Search This Blog

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Olde School 4e Dungeon Crawls?

So, I hate using the term "old school" as it just evokes a somewhat grognardian outlook on RPGin' that I just want to avoid if at all possible. BUT, that said, I love the idea of the "old school" dungeon and systems. I know, I know, I'm a hypocrite. This is one of the reasons that I love Fourthcore and Goodman Games circa 3.X (sadly their 4e stuff just wasn't able to really give that feel very well, despite some great ideas.) Goodman Games has a game system coming out in early 2012 called Dungeon Crawl Classics that is inspired heavily from older editions of D&D that I am beyond looking forward to. At FreeRPG Day this year I happened to pick up their supplement and have been inspired and left wanting since first reading it. And then WotC released in Dragon 403 an interesting article entitled Heroes' First Steps which entails rules for creating level-0 characters within the 4e rule-set. Awesome, right? Now, I've yet to give the rules a shot and as a result am going to withhold passing judgment until then. 

But, now that we have moved passed the above text-wall, down to my idea: "old school" style deadly dungeon crawl with 4e level-0 characters.

Now, in terms of making it as "old school" as possible, I'd like to employ a bit of randomness to it (though not with ability score generation as that's something I am thrilled is not in common use any longer.)

Here's what I am thinking:

Power Source: Roll a 1d6 to determine power source.
  1. Arcane
  2. Divine
  3. Martial
  4. Primal
  5. Psionic
  6. Shadow
Race: Roll a 1d10 to determine race. (Sticking with just Essentials races for simplicity, love it or hate it.)
  1. Human
  2. Dwarf
  3. Eladrin
  4. Elf
  5. Halfling
  6. Dragonborn
  7. Drow
  8. Half-Elf
  9. Half-Orc
  10. Tiefling
Ability Scores: Either pick the Promising or Prodigy array.
  • Promising (14,14,12,10,10,10)
  • Prodigy (16,12,12,10,10,8)
Skills, Feats, Equipment, Defenses, Hit Points, etc: As per the Dragon 403 article. 

Each player would play 3-4 randomly generated characters in a puzzle (and occasionally combat-heavy dungeon) that is specifically designed to leave each player, if they are lucky, with 1-2 characters apiece with the possibility of leveling up to 1 (and then followed by a deadly dungeon meant to weed them down to 1 apiece, again, if they are lucky.) The crucial focus here is on the difficulty and deadly puzzles ala the original Tomb of Horrors and its ilk. 

What's the verdict on this crazy/deadly/evil idea? Thoughts on building deadly puzzles, traps, and encounters for a level-0 dungeon crawl?

Until next time,


  1. This seems like a really interesting idea, and one of the things I've been thinking about a lot. Well, not this particular idea per se, but the concept of "builds" in modern D&D. In older editions you didn't have a huge amount of choice (there were only a handful of classes and races) and, of course, "magic-mart" pretty much didn't exist. Neither were there really a lot of feats as of 1st edition, for example. As a result, there wasn't a lot of planning that went into your character - if you found a magic axe, now you were a wielder of a magic axe. If you found a magic sword, well, now you were a wielder of a magic sword - sure there was proficiency, but there was no way to necessarily INDULGE your proficiency, unlike today where people pretty much expect if you take the frostcheese feats that you'll be handed a frost weapon in some way.

    The concept of having a handful of characters labelled "Bob's fighter, Bob's Wizard, Bob's Ranger", et c. seems to speak to this "improvise or die" mentality that earlier editions of the game seemingly espoused. If three of your four characters are dead, and the fighter lived, well, I guess now you're playing a fighter!

    While I'm not using the idea you present here, I am currently engaging in that same sort of "well, I got handed X when I wanted Y, guess I better get used to X" feeling in a campaign I'm running and it's going well so far. Perhaps I'll get a chance to start off a short chain of adventures using the level 0 hero idea you present here in the near future!

  2. The "Improvise or Die" mentality is exactly what I was wanting to encapsulate. As a whole I'm not really thrilled about the Dragon Mag's Level-0 rules, I think they leave a lot wanting, but they are good in a pinch.

    That said, I have had a chance to play the regular, "vanilla" Level-0 rules and it was a lot of fun. I saw a lot of room for improvement, and for me that screamed a chance to maybe Fourthcore/Old School it up. While I've yet to playtest my own variant, I think that it would do a good job with some of the randomness and more deadly aspects of older school play (and after playing an OD&D clone recently, this is even more validated.) This thought exercise is what led to the genesis of my attempt to create a more player-focused add-on for Fourthcore over at my other blog, Legend4ry.

    That said, I love the idea of having rolled up random characters and whomever survives is who you play. Annoying, perhaps, but it definitely causes you to branch out or be out of your comfort zone, which I think leads to surprising and fun play.

    Thanks for commenting and if you have a chance to playtest them, let me know how it goes!