Thursday, August 23, 2012

My latest Old-School campaign attempt’s ruminations

Yesterday I managed to run my first OD&D (LLB-based) session to my wife. After her first horror-laden LotFP game, we agreed in trying something more traditional. Because she has been reading The Hobbit (the comic book) to our daughter during the last month, I picked its setting (without any regard to The Lord of Rings) as a starting point. She quickly created a Dwarf Fighting-man of 1st level. It’s interesting to note that her greatest difficult during the character creation process was why her dwarf was adventuring and what was his name. I offered some suggestions for names and allowed her to roll a background randomly (on a table I made). She discovered that her character was searching for his missing brother. She quite liked the random background idea.

The session started right in the wilds, with the discovery of a mule track (reputedly belonging to the missing dwarf) leading to a sinister pair of solid wooden doors in a otherwise normal cave entrance.  Having learned a little bit about the risks of dungeon delving alone, she decided to retreat to the closest village to find some hirelings. Searching at the local inn, she tried to recruit the patrons: an itinerant goldsmith, a potbellied peddler and a foreigner wanderer. The goldsmith was very interested but didn’t want to share any findings with the other two, while the peddler found the entire enterprise too risky. The silent foreigner accepted the job after our hero agreed to give to him the first 50 gold pieces found (after which they’d discuss future shares). The entire scene was pure roleplay (I didn’t bother with rolling reactions). I quite liked the fact that my wife readily mistrusted the mellifluous goldsmith, but decided to trust in the weird foreigner (and no, she never read The Lord of the Rings’ classic Strider scene at the Prancing Pony inn). The decision proved right, because the goldsmith was actually in league with the local bandits (besides other factions that I’ll not mention as my wife sometimes read these posts). Their journey to the mysterious sealed doors was interrupted by a quick assault of the aforesaid bandits. After felling two of the brigands, the others fled. Because it was late we decided to end the session before delving into the mines.

Well, my thoughts…

First, it was odd to run OD&D because it really feels “dry” to me, rules-wise. The fact that there is almost nothing between you and your fellow players made a huge impact upon me; besides demanding more attention to my descriptions and NPC reactions. With few rules and systems to watch out, the games’ pacing and refereeing becomes of utmost importance. [This entire conclusion may seem obvious to you, but I’ve been a D&D 3.5/Pathfinder Gamemaster for the last 11 years.]

Second observation: a rules light game doesn’t mean a preparation-less game. I really regretted not having prepared myself more for this session. While my previous LotFP was run basically on mood and mystery (two themes that I’m quite comfortable improvising), this OD&D session required expertise at an area that I’m rusted – exploration. I did have a NPC random table and two encounter tables, but I felt that they weren’t enough. I believe that the game felt too “vanilla”, and I think that my wife felt the same (another conclusion could be that we’re both just tired).

Anyway, after our small session, she confessed to me that the LotFP felt more tense and mood-heavy. Compared to it, OD&D was a lot more straight-forward and light, besides tactical. I guess she missed more weird/unusual NPC interactions. [At this point I must point out that I’m usually a Gamemaster that enjoys NPC-heavy games. However, I really wanted to try an Old School approach. So, I wanted to avoid games where my players consult patron-like NPCs about what should be their next move. As a consequence, the game’s dynamic was a little strange to me and – I guess – my wife.] As I said, I think that I should have dedicated more preparation time to the village and the local wilds – two elements that I thought could be left open and filled “organically” with random tables in future sessions.

Let’s leave my game impressions at this point. Next session should reveal the true “heart” of this (would-be) campaign: the exploration of the mines and the hunt for the missing brother. If the next session or two doesn’t develop well, I’ll suggest to her that we attempt a new LotFP game – the way I see my wife enjoys more mystery/investigative adventures than exploration ones.

Ok, time for the rules stuff.
  • I used the LBBs as the base system, with a few bits from Chainmail (particularly dwarven racial benefits). 
  • I added waysofetheearth’s Combat That Scales (which I really loved). 
  • I used the Shields Shall Be Splintered! and a Binding Wounds rule (1d4 hit points, only if done after battle, followed by a small rest). 
  • I granted a simple Cleave-like mechanic to the Fighting-man (if you drop an enemy you gain a free attack) – I may change this to the classical Chainmail rule about Fighting-man gaining extra attacks against 1 HD monsters. 
  • Because an OD&D game with one player is very lethal, I stole the Flag System from the great E6 mini-game. Basically, I established that I can’t kill the PC unless the Red Flag is raised (this is represented by a red d6, which is passed to me). This doesn’t grant plot immunity – there’re several things worse than death (like being turned to stone, mutilated or imprisoned for life). When the Red Flag is raised I grant my wife 3 re-rolls to be used as she wishes. 
  • Two-handed weapons damage uses 2d6, picking the higher. Fighting with two weapons grant a +1 to hit.

Many of these rules were inspired by the excellent Philotomy's OD&D Musings.

The Flag System is really a radical departure from Old School standards, I know, but I’m trying to use this OD&D campaign as a small tutorial. After all, I have only one player and one that hasn’t played for 10+ years. If things runs fine I’ll probably abolish the rule in the future (approximately at 3rd level) – though I might grant re-rolls as a special reward system.

Besides this rules, I'm really attempted to strive as close as possible to the LBBsAbility Scores in general grant small or no benefits (the most important one being extra XP), all attacks deal 1D6, I’m not using nothing from Greyhawk and other supplements etc.