Sunday, August 28, 2011

Adventures in oD&D

So last night, I ran a game of oD&D.  It was...well, it was something.

Taking a page from Dungeon Crawl Classics, everyone was 0-level — six Abilities, d6 hit points, and a handful of silver.  Some characters were pregenerated, but most were made at the game.  Taking inspiration from some throwaway lines from my last 4e session, the group was a bunch of Morgrave University students in the town of Sorgforge.  They sneaked into an abandoned goblin tenement to drink, smoke, and make merry.  A sinkhole dropped them into a dungeon, and since the sinkhole is probably too far up to climb, better explore the complex for a way out.  The concept was basically a B horror movie crossed with a dungeon crawl.

Overall, there were twenty characters for five players.  The half-elf connection had a satchel of alcohol and drugs.  A couple of people had enough silver to buy daggers.  One guy brought his pet goat, another brought five chickens.  They're about to head into a dungeon.

So, you know how horror movies whittle down the characters until only a few remain?  And the last few characters are half-crazed and fatigued, but resolute?  It didn't happen that way.

Two characters died immediately.  One of the players took half his characters to investigate the hot springs, by swimming into a cave underneath.  Incidentally, this is the steam vent that energizes the hot springs; two of his characters were boiled alive.  Several more characters were eaten alive by rats, or had their heads smashed by animate statuary.  By the time they got out of the first three locations in the dungeon, twenty became five.  What statues and rats didn't do, zombies finished.  It was an excellent last stand — seven zombies will probably have shattered jaws until they finally collapse from collected rot — but the group still perished.

Some thoughts:

• oD&D is deadly.  I knew that going in, but it's even more unforgiving than Call of Cthulhu.  At first level, getting hit by anything will probably kill you.  Call of Cthulhu at least gives you a second to soften up.  If you ran this game in new World of Darkness, there probably would have been survivors.  oD&D kills people.

• Movement is highly important.  I abstracted combat because everything I read suggested that this worked.  It doesn't.  If you're not exactly sure where people stand, casualties are the only result.  This leads to the fact that...

• Chainmail is essential, and anyone who says it isn't is a liar.  Even the alternate combat system benefits from Chainmail.  I read the three core books from the box set, but only glanced at Chainmail.  This was a mistake, and one for which I take full responsibility.

• We're totally new school.  Descriptions made it pretty obvious that people were still relying on the whole "my character has skills thing."  An oD&D character is a vector for problem-solving, and the numbers mean very little, particularly when you don't have a class and you're not tracking experience.  Having room layouts might make that easier, though, because it's easier to explore a specific portion of the room that way.  Once again, abstracted movement doesn't work here.

• Mapping is pretty essential.  It became fairly obvious that my whole "here are some stone corridors" approach to description doesn't work in oD&D.  It assumes a mapper, and even though these aren't dungeon delvers, I might include one — an architecture student with some drafting stuff, for example.  Even if I don't, I should still be explicit.  "This corridor is eighty feet long before coming to a T-junction that stretches to the left and right."

• The freeform "what are you guys doing?" approach that usually works in our games needs a bit more structure.  This is a game with turns, and those turns need to be used.  "You, what are you doing?  Okay, now you.  What are you doing?"

Overall, though, people seemed to have fun, even though it ended in bloodshed and horror.  I should like to try this module again with a few modifications.

Edit: I have since run this module again.  Read about the second attempt.

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