OSR: Tomb of the Serpent Kings Session 1, Part 1

Gaming with Total Novices

I was asked to run a game for a group of people who were totally new to RPGs. I'd asked them what kind of game they wanted, and the responses were... interesting.
  • What genre of game? "Really old school, classic Dungeons and Dragons."
  • What sort of tone and difficulty? "Like Dark Souls."
This... isn't my usual type of game. I prefer to run games with a strong narrative component, where a sword lets you "do sword things" and treasure is a plot device, not a number. The players had requested something different. They wanted to go back to the '80s, to the D&D they'd seen in Stranger Things and Community and a few other shows.

Most of my games play with and break clichés. This game would be all about the clichés, the "classic" moments subverted by so many later modules and systems. I could be as unoriginal as I liked and it would be original to these players, because they'd never seen any of it before.

The System

I wanted a system that felt very classic, but without too many moving parts. Dungeon Crawl Classics: the RPG was a strong contender, as was the ever-popular Lamentations of the Flame Princess. I ended up going with a system way out of left field: the GLOG.

The system appealed for a few reasons. 

  • It has several "classic" elements (6 stats, HP, levels, etc.)
  • It has several "nice" elements, like Attack and Defense being 2 paired stats, an innovative encumbrance system, and easy adaptability
  • It has a sweet magic system. Seriously, everything about it is just perfect for this type of game.
  • It is disorganized as hell.
Let me explain. The best way to learn a system is to rewrite it from scratch. The GLOG forces you to pick through blog posts and other game books to make it work. It's not a complete set of rules. It's excellent. I know the system inside and out now because I went through, line by line, and rewrote it, editing and hacking and stealing different ideas along the way.

 I also built a custom Table of Races, adapted some Curse tables, rewrote spells, classes, and all that sort of thing along the way.

The First Session

Malchir the Merchant was killed on the road. According to Gelwib, owner of the Black Stone Inn, an owlbear was the culprit. The PCs, all of whom were present at the inn, were offered Malchir's purse of 200 GP to go out and avenge his death.

The PCs were:

  • A nameless human Paladin of the Voice. Int 5, Wis 8. Carried a sword at his side and a wheel of cheese on his back. Not very bright, but unshakably faithful.
  • Thomas, a toadling elementalist Wizard. Started with the dissolve and anklecrusher spells, along with a sheep. Thomas had taken up shepherding to pay off his Wizard Student Loans. It hadn't gone well. Fuzzy was his last sheep.
  • Franklin, the Iron Frog. A frogling, and a disgraced knight. He'd lost his levy of peasant troops to an owlbear, and, in a rage, the King had taken his ancestral  lands. He was penniless, but he did have a horse, a shield, and a sword.
  • Antonia Barracuda, a fishling thief and glassblower. This was her chance to get rich and stop selling bottles for a living.
  • Carl, the cockroach man bureaucrat, the Court's representative in the lowly village of Bogrest. Carl was also trained in the arts of assassination, but he wasn't very good at them.
Mythic Owlbear by Ben Wootten
They set out at dawn along the King's Road, and, after a brief encounter with a Murder Log (a camouflaged swamp crocodile) and a delicious lunch of murder log steak, the PCs camped for the night off the road, in sight of the Loathsome Hills, presumed to be the home of the owlbear. During the night, Franklin was lured into the swamp by will-o'-the-wisps and nearly drowned. He was saved by the strong swimming ability of Antonia.

In the morning, bedraggled and haunted by the hooting of the owlbear, the party set off into the hills, following an overgrown road. They soon arrived at the treeless Old Fort Hill, where Franklin was certain the owlbear would dwell. Carl and the Paladin climbed the hill to investigate the ruins of the old wooden fort, while the other PCs circled the hill's base.

The owlbear, who had been stalking Thomas and his sheep from the trees, attacked. Thomas cowered in fear and would have been slain, had Franklin not turned his horse around and charged, placing himself directly in the beast's path. The owlbear slaughtered his horse and dragged him to the ground. Thomas, fearing for his life, cast anklecrusher, and trapped the owlbear's hind legs in stone. This allowed Antonia to circle behind the beast and slice open its vital arteries, staining the ground with black blood.

Meanwhile, on top of the hill, Carl frantically tried to change into his leather armour, while the Paladin prepared to launch an attack from high ground. He set his wheel of cheese rolling down the hill. Its substantial bulk missed the owlbear but struck Franklin on the head, dazing him and coating him with cheese just as the blood-drained owlbear began to gnaw a hole in his shield. Out of spells, Thomas charged forward and struck the owlbear in the eye with her shepherd's crook and then bludgeoning it to death with a flurry of panicked blows.

The PCs dragged the battered but unwounded knight from under the owlbear's corpse, and settled in for a good lunch. Carl and Franklin both decided to try owlbear meat, with disastrous results. The black-tinged flesh bubbled in their stomachs, mutating and twisting into new and unnatural forms. They both tried to vomit it free, but couldn't, until the Paladin used his voice of command to order Franklin to vomit. He disgorged a sickening spray of black bile and round black eggs - owlbear eggs, the group supposed. Carl was not so lucky, and died in agony. A hasty pyre consumed his corpse.

Thomas' spell had revealed a small cavern with carved stone walls. Antonia, Thomas, and the Paladin fashioned torches and peered inside. They didn't get far before Franklin announced that he was heading back to Bogrest. The PCs could return later, with supplies and hired help, to explore the Tomb of the Serpent Kings.

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