Friday, April 17, 2020

Kicking Off the Campaign

Welp, yesterday's session kicked off quite well.  Using Zoom for video conferencing worked just fine, since we only needed to connect to one household: just put the laptop at the end of the table where they could see us and we could see them.

Max (age 13) and Sonia (age 10) were very excited to play. We discussed their prior experiences, explained some of the differences with the OD&D game, explained the premise of play and themes, and they're on-board with all of it. Turns out they don't have all that much experience with Dungeons & Dragons after all. Max has played five or six game sessions with a friend and his friend's Dungeon Master. Sonia has run in two or three sessions DM'd by Max. He has purchased the 5E books and has been trying to digest them, but mainly he just sits down at the table and "rolls what the DM tells me to roll."

He also has a "really old" edition of D&D that his uncle gave him: the Frank Mentzer basic set. He noted there were many similarities between that game and the booklet I'd given him. Smart lad.

Unfortunately, while the kids had read the (edited) copy of Men & Magic we left under their doormat, they hadn't made characters for the game session, which proved a minor source of frustration for my kids, who had each come prepared with multiple PCs. So we took a little time to roll up a new fighter for Max and quickly converted Sonia's existing 3rd level cleric to OD&D ("conversion" in this case simply asking her to re-roll her hit points based on the system and making sure she had the spell list for her level...oh, yeah, and taking away her short bow).

So armed, the four brave adventurers set forth into my new campaign world which I call Red Earth (for multiple reasons). The party included the aforementioned fighter and cleric, plus Diego's dwarven fighter and Sofia's elf, Count Dracula, who had decided to adventure as a magic-user this session.  Hired for a "rescue mission," the PCs were quickly TPK'd without ever setting foot inside the adventure site.

Welcome to Old School kids.

[for the curious: the person they'd been hired to rescue was believed to have been taken into a new religious cult that had recently sprung up. The cultist's stronghold was a small square tower (30' on a side, three stories tall). located in an area of scrub and trees that had been cleared for about 40 yards in all directions. The doors to the temple stood open day and night, with two acolyte "guards" stationed at the doors 24/7 to greet new worshipers...they're trying to build up their cult as fast as possible. The players decided to try to snipe the guards from a distance, but only had one archer (Max) who missed his shot...the acolytes quickly retreated into the tower and closed the door. The party then advanced on the tower and attempted to set fire to the door by pouring oil all over it. The cultists...mostly unarmored and wielding knives and cudgels...pulled open the door and sallied forth, led by the acolytes and an adept. The magic-user was felled by the first blow, Max was killed before he could load an arrow or draw a weapon, the dwarf (who had been trying to set the fire) was wounded and turned to run, and Sonia's cleric was grappled by four or five cultists while still looking for a spell that might save her. As the dwarf was wearing chain mail and armed to the teeth, the cultists quickly caught up to him, so he turned to fight...he inflicted 1 point of damage (the only hit the party got during the session) before being killed). I ruled the helpless cleric would have been taken into the temple to be sacrificed]

Despite the fiasco, the players had a good time (though Diego was annoyed...more on that later) and all wanted to keep playing, but I decided to shut down the session for the day, after about 90-100 minutes of play. Despite having more "time on the clock," as far as what we'd scheduled, I felt the new players had been given a LOT of information to process: they'd just experienced character creation, been introduced to the setting, had a taste of combat and spell-casting, and received a sampling of "old school" sensibilities. It would have taken another 30-40 minutes (probably) to get through another round of character creation, and then we would have been up against things as far as time to to cut the game short allow and give 'em thoughts to chew over.

As I wrote, my son was irritated: partly because he'd really liked his new character, "Hairy" the dwarf, but mainly because he wanted to play more. He did not like shutting down the session early and he was unhappy with the direction the game had gone (Sofia had fun but she said the dying was the part she liked least)...but after discussing what had went wrong for the party, he saw in retrospect that their frontal assault was probably not the best way to go about their mission. Compared to Max and Sonia, my kids are veteran D&D players by this point (seven sessions in Zenopus, a couple in Tomb of Horrors, and at least one in Borderlands...and, of course, they've both been trying their hands at DMing, my daughter especially). They have a lot more knowledge of the game...including its pacing and procedures...and so it's up to them (Diego especially) to step up and lead a bit more.

As for me, I had a few things to chew over myself: back when I first decided to go the OD&D route, I wrote up a number of house rules that I've been implementing ever since (I even added these into my edits of M&M). After running several sessions, I've see these are mostly useless, pointless, or ridiculous. I've found Gygax's own "house rules" for OD&D are mostly sufficient. Here's what I'm currently running:

  • All weapons do 1d6 damage except daggers (d4) and two-handed weapons (d8). Fighters add +1 to damage for Strength over 14. Lack of proficiency reduces damage die type.
  • No magic-user spells greater than 6th or cleric spells greater than 5th at this point. Added the 1st and 2nd level MU spells from Greyhawk to the spell list...that's it. Added the cleric spells from Greyhawk as well (to take the number up to six in each spell category). Spell-casters still get +1 first level spell for high prime requisites.
  • High constitution just adds +1 hit point per hit die. Fighters roll D8s, magic-users roll D4s, clerics roll D6s.
  • No weapon versus armor adjustments.
  • Only classes allowed are fighters, magic-users, and clerics. Lawful fighters with a 17 charisma can opt for paladin status (as per Greyhawk) with all restrictions. Half-elves have been added to the list of races and function as per Greyhawk (including the ability to progress as a cleric with sufficient wisdom). Thieves (and assassins) exist in the campaign, but are not yet available as player characters.

All right, that's about all I have time to write. Our next game session is scheduled for Monday at 3pm.


  1. I love the direct approach of lighting the door on fire. Was their intention to have the bad guys poke their heads out for a look-see, then bushwhack them? It's the same damn thing with caves. "Smoke 'em out with a fire!" I have always wondered if that really works.

    1. I think they’re idea was to open an entry into the tower...basically they attempted to besiege the place with a party of four.

      But that was “plan B” anyway: the initial plan was to shoot arrows at the guards to draw them to the corpse of trees where they were sheltered and then ambush ‘em. They did not expect the acolytes to retreat into the tower, perhaps not realizing that such places were (historically) constructed specifically for defensive purposes.

      Live (or rather die) and learn, I suppose.
      ; )

    2. many auto-correct typos:

      “Their idea”
      “Copse of trees”

  2. Ha. "Red Earth" is a small town in Northern Alberta, that turned up in multiple stories I wrote, like Stephen King's Castle Rock. I adopted the name for the U2-type rock band that is part of my novel, Pete's Garage.

    I continue to follow these game posts with interest.

    1. @ Alexis:

      That is VERY bizarre. I've been tinkering with Red Earth since can see blogs posts with the "red tag" for things I was throwing into it. Came up with the concept back when I was living in Paraguay...very famous for their red dirt/clay that makes up most of the country.

      So weird. I haven't read Pete's Garage.

      I'm sure most posts will follow. Spent a lot of time going through coinage concepts in my journal last night (comparing German with Spanish with D&D)...working out that economy, Alexis!
      ; )