The D&D stars aligned yesterday so that two unusual things happened: my kids were home from college on Spring Break, but one was unavailable because she was running a race the next day. This meant we had some time to play D&D, but didn't want to continue in the home campaign. So here was a rare opportunity to roll up new characters and make use of a pre-made adventure. The last time I DM'd a module was Matt Finch's Pod Caverns of the Sinister Shroom
circa 2014! Everything else of what amounts to roughly six years of bi-weekly play since then has been self-generated, so what follows is as much a testament to my rustiness as an RPG consumer/user as anything else. I hope folks find some value in this cold-start perspective, as well as gain some insight with regards to running Bottomless Pit of Zorth
I chose Zorth
over the dozens of new and old modules lining my shelves and filling up my hard drive for the following reasons:
- Despite having a very loose affiliation to the other published works from Hawk's home campaign (Gunderholfen and Darkness at Nekemte), it lends itself to stand-alone sessions---being a singular oddity-on-the-horizon that can be dropped almost anywhere on your map.
- Zorth resonates with our house-style of play being both strongly exploratory and quirky-strange. In many ways, this falls within the class of two-thirds of the material I write for the home-game. Hawk plays with his own kids in an extended campaign, so the tone was right for us.
- My interactions with Hawk on-line have been great, and I think very highly of him and his DIY work-ethic as writer/artist/publisher.
- It was written for AD&D/OSRIC which is what we exclusively play.
- The layout is gorgeous. This being Hawk's 3rd product, he has internalize a number of layout lessons and to my eye was hitting all the right notes pitch-perfect. I honestly haven't seen anyone do it better.
The cover page clearly states "a party of 3-5 characters"
, but I wasn't sure how many PCs + henchmen that should be. I settled for letting each of my two players roll up two 5th-level characters. Despite having played for years, this isn't something we've done often. Usually when a PC dies, they assume control of a long-term henchman (encountered in-world)---or, to be honest, when one of their high-level characters die, the survivors move heaven and earth to try an raise them from the dead. We haven't had a TPK in quite awhile.
Here's my general impression of character creation: if you aren't starting at first-level, it's kind of suck
. Fresh-off-the-boat is easy and logical, trying to invent a PC that's had a series of adventures (that you haven't actually played out) and guess how it might have altered them is not ideal. It's a bit of a short-circuit of the game and left me feeling like the characters were hollow. I get it. We were trying to manage a one-off night and use a particular adventure, so really there was no choice. But I'll go as far to say the infrastructure is not there in the rule books as-written to support it very well---I personally think playing this way is significantly inferior. This is not a knock on Zorth, but it did have me wondering if pre-gens (which always felt to me like borrowing someone else's swim suit), might actually have some utility for the "quick game".
Enough philosophy. Here's how it went down with us:
: 3d6 in order with the opportunity to re-roll one stat as 4d6 and keep the highest 3. Well, that's the way it was suppose
to work out, but I my head-strong son insisted he got to rearrange them in any order
in order to be able to play a ranger. (Damn candy classes!) We ended up with a party of all elves: druid, cleric, MU/Thief and Ranger. I'm out of practice and a bit of a rules-idiot at times, but I don't think made any major rules faux-pax there. (Hit points for the multi-class MU/Th are (Nd4 + Md6)/2, right?)
: I was willing to give each PC one random magic item, but honestly it took so long flesh out the other attributes of the mid-level characters, that it slipped my mind. I did however given them 2x the normal start-up money for the class. I don't think there's a standard for that.
: Fully disclosure---the start-up spells for a MU tripped me up. In ORSIC it pretty clear that you get four 1st-level spells as an apprentice where one is read magic
, the player gets to pick one, and the remaining two are random (d30) from the table. Roger that. But where does the percentage-chance to known each spell (based on intelligence) come in to play there? Does it apply to any of those four? Can you have it in your book...and still not understand it? Or, failing your chance-to-know, do you roll again? How does the minimum spells per level then affect those original four? I need a flowchart. This was compounded by the starting-at-mid-level problem with higher-level spells (e.g. how many in book, I chose 2x # memoriz-able; one selected, one random). In the campaign world, all this trouble goes away: you only get the new spells you can find, and after you find it, you roll to see if you can understand it. Simple. Once again, build-up from first-level in a continuous game strikes me at the "right way" to play, otherwise ad hoc Frankenstein-monster.
Last note on spells: the Druid chose animal friendship
--- which provides the potential for a 5th level Druid to have an entourage of up to 10HD of animal companions. That's a lot of critters! I limited it to one, but unlike a magic-user's find familiar
spell, there doesn't seem to be a table to roll against. So I went through OSRIC's section on animals and numbered twenty suitable candidates. She ended up with a Lion, with 5+3 HD and 3+ attacks is quite the badass! Did I get something wrong there? Once again, I think you need to accumulate these things in-world and are being foolish trying to roll them up out of thin air.
: They paid 100gp out of their start-up money to advertise for some hireling. I allowed 1d4 to answer the call, and they got four but picked only two. Another eleven MU/Th (L1/1) and a fighter (L2). A shout out to the OSRIC Henchmen Generator
, which helped a bunch...but doesn't do equipment, or higher-levels beyond 2nd. I also used Finch's older City Encounters (soon available again from the resurrected Mythmere games
!) to roll up some random personalities.