As I have been writing up my little adventure, I've also been watching people discuss things in Social Media. Sometimes a real gem pops up. In this case it was a write up by a gamer who plays contemporary D&D, but says he misses something about the earlier editions.
He intuited the same lack of true danger that I often speak of. The feeling of not knowing what is next and how dangerous it could be that keeps players on the edge of their seats.
I asked George Wilson if he was a blogger, because I felt this should be preserved somewhere where gamers can see what he wrote and consider running a much more out of control game, where players have to earn their experience, or die trying. Since he is not a blogger, I will post his words here. (Yes, I have permission.)
I found his comments worthy of signal boost because he isn't shaming, or belittling anyone or their game. He is merely observing that an element of what he loves about gaming is missing.
I was playing a solo session a couple nights ago with a friend of mine, and realized what has been missing from the other campaigns I have played in over the past year.
The other campaigns are run by very creative young men. They have great ideas, interesting campaign worlds, and their games are a lot of fun, but in the back of my mind there has been a nagging feeling that something was missing.
The game I played in Thursday night is run by someone who, like me, has been playing since the 70's. The something I realized I had been missing in those other campaigns was that feeling that the campaign existed outside of my character being in it.
In the younger guys' campaigns everything always feels like it is there specifically for the PC's. The encounters are generally balanced and there is a reasonable chance of winning the encounter.
In the game the other night, I stumbled into something that was just there, and clearly was not an encounter that had been designed with me in mind. I ended up in a running fight with nine NPC's, that I only survived because of a good use of terrain, tactics, and one hell of a lucky string of die rolls. It was the most alive I've felt playing the game in many years.
That used to be the norm in the AD&D games of my youth. My campaign was built around the idea that it was a living world, that not everything and everyone was level appropriate for the party, because nature just isn't like that. The natural world is a mix of everything from the lowliest to the mightiest side by side. It wasn't something I remember any of us consciously thinking about when we designed things, it was just something that was and our campaigns and our random encounter tables reflected that. It was common back then to stumble onto something you knew right off that you couldn't handle, and spend the next while desperately trying to figure out how to get out of that situation alive.
It was also something that I hadn't noticed was missing in the games run by these young men, all of whom are younger than my dice, and who have grown up on WotC's editions of the game. Their encounters are all widely varied, but I hadn't realized that in all the many sessions I've played with them, there hadn't been a single "Oh Sh*t" moment where I realized we were in way over our heads. The newer editions don't encourage that sort of thing, preferring story and balanced encounters instead.
I didn't realize how much I had missed that, that feeling of despair as you realize that you probably aren't going to get out of this one, mixed with the feeling of determination to at least die well and take as many with you as you can, mixed with that tiny glimmer of hope that maybe, just maybe, you can find a way out of this, mixed with that sense of exhilaration when you roll ridiculously well over and over again, and the DM can't seem to roll higher than a seven over and over again.
I was exhausted after that encounter, and not because it was almost 1am, but from the encounter itself. But it felt good (even though I lost two weapons and didn't gain anything at all from the whole thing) in a way that an encounter hasn't felt good in many years and reminded me why I love the old editions of the game far more than I love the new.
You can certainly make the new feel like the old, there is no denying that, but those sorts of things aren't built into the new editions like they were in AD&D. They were native to it, a natural part of it, and I had no idea how much I missed that until I was confronted with it the other night.
- George Wilson, 1st Edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons group on Facebook, 6,13,2020
I know, many of you are sick of me flogging this old old corpse. Yet I think that if you've never played high stakes D&D, you may not know what you are missing out on and how fun it is.
With this adventure I am outlining, you should consider the idea of making things a little harder. You don't have to make it so everyone dies on the first encounter either. Consider wearing the players down. With each consecutive encounter they will use up more of their abilities from hit points to spells.
The Moaning Cavern and associated Riverine Cave Complex should be challenging. It is not possible for players to rest and recover because something can pop up at any moment and begin thrashing the party. These disturbances will interrupt any kind of extended recovery. Even the fear and anxiety of something showing up precludes more than just a simple stop to take a breather. If your players aren't used to the retro dungeon games, be sure to warn them. The DM and players should discuss how this place is not a place to take a nap because it is a really bad place to visit and adventurers only come here because of the possibility of finding rare treasure which is equally as viable as finding an unmarked grave.
Every other turn there is the possibility of a wandering monster appearing when you are in the Riverine Cave Complex.
Roll 1D6 and on a 1 something has appeared. Here is a simple chart you can use. Feel free to modify it for your own dungeon dives.
2 - Purple Worms (exactly how many is up to the DM.)
3 - A special NPC encounter. Can be a mixed blessing. Maybe a group of thieves who fleece the party while talking?
4 - Create something supernatural like a ghost that likes to throw things around.
5 - A band of ornery Humanoids (Kobolds, Goblins, Orcs, Hobgoblins, etc.)
6 - Undead (Skeletons, Zombies, Ghouls, etc.)
7 - Dungeon Clean up Crew (Oozes, Jellies, Slimes, Molds, Etc.)
8 - Insects (Any kind of bug you feel like choosing.)
9 - Dungeon Master Special (Create a monster that is all your own that players can't know the stats for.)
10 - How about a strange weather event, a powerful wind storm, or rain?
11 - Maybe a Balrog and his associated group of monster followers?
12 - Something really terrifying like a Beholder, or two...
You'll notice I use the word create a lot in this chart. A good DM is always making up their own encounters. Whether you use something right out of the book, or you create your own monster, it's fun to create an encounter. If you have a certain feeling for an encounter you will make it more interesting and believable.
What do you want to do?
As George mentioned in his comments, an encounter does not need to be balanced. Players always have at least 3 options when dealing with anything: Talk, Fight, Run Like Hell!
Running away is really important. It's the players who balance encounters based on which they choose of these three options. Players always choose their fate.
Surprise is more than just a die roll to see who moves first. If a party is smart they can hide and let the monsters go by. Maybe the Hobgoblins are sitting around taking a much needed rest and the players can encircle them and conduct an ambush. There are so many options for the players to make random encounters fun and exciting.
Of course there is also the famous Monty Python battle cry: RUN AWAY!
Sometimes, you gotta run away. This is when a web spell comes in handy to slow down some of the monsters. Maybe you throw down a sack of hard earned treasure in the hopes the monsters will stop to check it out. Or, one of you will have to take one for the party and stay behind to delay the monsters. A truly epic character sacrifice is a worthy way to die. Most gamers you talk to will recount their fondest game as one where they chose to save the party.
The Glittering Cave
This is another location in the Riverine Cave Complex. It is completely benign, or is it? As the players travel down one of the many large tunnels full of stalagmites, they will come upon a small side cavern that reflects back their torches and lanterns with twinkling speckles of light.
Entering this place will reveal a room completely covered in sparkly precious stones. These are mostly bling yet still mildly valuable. Players can collect them if they want to. you can determine their value after the adventure. But it should be in the range of about 100-600 GP per sack full.
Q: Ok, is this a freebie?
A: Nope, this is a trap!
Chipping gems out of the wall takes time and makes noise. Did the players think to place some guards at the opening to this cave? All the noise is bound to bring something to investigate. Now the players are weighted down by bags of rocks which make it hard to run fast.
Hmmm... how about 1-3 on a D6 for every ten minutes of chipping brings a wandering monster around...
That's it for today. Maybe tomorrow I'll draw a super high quality ball point and college ruled paper map.
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