Sunday, April 22, 2012

I need some OD&D online advise

So as you know I started running an online game using the B/X rules as a base. I have been running 3.5/pathfinder for over 10 yrs now so am a bit rusty with running old school again. Half of the group has only played old school, while the other half has also played 3rd. I think things have been going along pretty well as the party I am running has survived up to this point.  I am trying to hold to some of the values and mechanics of old school but also have to keep in mind were playing with a limited time, limited group, using online software ( skype which is often quirky).  

Im trying to run a game that is rules light to limit lots of needless die roll, but also understand things like resource management is important in old school because so much of the groups survival depends on what they have, etc. If interested you can see the exact rules I am running here on the blog ( House Rules & Ordinary People in Extraordinary Circumstances) 

Ive definately been feeling some frustration from some players in the group and Im always open to feedback so I asked what people felt about the last session and below is the feedback I got. Some of what they say is valid, some not so much, and some is just part of the feel of old school play. I wont go into every detail about the hows and whys of what they bring up, ill save that for later. But I do want to keep the group and everyone involved since its a lot of work for me to invest not to have people interested in the game.

So, have any other DM's faced similar gripes and issues  specifically with regard to running an online game but also in regard to the style of running old school. Im open to feedback, advise, etc.

Here are some of the replies:

1) Regarding initiative, I am sort of a convert to individual initiative. I think this gives a better feel of the "chaos of combat." I would suggest rolling a d6 or d8 and having characters add their DX bonus, and perhaps have penalties for heavy armor or huge weapons. Then just count down from 8 or 10 to one, with each character reacting on their number. Monsters could be rolled as a group if there are lots of them, or individually if there are just a few.

I think the bigger issue with initiative is how spells are handled. In my systems, I long ago moved away from the "spoil the spell" rule, so spell casters don't have to declare spells at the beginning of the round. I find this makes things flow far better. If you retain the spell declaration, there really has to be a call for spells at some point when the initiative die is rolled. I think with individual initiative, spell casters would be prompted better to declare their spell because it would be a more active process. Also, spells could have an initiative modifier (perhaps even different modifiers for different spells), which would impact the roll and force the caster to call the spell to get the correct modifier.

So either way, I think individual initiative is a better solution and would actually make play more interactive, interesting, and fun.

It did take a bit to get things off the ground again with hirelings and such...

2) Unfortunately it cost nearly all your hirelings
Yes it did. I think there are a couple of issues around this that should be considered.

First, on a bigger picture, I think there is a lot of "resource micro-management" going on which is taking up a lot of time, in my opinion somewhat needlessly. This is compounded horribly when you factor in all these groupies, who each need to be micro managed to the nth degree. I would suggest that you develop a "standard pack" for porters, and one perhaps for fighting hirelings, and the assign a basic cost for the upkeep of said pack when we get back to town. The same can be done for the characters. It will just save a lot of time and hassle, especially since we seem to need to replace the hirelings after virtually every adventure.

This brings me to my second point, which is the lethality of combat and the relative power of our characters. Were I Orien (which in a sense I am), I would be thinking to myself, "what the hell am I doing wrong?" In the last two adventures we have come a hair's breath from being wiped out. And so far we have yet to penetrate barely beyond the entrance to the Caves of Chaos, and didn't even find a burial mound in the Barrows. I could see having a big climactic battle that really tests us when we have actually gotten somewhere. But being essentially wiped out at the doorstep of these two places has Orien (me) thinking that these places are way above our heads, and that we need to find somewhere that is more appropriate.

I feel like we tried to gather information in Barrowmoor. Perhaps if the place was too powerful some kind Cleric maybe could have given us a clue and pointed us elsewhere. But I have to say it is pretty discouraging to watch half your party get destroyed every adventure - especially when it is in such seemingly benign encounters like a few giant toads.

Yes, the party members themselves have survived by the skin of their teeth, but Orien looks around and realizes he has exactly one hit point more than most of the porters, and thinks, "there but for the grace of Hearn go I." It seems to me that characters who are level 1 should have their zero level hit points to make them relatively more powerful than the porters. If Bryrig had ever advanced, for example, he would have gotten a second d4 or d6 of hit points for now being level one. I think giving the characters that would make us a bit more resilient and also differentiate the characters a bit better from their hirelings.

But bigger picture, Orien feels that the two places we have been have proven to be beyond our current abilities, and would look elsewhere for a next adventure. It just isn't a whole lot of fun to put all this time into making this party then having us get wiped out without penetrating at all into the more interesting parts of the places we are supposed to be exploring, and not really pushing the story forward in any meaningful way.

So in synopsis, I'd like to find ways we can focus less, and spend far less time, on the mundane aspects of the system like buying food and lighting torches, and put more time into developing our characters interaction with the world. Charge us a little money and just consider it done. Our characters have lived in the world, they know they need to buy food, they know where to get it - that part doesn't need to be played out as rigorously. Stuff like Myra's spells or buying a special weapon is different, and I thought that was handled well, but not the mundane stuff. And secondly, I think there needs to be a better "flow" of combat. If every encounter sends us fleeing back to town, we'll never get anywhere. So if we are doing something wrong in not being diligent about vetting the places we are going, we need to change that. But if not, I think the encounters we have need to be crafted better around the story. The battle we had yesterday, for example, would have made more sense to me if it happened at a Burial Mound, rather than as the result of encountering some toads.

It should be fun, and right now it kind of isn't. Which isn't to say it can't be. I really like the world and the characters and feel we have a good base from which to build. But these are some improvements I'd like to see. Obviously open to other opinions on this, but thought I'd at least voice what was on my mind.

3) I also wish we could speed things up by not worrying so much about inventory. It has to be realistic of course, and we cannot each be carrying 15 flasks of oil, but it's a bit time-consuming I feel. I am happy to be a bit vague an not count things to the penny, and leave all rullings, without question, to Tom. I want to enjoy Tom's imagination, not get burdened down with inventory issues.
4) Taking turns for actions - I think the player characters (not Tom) should name a caller to ask each character what they are doing, and that the caller should keep track of action order - I personally vote to use round-robbin - fair, fun and simple.
5) I agree with less strategising - the less strategising in game time, the better. Just slows things up. But I actually think we are pretty good about that.  But we should discuss strategy off-line (ie in the Tavern - such as the use of coordinated attacks, flanking (+1), back attack (+2 or +4 for ANYone!) oil, etc.
6) Porters etc. Cadfael will never take more than one from now on. It gets cumbersome and expensive!
7) Oil - good idea about pre-made molotov cocktails. We could keep a couple in belt/sholder harness/vest harnes, and draw, light and throw and still have a movement (half-move or 5'?) action also allowed in that round. Question:  is there such a thing as a smoldering taper - like a punk or cigarette etc, rather than using a torch to light the oil? Like a "match" people used to light cannon fuses.
8) Last - not sure what to do about it, but only having 7 HP's is a real pain and naturally produces a more cautions approach (run away!!!). Two desent hits from anything at all and we will be burrying, or cremating if it is the elf :),  someone.  Here are two very simple solutions: (a) give us more HP's! (b) somehow make it that we have access to cheap CLW potions (at the moment they are very expensive).  

9) Here is exactly what I was talking about earlier. Other than the holy water, I think it should be assumed we just replenish our packs to the stated amounts on our character sheet. Charge us a set amount for this.

Also remember we brought back three bodies laden with food, oil, torches, etc. So most of what we used this time could be easily replenished from that. But I still don't mind paying the "flat fee" so we don't have to parse out where every torch and flask of oil went. That is just a waste of time, imo.
10) I'm out of the hireling game. Orien is guilt-ridden and grieving and is considering retiring. He feels he has failed to properly assess the dangers that he exposed his hirelings to.



  1. Tom,

    Number one: do not judge your abilities as a DM on whether the party survives or dies. Players kill characters, not DMs. And characters die for two reasons 1) foolish play, 2) fate ( die rolls).

  2. Well to date not one character has died only hirelings and only once has a character fallen below zero since we have been playing and they made their save or die. I am also very reasonable in the healing dept I think ( clerics can swap out any memorized spell for a cure, after battle everyone can bandage for 1d3 hit points, everyone can return to town and rest for 1d6 hit points, if you fall below zero- roll save or die if you make it you live, you can buy non magical healing salve that cures 1d3 hit points, clerics in town will heal you for money. The only thing Im not including is the option to buy healing potions out right).

  3. In terms of these other items, it seems to me that you may not have prepared them all sufficiently for the old school approach. What you have here, at times, sounds like a wee bit of whiner-ism. Tell your players to suck it up and die like men (or women).

    Hirelings, for example, are such an integrated part of our game that my guys love to gear-up their hirelings (and get a +1 morale bonus for doing so). Sure you lose a bunch but that's part of the fun, not a detriment to it. We still tell tales of our favorite hirelings.

    Another thiing that can help are fast packs with pre-selected gear.

    Email me if you have specific questions and try to play in one of our sessions.

  4. LOL yea I hear ya. I agree with you that part of old school is proveing yourselves as adventures. I told them in the beginning not to whine if they die at first level because of a battle or failing a Save or Die roll- that was part of old school. And if they did make it to 3rd level they should consider that an accomplishment. Part of running online is that there is no "campaign" there is a sandbox setting with lots of adventures and each character came up with a back story that tells me why they are here. Most also provided me with a devise in th eir back story for me to spinoff side adventuers that are important to their character. So in essance they are more "personal campaigns" but there is no overarching story per se. I think this is what most are used to. Its hard to run a game like this online with players in several different time zones and one other country and keep everyone on board, and most able to commit. Thats why a real campaign wont work- this for now the best as I can see it.
    I agree about the hireling thing. I understand their frustration at spending all this money on hiring them and outfitting and feeding and lodging them only to have them get killed or run off but that is their choice. To date, they have only hired one Fighting- Man, the others have all been hired hands with little or no combat abiliity.
    I use Fastpacks from the list you provide ( which is gleaned from B3), but I think their issue is equipping their hirelings every time and they want some sort of hireling fastpack I guess. I also ask them for their present equiptment list at start of game so I can keep track of who has what - so when the hirelings run off into the fog I know that they lost, or when the cleric says he uses holy water I can tell him he used it already ( he had done this twice already, so its clear hes not marking it off his sheet). Since we dont sit around a table, I have to manage their character sheets myself. I think a lot of time gets waisted discussing what to buy, how much to buy and who carries it- most of this is the players taking up time. I just want to know who has what.
    I like your idea of giving a +1 morale bonus for gearing up their hirelings so they feel safer but to date none have run off ( accept a chaotic hireling when they faced the ogre). But its a good incentive.

  5. Yes it is hard with an online game.

    I don't keep track of player resources, but I do tell them when to mark off torches, gear, etc when used up. You come to know the players who mark that stuff and the ones who don't, and can pay closer attention as needed.

    In many instances micro-managing resources isn't necessary because dungeon entrances/exits are clearly identified. Having said that, Barrowmaze presents a challenge because there are few exits and some are logistically more of a concern than others. Jason Sholtis, one of the BM artists, played with us via google+ and he (at first) refused to go down the pit, immediately recognizing it as a deathtrap if they needed to flee lol.

    if your players are complaining about too few hit points, you need to remind them 1) they aren't heroes and the swing of one sword can kill them, 2) remind them of the 15 minute adventuring day, 3) if in doubt flee. Similarly, I've been preping my guys for level-draining undead. They are starting to get confident reaching 3rd and 4th level. If you don't want a level drained then flee and don't come back. It's that easy lol

  6. Yes I definately can see most of their points from a Players perspective, but I totally agree with your way of thinking from a DM's perspective. I just need to find a balance that make everyone more or less happy. It doesnt seem they will continue to be interested in playing if I resume strict or traditional old school mechanics but I dont want to completely give in and abandon many of the old school tropes I love ( otherwise Id just only play 3rd edition).