Exploring the Ruins of the Undercity

Great success playing with my kids tonight! They’d lost most of their old character sheets, but no problem – we rolled up new ones pretty quickly. My favorite part of old-school gaming is how little time character generation takes. I let them roll 3d6 6 times and assign each as they wished, mostly using Swords & Wizardry Core. The 12 year old wanted to play a sort of “battle mage”, so I grabbed the variant Elf from S&W and told her she only knew “Read Magic”. The 9yo wanted a Fighter – simple enough. He’s done this before and knows that’s basically the simplest class to play. “I want a shield and a sword and chain mail.” Rock on, little dude.

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Allen Deger, “Rebel Dragon”, and a hastily scribbled map…

We also used the overlay system from Scarlet Heroes. This basically means you get a “fray die” to represent all the smaller attacks and by-blows over the course of a round, plus you read hit and damage dice slightly differently, so that you can play effectively with 1 or 2 characters. Because we were going for a simple dungeon crawl, I didn’t want to overthink it and they don’t have much fun when they have to spend all their time bleeding out on the dungeon floor. (Careful play is not quite in their mindset yet.)

So we started off using Ruins of the Undercity. The 9yo did most of the mapping and the 12yo tried to keep a narrative going in a Google Doc. That last part only made it about halfway through the session because it just slows down the pace too much. Also, kids roleplay way better than adults. “Describe your attack” leads to jumping around with air swords, and describing kobolds all burning to death from lamp oil leads to running around the living room with screams and flailing arms.

Lessons for next time:

  • On-the-fly dungeon generation slows the game down too much compared to basic dungeon preparation in advance. I like to improvise details (because players always ask questions about stuff I hadn’t previously considered), but figuring out the basics of what’s behind a door or inside a room should be done ahead of time, at least in games where there’s an actual GM. This isn’t a fault of RotU which is really designed for GM-less play.
  • Equipment “packages” can really speed up character generation. Buying equipment is the longest part of that process for us. The players can customize the packages, of course, but depending on the class and adventure type, they’re going to get almost the same stuff each time anyway.
  • Funny voices are still the best part of being a GM. The looks on the players’ faces when I say “hmmm…” and start rolling a bunch of dice are the second best part. It’s a good way to get them thinking more about what might occur and how they should prepare, because it makes it clear that things can happen even if the GM hasn’t specifically decided they should happen.
  • Set a time limit. Even older kids may get antsy after an hour or more of play and want to do something else. Be prepared to suggest ways to wrap up a session logically. In my case, this means “we’re not pausing in the middle of the dungeon, so you need to head back to the entrance.”

We’ll probably play again tomorrow, or at least the 9yo and I will. He wants that treasure!