About this time a year ago, I transitioned my Pathfinder group over to Swords & Wizardry. We have played semi-monthly ever since, around 8 or 9 sessions.
The game is set in a custom campaign setting, but many of my sessions have taken place in the excellent Barrowmaze.
My players have generally loved the campaign. My most recent session had 7 players at the table, out of 8 who get invites. For half of them, this is their first RPG experience. And I am proud that one woman I introduced to fantasy RPG's has gone so far as to start GMing Pathfinder Society games locally.
After a year though, I find myself in an unexpected situation. My players die, often. Of the 8 players, one has a 3rd level Cleric, another a 2nd level Druid, and everyone else is still 1st level. All of the others have had multiple characters die.
I am not an Evil DM, at least I'm not labelled as such by my players. They know I enjoy playing straight up, and presenting a challenge. All my dice rolls are public (except things they would not know the outcome of, such as some thieving skills).
I have taken great pains to educate them on old-school theory concerning survival, teamwork, tactics, etc. They are usually pretty careful, and the challenges they face are for the most part appropriate for their level. They run when they need to.
They have taken their deaths with great humor, although they all get that "deer in headlights" "I cant believe I am dead" look the first time they lose a character. Soon enough they re-roll and get into the spirit as the other players pat them on the back and regale them with their own gruesome deaths and sad outcomes.
But now I find myself wanting them to survive, to level up, and to explore the world more widely, to be exposed to higher level encounters and different plot lines.
When I was young, I DM'ed Basic & AD&D, and tried to strike the balance of keeping the players on their toes, and engaged, and challenged, but alive. I fudged rolls to guarantee drama, and helped the players create heroes. We were creating a story together, but I was definitely playing the game for my players benefit as much as my own. It was great fun.
Now I find myself thinking back to those days, and starting to reconsider my current philosophy. I like my players, I want them to succeed. I want them to level up and progress. But I also want to keep it gritty, dangerous, and old school in feel. I'm tempted to use the DM hand to get the outcomes we all want.
Anyone care to offer suggestions on how to keep the game real while seeing the players succeed?