Welcome to the Flaming Faggot

Callovia is called "the boundless empire" yet you have managed to find its northern border - a notorious roadhouse deep within the Madrasan Marches on the edge of the wilds of Llanvirnesse. The sign above the door reads "Flaming Faggot," which would suggest a cozy, homey inn with fresh biscuits served at teatime if not for the severed troll heads mounted on pikes at the gate.

As you cross the threshold the raucous din quiets momentarily as all eyes dart to the door and calloused hands drop instinctively to well-worn sword hilts. The threat, instantly assessed, is dismissed and roadhouse patrons go about their business hardly missing a beat.

Grim, hard-eyed men huddle around tables in close conversation thick with conspiracy; caravan guards gamble away their earnings; Caemric rangers sit close to the fireplace cooking the damp of the Black Annis from their clothes as they warm their innards with Red Dragon Ale; minstrels play and buxom wenches dance for the pleasure of men who pay them little attention - until they need a companion to warm their bed.

As you approach the bar, a huge, bald barman with a greatsword slung across his back slides a mug of freshly-pulled ale towards you, its frothy head dripping over the rim.

"Pull up a seat, lad," he says, "and let me tell you a tale of high adventure."

Monday, June 21, 2010

First S&W Session

Last night we played our first session using the Swords & Wizardry rules, and I wanted to share a few of my first impressions.  I grew up playing AD&D and have never played OD&D, so I'm looking forward to getting my feet wet with the new system.

First, the characters needed to be converted and attributes rolled - I was going with 3d6 rolled in order and there was much groaning at the results, punctuated by an occasional 'Woo Hoo!' when a high score was rolled.  Rolling attributes this way creates a completely different appreciation for what a good attribute score is.  Using the point-buy method I had retained from 3E, having a score of 18 in the prime attribute was considered par for the course, along with the consequent 'dump stat.'  This made characters fairly homogeneous and, to my mind, boring.  When rolling 3d6 I noticed the players were quite pleased to get a score of '12' in important attributes, and when the fighter rolled a '16' for his strength he almost started doing a victory dance.  I figure that score of 16 will mean more to him than a score of 18 bought with points and taken for granted ever would.  I think it will make that character a lot more special, too.

Once play began the differences in the rules started to become apparent.  One of the first things I noticed was that I'm really enjoying having all weapons deal 1d6.  The thief decided to be a knife specialist.  He has outfitted himself with a collection of daggers for throwing, and fights with a dagger in each hand.  To me, a dagger-wielding thief is an icon in fantasy literature, but I've never seen it in a D&D game before - no player would cripple himself by using a weapon that does so much less damage than others he could use.  I think it's great that players can now equip themselves with weapons they think are cool without worrying about whether they are the 'best' weapon.  This adds a lot of flavour.

Having only 1d6 for hit points became an issue, and many of the characters are considerably less durable in a fight.  This will take some getting used to as the players adjust to the level of threat that they are capable of surviving.  In the very first encounter of the session, against a few goblins, the cleric ran out of healing spells and the whole party was left with only a couple of hit points each.  Of course this was exacerbated by the fact that the players were having abysmal luck with their die rolls, seldom rolling better than '5' to hit.  I'm sure if they were rolling better and ended the fight quicker they wouldn't have been in such dire straits, but it did serve to illustrate the greater need for caution when the fighters have only a d6 for hit points instead of a d10.  It makes a big difference and changes the dynamic of play.

Using a descending armour class and THAC0 is going to take a bit of getting used to.  While there are a few of us that started out playing with this mechanic, none of us have done so in many a year so it will take a while to adjust.  But, in general, it seemed to make combat flow a little easier when players aren't having to remember so many modifiers to add to their die rolls.  Even just removing the 'base-to-hit' bonus makes a difference.  So I think we'll like THAC0 once we adapt our minds to it and remember that low AC is better.

Oddly, I didn't find that adopting the one-minute combat round made a significant difference to play.  I had assumed that it would speed things up by not having to worry about tactical maneuvering and counting squares in combat - since most characters move 120' per round they can usually just move their miniature wherever they want it.  One positive benefit was that characters with ranged weapons got more attacks per round with them or, rather, it would be a benefit if the players could roll high enough to actually hit their opponents with those extra attacks.

So, in general, I think this first session went quite well.  All the characters survived - by the skin of their teeth - and I think everyone had fun.  I suspect that the flow will improve as we become more familiar with the differences in the rules and I'm looking forward to gradually incorporating my own house-rules to create a unique, customized rule set.  One of the things that attracted me to S&W as that you can download the rules in MS Word format, so that you can change them as you wish and have a single, complete copy of the game with all the house rules seamlessly incorporated.  This is very attractive to me because I'm a compulsive rules-tinkerer.  I can't ever seem to leave rules alone; I have to fiddle with them.  This was tricky with a game like 3E where the game is so rigidly defined that tinkering with the rules is like pulling a loose thread on a sweater - the whole thing starts to unravel.  Its much easier to start with a bare, framework like S&W and add in whatever you like and I'm looking forward to seeing what develops.


cyclopeatron said...

I'm glad you had fun! I love the simplicity of S&W/OD&D. I agree with your final statement that it's easier to add material than to subtract. In terms of hit points, one of the house rules I use is that 1st level players start with maximum HPs. Call me a wuss, but I think it's nice for players to be able to handle 1 or 2 hits before dying.

P. S. Mangus said...

I am glad you stuck to your guns and played this first session the way you wanted to, despite some of the reactions you received initially from some of your players. It sounds like the danger level was much higher, making the game more of a nail-biter. I like this a lot! The conversations we have had about S&W these past two weeks has me wanting to play this game. I confess that my first reaction to reading S&W was that it was just too simplistic for my taste. Now I am seeing that the simplicity of the system is a major strength. So, in the end I talked you into buying Labyrinth Lord, now it looks like you have talked me into buying Swords & Wizardry!!!

Sean Robson said...

@Cyclopeatron: I wussed out and gave everyone maximum hit points for first level, too. I think it would have been a party-wipe if I hadn't.

@Shane: Ha Ha. There's nothing wrong with having both games. My copy of Labyrinth Lord arrived in the mail today. I haven't had a chance to give it a good look-through yet, but I've already seen a few things I'm going to import into S&W, such as the elf's progression, which is much less punative than the S&W version. Ultimately, I think I'm going to end up with a highly personalized S&W game that incorporates some of the best aspects of C&C, LL, and my own inventions.