Wednesday, January 15, 2014

1 Year into the OSR, A Retrospective: Keeping Characters Alive

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?

Sunday, January 5, 2014

My DM Screen

A few folks have asked about the DM screen I showed in a G+ post in the OSR Gaming community.

Pictured above, I made it myself for my ongoing Swords & Wizardry / Barrowmaze campaign. The tables on the reverse side are a mix of S&W, Barrowmaze tables,  & house rules.

I started with 6 pieces of 8.5 x 11 off-white card stock.

On the card stock I printed the following artwork & tables. I could have printed double sided, but using 6 pieces glued together gives it more rigidity.

Screen Tables

Center Panel Artwork

Side Panel #1

Side Panel #2

To construct the screen, I started with a 6 pack of beer. Literally, I took apart the card stock "pack" of the 6-pack and used the hinged corners as hinges for the screen. By gluing the screen panels back to back, with the  "hinged" wings of the separated 6 pack inserted between them, I built a quick & easy screen.

Then I measured out the battlements and cut them out with an Exacto knife & ruler.

The final result: