As promised, I gave another chance to what I see as "old school style" gaming. This isn't something my group is used to, as I've said before - in the past few years, all our games have been very story-oriented, "new school" affairs. It was a great experience nonetheless.
We didn't do 3d6 in order and B/X style modifiers like we did the last time. Instead, we used part of the tables on the Hill Cantons Compendium II with some house rules for character creation.
PCs had NO abilities. Instead, they've got backgrounds and on or two modifier between -1 and +2. Also, no levels or classes: all characters started at level 0 and were simple woodcutters, merchants, tax collectors, etc. One character was a knight, other a priest of the Great Old Ones, all with somewhat colorful stories. Also, no armor or elaborate weapons - they either had 1d4 clubs or 1d6 shortswords, spears, maces, etc. Each player had four characters, all human.
The time we've spent creating characters where similar than rolling 3d6 in order and choosing classes, skills (yes, I used those, a couple per character), and equipment, but the results were WAY more interesting. All the players agreed that character creation were more fun with backgrounds than with abilities, although they found quite strange to play D&D without them.
(In fact, I would like to have an even faster method of character creation, so that's what's I'm working on next. "One million instant characters for D&D" - sounds good?)
The backgrounds were the sources of many random ideas, jokes and interesting situations. The knight appointed himself leader, the merchant went looking for exotic goods to sell, and so on.
Instead of going with the one page dungeon I had written in a day, I went with something far more interesting: Daniel J. Bishop's adventure FT 0: Prince Charming, Reanimator, an adventure written for 16 0-level characters, based on fairy tales such as "The Sleeping Beauty". See my play-test review here.
With less HP, no classes and harsher rules (take a look at the death saving throws, old-school style I come up with after the game), the adventure was quite lethal. Some players cared a bit more about losing characters with interesting backgrounds, but not enough to upset the game. More important, some players liked the challenge of playing randomly-created characters with different backgrounds, although others felt there would be more connection if they created the characters themselves.
All this little changes made the session more enjoyable to everyone. As a GM, I had a great time watching the players face deadly challenges and come up with creative solutions - so much, in fact, that I think I will have a hard time playing other way. But not all players felt the same. They thought this to be fun, but maybe too simple, random, deadly and lighthearted to go on a extended campaign, preferring to be more involved with their characters, which was somewhat impaired by having multiple random PCs. I think some of it is because of personal preference, and some because of the way we got used to do things.
So, for the next session, we are probably going for something a bit more "modern". Still, I think my experiences with creepy dungeons, low level characters and random generation aren't over yet. We shall see.