I must create a system, or be enslaved by another man's. I will not reason and compare: my business is to create.

- William Blake

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Going Old School, session 1

This week, I approached my group with an idea: trying to go all the way old school, as I haven't done in a long while. Needless to say, the exact meaning of "old school" varies from person to person, and my own ideas about the subject are something I'm going to discuss in future posts. For this session, here is what I proposed: every player would start with three characters, all level 1, 3d6 in order, and they would try to survive my one page dungeon.

The chosen flavor of D&D was... not a specific one, really. I didn't think I would need many rules other than d20+Fighter level to hit, or roll 3d6 under ability for skills, etc. As for the rest, I would make things up as we went.

Character creation was quick and fun. The players - not very used to random characters - had no problems in doing it. I was quite impressed, in fact - when I said "you can choose a couple of skills, anything you want", and "pick any class", that was enough information for them. It all goes back to D&D as lingua franca, I guess.

When rolling characters, some players had terrible luck while others rolled very well, making the whole group unbalanced from the start. They were all very cool about that, no complaints at all. Even so, I gave a few levels and perks to the weaker characters to make things more equal. That was my first mistake.

They chose a few characters to be wizards and clerics. I said each of them would pick a single spell per level. Any spell. I just made them up on the spot, and came up with a system so they could use it more than once a day, instead of the "limited" original version. That was my second mistake.

Finally, I just added a few house rules to increase survivability, making the transition a little easier. A few extra HP, a merciful save vs. death system, ignoring encumbrance for those who wore leather or less, and so on. That was my third mistake (but, alas, not the last one).

The game itself was tons of fun, at least for me. I promised high lethality (another thing my group isn't used to at all- most of our campaigns last for years without a single player character dying), and would show disappointment (jokingly, I think) as the characters survived fight after fight, but the players just laughed at it instead of feeling adversarial.


They had no problem playing the game with very simple rules and lots of rulings. A wizard preferred to avoid casting spells (my system's fault), so he fought valiantly with his dagger, even after coming close to death a couple of times. One of the characters went looking for treasure in a couple of rooms - and one of them was EXACTLY in the room with the most valuable treasure in the dungeon. I tried to avoid much improvisation from my part and use the dungeon exactly was written, but once or twice I would adjust things on the fly - and that was probably my last mistake that evening, as I wasn't happy with some of the adjustments I've made.

A single character died, because the group had awakened the a mutant giant bee and he was the slowest initiative on the room. The other characters let him to die - something I would NEVER expect to happen in our regular games. For me, this was the single most exciting moment, followed closely by the (second) time the wizard got saved from death by a lucky die roll.

My conclusion after the game was that I had underestimated both the capacity of my players to try something new, and the capacity of the characters to survive the adventure. Also, the party was just a bit too big to manage at once with the rules I was using, and the enemies a bit too weak.

After asking for feedback, my players offered some constructive criticism. Most of the rules I came up with on the spot were not that good. I thought they would complain from how the combats were too simple and the characters too weak and random (they didn't get to customize the characters at all), but I was wrong. Instead, the main comments and complaints were:

* The players kinda liked the simplicity of the system - some loved it. If felt "dynamic", "like an action movie", or "like a cooperative boardgame" (and this was said in a positive way). On the other hand, my own rules were less interesting and probably too complicated - although some players said they were hard at the beginning but fine once they got the gist of it.
* They said I haven't delivered in the lethality I had promised, which is true.
* Most players felt a lack of connection and depth to the characters, when compared to the games we used to play (that would usually take a few hours in character creation). One player said character creation was "excellent", but others not so much.

Overall, the results were mixed. As a GM, I had a lot of fun, but, most of all, I feel I've learned a lot from this. Ultimately, I think most mistakes I made was because I tried making things a bit more modern than early D&D. I have my own (very new-school) system to go back to - one that most of the players liked so far - but I still wish to try my hand in this kind of "old school gaming".

What's next? Well, I will give this at least one more try. But, this time, I will restrain myself from making things more "new school". No more half measures. Instead, I'm going full "older than old", character funnel style. 0-level commoners for everybody. No skills, no classes (they can get one when they reach 1st level), few hit points, and so on.

Let's see how that goes.

Friday, May 01, 2015

The Wretched Hive, my One Page Dungeon

I submitted a dungeon to the One Page Dungeon Contest. It was a fun, challenging and rewarding experience (more about that soon). There are some AWESOME dungeons this year, as it happened in previous contests. Here is my own, in a blog post format instead of a PDF format so you can easily copy, paste and edit, and have a better view of the map.

The Wretched Hive

The wretched Chaos lord Xalavor and his minions have conquered a temple of the Queen Bee, the ancient lawful goddess of Life, in order to summon, imprison and warp an avatar of the Queen. They used her power to create a fearsome hive fortress over the marble ruins of the old temple, and an army of half-human, half-insect soldiers. Now hybrid creatures roam the countryside capturing riches and people for dark purposes.


The sacred forest surrounding the temple is now home to the wandering fugitive priestesses of the Queen. If treated with due respect, they may say: 1. Do not hurt the avatar of our Queen! 2. There are hidden amulets in the temple. 3. The hybrids have a spark of divinity, but may be hostile. 4. The Queens’s honey cures wounds. 5. Bees work in the fields during the day. 6. We will send one of us with you!

Approaching the Hive during the daytime may trigger an encounter (1-in-6 chance). Roll once more if the Hive is approached near dusk or dawn, and for every half hour the adventures spend in the surroundings.

The hexes are 50 feet wide and 25 feet high, and reasonably well-lit during the day. They are made of wax and may collapse if hit by a fireball or similar attack. Red hexes are darker and fouler than others, with walls made mostly of stone and metal. Yellow hexes are cleaner and emptier. Blue hexes are littered with ruins of the old temple. Doors leading from white to red or yellow areas are harder to open.

CREATURES

Bee-people, with near-human bodies and bee-like heads and wings, can fly but cannot talk. If they lose more than half HP, they will attack with a stinger, causing double damage and then dying. Soldiers (2HD) will attack on sight, with spears. Workers (1 HD) are unarmed - they will go about their businesses and won't attack unless attacked first. Each has a 1-in-6 chance of carrying honey (heals 1d6 HP, once per day).

The wretched are the evil, sadistic demons that follow Xalavor. They might be willing to negotiate at least half the time. Imps (1HD) are small, ugly, goblin-like creatures. Ogres (3HD) are stupid, demonic brutes with clubs. Biomancers (2HD) are cunning magic-users that create hybrids.

The groups dislike each other, but Xalavor has been able to keep the peace so far (up to a point).

Random encounters have a 1-in-6 chance of taking place for each hex crossed (or additional 10 minutes spent in it), empty or not - climbing a floor from the outside and walking on roofs count as crossing an hex. Roll 1d0. In the red area, roll 2d10 and pick highest. In the yellow and blue areas, roll 2d10 and pick lowest. At night, re-roll 1s when counting creatures.
1,2. 1d4 Soldiers. 3,4,5. 1d6 Workers. 6,7,8. 1d6 imps. 9. 1 biomancer. 10. 1d3 ogres.




THE MAP

Towers 1 though 3 are bee-people watchtowers. They have 1d6 soldiers per level and doors to the outside. The ground levels have holes to the underground (no stairs). All towers have a number of levels equal to its identifying number.
Tower 4 is home to Xalavor (8HD), that can always be found in the highest floor. There are three archfiends (3HD) with fiery weapons in the third floor.
A. Entrance. 2d6 imps and an ogre will question visitors.
B. Arsenal with many crude spears and machetes.
(C). Entrance. 2d6 soldiers.
D. An alien mass of putrid flesh and tentacles (5 HD) is trapped here. The doors are sealed from the outside.
[E] Barracks. 3d6 imps, half are sleeping.
[F] Mess hall. 2d6 imps.
G. Granary and treasury.
H. A biomancer with 4 mechanical assistants (1HD) keeps an alchemy lab in this hex.
[I] Beautiful artificial flowers in the middle of the room are the trigger to a fire trap that causes 2d6 damage to everyone that cannot duck fast enough.
[J]. Prison with 4d6 human captives.
K. Empty passage.
(L) A chest full of treasure, heavy but somewhat valuable, triggers spears coming from the ground, causing 2d4 damage to anyone standing in the hex.
(M). Empty passage.
[N] Downward spiral stairs lead to the underground.
[O] The arena where the wretched fight captured humans and bee-people. The 4d6 wretched in the audience, will not notice invaders unless attacked.
<P> 6 soldiers protect a fountain of honey. Will not let humans or wretched get near, but won't attack otherwise.
(Q) 1d6+1 mummified animals (wolves, boars, etc), imprisoned by a insane hunter-bee (3HD). One is still alive and can show gratitude if released.
(R) The Queen Avatar (7HD) is a giant bee, entranced by the sorcery of Xalavor, can barely move but is able to defend herself with paws and stinger (her sting causes immediate death).
S. Empty passage.
<T> A telepathic drone-man (2HD) hidden in this hex can communicate with human and bee. He will offer his services for protection (many bees want him dead).
<U> A statue of a maiden surrounded by flowers will heal any sincere allies of the Queen if they pray or ask for help (1d6 HP, once per day).
(V) Floor will collapse if more than 8 creatures are in the hex in the same time (bee-people don't count).
W. 2d6 soldiers guard this room.
<X> Hidden treasure under a secret door in the marbled floor (4 golden amulets, valuable and sacred).
<Y> Beautiful silk tapestries.
Z. A two-headed twelve-armed mutant troll-bee (5HD) sleeps here most of the time. If awaken, it will go on an unstoppable rampage.

The underground is dark and full of demons, biomancers, and breeding pits with larvae and royal jelly. Adventures beware. If the GM prefers the whole dungeon to be underground, just flip the map, transforming towers into pits.

If Xalavor is slain, the bee-people will destroy the remaining wretched. The Queen (now free from mental slavery) will telepathically ask the adventures for death, but she will resurrect (as an ordinary bee) in less than one minute and fly away. The fortress will collapse within 1d6+6 days.

If the Queen dies, bee-people will disperse immediately. It will take Xalavor 3d6 days to summon another avatar or come up with a new use for his fortress.

Released under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)

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