Friday, September 10, 2010

So we played some Swords and Wizardry last weekend

And I'm still not really sure how it went.

I had told my friends at college that I wanted to run a really informal pick-up D&D game for anyone who wanted to play. Last Saturday, I drove up to Oberlin for Labor Day weekend with a bag full of dice, the Deck of Stuff that I'd put together and a half-finished, randomly-generated dungeon map. The following day, I was able to get a nice chunk of folks together for the game, including my girlfriend Jamie, who's been incredibly supportive of this whole D&D kick since I started this summer, my good friends Mike, Ethan and Joe (who all worked with me on the noir radio drama that we did at college) and a new freshman named Daniel who I'd never met before.

Character creation was where we first started having problems. I'd gone for the 3d6 for each stat, can switch scores around method and as a result, a couple of my players were incredibly unsatisfied with their characters (nothing above a 12 and a 6 at the lowest.) I tried the lines of reasoning that I'd heard over this: that stats weren't as important in old-school D&D and that they're not what defines your character, but it still chafed them to feel like their characters were somehow behind the curve. Both of their characters were behind that Raggi Curve (more penalties than bonuses), so I let them reroll to much better results.

However, the resulting characters were hilarious. A fighter with a Constitution of 6 carrying a bizarre assortment of cheap weapons and a mule. An ogre fighter who ended up spending all of his money on a set of ring mail. A 250 lb. Half-Elven magic user (who pulled the 'Wedge of very stinky cheese' from the Deck of Stuff). A dwarven cleric of Granitenose, who entreats his believers to keep what is theirs and acquire more. A goblin thief who was probably the best prepared character I've ever seen in terms of random equipment. We started out in a tavern called the Irish Deer in the mining town of Motherlode, a rough and tumble place filled with what looked like Aragorn stunt doubles. There, the PCs bought a map to the ancient ruins of Myrmidia from a slightly dodgy Cut-me-own-throat Dibbler type and ventured out into the wilderness to find the caves, complete with a passel of 6 henchmen hired by the Magic-User, courtesy of the Meatshields! hireling generator.

Turns out that the only thing the map led to was an ambush courtesy of a group of bandits that the swindler was in cahoots with. In the combat that ensued, one of the Magic-User's men at arms was killed and the dwarven cleric nearly got it with a well-aimed crossbow bolt. However, the party managed to pull one of the bandits off of the cliff by his foot, hurl a warhammer across a chasm into a crossbowman's face and utterly dismember the rest of the bandits, thanks to the ogre's stick full of nails (and ridiculous damage bonuses) and the surviving goblin man at arms, who must have taken a level in badass at some point, because he ended up killing three guys and taking 1 hp's worth of damage in the process.

Naturally, everyone wanted revenge, so they returned to Motherlode in search of Holsten, the snake-oil salesman, eventually chasing him to Looter's Row. The fighter kicked down the door to the house, only to be hit with a crossbow trap that fortunately didn't take much out of him. The group entered the house cautiously It was then that the bugbears came out of hiding, wielding crossbows and doing the standard thug threatening. Once again, combat ensued, with another hireling falling to their death at the bugbear's hands and the Magic-User flinging his Sleep spell over all but one of the goons, who decided that discretion was the better part of valor and fled. The party entered Holsten's basement, where the sneaky little bastard escaped into a hatch in the floor.

The room search went well and it didn't go well. Our ogre fighter smashed open the locked chest next to our forger's workstation and got hit with a poison dart trap. Even with a bonus against poison, he failed his save and started taking damage. He was incredibly upset by this turn of events and particularly at me for putting it there. I honestly didn't know how to react. As the cleric carried him off to the local Church of Antra to help slow the poison, the rest of the team continued the search much more carefully.

Once all of value could be looted from the workroom, everyone made their way down into the hatch, torchbearers first. What they found was the corpse of their erstwhile swindler surrounded by spiders, who attacked first and poisoned the cleric. I don't know why I chose the spiders, given the negative reaction I had just gotten from the poison issue, but it happened anyway. Once the spiders were dealt with, the PCs brought the cleric to the Church of Antra again, where the priestess was decidedly less than happy that two poisoned folks had been brought before her within five minutes and charged them accordingly. And with that, the game was over for the night.

I'll try and post more later tonight on my reactions, but it's been a little difficult dredging up this stuff and I'd like to take a little time to think.


  1. I think the important question is whether or not you enjoy this type of play. And if a player got "incredibly upset" with me because his character got poisoned, he would find himself dis-invited from my table.

    I prefer 4d6 drop the lowest, myself. But I'm also about to start running something closer to AD&D Lite than OD&D.

  2. I can see someone getting a little upset if it's character that they've been playing for MONTHS, but a brand new 1st level? Nah. I wouldn't dis-invite, but we might have a chat over a smoke.

  3. I think this is worth planning for when you run games for kids & useful also when you have childish adults ;)

    Here's what worked for me at my Blackmoor Dungeon runs at Gen Con:
    - Make the death scene description glorious and over the top. The PC isn't just dying, they're dying in a larger-than-life way as befits a hero.
    - Have the player give their last words; this gives them a chance to spin the event as funny, tragic, heroic, etc.
    - Provide a way for them to immediately get back into the action. I like for this to be "choose which henchman you want to take over & roll their stats", but you could instead say "OK, your next PC will be encountered as a wandering monster as soon as you roll him up" - something that guarantees the game will go on for them.
    - Tavis