The adventure I ran was also similarly simplistic and old-school in style. The introduction went something like this: "You've been staying in a town which lies nearby to a magical wood. You've heard stories of people going into the wood and getting lost, so you know there's lots of weird and dangerous creatures living there. You've also heard legends of a great army in ancient times getting lost in the wood, and a king's hoard of treasure getting lost along with them, so you know there are riches to be found, for the brave and cunning. You journey into the wood on a sunny day, and after a couple of hours you come to a clearing with a huge old oak tree in the middle. Looking at the tree you notice that it is split down the middle, revealing an interior space which you could step into. Looking into the space within the tree you see a shaft going straight down into the earth with tree roots forming a ladder of sorts. What do you do?" As you can imagine, they ventured into the hole, and discovered a strange subterranean world filled with all sorts of weird, wonderful and deadly things.
Rather than describe the adventure itself, I thought firstly I'd write a few thoughts on the game-play and the rules, starting with character creation. As there were only three players, I let them roll two characters each -- one as their main character, and one as a henchman of some kind.
We ended up with the following assortment:
- Min - dwarf.
- Slippy - halfling (who are rat-people in this vaguely imagined campaign world), endebted to serve the greedy Min for 99 years (far longer than the halfling's expected lifespan).
- Rivain - elf (fey), rolled with that rarest of treasures - a natural 18 Strength.
- Esalai - elf (fey), henchwoman of Rivain. Esalai almost instantly became known as 'Princess' as none of us could remember her real name.
- Bamberry - magic-user (necromancer) with an undead rat familiar.
- Ismelda - dwarf henchwoman of Bamberry.
As I'd disallowed the cleric class (somehow I'm not that keen on the idea of clerics as adventurers), I let them buy healing potions for 50gp, and scrolls of undead turning for 25gp. The party had quite a few of these items between them, and though the undead turning scrolls didn't see any use (yet), the healing potions were life savers, literally. I allowed the healing potions to be used to save anyone at 0 or -1 hit points, if they could be reached by a companion within a couple of rounds. This actually happened twice during this session, so I was glad I'd invented that rule -- I hoped the first session wouldn't be too off-putting and end in a TPK! In the end four out of the six characters made it out of the dungeon -- Min the dwarf met his doom falling into an underground river while grappling with a troglodyte (though the dwarf's final fate is as yet unknown to the other PCs), and Princess was slaughtered by another troglodyte in an ensuing battle. That was a shame, they were both cool characters.
One thing which I really especially enjoyed, which is of course one of the main "selling points" of old-school RPGs, was the freedom of description and action provided by the very loose framework of rules. Rather than dry rolling of skill checks, traps were deduced and disarmed by trial and error -- throwing dead bodies onto pressure plates, wedging bones in cracks to prevent blades flying out, and so on. Each round of combat began with a simple "what do you do"? And of course the answers given were purely descriptive, never touching on the meta-tactics level of more modern RPGs with tons of mechanics-based combat 'options' -- "I move 4 squares then I use my Cleave feat", or whatever. I've been getting a bit fed up of this in Savage Worlds recently, which is a system I'm quite fond of, but still has too much of this meta-level rules complexity for my increasingly old-school tastes.
In the end though the remaining PCs escaped the dungeon with a nice selection of treasure, many areas left unexplored, and a couple of hints at what dangers and treasures lie yet in wait. What more can one ask for? We definitely plan to play again, and see how they fare on a second journey into the magical wood.