Friday, December 19, 2014

Quattro con Carnage - Session 1 - Behind the Schemes

Taking my Cypher Players Back in Time

When I first cooked up this crazy, 4-in-1 campaign idea, I was torn on whether or not to create a brand new group of players or drag one of my current groups through the romp.  Considering that my free time around the holidays would allow me to be a bit more experimental, I chose the latter option because it was quicker, and enlisted the help and support of four of my regular Cypher System players.  So my pals Jeremy, Andy, and Marc, from my most recent Another Sun Rises campaign, and Craig from Numenera: Tales of the Broken Mask, rose to the challenge and agreed to roll up their brand new shiny Basic Fantasy RPG characters.  

Although generally confident in my GM'ing and campaign design, I was a little nervous of how the experiment would play out.  

Of my crew of four, only two (Craig and Andy) had played OSR games with me before: Basic Fantasy RPG and Adventure in the East Mark.  But virtually all of the sessions were one-shots.  My other two players and I have been involved almost strictly in the Cypher System and a little Savage Worlds.  Going from Numenera all the way back to the early 80's was going to be a big change for this group.  

But by Tuesday evening, 8:45 pm, we were at the point of no return!  

If you want to read the results before moving on to the soft underbelly of the session design, here's the link to the full play report.

Jim's Rules for New OSR Players

To get my players in the zone for this campaign I first wanted to give them a brief set of tips for helping them translate (to use a term from The Strange) back to the Old School Renaissance style of play.  This is what I shared:

  1. You are low-level… act like it:  Unlike other role-playing games, there is a lot of risk for a low-level group of adventurers, and even 3rd level player characters are at a serious risk of death and dismemberment from the most simple of enemies.  Two hits from an Orc can take out your trusty Fighter!
  2. Caution is always the best defense:  Traps, monsters, and terrible magicks lurk in every corner of the adventure, so always be on the lookout.  Barging into a room without checking can cost you valuable resources very quickly.  Slow down, this isn't Pathfinder!
  3. Conserve your hit points, ammo, and spells:  A 3rd level adventurer probably only has an average of about 12 hit points.  Strength limits carrying capacity, and thus the arrows and bolts you can carry.  Vancian magic means you forget a spell after you cast it.  Keep this all in mind before you spend that resource.  
  4. In non-combat situations, rolling dice is a last resort:  Probably my most important rule.  AD&D 2nd Edition had proficiencies, and 3rd Edition had skills, but in basic Dungeons & Dragons these didn't exist.  Try to role-play these situations instead of just rolling dice.  Don't enter a room and ask for a "perception check", rather, listen to the GM's description and then ask questions.  If the GM mentions a carpet, and you would typically roll a "search check", ask to lift up the carpet.  If you want to talk to the bartender and gather information, tell the GM what you are saying exactly and be descriptive.  
  5. Describe your actions with detail:  If you are going to do something that may require a roll, such as some kind of surprise attack or use of a thieves' skill, describe your action in detail beforehand.  Maybe this will lead to a benefit or modifier to the score.  Creative description always improves the game.  
  6. Use equipment whenever possible:  A lot of your tools are the exact solutions to the problems you are facing.  Carrying around a 10' poll doesn't give you a bonus to perception, searching, or spotting.  It will actually set off the damned trap for you!  
  7. Don't be afraid of hiring NPC's:  Death comes quickly and easily in OSR games, especially the OD&D retro-clones, so why not bring on some cannon fodder!  Always be on the lookout for someone who will take a hit for you.  
  8. Encounter balance does not exist:  In 3rd and 4th Edition D&D there were great charts that helped plot out proper encounters for player characters by level.  In basic D&D, even though its obvious that a group of 3rd level characters shouldn't face a trio of green dragons, there really was no handy-dandy chart (that I know of) that mathematically generates proper XP levels.  In other words, don't expect that the game master has placed a group of monsters perfectly designed to give your party a survivable challenge.  

First Feedback

At the end of our session I asked the players for a little feedback on game-play in Basic Fantasy RPG.  This is what I got:

Jeremy shared, "I enjoyed it more than I expected," but asserted that he was definitely used to having more flavor directly injected into the characters at the point of design.  "Since there wasn't anything, I was expecting [Umbrin] to come off as pretty vanilla."  There was a little disappointment with his attack modifier however, as Jeremy's character, the human fighter, only had a 14 strength.  "Makes me said that I have the same attack bonus as everyone else in the group," he said.  

During the week leading up to the start of the campaign, Andy brought up some of his issues with the Basic Fantasy RPG core book.  On many of these I have to agree.  The layout is certainly a challenge, with certain charts necessary for character generation, like base attack and saving throws, being located in totally different sections.  But when it came to the game play "Its a whole lot better than creating characters!" Andy said.  "I like it, it is a lot of role-playing."  Andy did point out that a lot of the game was getting made up on the fly by me, the game-master, which I do have to admit is completely true.  If I didn't know a rule right then and there, I'd often tell the players to roll a d6 and we'd figure out what it meant.  Quick and dirty method, perhaps, to keep the game going.  

Marc's comments had more to do with his character's role in the party.  "Playing the lawful cleric is a challenge.  Everything I do, I feel like I'm pulling teeth just to get the other player characters to go along."  I agree with Marc, who plays Lomman much like an AD&D 2nd Edition Paladin, and he was lucky that there aren't any chaotic party members!  It will be interesting to watch the dynamic between the virtuous and valorous Lomman and his three party members: a halfling gangster, a "greed-is-good" mercenary, and a dark and brooding elven spell caster.  

Coming Soon

I think our group did pretty well with their first adventure in Basic Fantasy RPG, and I'm very excited to continue our campaign.  This upcoming Tuesday we will finish the current quest, the Fountain of Health, and begin our transition to Dungeon Crawl Classics.  I'm going to wait until the next Behind the Schemes to talk about adventure design, so that I don't give any spoilers!  

Miss a Quattro con Carnage Post?  

All of the fun so far:

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