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Catacombs, cakes and carnivorous apes

January 27, 2014

Well, I said there might be cake, and lo! there was cake. This was the view from the players’ end of the table last night, halfway through our 40th anniversary OD&D shenanigans. Tear your eyes from the Victoria sponge if you can, and you’ll see the three little beige booklets resting atop the S&W WhiteBox book, which I kept nearby in case I needed backup. (I didn’t.) You’ll see my spiral-bound notepad, and you might also spot a printed sheet of NPC retainers generated by Meatshields!, one of the most useful old-school resources out there. Behind the makeshift DM screen is the adventure. More on that in a minute…

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The character sheets in the foreground are facsimiles of TSR’s own OD&D-era sheets – made available by Michael Falconer here – which are hilariously unfit for purpose, omitting as they do several details of moderate importance such as hit points, AC, etc. Luckily my players are unfazed by such trivial issues, and soon adapted the sheets to suit their requirements.

Let’s take a closer look at that character sheet on the left. This is Oxtwentytwo, a 4th-level anti- (or “auntie”) cleric equipped with plate mail, a mace and a potion of clairaudience. (I gave each PC a chance equal to level x 5% of having magic items from appropriate lists. Oxtwentytwo was the only PC who got anything.) He sports a two-tasseled hat, rolled randomly on JB’s table for such things. I know, I know, that’s not OD&D by the book, but my players would sulk if they didn’t get their random hats.

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The other PCs were Arneson, a cleric, and Snodrug, a fighting-dwarf. I ran the Lost Level of Stonehell Dungeon by Michael Curtis, because it seemed to me to connect the origins of the hobby (it’s written for OD&D) with our ongoing campaign (Stonehell on the Borderlands) in a thoroughly satisfying fashion. The players were surprised – pleasantly, I hope – to find themselves in a familiar milieu. There were a few differences, though: the Keep, where they began the game, was newly constructed. There was still scaffolding up and the Cup & Cudgel tavern smelled of fresh paint and varnish.

Retainers were hired and the party, nine-strong, set off to investigate a tunnel revealed by a recent landslide, which took them into the dungeon.

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I’m not going to give a blow-by-blow account of the session. In brief, Oxtwentytwo fought and killed a giant beetle, Arneson turned some zombies, Snodrug found some stairs, everyone failed to find a secret door, they were chased by flying swords, the anti-cleric removed most of his clothes to plug the orifices of some gargoyles (it’s complicated), they defeated an enchanter and his retainers (though they lost two of their own retainers in the process), and finally they were torn to pieces by a pack of carnivorous apes. (Clad in plate mail, they couldn’t run away.)

It wasn’t quite a TPK, though. If you look closely at Snodrug’s character sheet (below right), you’ll see that his retainer Mortta – randomly generated by Meatshields!, remember – has a “vial of something”. Towards the end of the climactic fight, only Arneson and Oxtwentytwo remained alive, laying about them with their maces. In desperation (down to 1 remaining hit point), the anti-cleric grabbed the vial from Mortta’s corpse, unstoppered it and downed the unknown contents in one. I had no idea what was in there so I had Craig, Oxtwentytwo’s player, roll percentile dice and I consulted the potion table on page 24 of Monsters & Treasure. The result: polymorph self. “I change into a wasp and fly away!” cried the exultant Craig. Irritated beyond measure by this abandonment, Arneson ignored the apes and, in the last act of his life, aimed a blow at the fleeing insect. He missed, and went down under the apes’ furious onslaught.

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It was a thrilling, hilarious and totally unexpected end to the evening’s proceedings. It’s not the first time I’ve run a game and only one character has survived. It’s not even the first time I’ve run a game and only one character has survived – with a single hit point. However, it is certainly the first time I’ve run a game and the only survivor is a wasp with 1 hit point. For all I know, that’s never happened in any game, anywhere, in four decades and millions of games of D&D. Although – you know what? – I wouldn’t be surprised if it has.

I love this crazy game.

Finally, here’s another cake (rum-infused Christmas cake this time) with the lovely Shuna casting charm person. Craig is just about to fail his save.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Brother Glen permalink
    February 2, 2014 5:23 pm

    As a man familiar with the accounts and fables of Oxtwentytwo I am not suprised… he has a long history of both running away (leaving his brethren to a merciless fate) and a deep involvement with wasps. This cleric is not to be trusted.

    Crypitc message of the day: Bring your stuff on the 2nd and find a dungeon that matches the food!

    I will sharpen my finest talwar and keep a weather watch for the wasps (try saying that after a rum or two!)

    Oh, and, put your clothes back on you filthy insect!

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