Monday, February 23, 2009

We play old school - Wife's solo game becomes a campaign

Ever since TSR/WotC published the "Fast Play" rules for AD&D 2nd Edition (still available as a PDF download from Wizards) back in the late 90s, I've had the "Vale Campaign" in my head. This particular "intro" module, written by Jeff Grubb, was a self-contained set of AD&D 2E rules, complete with pre-gen characters and a decent explanation of AD&D mechanics. It was the first of 3 modules, Wrath of the Minotaur and Eye of the Wyvern completed the series. At one time, I owned all 3, but divorces, moves and many years later, these seem to have been lost.

The campaign in my head started simply enough from the generic setting info available in the Fast Play rules:

[Start of Adventure] All of you are natives of the Vale, a small farming community made up of a number of small towns scattered along a broad, wooded valley. The Patriarch is the spiritual leader of the Vale, and he has asked you to come to his shrine when the noon bell sounds.

[End of Adventure]
The Patriarch is extremely pleased with your discovery of the library beneath the ruined tower! He believes that it may have belonged to an ancient and powerful wizard, whose lair has not yet been discovered and whose treasure still lies out there, waiting for brave adventurers to find it! Congratulations! The Patriarch is happy that you have defeated the [thing you were sent to defeat - spoiler removed] that was plaguing the local farms and homesteads. With this menace put to rest, he can turn his attention to other matters, such as finding the hidden tomb of the wizard who once ruled the valley.
So, naturally, I had to twist this all in my head and tinker with it. What was the Vale in relationship to the outside world? Who was this Patriarch and was he for real? What was his interest in the wizard's lair? Who was this wizard? And on and on... until I had pages and pages filled with not only maps, NPCs, timelines, what would happen if no heroes got involved and so forth.

This whole campaign has seen fits and starts (and I think I've written about this aspect before) in various ways. I started playing this with my ex back in the late 90s, but the Vale campaign never took off. When we divorced in the early 2000s, I dropped D&D for awhile and concentrated on other things.

In 2004, I tried to revive the Vale. I found the old PDF, got PrincessGirlfriend (who is now PrincessBride) and her son and my daughters to play. My son played a mage who ran at the first sign of giant rats, my wife played a fighter who kicked ass (go figure, look what she's playing now!) and my daughters tried their hand at this in their own game. Right about that time, my stock car racing hobby started really rolling and the campaign ended after a game or two.

So fast forward to February of 2008. I had been wanting to play some RPGs, having just finished Morrowind and poking around the old Ultima PC games. It was about this same time that I started writing my epic fail Ultima I rewrite in 3.5 edition, as well as finding my old Vale notes. I didn't do so much with Vale, as I was preparing for my survival school course, playing 3.5E and 4E and discovering rules-lite nirvana with microlite20.

Fast forward one more time to the end of 2008. I began gently suggesting to my wife that we play D&D again (and by gently suggesting, I mean a lot of geeking, "wouldn't it be cool"-ing and so forth...) and she agreed. I read up on some fantastic threads on gleemax about running a solo game, opened up my Holmes Basic book to the "Tower of Zenopus" adventure, printed a copy of microlite74 and thus, the city of Westport was born.

After that first game, I found (again) my old Vale maps and settings notes and suddenly, I had an entire campaign. I already had some dungeons/adventures from Vale and from my Ultima1 campaign I could drop in. Boom. Done. Cue happy music and much rejoicing.

In the past few weeks, I've worked on wilderness hex maps and basic ideas of what's around Westport and Vale. I've kept a running timeline of what is going on, based on what has happened in my wife's games. So this weekend, when my wife couldn't play, but my son and daughter wanted to, I had a pefect opportunity for them to play in Vale as well.

I didn't want to have the kids jump right in where my wife was. Just in case they didn't want to head into (a restocked) Zenopus's Tower, or go bandit hunting, or go looking for the merchant's lost daughter, I downloaded a beginner's adventure by Chris Gonnerman, called "A Haunted Tower". I found this adventure from the Dragonsfoot forum. This adventure was written for a somewhat younger mindset than a 19 year old boy and 11 year old girl, but the basic gist was a good beginning dungeon and gave me something to work with.

It was really a neat experience to walk my kids into a run-down tavern in the same town that my wife's character (Aeli) has been working in, and have the kids hear rumors and talk to NPCs that Aeli had heard or affected. The widow of a hireling that had died in Aeli's party served "Ralf" (my son's elf) and "Shimi" (my daughter's fighting woman). Ralf had "Bear" (a poodle guard dog recreation of our real dog Bear) tied up outside. I gave them some hooks, they spoke to a weeping alchemist's apprentice and away they went to the Haunted Tower.

Highlights included my daughter barging into every door she could find (just like her in real life), my son falling down a trapdoor, my daughter being poisoned by a spider and falling influence to confusion, and just a lot of fun with some combat and grabbing of loot. My son loves the Morrowind/Oblivion games and the fact that there was a great deal of alchemical equipment in this tower meant that he's loading up his backpack with many strange flasks and equipment. He's even asked what a dog can carry.

It was a really neat experience to see my campaign world really "come alive" with multiple groups, stories touching each other and everyone having a good time. My son, who's familiar with my wife's story so far, was laughing as the widow spoke about "those darned adventurers!" but he didn't meta-game, just laughing and shaking his head out of character.

So I guess it's not truly a solo game anymore, although I know my wife is anxious to continue her solo side of things - but the opportunity to bring Vale to many people was just too good to pass up. I like the idea of having a "family" campaign/story that we'll share together, with now my PrincessBride wife, my son, my step daughter and my 11 year old daughter (and the dog too, by extension, although going from a chocolate lab to a poodle is a stretch...)


Anonymous said...

hahaha sounds like alot of fun :) my family is too sarcastic and elitist to do this with :( I envy you. btw, my bf calls me Space Princess :P

Randall said...

This is how a lot of multi-group campaigns got started in the "old days" too. Before you know it you can have several groups active in the area. Then they'll start rumors to get other groups to do their dirty work for them or to con them into going elsewhere, etc.

Michael S/Chgowiz said...

@Viriantha - "Space Princess" awww.. :)

@Randall - I'm so hoping that multigroup competition does get started in my Dark Ages campaign.

Anonymous said...

Man, I love reading these kind of stories. It's good to know that there are plenty of folks out there who still play solo or 'one-on-one' games with friends and family.

And whoa... you have a stock car racing hobby?


Michael S/Chgowiz said...

@arcona - yes, at one time. I posted pics a few posts ago of my victory and wreck. I stopped due to the local track closing and the nearest track being too far away for me to attract sponsorship at the lower rungs.