Excited by the OSR (Old School Renaissance), and thrilled by the awesomeness that is Adventurer Conqueror King, I’ve decided to run a campaign in the ‘old school’ vein. I intend to run this as a ‘hard core’ style of game, by which I mean, the dice will fall where they may, I have little to no ‘story’ planned out, henchmen are integral to success as is ‘player skill’, etc. etc.
For those of you unfamiliar with what I’m talking about, basically there is a fairly major divide between people who like older versions of Dungeons and Dragons and those who play newer versions. I’m perfectly happy to play both styles, though I’ll admit, I’m finding a preference for many of the elements of the older style these days (mostly because I appreciate running 3-4 combats in an hour and some roleplay rather than being only halfway finished with one combat). All of the comments I make above are based on the major perceived differences between newer and older play styles (as I’ve come to understand them anyway).
Humm… maybe I have another post here. Anyway…
Long and short, I’m running a new game, set thousands of years in the past of my setting, in a darker, more ‘sword and sorcery’ version of the world (ala Conan).
Since I’m going ‘back to basics’ on this campaign, I’ve decided to go back to the beginning. Dusting off perhaps the most well-known module in D&D history, B2 The Keep on the Borderlands.
The story opened with three PCs making their way to Restwell Keep, the aforementioned keep on the borderlands. This is the far eastern edge of the empire. Beyond it lies a benighted wilderness of barbarians and monsters. But the keep is in constant need of mercenaries and those willing to risk their lives for glory and fortune. The empire cannot afford to send enough troops to properly garrison the keep, so the Prefect Adronius Mellacus encourages mercs and adventurers to come and make preemptive strikes on the monsters that lurk in the wilds.
A group of adventurers found their way to Restwell having heard the legends of wealth and danger. They included Kenan-Tal, a hick priest of Talia, a compassionate healer with absolutely zero social skills; Arakhe Kahn Cursyrd, a bladedancer dedicated to the god/goddess Sethi; and Lucian, a Tryshallan Nightblade, trained in the temples of Dakanan to dispense justice to the followers of Chaos.
This is one of the things I love about my player’s interaction with my world. In almost all the previous campaigns, Tryshallan have had very little to do with Law (with a couple of notable exceptions). The background of the race that has come out of the various campaigns has them closely associated with either Balance or Chaos. Now, I’d thrown in the idea that the Tryshallan in this time period were subjugated by the empire, but I’d not really thought about it beyond that. My player (who has played in one of my modern campaigns as a Chaos worshipping Tryshallan) came up with the ‘assassin’s for god’ concept off his own back.
And lo, did such things come to pass in my world.
Throughout the various campaigns I’ve run, players have added so much fantastic detail, things that have kept me on my toes while invigorating the world itself. I love that about gaming.
So the group got the lay of the land and talked to a few people. Kenan-Tal met up with Vallerend Iridius, the Curate of Dakanan in Restwell Keep, asking if he could serve the older priest in exchange for lodging (the player had spent all his PC’s money on armor and weapons and barely had a silver to spare for a bunk). The other two went to the bar where they met some potential henchmen. After wining and dining them, they ended up with Havelock and Guido, two ex-legionaries willing to venture into the wilds with them.
They heard the rumor that to the east there was a warren of tunnels that hid a large collection of Chaos tribes that often gave the keep problems. So, at first light, they set off. Kenan-Tal had helped a legless beggar and thereby learned the cryptic warning of not going into the caves furthest from the entrance to the valley.
A slow and cautious investigation of the first cave mouth rewarded them almost immediately. A group of Goblins were drinking and talking around a table. They had weapons on hand and appeared to be some kind of guard group that was simply not doing very well (the party got surprise on them). The Tryshallan could see them (even though Elves don’t have Infravision in ACKS, I give it back to them and to dwarves both) and hissed a warning to his companions. They barreled into the midst of the surprised Goblins and put them down with arrows and spears.
This is where I discovered something interesting about ‘old school’ play. In later iterations of D&D, surprising a group of opponents would normally be impossible. Thanks to armor penalties and the fact that everyone has to roll stealth or sneak or whatever, it just never happens (without some kind of magic that is). Monsters can ambush players, but players can’t really do it the other way around. That kind of sucks and doesn’t fit the fiction (or reality) that allows for heroes to catch opponents off guard. But the surprise mechanic in the older versions of D&D is very straight forward and not subject to many modifiers… 1 or 2 on a d6 and a group is taken unawares (ACKS includes some variance for creatures that are actively on guard versus those that are distracted, and the occasional ‘sneaky’ character type, but at the least you have that).
This rule has come to the player’s aid numerous times so far. The various encounters they’ve had have been invariably in their favor because of lucky die rolls on their part (or poor ones on mine). After killing the goblins, they managed to triage one (who was still dying but briefly conscious) and Lucian (the only one who could understand it) interrogated it. The goblin was terrified, both of death and of the Tryshallan holding it, thanks to the ancient relationship between goblins and Tryshallan. It begged and whined, and answered every question he put to it. Luckily, the compassionate cleric of Talia couldn’t understand it’s cries of torment. When Lucian learned all he thought he could, he ‘helped’ the goblin with a quick thrust to the heart.
The party continued onward, surprising a second group of goblins. These died much like the first, though not quickly enough to give out warning cries. They were loud enough that the second group of goblin guards heard and tossed a bag of gold to an ogre in an adjoining cave. Now, I kind of screwed up with the ogre. I’ve established what ogres are previously in my world, and they aren’t the oafish things depicted in D&D (much closer to the beautiful human cannibals in Runequest) but I forgot to amend this. So in my head, the ‘ogre’ was just either some small giant or a human truly warped by chaos.
Anyway, the guards and the ogre came marching out to meet the PCs. This was when I was reminded why low-level wizards ‘ruin’ d6 encounters per day… the Sleep spell. No save. No nothing. Just wham and down went the ogre thanks to the Tryshallan’s magic. The party then mopped up what was left of the opposition.
By this point, Arakhe had taken several injuries and was in danger of passing out from blood loss. They searched the ogre’s cave and took his treasure then fled back to the safety of the keep.
It was a good session and I’m really pleased how well the game worked. I’d forgotten so much about old school D&D and I’d not had the chance to play ACKS, so I was quite happy to see how well it all played. I’m pretty sure the players enjoyed it as well.