Celebrity Game Table
The Lunchtime Dungeon Crawl Campaign
By Thomas M. Reid

Hi there. I’ve been gaming since I was in junior high, back in 1979. For the last decade of that stretch of time, I’ve been doing it professionally, first as an editor and then a creative director for TSR/Wizards of the Coast. I cut my teeth on the 1st-edition AD&D rules; I never even owned a boxed set. I’ve played in or run lots of different kinds of games over the last 22 years, which doesn’t make me special, but does make me feel old sometimes. For the past five years or so, I’ve been running a very entertaining D&D game one lunchtime a week for my coworkers.

The Background

Surprisingly, working for a game company can have an adverse effect on your ability to game. Or maybe having children causes it. Whatever the reason, I realized one day back in the hallowed halls of TSR, Inc., that I wasn’t getting enough Dungeons & Dragons in my life, and I had a hankering to start up a little game. I sent a message around to all my coworkers, suggesting that anyone who cared to participate should roll up a 1st-level character and join me over lunch. The response was a little overwhelming. I wound up with about 16 people that first day, and the thought briefly crossed my mind that splitting the group into two separate campaigns would be a smart idea. The situation, however, soon worked itself out without the necessity for a split.

That first day, I had a fellow who played a thief who mumbled (he roleplayed the part too well; none of us could really figure out what he wanted his character to do), a wizard and a fighter who were conjoined twins attached at the tips of their pinkies, and a lot of other silly stuff. Hey, you try to work up a serious game setting with a room full of professional designers! There were lots of jokes, but we were having fun, and no one cared that things moved at a crawl. Unfortunately, my DMing skills were a little rusty, and I wound up killing off several of the characters before they managed to get to the dungeon. Some of their players decided not to come back. That, coupled with the fact that -- as with all organized activities -- there was a substantial drop-off by the third session, left me with about the right number of people.

Over the years since then, people have dropped out, and others have jumped in to take their place. Not one of the original participants is still involved, with the obvious exception of me. As the title suggests, it’s not much more than hacking and slashing. Story continuity has never been at the forefront of anyone’s mind in this campaign. The game migrated west when Wizards of the Coast bought TSR, and there has been the occasional hiatus, but overall, it’s kept going. These days, we use the sessions as a means to have fun and also to get more proficient with the new edition of the rules.

You Say It’s a Dungeon Crawl . . .

Yes, and when I say it, I’m not using the term lightly. There are constraints to running a game for only one hour a week. You can’t waste time on trivial things like roleplaying or bookkeeping. No one wants to spend any more effort than is necessary on background material. I don’t make the characters "figure out" magic; they just learn what it is when they find it. There is no explanation for how the characters met or how they found the dungeon; they just live to explore it.

I’ve found that the optimum number of active participants in this campaign is eight. On any given week, one or two of those people will be on vacation, out sick, have a conflicting meeting, or are just too bogged down in work to be able to play. No problem. Even losing half our number still leaves us with a standard party. From week to week, it is rare for the same set of characters to enter the dungeon. Usually, a session consists of exploring one or two rooms and then heading back to town. If, by chance, we have to stop in the middle of a battle, I just make a copy of the map, and characters who are missing from the previous week are replaced by new ones. It may sound a little goofy, but it works. Like I said, continuity is no big thing.

The campaign really is a great big dungeon, with no rhyme or reason. I have filled a number of poster-sized sheets of graph paper with lots of rooms containing tricks, traps, critters, and treasure. I get to go hog wild with this, coming up with every sort of bizarre feature imaginable: Rooms where gravity is reversed, huge lakes, strange teleportation devices, magical keys that must be collected and used in unison, and even a giant magical chipper/shredder have been a part of my dungeon. You name it, it’s probably been put in there. When I get tired of something, I just stick some sort of magical portal in the next room my adventurers wander into, and zap! They’re in the middle of a brand new map. Works like a charm every time.

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