This was also posted to EN World .
Today we spent a few hours playing through the orange-cover Palace of the Silver Princess available for free from Wizards of the Coast using the Labyrinth Lord rules. These rules are a “retro-clone game system” designed to take us “back to the basics of old-school fantasy gaming”. The rules are dedicated to Tom Moldvay, author of the Basic Set. Check out the nice list of D&D book covers by Robert Fisher to get some context.
The party managed to steal the ruby in the end!
I had three players. We started with Belfin the elf, Darn the elf, and Marcus the cleric, all on first level. Belfin hired three retainers and promised them that they got to keep the padded armor and short sword he bought them if they came along for this adventure.
Beflin got replaced by Solarus the cleric, Darn got replaced by Darn the second, also an elf, and Marcus got replaced by Wilford the Witless. Later Solarus got replaced by Grump the dwarf, Darn the second got replaced by a nameless cleric, and Wilford got replaced by Archibald the Wise. We lost count of the retainers we lost. Often the party had as much as nine people in it. Ordinary humans came along for armor and weapons, elves and clerics came a long if they got a share of the treasure. Many a cleric died before being able to cast a single spell. More than one retainer ended up turning into a PC. The system is DEADLY.
The last party got to level up in the caves by popular vote of the players. Not much later they found the lair of a harpy that owned over 6000 gp. Remember how the orange book had many empty rooms that you had to stock yourself. I had added this one myself, thinking that the random treasure I had rolled would help them level up. Well, the nameless cleric ended up on level three, so hopes were up again.
The rules left me with some questions. Maybe somebody can help me out.
- Oil flasks turned out to be the most powerful weapons requiring no to-hit roll and doing an automatic 1d8 for two rounds. I guess the second 1d8 was unnecessary. How was this handled in the old days? I ruled that burning oil worked against kobolds, skeletons, orcs, weird amoebas, harpies, and ghosts.
- What would you think was a fair share of treasure for retainers? I ruled that elves, fighters and clerics would come along for half a share of the treasure. Later, when the party had brought the harpy gold back to town I ruled that they’d also come along for arms, armor, and 200 gp. Ordinary humans would come along for as little as 12 gp (padded armor and a short sword). Just curious to hear how others handled this.
- XP due to treasure was a lot more important in terms of XP than monsters defeated. Did I hand out too much treasure? Consider that the goal of the adventure is a ruby worth 10’000 gp an I had thought that the harpy would make a nice early stop if we did not make it to the ruby.
- Is the attrition rate typical? One player character died in the last fight against the ghosts, so he would have created his fourth character that day.
- The adventure has an encounter with two ghosts guarding the ruby having AC 7. At the end of the book ghosts have AC 1.
Other stuff I noticed:
- Charm person is essentually permanent unless you manage to save. If you’re smart you get to save once a day.
- Sleep is really powerful. We never had the situation that wizards announced their intent to cast a spell and enemies then gaining initiative and the ability to silence the spellcaster.
- As the system was so deadly, Cure Light Wounds was not used a lot. If you got hit at first level, you usually didn’t survive.
- The maps were hilarious.
- Monster distribution was not totally crazy. As the orange-cover edition was missing room descriptions for two rooms on the entrance level, I looked at the edition reworked by Moldvay and used Troglodytes. It’s unclear how these got into the caves in the first place, however. Interestingly enough, my players did not mind.
- The random encounter list featured some acolytes that were listed as having AC 2. I rolled up four of them, which gave the party awesome plate mail. Yay!
- Soon enough two player characters fell into a 50 ft. pit filled with murky water. The table on drowning specified a 95% for drowning in plate mail. As one of their friends managed to stay outside, I granted them a 10% bonus, but they didn’t make it. That was short.
- I didn’t like the empty rooms I was supposed to fill with stuff.
- I liked Jean Wells’ original story better. Nobody really knows how the castle ended. Nobody really knows why the tinker has a suite of plate armor in his bedroom. Nobody knows where the dragon went. Nobody knows why the two lovers turned into ghosts. I wanted to expand on it for future adventures, I could do that. And none of the Protector magic, none of that happy ending by releasing the lovers from the ruby.
It was fun for a one-day adventure. We’ll be happy to return to D&D 3.5 in our next session.
The following is stuff I didn’t write in my EN World post.
If I were to compare it to D&D 3.5 directly:
- I liked simplified combat. No talk was wasted on move actions, standard actions, full round actions, spell casting time, damage reduction, incorporeal creatures, and so on.
- I liked the lack of various buff spells.
- I liked how abilities were mostly not significant. As we rolled 3d6 in order, character creation was really simple.
- I didn’t care for the attack tables but in actual play it was no problem.
- I was able to resolve all skill use situations by eyeballing it. Cool.
- The surprise rule worked really well. Each side rolles 1d6. On 1-2 they’re surprised. Never had a problem.
- Thieves are practically useless at low levels when it comes detecting traps.
- The system is very deadly at first and second level. Strangely enough nobody died of poison. But with the average character having between two and four hitpoints, surviving a hit or a fall into a pit was rare. That sucked. If somebody tells me they want grim and gritty, I’ll tell them to play first level characters in a game where you roll 3d6 in order and roll for hit points at first level and die with zero hit points.
- Third editions with the skill system makes me feel like I have to support every decision with a rule reference. I’m also bored by the character optimization mini game in later D&D editions. This never came up.
- The arms and armor list is still a weird collection of things.
- I like how encumbrance doesn’t depend on your strength, but with many items having weight, this makes weight book keeping boring. Just ditch it, or round less than five pounds down to zero. Or just say that you may only take 10 items with you. A quiver with 20 arrows, a box with 10 bolts, 12 spikes, 8 torches, or a bag with 50 coins count as a single “item”, of course. But I’m drifting off…
- Too bad we didn’t get to test the chase rules.
- It’s tricky for a thief to get a backstab. I guess no creature is immune to backstabbing…
Tags: RPG LabyrinthLord Old School