When Jim and John announced a fantasy themed megagame called Dungeons of Yendor, I was in two minds.
On the one hand, Jim’s games are usually excellent, and the setting sounded very entertaining. On the other hand, I was worried it would be a bit too much like D&D or LARP, neither of which are really my thing.
The setting? The King of city-state Yendor is having some trouble with the beasties in some local catacombs. Rather than sending the traditional band of rogues, paladins, wizards, fighters, barbarians etc, he ordered the King’s Army to go sort it out. Yendor itself is a megagame staple, and has been the setting for several of Jim’s megagames over the years (though none since I started two and a half years ago).
Naturally, nothing was intended to go to plan. The army was split into as many factions as people, and the dungeons had multiple different levels, inhabited by many different species split into different tribes. The king’s army had numerical advantage, but the dungeons were a hazardous place. They couldn’t take victory for granted.
And I? I was Connie White, a merchant from Yendor – a greedy scoundrel out for profit and not much else.
The train to Manchester seemed far too early after not enough sleep. I used the opportunity to refresh my memory about my briefing (or maybe read it for the first time, oops!). My two friends, Megagame newbies, were playing orks, while TC, playing Control, had travelled across earlier to help set up.
We arrived at the venue and everything was frantic. People were rushing about, talking, gesturing, waving pieces of paper. Already one room was sealed off with a big “NO ENTRY SIGN”, and the main room ahead was full of be-robed creatures and map tables. I, however, turned left into the HQ of the King’s Army.
I found my character kit, including my box of supplies, on the table, and greedily rummaged through the box. The majority was food and torches, the two most important types of supplies. I also had steel, wood and a number of items of weaponry and armour, some magical, some rare, and some utterly bog-standard.
I met up with my fellow merchants, Adrian and Omar. We were to have an interesting relationship within the game, working together and against one another at the same time. We were encouraged to decide prices together as part of the Merchants Guild, but otherwise we were competing to get the sale and make the biggest profit.
Before no time, we were called to the main room for the opening briefing, and then let loose.
Consultations and Calculations
The King’s Army returned to the HQ room to begin preparations for their trek underground. As Viscount Doodes, the appointed leader of the army, launched into a grandiose speech, we three Merchants sat down with notebooks and pens to calculate how much we should charge for our goods. I think Doodes even referred to us in his speech, but we were intent on getting our calculations sorted.
We had a total monopoly on providing supplies. Providing none of us broke rank, we could charge whatever the hell we wanted. The power kinda went to our heads…
We could buy in food or torches for half a gold coin each – we planned to sell them for four gold. Yes, we were totally ripping them off.
Various nobles approached us asking for prices, and we generally quadrupled everything as a starting point for the negotiation. For items with a magic or rarity score, we doubled the magic/rarity and added it onto the “base price” of the item. This meant that items like my 4 magic, 1 rarity shield (base price 3) would be sold for 8+2+12 – 22 gold. It was crazy money, but the idea was that we’d kick off the negotiations, but never go lower than magic+rarity+base (so 11 for said shield).
We also planned how we would rip them off *cough* increase our profits with our wagons. We had three small wagons each which could carry 10 items and enter the dungeons (some players have the odd wagon, but we were definitely the transport powerhouse). We planned to hire them out for free… as long as they were filled. For any empty spaces in a wagon, we would charge one gold. This would encourage people to buy surplus goods. Our wagons would cost 25 gold to replace, so we decided on a hire deposit of 10 gold, to be returned when the wagon was brought back to us in good condition.
We were on course to well and truly rip everyone off *cough* make a decent margin. Unfortunately, this back-fired on us sooner than we expected.
Best Price You’ll Get In Yendor…
The Viscount and his second-in-command approached us to negotiate a mass-order of food and torches. We told him our prices. He almost fell over.
We dropped the price to 3 gold (still a 500% markup for us!) but it was still far beyond his means. We offered an additional 1 gold discount if he bought more than 30 of any one item. He agreed regarding the food, and negotiated a 2-torches-for-3-gold discount for his smaller torches order. We had 25 gold each from him before the game even kicked off.
He didn’t have the money to hire wagons from us (we refused to budge on the deposit issue), and had to borrow from several nobles just to pay for this initial order.
And the torches and food he bought ran out a few turns into the ~20 turn game.
I’m not saying we ruined the army’s chances. But we sure as hell crippled them. Oops.
Oil and Deals
Right at the start of the game, before the above negotiation, the Viscount had asked us to procure some oil. We did so, but it took several turns to arrive. By the time it had, the army was, as mentioned, pretty broke. But they (apparently) needed that oil.
We kind of realised we had shot ourselves in the foot pretty early on. The army could basically buy NOTHING. So we came up with a deal that would end up being a staple from then onwards – credit terms.
We magnanimously agreed to let the Viscount have the oil for free! Gratis!
On the condition that at the end of the expedition, the Merchant’s guild would receive a 30% cut of the loot.
He argued 25% cut of the profits. We were like… profits? No thank you.
We settled on 15% (mostly because it splits easily three ways). He also requested a permanent 2 gold cost for any food/torches the army purchased. We agreed. He tried to push us again into depositless hire of the wagons, but who the hell knew how long a wagon would survive in those dungeons. We decided to wait and see how the missions went to start with.
Mistrust and Secrecy
You may note I said “we” during all of the above. For the early part of the game, the Merchant’s Guild acted as a single entity. We entered negotiations together, and agreed privately before we settled on anything publicly. We ensured that everything was split three ways, and when I had to put an extra torch into an order, I didn’t ask for extra cash, just the leftover oil.
With this, and the extra oil I ordered privately, I was ready to set up my first divergence from the rest of the guild. You see, a Control member told me that I could use oil to speed up my wagons. I didn’t both telling my fellow merchants. If it meant I could get to a sell-site faster, why would I share that information?
Until this point, we had mostly stayed in the King’s Army HQ, even as everyone else filtered out onto the maps in the main room. Terrified of personal combat, I’d made a pledge at the start that I wouldn’t set foot in the dungeons. But my fellow merchants disagreed, and, not wanting to be left out, I followed them to the “village” on map three in the main room.
The Divergence of the Guild
The village was the rallying point for the mission, and as such was mostly empty by the time we arrived. Most of the force had dispersed to access points and the first level of the dungeons by now. Omar, sensing opportunity, was the first to head into the dungeons, along the “left track” (a.k.a. maps on the left hand side of the room, where the main strength of the army seemed to have headed).
Communication in the main room was restricted. While you could talk freely to anyone at the same map as you, conversation with anyone at an adjacent table was by letter only. Any further afield, and you had to trust people to pass on your messages reliably.
This meant we couldn’t get in touch with Omar to determine whether we should follow him down the left track. Instead, Adrian and I decided to take a track each – me down the right and he down the middle. I packed my wagons full of food and torches, decided to leave my small force of bodyguards with my large wagon with all the rest of my supplies, and coordinated with the remaining army to be escorted into the deep. Then I was off on my first great adventure!
My first glimpse of the underworld was pretty similar to above ground – after all, it was just one table over. But even just the knowledge that we were now underground made me feel… edgy. I didn’t want to go anywhere alone. I quickly decided to go back for my bodyguards, and instead paid (bribed) the city guard to look after my wagon – a task that he took to with remarkable dedication.
My first sale in the underground caused me to drop behind the rest of the army while I headed south to sell an elf some food and torches. She paid a pretty penny for a reasonable amount of my stock. I rushed on ahead to catch up with the army I was hoping to sell more supplies to, while sending one of my wagons back to resupply.
I arrived on the deep darkness of Map 12, all the way at the far end of the main room, just in time to see the army disappearing off the other side.
“Go to the fort in the middle, we’re leaving some soldiers there,” someone called back. “Join us on Map 10 as soon as you can!” I waited for a turn for my wagon to catch up, and spoke to a mage who wanted a sword, which I ordered down with my wagon.
Just as my supplies arrived, escorted by a lovely man from the City Watch, all hell broke loose.
Them Dungeons are Dangerous!
Three ork hordes turned up as if from nowhere. They were furious. We had broken down their gate and invaded their fort! And the mage I was trying to broker a deal with was on their side – negotiations stop while he waited to see if he could loot the sword off my dead body.
Naturally, terrified of fighting, I tried to reason with them.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. Someone told me to wait here. I didn’t break down any gate. I just came down to trade with your mage there. I’ll leave!”
Somehow, the orks didn’t seem to want to hear me. They attacked.
I moved to the back of the fort, made non-threatening movements, and tried to hide the fact I had burly looking bodyguards. Unfortunately, the kind man from the City Watch took the brunt of the fighting.
We made to run away, but the orks demanded that I leave all my food behind. I hurriedly agreed and legged it, unloading all my green cubes onto the dungeon floor. Unfortunately for them, most of my cargo had been torches. They hadn’t been specific enough, and we managed to escape before they could make any more commands.
Return to Safety
By this point the underground was making me feel quite woozy. I had tried to follow the army, but they had effectively abandoned me to my death. I was not impressed. I returned to the surface to recover my wits and check on my stock.
It turned out that in my absence, the City Watch had needed to requisition some inventory to supply their men, and they had left a promise note to “pay in full” at the rate we had agreed. One merchant was very very unhappy with this theft… but luckily that merchant was not me!
Adrian, who had not seen fit to bribe the guards, had lost most of his stock. Mine was intact. I paid a bonus to the guards for leaving me alone (and also for assisting me so valiantly in Ork Dungeon.
On-surface, I regrouped and counted my money. I had about 60 gold to my name which was weighing heavily in my pocket, begging to be spent.
I evaluated my goods and slashed my prices, deciding to sell food etc in bulk at a price of 1 gold per (totally against the agreements of the Merchant’s Guild, but whatevs). Deciding to invest more heavily in items, I procured a number of fancy magic bits from an enterprising surface dwarf. I also bought an Action Card from him – one that would be very significant towards the end of the game…
Finally, I approached the Wisdome (the school of mages, or something) to attempt to sell my particularly magical goods to them. Unfortunately, despite writing out a detailed list of my items, they were only interested in potions. Wish I’d known that before bothering to write it out!
The Fate of the Merchants
While I was above ground, several rumours reached me of the happenings down below. Adrian, it turned out, had turned his cloak and tried to sell to the orks. They rejected him, but then the army cast him out. Who knew where he was now. Omar, meanwhile, was doing quite well, travelling around and selling on credit to the main thrust of the army.
There were murmurs of some huge dispute between the mages and the elves – the mages were apparently colluding with “the Dark One”, whoever that was, and had ignored a direct army command, instead jumping into a portal. When they returned, they presented a magnificent shield to the Viscount. The elves feared that the shield was cursed. The mages said that the elves were paranoid and spreading lies.
But I was growing bored above ground. When a group of elves and men decided to head to said portal to determine what the hell was going on, I jumped at the chance – after negotiating a deal to receive all the profits from the expedition, of course!
Journey To The Other Side
We knew the end of the game was coming up, so I have to blame a little bit of what happened on last turn madness.
We headed to the square where the portal was.
Unfortunately, there was a restriction – only two players could pass through the gap. Then a series of things happened in quick succession. The elves opened a second portal, somehow. A beast appeared then turned into a mage. We all failed our morale checks to move through the portal. And I played one of the Action cards I’d bought from the dwarf.
TC, who happened to be Mysterious Portal Control, apparently, turned up and whisked me away, leaving all the rest of my company behind…
I found myself in the room with the No Entry signs on.
Within were two players – I recognised them from the opening briefing, and they’d been floating around the room at various points, but until this point I’d had no idea who they were.
SMALL SPOILERS FOLLOW: IF YOU WANT TO PLAY DUNGEONS OF YENDOR AT A LATER POINT THEN PROBABLY DON’T READ THIS NEXT BIT.
They were, as I discovered in OC chat, The Deep Ones. I seemed to be in some sort of futuristic world (well, futuristic compared to Yendor), with metallic walls and pipes bubbling with liquid. In my head it was almost like some spaceship laboratory. Had I been teleported into another dimension? As I later discovered, apparently I was just deep under the Earth’s surface.
I did not see anyone. I did not hear anything. I searched, and wound up with a very very very shiny object. Unfortunately, my turn ended before I could return to the real world. I luckily had an aptly named “I’ll Be Back” action card which would allow me to replay the card which had brought me here.
YOU’RE PROBABLY OKAY TO READ THE REST OF THE BLOG FROM HERE ONWARDS!
And with that the game finished!
Debrief was long. With three different ork groups, four different trog groups (what the hell is a trog???) and the underground dwarves, plus all the different factions in the King’s Army… And we didn’t even hear from the Mages, us Merchants or the people within the mystery room…
Overall the game was a lot of fun. I think it was a little under-Controlled (we only had the single Control player dealing with the wild and varied forces of the King’s Army). I was also a little disappointed that my letter to the Wisdome went nowhere.
Discussing with Omar in the pub after, we thought that the merchant game could have used a little more flavour . Perhaps we could have been seeking out particular types of item for a collection, or something like that. Several players had a particular item they were looking for – but the chances of us coming across both the item and the person looking for it were so slim, it never happened for any of us. We’d have appreciated some more guidance about how much money the players had/were likely to gain during the course of the game, as it would have helped us set our prices in the beginning.
But overall it was good fun, and a very different type of role to any game I’ve played before. I think if it’s run again, I’ll ask to be a noble though 😀
Making A Profit…?
And, as I’m sure you’re dying to know, how did the merchants do?
Adrian, who betrayed his king and had most of his supplies stolen, ended up with over 100 gold, not including the amount “owed” him during the requisition of his items.
Omar, who accompanied the army, gave them good credit terms, and was probably the most realistic merchant, had about 50 gold.
And I? I, who went on adventures, got ambushed by orks, bribed officials and ended up on the far side of a portal? I had but 20 coins to my name, but a host of shiny objects and fascinating stories to tell upon my return to Yendor.
The next Megagame coming up is Not Over By Christmas is on 10th September in London – the war that never happened between NATO and Russia in the 1980s. The next one up north is The Chosin Few, an operational military game set in Korea… And my game Everybody Dies is coming up in London in November 😀
Book! Come! Play!