Like it's 1981 all over again, part three

We’re playing The Haunted Keep mini-dungeon from 1981 Moldvay-era Basic D&D using 4e D&D. We’ve got three characters (plus a backup Wizard), and they’re about to enter…….

Read on.

The entrance corridor into the Haunted Keep is 15′ long, 5′ wide and contains a pit trap. DMG87. Easy. Passive Perception checks all fail, no one’s watching out for traps and Hairy Bob (Thuggish Fighter and thief wannabe) fails the Reflex save. We’re off to a great start. Down he goes, taking 6 damage for the sudden landing. I briefly consider adding a pressure plate to the bottom of the pit which triggers a pendulum blade to scythe out of the wall at waist height a round later….. but that would be too cruel. Save that one for later.

He climbs out, massaging his (hairy) ego and the others leap across the pit easily to face the inner doors to the Keep.

“They’re blown apart, as if some great force from within wanted to get out very, very suddenly. Pieces of wood are even embedded in the stonework to either side.”
“What level are we again?”

By this point it’s worth mentioning that this is 4e D&D, but we’re playing without miniatures or battlemat. This is pure in-your-head gaming from start to finish, and y’know what – it’s working. Partly that’s because we’re experienced gamers doing what comes naturally, but mainly it’s because we’re playing D&D like D&D. Smaller locations and cramped conditions make for less tactical wiggle room, so less need for absolute positioning. Lesson learned: if you want to play D&D without a battlemat, play it small.

Heading through the door and the players have a choice of left or right. They head left, briefly explore the (empty) Room 1 then enter Room 2 which contains a Crab Spider attached to a tapestry. I replace that with a mated pair of Deathjump Spiders reduced to Level 2 (MM246, -2 attack, AC & defences, -16HP, bite 2d6+2, 4 poison, 125XP each). These shouldn’t tax the players too much but one lands on Hairy Bob’s hairy head, and he runs outta the door screaming. Wimp.

“Getitoff! Getitoff! Getitoff!”
“Stay still! How am I supposed to hit it if you keep flailing around like that?”
:rolls dice:
“There. Got it. Bob? Bob? BOB?”

Thanks to the pit trap, spider bite and two rounds of poison damage (not to mention being hit by Parson Jeffries’ mace), Bob is down to just 2 Hit Points, and the party decide to take a short rest before moving on.

I do what all good GMs do in such a situation, and roll for a random encounter…………

Next time: Goblings!

Here’s Hairy Bob. His name is Bob, and he’s Hairy. After his spider infestation though it’s likely he’ll be changing his name to Bald Bob real soon. As a Fighter he’s armed to the teeth with a Scimitar, Shield, Daggers and Crossbow. As a Thief wannabe he’s pretty good at stabbing you in the back with any of them. Except maybe the shield.

Hairy Bob, Unaligned Human Fighter/Rogue-1
Str 12, Con 13, Dex 13, Int 9, Wis 8, Cha 6
HP 28 bloodied 14 surges 7×10/day
AC 15 (Hide & light shield), Fort 14, Ref 13, Will 10

Daggers (x2)+5 vs AC, 1d4+1, usable off-hand, range 5/10
Scimitar +4 vs AC, 1d8+1, High crit
Crossbow +3 vs AC, 1d8+1, range 15/30, Load minor
Cleave/w +4 vs AC, Sure Strike/w +6 vs AC, Tide of Iron/w +4 vs AC
Sneak Attack/e +2d8, Steel Serpent Strike/e +4 vs AC
Comeback Strike/d +4 vs AC

Athletics +5, Endurance +5, Intimidate +3, Streetwise +3, Thievery +5
Sneak of Shadows, Backstabber
Combat Challenge, Combat Superiority, One-handed style

11 Comments on “Like it's 1981 all over again, part three”

  1. I am loving this as well, as I am currently playing D&D the way I have played all editions, the way I learned to play with AD&D. Mostly in my head, some maps drawn on graph paper and the battle map taken out when i need some extra details given. I am still struggling with a few areas but its going ok so far. Any hints on how to handle the combat-only powers in non-combat situations?

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  2. Glad y’all liking this little jaunt!

    @HermitDave Wing it, keep the action fast, keep the pressure on the players and reward cunning uses for Powers (such as Don using the Cleric’s Divine Glow to illuminate the inky water).

    Until we ran through this little experiment, I’d have said playing 4e D&D without battlemat or miniatures was impossible. I’d still say that it is, if you play it as presented – 8×8 rooms, huge tactical encounters, etc. But play it with smaller locations and…. well, like Classic D&D and it flows very well indeed.

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  3. I love the series so far. I’m living my nostalgia-driven desire to play like that through you because my players would never try this… unless we made it into a special one shot thing.

    In regards to your last comment, allow me to call complete BS about it being impossible to play 4e without minis if you’re in large rooms. Dude, we all played AD&D 1e encounters in the wilderness (how many encampment night encounters have you rolled).

    All you have to do is apply what you mention in these post to a larger scale. Thus you have your players describe how the flank monsters or how they climb on yonder tree and drop on the Half-Orc Sergant.

    At least, that’s how I envision it.

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  4. Just a small nitpick: I quite likewise started playing the dnds back in the early 80s, but since I learned from AD&D 1st ed, I started off using large graph paper & whatever would suffice for minis. I was actually shocked when I finally got the second edition books & they hardly mentioned minis.

    All I’m really saying is that “in your head” style isn’t any more playing D&D “like D&D” than minis & battlemat given the history of the hobby.

    But hey, however you enjoy your game is awesome in my books, sw long as you’re enjoying it :)

  5. @TildeSee There was quite a lot of variety on how people played back in the day. We didn’t (indeed, still don’t if we can help it) use miniatures, and knew very few people who did. But when we went to the various conventions in Cambridge, Reading, etc we saw gamers clutching their minis like little voodoo dolls. Bless ’em.

    Each to their own, I guess – but the point remains that the current overwhelming perception is that 4e D&D DEMANDS miniatures and a battlemat (or equivalent props) to play it. You don’t.

  6. @Greywulf Oh, definitely. With they way things have developed over time, and the many playstyles that have evolved, I too find it odd that there is a shocking number of people that vehemently believe that it’s impossible to play 4e without minis/battlemat. In fact recently, to make a point to a 2e fanatic friend of ours who couldn’t help but mutter negatively every time we whipped out the battlemat, we ran a whole combat heavy 4e session without touching the battlemat. Went smoothly. Of course, he just found other things to gripe about, but some folk just like to complain.

    Anyway, like I said, it was more just a nitpick than anything :) Wait, what was that I was just saying about people complaining… ;)

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