Back to Basics

Last night, a few of us (Dale, Graham and I) got together and dug up the old D&D Cyclopedia and Basic/Expert books to play a bit of the old school D&D. Despite the offer of Dale the DM to allow for some relaxed character creation, Graham and I decided to go hard core – 3d6 in order, no re-rolls. G ended up with an obnoxious yet nimble and bright Elf, while I ended up with a Thief with little strength, but some agility and wits. There were only the two of us to start, but we figure to make up the difference with some hirelings and retainers fairly soon.

Graham took Detect Magic for his first spell, and started with very little equipment. I had a bit more cash, but boy getting Thieves Tools sure takes a big chunk of change. We were done creation in about 30 minutes, and jumped into play. DM Dale quickly sketched out a situation for us – wooden fort called Stronghold in the wilderness of the Shield Lands, a recently claimed land by my PC's uncle. My thief had been sent to help out his uncle, and after a roll on a table of random reasons for the party to be together, we discovered that Graham's elf had been drawn to me by some kind of psychic bond. A bond, we decided, that only grew stronger the more coins we could find together.

The Uncle sent us off to collect taxes from one of the local hamlets. Arriving, we discovered the hamlet paying their taxes in decidedly more coin of orc and elf mintage than they should. There was also a strange goblin-crafted wagon, a bit of a party going on, and pretty much evidence something unusual was going on. Our explorations turned up references to something buried in the forest outside by drunken villagers, so off we went to explore the woods.

We found signs of a battle, but more scarily, two scaley finned humanoids who smelled bad and seemed unhappy to see us. After a short, running fight through the dark woods, we managed to kill one of the creatures and the other ran off. Not finding any sign of any buried treasure, we returned to the hamlet and took the taxes back to my PC's uncle.

What was nice, from my perspective, was that much of the night's play was taken up with Graham and I interacting with each other In Character, rather than just referencing rules. In the process, we determined that Graham's Elf is haughty, cocky, overly cautious and dismissive of human society. My Thief is cheerful, a little suspicious of other's success, and definitely on the make for quick cash.

Back at Stronghold, Uncle was happy to get the taxes, and immediately sent us back out to deal with a different problem – a missing female blacksmith. We ended the night's session about to descend into a likely cave, most likely where the smith had been taken.

It did bring back a lot of fond memories, playing old school. We dug up hex paper and started making our own map of the area… a simple pleasure I'd forgotten, but also a hand-crafted record of the game so far. It reminded me why you dungeon-mapped, too. Not just to have a map, but also to act as a record of events and progress, and a tool for decision-making. Something lost in the current trend of 'combat arena' maps, I think.

Fun stuff, and we'll see where it goes from here.