This week’s game was important for a number of new experiences. We were starting a new campaign, we are using the newest D&D 5th edition playtest rules after mostly not playing D&D for many months, we were starting out at zero level for the first time ever with new house rules I created for use with a new Dungeon Crawl campaign, The Ruined Fortress of the Evil Overlord which I am self-publishing.There were supposed to be a few more fortuitous concurrences, like breaking open my new metric tonne of miniatures from the Reaper Mini Kickstarter, but alas, they haven’t shipped yet, and so it wasn’t meant to be. It was also an incredible night thanks to Shannon, whose birthday we were celebrating, and who brought delicious steak(!) for dinner, and for Khar (I mean Harrison) who brought both a cake, and cupcakes made of meatloaf with frosting of bacon and cheese. I kid you not, they were the best thing I have ever tasted. I had to drink an extra tall glass of cherry vodka just to thin the meat packing my stomach. It was good.
Zero Level Adventuring
The rules of the game are very simple: roll the ability scores (4d6 drop the lowest) three times, do not bother putting them into the attributes — right now they are just nebulous numbers. The characters are literal blank slates, with no class, nor even race or sex (all virgins). Imagine them as grey cloaked figures of questionable lineage. Each character has 2 hit points and an armor class of 10. That’s it.
The fact that each player rolls up three sets of scores means they were not as worried about losing a character. In fact, if some of the characters might have terrible scores and be purposefully put into perilous positions.
Now, as they go through the adventure, which should be geared to be very deadly, they will want to do things, like break something for example. At that point the dungeon master asks them to put one of their numbers into the strength attribute, and make a strength check. If it was successful they would then make a note of their deeds done. Eventually most of characters end up with their scores filed in as the adventure progresses: strength for brute stuff, dexterity to be sneaky, wisdom to be perceptive, etc.
One interesting factor was that the player had time to choose which score went where, and the dynamic of needing a good roll at the moment, countered by the scorer that they wanted for their future character concept, created a great spread of the numbers, not always optimized towards the future class.
This can also be used for deciding racial factors, by asking if anyone has the ability to detect sloping passages, for example, a dwarf might be revealed. Uncovering themes, backgrounds and other specialties, depending on the length of the zero level period are also possible. Even class abilities can be discovered through play,such as a character making a wisdom check to pray to her deity for divine aid, or a sagacious character making an intelligence check to detect the presence of magic.
Each character should be allowed one mundane non-weapon item worth no more than a single gold piece, such as a rock, nail, ice pick, or a flask of acid (what?), a loin cloth and a drab cloak. Whoever survives the adventure becomes a first level character. They can keep the two extra hit points as a reward.
Playtesting the Zero Level rules
Did I mention the extra tall glass of cherry vodka? Keep it in mind. We playtested an adventure called Under Ghost Town, from my upcoming second installment of the Ruined Fortress of the Evil Overlord –Level 0: Deadrock and the Pillaged Demesne of the Evil Overlord.
Six individuals set out on journeys for riches and reward, each wanting to accumulate (and spend) one million gold pieces. The town of Deadrock, a rough and tumble pioneer town on the edge of civilization was known far and wide as a place where heroes were forged. It seemed a perfect place to begin a life of tomb robbing and adventure. On their way they were captured by orcs.
The orcs herded them through a wasteland of conquered desolate territory. They eventually passed through a deserted town, on the edge of which was a corn field ready to be harvested. The bones of the farmers who planted the crops were piled at the edge of town. For weeks the characters toiled in the fields under the whips of the savage orcs, knowing that when the corn was harvested, so would they be.
Tonight was the last night before the harvest. They must escape. Every night bags were placed over their heads and they were marched down three flights of stairs and through two streams before being locked in cells in a dank dungeon.
I asked the players if anyone was sure their charater wanted to be non-human. Two people raised their hands, our local gnome and our elf ranger knew what they wanted. No one else was sure, so I said ok, the room is dark, only the elf and dwarf can see. Gotcha!
One character spotted a ring of keys on a hook next to the door. Another character wove her cloak into a lovely scarf. Another character had a nail and successfully picked the lock to her cell door, go thief! The ring of keys only opened the cells, they had to also pick the door, then they filed out into the hall.
A tripwire was tripped, causing four orc guards to open a nearby door. The party had already taken off down the hall, turning in random directions, until the met the orc captain coming the other way. They found themselves in a dead end, but a stream crossed the tunnels. It was blocked by iron bars, which were eventually bent apart, and the characters dove into the stream and were went downstream just before the orcs got to them.
Then the party were swept up agains another set of iron bars as it passed through another hallway and they began to drown as the ones in the front scrambled to bend or break the bars. One character drowned in that awful mess, but they managed to escape into a new hallway and wne tup some stairs and detected a fresh breeze which they followed up more stairs. This led to a locked door. They cold feel the fresh air blowing in from the rack under the door and frantically tried to pick the lock as the orcs cuaght up with them.
They broke out int the ruins of an old shrine and ran through town towards the cornfield. They found a pile of scythes, then went into the field to prepare an ambush for the orcs.
The orcs stumbled right into the ambush, being surprised, and these amateurs went to town on them with sickles. Heads were lopped of on both sides. The bottle of acid broke against the orc captains neck and its hidoues flesh melted and bubbled away, yet still the ferocious beastman fought on. One gnome went down, then the thief, then the new thief, and one player was on the last of her three characters.
They won the fight, and any humans were allowed to don the bloody studded leather and one suit of chainmail. They all took battle axes, short bows, and a pair of daggers, and divided the 25 gold, then set off for a line of dark along the southern horizon.
They saw a huge eagle shaped creature circling above them right as they came to a small river. One character proceeded to crawl into the river with a set of chainmail, confident it would keep her under water and afe from the terror flying above. It did though she also began to drown and had to be pulled to safety, right as the Hart Bird attacked!With the body of a giant eagle and the head of a stag, with sharp jutting tusks, the hart bird was a dangerous predator. The two most intelligent characters put their heads together and figure dout this was a hart bird, or peryton, and they it had two distinctions. The first was that it used its tusks to pry open the chest of its prey and eat its still beating heart. The second thing was that it was immune to non-magical weapons. They were in trouble.
The wise dwarf prayed for Moradin to bless their weapons, but he was still miffed that she deigned to use a bladed weapon and answered not her prayer. Eventually a magically inclined high elf ranger wannabe managed to squeeze out the minutest of spells, and caused a weapon to glow as if magical. This caused the hart bird to hesitate, and they made a run for the woods.
They made into the woods and built a fire to keep the monsters away and await the dawn. The next day they made it to Deadrock, wielding bloody orcish arms and armor and with no more than a handful of coins apiece. I would say that adventure was worth gaining a level.