Yesterday was my group’s first true descent into the earlier editions of “Dungeons and Dragons.” I’ve been utilizing several clones to get a tone that my players can appreciate, but with mechanics of a “freer” and more old-school style. We played an introductory scenario early last week, just so we could all get a feel for the game. But once we really got going last night, we didn’t even realize that five hours had passed until it was really late. We we’re hooked. Or at least I was.

We’ve started with The Society of Torch, Pole, and Rope’s megadungeon, “Stonehell” (check their site out here). This is a product built for “Labyrinth Lord.” My players are the  ideal role-players. Instead of just kicking down doors – these protagonist’s delighted  in fanning the flames of aggression between rival monstrous factions. Why fight orcs or kobolds when orcs and kobolds do such a fine job fighting each other? Not only was this underhanded mentality highly  entertaining, it was also quite effective.

I’ll be honest, whatever it is that’s helping these players (whether it be skill, luck, or even  the gods) its working darn well for  them. Their capacity to evade scrapes has so far been astounding. Perhaps the character-generater at was just the touch they needed.

Hermogates the Curate is the group’s cleric. He is chaotic, and obsessed with the wiles of maddened deities. Eventually he hopes to become a full fledged necromancer. He’s got a really nice spider-theme to go along with his badassery. [Played by R.]

Dorin Sledgeknees is the group’s Dwarf. But he’s a “race traitor” to his dwindling people. His motivations are unknown, but it is known, that his resolve is merciless. [Played by M.]

Pimpernel The Hero is the idealistic halfling who rides along with the heroes on the group’s scent-dog “Molly.” [NPC’s].

We finished the session on a bit of a cliffhanger. “Stonehell” suggests that the heroes were teleported to the dungeon’s ninth level. Of course this was a VERY bad thing (as the the party’s average level is four). However, when I looked through the text to find this “9th” level, I couldn’t find it. This is one of the most beautiful aspects of the product. “Stonehell” intentionally supplies loose ends, where the DM can fill in his or her own plots, maps, etc. This is an excellent way to take “Stonehell” and really make it your own. I’d say that this module is the perfect product for a DM who wants to make a megadungeon of their own but doesn’t know where to start.

Thanks to beautiful online dungeon generators such as the one found here, its never difficult to simply draw up another floor. I don’t want to sound like I’m saying “Stonehell” isn’t a standalone product. It is – its a very engrossing and fulfilling dungeon. But it is this “open-endedness” that lends the dungeon its extensive replay value.

I mentioned earlier that the game we are playing is a house-ruled conglomerate inspired by many retro-clones. I’m really digging the “weird” quality of James Raggi’s “Lamentations of the Fire Princess,” as well as Goblinoid Games’ “Realms of Crawling Chaos.” It’s easy to get obsessed with these rules and settings that are so simple and open ended, and yet seem somehow so novel. The devotion of this renaissance is more and more apparent, as we see such top notch (and affordable) products appearing on the market in increasing rates.

I’m still working out exactly how many rules I can draw from before the game ceases to be “light” enough for my group’s tastes (we are not a group of optimizers). I love a lot of the content in “Knockspell” and will undoubtedly be utilizing some of that. But I’m also interested in “home-brewing” some content of my own.

Here’s a brutal house rule we’ll be using (maybe). This is similar to something I remember reading in 3rd edition’s DMG:

– Gritty Modification –

1. In combat, a natural twenty signifies not just a critical hit, but a killing blow. Thus every strike in the game has a 5% chance of killing instantly. Furthermore a character who gets such a roll, may make an additional and immediate attack against any w/ in range (the attack must be made with the same weapon that laid the killing blow. If it was a killing spell, it immediately “recasts” for free, on an appropriate additional target. These effects stack with any fighter’s class abilities).

I know this is pretty harsh on the players, but I want the consequences of death to be a serious and constant concern. I’m also considering not letting the player’s role any dwarves, halflings, nor elves after their current characters die or retire. Instead, players will be allowed to play some of the Lovecraftian races presented in “Realms of Crawling Chaos.”