Incomparable old-school D&D one-shot ideas

edited February 2011 in Play Advice
I've been running a really rewarding Glorantha-based Solar System campaign this winter, but lately we've had trouble getting the four people involved together; we've missed three weeks in a row now, I think. What we're going to do tomorrow is to play something else instead with a slightly different crew. What I'd like to discuss with you is approaches to playing Lamentations of the Flame Princess successfully with a group that has mixed experience with the school of play, in a one-shot context. As I'll explain shortly, I have a solid backing of plan-Bs, but if somebody can suggest a truly inspiring scenario or some useful methodology for getting the game going, all the better; I'm excited to play a D&D session right here and now with these people, but I'm yet to settle on one particular idea, and the game is tomorrow. Also, I think that it'll do me good to get my plans straight by writing them down here.

A couple of points about our group and conditions:
  • It's probably going to be me and three young college kids, men all. I'm the strong default of a GM in these circles, but the players are mostly active and experienced. In this case we'll be playing in a bit of a mixed group in terms of skill and experiences: one of the players is part of the elite cadre I've been schooling through the last decade, one is an experienced yet painfully geeky gamer and one is a gamer-lite type I haven't played with before, but who I hear has a solid grounding in World of Warcraft.
  • We're going to play at a local Irish pub that's been our venue of choice this winter. The session's going to start at 1pm tomorrow and end around six or so, ideally. The intent is to make this a one-shot for now, but we're open to further development of the play relations if the chemistry among the group works.
  • The social point of the meet-up is to play something fun and moderately hard-core, basically to scratch the itch and get some quality gaming in after a few weeks of missed sessions; getting to know the new guy is a secondary goal, of course. To this end our group is fully conversant with both boardgaming and roleplaying, so the range of potential activities is quite large.
Also, here's the actual challenge: basically what we sit down to play tomorrow will only really be decided on once we get there and go through the options face-to-face. I'm raring to go with D&D, but will be happy to go with something else if whatever I think up can't measure up to the alternatives. Thus, I have this list of alternate games that will have to be beat by any idea for it to have a chance to get realized tomorrow:
Tower of the Stargazer
Apparently nobody in the group has played this LotFP adventure yet, so it's likely what I'm going to do if I can't think up anything more exciting. I like TotS a lot, so it's not a loss if we end up playing it, but I do have my concerns: the adventure is pretty sadistic as Raggi's fare tends to be, which might not be the perfect pitch when two thirds of the players don't have prior experience with old-school D&D. Furthermore, TotS is more of a two-session deal with my GMing style, so choosing to play this is automatically going to mean an incomplete session.
Fables of Camelot
The foremost competitor for D&D for our session is this beta playtest game I wrote with Sami Koponen last summer. It's basically intended as a simple, powerful one-shot introduction to roleplaying via Forge-style narrativist adventuring, so it's very suitable for the situation. If it seems that the new guy, particularly, is all for heroic drama and not so much for gritty death in the depths of earth, this is going to be the fall-back plan.
If it becomes apparent to us tomorrow that the chemistry's not so good, or if somebody failed to rest sufficiently beforehand or whatever, then we're going to play Manila or Attika or some such mid-heavy German games instead of roleplaying. So ideally whatever I come is at least as entertaining and easy to get into as your average boardgame.
Those familiar with my occasional romancing of D&D know what I like to have in the game: challenges that take daring, strategy and tactics to complete, vivid fiction that makes sense, very little of the traditional bullshit conventions such as arbitrary magical traps or whatnot. Considering this, what should I do to make my prospective D&D one-shot a successful introduction to the genre for the two guys who've yet to see the game and a fun, complete evening's entertainment for the third who's pretty familiar with this sort of thing already? I'm more interested in good one-shot scenarios for first-level characters than rules suggestions, although I'll take the latter when they specifically concern making the game work for the above conditions. (As you might know, I do work on and off on my own heavily houseruled versions of D&D; this weekend I just want to play LotFP rather than my own, radically different mechanics.)

To get the discussion going: while I like almost everything about the streamlined red box as presented in LotFP, I'm thinking that for the purposes of the one-shot I'm going to drop the initial gear-purchase phase of chargen altogether. I frankly think that agonizing over whether to get 10 or 20 feet of rope is bullshit in itself, and even worse, the perusing of equipment lists, counting coins and ending up purchasing 15 dogs* is the single slowest phase of chargen in this game and probably every other game that has equipment lists. I'm looking forward to introducing merciless character death as a positive feature of the game, and this facet tends to suffer horribly when a new character requires more than just a quick reroll of the stats to achieve. So what I'll do instead tomorrow is to just declare that all weapons do d6 damage (a familiar rule from other editions of the game), fighters get 15 AC and everybody else gets 10 or 12 depending on whether they're armored or not, player's choice. Everybody gets the "adventurer's basics" package, too, which is basically everything a sensible player would buy anyway. Nobody gets any money to start with, the characters just spent it all before the adventure begins. Any equipment or wealth found in play works normally on top of this start-up.

Adventure-wise, if we ignore the aforementioned Tower of the Stargazer, I don't really have much right now, except that I want it to involve mortal danger and enough wealth to get characters to second level if they play smartly; bonus points if the adventure moves quickly enough to get a character to second level after the first 70% or so of play. I usually end up doing something like the Fury of Nifur when left to my own devices, but this time I'd much rather do a dungeon or some such thing with ample combat and opportunity for encounters with weaker, equally-strong and stronger dangers. For this reason, a forum discussion: perhaps somebody can point me towards something excellent.

* Dogs being enticingly cheap in LotFP. I've yet to start a chargen session of the game without some comic deciding that they'd rather have 25 dogs than any body armour, thank you.


  • One of the classic cliche' beginnings is: you're all slaves. Then, of course, something happens.

    Or, depending on how weird you want your old-school D&D, you could have the PCs abducted by aliens.
  • edited February 2011
    Posted By: Eero Tuovinenthe perusing of equipment lists... is the single slowest phase of chargen in this game and probably every other game that has equipment lists
    I occasionally run a Pathfinder game where player opinion of the micromanagement of gear ranges from not quite indifference to definite indifference. For this game, I just have the local Adventurers R Us stock pre-made gear packs, at a slight discount. Seems to hit an OK spot between ignoring micromanagement altogether and placating that one player who really needs to know if his guy has a torch. No idea how much prices and weight and all that crap have migrated from old school.

    In practice, the packs really act as a sort of abstract shorthand for the quality of gear a character might pull out, without having to track the quantities. "I have a standard pack. I pull out a torch." "OK." "I also pull out a sunrod." "Sorry, only the master pack has sunrods." Etc. Likely that sort of abstraction is an old school sin, but whatever.
  • I do that sort of thing as well in my own house D&D, Lester. I might have the players make ability checks to see if they happened to take some particular piece of esoteric equipment with them to the dungeon, too. Whatever it takes to reduce the bookkeeping; I'd much rather discuss the likelyhood of whether a character might have taken a mirror with him to the dungeon when and if the need comes up rather than wasting time on mirror-buying in advance.

    Dungeons, though, any ideas? The slavery premise might be usable, I could see solid fictional underpinnings for a small adventure in that. Perhaps a slave galley shipwreck in the tropical regions, with an unfortunately close-by evil temple, inscrutable locals (orcs, that is) and the overarching mission of finding the way back home. Without a dungeon map or at least some monsters this sounds like one of the adventures I make all the time - limited information, emphasis on decision-making, social situations and not as much hack-and-slash as I'd like for the occasion. Also, we did the Heart of Darkness thing last fall with some of these same players.

    Aliens are a solid premise as well, but I think I'd rather keep it relatively baseline as far as fantasy goes this time around; the game's systems start giving interference when you get too far off the typical fantasy situations, and that's something I can't be bothered to deal with in a one-shot.
  • edited February 2011
    The "random gallery images" section of the Cartographer's Guild shows me this map, which looks vaguely old school and about the right size for a one shot. Looking at it, for some reason I thought of this:

    Characters are part of a caravan through the desert (as bodyguards, merchants, whatever). During the night, two great big dragons (one metallic, one chromatic) happened to get into a massive fight in the area over the caravan. Collateral damage from the battle destroys most of the caravan, leaving only the PC's alive. Some sort of vauge threat (maybe the dragons are coming back, maybe there are desert beasts or orcs of something, maybe just the hot sun) prompts the need for shelter. Someone justs manages to spot some ruins in the distance, blah, blah, blah.

    Unbeknownst to the characters, the large magical fallout between the dragons has activated Something Bad in the dungeon under the ruins, and now a vortex of strange power is mutating desert creatures/summoning nasties/some excuse to get critters into the dungeon. Within the dungeon are clues to deactivate the vortex, but time is running out...
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