New Campaign, Part II: Taking it out for a test-drive

Starting about four weeks ago, my friend Adam was the first player I recruited to play in my Southlands sandbox campaign. Due to vagaries of schedules, the one time I knew I had for game-playing was on Monday afternoons. I knew this would be consistent from week to week, even though it limited my potential range of players. It also happened to be one of the times during the week that the game room was available for open gaming at my FLGS, Mayhem Comics. Knowing that I was starting small, I gathered up my bricolage of gaming materials and headed off to Mayhem to get things underway.

Character generation took longer than either Adam or I expected. Because he was by himself, I suggested that he generate two characters. Adam was a bit taken aback by this, used to running only one character at a time. Used to having more structured options, Adam also took some time to decide what he wanted his characters to be. One of the things I learned from this was that a BIG difference between old school gaming and later versions is that the sheer amount of time necessary to generate a character in more recent versions has created its own dynamic shaping how players think about their characters – they get attached more quickly, and they tend to “center” on their characters much more than thinking about themselves as players.

In the end, Adam came up with Solistrae, the elven fighter, and Kaleb, the human cleric. I also generated a few NPC adventurers that might be available as companions, if Adam was interested. Then I made my first mistake: I introduced the campaign through Adam’s characters arrived at the town of Westguard. Why was this a mistake? Because it meant that Adam had to figure out what to do – and players of more recent versions tend to wait for the plot to come along and tell them what they should be doing.

Realizing that Adam was unfamiliar with the patterns and tropes of old school gaming, I had to think quickly about how to move things towards adventure (which was mistake #2). Having borrowed the religious pantheon of the Grand Kingdom from an excellent source (see right), I decided that the local temple to The All-Highest, Yirtta All-mother, and Galzar Wolfhead (the main gods of the Grand Kingdom) wanted a ruined monastery investigated. All well and good? Not…quite. Adam’s characters spent some time adventuring around town, before finally getting on a boat and heading to the monastery upriver. While fun, it meant that the entire first session of the game was spent just getting to the dungeon. As the afternoon drew to a close, I asked Adam what he thought of the session.

  • Adam was intrigued by the very open nature of old school rules. He wasn’t used to the idea that if he wanted to try something, he could just try it and a ruling could then be made by me if it worked or not.
  • He liked having some sense of direction, and he liked all of the in-character interaction with the people in Westguard. This was understandable, but it also meant that he was getting attached to his characters almost instantaneously – not necessarily wise, given how deadly dungeoneering can be.
  • He also admitted to me that he really identified more with Solistrae, a fellow armed with a sword and a brace of throwing daggers, than with Kaleb the priest. This was understandable, and more evidence of the influence of more recent versions of our game.

As a “test drive” it was a very good session. I had not expected just how much I (as the referee) was influenced by more recent tropes of “proper gameplay.” This meant I had to consider very carefully how to run the game in the future. There’s nothing wrong with flirting with the barmaids, but at some point there needs to be some goblin-cleaving going on.

3 thoughts on “New Campaign, Part II: Taking it out for a test-drive

  1. I love that book!

    Yeah, starting off a sandbox game is tough, especially with players who are not used to it. You really need to start in the middle of the action, or with action imminent. Otherwise, the players kinda cast about listlessly while they either wait for the story to begin, or try to divine what they’re a “supposed” to do.

    Best of luck! I’ll be looking forward to seeing how things go from here.

  2. I’ve found it useful to just tell them upfront, “Look. This is different than you’re used to. Just roll the dice, choose a class and a name, buy some stuff, and then let the personality emerge through actually playing.

    I agree with trollsmyth, too; in the campaign I’ve just begun (my first real “oldskoolish” gig), we’ve just started at the dungeon. Period. I figure anything else will come later, around level 3…

    It really is a totally different feel, for both playing and DMing…

  3. Excellent post.

    I would love to see you keep track of the things you learn in this wrt newer gamers playing old-school style. It would be a boon.

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