Guest Post by Brian Renninger: Running First Edition Oriental Adventures

Monday , 25, July 2016 8 Comments

Play report: 1st Edition AD&D, and 1st Edition Oriental Adventures.

Summary: It was a mixed bag ending in Total Party Kill.

The party consisted of three first level characters: a Wu-jen/Ninja, a Shugenja, and a Samurai. All three characters had been ordered by their respective superiors (father for the Samurai, Abbot for the Shugenja, and Sensei for the Wu-jen) to travel south to the Daimyo’s castle for unnamed reasons but, as all expected related to the series of earthquakes recently experienced. The trip was roughly 100 miles to take place over 3-4 days.

Prior to the game I had used the events tables to plan out a rough sequence of encounters. The method in OA starts with an annual event which I rolled as a major earthquake in the first month.The annual event is then used to influence what columns to use for the monthly events, and then daily events are rolled by terrain type: urban, rural, wilderness, etc. I assumed the party would spend the first day in town, and then the rest in rural areas as they traveled through villages and farmlands. I rolled a weeks worth of daily encounters and got: duel, Monster (for which I rolled on the monster tables and got Gargantua, humanoid), haunting, VIP, and bandits. I changed the Gargantua to reptilian as i wanted something more exotic than just a giant.

So, starting in town, the characters equipped themselves for the journey. During this the major earthquake hit. Parts of the town caught fire, buildings collapsed, the bridge across the river collapsed. The Samurai went to rescue horses from the stables, the Shugenja earned some XP healing injured villagers, and the Wu-jen hid under a cart. Then the tsunami hit. across the bridge was another village built on lower ground in the river delta between the two rivers in the area. The tsunami rolled up the delta wrecking the village and leaving about 20 villagers trapped on he roofs of their huts in danger of being washed away. The Samurai used his string of horses to rescue villagers by swimming them out in the flood and loading people on to take to shore. The first trip wasn’t too difficult as the Wu-jen cast Still Water to quiet the flood. The second trip was harder and the Samurai (who was without horsemanship skill) failed a dexterity check and two villagers were swept off their horses. The samurai swam after them and rescued one after avoiding certain death as he couldn’t swim (I allowed a save versus death to manage to grab a rope from the Wu-jen).

After rescuing who they could they then helped set up a camp for the displaced villagers. This was interrupted as one of the rescued turned out to be a prominent local Samurai who felt he had lost face by needing to be rescued. This resulted in a psychic duel between the rescued samurai and the party samurai. The party samurai lost the psychic duel and backed down (losing a point of honor) but, as he’d also gained 5 honor for rescuing someone at great risk to his own life felt like the trade was good (net four honor).

The Wu-jen (who is also a Ninja) noticed the confrontation between Samurais and attempted to assassinate the village samurai in the night. But, failing a move silently roll the samurai was wounded and escaped. The next morning rumors were that evil spirits attacked the samurai. The samurai had to strong arm the wu-jen out of the village as the wu-jen wanted to drink in the village tavern and spread rumors about the samurai.

In fact the Wu-jen spread those rumors at every village along the way. The Shugenja also managed to heal a few wounded NPCs on the trip. They had several encounters during their journey to Daimyo’s castle. They successfully surprised and defeated a group of a dozen bandits (killing one, and knocking unconscious three). The bandits were just villagers displaced by earthquakes. They ordered the defeated villagers to travel back to the flooded village and put themselves in service to the village samurai. A village asked them to hunt a tiger that had attacked one of the villagers children. After killing the tiger (and keeping the skin) they ran into a giant reptilian Gargantua stomping away from a wrecked village. As the Gargantua didn’t seem interested in them they gave it a wide birth (wise choice). They also spotted a Mothra like Gargantua flying in pursuit of the reptilian one. The players enjoyed the Godzilla and Mothra homages. Soon after they met a troop of cavalry pursuing the Gargantua but, were told to proceed to meet the Daimyo. Which they did. Entering the Daimyo’s castle they were informed they were to investigate the strange series of lightning strikes happening to the north.

This is where it went off the rails. Because the lightning strikes were from the LOTFP adventure Tower of the Stargazer. Note: this paragraph contains spoilers. I thought this would go rather easily but, boy was I wrong. It started out okay with the players cautiously exploring the tower. But, then the Samurai was drained 4 dex points gazing in a magic mirror. After smashing all the mirrors they explored the dungeon area. The four animated skeletons should have been a cakewalk but, everyone rolled spectacularly poorly and soon the Shukenja fell to negative hit points, with the remaining two both dropped to zero. With no one to bind wounds it should have ended there as they bled out. But, I was lenient (soft) and allowed the two zero HP characters to regain consciousness and bind wounds. Unfortunately, they found the poisoned bottles from elsewhere in the tower and killed the Shugenja dead by imprudently hoping they were healing potions. The two then went upstairs and encountered the wizard who was captured in a magic circle (stranded there after a miscast spell). They prudently did not release the wizard from the circle but, did have some fun taunting him. I played the wizard alternating between raging and apathy. Then they explored the observatory and managed with much experimentation to activate the telescope and kill the samurai by teleporting him across the cosmos to be consumed by moss people. Then the remaining Wu-jen/Ninja took the elevator downstairs only to be electrocuted by force fields (I rolled maximum damage) while trying to obtain the treasure. Players noses were out of joint. Complaints about play balance were made. LOTFP strikes hasty players again. Though, I think part of this was the players getting tired and trying to quickly resolve things rather than think things through.


We used the grappling rules from the DMG for the Samurai to wrestle the Wu-jen out of the bar. And, they are just strange. I’m sure I was missing something in executing them but, it is just odd to do this weird adding up percentiles when most combat is d20. Like all first level characters they are fragile and a bad string of rolls can sink them even with modest opponents (the skeletons were pretty weak).

I found myself falling into using a “roll under ability score” nonweapon proficiency task mechanic for things for which there were no skills. This is not in 1st edition rules and in fact conflicts with the proficiency rules in OA. But, it is such an easy way to address success/failure for things not addressed elsewhere.

All in all I thought the OA stuff went well but, the LOTFP stuff didn’t mesh well with the setting (perhaps I failed to mesh it well). Though, I think I would have had no complaints had the characters succeeded.

I quite enjoyed the OA random encounters. While I forgot a few of my pre-rolled encounters the ones I did use the players seemed to enjoy. And, the players actions did spur my imagination for follow-on effects. For example, I was going to have the village samurai execute the defeated bandits/villagers spurring further enmity between the party and in particular the party samurai’s family. Plus, perhaps have the Wu-jen/Ninja’s rumor mongering come back to bite them. The Wu-jen/Ninja did complain the the thief skills percentages were too low so why even try — he didn’t really accept the argument that first level characters are by definition weak. Had they survived they would have earned 505 exp from defeating things in combat. Though the Shugenja would have led the party in HP due to the healing during the journey. The morale rolls worked nicely with the encounters with the bandits. The party got surprise and managed to drop four without counter. This cracked the bandits morale and they ran only to be intimidated by the pursuing samurai.

Overall I think the pace of encounters generated by the OA tables was about right in spurring plot hooks and little bits to fit into the story line. It works pretty well as a hex crawl. But, I think it would even shine more set in just a limited location to build up relationships (alliances, marriages, and feuds) and slowly define the setting through those relationships. The downside is making OA characters is a lot of work and the players were clearly dispirited when they died. There is no quick rolling up another here. So, I certainly felt pressured to throw them mulligans (and I did give them one).

Follow-up things to do:

  1. Go over surprise again, still not sure if we are doing it right.
  2. Go over DMG unarmed combat and see if it can be meshed in anyway with the OA martial arts. My guess is they really can’t be very well. Probably just abandon it and use the OA martial arts combat section.
  3. Review initiative again and in particular how it interacts with the various ki powers.
  4. Have to look into rules to see if there is a way I’ve missed for resolving non-weapon tasks other than roll-under mechanics.
  5. Find some less trap oriented modules as the players really hated the dis-empowerment of walking into something they couldn’t control. I’ll throw them that bone. Though, some traps will always be on the table. I want to use the OA event tables more so need short modules to throw in without big mega-dungeon commitment. Also, since my big bad was centered around Death Frost Doom. I need to replace that with something less apocalyptic. So, something more OA and less deadly is in order. Players can make imprudent choices but, DMs also have to adapt to the players.
  • Sounds like you need new grappling rules, too. Fortunately…

    • Brian Renninger says:

      Indeed I do. I’m trying to be slavish to 1st edition as an experiment. But, it’s hard. The grappling in 1st ed. is just weird.

  • David says:

    When playing just about any pre-4th edition version of D&D my standard MO for 1st level characters is to run a very light non-lethal adventure or two for my players. That means it starts off with a lot of social interaction, or they will face off against only one villain who has no support, or they face enemies trying to capture rather than kill. Anything where I roll very, very few attack dice against the PCs. The game is just too lethal otherwise. A standard dungeon crawl waits for 2nd or 3rd level.

    You did a great job with building those random events into a campaign. I strongly recommend another unarmed combat system, almost everything is better than 1E’s unarmed combat system.

    • Brian Renninger says:

      Thanks David,

      I should have prefaced this that part of the reason of playing 1st edition was the realization that reading the DMG today showed me that 30 years ago playing it, there were a lot of rules I never used or followed correctly. This puts my comment about falling into roll under mechanics into the context that I’m sort of experimenting with following 1st edition as closely as I can to the letter. This is mostly just to see if anything interesting falls out.

      An example of this is the rules governing movement into combat with the effects of weapon length and charges taken into account. Last session the players and I had a decent discussion of how that worked the result of which one player saw the advantage of having a polearm and acquired one. I almost never had polearms used in my games of old because we never really were sticklers about such things. So, that was a nice result.

      I am going to use solely the OA unarmed combat rules because yeah, the 1st ed DMG rules are just arcane and bizarre.

  • cirsova says:

    Hey, if you’re up for something really weird in your Oriental Adventures game, I have Project Touhou-style yokai monster build that needs playtesting…

    • Brian Renninger says:

      I’m willing to take a look at it. I don’t know much about yokai but, things to add an oriental flavor certainly are welcome. Hopefully, I’ll be able to work it into my game but, as you’ll see in next weeks play report things took an abrupt turn in style so I’ll just have to wing it to some degree.

  • Mathek says:

    LotFP modules are tricky because they often have a different tone that the other modules I put in my setting. It sounds like the players got one set of expectations with the very OA encounters earlier and the lighthearted Kaiju references, then the hidden deadliness of Tower of the Stargazer caught them off guard.

    I’ve slipped LotFP’s Isle/Dungeon of the Unknown into my campaign. I’m modifying and running them as Elfland. Hopefully the fact that it has a weird tone will work well with it representing “going beyond the fields we know.”

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