Swords & Wizardry Appreciation Day 2013 happened just a couple of days after I finally decided to download the core rules and start perusing. (That’ll teach me to not check in at Tenkar’s Tavern more often.) I’ve read through the free version of most of the OSR rulesets out there, but Swords & Wizardry was the one that finally caught me long enough to stick through the whole thing, cover to PDF cover. Matt Finch and his stalwart band did a fantastic job of sifting through 0e and its supplements, reorganizing and interpreting, and applying just the right amount of AD&D interpretation to smooth out the grain.
I’ve done a lot of reading and commenting during the past few years as the OSR has become a Big Thing in the interweb gaming world, but I’ve never actually run a game using anything more old-school than 2nd edition AD&D. That was the system that started me on tabletop, first in a brief fling at college and then more seriously with my spouse’s three-book set (though we weren’t married yet, and we also ran Mechwarrior 2e just as frequently). Since then, we’ve dallied in 3.5e before finally settling into a bastardization of Green Ronin’s excellent True20. When OSRIC was a brand-new thing, testing the Open Gaming License waters, I read it and proposed an old-school campaign to my spouse (because we had gotten married by that point), but she wasn’t interested at the time. We were in the early years of our home campaign – Season 2, almost certainly – so we were pretty focused on moving forward on the next major phase of the main project rather than starting a side game.
Now, though, we’ve just wrapped up the first half of Season 5, and I’ve been itching to run something different as an interlude. So I pitched S&W as a possibility and got a positive response. On to the drawing board!
Ever since the first time we visited the National Cathedral in Washington, DC, I’ve thought it would make a great adventure setting. I mean, just look at this PDF brochure. Comes with a map and everything. It reads more like a dungeon key than a self-guided tour. Just add some gridlines, stock it, and go. Which is what I did. And tonight we ran our first session.
Our intrepid heroes, rolled up a couple nights ago:
Bappin the Magic User and Peas the Fighter, played by my spouse;
Sadie the Cleric and Toddle the Thief, played by myself as DMPCs.
For simplicity’s sake, we presumed that the four were old friends who were looking to branch out into adventuring. I’m running the world using Petty Gods (PDF) as the supernatural influences, rather than a handful of major deities; considering the front-and-center nature of the gods in our primary campaign, I wanted to de-emphasize the divine here. This works fine with the old school cleric, who gets no spells at first level – in this world, she has to find a patron to provide her spells first. I’m also using some of Wayne R.’s ideas about the dungeon as underworld, perhaps best summed up in this post about statues, which in turn illuminates the concept as a greater whole. In this application, I’ve taken it a bit further and stated that where humans (and dwarves, and elves, and hobbits) change the world, there’s an almost Newtonian counterforce of underworldliness which creeps up to corrupt the altered places. So not only will, say, the sewers of a city invite dungeonesque growth, but a forest which is clear-cut and then allowed to regrow might grow back mean. A ghost town might not be called that out of simile alone.
So the lord of the local manor, Sir Rath the Clean, let it be known that he’s looking for a few good people to fling themselves at whatever’s inhabiting the old temple. It used to venerate six of the local gods, but when the big bridge over the river gorge washed out, it fell into disuse. Our heroes went to the manor to take up the challenge (and get a few meat pies from the kitchen).
The trip to the temple was uneventful. At the temple grounds the crew investigated the herbalist’s cottage – probably not as abandoned as it looked, since they heard scuffling inside; they decided to leave it alone. They moved on to the temple itself, where they discovered goblins posted outside the main doors. Bappin the M-U hailed them in their own tongue (she gets 5 bonus languages, so we’re just rolling her learn spell percentage every time she runs across a new one to see if it’s one she already knows). When asked what her business was, she was quite open about what the party had been asked to accomplish. But she handwaved all that messy business aside and instead challenged the goblins to a game of dice to see who got to sleep inside the temple that evening. One of the goblins accepted (hey, she’s charismatic), failed, and went off to start finding a nice place to sleep in the woods. In the process, the party learned that there were at least thirty goblins in the cathedral, so a frontal assault was out.
While Bappin chatted up the other goblin on guard duty, Peas the fighter went around to the side entrance. He doesn’t speak goblin, and he’s rather short on Wisdom at the moment, so he spent his time comparing methods of counting on one’s fingers as the goblin guard threatened him with a short sword while the other guard ran inside to raise the alarm. “Ich, ick, icki, ickipa…” counted the goblin threateningly. When he got down to zero, the goblin just stabbed. First combat of the game: gob wins initiative and proceeds to roll a 20. I decided to give poor Peas a break and just roll the damage twice instead of doubling it. What’d I roll? 7 total. How many HP does poor Peas have? 7. He yelled “OW!” and went down bleeding. Sadie the cleric immediately ran off to his aid.
In the meantime, Bappin got more information. There was someone in charge of the goblins, but his nature was uncertain. Bappin decided diplomacy was the order of the day. She wrote a note in the most flowery application of the goblins’ written language (I’m treating it as corrupted dwarvish), possibly inventing new grammar to allow for such comely phraseology, describing Sir Rath’s desires and offering a negotiation. In the meantime, the alarm guard from Peas’s scene came rushing out. “You better tie her up,” he said to the chatty goblin before dashing back inside. Bappin, putting on a crestfallen face about not being able to challenge the remaining few dozen goblins for the right to sleep inside, said the party would just sleep in the woods instead of sticking around and getting tied up. She convinced the guard to take her note to his leader, and she and Toddle the thief went to assist Sadie in dragging Peas off for bandaging.
That night, a lone goblin came to deliver a message to the party during Bappin’s watch. The leader was extending an invitation for an audience. Bappin agreed to come, waking Toddle to let him know where she would be. “If I’m not back by dawn, I’m probably dead,” she said cheerfully before following the goblin into the night.
She was led down into the undercroft of the cathedral and into the presence of a grey-skinned man with red eyes. She reiterated what Sir Rath wanted, and the creature offered to double her pay if she would leave and tell Rath that clearing out the temple was impossible. Bappin had no problem with this offer (which sort of surprised me, something I always like). “And just put this warestone in his audience chamber,” he said. But Bappin wasn’t going to do that unless the grey man told her how the stone worked. Now the creature understood that Bappin was a magic-user. He offered a new deal: instead of the warestone, he’d teach Bappin a thing or two about magic, and he’d trust Bappin to keep him informed if she learned of any preparations to march on the cathedral. She accepted. It was agreed that she would write a note to her companions letting them know that she would be out at dawn. She only asked for her new patron’s name; he gave it as “Manes”. She spent the night in study with him and emerged having added a new spell to her book (Detect Magic, to join with Magic Missile and Sleep). Manes made sure to note that their deal was a relationship, and the terms of it might evolve over time to cover more than just Sir Rath’s intentions toward the temple.
So they returned to Rath’s manor and broke the bad news. “There are at least three dozen of the most horrifying monsters there,” Bappin asserted. “A single blow from one of them reduced sturdy Peas to unconsciousness. It was all we could do to escape!” The deflated knight gave them a portion of the promised money as payment for their scouting duty. Bappin was quick to reiterate how wounded Peas was, and Rath threw in a little extra for his care. She’s a real mercenary, that one. Rath requested that they go to the next manor over, the home of Lady Thriste, in order to invite her to come over to his place to discuss the matter. They agreed, and the session closed.
So rather than a sneak-and-smash dungeon crawl like I was expecting, this turned into a much more interesting encounter with farther-reaching consequences. I’m looking forward to what happens on the road to Lady Thriste’s manor. 🙂