Tuesday, July 20, 2010


When people talk about old school D&D being hack n' slash I'm guessing that person hasn't played a retroclone. When I played 1e, 2e and 4e yep we hacked the monsters and took what they had. That's why the monsters were there. With Swords & Wizardry however, my sessions have been more about the characters getting hacked n' slashed.

If what is grating to people about H n' S play is the attitude-- savage, imperialistic, kill things to solve problems-- this hasn't existed much in my sessions. My players' attitude is more generally one of trepidation, of, "God I hope we find enough treasure to at least pay for these torches."

I like the idea of them treating the mystic underworld as a place they are a visitor in, not a master. The system does a lot of that with limited hit points and limited damage capability. But I like to try to push players to feel vulnerable. Here's a brainstorm of some situations that might make players feel out of control, uncertain, and at risk:
  • Water slowly deepening-- once chin-deep I would start to wonder if we should head back
  • Something moving around in that water
  • Or the water beginning to move, faster and faster
  • Not water, but mud or muck that must be waded through-- getting thicker
  • Trapdoors, cupboards, or curtains that open face-high or above the head.
  • Uncertain footing: walking on rotten boards or broken glass, ramps that look slick
  • Unsafe terrain: "That ceiling looks really cracked," "This hall could hide archers all along here"
  • Low ceilings that make them crawl
  • Small holes to be investigated-- hand-sized-- in walls, on altars
  • Ledges half-a foot length wide
  • Steam or fine webs obscuring vision.
  • Suspicious, sharp protrusions covering sections of walls.
  • Skeletons, suits of armor, statues, or strawmen-- anything human-shaped propped against walls and they expect them to attack at any moment
  • Similar doors/corridors so they have a feeling they may be lost
Basically any time the players say "Oh, great," sarcastically, or hesitate before deciding between two equally unattractive routes I feel like I'm doing my job.

Anything you'd add to the list?


  1. No, not at the moment, but I did want to thank you for this nice list.
    --It is fun just imagining the reactions of Players. :D

  2. I once put a hidden compartment under a rug with a bag of coins in it. On top of the bag was a skeletal hand with a brass ring. Do you know how long they looked into that hole before someone reached down?


  3. Ha! Nice post.
    It doesn't take much to freak players out.
    I would add:

    Limited vision, torch light only extends a short distance. What lurks in the darkness ahead.

    Large rooms and caverns where the PCs are just a island of torchlight in a sea of darkness.

    Odd dungeon dressings. A cabinet full of shrunken heads?

    Strange sounds in the dungeon. I love throwing sounds and such in with my wandering monster list. That can freak them out more than a corridor full of goblins.

  4. Noting to add just yet, but I also appreciate the list.

  5. Dirt or sand filled floors.

    Frequent open and obvious pits.

    Stairs down, even if only for a few feet.

    Stairs up that couldn't possibly lead back to where the party has been.

    Ropes tied onto iron spikes leading down shafts too deep to see the bottom.

    Keep them guessing, keep them on their toes, keep them exploring.

  6. Great addendum to the Dungeon Alphabet...

    Chains hanging from holes in the ceiling

    A well in the middle of the room.

    Runes on the wall... over or on the door.

  7. taxidermy, especially monstrous taxidermy

  8. Thanks everyone. Wonderful additions!

  9. Ever since Tomb of Horrors: different colored or styled floor tiles - in random or specific patterns.