I really enjoy reading Delta's con game summaries. They are very interesting, entertaining, and thought provoking.
One series especially - Outdoor Spoilation.
Outdoor Spoilation I
Outdoor Spoilation II
Outdoor Spoilation III
What I like about this series:
- You can see clearly the wargaming roots of D&D. The reason this works so well - rampaging PCs going through a wilderness looking for treasure - is that the rules for individual heroes grew out of this. In a way, this runs smoothly for the same reason D&D sometimes doesn't run as smoothly on the micro scale - this larger scale is what it grew out of.
- So much of the encounter tables, stated percentages for NPCs do do X or Y, treasure types, and reward system of OD&D and early AD&D shows through here. The "implied setting" of D&D is largely because of cramming a lot of adventure into a dangerous area oddly adapted from a simple hexcrawl survival game's map. Why so many castles, caves, etc.? Accident of Outdoor Survival making a bang-up area to battle around in. The world around that battle area? Hey, keep your mind on your success rate. What's off the map matters about as much as the rest of the world does in Monopoly.
- Delta's notes on how he ran it, rules effects, Rules As Written (including house rules) vs. Actual Play, are a gold mine for anyone writing any rules. Which, experience tells me, is every single GM.
- In a way, it sounds more like a Refereed playthrough of a micro wargame than of a modern RPG. This isn't an insult, it's a compliment, because it's very much structured like that. Enter this sandbox, and leave with 100,000 in loot before time runs out. The loot and monsters are set, and I'll ref the game and run the bad guys. GO!
And some reflections on the play in the series:
- I like the lairs, castles, settlements approach. A wilderness should have lairs scattered around. With oddball monsters in them. I liked that about Legends, the PBM game. Is the half-gyger in the cave dangerous, or a pushover with loot? Feel free to find out!
- the large numbers of high-level characters you find in D&D, especially for groups of men, seems all about this kind of challenge. Castles have high-level characters running them. That's how it goes. If castles were run by 3rd level NPCs or something and 8th-9th level PCs just showed up, you'd expect them to sign on to the winners not resist first. But a high-level leader is much less likely to just knuckle under, because that's not how they got to run a castle full of troops.
- If it didn't make sense that orcs come in groups of 30-300 before, it should now.
- A sandboxy crawl like this is a natural place for real and fake treasure maps. Especially with a time crunch and a monetary goal. Is that the win, or a waste of valuable time?
- anytime it's "group of PCs with magic vs. NPCs without" magic pretty much wins. It's such a game changer. NPCs need magic to survive. All good tactics does is extend the life and increase the difficulty, and perhaps cost a few extra spells. But you don't see the PCs lose a lot when magic can shift the odds immensely. This is something you'll see in just about all of my games, too - even the best tactics and cleverest and toughest foes can be undone by superior magical firepower, and sufficient hostile magical firepower can equally do that to the PCs.
- the importance of magic in older D&D sets is even more critical when you think about the damage weapons inflict - aka, not very much. Enemy HP aren't high, but spells can do a lot of damage compared to swords and arrows. That said, masses of archers are trouble for PCs.
- Clever play is always interesting. The use of smart tactics, diplomacy (occasionally), and magic for non-artillery purposes is nice to see. We still tell stories in our own games about clever tactics bypassing hard obstacles just as much as stories about hard obstacles going down in brutal heads-up confrontation. It's also fun to see when overly-clever moves backfire.
- It's always fun watching people scramble for a goal. You get some odd real-world decisions (let's let our friend die and recruit our enemy to replace him) and the occasional short-term thinking decision, but you also get to see a mad rush for loot. It's kind of funny, and it drives play the same way you get in miniatures games, on that final turn of a wargame (seizing VP locations you can't hold), and video game boss fights. Not terribly realistic, but really fun.
- Someday, I'd love the see the character writeups and their magic items. I'm curious to know what they've got to work with to get that 100,000.
- And will the stakes be higher next year?