Sunday, March 21, 2010

Spoils from T1, part 2

  • Foes defeated: 535 XP
  • A pile of silver and copper coins (awarded to Rogar as payment): 5 XP
  • A silver baton: 0 XP (not yet sold)
  • An ivory box: 0 XP (not yet sold)
  • An elven-made cloak (magical): 0 XP (not yet dispositioned)
I'm only dividing the XP from this session between the three player characters, so 180 each, plus 300 each for rescuing the three prisoners, for a grand total of 480 XP each to Amiculum, Dravin, and Gulwar. Your totals have been updated. Let me know if you think I missed anything.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Points v. Counterpoints

Since Tracy informed me that may use or link my previous post for his next Troll in the Corner write-up, I want to issue a few quick counterpoints to the old-school shortcomings that I mentioned in my session recap. The great thing about old school is that it's so easy to change something that's not working for you:

  1. Combat is dry. Counterpoint: the two combats I referenced saw the PCs pitted against a horde of giant rats and a horde of zombies, respectively. These are not the kinds of combats I normally include when writing my own adventures; they only transpired because we were playing a module. I have a strong suspicion that these fights would have been equally as dry using any "e." Don't make the characters play tedious encounters = problem solved.

  2. The XP-for-treasure system is questionable. Assuming the campaign remains old-school, my guess is that the XP system is nixed within a few more sessions. An easy three-pronged alternative? No more XP for treasure; monsters yield x5 or x10 their normal amount; continue issuing "story awards" when warranted. Problem solved.

  3. Looking up rules is an annoyance. Print off individual spell lists, class descriptions, and key pages of the rules beforehand. As a more drastic measure, I may want to make 2e the de facto rules source for the game, for the sake of my own sanity. Anything not provided inherently by 2e (half-orcs, assassins, etc.) would just be custom additions from their respective sources.
In old school D&D, making the game your own is often the surest path to victory.


T1, part 2: A Mixed Bag

Tonight ran the second session for the party exploring the ruins of the moat house in The Village of Hommlet. It was also my third session running 1e/OSRIC. My opinions of the games so far have been mixed, and are leading me in a direction that I actually find very surprising.

First, a recap: Dravin, Gulwar, and Amiculum hired Rogar, man-at-arms-for-hire, for a suit of old chain mail plus wages of 2 gp per day and delved back into the moat house, fighting off a horde of rats before slaying the wolf spider lurking in the tower left of the draw bridge (props to Gulwar for his clever use of a mirror in this encounter). They located the steps to the dungeon level, but elected to camp for the night in the bandit room with the door barricaded before descending.

At night, the ogre from the dungeon level wandered up from below, detected the PCs, and broke through the door. Though it managed to bash Gulwar with its club, the party just as quickly peppered it with arrows, and down it went. The party waited out the rest of the night, but then decided to return to town, wounded and out of spells. In Hommlet, word of the ogre was enough to recruit Burne on the characters' next foray - in exchange for a third of all gold and treasures found. And so, five strong, they returned once again, battling zombies, uncovering a hidden chute inside a pillar (amazing rolls here), and freeing three prisoners locked in a closet next to the dead ogre's sleeping chamber.

The session ended with an interesting exchange between the PCs and Rogar, which occurred after the gnome prisoner offered the latter an iron ring of friendship to return him to safety (prior to this, the PCs had decided they would escort the prisoners back to Hommlet only after their resources were further depleted). The characters were adamant that the ring was rightfully theirs since it was obtained while adventuring; Rogar felt otherwise. In the end, they all returned to Hommlet, and Rogar, offended by the pettiness of the dispute, tossed the ring back to the PCs, accepting a small bag of silver for it, albeit reluctantly. It should be interesting to see whether this bridge has been permanently ruptured.

So, that was what happened. Reading the above, it had all the makings of a good session. The PC-NPC interactions really stood out, and the personalities of Rogar, Burne, and even Zert (who the party nearly hired before Gulwar detected him as evil) became much more defined - these are the kinds of things that should really drive the game forward as it progresses.

Despite all the good, this session was tiresome to run; three main reasons stand out to me:

  1. Combat is dry. Too many misses, too many rounds of nothing but melee attacks, over and over. Did the players get creative at times? Sure. But especially from my side of the screen, when I'm running the part of giant rats, sitting there rolling piles of d20s and just looking for 15s and higher practically puts me to sleep. The zombie fight was equally fruitless, Burne's wall of fire being the main highlight.
  2. The XP-for-treasure system is questionable. This session, it lead to lots of metagaming decisions. Treasure is good, and characters motivated by treasure are fine, but characters motivated by treasure because they need it in order to gain levels is weak sauce. Additionally, we just don't play often enough to use this XP system "by the book." As written, these PCs may not see 5th level until 2011 or later (they're currently levels 3-4, mind). Having grown up on the 2e experience tables, I certainly can respect and appreciate this kind of slow advancement, but I'm seriously doubting its long-term merit for this campaign.
  3. Looking up rules is an annoyance. Especially when there's the 2e rule that I grew up knowing, the 3e rule that I played with for several years, the 1e rule that I've read once or twice, and the OSRIC rule that I'm now using as my de facto source. How does detect evil work again? Let me double-check how this system defines it. Too much ambiguity and flipping through books, even if it's not all that frequent.
So why am I surprised by the direction this is leading? Because that direction is 4e. The above items are three core pieces of D&D that it addresses: cinematic combats (allegedly), regular advancement, and minimal rulebook references. The things that went well in this session were all system independent: what might we gain from giving 4e another shot to see how things go? With the PHB2 races and classes, all the current PCs would be easily translatable, and I could cut things I don't like (dragonborn and tieflings) to keep the "classic" D&D feel without worrying about character options being too limited.

Does that mean I want to convert my game to 4e? No. I still have many doubts about the system, two of the foremost being long, dragged-out combats and hard-coded options stifling player creativity. That said, given that I have access to the 4e version of The Village of Hommlet, the idea of letting the players re-engineer their characters for a session or two to finish the adventure in 4e is intriguing: it might be as close to an apples-to-apples comparison as I'm ever able to come up with. If not, maybe I'll try a one-off run of Keep on the Shadowfell - I just hate pulling players away from plot lines they're starting to become involved in.

Anyway, we'll see what happens. Depending on when the first domino of our kitchen remodel falls, it may be a few weeks before I have a chance to play again. Anyone reading this post, feel free to comment, especially if you're one of the players.

Experience from tonight should be forthcoming sometime this weekend. I also like where the campaign is headed, plot-wise. I feel like I have a lot of good leads and NPCs to work with.


Sunday, March 14, 2010

L3: Deep Dwarven Delve (part 1)

Last night I ran an impromptu session of Deep Dwarven Delve for four players. The party, rolled up just an hour beforehand, consisted of two halfling thieves, a gnome assassin, a dwarven fighter, and an elven cleric. All of the characters were evil, and one of the thieves ended up being treated as a semi-NPC (his player had to leave before the session began).

The PCs arrived in Restenford and Lake Farmin after catching wind of the recent string of humanoid raids against the towns. After a brief internal debate over whether to help the distressed towns or simply continue the raiding themselves, they decided to offer their aid, but not before negotiating the per-head bounty on dead humanoids up to 110 gp each, and the reward for the towns' missing gold chalice up to 300 gp.

They soon were off to the humanoids' hidden lair, having been provided directions by one of the towns' rangers, who had tracked the invaders there following the last raid, three days prior. In the end, the PCs barely scratched the surface of the place, killing only a half-dozen orc guards before an alarm gong was sounded and a veritable horde swarmed from the delve's entrance. The dwarf fighter (Pug) was surrounded and slaughtered, and the others turned tail and fled, failing to procure even a single orc's head for their efforts.

The session ran great, and on only about 40 minutes of prep time for me. Like last time, there were a couple of tense moments where a single initiative roll tilted the outcome of the entire evening. For example, as the PCs began to make short work of the few orcs guarding the cave entrance, one guard bolted back inside to sound the alarm gong. The next round, the orcs won initiative, and the gong was sounded seconds before Ping (one of the thieves) rolled a natural 20 and crushed the orc's skull with a sling bullet from outside the cave, some 100 feet away. Had the gong not been rung, the party would almost certainly have been able to sneak inside the delve; as it was, they didn't even manage to set foot inside the cave entrance.

We also had a tragic cinematic scene play out in the ensuing rounds, after a score more orcs flooded from the cave and surrounded Pug, the only PC that wasn't in hiding. He fought the beasts off as best he could (with the help of the thieves and assassin firing from range), but was dropped from 34 hit points to zero in a matter of minutes. In a valiant attempt to try to save his friend, the elven cleric waded through the orc ranks (having first cast sanctuary on himself), then cast cure light wounds on Pug. Every last remaining orc failed its save to be able to attack Godric (the cleric), but even as Pug was restored to a comatose state with positive hit points, the orcs in their battle frenzy continued to impale the dwarf's body with their halberds, killing him outright. That's when the rest of the PCs fled down the hillside and took cover in the trees below until they could escape back to the safety of the towns.

Thus, the party returned empty-handed, having found no treasure and garnering only 200 XP for orcs slain, netting the surviving PCs 50 XP each. AD&D is interesting in that, despite these scarce winnings, the group could easily return, find themselves much more successful on a second run, and net many times more experience along with a mountain of gold in reward money. There's definitely a fine line between success and failure in AD&D, and crossing that line often means all the difference in the world.

As a closing thought, L3 is looking like a great module so far. We might easily play three or more additional game sessions in the delve before the adventure is finally completed, and if the characters currently in Hommlet manage to finish up their dealings soon, maybe they'll arrive in Restenford and Lake Farmin in time to win their share of the spoils here as well.

Monday, March 8, 2010

The Village of Hommlet: 4e

Today I acquired a PDF copy of the 4th Edition reprint of The Village of Hommlet, the AD&D module I'm currently running. I've only glanced at it so far, mostly just to get a feel for differences and similarities to the original. I don't really have an opinion on it yet, but given that I own the 4e core books, and despite the less-than-positive feelings I've had trying to run 4e in the past, I wonder if it would be worth running this as a one-off for those currently playing the AD&D version, just as a way of doing a side-by-side comparison. In any case, I'm expecting to have another one to two more sessions (at least) in "old school" T1, so I definitely have time to think about it.

Experience points for T1 session #1

The "by the book" experience breakdown for Friday's session is as follows:

  • Foes smitten (or otherwise defeated): 250 XP
  • Bolts of cloth (claimed by merchant): 120 XP
  • Inlaid wooden box (claimed by merchant): 45 XP
  • Crystal ware (sold): 20 XP
  • Four +1 arrows: 80 XP
  • Chest of 2,000 cp (tithed): 20 XP
This amounts to 535 XP, or 134 to each of four characters.  Not very much, but at least for now, I want to play it by the book.  For one, it seems likely that upcoming sessions will yield more than this, and for two, I've fallen into a habit over the years of simply handing out thousands of XP at a time to promote steady level advancement every few sessions.  This certainly wasn't how AD&D was intended to be played.  Plus, the treasure-based system should encourage selling and bartering tactics by the PCs (maybe next time they won't be so quick to sell those goblets to the first offer when experience points are at stake!).

Edit (3/14/2010): I've awarded the PCs 200 XP each as a bonus for capturing the bandit leader Margon and returning him to Hommlet. Experience totals (including bonuses for high ability scores) are now updated and posted in the right-hand column of the site.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

T1: The Village of Hommlet (part 1)

Last night marked my first attempt at running a classic AD&D module; I chose T1 (The Village of Hommlet), precursor to The Temple of Elemental Evil. We brought Dravin Deepsyer over from the 2e campaign I ran briefly last year, resulting in the following cast of 2nd-3rd level PCs:

  • Dravin - human fighter (NG)
  • Gulwar - half-orc thief/cleric (N)
  • Ellimorell - elven assassin (LE)
  • Amiculum - human ranger (CG)
The group, having met south along the road, marched into Hommlet, like many others, in response to a call for protection by the Viscount of Verbobonc. In the village, the party spoke to a number of potential arms-for-hire, most notably a warrior named Rogar at the traders establishment, and an assortment of fellows at the Inn of the Welcome Wench: a fighter named Zert, a gambler named Furnok of Ferd, an ogre of a man named Kobart, and a passive scribe named Spugnoir. The characters also visited the castle-under-construction of Rufus and Burne, a semi-retired warrior and wizard of local adventuring fame who originally came to Hommlet three years ago.

In the end, the PCs decided to proceed to the ruins of the nearby moat house on their own, where they explored the east and south portions of its ground level and defeated a troupe of nine bandits, killing five before capturing the bandit leader, Margon (the other three escaped with their crossbows). Margon was escorted back to Hommlet and turned in to the captain of the militia, and to the characters went the bandits' spoils:
  • Two bolts of fine cloth (later claimed by a local merchant)
  • A decorated inlaid wooden box (also claimed by the same merchant)
  • A set of a crystal flagon and four crystal goblets (sold for 20 gp)
  • A gold chain necklace
  • A chest of 2,000+ cp (tithed between the church of St. Cuthbert and the druidic grove)
  • Four finely-crafted arrows
  • A suit of chain mail
Upon returning to the traders establishment, the PCs agreed in principle to barter the chain mail to Rogar in exchange for the fighter's services, though the arrangement has not yet been finalized. They also received a standing offer of 50 gp for the gold chain from the fat merchant, Rannos Davl. Finally, as a courtesy for their efforts, the magic-user Burne ("His Most Worshipful Mage of Hommlet") granted a casting of identify, revealing the arrows to be +1 magical arrows.

I still need to calculate experience for the adventure, but all in all, the players did well, having circumvented almost certain peril at the hands of the bandits after being ambushed by drawing the enemies into a dark chamber where Gulwar and Ellimorell's infravision yielded a major tactical advantage. By the time the bandits managed to procure torchlight, the tide of the battle had fiercely turned in favor of the PCs.

Having never run a true 1e game before, I really enjoyed the initiative system using combat "segments." At least two initiative rolls against the bandits were certain matters of life or death, and both of these the characters won. A couple questions I found myself pondering during and after the session:
  1. Is a thief's backstab ability viable in an ongoing melee? We had a situation where Gulwar approached a bandit, presumably unobserved in total darkness, while the bandit was busy blind-fighting either Amiculum or Ellimorell (I can't remember which). I allowed a backstab attempt at the time (which succeeded), but my uncertainty in the moment makes me want to research a little more about backstabbing before we play again.
  2. When awarding XP for treasure, should I award points based on the stated value of the treasure in the module, or the value received from its sale? (I think probably the former.)
I plan to find the answers I seek for both of these questions at Dragonsfoot. I'm sure I've seen forum threads on both of these topics there before.


AD&D 1e Record Sheet

Click here to download the official AD&D record sheet for my campaign. I can't remember where I originally found this, otherwise I'd give credit for it. Link also permanently available on the right.