Sunday, 16 January 2011

Labyrinth Lord - first session!

So today, at last, I got to play Labyrinth Lord! I've been absolutely gagging to give it a go since getting the books a couple of months ago, and was excited to be able to arrange a session for this afternoon. Of course, though it's the first time I've played Labyrinth Lord, I've played copious hours of basic D&D as a kid, so it's hardly new territory -- rather a return to and retreading of old territory. And I'm delighted to say it was a great success, everyone had a lot of fun, and I was revelling in the joyous simplicity and openness of the rules - no 'feats' or 'edges' (as they're known in Savage Worlds)! No copious lists of skills! (None of the PCs ended up being thieves, so there really wasn't a single skill on anyone's character sheet!) Just good, old fashioned, 3d6 ability scores in order, roll for hit points, buy equipment and off we go.

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.
So only a single human in the group. I'm not sure why they all ended up gravitating towards demi-humans, as none of them have ever played basic D&D before, and I didn't give the demi-humans a massive big-up or anything. It just somehow turned out that way. The 3d6 in order rolling of ability scores came as a bit of a shock to two of the three players, who were experienced with D&D 3, and being able to choose what class they wanted to play, and there were some grumbles, but I reassured them that ability scores don't make so much difference (except for that 18 Strength, which really helped in battles!) and that, realistically, the characters were fairly likely to die anyway. :)

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.


  1. I like everyone having two characters (the boss and the henchman) for the game. I am swiping that for my con game next month! Glad to hear everyone had a good time!

  2. I've just come back from our weekly game -- which has jumped from D&D4 to Pathfinder since you were with us -- and everyone seems to have henchmen now, except for my monk. :(

    It's funny how you're moving away from Savage Worlds whereas I -- after running it last week -- am moving more towards it, and away from the retroclones!

  3. Yeah I let them each roll up a henchman as well so they'd all have a replacement character in case the main one snuffed it! Also of course to give party variety -- there's no way three 1st level characters would survive on their own for long in such a dungeon.

    How are you finding Pathfinder, Kelvin?

    I guess, for me with Savage Worlds, I've been kind of trying to use it to emulate old-school D&D, which I spend a lot of time reading about on blogs and forums. In the end I've been realising that there's a lot of differences between the systems, and that it's actually pretty hard to emulate really old-school D&D in Savage Worlds. For a start the characters are way tougher than low level D&D PCs, and most monsters (the Extras, that is) are a lot weaker -- bugbears get ploughed through several a round at times! It doesn't encourage that feeling of intense danger that exists for 1st level D&D PCs, where a single hit in combat is likely to kill you!

    Also, as I wrote in this post, I much prefer the freeform nature of a game free of 'feats' and zillions of meta-tactical combat options. I mean, I find the Edges, tricks, and tests of wills systems in Savage Worlds really really well done -- I like the game a lot. It's just a very different feeling game from basic D&D. I actually think Savage Worlds is perfect for one-shots as well, having that fast & furious pulpy kind of feeling to it.

    Admittedly, all that is said after 8 months or so of Savage Worlds, compared to a single session of Labyrinth Lord, so perhaps time will tell a different tale... ;) We'll see.

    Did you get to play any Swords & Wizardry yet?

  4. Pathfinder is good fun... as a player. I tried running it a few weeks ago, and it was a bit of a disaster. It's just about at the upper level of complexity for me as a player. It's much more fun to play than D&D4, anyway.

    In comparison, I found Savage Worlds much easier to run, as while it does have a few fiddly bits, on the whole it's quite a streamlined system.

    Alas, I haven't given S&W a go yet. I don't know if it's ever going to happen, to be honest. That said, the group is going to change in the coming months, with people dropping in and out, so there may be room for a new game or two in there.

  5. I didn't really give a good answer there, did I?

    I see what you mean about Savage Worlds, and it is relatively bitty in comparison to old-school D&D-type games, so I can see why it might not be the game of choice for emulating that genre. I'm using it to run Eberron, for which it is a good fit, and better than either version of D&D for which it was written. I think if I were doing an old-school type game though, I would follow your lead and use something like Swords & Wizardry.

    My general preference is for lighter games -- like Call of Cthulhu, which has barely any rules -- but as crunchy games go, Savage Worlds is at the right level of complexity -- ie, not very -- for me.

  6. Yeah it was interesting to notice that I was trying to emulate D&D with Savage Worlds, and that in a few major ways it still ends up having a very different feeling. Another thing I've noticed about SW is that the rules are actually more complex and fiddly than I at first thought. It's somehow the kind of system that the more you get into the little interactions between all the different Edges and combat options, the more complex it gets. I guess it's still toned down quite a bit from D&D 3, though I've only played that like twice, so I can't speak with authority! ;)

    From the little I know of Eberron, I can really imagine Savage Worlds being a good fit for it though.

    And I can totally understand what you say about Pathfinder being hard to GM! Something I've noticed is that I can't abide having to calculate anything while I'm writing an adventure. So d20-based games are right out (all those skill ranks and feats and so on you have to calculate for monsters), and I've found myself getting frustrated with Savage Worlds even, where you have to calculate a mighty two statistics for enemies (Toughness and Parry). That's something that's been such a pleasure creating adventures for Labyrinth Lord -- just making up whatever AC, HD and so on I fancy, without needing to check, cross-reference or calculate anything!

  7. Heh, I just make up the Toughness and Parry scores. The book more or less suggests to do this anyway, so I don't consider it cheating. :)

  8. Of course, you're right... I always forget that somehow! :) I've always done that with powers for enemies -- there's no way I'm gonna count Power Points for NPC spellcasters during a battle!


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