Ever since learning about Gary Gygax's death on Tuesday, I had been in the mood to play some D&D. The more old school, the better. Fortunately, Budzik, Aaron, Haleanna and my wife were all available and interested in playing. Budzik and I decided that we should play a good, old-fashioned dungeon crawl, and figured this would also be a good opportunity to test out some variant D&D rules I had in my possession. His D&D campaign had been getting bogged down in combat and excessive feats usage, and he was looking for a simpler way to run the game.
Marilyn bought a whole lot of snacks and treats, some healthier than others and all of them great. Budzik brought left-over snack-bags of food from his work, and Haleanna brought some mocha frozen yogurt from her job. Aaron, true to form, arrived late, but at least he came.
After considering a couple of different rules adaptations and variants, we ultimately decided to go with Microlite20, probably the simplest version of the d20 engine I've yet seen. All of the rules fit on one double-sided page (and the flip side of the rules are really only of use for the DM, anyway).
My wife used a half-Orc Fighter we had made for a D&D3e Birthright game that I ran a few Christmases ago, though when questioned about her character later, she said she was a full-fledged Orc. Budzik rolled up a Human Mage who was eager to earn some gold. Aaron made a Gnome Thief, amusingly portrayed with a German accent, and we rolled up an Elven Cleric for Haleanna, since she was arriving late.*
I had decided that the game should be set in Xaria, our LARP setting, since that would be most familiar to everyone. After considering some free maps on Wizards of the Coast's website and a couple of PDF adventures I had on my computer, I eventually settled on Looking Glass Deep by Malhavoc Press. It narrowly won out over Gary Gygax's Keep on the Borderlands, because it seemed like we'd have a better chance of actually finishing it in one night**, and I was intrigued by its promises of monsters that used tactics. I set the adventure, as per Budzik's request, in northern Quivera, the Orange Duchy, which is ruled by Duke Kagrug the Orc. Lots of concerns about monsters invading from Uragoth to the north, especially what with King Onk's latest forays.
Now, given my intended goals for the evening, and given that we'd spent a considerable amount of time talking and catching up on things (nothing I regret, certainly), and that the players spent more time creating their characters than I really thought they would, I probably should have started them at the mouth of the dungeon. I was going to do so, but they immediately started asking me about whether they'd met at an inn, and Budzik explained to Haleanna how that was a hoary old cliche about D&D. Since it was such a cliche, and we were doing Old School style, I embraced the cliche and even had them met there by a Mysterious Cloaked Old Man, the full nine yards.
After a few minutes of listening to the players bantering in-character (which was marvelous - these folks are very good roleplayers), the Mysterious Cloaked Old Man came in out of the rain, spoke a few hushed words to the innkeep, and came over to the PCs with a proposition. He needed someone to go to an old, ruined fortress and map it out for him - he would provide them with parchment and mapping tools, and he hinted at the fact that while the ruins had been deserted for over a century, it was not unknown for bandits or foolish treasure seekers to go there and pick over the cold, dead stones. In exchange for a rough map of the place, he would pay them a gold piece per day, which he thought was quite reasonable, since scribes only get paid about three silvers a day.
Haleanna surprised me by immediately and coldly haggling with the Old Man, and before you know it, she had negotiated the Old Man up to twenty GP up front and fifty upon delivery of the map, with the provision that they would disarm any traps that might still be in the old place (since the old Baron who once had the run of the place was rumored to have dabbled in magik).
Then came more discussions as to how they would proceed, what lodgings they would require, whether the Old Man should be followed (he was), etc. By the time the characters finally reached the mouth of the box canyon where the fortress was, and the Gnome had scouted the first wall, Budzik had to go home to feed the baby and my wife was beginning to fall asleep. As is typical, we never got as far as the "dungeon" part of our dungeon crawl. *sigh*
Nonetheless, they all thoroughly enjoyed the simpler new ruleset and the gaming experience, and all wanted to continue at some point, though a round of questioning revealed that no one will be available again for a few weekends. Oh, well. Even though I hadn't even looked at the adventure an hour before the game began (I was trying to read it while they were making characters, and of course there would be no concentrating going on while that was happening, so I read and re-read the first page about six times before I finally got anywhere with it) and completely improvised my cheesy cliche opening, we all still had fun. I got to have at least a little bit of an old school gaming experience again, which is what I really wanted after all.
*We cut Haleanna slack because a) we didn't know if she was going to be able to make it in the first place, b) she brought mocha frozen yogurt, if I hadn't already mentioned, and c) she's cuter than Aaron.