Thursday, April 23, 2009
Post-CODCON Report: Old School Dungeoneering
I brought a carload of players out to CODCON in suburban Chicago last weekend. We were fortunate enough to play in Chgowiz's "Dungeon Robbers Inc." game, using Swords & Wizardry. I'm a player in Chgowiz's ongoing Dark Ages campaign, but for my friends, this was likely their first time playing old-school in many years.
Chgowiz offered an excellent game wrap-up on his blog, and I won't repeat that. But we did spend the entire car ride home analyzing the game and how we could have "won" by escaping with the treasure.
The conclusion that we arrived at is that "Dungeon Robbers Inc." was a perfect example of a dungeon that has a singular design element that must be understood by the players at the very beginning—or else their delve will be fatally flawed. In this case, the dungeon featured a locking mechanism on each door that required us to carry around sand from a big pile near the entrance to open doors throughout the level. We operated the door properly at the beginning, but we didn't think to fill our backpacks with sand—and we also didn't think to spike the door to keep it open.
It shut moments later, and from that point on we were effectively shut out of the main room full of sand. We had "failed" the dungeon's initial puzzle test, and we were relegated to slinking through the shadows, avoiding doors we couldn't open and exploring only those parts of the dungeon that weren't behind closed doors. All the same, that resulted in a very satisfying session, with combat and problem-solving and giant armadilloes and torches going out and all that. I'm sure with enough bumbling, we could have fought our way through to the second level, or found a way to get the doors open again.
On an a related note, I could tell that Chgowiz had created a dungeon that wasn't comprised only of right-angle corridors and tunnels. We meandered up and down flights of steps without actually leaving the first "level," which added a really cool imaginative dimension to the expedition.
The session was really evocative of those old-school "tournament modules" that were designed by devious DMs for groups who were absolutely competing for top honors at game conventions. It's a style of play that's definitely fallen by the wayside, even in the old-school renaissance, but it's definitely fun to try out from time to time.