Dungeons of Yendor - Pennine Megagames (20/08/16)
On August the 20th I was at Pennine Megagames' 'Dungeons of Yendor' as one of the Control team. Dungeons of Yendor was the latest in a series of games set in Jim Wallman's “Yendor” fantasy universe . This game centred around the Kingdom of Yendor sending a force to the abandoned underground dungeons to fight the monsters and gain the treasures within. This wouldn't be a handful of charismatic, muscle-bound battle-heroes with mysterious, chequered pasts either – no, they would be doing it properly this time, and sending the army in.
Welcome to the dungeon.
For the King!
The Kingdom of Yendor has a problem: citizens in the North are complaining of Orc raids coming from the nearby abandoned underground dungeons. King Martin has dispatched the Army to clean out those caverns, and obtain any valuable items within (you know, for the economy).
The King's Army isn't just a mass of footsoldiers, though – several prominent houses command their own soldiers for the Army of the King. Houses bring their own troops, but they also bring their own grievances and rivalries. Houses Cashbak, Felton, and Hayward would all be fielding their own forces, as would the King's appointed leader for the undertaking, Viscount Doodes.
Viscount Doodes with Baron and Lady Cashbak.
Oft forgotten but never appreciated enough, the City Watch would provide a solid block of honest, salt of the earth soldiers. Similar to a police force for the City of Yendor, they would be adding much needed bulk to the expedition (and perhaps much needed brain cells, depending on who you ask).
The City Watch - Overworked and Underpaid.
The Army also has its share of “interesting” contingents. Yendor has become a somewhat cosmopolitan city as of late, and as a result, Orcs (although it's more polite to call them 'Free-Folk') and Dwarves  have their own small group of units to contribute to the effort.
Big Chief Erricks - The Biggest, Chiefiest Orc.
Following along were some Merchants, looking to sell supplies at reasonable prices – and the Elves, graceful, intelligent and honest  as ever.
Merchants and Elves - small in number, but significant in impact.
Last but not least, the King's Army was officially accompanied by four mages. This was where I came in, with my role being the Control for the mages attached to the Yendorian forces. The mages were (in no particular order):
Grunthos the Wise
Knustrum the Clever
Strabarin the Intense
Cosmo the Great
From left to right: Cosmo, Grunthos, Knustrum and Strabarin.
Whilst, of course, the mages were all stand-up gents who wouldn't put anything above serving the King and their Art of Magic, they did have some... let's say... previous character history, and as a result, they formed pairs, with Cosmo & Knustrum and Grunthos & Strabarin acting effectively as two separate mage teams [and also sounding like two bizarre '70s detective shows].
Monsters Have To Live Somewhere, Right?
However, the King's Army were far from the only set of players. The dungeon had its own society, its own problems, its own rivalries. Below some empty caverns, crypts and mazes, the Orcs had their own multi-tribe society, and beyond them, a small race of Trogs (squat, goblin-like creatures that live in darkness) also had their own system of tribes.
Some Orc scheming.
Of course, they weren't alone. There was a small society of “Deep Dwarves” - Dwarves who had isolated themselves from the rest of society in order to form their own gold-plated utopia in the caves.
There were also some other 'wandering' (Non-King's Army) Mages meandering about the dungeons, who had freed themselves from the shackles of Yendor life, and were not bound to the King . These mages could prove to be valuable allies, if you gave them a reason to make friends...
The wandering mages consider their plans before the King's Army arrives.
Of course, there's always more to be found in the dungeon for the bold explorer, for 'tis a very dark and mysterious place...
What follows is an account of the game, from the limited portion I saw. I was focused on the mages primarily, so most of the game I witnessed was in and around the upper layers of the dungeon, as that is where the mages tended to spend the most time. It was also a common location for the King's Army's various expeditions (who the mages were rarely too far away from), so I caught a lot of their movements as well.
Part 1 – Vanguards and Vision Issues
As the game began, Viscount Doodes gave a rousing speech to the huddled masses in Army HQ. Doodes knew what to expect, as his stirring address also included plenty of references to loyalty, and that backstabbing each other for personal gain or to improve standing above another house would be punished severely .
Doodes just wants everyone to work together for once.
The King's Army had a lot of units and not a lot of space, and decided to explore the dungeon in waves. After much discussion, it was decided that the brave vanguards would be the troops of House Hayward, and they would be joined by Grunthos & Strabarin (StraBos? GruntIn?). And so it was that several units of soldiers appeared in the local village. The mages, the Haywards and their soldiers were all cheered through the dirt streets, as the villagers welcomed them – surely an end to the interminable Orc raids! Celebrated as heroes all, the brave men and women descended the steps of an abandoned tower, filled with a lust to explore, to fight enemies unimagined, to gain riches untold! Then, (with some significant poetic license), the following exchange happened:
Lord Hayward: “We can't see anything down here. Our units can't move.”
Lady Hayward: “Mages, light up the room for our units so we can get going.”
Mages: “You didn't bring torches for your soldiers?” Lady Hayward: “You said you could light the rooms for us!”
Mages: “Oh, simple misunderstanding. What we said was that we can light the way for ourselves. We have personal lamps. Doesn't mean we can light up a whole room for hundreds of soldiers though.”
Lady Hayward: “What?! You don't have any spells for lighting rooms?”
Mages: “Not really. Bye!” *Mages run away, explore other rooms*
The Mages and the Haywards explore the Necromancer's Lair.
Behind them, the City Watch were happy to sit in the village and guard the entrance to the dungeons and the Army's primary supply route, which they would continue to do reliably for the rest of the game. This also made them the de facto representative for the King's Army in the village, and in time, they would effectively become a sort of 'Villagers' Complaints Board' – but more on that later.
Part 2 – Stalls and Searches
With the logistics of torches and exploration figured out, the various expeditionary forces fanned out and began searching the dungeon in three distinct groups . The original vanguard pressed forward, searching their initial entry point, which turned out to be an abandoned lair of some long-gone Necromancer, before finding a passageway that led them to a much deeper part of the cave, where they found a tribe of Orcs. I didn't see much of it, but several turns later, a 'wandering' mage told me he was being paid by the Orcs to help them take their home back, so I think the Army did fairly well.
The Orcs entertain some unwelcome guests.
The second group was led by Viscount Doodes himself, with the Cashbaks and his adviser Loremaster Augier. Together, they had a powerful force, but it was slow moving (knights wear a lot of armour, you guys). The central passageways of the area they had entered, 'The Crypt', allowed for large numbers of troops to move through quickly, but they were constantly harassed by Orcs. They would soon learn that this was because the other side of The Crypt connected directly to one of the Orc tribes. Once they had reached the entrance, a lengthy battle of attrition occurred, as the Orcs attempted to bottleneck the invaders.
Doodes' and the Cashbaks' soldiers make their way down the long halls of The Crypt.
A third group made up of the forces of House Felton and the Yendorian Orcs headed through the surface village to an entrance area called “The Dungeon”. I didn't see much of this map area (with the exception of the odd mage fireball-ing someone or other), but it seemed like this map saw a lot of back and forth between the King's Army and the local Orcs throughout the game.
Orcs attack the Army's left flank in The Dungeon.
What were the mages doing during all this, you may ask? The answer is: pretty much whatever they pleased. It's hard to give orders to people who have a tendency to teleport while you're mid-sentence. For the most part though, the mages stuck to their pairs and circled around the Yendorian forces, searching nearby rooms for items of magical interest. Initial searching in the surface village proved with very limited success, so they had focused their efforts around the Necromancer's Lair and The Dungeon.
Strabarin the Intense lives up to his name.
The 'wandering' mages meanwhile had been up to their own bizarre escapades, brokering deals with Deep Dwarves and Orcs, raising undead soldiers to be their personal bodyguards, and on one occasion, briefly popping up to the surface to look for a candle in the local temple and then trashing the chapel room dedicated to the Elves, including some crude graffiti and some other matter left on the walls that was a bit more... malodorous (some mages really don't like elves, it turns out). Coincidentally, a short time later, an entirely unrelated Orc raid smashed up the people's 'chapel of Clewg' next door. The combined effects of these resulted in the City Watch dispatching several units of no doubt grim-faced men to spend a couple of turns cleaning up the mess, for which they received not enough thanks, I'm sure.
The City Watch - before half of them were dispatched to "clean up after mages and Orcs" detail.
Generally speaking, all of the mages had been seeking objects of magical power, and studying any that they found. This brings us on to the next stage...
Part 3 – Portals and Pursuits
Skeletus the Strange, one of the wandering mages, had found an object of bizarre design, and had spent a long time researching it. The magical levels contained within were beyond anything he'd seen before. As he sat there in the Necromancer's abandoned library, he finally discovered how to activate it. A magical push in the right place, and before him, a person-sized oval appeared on the wall – translucent and flowing. A portal. He stepped inside.
The portal's opening had sent a shockwave of magical energy throughout the entire dungeon. Every mage in the vicinity was informed of a noticeable massive shift in the magical atmosphere, though they did not yet know why. Spells of detection were quickly cast to lead them to the source of the magical energy, and soon, Cosmo, Knustrum, Strabarin and Grunthos were all in the library, accompanied by the noble Lady Andraste, and the wandering mage Themus the Mad. Faced with an object of previously unimagined magical potential, Cosmo decided to attempt usage of a ritual he had heard of in a dream. The four mages preceded to spell out a mystical rubric in perfect unison – 'Y' was the first sign to be manifested, followed by 'M', then 'C' and then 'A'. The portal seemed unaffected, but the mages felt mildly invigorated nonetheless, and generally decided that just because of the ritual's lack of visible effect, there was no need to feel down.
Perhaps it was just an old folk song, imparted by the people of the village. We'll never know.
Just as the mages were going through the portal, Countess Sonya , arrived in the library with the two Elves of the expedition, Lady Glissandril and Lord Elindrael . The portal began to flicker, and a decision had to be made about who would go through. Eventually Sonya decided to take the risk and sprinted for the portal. Unfortunately, she was mere seconds too late – deciding who should go had taken just barely too long.
And so it was that the five mages and Andraste stumbled into a bizarre room of confusing architecture. Skeletus the Strange was sitting there, looking about as confused as everyone else. The group attempted to leave their current room, in order to explore more of this realm, but the way was swiftly blocked by some kind of tentacled organic mass of great repugnance. Knustrum laughed, and cast a teleport spell on the foul beast, sending it to some field of no significance back on the surface. He would then stop laughing, as immediately where the first beast had been, two more immediately appeared.
Five mages and a warrior walk into a bar. The bar is full of be-tentacled nightmare creatures. [rimshot]
A voice began to fill the room, and some communication began. The voice wanted the new arrivals gone, but they wanted something in return. At one point Grunthos offered them one of the mystical objects he had found earlier, and in return they gave him a shield of magical reflection . The negotiations were strained, but eventually the portal was reopened by the entities of the realm, and the adventurers stepped back outside – to be met by a rather angry looking group of people including the Haywards, Sonya and the Elves (and many, many soldiers).
Meanwhile, a group of Yendorian Orcs were enjoying a nice and peaceful duty as the rearguard in the local carrot field. That was sort of interrupted when a slimy mass of hundreds of eyes and tentacles happened to appear twenty feet away. The Orcs proved more than a match, but the beast was too hardy for them to kill outright, and they had orders to return to the front line, so they left the beast to the fields. Believe it or not, this mildly inconvenienced the villagers, which in other words meant they ran, screaming, over to the other side of the village, and started pleading to the City Watch to fight this beast, yelling things about how the Orcs had abandoned them, and how the beast was now destroying the village.
Part 4 – Resolutions and Running Away
It seemed that the mages' hasty actions had led to them being accused of not being loyal to the crown, and various leaders and units of the army began pursuing them in various areas. Cosmo cast spells on himself to become invisible and, later, disguise himself as a demon, though the latter ended up with him being attacked anyway.
Grunthos & Strabarin got back into the Army's good books by accompanying the Yendorian forces in The Crypt who were fighting against the local Orcs. There was an intense mage battle, as the Orcs themselves had brought the wandering mages Cruxtor the Dark and Primus the Cruel to the battle, who quickly began casting counter-spells.
Cruxtor the Dark negotiates with an Orc.
In the meantime, Skeletus had obtained a bizarre Orcish magical urn, which he tried to research in the library, until the Haywards burst in, and he teleported back to the surface, able to run off into Yendor to find some peace (maybe).
Eventually the Orcs in The Crypt were pushed back to their home caves, and the game ended with all four of the King's Army Mages (following a quick teleportation from Cosmo) in the Orc Caves, battling them on their home turf.
'Game Over' was called, and everyone sat down for the first time in seven hours.
Disclaimer: The following is some analytical observation of what I think did or didn’t work well. It's all my uneducated opinion, my only qualification being that I overthink things. If you disagree with anything I've said, please comment - I'd be interested to know.
To be perfectly honest, there is very little I can suggest for improvement for Dungeons of Yendor. The game was the most chaotic I've ever seen (with the exception of the 300-player Watch The Skies 4: Global Apocalypse ), but only because it was the intention of the design. The dungeon itself is vast, both in terms of its complex layout filled with hidden areas and almost never-ending depths, to its social complexities, with almost a dozen different competing / cooperating groups with their own rules for cultural expectations and objectives – you may have noticed I have not mentioned any of the activities or moments from the Orc, Trog, or Deep Dwarf teams – this is because I don't have a single shred of an idea what they got up to on the day. In general, I rarely went that far into the dungeon.
Here are some Trogs dancing. I have no idea why.
The game was very simple rules-wise, so that the players could run the vast majority of the mechanisms themselves without needing Control arbitration. For the most part this was very successful, although some rules did get a bit confused, especially in the early stages (as you'd expect at any megagame). In particular, rules for unit limits in rooms and across connecting passages didn't seem to be observed every time, which is understandable considering the confusion brought on by the scale – if a game with this kind of map layout were to be run in future, I would recommend clearer visual reminders on the map itself to keep track of these limits. There were a few other rule confusions, but that's something you can expect from any game.
The only other thing of note was that the mages were constantly searching and using spells to find magical or hidden items. While the search rules were quite reliable for generic searches in the dungeon areas, the more magic-themed searches really relied on Control intuition to have reasonable results. I hope I did my best and didn't under- or over- compensate these searches.
Overall, Dungeons of Yendor was both the most visually interesting megagame I have ever been a part of, as well as being the richest in satisfying complexity. I definitely wouldn't mind seeing it played again.
Thanks to Jim, Paul, John, the rest of the Control Team and Pennine Megagames for making it happen.
Some very enjoyable mayhem.
 Yendor is an ongoing fictional universe. Jim has hosted several megagames that chronologically progress in its timeline, including Return to Yendor, Pirates of Yendor, and Siege of Yendor among many others.
 You may notice a total lack of report here on what the Dwarves in the King's Army are doing in this post – the game was so big that I just have no idea! The head of the Yendorian Dwarves made an account of their story here, if you'd like to read it.
 At the end of the game, one of the Dwarves actually complimented the Elvish players of being incredibly honest and trustworthy. The universe then imploded.
 In theory, I was the Control for the four mages officially a part of the King's Army, and another Control (Paul) was the Control for the four independent (wandering) mages that were free to act in the dungeon for their own gain. In reality, there was plenty of crossover (and we also assisted plenty of other players as well).
 Discovering or proving treacherous behaviour would be difficult indeed, thanks to all the confusion, so it's not obvious how serious anyone took this threat.
 If there were actually more sections of the army than this, I could easily have missed them, so I apologise if it's not correct. The “three sections” description is, of course, a simplification to begin with out of necessity (due to my lack of knowledge as well as a desire to keep things relatively simple).
 Countess Sonya is the leader of the King's Guard – though the King is not a part of the expedition, she was sent in part thanks to her skills as an all-round warrior, and partly to report back to the King.
 The elves are the original creators of magic, long ago, and are particularly in tune with it. Their ears pricked up when the portal was opened, that's for sure.
 Somehow, this shield of magical reflection ended up built inside of a barricade between The Necromancer's Lair and the adjacent Orc caves. I have absolutely no idea how.
 There's a video of my experience from that here, if you'd like to see what a 300-player megagame looks like.