Whew! I’m still recovering from four days spent in sunny Morristown, NJ at DexCon XIII. Joe Bloch over at Greyhawk Grognard assembled an elite team of DMs—him, me and Rich McKee—to run old-school games, creating a gaming track with the delightful name of “Invasion of the Grognards.”
The convention space, at the Morristown Hyatt, was pleasant and spacious, and Raul’s Empanadas down the street makes a mean empanada (surprise!). But that’s not what you’re here to read about, gentle readers! So, D&D:
I’d scheduled four sessions of play in my home megadungeon, the Chateau d’Ambreville, to provide a slice of actual old-school dungeon delving. I was a bit nervous; much of the fun of the dungeon crawl comes from being invested in the long-term development of one’s character and party. Would convention-goers enjoy the game without that attachment? (The answer turned out to be a definite yes. Read on!)
Thursday was slow; few people had shown up to the convention at that point, and the halls were all but empty. The sign-up sheets for my games were likewise almost empty, with four players spread across four sessions!
Only one person showed up for my first session. Not wanting to turn a player away, I let him roll up three characters and pick a destination. He chose the Keep on the Borderlands. Hearing from the locals that a party of adventurers had just visited the Caves of Chaos and trounced a tribe of orcs, his party went to the Caves… where they entered the cave that the PCs in my home game had just cleared of orcs. Instead of moving on to a more fruitful cave, he spent the next hour turning over corpses and searching rooms that had been picked clean.
This would prove to be a theme for the rest of the convention.
Thursday evening was spent as a player, roaming through the Castle of the Mad Archmage. The adventure was fun but frustrating, as teleport rooms confounded my mapping efforts and much of the party seemed bound and determined to get us all killed in entertaining ways. The characters were pre-gens, which saved valuable time from being spent on chargen but made it a bit harder to engage with the game.
Friday brought in more people wandering the halls and signing up for game sessions. Five players turned up for my afternoon game, including a father and his preteen son (player of the infamous “X the Dwarf”). The party headed up to the Chateau d’Ambreville, but decided the place was too dangerous to enter! Instead, they explored the Chateau’s infamous watchtower—long since stripped of valuables by prior adventurers—then went on to visit the ruins of Ambreville town, where they were encircled by undead and only barely cut their way out. They had fun despite only acquiring three copper pieces: a sure sign of success!
Despite my fears, no one had any problems with jumping right into the old-school dungeon delving mindset. There was no need for a grand mission; the quest for gold and magic was enough! Presumably some element of self-selection was in effect, as the adventure description was clear and straightforward in this regard. As to character creation, it went quickly, even accounting for house rules—especially coming up with special abilities for each character. More time was spent on buying equipment than anything else! The main bottleneck was a lack of rulebooks; I should have printed out copies of the relevant material beforehand.
For the evening, I played Shock: Social Science Fiction, one of those wacky new-school games that the kids are talking about. Despite only getting about a third of the way through the game due to time constraints and a surfeit of players, it was absolutely brilliant. We sketched out an entire setting in the first hour: far-future transhuman Earth academics visiting a lost colony where hunter-gatherers with elaborate marriage rituals are at risk of occupation by ore-hungry technocrats. The remaining three hours were packed with drama, largely centering around the technocrats’ discovery that according to the arbitrary measures of genetic “fitness” that defined their caste system, the hunter-gatherers would automatically be placed in the ruling caste if they were to be conquered and assimilated as planned.
Mind you, not only isn’t Shock an old-school game, it’s hardly a role-playing game at all. It would be better to describe it as a story game—that is, a game for creating stories. If that’s your bag, I can’t recommend it highly enough. If you’re looking to play a character and get into his or her head-space, though, it won’t give you what you want.
Next post: Saturday!