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Saturday, January 14, 2012

Spreading the OSR

One of my players, Dalton, has started his own AD&D first edition campaign, and it's been going pretty well from what I hear. He has a group of teen-agers playing 1st edition AD&D several times per week. I think it's cool that he has been able to drag his fellow teens away from video games, texting and whatever else it is kids these days are doing and get them enthused about playing some D&D at all, much less a version that was published when I was younger than they are now. He got almost all of his D&D experience as a player at my table, so I feel a little proud of him too.

Now, from time to time he asks me for a bit of old school DMing advice and I usually have no problem handing it out, but the other day he asked me for some old school DM tricks, the kind of things that turn players from newbies into veterans; paranoid, experienced, veteran dungeon-crawlers. Now, I got to thinking about this and came up with some memories of the most vile, evil tricks and traps that DMs ever sprang on me as a player; not the Killer-DM type stuff, but the stuff that teaches valuable lessons about playing D&D, particularly in a dungeon environment, the stuff that teaches caution and teamwork and keeps the party on it's toes.

So, I advised a few simple things like putting the occasional pit trap in a hall way, or trapping the lock on a chest/desk/whatever with the old spring-loaded poisoned needle. I mentioned that the opening sequence of "Raiders of the Lost Ark" was a pretty good primer on traps in dungeons in general. I told him it probably couldn't hurt to read through, or run his players through, some of the old TSR B series modules. I thought about the lessons I had learned as an adventurer in dungeons and the stuff DMs had done to my characters. There's a reason the 10' pole is on the equipment list and the Iron Spikes and pretty much every item that isn't a weapon; they have a use, otherwise they would not be there.

So, my first longtime DM Tim used to regularly trap the treasure and a favorite thing to do with piles of gold pieces was to cover them with Yellow Mold. I passed that little gem along. I mentioned that, in dungeons, a certain percentage of rooms should have unguarded treasure, this is mostly to lure you into a false sense of security for when treasure appears to be unguarded. Sometimes treasure will be guarded by a trap, mention when they open the door that there is a treasure chest sitting, perhaps enticingly open, on the other side of the room; allow time for each player to say what they intend to do, but not too much time, usually the greediest will rush forward to see what treasure is in the chest. Pit trap for everyone that ran into the room.

There are actually quite a few variations on this theme, you can also punish the really paranoid one that hangs back with, say, a scything blade triggered by those that rushed into the room stepping on a pressure plate or tripping a wire or something. Lance called while Dalton was at my house and we were talking and he offered up as his "Evil DM Trick", same premise as mine, apparently unguarded treasure on the other side of the room. This time the DM just assumes the first person to respond saying they are going in to check it out, before anyone else gets to say anything about checking for traps or all going in together or anything, enters the room; as soon as that happens a portcullis descends trapping the PC in the room and a secret door opens into the room allowing an undead, Golem or automaton of some sort entry into the room with the lone PC. The rest of the party can then see the lone PC fight against this creature, but only assist, at best, minimally; they mostly just get to watch him die. Admittedly, this skirts the edge of killer DM territory, but it does teach a lesson about leaping before looking.

I have actually already given Dalton some of the best advice I could in the form of the Old School Primer and links to various blog posts written by other OSR bloggers, I also gave him a couple of old AD&D books.

See now, as a DM, I moved my campaigns largely away from dungeon exploration a long time ago, so I don't have a ready repertoire of "Evil DM Tricks" like this, just stuff I remember from the old days. I am re-learning all the old dungeon based DM stuff myself, like tracking time and resource management and encumbrance; but mostly dungeon design and the tricks and traps and stuff that go with it. I have gotten kind of lazy with things like wandering monsters, I usually only roll for them in a dungeon when the players have bogged down and lost focus, I find nothing refocuses a party's attention like a random encounter. I hate drawing dungeon maps, I think they always look like crap and I always think that even a random dungeon would probably be better than what I could come up with; I am going to have to bite the bullet though and actually create an honest to goodness dungeon. I have done it before, I have even done it pretty well before, although I think my best efforts are derivative of EGG's work.

Anyone got a favorite "Evil DM Trick" to share?

Preview for tomorrow- I have been reading Moldvay Basic and have a few things to say.