Starting The OD&D Open Table

November 18, 2020

OD&D Book 1 CoverTonight, I’ll be running the first session of my next long form game – an OD&D open table.

The concept of an open game table has been something tumbling around my head for several months now. As someone relatively new to the hobby, an open table offers the unique ability to exponentially increase the number of players in my circle. There’s also the benefit of playing whenever desire strikes me, with little to no hassle of getting a group together. This has obvious appeal for any GM who has had the pleasure of rescheduling sessions to get everyone to the table.

This style of play hasn’t been the standard for quite some time, but back in the early days of the hobby, it was really the go-to way to play. As such, it seemed more than fitting to run an old-school table with THE old-school game.

For the record, I’ve never run any edition of D&D before. I’ve played some 5e, and read through the rulebooks for 3e, but this is my first attempt at tackling the game in any form. Therefore, I’ve had to overcome a pretty serious learning curve. In addition to the (well-documented) complexities of the OD&D rulebooks, I’ve had no primer for what D&D should feel like. I didn’t understand Armor Class, or what a Saving Throw meant. Aside from the obvious examples, I’m not familiar with the creatures that inhabit fantasy realms.  I had to learn what Vancian magic is. I can’t use my existing knowledge of the game and apply it to the original edition. Because I don’t have existing knowledge.

Thankfully, I’m not going in totally blind. There’s a VERY dedicated and vocal following for OD&D and its various retro-clones. Many are lifelong gamers and have an astounding knowledge of the rules, history, and general approaches to the game. I’ve found a plethora of information on many of these gamer’s blogs. It’s no secret that the original D&D game is one of interpretation, and I think that discussing the various versions that exist is as valuable as the history itself.

Basic Set cover

I’m going to be writing this series of essays on my experiences with both OD&D and the open table format. Some of these will be musings on the rules and the vast variations on them. Others will be more focused on the history and terminology. In addition, I’ll also include the occasional session recap or delve into session prep between games. Expect some discussion of old modules for both Classic and Advanced D&D, like Keep on the Borderlands and Tomb of Horrors.

This will be my first series on specific gameplay, and I’m excited to see how this all turns out. There’s obviously a trove of information on the subject, and it will be interesting to watch as I become more acquainted with the rules, genre, and feel for the old-school style.

In terms of the ruleset being used, it’s a bit of a mash-up. I’ll primarily be using the White Box (that’s the original edition without any supplements). But I’m also including some supplemental rules, like the Thief Class from Greyhawk. I’ve also got a copy of the ’83 Mentzer Basic Set, which has some clear differences from the original edition. This is mostly for on-the-spot clarifications for when (not if) I get totally lost.

For those who are curious, I’ll be running mostly homebrewed scenarios in a non-specific D&D setting. One of my players asked me what setting the game was in, and I laughed and said I couldn’t say. (Sorry Steven.)

Read on for the next entry, or choose from the series below.

Untested Method: Generating a Random Skill Check DC

September 29, 2020

I was thinking about NPC creation and how botched it can be sometimes. Something I’m trying to work on with Streetwork is a process that allows for quick and easy challenge checks. It’s easy enough to create a character (PC or otherwise) with the creation process, and compared to most games it’s fairly quick (about 10-20 min). But my primary focus is on in-game NPC creation, when it’s not necessary to generate every skill proficiency that an NPC has, especially one who isn’t a major character.

This is a super quick & dirty procedure for generating random DCs.

I think this would particularly work best with characters who you didn’t anticipate having to make stats for. (This entire idea also assumes that you are interested in playing NPCs by the same rules that the PCs have to play by. This can help to add a bit of randomness to the GM’s side, as well as create a consistency within the game that might not be present otherwise, depending on your style. Mileage may vary.)

On further thought, this works for just about any situation where you truly don’t know the difficulty of what the PCs are trying to affect (intentionally or unintentionally). Obviously it would be best to be in a situation where you feel prepared for everything the players are going to try and do, but that’s not always how things go. (You have played an RPG before, right?)

  • Assign 6 difficulty ratings, from the lowest acceptable DC to the highest. This may be a flat scale from 0 to 60+ DC for truly random skill levels, to more targeted ranges, like from 0 to 15 for someone quite inept in a skill. 
  • Roll a d6, with each side of the die corresponding to the 6 ratings in ascending order.
  • The result is the DC for the check.

While there are some obvious consequences of this (like having a very static set of DCs to choose from) and the slight bit of time it takes compared to just choosing a DC to begin with, it does add some nice little benefits. As the GM, I don’t think it’s too uncommon for us to find ourselves setting up arbitrary rules and regulations for our worlds and encounters. This can help us to subvert that in just one small way, by allowing the same chance that lets the characters determine their fates play into our own processes. Sometimes it’s nice to spice things up on our side of the screen too! 

It’s also worth reiterating that this only applies to DCs that we aren’t already determined during prep, so it’s not like it would be for every DC needed.

The other nice thing is that this would work for just about any system that uses DCs (or whatever they’re called in your game of choice), and can be scaled to whatever your max is. For example, in Streetwork, the practical max a DC (called Instinct) has is 30; after that it doesn’t make a difference if you have 35 or 69 as your Instinct Score, you are basically guaranteed to succeed. So the cap of my ratings would be 30 for a full range. Streetwork also has these ratings paired to the Instinct mechanic (especially on Combo Skills), so it particularly works there, because a GM would already be familiar with the six ratings assigned to the die.