Here I go, jumping on the bandwagon again. A-to-Z Blogging Challenge, you say? Well, in the immortal words of Barney Stinson... "Challenge accepted!"
My weekly campaign at the Griffon in downtown South Bend just wrapped this week. (One of the players in that campaign is a fellow OSR blogger; he's written about it too!) And with roughly an hour and a half left before we normally adjourned, I had hoped to conduct a proper postmortem and solicit some more opinions from the players about how the campaign went. But, as was typical, some of the players took off as soon as the action was concluded, while the rest stuck around to chat about every little thing. In this context, I was able to piece together some of my own observations and get a few more from some of the more invested players. Here's what I learned about playing a game of Classic D&D in the Engines & Empires setting, with the Epic Six conceit in full force:
• This is the second Epic Six campaign that I've run, and it does exactly what I wanted it to do. The campaign was heroic and the player characters became badasses, but they never became world-shaping super-heroes. For a campaign like this one, which was a treasure-hunt with a strong "Indiana Jones"/"The Mummy" vibe, that's perfect. On the other hand, it's still basically a band-aid: a patch to make D&D do what other systems (like, say, Savage Worlds) do naturally. That can be jarring for players who might sit down hoping to see 10th level characters and 5th level spells at some point in the game, as indeed I'm sure some of my players were before I explained how E6 worked. But once everybody understood what I was aiming for, they pretty much got on board with it, and the campaign was on this count a resounding success.
• This is the first time that I've ever run a successful module campaign. Anyone remember that post I wrote last year about how modules suck? I take it all back; I finally figured it out. You see, normally, I would wind up using modules as "filler adventures" to drop into my campaign when I didn't have the time or inspiration needed to come up with something on my own. So, compared to the rest of the campaign, modules would stand out like a sore thumb, with a very different pace and tone and a much more impersonal feel. They lacked my personal stamp as "part of the campaign I was running/writing", and the players could sense this right off the bat. Not so for this latest campaign, though: here, I planned to use a series of classic modules (B1, B3, B2, X2, X1, S2, roughly in that order) tied together by a macguffin-driven story arc. And it worked: there was always a ready-made reason to travel to the next location and plumb the next dungeon, since (for example) macguffin piece #1 was somewhere in Castle Amber, macguffin piece #2 was somewhere on the Isle of Dread, and so on.
• Every time I run a game using the Classic D&D rules, I learn something new about how they play out. This time, I learned what it was like to run a campaign with anywhere from eight to a baker's dozen of players showing up on a given day. And in this context, I can see why Classic D&D's group initiative + combat sequence eventually gave way to the individual, cyclical initiative of later editions. Keeping track of who was moving, shooting, casting, or meleeing became increasingly difficult until one of my players came up with an ingenious little tracking-board with columns for each action, rows for each character, and tokens to represent who was doing what. After that, things were much easier. Even still, large parties are a pain the arse!
Early on, I tried to allow the players to hire henchmen by-the-book, where everyone was supposed to be able to command 3+Cha mod retainers if they wished. This quickly proved impractical—to the point where, in the future, I'll likely use the retainer rules from Denning rather than Moldvay/Mentzer. (It's a much easier rule to manage: retainers become full characters who get a full share of XP rather than a half share, but they're also much more limited. Parties with 1–3 characters can have two retainers, parties with 4–5 can have one, and parties with 6+ can't hire any. The retainers are then controlled by the whole party, subject to override by the DM.) Note, though, that this is all within the context of a travelogue/adventure campaign with a story-arc. I suspect that in a more traditional campaign, one with a single town and a mega-dungeon, a large party size and a great many henchmen would actually be preferable.
So... that's that. Six months, a heck of a run, and I've met some great players from around my area. (And after all, it's Indiana. There's nothing much to do around here except gaming. This is RPG country, y'all!) So what's next? Well, I've got another campaign waiting on deck, ready to go next week. I've cut the group size down to about eight players (which is still more than I used to be comfortable running for, but hell, it's better than twelve. And out of the eight, at least two of them are flaky enough that they'll miss half the sessions anyway, so it's really more like six or seven). As to the nature of this campaign, I'll discuss it in my next post.