Monday, December 20, 2010

Swords & Wizardry White Box game report

Well, I guess I'm one step closer to being a complete and "official" member of the Old School Renaissance. At least that is my opinion. I felt like I was just on the edge of the OSR chasm. I have PDFs of Labyrinth Lord, Mutant Future, and Swords & Wizardry. I own the Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Role Playing box set and the Swords & Wizardry White Box box set. I've played convention games of LotFP and Labyrinth Lord convention games. I'm playing in two Labyrinth Lord campaigns at GASP Games Day. I write about OSR games, at least occasionally, on this blog. Off the top of my head, I can come up with 3 major gaps in my participation in the OSR. I needed to DM a game, design a mega-dungeon and publish something....anything...for someone else to use at their table.

Sunday evening I DMed/Refereed my first OSR game, checking one of my gaps off the list. We used Swords & Wizardry White Box. I selected White Box for a couple reasons. First, I had ordered the third printing of the S&W White Box from Brave Halfling and wanted to try it out. I hadn't played any of the S&W flavors and this seemed like as good of an opportunity as any. Second, I was looking for something rules-light. I was going to have 7 people around the table. Only two of them had played any of the retro-clone games. Three of the players had very limited experience with table top RPGs. The last two are more familiar with the more modern flavors of D&D. I wanted this to play as sort of a "beer & pretzels" style RPG. I figured it was unlikely that most of them would actually read the rule book (a correct assumption, from what I can tell). I wanted something where the players are open to "try anything" and I could make a ruling without having to check through a million rules. Finally, I just wanted to run one of them funky OSR games. I've been reading the blogs and buying/downloading some of the product, so I just need to check it out first hand.

I got together with the players and we rolled up characters. 3d6 straight for the stats. They then picked class, based on those rolls. I did let them start with max hit points at level one, because I was kind of nervous about how deadly the dungeon might be. As it turns out, it was plenty deadly...more on that later.

The Characters / Players -- 
Logthark the Oxford - Magic User, played by Ed
Meruus - Cleric, played by Brad replaced by Teruus, Cleric
"Dutch" Elmsplitter - Dwarf, played by Allen
Arum Vulgare - Cleric, played by Gina
Lorch - Magic User, played by Ben
Filthy - Halfling, played by Dave replaced by ???, ???
Angus Longshank - Fighter, played by Curt

Play Report
The party had left their home land of Syrtaff many days ago, traveling to Moseen. There are many rumors of great treasures in the hills and mountains of Moseen. Unfortunately, very few who travel to the region seemed to ever return to Syrtaff. They must have found their fortune and were living like kings....right?

The party consists of the seven listed about, plus a few other adventurers (OOC -- potential PCs in the case of character death), a torchbearer named Rais (NPC), two mules, and their handler (NPC). 

The journey to Moseen has been tough, and, in truth, more than the party bargained for. The weather has been uncooperative and the maps have been inaccurate, to say the least. They were running short on supplies, and from the look of the storms on the horizon, in dire need of some solid shelter for the evening. As luck would have it, the party has spotted an ancient outpost on the crest of a hill in the distance and hastily made their way towards it.

After arriving at the the outpost, they discovered the upper levels mostly abandoned, but there were a few signs of recent activity, particularly a couple of underfed wolves held in the stables. Surviving the wolf attack, and few other tricks and traps (included a chest that left Filthy and Logthark temporarily blinded), the party was able to find a couple passage ways into deeper levels. 

Meruus was not quite so lucky in the second combat of the session, as he was swarmed by giant rats. After just a couple well placed bites, the young cleric was bleeding out. The party called for his brother, Teruus, but alas, it was too late. The priest had passed on...Teruus took up his holy symbol and joined the party. 

After discovering another secret passage that led to an even lower level, the party came across 4 goblins guarding a hallway. Unfortunately, where there are 4 goblins, there are often more goblins in waiting. 12 additional goblins poured out of nearby rooms to join the battle. Lorch was able to charm one of the creatures and Logthark put many of the others to sleep. Again, unfortunately, the brave little (and scummy) halfling was still surrounding, and eventually cut down, by the monsters. 

At this point, we called it a night. There is still much to explore in the dungeons below the outpost, but that is another story for another time.

I was using the module The Outpost on the Edge of the Far Reaches, which I found online. I liked that it was a nice generic dungeon with a nice variety of monsters and treasures. I wrote up a few notes, but kept the intro as short as possible. I wanted to imply a bit of setting without spending any time developing it. I was presenting the game as a one-shot, with the potential for future adventures, so I didn't want to put too much into back story. I think what I came up with leaves the game open enough for sandbox style adventuring for the future.

As I expected, combat was quite deadly. Meruus the Cleric dropped dead after two rat bites in the second fight. Filthy the halfling was felled by a pair of goblins with short swords. Even with max hit points at first level (6 or 7 depending on class), a single swipe from a sword was enough to kill a character. I had a few characters I had created to practice rolling up, so Meruus dubbed my example cleric Teruus, and decided he was his twin brother. We wrapped the game after Filthy died, so I'm not sure what Dave is going to do for the next session.

The players took to the abstract combat and d6 based initiative pretty well. A couple of the players said they preferred it to the more concrete tactical combat of 3rd/4th edition. They felt that the cinematic quality was much more in line with the rest of the game, rather than feeling like a tactical wargame with some RP stuff tacked on to it. In general, I tried my hardest to present information about a room and let them go at it. Sometimes that was pretty challenging. There is a balance between providing enough information to pique a players interest and just giving everything away. I think learning that balance will come with more practice.

I was curious to see how players handled some of the standard "let the thief/rogue find the trap/pick the lock" type things, since I was running with just the 6 basic class/race options. It worked pretty well. I ruled some doors/locks could be pried open with a crowbar or bashed down and others would just require a key (or the discovery of another, possibly secret, entrance). The players seemed to accept that and there were no arguments.

The thing I found most challenging was being descriptive enough with the rooms. The players were doing their own mapping. Some of them clearly didn't care and were just bouncing from room to room. Others wanted to get it documented. Again, finding the balance was a challenge, but I think we will be able to overcome those challenges with more practice/experience.

Everyone was pretty excited about the session and wanted to continue, so I'll be scheduling another game in the near future. I think the set-up I have so far will allow for fairly casual play which should be fun for all involved. I'm excited to see where this all goes. I'll definitely keep the blog updated with additional updates.


  1. Since people seemed excited I think its safe to say you succeeded at running the game. Congrats.

    The issue Ive run into with describing a rooms contents (besides not enough practice) is the fact with OSR games and people who are getting in the OSR groove, the players will USE whatever you describe. If you mention a table you have to be ready for someone to jump on, roll under or just plain shove the table. This affects what you put in rooms and how much you describe the rooms. On the other hand though, describing odd things that dont have definite causes or stories can spin off whole side adventures to find the meaning if the players take an interest.

    Good job on easing some new players into the hobby and showing some modern players that there are reasons people still play classic games.

  2. I'm fine with them messing with mundane stuff for hours, trying to discern it's "purpose". That kind of stuff cracks me up. I really had a much harder time describing the rooms so they could keep their maps accurate. It will probably get easier as I do it more often.