First Adventures: Swords and Wizardry
I am taking a player that has no experience and have them play a game to get their first impression. The first in this series is Swords and Wizardry.First adventures is a recap of a play through I had with a player that has no prior knowledge of the game we played. The goal is defining the accessibility of the game, mechanics, how the game was played, flow, and first impression of the game. Along with other details that come up.
I will tell you how I ran the adventure, what tools I used, and how the game went.
What I want you to get out of this series is our experience playing a game and whether you might want to do the same with inexperienced players.
I had no prior experience of being a DM for someone other than myself. This experiment is a means of learning for me too. I play solo. Only me. Now with an another player things are different. It has made for a whole new experience.
Now with that out the way, let's talk about Swords and Wizardry.
I chose Swords and Wizardry not only because it's free. Reading through the rulebook gave me confidence to run an adventure. SnW is a simple dungeon crawler with light rules, that get lighter, and easy character creation.
Using the OGL, this retro clone is easy to pick up and understand if you are already used to classic DnD. I wanted to modify the game using the D20 system. Which is basically 3.5e anyways. Allowing for skill checks.
SnW is basic. Go in the dungeon, kill what you can, and leave with the loot. I wanted more than that and I will get to that later. The referee of the game makes all the decisions. No skill checks but rather a decision made right there by the referee. My player had no experience of how a DM works, so I wasn't about to make costly decisions and become the bad guy. I'll tell you what I did to solve that problem later in the resources I used for the adventure.
For a basic game there is room for growth. In later parts of the game players can control strongholds and have naval assaults. Do I see that happening for mine? Probably not. In order to get to such a high level you will be playing for a while. Monsters killed, and loot taken add to your experience. But the time it will take to get to those higher levels will feel grindy. What I did was give the player a level at the end of the adventure. I did not expect what happened at the end to happen, so I may have left my player overpowered.
I want to give a huge shout out to Matthew Colville. I watched the first and second episode of Running the Game and I have to say, "DAMN they was good!" Those two episodes alone will clear up any confusion for new DMs and players. The game makes more sense by the simple terms he uses to explain how the game runs. The example adventure he uses in the videos was what I used.
Like I mentioned earlier, I did not want too much power. You see, I was playing a character as well. That's right. PC and DM. It'll make sense later. But for now, know that I was between the curtain both onstage and backstage. I knew everything that could, or should I say would happen. It would be easy for me to make a call that would potentially steer the player in the direction I thought was best. From what better DM's say, do not do that. Don't hold their hand and tell a player what they ought to do. Make suggestions. I did. Shout out to DM's block for that tip. Great show with useful information.
What did I do to solve this problem? Mythic. The fate chart saved me from being the bad guy. It was better to roll on the fate chart and give an answer versus steering the adventure the way I wanted. You have to understand; new players do not know that you are calling the shots on the fly. They might think that a DM is there to dictate everything. Stay on course of the main goal of the adventure of course, but PCs should make up their own decisions along the way. Still surprises me how my player was thinking outside the box.
Preparing the character beforehand made gameplay smoother. There were no hang ups with rolling dice and having to explain all the nuances of character creation. I asked for what type of character she wanted to play, names, and any background story that could flesh out the character. All characters came equipped with swords and armor. Very little equipment.
I gave my player the races and classes and asked her who might interest her. She chose two characters because she couldn't pick only one. Hogark the Dwarven fighter and Gray the druid. I inserted myself into this game as a monk named Marden. I wanted to be in the adventure as an NPC guide. The player had no idea what to expect when playing an RPG. So, a guide would benefit a new player.
Marden is the silent guide with a super low charisma and intelligence. The super low charisma and intelligence keeps him from interacting with NPCs in the game. You can't rely on Marden to make decisions. Which is exactly what I wanted out of his character. The reason for this is because all decisions fall on the player. They can't turn to me for guidance. Remember, Marden ain't too bright and not good with the words.
I found this to be the perfect way of nudging a new player in the right direction. There were moments when Marden made suggestions based on emotion. Like, we should do the right thing and finish this mission we have. It's the right thing to do. It keeps players from wandering too far off.
Running the adventure
Watch those two episodes Running the Game and you'll see how it was a simple hook and easy to understand goal. I write short films, but I see them in my head. It was weird at first to explain to the my player what the scene looked like out loud. She got the idea once I used locations she was familiar with. A local nature preserve painted a clearer picture for her. I added some flavor and distinctions but she understood once I referenced a known place.
I never knew how creative my player was up until the first encounter. I had an elf along the path minding his own business. The elf was a way to see how she would handle an encounter and to become familiar with skill checks. IF this game proved to be a success then more games will have new rules including skill checks. Why not go ahead and start using them now?
She totally botched the first charisma roll and the elf became hostile. He started shouting, "Fuck you!" One thing led to another and Hogark used his battle axe to split the elf in half starting from scrotum then up. I always asked the player how she killed an enemy. Say she rolled an attack damage of 6, the maximum her weapon does, then that would be an epic kill if she killed the enemy. I made these calls at my discretion. So, rolling 2 damage but a goblin had one hit point, that would make it twice his hit point total making for an epic kill. That's double the death in a weird twisted way. So on and so forth. People come up with twisted ways to kill if given the chance. Use this method to determine fatalities.
What made me proud was the resourcefulness of my player. She created a trap for goblins using a whistle and rope I put in the PCs backpack. A makeshift trip wire with me as bait blowing the whistle. For something like that, I rolled on the fate chart. Will all the goblins trip? Likely. My interpretation of likely is 3 out of 4 will trip, but the fourth has time to run away instead of being in the dog pile.
What I discovered was her willingness to kill everything. That can be costly. The monsters in this adventure were easy to kill on purpose though. She's a new player so she thought killing was the only way. Even after she found out diplomacy was an option, she still chose to kill. That might've been my fault. I stole the idea of a bounty board to flesh out the world. The goblins that kidnapped the princess were one dimensional. Now with the bounty board they are a real nuisance to the town. Given the player more incentive to killing them. Or finding new ways to kill them.
For initiative I switched back in forth between group initiative and individual. The reason was to save time. Groups of 3 or more got the group treatment.
No battle maps needed. All encounters were theater of the mind.
The mini boss before the final ghoul of the adventure was a hobgoblin. Last minute I gave him the ability to communicate in common. My player being the psycho she is, had her two characters murder him in front of mine. That's what I get for making hobgoblin ears worth gold pieces on the bounty board.
A ghoul was the actual boss of the adventure. He lost his paralyzing touch because these first level adventures had no idea how to battle. A torch could've burned him down. Hogark was down to no hit points by the end and worse come to worse, Marden would have had to step in with a flaming torch.
Is it cheating? Could've been. Do I know how to set up an adventure that matches players skills? No, not really. Would it have taught my player that attack rolls are not always the only option? For sure. Fortunately, I didn't have to step in.
I asked how she felt about the adventure and what she didn't like. To my surprise, she enjoyed the hell out of it. Coming in with no prior experience and an open mind was exactly what I wanted for this experiment/series.
Her only complaint was the fate chart and how it was not always in her favor. That's understandable. This opportunity gave her freedom to do whatever she wanted. Granted she had to roll for some of those decisions. Overall, she felt it was an easy to learn game. The mechanics of rolling for almost everything is new to her but made sense. Without dice there is chaos.
For me, all the time I have spent preparing for this adventure was worth it. Even though you can't prepare for everything. My player did stuff I never thought of or could prepare for. Killing that innocent elf. She made the comment of what if that was the only common he knew. And he was just saying what he thought was a startled hello. I was in tears because of that.
SnW was easy to learn. Being limited makes room for adding on what you like. Borrow from other game systems and make the game you want.
She did require from me to know all the rules. For her, when we play a new game it is a real turn off if the rules are complicated or I don't understand them fully before introducing them to her. That's fair. I can see how that would be frustrating.
I let her know from the beginning with RPGs it is impossible to know everything. It's a living world the moment the idea of the adventure comes to mind. Anything is possible, and you can only know the outline of the adventure.
Did I actually play Swords and Wizardry?
You might be thinking with all the modifications I played the bastardization of an OSR game. To an extent, you're right. But hear me out. The reason for that was to accommodate to a new player that has no interest in old school dungeon crawling.
At the core we played SnW with modifications to transition to other modern RPGs. Plus, more than likely you have house rules, right? You make decisions in your game that deviates from the source. You don't get hung up on rules in the middle of the game. You make an executive decision right then and there and make notes to go back on how to resolve that issue. I merely avoided that all together to ensure a smoother game.
At the end of the day they are all open to be modification to suit the group. DMs have that power. I used that power. As you should too.
In the future, expect to see more modifications. This a recap on how I ran the game. SnW was the framework. And I recommend the game to new players.
The best news
The following Monday after we played SnW my girlfriend asked how fast I could come up with an adventure. Turns out, she had so much fun and wanted to play again the next day.
I would imagine this is every DM's wet dream. A new player asking to play again. That gave me confidence in my ability to run an adventure and it not suck too bad. Good thing she doesn't know any better.
Enjoy your drinks and game on.
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