Friday, January 2, 2015
Actual Play: Original D&D
The PCs started exploring a dungeon complex I am calling the Orichalcum Age Dungeon, which was built during the years before Atlantis sunk beneath the waves. Things went quickly from town to dungeon and (after distracting some giant rodents with rations) the PCs wound up talking to an NPC magic-user, who they eventually convinced to come with them on their trip. It was really interesting to play this out using the reaction tables, as the MU went from skeptical to accepting their offer. But when a PC accidentally walked through a teleportation trap, he wanted to leave him for lost, while the other PCs stayed loyal. They voluntarily went into the trap while the NPC left them behind. Following the dice always leads to an interesting dynamic. It's practically the first law of old school roleplaying.
On the other side of the teleport trap, the PCs eventually found and slept a group of bandits, only leaving the leader. They had him as a captive, but he turned the table; having a good HP total will do that for you. At one point in the ensuing fight, he managed to take one of the PCs hostage, which was an on the fly ruling I made when he had rolled a 20 to hit and would've instantly killed him. I like the interpretation that a 20 allows you to do max damage or any other maneuver you like, and in the future I think I'll leave it open for PCs. The hostage character wound up getting the sharp end of the dagger when the PCs threatened a slept bandit in return; the bandit leader didn't value his followers that much, after all.
Then there were Selenites. I used them in place of kobolds, figuring that as diminutive creatures and fairly weak they would have a similar role. The fun part was that the PCs chased them to a portal leading to a gray, featureless wasteland – the Moon, of course. This went to two principles I am working on with this dungeon. First, the idea that PCs shouldn't have to go deep in the dungeon to get to really interesting parts; second, the idea of replacing a lot of the generic monster crew with more interesting counterparts.
It being OD&D contributed greatly to the latter. I've gone back and forth over the issue of monster design, because OD&D has very few variables and correspondingly not a lot of design space to make monsters unique. But the flip side of this is that creating a new monster is just a question of changing one or two numbers from an existing monster. The referee can literally think up new monsters while stocking the dungeon. (Personally, my notes list armor class, movement rate and hit dice, so I can actually write up everything I need for a monster in my room notes.)
When comparing this to later iterations of D&D, the ease of inventing monsters on-the-fly for OD&D is an advantage that it's hard to overstate. The only things you have to spend any time thinking about are special abilities beyond basic d6 damage. Even in Metamorphosis Alpha I find design to be much more involved, while in B/X D&D it's a bit of a chore and in 5e it's such a maze I'm not sure I really want to think about it.
It's also interesting to notice patterns that people develop. Holmes and B/X make people throw tons of flaming oil; I ran with this strategy doing damage, although not as powerfully as in Holmes. Technically in a strict reading of OD&D, oil should just deter pursuit rather than doing damage, but I rolled with it for a session. Swords & Wizardry Whitebox also has players develop habits that are just wrong for by the book OD&D, for instance the whole idea of bonuses for a 13 stat other than Dexterity. And nobody turned over a character write-up for the game with the stats in OD&D order (Str Int Wis Con Dex Cha).
In my mind, this has always been an OD&D blog. Even though I think clones that go afield from what OD&D is are putting out really excellent material today and pushing the envelope in what D&D can do, the original game still has a very special place for me. Most of the time today was spent on the exploration game of OD&D, and I've always thought that is the game's real strength. None of that is to knock other editions, or the clones, but playing the original game always brings this home for me.