Twenty-eight days. Soon to be twenty-seven. It's gonna go fast, maybe one will be done before I post.
I have a new game, Old School Essentials, a newish take on the old B/X rules. There have been a few changes, such as invalidating the statement "comes with 31 illustrations, charts, and tables". There are a lot more than 31 illustrations, plus a twist on the old rules to incorporate ThAC0 and/or ascending armor class which limits the charts to just essentials.
Well, the artwork is fantastic, so I guess I can take the good with the bad. I might not miss my to hit charts and tables.
I can see it already, this should be almost exactly like B/X but I want to try it out on myself before I inflict it on my players. You know, to look smooth and polished.
I diced up a half dozen characters, plus one because I can't properly count. I made one of each of the basic characters and one extra cleric. And hit my first hitch. Clerics don't heal at the first level. Do I homebrew that away or keep it?
I can hear my hypothetical Players grumbling, so I think I keep it as written. I can already picture the first session. The players will dodge and juke every hook and line I offer them. They break into cliques and small groups to go their separate ways.
The Magic User and Elf will get together and exchange spells because that is what spell casters do. The clerics, realizing they aren't the healers will beg and borrow (but not steal) from the party to get the heaviest armor they can while arming themselves with the standard maces and slings. The Fighter, the Thief, and the Halfling will wander the town in search of a tavern or inn.
They will stymie me, the DM, as they avoid the town square where the local lord has criers searching for adventurers. They will also avoid the large Inn in the square where they could meet one of the town guards who would clue them into the threat the town faces. For the same reason, they will avoid the temple, the wandering priest, the wash women, and the boy with the lost dog.
This is what Players do. I've been a DM for 40 years. I am used to it. They will, on the outskirts of the town wander into the last place serving booze and food and the one I expected them to find as I was presenting moot hooks.
It's called The High-backed Booth, a magical place that I took from reality. It's a former tavern turned into a Church, just like the one on Transit Road in East Amherst. When you're forced to improvise, it's best when you don't try too hard and just use reality. The world is strange, so why make stuff up?
In my world, The High-backed Booth
is fused with history and magic. It's run by Elder Bruegel, named after the painter. In this magical place, he is the proprietor and priest of the church. The church seems to hold chance, risk, games, and luck in high esteem,. No particular deity is worshipped. In fact, in place of prayer and ritual, storytelling rules The High-backed Booth. The odder the circumstances, the more random or unlikely the story, the better. The congregants pray and worship in the telling of stories.
The building is as real as it gets, it has a waddle and daub upper floor on firm timber stilts. The lower level has temporary walls made of hay bales. Of course, these hay bale walls are lined with heavy tall wooden booths. The building changes over time as the hay is removed, but not its character. Or characters.
On this evening, the party finds a strange occurrence happening at The High-backed Booth. Elder Bruegel is there of course, as he always is, but he is pandering to a guest of high importance. The wizened man sits at the center of attention. The drinkers and the worshipers mutter indignantly about him as he is silencing stories with games of chance. They call him the "Game Master".
It doesn't get more meta than this. Having dodged all of the obvious hooks and lines, the Players will sit at the table with the Game Master and engage in drinking, food, and games in the hopes of receiving easy cash and prizes.
Every Player wants this for their Characters. Soon, reality and storytelling become muddled as the Players and the Characters take the same bait. It's a card game, played with a strange deck. At first, it seems normal enough, but then it becomes obvious that these are Tarot Cards. After every round, the winner takes one of the Major Arcana in sequence. It replaces one of the Minor Arcana they would receive in the deal. As the Arcana are swapped, the tone of game becomes more serious.
It's a race. The Fool and The Magician eventually lead to the Judgment and The World in the hands of the Game Master. In fact, the Game Master has been playing with nothing but trump cards for a while all of the Players and Characters only have one or two. And then the final hand is dealt.
"We are done, you must perform," the Game Master says quietly.
After a rather anticlimactic silence, the characters all have the sensation of falling. It's not fast or sudden, just a slow transition to the wet, muddy ground. If the Players are hooked, and enrapt with the story so far, I might stand up and slowly tip one chair backwards and gently lower the Player to the floor to demonstrate what is happening.
When they stand up, they are still at the table. All of their chairs sank backwards in the mud. The table, the chairs, and everything they own are between a cluster of willow trees to the north...
and a magical fountain to the south...
As I said before, why make stuff up while improvising? Reality is the best hook and sometimes, it comes with pictures.
East and west are paths leading to strange buildings, and the players can't resist a good hook provided by the Game Master. They gather up their things, drink the last of their beer from the table, and wonder where the cards and chips went before taking to the path to adventure.
If you liked this introduction to adventure, perhaps you would be interested in the books that spawned it: