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D&D General Reviewing my Original D&D one-shot


Rules: Strictly only what was in the original boxed set. No Chainmail or Outdoor Survival, no supplements, no magazine articles, no internet histories or commentary. This left me having to fill in some gaps on things like combat, but it seemed pretty functional. I tried to think like someone in 1974 would when it came to things like naming.

Preparation: Following the procedures (and some necessary extrapolation thereof) in the original boxed set, I created:
  • A dungeon six levels deep with space to expand in the future, populated with both pre-set encounters and randomly generated ones.
  • A broad-strokes town to serve as a home base.
  • The wilderness surrounding the two, with terrains and potential random encounters.
  • A lot of reference sheets (previously shared here).
Players: Five total. Three had only played 5e; one had also played 2e, Pathfinder, and Dungeon Crawl Classics (plus one 3e session); one had also played at least 3e.

Characters: One rolled up a human fighting-man, and became the group's "caller" (the one who relayed the group's decision to the referee, me). Another rolled up a dwarf fighting-man (but also considered a human cleric). Two others rolled up elf magic-users. The fifth rolled up a human cleric. They considered hiring NPCs but couldn't afford it; they did, however, pool their funds to buy a mule (Hussy) to carry some of their stuff, so they could get their speed up to 9 inches (90 feet) per turn.

Gameplay summary: They entered the dungeons of "Castle Redcrown" and immediately encountered a band of 30 orcs. After attempts to talk their way past failed, a melee led to all but one of the orcs being killed via burning oil and the magic-user's Sleep spell. They suffered their first casualty, the cleric, and took his body and their orc prisoner back to town, along with the equipment they'd looted from the orcs. (They wisely opted not to engage in wilderness exploration.)

The cleric's player rolled up his heir, a human fighting-man, who inherited most of the cleric's stuff (except what the other players had used for their own benefit). The others leveled their characters up to 2, stocked up on more oil, and threatened the orc into revealing what he knew of the remaining dungeon layout (including the orcs' territory, a gnoll lair, an evil priest, some undead, and a hidden magic-user who'd been using the orcs for protection). They left him imprisoned, but promised to free him when they returned, if his information was good.

Their second foray into the dungeon eventually led them to the orcs' lair. They laid a trap: they filled a long hallway with oil and lured orcs into it. First they used sleep, then they used fire on a second wave. They sealed the orcs' doorway (with Hold Portal and spikes) while they collected more loot, and planned to leave after. But unknown to them, the orcs had sent a force the long way around the dungeon, and tried to ambush them at the entrance. (They were alerted by the sound of their mule being attacked.) The group managed to force its way through and escape, just as the orcs at their lair had broken through the sealed door. However, it cost them two more casualties, the first human fighting-man (who turned over his caller duties to the dwarf fighting-man) and the dwarf fighting-man (who turned over his caller duties to the new fighting-man). They had to leave their bodies behind, but managed to get away.

  • We got a good laugh about of some of the early game's illogic, like all monsters having infravision but losing it if they joined the player characters.
  • Among the things I had to improvise: difficult terrain such as oil-slick floors (half movement); how long oil fires lasted (went with 1d6 combat rounds); how to push through a crowd (used the rules for forcing open a door).
  • The players started off rather civilized, but became really murderhobo really fast. (To be fair, it being a one-shot may have added to that attitude.)
  • The characters didn't all share common as a language, which led to some telephone games when the caller wanted to negotiate with the orcs (the player who had orc didn't speak common, but did speak law, so a third player with both common and law had to translate).
  • Having a caller resulted in way, way more strategizing than in our 5e games (I had to start doing 60 second countdowns to force them to resolve some disagreements). However, some players didn't like basically being outvoted.
  • The players noted how hard it was to hit enemies at low levels, and were especially shocked by the lethality. (Three permadeaths in two trips into the dungeon was more than we'd had in our entire six-year 5e campaign.)
  • Most were willing to play again - I think mainly so our sixth invitee, who had to drop out, could try it - but a few (all of whom started with 5e) said they vastly preferred 5e. Everyone did appreciate the insight into how the original game worked, though.

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Really cool - thanks for sharing :)

Did the absence of a thief option have any effect on gameplay?
Not in the small section they went through! Thieves might have come in handy later, but not yet.

That said, the player with a dwarf character was aware that dwarves automatically note traps. So he was thinking ahead on that front!

Mark Hope

Yeah, dwarves are great in those situations.

Was there much difference in combat ability between the characters? I'm thinking of how all weapons would have been d6, with minimal ability score bonuses. You mentioned that they struggled to hit things - did this apply to the fighting men as well?


Yeah, dwarves are great in those situations.

Was there much difference in combat ability between the characters? I'm thinking of how all weapons would have been d6, with minimal ability score bonuses. You mentioned that they struggled to hit things - did this apply to the fighting men as well?
So for context, we were using the non-Chainmail "alternative combat system" (the ancestor of every other edition's combat rules). Which means until level 4, all three classes have the same hit probability. To hit an orc (AC 6), everyone had to roll 13+ on d20.

Strength has no effect on melee attacks in the original boxed set (that was added by the Greyhawk supplement), so the fighting-men's good Strength scores didn't help them. I suppose on reflection they hit as often as you'd expect given a 40% chance, but that's cold comfort when you miss more often than not. (Though they did hit! It just accounted for far fewer orc casualties than burning oil and Sleep spells.)

Dexterity, on the other hand, did affect missile attacks... but none of the fighting-men had high enough scores. The human cleric did... but clerics can't use arrows (or quarrels), so it didn't help. (One of the magic-users had a penalty from low Dex, which probably reinforced their choice not to throw their daggers.)

None of them got far enough to acquire any magic items that could have helped, unfortunately.


Really neat, thanks for sharing. Got a map you want to share?? ;)
Sorry, it's all handwritten on graph paper! (I was really trying to be authentic.) Also, looks like the sixth player will be available this Saturday for another one-shot, so I think I want to keep my secrets for now...

I will share an update here after the second one-shot!


Reviewing the second (and final) one-shot...

Players: Five total. Everyone returned from the previous one-shot, except for one of the players whose only previous experience had been 5e. The new player (who had missed the previous one-shot) also only had experience with 5e, as far as I know.

  • Two of the returning players brought back their characters from last time: both 3rd-level elf magic-users. One of the two also became the "caller" for this session.
  • The third player replaced last session's dead dwarf fighting-man with a 1st-level human cleric. (Though in retrospect I think he ran him as a dwarf, even though that wasn't a PC option in 0e.)
  • The fourth player forgot his surviving human fighting-man from last time, so he also had to roll up a new character (1st-level human cleric).
  • The fifth (new) player rolled up a 1st-level human cleric.
  • Hussy the mule also returned.
Gameplay summary: The players made three forays into the dungeon, adjusting their tactics each time.

The first time, they hired some orcs men-at-arms from another tribe. Despite fairly good terms on offer, the orcs reacted negatively. However, because this was a one-shot and that result was not fun (especially after expending a few hundred gold just to make the attempt), I overrode it and had them sign on anyway (the only time I didn't follow procedures as written). Only the two new clerics were chaotic, and each could have three hirelings, for a total of four heavy foot and two archers. (Half were very loyal, half were not.)

Shortly after entering Castle Redcrown, they and a random encounter group (34 orcs) surprised each other, and a melee ensued. Three of the four orc heavy foot died quickly, as did the new player's cleric. (Surprisingly, the orc hirelings' morale held.) Thanks as usual to burning oil and sleep spells, the party was victorious (though one character injured themselves when they poured oil into an already-burning puddle, and it flared up). The party retreated back to town with their (damaged) loot.

The new player (after some convincing) rolled up his second character, a halfling fighting-man. The two remaining clerics leveled up to 2nd (so they finally had one cure spell each). In addition to even more oil, the party stocked up with poisonous belladonna, and began coating their weaponry with it to force saves vs. poison. (They also half-jokingly considered burning it to create hallucinogenic gas - belladonna can apparently have this effect in real life!) With the two chaotic characters dead, the orc men-at-arms departed, and the party didn't have the gold to search for more hirelings. They played the rest of the session very conservatively.

On their next foray, they snuck into the entryway, and one magic-user used ESP to determine that orc patrols were waiting for intruders behind either exit door. They filled nearly the entire entrance room with oil (using Hold Portal to make sure they couldn't be interrupted), then unleashed a torrent of insults until the orcs charged in... and lit the room on fire and burned them all. They collected their (again damaged) loot, returned to town, sold it, and refreshed.

In their last foray, they returned to the orc's lair, down the long hallway. Using ESP, one magic-user determined that the orcs were (understandably) nervous, and waiting inside for the next attack. The party once again filled the hallway with burning oil, then the other magic-user used Phantasmal Forces to create an illusion inside the orcs' lair (the rules don't say you need line of sight) of a burning skull exploding into flame. Nearly all the orcs (except leader-types) failed their saves and ran out in a panic. When the oiled hallway was lit aflame, it did kill the wave of orcs running down there... but while there were sounds of others running off in the darkness, those orcs were taking other escape routes. (Walking down the hallway with a lit torch to see what was going on didn't help.) By the time the party checked the lair, all was quiet beyond the doorway... but they simply spiked the door shut and withdrew.

Meanwhile, the cleric (former dwarf fighter) was guarding the other doorway at the entrance. Despite his vigilance, he somehow didn't notice as the spikes were gently pushed out, and an angry leader-type orc broke the door down and attacked. Unfortunately for the orc, the cleric had been waiting to light another patch of burning oil in the doorway... then the halfling's belladonna-coated crossbow finished him off ("deadly accuracy with missiles" indeed!). A much-diminished orc patrol followed the leader-type once the flames died down, but two waves of Sleep spells took care of them. One more orc patrol walked by, and considered attacking... but their morale failed them and they retreated. Rather than take further risk, the party left the dungeon for the last time...

  • I suppose Gygax wasn't wrong that leveling under the original boxed set rules was too fast - the experienced players got to 4th level after just two sessions. That said, I feel like that was only fair, considering the high lethality...
  • For whatever reason, the dice gave us way more random encounters this time... all orc patrols, since the number-appearing on the level was a few hundred. (Taking cues from Book III, I divided them into patrols of 34 orcs each scattered around the level.) By the end it was getting very hard for me to justify the orcs continually picking fights with the party (hence having the last group of orcs just nope out).
  • The caller did propose intimidating the orcs into surrendering during the last foray, but was talked out of it by the rest of the party.
  • Didn't have to improvise as much this time, except for the aforementioned oil flare-up (save vs. dragon breath).
  • The new player (who almost quit after the first character's death) agreed with most of the others that 5e was vastly preferable. Though he also appreciated seeing how the original game worked.
  • I was personally disappointed that the grind of dealing with so many random orc encounters kept the players from exploring the rest of the dungeon, and also made them so cautious that they never entered the (now-abandoned) orc lair... which actually contained some treasure!
  • We may consider one more session in Castle Redcrown this fall... using a more integrated party of 5e characters, to see how well they do in comparison.
EDIT: Corrections, I initially forgot a few important details:
  • There was a delay getting the fire started in the first foray when they threw a torch, and it missed the oil patch.
  • Both new clerics (the one made by the new player, and the one made by the player who forgot his old sheet) died during the first foray. The other cleric that died (the latter's character) was replaced by a nearly identical heir.
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We may consider one more session in Castle Redcrown this fall... using a more integrated party of 5e characters, to see how well they do in comparison.
Yeah, dude. I mean, you've already put the work in, with graph paper and everything. May as well use it. And I love these write-ups.

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