I Survived Tim Fucking Kask's Dungeon - Part 2

Last post, I introduced the GaryCon IX game that Tim Kask was running. It was a mix of folks familiar with old school style of play, and a couple of folks who obviously were not. Tim was running the game in an old school fashion, where the DM was The General, and we had just survived the front half of the dungeon.

Then... TIM FUCKING KASK went to work on us. He had made it clear up front that he was going to kill us. It was a statement of fact, with a chuckle and a bit of gleeful tone. "That's how we did it, that's the old school style!" he said quite a few times. After having gotten stuck like a pin-cushion for half my hp from one trap, I believed him on all counts.

We were exploring the back half of the dungeon. We opened a door and Shorty the halfling nearly got hammered by a giant scorpion tail. There was then a bit of a stand-off, us at the doorway choke point, the scorpion with it's claws crossed all "Come at me, bro!" style. At that, Scott, who is Jim Wampler's brother, decided to attempt fireball. The room *seemed* big enough to channel the explosion away from us, but the dice had a different story to tell. I and another hero took some serious burns. Tim had himself another chuckle at our expense. But... we found a chest full of pearls! LOOT TIME! "Pockets of pearls" -- I wrote that shit down because we had managed to get serious treasure in TIM FUCKING KASK's dungeon! Remember that for later, gentle readers...

So all confident and such, we get to exploring some interesting rooms. We are avoiding Obviously Bad Things (glowing columns and evil altars) like bosses! We're paying attention to the "there's nothing here" and "there are no traps, move on" and we were figuring out that this level is pretty much looted. We did find a chest of gold so now we had "pockets of pearls" and "pouches of gold." Then, Shorty opens a door and we face stirges.

You know what? TIM FUCKING KASK's goddamn stirges SUCK! And this is where things started to go south for the non-old school players.

Tim had been getting more testy as the game wore on. I don't know if it was he was tired, or what, but there had been a couple of snappy interactions between him and folks, just enough that you felt that edge at the table, like shit could go south fast. He lightened up a bit as he chuckled about how mean his stirges were. He described them as fast as hummingbirds and swarming. Cuthbert-Cleric got one latched on him and he dropped some hp fast.

Things got hectic and a bit loosey-goosey, which can happen in OD&D combat. Tensions started rising at the table.At one point, someone had made an attack, but had forgotten to use a specific power on their weapon. So they wanted to backtrack to an earlier round. It was here that TIM FUCKING KASK, the DM GOD thundered down and chewed the player's ass out!

"I told you earlier to read your sheets and know what you want to do when you are doing it! If you wanted do this thing earlier, then you should have told me earlier! You pay attention at my table! This is how we played it back then and this is how it works!"

Tim went on for what felt like a few minutes and it got really quiet around the table. I glanced over at Scott, who has played with Tim alot and he seemed pretty unconcerned - so maybe this was just business as usual for Tim's table? I don't know, but it was clear though that the table got really uncomfortable. This whole outburst wasn't taken well by some.

Pretty much like this, except they had nasty razor armored legs. And quick as humming birds. Tim Kask's stirges SUCK!

I get it, though. As uncomfortable as it was, this is TFK's game. He plays a game where the DM *is* The Game. You adjust to the DM's game and the DM's preferences. That's how he learned it and how he's played it for a long-ass time. He's tough, fair, and obviously going to make you earn each and every small victory you have. It's a different vibe than playing a game based on later editions. In that, the players are The Game and it feels like it's geared to say "Yes" to what the players want. I've never seen the differences so obvious in a game as I did in this one. Having played enough wargames and old school games, I was OK with it, but I think it was an eye-opener for others.

After that testy exchange between Tim and the player, it settled down a bit, but I felt like you could cut the tension with a knife. Cuthbert-cleric, in particular, looked very unhappy. After a lot of damage taken, we drove off the sucking stirges. We were very low on hp and spells. So, we holed up in a previously explored room, healed up, slept, opened the door to continue the looting and ...

... waiting outside was our TPK. The avatar of the Goddess of the temple was PISSED OFF that we'd taken her pearls and now she was here to get some. She had a tail of a giant scorpion, a hand of greek fire, another hand like a giant claw and, as Tim described it, with that chuckle "you have about an 8% chance of surviving. Game over." He was prepared to finish here, but Cuthbert-cleric was NOT going down without a fight. He looked like (to me) that he was going to leap out of his chair, and he was pretty damn upset.

"C'mon man. I spent thousands of dollars to come to this convention, I flew here from Seattle, I at least want to have a full game!" he said. Tim huffed and grumbled, but after some more tense back and forth between him and a couple of the players who agreed with Cuthbert-cleric, we all sat down to play out fighting the equivalent of a Type 5 demon.

First down was one of the fighters, his head popped off by the giant claw. Next was the dwarf, stung by the tail and the paralysis slowly working it's way up his body. One of the players wanted him to fight on, but Tim was like "Are you nuts? He's paralyzed, he's not moving and his stiffening body is only growing more stiff. He's out!"

Cuthbert-cleric scored a nice hit on the goddess, but that just served to enrage her further and she torched him with that greek fire that he somehow survived. She started working over both Shorty and Cuthbert-cleric and it was clear they were going down.

Meanwhile, Scott and (I think) his wife had read his spellbook list very carefully and found their escape: he used dimension door to pop him and her out of the dungeon. Of course, they materialized some feet up above the dungeon and had some falling damage... and the curse of the pearls were on them still! Another mage used polymorph self to change himself into a flea and escape. Brilliant!

So that left me, Shorty and Cuthbert-cleric. I'm looking over my char sheet for inspiration and there it is... a potion of haste! The avatar does her thing on the other two and Tim says to me "What do you do?"

Me: "Tim, I drink that potion of haste and get the hell out while she's obviously focused on them."
Tim: "Roll a d20."
Me: (rattle, roll my new Gamescience sharp edged dice) "14."
Tim: (gruffly) "You get away!"
Me: "I am dropping pearls like a dog shedding hair as I go! But I'm keeping my gold!"

At that point, I had to leave to prep for my 8pm AD&D game, so I left early, but it was clear that this was going to end badly for the two left. The avatar was starting to phase in and out like a blink dog, so most attacks were pretty ineffective. Cutherbert-cleric's player looked annoyed and pissed, some of the other players had "meh" faces, Scott was cheerful, so was the flea-mage and me.

So I survived TIM FUCKING KASK's dungeon! Even after screwing around with that trapped tube and facing those Stirges of Suck and a pissed off avatar of some nasty goddess. Ha! You know what that means...

I need a pin or button or patch or something like that...

This game really showed me a different style of DM'ing that was completely appropriate for what we were playing and who we were playing with. It did get tense with some arguments and I can totally see someone really hating this game if they hadn't experienced that different form of play before.

Funny enough, as it was, I channeled some of my own TFK on Sunday, when a grumpy gamer was trying to run roughshod over my Chaos Wars game. Sometimes, as DM, you have to say STFU and Listen, This Is The Way It Is. I probably would not be as sharp as THE TFK, but I get it.

PS. My use of the phrase "TIM FUCKING KASK" is not meant to denigrate or say bad things about him! I quite like Tim Kask and playing in his game. I would definitely play with him again, although if he hears of my nickname for him, he might not let me!

His style is his style and from I hear talking to some other folks, he's pretty consistent with that approach, so it wasn't just us. You either roll with it, or you don't. The reason I use the nickname TFK is for two reasons... to show a bit of respect at him being The Crafty and Sadistic Boss of his table and because, well, it's damn funny in a Wil Wheaton WILLIAM FUCKING SHATNER kind of way - I could so see the folks not prepared for it feeling that same way about Tim.

So Tim, if you happen to read this, rock on and roll high... and keep those stirges way the hell over there!


  1. Shorty tried a diving tackle on the goddess, went right through her as she blinked (which was the plan), ran down the hall, couldn't get LOS with javelins of lightning, so flew out on crystal hummingbird. Cuthbert-cleric died.

  2. @Eric - brilliant! How did you get a crystal hummingbird? Was that part of your inventory?

    I'm not surprised Cuthbert-cleric died. Tim was pretty much done with him.

    I hope I'll see you again at GaryCon!

  3. Yes, the hummingbird was in inventory. And I did drop the pearls :-)

  4. @Eric - well done! Live to fight another day.

  5. Having read this, I feel a great urge to play in a Tim Kask game. Your description of how he runs a game reminds me of how my favorite teachers in middle school and high school used to run their classrooms.

  6. @Chris - have you thought about signing up for GaryCon or NTRPGCon - I believe he does both.

  7. You can play a tough game without being a dick, just saying...

    1. @Andreas - That's the thing -- for his game, TFK isn't a dick, unless someone isn't ready for the game that he plays. I never got the sense that Tim was just a dick - he was tough, mean and enjoyed killing us, but he was fair and we did manage to outwit him or the dice favored us. For someone who's not used to or doesn't enjoy that sort of thing, yea, they'd probably think he was a dick.

    2. Well, he has shown himself to be a dick before, so I'm not convinced.

    3. @Andreas - I've only got the one game sample size, so yea, you might be right. I've heard that Jim Ward is a survival test as well, so I'm hoping to play in one of his games next GaryCon.

  8. At least in this game you had a few options. In the TFK work I paid to play, every PC was "cursed" to die unless we recovered a lost item. We had no spellcasters, only encountered wolves, and failed the errand. Tim made someone a Paladin to force him to act Lawful. Tim was happy when the novice at the table made a tactical error. The veterans of his past games seemed browbeaten and needed cig breaks all the time. TFK may not be a dick, but how about the progenitor of antagonistic DMs?

    1. @Lee - maybe, but then, he learned from Gary & Co., as well as wargames from that era, so perhaps the seeds started there. It would be interesting to talk to folks from that time and find out about their different styles and where they came from.

      I probably would not have enjoyed that game either. That sucks.

  9. Interesting that this play is basically a 180 degree reverse from the advice in the 1E DMG. There's tough language in the DMG, sure, but when you dig into all of the philosophy-type essays scattered throughout about what will drive players away instead of encouraging long-term participation, I don't think it's possible to reconcile them with what is described here.

    I don't bother gaming with the elders at conventions. But I have no interest in having "I was TPK'd by Elder XYZ" stories, either, which as far as I can tell is the valuable take-away from that experience by many. As GaryCon expands into more of a general interest con and less of an old school con, there are fewer starry-eyed attendees. So the "I paid thousands" bit and the tension doesn't surprise me at all.

  10. It was because I used to run like Tim at gaming conventions, and because I used to find myself facing whining, miserable, self-satisfied clods like your mate from Seattle, that I quit fucking running games at conventions.


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