Monday, December 8, 2008

Playing an OD&D Solo Game with my wife

In the tradition of Oakspar7777 (, I thought I would put down some of my thoughts, ideas and game replays of an OD&D campaign I'm running with my wife. It's a one-on-one game, using a mashup of microlite74, OD&D according to the Little Brown Books and Holmes Basic, as well as Swords & Wizardry and some house rules. My wife played D&D as a teenager in highschool, much as I did, although I've spoken a bit about my history as an RPG'er on this blog.

[[Read more to read the full blog story]]

I wanted to come up with something for my wife that would be easy to play, and yet fairly filled out and quick for me to convert to microlite74, so the sample dungeon (1st level of the Tower of Zenopus) from the back of the Holmes basic book was my test. If she likes it, then I'll move to converting the 1st level of a dungeon I created for a campaign that I've bounced around my skull and various maps called "The Vale." It's something I've semi-fleshed out and have started the same "intro" adventure a couple of times with various people under various rulesets. This time, I'm making it stick!

The first game went pretty well, and pretty quick, which I mentioned here: . During the week, I asked my wife a little bit more about the type of game she wanted to play. "Oh, I like to bash heads in" she replied and my heart warmed - I knew there was a reason I loved this woman - she likes to get into the dirty dungeons and play whack-a-goblin! I went through some questions/answers (based on Oakspar's list of questions to get an idea of what kind of game a player might enjoy) and based on her answers, I think my Vale campaign idea will still fit the bill. She wants to dungeon delve, but as she gets more confident with the rules and the flow of the game, more role playing. She would enjoy mid-level fantasy (think Tolkein/Conan), mid-power magic, she likes the thought of a low powered game where the characters struggle and fight to succeed, she'd like all sorts of tones from dark to light, and she's good with a lot of gore.

Now these questions were more about "plot" than they were about my settings. The dungeons are going to be the dungeons, but the campaign that I wrap around them is where the plot and story come in. She's also fully aware that death is fairly easy to happen (as she saw in the game we just played) and that survival will be more about luck and her wits than any sort of powers found on her character sheet. The really cool thing is that she really doesn't have any sort of "bias" or pre-existing expectation, so in a way, I am really taking her through a learning curve. That's somewhat scary, as I'm in a (re)learning curve myself at being a DM.

So we've come up with a short history of her character (or characters that she might play, depending on if her character survives) but that's about it.

So... on with the game.

We started off with her character, Aeli, counting the spoils of their first 2 room dive into the ruins of Zenopus's Tower. Everyone had survived, aside from the torch/loot bearer fainting after the combat with the ghouls. Aeli was off to spend some of her hard earned loot. She bought a bow/arrows/quiver combo, although she was really ripped off by the merchant! 75gp for a set that would have cost 50 at list, but she didn't barter, so the merchant closed his shop early that day!

He did feel expansive enough to tell her that after their first dive into the Tower, a bit of fame had spread about them. He also gave her some information on the recent history of the tower - namely that it hadn't been explored in recent memory, and that everyone was nervous about the strange lights and the dark figures dancing on the top of the fallen tower's roof. (My wife was a bit unsure of 'talking' to the merchant, so I gave her some benefit of doubt and encouragement and she got into the spirit of asking questions.) Her history has some bad feelings about mages, so she quizzed the merchant about the NPC that I've had go along with her, Tironell. The merchant knew nothing.

After that, she went back to the Inn to meet up with the band for another day of tower diving. Unfortunately, the hirelings/men-at-arms were busy drinking down their pay and boasting of their exploits, so now EVERYONE wanted to go with Aeli. Aeli also wanted to renegotiate the shares/payment arrangement with Tironell - since she'd proven her mettle, she didn't want to pay for the hirelings on her own! After a bit of back and forth, Tironell agreed to split the cost. She decided to hire one more man-at-arms and rehire the 3 from earlier and off they went.

(I asked her if she wanted to hire more men, and she wasn't sure, so I use my NPC to drop hints and suggestions, but I'm also making it clear that she's the one that decides. When she's tried to put the NPCs/hirelings "in charge", I play them in a way so that she feels like she's the one to make decisions. She's starting to get the hang of it.)

They found the entrance again, and once again, stepped into the dark corridors. At first, she wanted the hirelings to go in front, but they were really reluctant to do so, so Aeli agreed to be in the front. Muahahaha.

(My wife started making simple maps - and I repeated some of the advice that I've read elsewhere about not going crazy with the maps, as long as it's useful for her to find her way back out. She seemed reassured by that.)

The group reached the first, and familiar, 4 way intersection after the stairs and she decided they would go forward. After listening and opening a door to an empty room, she then just yanked open the following door across the way (no listening or preparation) and came face to face with 5 goblins that had heard her open the first door and were fully prepared to do battle. (As soon as she told me she was opening the door and I started to speak, I saw a look of "Oh crap, that was a bad idea!" come across her face. Experience is the best teacher at times...)

Thus began the first parlay of Aeli with goblins. Tironell, by dint of his Intelligence (and a quick on the spot ruling by myself), could speak some goblinish and was able to translate the conversation. The goblins demanded that the party leave. She demanded that they let the party through. The goblins replied that they could pass, once, if they paid 15 gold. After a quick discussion with the NPCs, Aeli offered 8, which the goblins took, but the goblins warned the party to not return. Aeli decided they would take the door opposite the one they came in. Aeli asked the goblins what was behind the door and the goblin leader smirked "What you deserve..."

What was behind the door was a very small 15 foot long corridor with another door. As soon as the party was in the corridor (and the hireling/mage were in the open doorway of the goblin room) the goblins rushed the door, pushed everyone into the corridor by slamming it shut behind them and began hammering spikes into the door.

So now Aeli and 5 other people are squished into a 15 ft by 10 ft area. Listening at the door was difficult, and she heard nothing obvious, so Aeli opened the door (it swung into the room) and her and one of the hirelines were basically pushed into the room by the press of people.

Unfortunately, the giant spider that was lurking in the ceiling of the room heard the noises and based on random roll, jumped on the hireling instead of her. The spider missed and combat was joined.

(This was where I took the time to give my wife some suggestions about tactics. She would have stayed at the doorway, preventing the other men-at-arms an opportunity to attack, so I suggested she let the rest in. We were using dice as miniatures at this point, and once she saw how things were stacked up, she spent a turn moving [m74 combat turns are one action - move or attack or cast] - now maybe that's a bit of too much hand-holding, but I also saw this as a good way of giving her some things to think about without telling her what to do. I hope I'm not leading her too much by the hand, but I also don't want her to get too frustrated, so I'm walking a balance that I'm probably not good at walking. Anyone else have comments on teaching someone about tactics?)

A couple of rounds of misses, and then Aeli scored a critical hit (natural 20), so I let her roll another die of damage (just an on the spot ruling, since she had rolled a 1 damage) and described how her arrow had pierced one of the eyes of the spider and ripped through it's head to come out the other side through another eye. The spider lost a great deal of hit points, but was still around. Unfortunately, the next two rounds were disastrous for the party.

One of the hirelings rolled a 1 and his sword went sailing across the room. The spider then scored a hit and proceeded to rip out the hireling's throat, killing him. The next round, Aeli herself fumbled (natural 1) and her bowstring broke. The spider bit another hireling and he failed his saving throw - died from poison. Things were looking pretty bleak when the mage NPC finally scored with a tossed flask and torch and now the room was lit with the flames of a burning spider. Another hireling managed to land the killing blow and now the room was filled with the fumes of charred arachnid and the sight of 2 dead hirelings. After a quick search of the room, the party had to decide what to do.

(At this point, my wife was pretty surprised at how fast things could seesaw back and forth. I also started asking her to be more explicit in how she was doing things. Instead of "I'm searching the room.", I asked her how and where she was searching. No die rolls, in the spirit of OD&D. That meant that because she didn't poke around the remains of the spider, she missed a +1 dagger. But that's how it is...)

Aeli wanted to move on into the dungeon, but I role played the NPC mage who protested that "we've lost a third of our party, we're stuck exploring an area that we don't know about, and you want us to push on?" Aeli wanted to know how only 2 fighters and a mage could take on 5 goblins and a spiked door. Tironell mentioned that he might be able to dispatch some of them with a spell, allowing her and the other man-at-arms better odds.

So the party stripped the hirelings of their gear (and Aeli took back the gold she'd spent on hiring them - rather cold blooded, my wife is!) and went back to the now spiked door.

(My wife wasn't sure what to do at this point, so I pointed to the swinging door that lies between our kitchen and dining room and asked her how she would get that door open if she were on one side and I was on the other keeping it from opening. She thought about it, and said she'd try to push it open and maybe put her shoulder into it. So I suggested she try it.)

Aeli put her shoulder into the door and it gave a bit. Encouraged, Aeli and the remaining man-at-arms put their shoulders into the door and started ramming into it. A quick roll of a d6 to see how many times it would take, and two pushes shoved the spiked door open (apparently the goblins didn't do a very good job).

Of course, the goblins were waiting in a battle formation and combat ensued. The mage put two of the goblins to sleep, one of the goblins fumbled and ended up on his back, but managed to avoid getting hit and two goblins were slain by Aeli. The fumbling goblin attempted to flee, but because he had to open doors, Aeli caught up with him and sliced him in half.

After recovering their 8gp toll on the goblin leader, a discussion between Aeli and mage was about what to do with the sleeping goblins. Aeli wanted to kill them - "They'll be here when we come back!" and Tironell was reluctant to. He pointed out that they were more than likely to not hang around, but Aeli said "They might come back with friends [DM Note - oh yes they will!!! Muahahaha!] Tironell managed to convince Aeli to just tie them up, so she did and then she explored the room.

She found several sacks of thousands of copper and a mysterious glass vial with a substance inside and an unlocked, closed chest. Once again, not thinking, Aeli flipped the lid open, only to be surrounded by a green gas. Aeli made her Fortitude Save (microlite74 mechanic) and the mage wryly observed that she should be a bit more cautious next time. Inside the chest was more treasure, a few hundred silver. After loading down the poor bearer (who is rightfully named Nodwig), the party returned to the surface and ended the game.

With this intro game, I wanted my wife to learn a few things - and after the game, we talked about it. She figured out that jumping into things is going to get her killed, even though she likes to play headstrong. If you ever get to know my wife, you'd say "well, that's not a surprise!" *laugh* I praised her for parlaying with the goblins, and she said "Well, they weren't attacking, so we weren't." She also likes the quick combat pace - the spider combat lasted the longest at about 3 to 5 minutes. So, so far, her introduction to OD&D is going well.

Now what I have to decide is:
- How do they get the glass vial identified? (I'm thinking that they could find a sage or wizard who might do it for a fee... )
- How the town will deal with the rumors that the hirelings will bring back of death from above, goblins and danger in the tower - and the lure of treasure. There might be another adventure group forming? Competition?

I also have some plot ideas based on my wife's backstory for Aeli. Aeli's recent history was filled with a terrible tragedy and one that has left her with a single purpose in life - revenge. She was of a rich noble family. The family was rumored to have held great secrets from an ancient relative who had brought them to their noble status. A mage befriended Aeli, seeking to take advantage of her naivetee, to gain access to these secrets?

After learning how best to infiltrate the family's home, he did so, seeking the scrolls. He attacked the home with many hirelings and a horrific battle ensued between the bandits and her family's men-at-arms. They were eventually overcome. The mage could not find the ancient secrets, and he killed the majority of her family (some where not present during the attack) trying to get the information on where the scrolls were kept.

Aeli was not at the family estate, as she had been away preparing for her impending marriage. Upon learning of the attack, she ran off from her family and fiancee to track down the mage and make him pay.

Now the cool thing is that if Aeli dies, and she wants to keep this plot going, her 'replacement' could be a sister, or brother, or cousin or a friend of the family's.

I've also got the BBEG all planned out - Calypso, who may or may not be what he seems. He seduced Aeli to get to the ancient knowledge... but is he keeping tabs on Aeli? What is he? What does he want? I am plotting that out, and the nice thing is that my Vale setting was vague enough that Calypso and Aeli will fit right in.

So far, running solo works out nice! I'm really trying hard to make sure that my wife is the decision maker and I'm only giving suggestions when she's really stuck, or there's a teaching moment, like with battle tactics. I'm letting her learn the hard way, like with yanking open doors and chests - but also providing some food for thought - like when she wanted to keep going with half her party's fighting ability taken out by the spider.

There's more to Zenopus's Tower example, but once she's done first level, I think I'll have the plot present an opportunity for her to pursue her story, or keep going in Zenopus's Tower. We'll see.


David Larkins said...

That sounds like a great session! As someone who has walked a lot of people (including my girlfriend) through their first adventures, I'd say you're walking that fine line perfectly.

How the town will deal with the rumors that the hirelings will bring back of death from above, goblins and danger in the tower - and the lure of treasure. There might be another adventure group forming? Competition?

I'd say the deaths of three people will definitely put off a lot of the folks who thought they'd found the ticket to easy riches. Maybe Aeli becomes a bit of a local hero and village champion...but the rumors of the Tower's riches also are now spreading abroad, and it won't be long until a "professional" group of dungeon delvers shows up...

Gamer Dude said...

"- How do they get the glass vial identified? (I'm thinking that they could find a sage or wizard who might do it for a fee... )"

James Raggi over at LotFP just did a quick write up of the Holmes edition, and he's observed that a Wizard's read magic spell is also capable of identifying items. Or that's what it infers in the description at least. You could possibly go that way if you like.

Michael S/Chgowiz said...

@SirLarkins - Thank you for the comments and encouragement! You're very much in my head about the effects of both dying hirelings and the rumors of adventure. Since only a couple of days have passed, rumors will not have spread *that* far, but I sense that there will be competition in the short future.

I'm curious to see how the huge loss in manpower will affect Aeli's approach. I'm also looking forward to the fact that there were two goblins that she left tied up... and who knows if they'll bring reinforcements or just flee.

@GamerDude - Thanks! That was an interesting post.

What I took away from it was the emphasis on "reading" certain things that might be engraved/etched/placed on the item. A Detect Magic would reveal that the contents of the vial are magical, but the vial itself has no markings. I'm probably going to rule that this clear glass vial has no clues that any mage could "read" on - thereby necessitating a trip to a local sage. Might serve as a good seed for future interaction.

Scott said...

Chgowiz, I've added you to my blogroll. I may try out Tunnels & Trolls as a solo ruleset for my wife, who's never successfully got into gaming.

Michael S/Chgowiz said...

@Scott - Very cool! I hope it works out - do you know how you're going to hook her interest (or bribe her?)