Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Winter War recap, part III

Sunday afternoon was the appointed time for "Dragons of Ancient Days II", my second go at running OD&D as a con event. Let me tell you, the last day of a con is absolutely perfect for older, lighter editions of D&D. With less equipment, fewer race & class choices, fewer spells per caster, and such it just makes D&D easy for brain-dead dungeoneering. About half the PCs were scrawled on single sheets of a 3" x 3" hotel stationery. Kathleen was asleep for at least a quarter of the run and she did about as well as anyone else at the table! Fun fact: if you stick strictly to the original 3 rulebooks then most players only need to use a d20 and a d6.

We made up characters on the spot, rolling 3d6 in order, rolling up starting gold, and then making a few special rolls. I made a big 3d6 chart for starting XPs that puts most OD&D characters at 3rd or 4th level. Then each player got to roll under their level on a d6 to get a free potion and under their level on d20 to get a random magic item. The only player to get a free magic item rolled up a potion of fire resistance.

I should note here that making the characters was fun and exciting, but 20 minutes into the dungeon we had some late arrivals. I decided to turn them away, which pained me, but we had already spent a lot of time on chargen. Next year I'll bring some ready-to-go PCs, even though were making characters on the spot. Anyway, here's the party:

Sam, human cleric
Hirsuita, dwarf fighting woman
Glarnob, human cleric
George, human cleric
Prince Raspbeary Bere', elf magic-user
Fragg Da Kidd, halfling fighting man
Darb Kalb, elf fighting man
Zobar, human fighting man
Gryndehl, human cleric
Omar, human magic-user

Darb Kalb is a Gygaxian name if I ever heard one. He wouldn't be out of place adventuring beside Fonkin Hoddypeak or Gleep Wurp the Eyebiter.

Glarnob ended up with a lot of screen time because he had the highest strength in the party (a mighty 16!) and was thus the point man on opening doors. Funny thing is, I don't think you get a bonus to open doors under the original three books. But since I was rolling the open door checks, no one else knew that.

The scenario proposed to the party was that a mighty dragon had very recently been killed while out of its lair. Popular belief held that the lizard slept upon a huge pile of gold on the 4th level below the ruins of Xylarthen's Tower. So the party had been hastily organized to bum rush the dragon's hoard before it was claimed by other monsters or worse, another adventuring party. The players generally agreed that the whole of the party had been deep in their cups the night before when this plan was constructed.

Let me tell you just a bit about the dungeon under Xylarthen's Tower. I made use of the random dungeon mapping charts in the old Judges Guild book Ready Ref Sheets to layout the basics of each level. If you are an OD&D fan and don't have a copy of Ready Ref Sheets, trust me when I tell you that you want this booklet. I consider it one of the top three 3rd party supplements for OD&D. The dungeon generator is brief and in no way complete, much less so than the appendix in the 1st edition DMG. But it's also a lot faster than Uncle Gary's charts. I stocked the dungeon mostly using the random method describe in book 3 of the original game, with a few special rooms on each level that were not randomized.

I made 6 levels instead of just the four because this dungeon had a lot of inter-level flow and the party accidentally descending below the target level was a distinct possibility. You ever been in a big, multi-layer dungeon where each level only has a single stairway connecting it to the next level down? I hate that. Getting to level 4 was not supposed to be the hard part of the adventure. Defeating the two baby dragons that momma left behind was. But I'm getting ahead of myself now.

Like I said, getting to level 4 was supposed to be easy. Level one had a stairway down to level 2 that was guarded by an ogre, who worked for the hobgoblin queen. The party killed the ogre, but spiked the door to the stairs without ever opening it and then went on to explore other areas of the dungeon. And the room with the secret door leading to a ladder straight down to level 4? That was the one room on level 1 they didn't check for secret doors. Every other room in the dungeon both elves meticulously investigated. Finally, after the Prince charmed a gnoll they got directions to another staircase leading down to level three, and the nearest stairs from level 3 to 4. But not before exploring 90% of level 1 and burning through most of the time allocated for the session.

I should mention the mules. Four party members bought mules to help haul mountains of treasure out of the dungeon. George the Cleric basically spent the majority of the adventure tending to the mules. Since he had an extra language coming to him due to high Int, I offered that he could speak Mulish if the player so desired. The player jumped on that opportunity and her PC became known as the Mule Whisperer. Prince Raspbeary asked if he could speak Rattish and I agreed, knowing that one of the toughest encounters on level 1 was a large pack of giant rats capable of overrunning the party. When they stumbled upon the rat lair he forgot that he could parlay with the rodents. Thanks to the dice, the good Prince also ended up being the only PC infected with Rat Fever. Curing that cost the party 5000gp, coincidentally the exact value of the single most valuable piece of treasure they found in their first day in the dungeon. That left them with a few hundred silver and a few dozen GP to show for their efforts. Oh, and they were down a mule. It had the Rat Fever, too, and eventually it became too sick to move, so they abandoned it in the room with the poison gas.

Imagine a crack in the floor with the strange smells emanating from it combined with a skeleton that showed no signs of a violent death. I thought that would be enough to tip someone off that the room was unsafe. My key indicated that every turn spent in that room gave a non-cumulative 5% chance of a puff of gas seeping up that would require everyone to save or die. I think I rolled the dice 15 times as the party searched the skeleton, searched the room, and bless their souls they even spent a couple turns trying to make the crack wider. Thanks to their efforts I upped the chances of poisoning to 10% but still no random dungeon death. One player even pointed out the possibility of the smell being poisonous gas but no one paid any attention to him.

But as I said, eventually Gnolly, the Prince's new best friend, shows the party the fast way to level 4. Gnolly even tips off the party that the dragon on level four has a mate that lives on a lower level, so when the party finds the big, ominous Double Doors they go into SWAT mode. Potions of Giant Strength, Fire Resistance, and Flying are consumed. Prince Raspbeary thinks he's going to be clever and hands his Potion of Delusion to Gnolly. "Here's a potion of giant strength for you, too!" So I figure, hey, the poor bastard has to be pretty confident now. I declared that Gnolly tries to kick open the doors. He fails, and the noise wakes up the 2 kid dragons on the other side. So when they do finally get the door open half the party is immediately incinerated. Fragg Da Kidd decides to make a break for it, while the last three party members take on the dragons as best as they can. Hirsuita charges the dragons, but she and Glornab are taken down with a second blast of fire. Darb Kalb flies up to the ceiling of the room, but one of the dragons eventually eats him. Everyone but Fragg is dead at this point, at the end of the first full round of combat with the kiddy dragons.

Fragg had previously announced his attention to flee the dungeon completely and seek out a new party of adventurers to join. I've had a long-standing house rule about quick exits from dungeons: you have to roll at least one wandering monster check for each level traversed on the way out. I rolled that Fragg encountered a wandering monster on the first level. I let him throw the dice to determine his doom. He came up with a single Berserker. It took a few tense rounds, but some lucky rolls allowed the terribly burnt hobbit to overcome the axe-wielding maniac. Since we were 15 minutes from the closing time of the con, Fragg's player was declared the 'winner' of the expedition. Nearly everybody died, but nearly everybody left with a smile on their face. One player even made inquiries into getting his own copies of the original books.

One last note about mapping. I often draw a map for the players myself, but this time I decided to be Johnny Hardass. Not only did I indicate that I would not be mapping, but I pronounced that the mapper's character would be holding pen and parchment in the dungeon. Omar the Magic-User volunteered to tackle mapping. He was played by Dragonsfoot regular rogue attorney, one of the cooler dudes to hang out on that site. Gameblog reader skeleri was also in both my games. Infamous jum, were you also in the game? I knew you were at the con but I never put player and online identity together. Anyway, rogue attorney did an excellent job mapping, which only encourages me to be a bigger jerk about mapping in my regular games. Once the party was surprised by gnoll archers and Omar was hit twice and nearly killed. I declared a 2 in 6 chance that I would confiscate the player map because it was now ruined by bloodstains, but alas Omar made the roll.

So that's the short version of the knuckleheaded adventures of Sunday afternoon. The game went far to confirming my opinion that musty old OD&D still has great value not just out of a sense of nostalgia, but as a fun game in its own right. Next year I might try running for an even bigger group of players.


  1. Anonymous12:57 PM


    Thanks for the great game last Sunday. I had a blast. Look forward to doing it again next year.

    Don't know what we were thinking in bashing in the door to the dragons' lair. Just mentally spent after 3+ hours of dungeon delving, I guess.

    The poison gas is fantastic!!! I almost wish we HAD started dropping dead. Anything else we missed?

    You forgot to mention the illusionary flaming cats and funneling the holy water onto the ogre wight.

    See ya next year. And don't be a stranger on DF and K&K. If I'm ever back in Cham-Bana (which happens often) and have some gaming time (which hardly ever happens), I'll let you know.


  2. Yeah, I was with Skeleri. I meant to say hello and such before leaving, but I was pretty tired and we had a 3 hour drive ahead of us. And also our wives were waiting for us downstairs.

    That poison gas went completely over my head; because it was found while searching for secret doors I'm pretty sure we all thought we were meant to open it, and I'm pretty sure Skeleri thought it led to the dragon's lair. I didn't even notice the player who suggested it was poison gas. D'oh!

    As for the last surviving member of the party, that rocked. Heres this poor halfling, running for his life, when out pops a random berserker. Everyone was cheering him on, blow by blow, and even though we were all already dead it still felt like a party victory to me when he made it out alive.

    Anyway, thanks for running an awesome game! I'm hoping we'll make it out again next year a little earlier in the week so we're not all kinds of tired by Sunday.

  3. I was insanely surprised at how well you handled like, what, eleven or so players? Reading suggested party sizes of that magnitude in early modules always made me cringe. So that little brown book you kept referencing (the one with the mostly dead table) was that the Judges Guild supplement you were referring to?

  4. Anonymous7:13 PM

    Wow, that sounds like a lot of fun. A co-worker and I rolled up 1e characters at lunch last week, but we couldn't convince anyone to run a game for us. Alas, my half-orc fighter had to just sit there on his character sheet, destined to never do anything.

    - Mearls

  5. Excellent play by play! Very glad to hear your game had such a warm reception. I'm running my own OD&D game next week at a local con and am looking forward to it. By the by, how much of the session did chargen take you guys? I haven't decided to use pregens or use the route you took.

  6. steve: I don't think we spent much more than 30-45 minutes on chargen. I photocopied the equipment list and created a spell list handout, which speeded things along nicely.

    skeleri: The little brown book I was often referencing is entitled "Miscellaneous Modifications to Men & Magic". It's actually a little moleskine notebook were I scratch in my own interpretations of the OD&D system, house rules, and a handy chart compilation.

  7. The game was a blast. I do feel lousy about falling asleep - sorry about that! Guess a con weekend was too much for my convalescing self. Ah well, Hirsuita got to hit things with an axe, and that was my goal.

  8. Anonymous11:08 PM

    D&D has always been great for chargen compared to the various AD&D/d20 flavors. A couple of years ago (maybe three years, now ... how time flies) when I was turning on some of my current campaigners to gaming, I ran an upper-mid-level D&D game and we created 4 characters in about 45 minutes. The circumstances were:

    (A) Two of the players were utter, absolute RPG newbies.
    (B) We had only a single copy of the rules between us to pass around.
    (C) The characters averaged around 7th level depending on the XP breaks
    (D) Everyone was fully equipped, had full stocks of spells and spellbooks, plus a modest selection of magic items appropriate to their level.

    And that's starting from blank character sheets, no shortcuts, no prefab anything. We were using the Third Revised Edition (or, as some folks call 'em, the Boxes With the Larry Elmore Covers).

    It was also a truly kickass run that we still all talk about and remember fondly.

  9. Anonymous11:08 PM

    "Anonymous" is me, Sjohn. No sure what's up with Blogger lately.

  10. Anonymous11:09 PM

    Er, I should say that the immediately preceding anonymous is me. I'm not Chris/R.A./Omar or mearls, obviously :)

  11. Anonymous12:27 PM

    Awesome game report. I love reading about dungeon delves especially!

  12. I do feel lousy about falling asleep - sorry about that!

    Don't worry about it. I knew there would be folks like that when I signed up to run on the last day of the con.

  13. Anonymous2:41 PM


    You know my email. Send those maps or my 36th level Pit Fiend magic user will case "The Curse of Tindalos" on you.

    Consider it a trade for "house of the axe"!

    Good job keeping the flame alive.