Saturday, March 20, 2010

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.

Matt

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