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...