D&D 3.5 Mega-Adventures Old School Style

I have a problem of sorts.

I don’t have a regular game of my own at the moment. There are a few reasons (that I can think of) for this, but one I’ve recently been ruminating on relates to players I’ve gamed with quite a lot with in past years. See, I like this thing called old school, which to me says freedom, rules-light, adventure, and fun, and to many others it says simplistic rules, cardboard characters, narrow focus on killing monsters and looting. As you might have guessed already, the people with whom I used to game a lot are of the latter opinion.

So I got this idea of running one of the published D&D 3.5 or Pathfinder RPG Mega-Adventures (or Adventure Paths as Paizo likes to call them) using an old school rules system. Now, I realize this would mean some heavy-duty converting, as the differences in the old school rules systems and 3.5 aren’t “just the rules mechanics”. In fact, the whole play style is so radically different I’d have to rewrite pretty much everything except the basic backstory and the setting. I’d have to do away with everything even remotely resembling a pre-ordained plot, as in my view having a railroad of events is anathema to anything calling itself old school. The question arises: Why in Hell would I want to go through all that trouble, when what’s most likely to happen is the players doing the usual player thing of doing anything but going along nicely with the material at hand?

There are a few reasons. The Paizo adventure path material is (for the most part) quite good, and I since I’ve spent hard-earned money on buying the books, I should find a use for them, even though I can’t stomach the rules system they were written for anymore. Another reason would obviously be to bring some of the lost sheep back into the fold, and show them how old school games can be used to run an interesting, long-running, epic fantasy campaign, which doesn’t concentrate on clearing 10´by 10´rooms of orcs, and getting killed by random and instantly deadly traps.

Now the question arises which Paizo adventure path or mega-dungeon, or other long D&D fantasy epic campaign should I use for this project. Do you have any suggestions or recommendations, preferably with commentary on why that particular one, and how you’d go about making it Old School?

Edit: A more recent post I wrote has relevance the topic of this one. For anyone interested in the topic, it might be worth checking out: Lamentations of the Whispering Tyrant.

11 responses to “D&D 3.5 Mega-Adventures Old School Style

  1. You should really do a more railroady adventure path without too much rewriting, even something like the one pictured above – because a mega dungeon or sandboxy freedom would possibly confirm the biases of your players, even if it was written for 3.5 to begin with. Let them try out the mechanics first – and when they start to stand on their own feet and stray from the path – wing it. That’s the strength of a simple rules system. Maybe even with random tables… 😉

    Funny thing. I’m planning on doing the reverse: playing an old school, sandboxy style mega-dungeon with pathfinder rules. You know, with the 10′ by 10′ room of orcs and instant death traps. But my players are ok with that, afaik. *shrugs*

    • rorschachhamster, the railroady adventuring is one of the 3.5 style elements I don’t want or need. The open nature of an old school game is one of the reasons why that’s what I’m playing these days, after all. Going from an AP to a mega-dungeon is a bit of a stretch though, as none of the adventure paths have anything like that in them.

      Sandboxy freedom on the other hand… I have no problems picturing an adventuring party in Korvosa (Curse of the Crimson Throne) or Sandpoint (Rise of the Runelords) going “off the rails”. For example: So they didn’t go to Thistletop to kick goblin butt, instead opting for some hellraising in nearby Magnimar? No problem, as the background is all there, and Magnimar also has interesting locations to explore and colourful NPC’s to interact with.

      Good luck with your campaign!

  2. Copy-pasting some commentary from elsewhere:

    Orava said:
    Well, I still like Curse of the Crimson Throne a lot, it has a nice plot, lots of social stuff and tons of urban sneaking around. Throwing the Pathfinder/3.5 rules out the window and using something else should not be a *huge* thing (depends, of course). I ran one PF module with Burning Wheel, didn’t require vast effort really.

    In the end, it all depends on the players. If they just want a “dungeon crawl”, your options are limited.

    I said:
    Petri, I think you misunderstand me. The players I’m hoping to draw with this specifically are NOT interested in a straightforward dungeon crawl. Making a Paizo AP into that would be ridiculously easy. My main problem is with the kind of railroady nature of plot most Paizo AP’s have. Also, 3.5 is very much focused on combat, which Old School games definitely are not.

    Orava said:
    Ok, right. Well, I still say Crimson Throne is nice for something like that (as a plot framework), as would be the newer Kingmaker one. And yes, most of the APs (bar Kingmaker) are very railroady, and yes, 3.5 (and 4e even more) is unfortunately quite focused on combat 😦

    Andy said:
    If you ever figure out how to do this, let me know. Personally I’ve never learned to love the 3.5 and related rule sets. As you said they are combat oriented and take away the focus and room from role playing, especially with inexperienced players. I quite like Rise of the Runelord story, perhaps I’ll take a look at he Kingmaker as well.

  3. I too would suggest Curse of the Crimson Throne or Kingmaker to this project of yours. Can’t really say why but CotCT came to my mind firts when read about your plans and Kingmaker because of sandbox style Pathfinder AP. I wish you luck with this, ask help if you need it. APs are familiar to me and if you use LotFP that is kind of familiar to me.

    • I’m thoroughly familiar with CotCT, as that’s one of the AP’s I started running but never finished. Most of the episodes taking place in Korvosa are excellent, even though (or because) they have little or nothing at all to do with the main storyline, so those I could use as is.

      LotFP I’m also quite familiar with, as you probably know. 😉

      Thanks for the offer, though. I’ll keep it in mind.

  4. I think Kingmaker might be just the thing you’re looking for. It’s definitely the most “sandboxy” of the campaigns so far, and I know a lot of old school system users have been having success with it.

    Good luck!

    • I’ve heard good things about Kingmaker, so I definitely intend to check that one out. I’ll let you know if anything comes of it.

  5. For more years and editions than I care to count I kept updating old modules to the newest ruleset. Somehow since I started playing an oldschool game last year it never occured to me to alter a newer adventure.

    I agree with your assesment that you will have to change the whole tone of the adventure, but done the right way this could produce great results.

    Now I’m thinking I’ll have to try this. Thanks for the idea!

  6. I don’t know the adventure paths well enough to say, but the ones I have read at least make nods towards player choice. Here are my suggestions:

    1) start the players off with a clear, obvious, but open-ended problem. My favorite is a shipwreck (players need to gather supplies and find their way to civilization), but you can also use a natural disaster or alone in the wake of a military defeat for their side.

    This works great because first, the players are presented with concrete, obvious problems to solve, but while there’s no dungeon in sight, they’re immediately put into the proper, creative, open-ended problem solving that is the backbone of Old School play.

    2) Once they’ve reached civilization, you can start using the Pathfinder stuff. Try to start them off in an urban environment. Everyone knows that Old School play and city adventures are incompatible, right? (We just won’t mention Aerie of the Slave Lords and Vault of the Drow. Or the Random Harlot table. 😉 ) Give them something concrete to do as soon as they get into the city, or better yet, have it be something they need to do that they discovered while solving the issues of the start of the campaign. During the course of this first urban adventure, start laying the seeds for the PCs making choices: let them hear rumors, find treasure maps, or make enemies that will guide them to your adventure locations. Let them choose sides in local conflicts, and make those choices matter. Most importantly of all, make it clear to them as early as is reasonably possible that their choices have a direct and powerful impact on the setting. If their not utterly bizarre, they’ll love it. And again, that puts them in the proper headspace for Old School play.

    3) If it won’t make the players too suspicious, use more than one Pathfinder series. Since you’re giving the players choices about what challenges to tackle, you’ll likely need more adventures than one Pathfinder series can provide. So feel free to seed your CotCT adventures with some cherrypicked from Rise of the Runelords or Legacy of Fire. If they don’t know much about the OSR, you might be able to squeeze in a Raggi adventure or something from Fight On!

    4) By the time the PCs reach 4th or so level, most of the work should be done; they’ll be interacting with the world as a place, rather than looking for the markers pointing them towards the next adventure. Don’t be surprised if it takes that long, however. Even when the players are all on-board for that sort of thing, it can take some time before they know enough about the setting and the NPCs to really start being proactive and taking their destinies in their own hands.

    Hope this helps. Please let us know how it goes. 😀

    – Brian

    • Brian, sensible advice all around, and something I’ll certainly put to use if this project ever gets off the ground. Rise of the Runelords and Curse of the Crimson Throne both have some very good set pieces, which should be suitable for a sandboxy campaign, and they’re both located in roughly the same part of the Pathfinder signature world Golarion. Legacy of Fire is a bit more difficult to shoehorn in, as it is set in the Golarion equivalent of Al-Qadim, but I’m sure there are pieces in that adventure path I could put to use as well.

      We’ll see how it turns out.

  7. Pingback: Lamentations of the Whispering Tyrant « Blowing smoke

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