven’t seen it yet) are about to attack. I’m wondering if the ghoul will get anyone, though if they’re smart and fight at the door, they’ve got a good chance to shut it in his face and escape if they need to.

    1. …and I forgot to detail the issue with the secret doors. Lol. It’s just that I haven’t had an opportunity (though TBH I’m not sure whether I have the right software) to edit any of the maps to hide the secret doors, so I had to kludge how I used the fog of war and Reveal tools on Roll20 to try not to show the secret doors. It was imperfect, and something I definitely need to work on. So the offer of your modified maps for the Delve is lovely. 🙂

  4. 2nd session update: They managed to take down the ghoul with just one paralyzed, and explored the complex a little more before finding the kitchen and seeing two more ghouls, which prompted them to close the door and barricade it with a table before leaving the complex. 😀

    They came back a week later once their Fighter had recovered most of his lost Strength from going to 0HP, and they had hired a couple of Militia and a couple of Laborers for backup. They spent some of their recovered treasure outfitting the Militia with Heavy armor, which definitely helped.

    With the additional fighters they cleared out the remaining undead and the giant rats, and found a goodly amount of treasure. In the course of this both hired Militia wound up getting dropped at different points but not killed, but I really like the lingering wound rules which make going to 0 HP hurt even if you get stabilized and don’t die. Both got the “all rolls are at disadvantage until a night’s rest” effect, which reduced their usefulness substantially. That being said, only a 1/20 chance of actually being dead if someone gets to you and stabilizes you within a minute feels a little too generous. I think I’m going to alter the chart to double the chances for PCs (even 1/10 will still be scary, I expect), and make it 1/4 for an NPC/hireling to die if reduced to 0.

    In keeping with Cure Light and B/X I ruled that the Suture spell from FtD can also be used to cure paralysis.

    I’m thinking of using some version of that lingering wounds chart in my 5E game at this point. It feels much more interesting and varied than just the Exhaustion Levels fix some folks use.

    Anyway, I expect that next session they’ll actually get to Bone Hill and enter Dyson’s Delve. Further bulletins as events warrant. 😀

  5. Just a quick update: This game has turned into a bit of an open table West Marches-esque thing, with two semi-regular groups adventuring around Restinford. The group that started exploring the Delve was evidently intimidated by hearing from a captured goblin that there were “lots and lots” more goblins below, and looked around for other adventuring opportunities before returning. They did find the relic on their first trip, however, which was super fun. Your hook and modifications to level 1 worked perfectly.

    They’ve just finished raiding another of Dyson’s dungeons, a mini one called the Burial Mound of Esur the Red, which was great fun. I level-drained one PC but somehow only killed a few Retainers. A treasure map in the mound, however, tells them that Esur’s fabled magic ring (which they had heard of and were seeking) was actually lost in the dungeons beneath Bone Hill… 😀 Hopefully they’ll be back under the hill this coming week.

    Meanwhile my second group is exploring the Tomb of the Serpent Kings, which has also been awesome.

    1. This sound super cool. I’m glad you’re getting so much use out of it, and frankly, am just a bit jealous of what sounds like a really awesome game.

      1. Thanks so much again for the inspiration and the awesome maps, articles, and recordings! I’d invite you to join in, but obviously the Dyson’s Delve part you’re intimately familiar with, and I’m sure your schedule is full, especially with the beefed-up streaming schedule you guys are doing nowadays.

        HOWEVER, if you really do have that strong an itch, and if you haven’t read Tomb of the SK, my Saturday night group (usually starting around 7:00) certainly wouldn’t mind another player…

        I’ll see if I can shoot you an invite to the group on FB anyway, just so you can take a peek if you’re so inclined. 🙂

        1. Yeah, I probably know that one a little too well to be a player. I really appreciate the invite, but your time slot is the exact same time as another game I’m playing, so I’ll have to decline. Very excited though to lurk in your FB group and hear what folks are up to!

          1. I’m sorry that there hasn’t been more traffic in the FB group for you to be entertained by, although obviously your schedule has been pretty full lately! Play has however continued steadily. Right now I have a pretty reliable 3 man group on Friday nights and another on Saturday nights (though they each use Retainers and Henchmen to bring them each up to a 6-8 person team including NPCs on any given delve). Most of them are 4th level despite a level drain and three PC deaths so far, though two are 5th and one of those (ironically the one who was drained) is not that far from 6th. In addition to Dyson’s Delve, Tomb of the Serpent Kings and the Burial Mound of Esur the Red, we’ve also seen multiple visits to Dyson’s Goblin Gully, and James West (Black Pudding zine)’s Crypt of the Worm Idol.

            There has even been a little crossover between the groups, but mostly they’re kind of competitive with each other. 🙂 Both groups have entered the 8th level of Dyson’s Delve at this point. Paralleling your game, the battle with the cult when the Friday night crew entered the temple on Level 7 was a real dramatic high point and near-TPK. As it turned out they lost two leveled retainers and a 4th level mage PC in that fight. Though the mage’s player (who’s new to D&D) took the death really hard initially, he’s since rolled with the punch and his new Warrior PC is kicking butt and has caught up fast, due to the nature of the XP charts and treasure found while adventuring with higher-level characters. Great demonstration of something you guys have talked about on stream there.

            One (to me) hilarious recent happenstance was that the Friday group found the treasure map showing the secret door from the fire chapel up to the sub-level on 6. And they peeled back the wax and uncovered it, briefly checked out the hall and saw the stairs going up, but prioritized it lower than exploring the 8th level. Then the Saturday night group saw the uncovered door, and the undisturbed dust indicating that it hadn’t been looted yet, but ALSO said “Nah, not too interested.” For a couple of weeks BOTH groups were ignoring that sub-level and missing all the treasure up there. Finally the Friday night group did go up and explore it, having some terrifying encounters and finding the big stash of treasure up there, but totally missed the hidden room, despite having a treasure map showing it. 😀

            Anyway, just figured I’d check in and let you know that this campaign you largely inspired is still going strong and providing lots of laughs and thrilling moments. 🙂

          2. It’s such a well written piece, I’m so glad you’re having so much fun with it! I’ve been using it myself for my own Friday night game, though I’ve restocked a fair chunk of it at this point to add a little variety.

            That fight in the temple on level 7 has such a fantastic setup. Assuming the cultists are on alert, descending that big spiral staircase right in the middle of their lair really leaves the PCs incredibly exposed. Add to that the couple of fliers (a harpy and a priest with boots of levitation), and it’s really not a good situation for the players.

            Glad you went with dropping the map of the secret room in sub-level 6. I can’t recall if that’s in the text somewhere or not, but for some reason that room is super hard to find. Hang onto that – it’s going to be a brilliant aha moment for your PCs when they finally figure it out!

  6. Yeah, I think it’s mentioned as being carried by the head mage of the band who’s treasure-hunting on level 6. I’m looking forward to them figuring it out.

    That fight was very nasty indeed. The PCs jumped the Veterans guarding the top of the stairs and immediately dropped two of them with a Sleep spell. The other two broke morale and fled down the stairs before the party could get them, but that meant two more tough low-AC fighters in the big battle. The Vicar with his magic hammer was just laying waste to people left and right, in addition to his Hold Person. That’s the only +2 magic item any of the PCs have, though there are several +1s around at this point (plus a couple of the witch Black Aliss’ famous never-miss arrows, which are +3 but have a hidden drawback…)

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