I was talking to a guy in the office today about Old School gaming, and sent him a link to on my favorite publications on the topic, Matt Finch’s Quick Primer for Old School Gaming. I couldn’t help but re-read the thing after sending the link, and think about my own campaign and whether we were holding to the ideas in that document. Then I got to the part about the “Way of the Ming Vase” and remembered our recent fight with the ogre, and I knew. Aw yeah, I knew…
There’s the party, on the side of a hill as the sun is setting, facing off against a gnoll chieftain, two gnollish warriors, and their pet ogre. The chieftain ordered his warriors and the ogre to attack, staying back himself to bark orders (pun intended). It wasn’t going well for the players. The mage successfully cast sleep on the cheiftain, but they were getting pummelled by the ogre and two other gnolls. One hireling was on the ground, possibly dead. One of the players had his shield arm lopped off at the shoulder. Almost everyone was wounded, and so far they had piled all their attacks on only one gnoll warrior, who while wounded, was still up. The other gnoll and the ogre were fine.
Then in one round the players turned the table. The mage, not engaged in combat, snuck around to where the chieftain lie sleeping, cut off his head, and waved it about in the air yelling threats at the other gnolls. The cleric retrieved a shiny golden ring from his bag, waved it before the ogre to get his attention, and tossed it down the hill side. And the second hireling finally got in the lucky hit that took out one of the gnolls.
I knew the ogre was both (a) dumb and (b) greedy, so of course he went running after the shiny bauble. The remaining gnoll noticed in rapid succession the ogre fleeing combat, his leader’s head being held aloft by the enemy, and his comrade adjacent dropping dead to the ground. Needless to say, he ran as fast as his legs could carry him.
I was really concerned there for a while that it was about to be a TPK. The party really played up to their opponents though, and thinking outside the box managed to save themselves. The hireling who was down — they actually saved him. Unfortunately I can’t say the same for the elf’s shield arm. However, that character is quickly becoming one of the most bad-ass characters I’ve ever GMed, and the missing arm has become a real badge of honor.