Friday, November 14, 2008

First ODnD Game, a long story

This is going to be a long post, so be aware of it. It's also probably going to be pretty rambling and unorganized. With that said, if you see that I've done anything horrendously wrong with regards to oD&D rules or common practices, tell me! The game is odd to acclimate to, and I figure I could use the help.

Ok, so I played my first OD&D game, with largely improvised rules due to poor organization, last night. My younger brother and a lifelong friend of his visit on Thursdays sometimes, and yesterday they brought over some Warhammer 40k RPG tutorial adventure, which I flipped through. Rules seemed simple enough, but it was an adventure module that I hadn't read through, and thus couldn't really DM. Stupidly enough, this somehow led to us playing a completely improvised dungeon and ad-hoc nonsense through OD&D, books for which I had recently purchased and printed.

This does lead to my first complaint about the game. The organization in OD&D books leaves me much less apt to complain about the organization in 4e. Rules and information are strewn about everywhere, with no real rhyme or reason.

Given that I've never played or DMed OD&D before, and the two players had a sum total of perhaps two hours of 3e under their belts, from nearly five years ago, it was... interesting to get started. One thing that stuck out as a point of "this is stupid" was the near-complete lack of effect for ability scores. Aside from bonus XP for a high primary ability, most everything else has no effect whatsoever, except in extremes. It was neat to see how rolling 3d6 in order produced some severely flawed but interesting statblocks, as well as not-quite-but-basically-forcing a certain class choice. If you have 18INT and 9 STR and WIS, you'll probably go Magic-User.

I had on hand miniatures from the board game Descent: Journeys in the Dark, which are... tolerable I suppose. I could have dug up my Warhammer fantasy army, except that it would constrain monsters to orcs and goblins, and players to orcs and goblins. Or space marines, I guess. Anyway, despite sort of getting off point, I used miniatures for effectively the first time in my D&D career. I have mixed feelings on them. While they helped to make the battles a bit easier to keep track of, and it was fun when some large creature could terrify the players by virtue of it's base size, I feel that they limited my options for monsters to provide as opponents. If I don't have a model for, let's say, green oozes, it becomes harder to use them. I ended up using poison tokens for it, but it was sorta silly. I used the D:JITD terrain for mapping the dungeon also. This meant that, due to the style of play in both D:JITD and OD&D, the rooms were stupidly small for the movement speed of the PCs. Also, the dungeon was fairly 'dense', as we only had so much space on the table.

Ok, so all that caveats aside, I 'cheated' by reading part of a silly quest intro from the aforementioned boardgame, with the PCs being approached by a mysterious old man, who gave them a map to a giant holdout and told them there was money to be had. The players, presented with a familiar and fairly railroaded (fairly?) plot, immediately went to the dungeon and popped in. Here, it may be worth noting that I decided to follow the advice provided in this "primer", I sort of kept a distance as a plot-giver, and focused more on presenting an area as a world, and letting the players decide what to do.

Given the large pile (3d6x10 gold, as per LBB Vol1) of gold provided as a character starting wealth, the PCs were bloody loaded with equipment. They found that since Plate mail was cheap (50g? Really?), and so were shields and other such stuff, they bought whatever they wanted. Also, they had a pile of money left, and loaded themselves down with the other random available items. I.e. the ubiquitous ten foot pole, iron rations, torches, and et cetera. Initially, they just bought all that crap to spend money. I told them they'd need torches, but they just bought other things they figured sounded good. It was fun that the items even existed; 4e does away with a lot of that.

Anyway, Samuel von Sam (a Fighting-man, played by Guy, my brother's friend), and Chargrin the Dreadful (A cleric, played by Brian, my brother), headed into the dungeon. They lit torches, and promptly barreled down the hallway and turned a corner into a room. The attitude was "Let's go kill things!". So they trotted, pretty as you please, into a smallish room. No door here, because I didn't want to assemble the doors from D:JITD. They turned a corner, and found the initial encounter: three skeletons with rough clubs! I didn't think much of this encounter in terms of difficulty. Keep in mind that I'm used to 3e characters, which start with... what? Twice the normal HP of OD&D? On a bad day?

So initiative is rolled (couldn't find rules. I used d20 flat, no mods), and the PCs both came up ahead of the skels. Here's where a concern became apparent. The attack matrices, for level one players, require fairly middling rolls to hit skeletons, with an AC of 7. I think maybe 13 on a D20. The problem was that for the skels to hit the players, fully arrayed with plate and shield, needed a 17. Something akin to a maybe a 20% chance to hit. It sounds like more than it is. The combat, lasting perhaps the quickest four or five rounds I've ever seen, turned into a comedy of mediocrity on the skeleton side. They failed to hit anything, but the players decimated the useless undead. At this point, I was aware that the cleric should be able to turn undead, but I couldn't find the rules. Didn't really matter; he was fine with bashing skeletons with a mace.

Combat resolved, I was aware that I had no idea how much XP a monster gives a player. The experience section of Vol1 suggests 700 for a troll, but I couldn't figure how that was figured. I ad-hoc'ed the skeletons to offer 30XP each, as they weren't really a challenge. I also noticed that skeletons had no treasure, but tossed 400gp in the room because I wanted to see how the players approached random treasure laying about. The cleric dove for it, but grudgingly split it with the FM upon request. Fine, they each had some XP and gold XP to get when they left the dungeon as per my decision regarding getting XP for gold. Happy enough, they headed into the corridor to the north. The hallway ended in a T-junction, and they arbitrarily took the right-bearing passage.

Now, the party was heading along without any care for their surroundings. I say 'party', but it was two guys. Anyway, I decided that it was my duty as DM to show, not tell, that the dungeon could be dangerous if you run around like a twit. So, as they walked forward into a small room, the floor broke out underneath the party! They fell ten feet into a dry pit trap. Here was the first notice of lethality for PCs in this edition. Recalling 3e, a pit trap does 1d6/10ft. So, we rolled 'damage', which is always 1d6 in 0e, regardless of source, weapon, strength, or anything else, so far as I can tell. In 3e, 6HP is not that scary. In 4e, it's laughable. In oD&D, it's probably more HP than your max at level 1. Samuel von Sam met his end in this pit trap, rolling a six for damage against his own 4 max HP. Chargrin, the cleric, who had barely been injured, promptly took all of his erstwhile compatriot's gold and items, and climbed back out of the pit, on the side towards the entrance. He ran back to town to recruit another companion, receiving 490 XP for his recovered gold and three kills.

Back in town, Sam von Sam's descendant (with a new stat block reeking of failure), Samuel Von Sam II, met his father's companion and promptly returned to the dungeon. This SVS was a magic user, and chose the spell 'protection from evil', in the hope that it might help his miserable 10 AC (compared to previous SVS's 2 AC). The party immediately descended once more, despite the cleric not selling all the looted junk of SVS I. He was at 'Armd. Foot' encumbrance, which limted him to 6" movement. I took this as 'six squares', because it was easy to measure. The new MU wasn't encumbered at all.

The group now took a much more cautious exploration, however. The cleric pulled out his ten foot pole and began using it as "a blind man's stick", in his words. Basically, tapping the floor ten feet ahead of him. They turned the corner again, where the skeletons had been, and found two goblins and an old human man eating on a table in the room. The food was some strange meat. They correctly assumed it to be the remains of Samuel Von Sam. The diners hadn't noticed the PCs, and so the magic user cast a spell, as he didn't know that spellcasting was loud. Thus, combat ensued!

Once again, I suddenly came to a realization about the differences in OD&D and 3/4e. "Sleep", a level 1 spell, is defined as 'Affecting 2-16 creatures of the level one type'. Not sure what that means, but it sounds like it sleeps between two and 16 (2d8?) level one creatures that fail their saves. The PCs both immediately failed. The goblins bashed SVSII for low damage, and he awoke. Using his dagger, he dispatched one of the goblins, as his companion slept soundly, failing the 'save to end' that I had randomly decided made sense, each round. The old man fled pretty much immediately.

Sadly, Sam von Sam the Second perished from a goblin club. I did make the comment here that I was beginning to understand a common convention which I've read of, in that OD&D players rolled up a half-dozen characters before starting. The fatality rate was quite high. This may have been partially due to my inexperience with the ruleset, but still. Anyway, the next save was successful, waking the cleric. His mace discontinued the life of the remaining goblin. Oddly, the cleric decided that his best bet (after looting his friend and the goblins, as well as finding a potion on the table, putting him near max load), was to continue adventuring alone.

While Guy rolled a new character, Chargrin the Dreadful headed towards the previously found pit trap (following the direction the old man had run), and then puzzled how to cross the open hole. Pole-vaulting was considered stupid, as the low ceiling prevented it, and besides that the pit was as deep as his pole was long, which mattered for some reason in his head. He ultimately laid the pole across the pit, and shimmied across it. Taking a more cautious approach (with something like 3 HP remaining), he listened at the northern exit to the room. He could hear excited shouting in a langauge he didn't recognize (goblinoid). He thought better of continuing, and headed back to town. He received some amount of XP upon leaving, which put him even closer to the 1500 required for level two.

Back at town, he met the brother of SVSII, named Samuel Von Sam III. The name was explained as Samuel Von Sam being a prolific breeder, but quite short on naming creativity. SVSIII was a fighting man with very impressive stats, and would prove to have quite a bit more longevity that his kin. After spending a night in the inn to heal, the two headed back down into the depths.

I didn't know how to keep the game going unless I kept the dungeon stocked, but figured that the first room had been combative enough already. Aside from the gore from the previous fight, there wasn't much there. The party, being a bit more dynamic this time around, took the left branch. Down the hallway, they could hear the sound of scuttling and bat screeches (insert imitations of the same noises from Daggerfall). They decided that valor was the better part of sense, and charged in!

A fierce combat ensued between the party, a pair of giant bats, and a pair of giant spiders. I discovered that improvising a 'new monster' in OD&D is fairly easy, as the monster stat block contains basically nothing other than HD, AC, and Movement. Spiders had 2d6 HP, 5 AC, and 4 movement. Bats had 1d6 HP, 7 AC, and 10 movement. Done. Quick! If you have a conception of how the monster acts and looks, you're done. Anyway, it was during the combat that Samuel Von Sam III gave himself the title "Sam the Lame". He missed roughly the entire time, rolling nothing higher than ten during the perhaps ten round combat. Shortly enough, however, the spiders and bats lay dead, with fairly greivous injuries to the PCs. However, as they hadn't found any treasure in a while, they noticed a chest and a pile of gold nearby.

The cleric ran across the room to look at the chest, while the Fighting-Man started knocking on the masonry walls with a wooden mallet, 'Looking for hollow spots'. The cleric, now paranoid over traps, told me he was going to "open the chest with his pole". I couldn't figure any way that made sense, so I told him that he couldn't use the pole that way. Besides, the chest had a latch. Suspecting a trapped chest, (in a room full of spiders?) the cleric carefully opened the latch, then jumped back and pushed against the top of the chest with his pole until it opened. His weird methods paid off, however, as a poisoned needle sprang out and struck the pole, ineffectually. The chest contained a magic item, which I rolled for, unimpressively being a divine-magic scroll. (Protection from Elementals, lame). It was unidentified and no one knew Read Magic, so no good.

The party headed back to town again, for healing and XP. This pile of gold and traps and corpses had netted a level up for Chargrin the Dreadful! Now a level two cleric (Adept), he gained another hit die, as well as a spell slot. I chose not to charge for training, as I couldn't find how much it cost. I told Brian (My brother) that subsequent levels would be charged CurrentLevel*100gp to level up. He shrugged, not expecting to live that long anyway. As he was now overloaded with money, he 'deposited it in the bank'. I figured banks made sense given that money had significant weight in this version. He chose 'Cure Light Wounds', because God knows they needed it.

Anyway, another trip down resulted in killing some spiders, then heading down the previously unexplored passage past the pit. Heading down a staircase, the PCs found a hallway ending abruptly, with no passage out. However, there was a greenish ooze on the floor. The players chose to ignore it at first, though it filled the floor of the hallway, and mentioned that they'd just walk through it. However, when it began moving towards them purposefully, they realized that it was a monster, not just a puddle.

My brother assumed, rightfully, that oozes were generally acidic and probably would eat their weapons. Seemingly forgetting the three or four extra maces and clubs he'd picked up from now-dead goblins and skeletons, he lit a torch and tossed it at the ooze. His attack roll was four, however, so he threw incorrectly, and it just fell at his feet. This is another interesting thing. I felt, since I was DMing a game with such a loose rule set, that if I wanted the torch to fall short, I could just say that it did. The Fighting-Man missed as well. The ooze oozed forwards and slopped itself at the Fighting Man, missing. The cleric decided to just strike the ooze with his torch directly, and dealt three damage. The fighting man then kicked the torch on the ground onto the ooze. Failing it's save vs. "death ray/ poison", it burst into flame! A few moments later, it was dead.

Knowing that the old man had fled this direction, Sam the Lame began knocking on the walls again, and found a hollow spot. Pushing against the 'door' didn't work, and striking it with Chargrin's flail just knocked a few chips of stone away. In relatively short order, the party searched for 'stones that looked wrong' on the walls, and found one that seemed detachable. Removing it left a small hole in the wall, perhaps eight inches wide, and indeterminately deep. The cleric stuck his pole into the opening, and felt something get mashed. Removing his pole found bits of a fist-sized spider on it. He then poured oil into the hole, and lit it with his torch. A few moments of fire ensued, which they used to see into the now-lit hole. Seeing a switch in the back, and nothing living in the hole, they pressed it with the pole. The door opened.

Feeling proud (though slightly injured from previous fights), they headed into the newly opened hallway. They hear spellcasting in the darkness, but are more concerned with the skeletons at the edge of the torchlight. However, when the spellcasting stopped, a huge manticore appeared!

The manticore roared loudly, and the players basically decided that this wasn't worth the hassle and bolted. In no time at all, the Fighting-Man (Samuel the Lame) was gone, but the overloaded cleric dragged behind. The manticore walked at the same six-inch speed, roaring but not attacking. The skeletons, however, were firing arrows after the fleeing cleric. Regardless, he was able to flee. The PCs returned to town with little to show for this excursion.

(The manticore was a "Phantasmal Forces" spell. The PCs never knew it, but the players figured it was an illusion after the session was over)

After resting their wounds, they returned again to the dungeon. However, this time, both PCs were killed in the first room, by three skeletons with bows. I was surprised, but it occurred to me that with just a couple lucky shots, a PC's life ends in OD&D. As with the previous deaths, there was a save vs. death (a random houserule). If the player saved, he was at 1 HP rather than dead. They both failed. DM and players mused on the appropriateness of being killed in two heavy strikes for 6 total damage, rather than being stabbed in the face for max dagger damage (4) ten times as a level one 4e character, getting your second wind, and barely being injured.

Two new characters were named, no longer relatives of the previous. I mentioned that a few months had passed since the last two people descended, and that these PCs had found the old map those previous adventurers had used. Now, "George the Small" (later, "Stout", and still later, "Stoic"), Guy's Fighting Man, and "Richard Long the Sloppy" (I know) the magic-user controlled by Brian, headed down.

With less detail, as this is getting long and it was getting late, they fought some more spiders, avoided some more traps, met the old man with more goblin and skeleton allies, fought, Mr. Long got killed (promising to return as Richard Long the Sloppy Seconds), and though stoically (gaining his self-appointed title) holding out against unfortunate odds, George the Stoic eventually ran away, to be the sole survivor of the night's gaming. In four hours (8 PM to midnight), we had fought perhaps fifteen combats, rolled up six or seven characters, explored maybe ten rooms, had traps and avoidance puzzles, and had a lot of fun. It was a high-energy and completely enjoyable experience, despite stupid problems and weird rules that made not a lot of sense.

To be short, I enjoyed 0e a great deal. I think it helped foster a more recklessly paced but also more interesting gameplay, as well as some weird experimentation. I wasn't pestered with questions as to why the heck all these things kept existing in the dungeon, I didn't have to worry about rules nazis coming up with obscure bits of rules from here and there, and if something cool needed to happen, I just said that it did.

Anyway, there's a report. It might have been a waste of your time to read, but it was my game and I wanted to show you it, to use a turn of phrase. It was fun times. I like the atmosphere and gameplay type that OD&D encourages, and I think I'll be returning to it eventually. If anyone saw anything in here that I did blatantly wrong, feel free to correct me. If you see places that could be improved, tell me. If you think it's just swell that I wrote all this up, tell me that too. Hopefully I'll post again soon. Thanks for reading!

8 comments:

jamused said...

Nice post. As long as you were having fun, you were doing it right.

Jeff Rients said...

Bravo for giving OD&D a try! A veteran could nitpick some of your rules calls, but that would be missing two key points 1) you and your group were having fun and 2) as referee your authority trumps the stupid rules.

You didn't find any initiative rules because there aren't any to be found in the three booklets. Your ruling is as good as any I've used.

Korgoth said...

Sounds like you had fun. I'm glad that you've seen some of the charm of OD&D.

I like to play a lot of stuff situationally, myself. Like initiative: rather than rolling, I just say which side has initiative based on the situation. Undead are slow, so generally I make them lose initiative. If a side moves into contact against long weapons (like spears), the guys with the long weapons get initiative. But if I can't decide I might call for a roll.

As you found out, getting treasure is a lot more valuable to a character than getting in a fight. I think most folks give 100 XP per hit die of the monster, but even at that generous rate it's just too dangerous to fight if you don't have to! So often monsters (except wimpy ones like skeletons) will be dealt with using trickery, misdirection or just plain avoidance.

I like the minimal structure of the rules because I'm not rolling dice all the time. Instead I'm describing what the party sees and they describe what they do with it.

Amityville Mike said...

I discovered that improvising a 'new monster' in OD&D is fairly easy, as the monster stat block contains basically nothing other than HD, AC, and Movement. Spiders had 2d6 HP, 5 AC, and 4 movement. Bats had 1d6 HP, 7 AC, and 10 movement. Done. Quick! If you have a conception of how the monster acts and looks, you're done.

You've touched upon one of the reasons that ODD is still popular after all these years. While the rules are indeed unorganized, there is an elegant simplicity to them that allows the DM a lot of on the fly creativity.

The statblocks in 3.5 were what eventually made me return to my old-school roots more than anything else.

It sounds like you three had a blast, so you were indeed playing it right.

Will Douglas said...

For your future reference, the Clerics turning Undead table is immediately after the Cleric's spell list. What rules there are governing it's use are immediately below it.

I'm glad to see you had fun with it! It's a great game, and without it you'd never had had either 3e or 4e.

David said...

Wow! A pile of comments. Nice to see a couple of people whose blogs I read in here also. Thanks for the encouraging words everyone. I had a lot of fun and I guess that's the important part. Separate replies below:

@jamused: Thanks, that's how I figured it.

@Jeff Rients: Yeah, the whole "DM can largely overwrite the rules" thing is a bit of a shock to someone who started with 3e. Still, yep, we had fun and that's what is important. Which nitpicks are you talking about, exactly? I'm curious.

@korgoth:
Yeah, I considered just assigning initiative, but there's something to the impartiality of dice that makes it feel more... fair? I don't know exactly. 100XP/HD makes sense. Seems like OD&D is designed towards levelling faster than the later versions. In any case, the minimalist rules are nice for the reasons you mentioned.

@amityville mike:
3.5 sometimes drove me insane. I rarely made NPCs with full blocks, because making one took hours. I definitely like the simplicity that OD&D offers in this regard.

@Will Douglas: Yeah, I found them later in the session but didn't bother trying to grok them mid-game. The party, at that point, was out a cleric anyway. Besides, my players don't like 'turning' unless it means 'destroying'. A bad habit from Final Fantasy 1.

John said...

One of the reasons for the scads of gold at the beginning of the game is to hire flunkies, those guys with weapons who open doors for you and fight the first waves of humanoids

VacuumJockey said...

Hey David, good to know that you're having fun - that's the main thing.

If the organization of the original books is frustration you, you could take a look at Swords & Wizardry - Mythmere's great little free 0ed clone. Same rules, better organized.

Also, I would recommend the fanzine Fight On! to you, as a great resource for 0ed gaming.

Game on!