Monday, 29 June 2009

My Gaming Weekend - White Box, Uncharted Seas

I got two games in over this weekend, Friday's OD&D and Saturday's Uncharted Seas.

OD&D was in played at the Stourbridge and District Wargamers Club in Amblecote. We'd been talking about playing the original 1974 set as is/as was for a while now so this was the first expedition into my mythicalunderworldmegadungeon "The Netherpit". Players were Dave, Al and Mike.

Without going into tedious detail as to every roll, the players took 7 PCs into The Netherpit. I'd set up my central room to offer access to two One Page Dungeons, my own "Catacombs of the Green Meteorite" and Telecanter's "Coastal Caves". I blocked off the staircase down from "Catacombs" since I had no level 2 defined and typically the party made an immediate bee-line for the stairs and messed about trying to remove the "it's not built yet!" rubble before picking up on the hint and giving up. They then wandered about the Catacombs fighting Zombies and being baffled by ossuary pits bored into the floor and moon-dials (like a sundial but running off reflected moonlight).

Some interesting findings follow...

-Combat wasn't as lethal as I had suspected because they only faced Zombies who were not fierce foes because they always lose initiative. Also my players are hardened grognards who've played before and did all the right moves like picking their grounds for combats, tempting the zombies into rooms where they had two men sited either side of the door and the like. I didn't fudge any rolls and the party only suffered casualties in a climatic fight with a Gray Ooze.

-Telecanter's "Streamlined Starting Equipment" is a god-send when creating seven 1st level characters from scratch.

-It took about 45 minutes before a single dice was rolled and that was a "ruling" not a "rule".

-Rules-mechanics wise I'm not certain that I would have done very much different had I been running 1e, 2e, Basic "Red Box" or any of the modern retroclones. Most rolls outside of combat were generally of the "roll d20 and score under your Attribute" or simple "trap will activate on 1,2 on d6" which are the standbys I've been using for nearly 25 years. The only real difference we noticed was in character generation (hit points mostly) and the one-d6-fits-all approach of combat damage. For someone who has mostly DM'd Red Box and played in 2E I found the transition to be quite seamless. I've always played this way and it seems natural.

-Already house rules have crept in. I tried to make the game as close to 1974 as possible (in effect what we would have ended up with had one of us seen the UK review in Owl and Weasel and bought one of the first 6 imported copies off Messrs. Jackson and Livingstone) but can't divorce myself from the fact that it's not 1974 and we have 35 years of worldwide experience of the game that we can't forget about. I took the attitude that what was printed was merely a collection of stuff that attempted to provide a coherent game for customers but it didn't really match how either Gygax nor Arneson played and wouldn't work without some personal intervention. Deviations from canon - since all weapons do d6, the players gave their Magic-Users swords. Leather armoured Magic-Users seemed to be a reasonable compromise to keep them alive.

-Despite being intended as a one-shot, the players wanted to keep the game going and have a second session at a later date. Dave in particular raved about the lack of complicated rules "getting in the way".

Because I thought the game was a one-shot and time was drawing to a close, I ambushed them with the Gray Ooze that they'd run away from earlier in the evening. I didn't feel too bad about this little piece of DM sadism because it made for a nice climax for the game and because the party had previously dreamt up a plan to deal with the horror. Having found an abandoned camp they'd taken the sleeping furs and blankets from the camp and were going to throw them at the Ooze hoping to distract it while hacking away it. This was a plan I was impressed with and decided that the Ooze, lacking any intelligence, would probably mistake a large rug landing upon it for a potential threat/food-source and concentrate on that rather than the vague heat signatures of the two legged things beyond it.

Unfortunately nobody thought to put the plan into operation and they lost three PCs before taking it down with some jammy damage rolls. Post-game when it became obvious that all concerned wanted another game, I allowed all dead PCs to "Save vs CON" to be resurrected by the Temple to which one PC Cleric (deceased) belonged, one character made it. Another piece of house-ruling that I can see being worked into our games.

The original idea of Friday's game was to play the original since we'd only ever played later incarnations. I had expected a game with some rough edges and then maybe move onto Swords and Wizardry but the original went so smoothly that I think it will stay. Fight On!

Uncharted Seas was played in Birmingham at my FLGS Wayland's Forge. We (myself, Scott, Antony) set up a three way battle with two Dwarf fleets and an Orc fleet battling around a central island. After that resulted in utter defeat for the Orcs, hostilities rather petered out and I conceded to Antony as I had suspected the battle had run it's course and continuation would be somewhat tedious. That seems to be an effect of the damage system - you need to roll a certain number of hits in one go to breach the enemy's defense (i.e. score high enough) but damage to self lowers the number of dice you roll. Ultimately the big ships suffer loss of so many crew and batteries that they find it difficult to hurt each other.

Uncharted Seas Hot Triolism Action

After that game we lent our fleets to other people present (Aidy and Phil from the shop staff and Matt one of the roleplayers at the Stourbridge club) who seemed to have a better game than we did, fighting to the death which came down to a boarding action between Dwarf and Orc flagships with the depopulated Dwarf ship drifting and aflame. Both battles were simply excuses to push lead (well, resin actually) and roll lots of dice to see what happens.

Based upon one play and helping oversee a second I like Uncharted Seas and I don't feel that one player really needs anything more than a single Starter Set (generally 1 Battleship, 3 Cruisers and 6 Frigates). It's probably got the right level of complexity for it's scope (Coop's rule-of-thumb that states that some games are silly ideas to begin with and should remember that when designing their rules) and plays "cleanly". I might buy the undead fleet when it is released, I've always had a thing about raised wrecks crewed by the dead since reading Lone Wolf : Fire On The Water and seeing the ship models that Gary Chalk built to refight the naval battle from that gamebook in White Dwarf and the Magnamund Companion. Then again, both the Orcs and Humans have massive sails with plenty of opportunity for intricate sail heraldry - decisions, decisions...

Death Hulk from Fire On The Water

Original double-page spread from The Magnamund Companion showing Gary Chalk's ships for wargaming the battle from the aforementioned gamebook. Well worth zooming into the see the full-sized images.

Photos and player's impression of the game here on the club board.

Wayland's regular Tim passed through and took two in-game shots here and here.

Spartan Games are working upon a spacecraft game, if it comes out with similar mechanics I think a large order from Stourbridge is something of a no-brainer. These rules and a milieu that appeals to me more than silly fantasy naval? I'm in there and no mistake.

Saturday was also UK Armed Forces Day and on the Sunday three of us strolled down to Himley Hall in Dudley where they had something of a historic military vehicles parade and got to clown about handling a few WW2 weapons, such as a Lee-Enfield, Winchester (heavy beast that) and a US "Grease Gun". Six-year old Jake was obsessed with the .50 cal mounted on a sidecar on an ex-US army Indian. Wish I'd taken the camera. Back home via the local and two pints of India Pale Ale.

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