Sunday morning, I woke up with the feeling that someone snuck up on me while I slept and poured a gallon of quick-dry cement into my head. I awoke feeling completely uninspired, not the best way to start the day when you’re facing your regular Sunday gaming group in a few hours. I had intended to whip something up for my play test game sometime between Saturday and Sunday morning, but never got around to it. I’m sure many referees know the feeling. And when even my morning constitutional failed to get the blood flowing and the creative juices juicing, I wasn’t looking forward to the game.
Getting ready to leave the house, I contemplated my options. I could grab my Labyrinth Lord book and Stonehell and adjudicate another delve through my homebrewed megadungeon, but I wasn’t up to dealing with all the baggage that Stonehell has accumulated with my regular group. I could snatch Zombies!!! off the bookcase and turn the day into a board game session, but having spent Saturday night doing that already, the idea didn’t have much luster. Finally, at wits’ end, I grabbed my OD&D White Box set and tossed it into my backpack.
With a half-hour drive ahead of me, I started quickly patching together a few ideas for what to do with White Box. About half-way to the game site, Ronnie James Dio started telling me about a rainbow in the dark over the radio and I was getting into the D&D vibe. A few ideas percolated up from my reptile brain, and I pulled into the driveway with a fuzzy grasp of a new dungeon in mind.
We were down a player, but one of my regular player’s wife and another mutual friend were at the house, preparing to head out to do some shopping. I pitched the idea of doing an OD&D game and not only was my usual players up for it, but so were the two ladies. It seems that White Box can trump a shopping trip if presented with the right degree of enthusiasm!
A half-hour later, index cards had become character sheets, a few minis rustled up for marching order, and the five-strong party entered the Gloomcroft, a series of ancient halls dug under the mountains by the giant ancestors of the kobold race. In the four-hour session, chambers were explored, monsters fought, killer pollywogs outwitted, puzzles solved, and a new word (“widdershins”) was learned. One of the PCs was slain by a stirge-crow mashup monster, but the party exited the dungeon with a few gold coins, a jeweled holy symbol, and a magical cloak. Much fun was had by all and everyone is raring for another trip into the dungeon as soon as schedules allow.
The session reminded me of two things that I truly love around the gaming table. The first is a mixed gender group of players. As we all know, men and women think differently, our thoughts colored by our experiences, upbringing, and genetics. After almost two years of an all-male gaming group, which is actually a bit of an anomaly for me, having three men and two women at the table was a great pleasure. At the risk of feeding into stereotypes, the ladies used brainpower, taking clues from the campaign world to think around problems rather than booting in the door and hewing down everything the party encountered. The guys were awestruck on a couple of occasions by the questions being asked and the useful information those query revealed. I think everyone’s play experience was improved by having a mixed group and some valuable lessons learned in the process.
The second pleasure was having players relatively free of the expectations and preconceived notions that long-time players fall prey to. One of the ladies had some experience with RPGs through her husband, but the other had played in just a single session of Vampire: The Masquerade. With White Box D&D, a lack of experience with RPGs is beneficial. The novice players didn’t feel constrained by what was written on their character sheets—or rather what wasn’t scribed on them. Experienced players sometime fall into the trap where if they don’t have a skill or a feat or a power that says explicitly that “You can do X” they can’t try it at all. Novice players seem free of such constraints and that makes for a perfect fit for bare bones OD&D.
I’m looking forward to the next time I can break out White Box and play. I hope this spur-of-the-moment group has more adventures together and that we get the opportunity to build upon this world I threw together at the last minute. Many mysteries presented themselves yesterday and the freedom I experienced running White Box is very, very alluring. There are few better ways to spend a chilly Sunday afternoon than with simple rules, a few dice, and good friends.