Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Classic D&D Marathon - Recap

This past Saturday, I held a Classic D&D marathon at Unique Gifts & Games in Grayslake, IL. This follows the Classic D&D marathon from 2010. It was scheduled at 10 hours, I halted at 9 1/2 hours mainly because the players hit a logical stopping point and there was really nothing that could be done in 30 minutes.

First, I have to tip my hat to Ken and Kathleen, the owners of UGG, for making this a welcome event. We had half of the gaming area for a large table for 9 people and they were very accommodating. They also supplied freebies to give out to players and provided me a complimentary sandwich for dinner, that was much appreciated!

It was an awesome event! I had 28 people play throughout the day. I had two of my AD&D campaigners show up for about 8 hours of gaming. My youngest player was in the range of 7 to 10 years old - Juan - and he was a great player. I had a wide range of ages and genders play. The average session was about an hour or two, and I had complete table turn-overs almost the entire day. By the end of the day, I was exhausted, the players had tromped through the Isle of Dread and survived!

Yes, Isle of Dread - the great wilderness exploring module X1. I've had a soft spot for this module ever since the Expert box set came out - I remember diving into the box expecting great things and I was never disappointed. I remember killing many PCs on just the journey from the mainland to the island, as wandering monsters on the ocean are particularly deadly! My "rules" of choice was D&D - a huge mishmash of Holmes, OD&D and house-rules. I had my pregens from my 2010 B2 Keep on the Borderlands, so I bumped them to 4th level, updated the character sheets and away we went.

A side-note before the recap... in preparing the module, I was impressed once again by how easy it is to make this module your own. You've got a dragon, nasty dinosaurs, enough races to set at each others throats and lots of places to throw your own wrinkles. The downside was the heavy-handed wording of the module in how players should be wrestled/coddled/fudged into success. There are places where it seems as if the 2e "story first!" approach was already taking root, nine years early. Those admonitions can be easily ignored, but the proliferation of magic items in almost every treasure is not. For a one-shot, I really didn't care, but for a long-term campaign, depending on your magic flavor, this module could tilt it fast.

So I put in my special sauce - changed things, modified things to my liking, grabbed my S&W Ref Sheets to make wandering monster rolls easier (as well as have other tables handy) and threw the players onto the Island!

Stealing a page from Jeff Rients and Gilligan's Island, I started the game with combat as the players found themselves marooned...
Me: "OK, let's get started. You see skeletons in front of you and zombies are pulling themselves over the rails. Everyone else is pretty much dead. You have initiative. What do you do?"
Player: "What is going on? Where am I?"
Me: "Is your action to look around and assess the situation?"
Player: "No, no.. I'll attack the nearest undead!"
and so on...

The cleric made quick work of the undead and the players found themselves shipwrecked somewhere on the Isle of Dread. A quick search of the captain's quarters found a roughly drawn (by the DM right there) map of the coastline of the Isle of Dread.

"So where are we?" the players asked.
"Somewhere on that map." I replied.

That was some people's first introduction to Classic D&D as I had a couple of requests for "What do I need to roll to figure out where I am." (Answer: "Well, you can see you're on a beach, there's a huge mountain to the NW and ocean to your east and south. Jungle is to your west. You don't need to roll for that...") Once they got over that bit of a shock, characters picked up their gear and hiked along the beach. We had a brief segue with some harpies that charmed all the demi-humans (go figure) and then the players reached the village of Mora - the outpost of the Kingdom!

Upon learning that the next boat is 30 days out, the players began looking for opportunities to kill things and take stuff. The two teenage boys were all about looting and pillaging the village, but soon enough they were heading to the jungle with "Ron the Hunter" - a guy who had a really bad Aussie accent and a cowardly streak of hiding behind the adventurers until the monster was dead, then dashing forward to plant his boot and sword in its steaming carcass.

The first adventure found one the more unusual results of dice telling the story - the constant reappearance of the damn green dragon in the game. After melting two of the players with it's breath and clawing a third to death, the players gave up most of their magic items to the dragon who flew off. Bamf! Replacements appear and on they go. (Ya gotta love just dropping the veil of verisimilitude and concentrating on just playing) This dragon ended up showing up three more times (!!!) as a wandering monster.

The players hunted down a dinosaur that was eating a villager and netted some gold and good will from the natives. They returned to hunt more animals for gold and ran into some flying-squirrel-monkey-racoon things - the famous Phanatons of X1. After some non-verbal negotiation, the players convinced the phanaton to trust them and to do some trading of intricately carved doo-dads for silver.

One of my special sauces was to have a ton of hooks for each major encounter, both prior and within the encounter. The Neanderthals would want the players to go after the Lizard folk and vice versa. The Rakasta would ask the players to join them on hunts if reactions went well. If the Arachnae captured the players, they would force them to attack the Phanaton and so on. In this case, the Phanatons got the players to go hunt Arachnae.

That ongoing hook took up most of the day. Players died to poisonous snakes, giant - 24 foot tall giant - sloths (heh, wonder how that'll go down when you reach the Halls of Valhalla...) and other misfortunes. The biggest "kill" belonged to the slimy witch-doctor and his wandering monster band of 11 zombies. I threw Hold Person on the thief and cleric and had two to three zombies per other PC. Two PCs were killed in the melee. Three PCs fled and the held players were left to their fate...

In the end, everyone had a great time, got loot, killed things and felt good about helping out cute little spider monkey/squirrel/raccoon/George Lucas wannabe Ewok things. I spoke to a number of people about my AD&D campaign and may have netted another player or two and perhaps I'll be running campaign games at UGG. We'll see.

Thanks again to everyone that showed up and UGG!

Updated 3/11/2011:
Two players have posted their recaps, I thought I'd share them. Thanks again for playing!
The Delve Lord's recap
APlus's recap

I will be doing another Marathon next year, I'm just not sure what the hell I'll be running. Maybe a megadungeon... something bizarro... I've got a whole 11 months to think about it...


LokiSooner said...

Sounds like a great time! I'm curious, did you get to showcase much of your Morrowind influence on the module? When I first read that in one of your posts a while back, I was definitely intrigued.

Been reading your blog for a while now; it's one of several that has inspired me to get back into the D&D hobby (although it's been harder to find some players to drag back with me).


Timothy S. Brannan said...

I just got a new copy of X1 at the Games Plus auction on Saturday too. Were you there?

Michael S/Chgowiz said...

@Loki - There were some little nods to Morrowind. I had a couple of encounters that were family tomb or egg mines-like areas. Seyda Neen was on my mind as I presented the village of Mora to the players. Probably the biggest influence was just the open-ended nature and how the Kingdom had an outpost.

And thank you for the kind words.

Michael S/Chgowiz said...

@Tim - Saturday was my Marathon. I went on Sunday, put a proxy bid on the Army Transport bag (still waiting to hear if I got it) and that was about it... didn't stick around as the majority of minis were Warhammer related.

Lord Bodacious said...

Sounds awesome! This is a major and ambitious undertaking, very cool of you to stand up on the table and make so much D&D happen!

James said...

Man, that sounds like it was a blast!

Gothridge Manor said...

I haven't been in a marathon gaming session since I had hair. You provided a few 1970s flashbacks for me. Wavy lines and a harp strumming included.

It sounds like a lot of fun. Very cool. Hmmm, wonder if someone would do that around here?

Jeremy Deram said...

Thanks again for running that game. Although my adventuring life on the island was short one, I had a great time.

You can see my report here: