Thursday, January 22, 2009

I Was Drowned, I Was Washed-up and Left for Dead...

Huzzah! Bang the drum and sound the trumpet! My Moldvay/Cook/Labyrinth Lord hack game finally got started on Thursday night. I'll leave it to the players to decide how much of a success it was. I certainly had fun playing with them. (And yes, there are still spaces available. Email me at trollsmyth-at-yahoo-dot-com if you can play between 7 PM and 11 PM Central time on Thursday nights.)

Starting a sandbox game is always a challenge. It's too easy for the group to be paralyzed by the limitless potential of wide-open spaces. So sometimes it's best to narrow their focus a bit. For this group, I started with a classic ploy from the pulps: a shipwreck.

Nothing too original there, and I'll be the first to admit it. All the great pulp heroes were shipwrecked at least once in their careers, from Conan to Elric to Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. A shipwreck, though, gives the group a certain amount of direction, without limiting their choices. There are things they must do: find food and water, secure shelter, and find out where the heck they are. Then they need to get back to civilization, if possible, and if they can't, then they need to prepare to live without it.

That all said, their options for tackling these challenges are nearly limitless. They have all the ocean's bounty, plus whatever can be found on the land they've washed up on. Do they fish? Try to build a new boat? Strike inland? Hug the shoreline? Do they build a sturdy shelter, or just scavenge enough bits to make minimal but portable shelters? Do they light a signal fire and hope help finds them, or do they try to remain unnoticed? It's the best of both worlds: survival demands they focus and work together, but doesn't dictate their actions. There are choices to be made, and most of them are of the common-sense or creative-thinking sort that don't require dice rolls, which is perfect for Old School play.

Still, mere survival is not the stuff adventures are made of, so you need to be sure you've got a little something fantastical nearby, to remind them that this is a world of mystery and magic and danger. The shipwrecked heroes of the pulps didn't have to wander far before they found a new adventure to challenge them, and your players shouldn't, either.

So there we are, shipwrecked, with their first foes defeated and their first treasures looted, though not without some hit points lost. And, oh dear, the cleric didn't survive the shipwreck. We can only wonder what fate (aka their sadistic DM) has in store for them next week...

6 comments:

Oddysey said...

Oh, so there was an actual rationale behind the scenario. Not just evil DM cackling about making our lives difficult. Nice.

Looking forward to the next session.

trollsmyth said...

Hey, I'm multi-talented. I can rationalize while cackling maniacally with the best of 'em.

Just don't ask me to spell and chew gum at the same time. ;)

Mike D. said...

I am just thankful we got to hold on to our equipment. Now if only I had bought some rations....


Great fun so far.

trollsmyth said...

I was very tempted to have you both wash up onto the beach naked. That's the tradition from the pulps, and would have driven home just how much you need to work together to survive.

I really didn't want to do that, though. Partly because first level characters are already so fragile. Also because I dislike mucking about with character creation, especially after the players have spent time building their characters. Starting money and equipment is as much a part of building your character and their personality as rolling stats and choosing a class. That's something I prefer not to mess with.

However, the next time you wreck a ship (which would honestly be the first time, since this wreck was all DM fiat), yeah, naked with half your hit points gone and hungry crabs nibbling at your toes. ;)

Badelaire said...

I've always wanted to start a campaign with a shipwreck, but I've never gotten around to it. Maybe a one-shot one of these days will begin that way.

On the other hand, there's other ways to strand characters other than a shipwreck. I've been planning such an event as a kickoff to "Phase Two" of my current C&C campaign.

trollsmyth said...

On the other hand, there's other ways to strand characters other than a shipwreck.

Another I've used in the past was making the PCs survivors of a defeated army, deep in enemy territory. There was at least one Conan story that started that way, though my primary inspiration was Xenophon's "March to the Sea". That one carries an even stronger sense of urgency and action, since the PCs are now surrounded by enemies.