Monday, December 30, 2019

Super-Casual Pulp Campaign

Bird #1: I want to try out my B/X/RC bridge rules.
Bird #2: I want to play a bunch of old D&D adventures that I've been curious about.
Bird #3: I want to start a second campaign so that more of my friends can play RPGs with me, and so I can get some new acquaintances into RPGs, and so I can just play more games, for Crom's sake!
The Killing Stone: I'm going to run a super chill, laid back, extra casual game of Basic D&D every other week, and it's going to be pulpier than an orange juice spill in a paper factory, and it's going to have more modules than the ISS, and it's gonna make me Professor Karate Dragon because I'll be teaching folks how to kick it old school. Here's the syllabus:

Adventures at Sane Levels
MSOLO1 Blizzard Pass - Levels 1-3
B4 The Lost City - Levels 1-3
B7 Rahasia - Levels 2-3
JG0102 The Caverns of Thracia - Levels 2-6 (or maybe 2-4?)
B10 Night's Dark Terror - Levels 2-4
X2 Castle Amber - Levels 3-6
MSOLO2 Maze of the Riddling Minotaur - Levels 1-10
X1 The Isle of Dread - Levels 3-7
I1 Dwellers of the Forbidden City* - Levels 4-7
ST1 Up the Garden Path - Levels 4-7**
C1 The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan* - Levels 5-7
X8 Drums on Fire Mountain - Levels 5-8
X4 Master of the Desert Nomads - Levels 6-9
X5 Temple of Death - Levels 6-10
S2 White Plume Mountain* - Levels 5-10
WG4 The Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun* - Levels 5-10
S4 The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth* - Levels 6-10
I8 Ravager of Time* - Levels 8-10
JG0088 Dark Tower* - Levels 7-11
S3 Expedition to the Barrier Peaks* - Levels 8-12
X7 The War Rafts of Kron - Levels 9-12
DA1 Adventures in Blackmoor - Levels 10-14
DA2 Temple of the Frog - Levels 10-14
DA3 City of the Gods - Levels 10-14
DA4 The Duchy of Ten - Levels 10-14
S1 Tomb of Horrors* - Levels 10-14

New Game + (AKA "They've Gone to Plaid!")
CM2 Death's Ride - Levels 15-20
CM8 The Endless Stair - Levels 15-20
CM6 Where Chaos Reigns - Levels 17-19
CM4 Earthshaker! - Levels 18-20
WG6 Isle of the Ape* - Levels 18+
M5 Talons of Night - Levels 20-25
M1 Into the Maelstrom - Levels 25-30
M2 Vengeance of Alphaks - Levels 28-32
M4 Five Coins for a Kingdom - Levels 28-32
M3 Twilight Calling - Levels 30-35
And then on to immortality?

*AD&D Module
**This one is super rare, so if I can't find a PDF, I might run a UK-series AD&D module here instead.

Potential House Rules
I'm not 100% sold on all of these yet, so I'll talk with my players about it when the campaign starts.
  • I'm definitely using my B/X + RC Reference Sheet.
  • I'm definitely ignoring the optional rule that wielders of two-handed weapons always lose initiative.
  • Page B19 states that PCs must rest for one turn after every five turns of movement. Does anyone actually follow this rule? I'm ignoring it.
  • One could interpret the rules on page B21 to imply that all dungeon doors are "stuck" and can only be opened with a d6 roll modified by strength. (This is the default rule in OD&D, right?) If this is the intention, I'm probably going to ignore it anyway and only require "open door" rolls for doors that are either locked (which can also be unlocked by a Thief, the proper key, etc.) or specifically noted in an adventure as being stuck. I think my approach is shared by the 1983 Basic Set and AD&D 1E, but please let me know if I'm wrong.
    • Alternatively, I might decide that "open door" rolls are not required for opening normal dungeon doors at all, but rather for bashing them open quickly and smoothly enough for the normal possibility of surprising enemies on the other side to apply. If the roll is failed, there is simply no chance of surprising anyone on the other side. For locked doors, I would say that opening it with the proper key or having a thief pick the lock would similarly allow the normal surprise chance, but if one bashes the door open (assuming this is even possible with a locked door, which might not be the case) there would be no possibility of surprising those on the other side.
  • Players don't have to roll for HP. They can just take the maximum possible amount each level.
  • I might combine the Fighter and Thief classes into a single class, as I've discussed before. If I do this, then for the sake of simplicity I'll probably still just call them Fighters, and they'll have the same HD and experience table and saving throws and such. They'll just be able to use Thief skills and special abilities as a Thief of the same level, provided they don't have any armor equipped that a Thief couldn't use (including shields) and that they're not greatly encumbered. (And I'm flexible on encumbrance - see below.) As for name-level antics, each Fighter can choose either to build a castle and attract the usual followers, or to build a hideout and attract followers as a Thief. Finally, this pseudo-multiclass thing will probably only apply to PCs and retainers. Most NPCs with Fighter or Thief levels can behave as usual. "Monsters" don't have to follow the same rules as PCs.
  • Isn't encumbrance listed as optional in B/X? This is a Super Casual (TM) campaign, so I'll probably ignore encumbrance. Feel free to leave angry comments below.
  • For generating ability scores, I'm probably going to use one of the two methods listed on page 130 of the Rules Cyclopedia. Yes, for all PCs, even at first level. Angry comments below.
  • I'm going to start the campaign with the default rule that 0 HP=death. However, if that eventually gets old due to high attrition, I'd be willing to use the "Keeping Characters Alive" variant rule from page 266 of the Rules Cyclopedia.
  • I'm probably going to include something like "checkpoint levels", but it'll be "checkpoint amounts of XP" instead, since different classes have different XP tables and players won't necessarily play the same class all the time. I'll probably base it on the Fighter's XP table. As for brand new players joining the campaign at a later time, their characters will most likely start 2 levels below the least experienced living PC.
  • As far as I'm concerned, the number of spells that can fit in a character's spellbook is essentially unlimited, as per the Rules Cyclopedia. Spells can be copied from a scroll or another Magic-User's spellbook into your own spellbook, and you can research spells, so you can theoretically collect 'em all.†
  • I'm going to use one or both of the house rules mentioned in THIS POST. (Warning: Contains harsh language!)
  • If you want to play a Mystic from the Rules Cyclopedia, or a class from one of the Gazetteers or Creature Crucibles or other official Basic D&D books, I'm cool with it. If you want to play a class you found on a blog or something, I'll probably allow it, but run it by me first, please.
  • If there's a rule or something in the Rules Cyclopedia or another supplement you'd like to try out, feel free to ask me about it.
Possible Links Between Adventures
This is all subject to change based on the actions and requests of the players, of course. I'm just spitballing.

In true "patchwork map" fashion, the party members descend from the snowy mountains of Blizzard Pass to a vast desert, home of the pyramid from The Lost City. Battered by sandstorms, they seek refuge in the pyramid and come into conflict with the evil Zargon. Below is the titular city of Cynidicea, currently thrown into turmoil by the kidnapping of princess Rahasia. Beneath Cynidicea are the even more ancient Caverns of Thracia, said to be magically sealed off from the city by the power of the Black Opal Eye. Perhaps the Thracian ruins hold the secret to ensuring that Zargon never returns?

If Zargon is defeated for good, the adventurers are given an opportunity to make a vast fortune in the Grand Duchy of Karameikos as Cynidicean ambassadors, but their plan is interrupted by Night's Dark Terror. One thing leads to another, and they end up making their way to a hidden valley which houses a secret portal to mist-veiled Castle Amber. Should the players find a way to return to their own world, this method of interdimensional travel could conveniently deposit them on the island of Vacros from Maze of the Riddling Minotaur. If the players procure a ship, they could travel to The Isle of Dread and/or Teki-Nura-Ria from Drums on Fire Mountain, either of which could be modified to include Dwellers of the Forbidden City and The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan. Some uncharted corner of the Sea of Dread could easily contain another interdimensional portal as well, this time leading to a certain "Paradoxical Garden Festival Anomaly".

Should the players return to the mainland, news of whatever great feats they may have accomplished could inspire some major political figure from Karameikos to ask them to intercede in the ongoing crisis described in Master of the Desert Nomads and Temple of Death. Afterward, the players could wander the land as they wish and get involved in all kinds of shenanigans, following a trail of incredible technological and mystical artifacts (and more portals, of course!) until they eventually reach the forgotten realm of Blackmoor. Perhaps they may even learn of the legend of Acererak, dreaming fitfully within his Tomb of Horrors in the darkest of Blackmoor's mires. Is the astral magic of the demi-lich somehow involved in the strange portals and chronological anomalies the adventurers have discovered time after time? And what is Acererak's connection to the dreaded immortal Alphaks?

"But Professor, I thought railroading was bad?"
Listen here, you little sh- Good point, but I don't think this'll be so bad. These newfangled "adventure paths" aren't actually all that new - look at "supermodules" like the GDQ series or Scourge of the Slave Lords or the Saltmarsh series or Desert of Desolation or the Village of Homlet/Temple of Elemental Evil combo or...you get the idea. I've seen plenty of online discussion about the ideal order in which to run this or that group of adventures, or various dream campaigns that link together various favorites.

Sure, if you force it, and you don't get player buy-in, then sure, that's railroading and that often sucks, and it generally runs counter to what I find to be some of the biggest strengths of D&D and the OSR. You know, like open-world sandbox play and unpredictable player-driven "storytelling" - as opposed to pre-determined stories dictated by the DM and acted out by the players with little or no wiggle room, which is the kind of stuff that makes "story" a dirty word for some in the OSR crowd.

When I run a campaign and I feel that it's time to add in a new adventure, I usually try to avoid railroading in one of two ways.
  1. I introduce plot hooks and wait to see if the players bite. If something related to a particular adventure grabs their attention and they freely choose to pursue it, or if the consequences of their previous freely chosen actions force them to interact with such an element, then I reel them in and start the adventure when it seems to make sense. And if they don't bite, that's fine; we don't play that particular adventure and the players do something else instead. In other words, I try to let it happen organically.
  2. I give the players a list of adventures I want to run, along with their basic premises or other non-spoiler info if asked, and I straight-up let them vote on the next one we play. Then I do my best to fit it into the campaign as naturally as possible, with the implicit agreement that the players will cooperate in biting the initial necessary plot hook. In return, I try my best not to immediately and totally screw them over through no fault of their own.
But now, with a specific list of adventures I want to run, I think I'm going to try a third method: tell my players ahead of time that I have this path roughly planned out and just see if they're okay with it. If they are, I don't see the harm in roughly sketching out a path like this; they can tackle each adventure however they want, they can decide when they're ready to move on to the next one, and they can revisit previous adventure locations if they want to. They can straight-up skip one if they want. Their actions determine how each adventure ends, who survives and who their enemies and allies are, what resources they can bring to bear, what kind of reputation precedes them, etc.

And if they're not okay with the path, they're free to leave it. I'll do my best to adjust and follow their lead. I might need extra prep time, or I might end up making stuff up off the top of my head, but I'll deal with it. Still, the path is there in case they enjoy following it.

I honestly think they will. This is supposed to be a Super Casual campaign. I think one advantage of running a series of modules back-to-back like this is that if we get bored of dealing with the minutiae between adventures, we can easily gloss over the connective tissue and get back to the action. We don't have to worry about exact distances and travel times between interesting locations, or keeping a consistent calendar, or tracking every last ration in the wagon or copper spent at the inn. That's just not what I want to focus on this time. The story starts when the wandering heroes show up, and it ends when they leave. Then we're off to the next story.

My Biggest Challenge
This campaign needs a catchy name!



†If I'm interpreting B/X correctly, the default rule is that a Magic-User's spellbook can only hold as many spells as the owner can memorize per day - as far as memorizable spells go, that's all the Magic-User can ever have or "know." In that case, I'm not sure why spell research rules are included; my best guess is that you can choose to research a brand new spell in lieu of the one you would earn for gaining a level.

3 comments:

  1. Good luck on finding Up the Garden Path! If you don't, one of the White Dwarf adventures would be a suitable alternative. I've always been fond of "Plague From the Past" in WD#69.

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    1. Heh, thanks. Oh, and thanks for the White Dwarf suggestion! I totally forgot there used to be D&D stuff in that magazine.

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    2. No problem! The campaign looks like great fun.

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