So I went down to the local Nerd World the other day. They have an open D&D night where anyone can commandeer a table and run a game. It’s a pretty sweet deal for shut-ins like the Alt-Right DM. We can go out, pretend to be a normal human for a few hours, and when the strain gets to be too much, crawl back into our cocoon.
This past Monday, I grabbed a table in the corner, threw up my home made Moldvay era-DM screen – you know, the one with all the best art exposed to the players – and waited for some likely customers to arrive.
The regular customers showed up, sat down and got to playing, leaving me sitting alone, tending to my dungeon for a few minutes. A few likely players wandered past, but were clearly intimidated by my large pectoral muscles and BMI well within the normal range. There may also have been some pheromonal issues involved, given that I don’t smell like I just got done running a 10K while carrying a diarrheic hog. Eventually it turned out that one of the other table’s DM didn’t show up, and so five players tentatively approached my table.
Now I know how the fat girl feels at a bachelorette party.
After a bit of friendly banter in which they required a bit of reassurances that yes, I was serious, they sat down to play. It was very much a ‘thirsty men in a desert’ situation, but those of us laboring in the trenches to spread the OSR Gospel of Gygax will speechify to anyone willing to listen.
So I passed out the character sheets to each player. Note the use of plural in the previous sentence. Character sheetS. That threw them for a loop. Four characters frightened and confused them. However would they shepherd all four of them through the pre-selected stories they had yet to write, and how would they balance their love of all four? And why did each snowflake have only a name and job? Jack the Smith? Kevin the Cobbler? Grimace the Shakemaker? That’s not a character, that’s a pawn. Yep. This is brutal, hurt-me-plenty mode D&D we’re talking about here, I explained, and that placated them a bit.
I explained to them, softly and gently so as not spook them, that there was no story for them. These were pawns, at least 75% of whom would die before the end of the session. They needed me to explain that they hadn’t invested anything in any of these characters, so their deaths were of no more consequence than the death of Mario to a flaming hammer at the gates of the wrong castle. That they understood: Video games are the franca lingua of nerds.
Once the dice started rolling and the pawns started falling, they really started to get into the spirit of things. I was taking them though a version of Tomb of Horrors modified for low-level B/X characters specifically designed to slaughter a few characters early, challenge them with survivable puzzles in the mid-game, and then give them a tidy pile of loot before facing a gimped Acererak. The 12 surviving members of the party could take the money and run, or they could break the seal on the cripplelich’s tomb and thus reap the whirlwind.
They chose the latter. Maybe they didn’t know reaping the whirlwind meant suffering pain for their own stupid choices.
They fought well. One spellcaster dealt with Gimp Acererak’s minions with a well placed sleep spell. The thief got in a backstab before getting splattered across eight feet of wall. To my surprise, they won they day.
Well, not so much ‘they’ as ‘he’. Only one of the 20 characters survived, and he couldn’t carry out a tenth of the loot. He took every gem, jewel, ring, and potential magic item he could carry – he looked like one of the Goonies before the Fratelli’s showed up and ruined their golden shower. Now they want to put together a return expedition led by the now-second level cleric. Next week they’ll take a nice little cakewalk to an empty treasure chamber littered with clues they can follow to the local monster hotel. ‘Their’ loot is smeared across a dozen linked caves inhabited by everything from kobolds to gnolls, with some paid as protection money to the local ogre and minotaur and evil cult.
Sometimes you just have to grab ’em by the dicebag.