The Origins of Mad Marge (OD&D Campaign Diary 2)

So for the past few weeks I’ve been running Original Dungeons & Dragons (in the form of Swords & Wizardry WhiteBox for my kids, aged 8 and 5. They are each running two PCs: my 8yo is running Lilac the elf fighter and Singing Geoff the Thief; my 5yo is running Meanie Miney the elf magic-user and Sammy the Cleric.

When we last left our intrepid, probably foolhardy heroes, they had just dropped an ogre and a black bear, and spent about an hour painstakingly combing through rubbish and detritus for a tonne of loot.

My kids love loot, and they have the patience to keep searching and searching, if they suspect there’s more to find, and as the ogre and the bear were the only denizens of this cave, there were no random encounters to keep them on their toes. Among the most relevant finds were a longbow, a shortbow with no string, a very nice quiver containing three silver arrows, and a crystal sphere wrapped in a burlap cloth. They were afraid to touch the sphere, and planned to have the magic-user prepare Detect Magic the following morning, to find out if it was magic.

Session 3 began with the party searching the other tunnel, which led to a small pool. This was one of the moments when I was really proud of how thorough my 8yo is with room descriptions. I mentioned the crack in the wall through which the water flows, but I left out the crack on the opposite wall, through which the water flows out. She immediately clocked this and asked how the water gets out of the cave. She was worried she had stumbled into a flooding chamber trap. It’s that kind of thinking that keeps PCs alive.

The water was clean. The kids were initially worried that the ogre had used the pool as a bathtub, but I reminded them of the sweaty stink of his den, making it clear that the ogre did not bath, here or anywhere). They filled their waterskins and I described the rest of the cave, including three dressed out deer and one dressed out human. I thought that would freak them out, but they just decided to take the deer to use for meat. So now I had to determine whether they could butcher and cook venison in the wild, in the absence of a background skill system. We’ll get to that later.

Because there was so much loot in the cave, it took another solid hour for the four of them to haul their treasure up the ledge to their wagon. When they arrived on their first trip, they did not see the old woman with the shovel who had agreed to watch their stuff. The party assumed she just wandered off, but then my 8yo realized she might have stolen something. In making a careful search of the wagon and the handcart, they came upon a 6 foot deep hole, at the bottom of which was the woman, still digging.

They threw her a rope and hauled her up (I resolved this with an Open Doors check, and it took two tries; the first time the rope slipped through Lilac the Fighter’s hands and the poor old woman – whom my kids have dubbed Mad Marge for some reason – fell on her bottom).

Once she was out of the hole, they paid her four gold pieces and one brass bell. I rolled her reaction and she was grateful. They had found a total of six bells and there were only four PCs, so I asked what they were doing with the fifth bell. My 8yo informed me the were going to tie it around their mule’s neck, so they would know where she was.

Now it was decision time. The short route across the gorge was over a felled log, and there was no way they would get a mule, a wagon, and a handcart over that. So would they leave their beast and wagons behind or stray off the map in search of a suitable crossing. They chose the latter, as I pretty much knew they would.

The gorge ran North-South, and I asked which direction they would pursue. Looking at the map, my 8yo determined they were nearer the northern edge of the map, so that would be the shorter trip. The hugged the gorge for the better part of a day (having spent the entire morning fighting the ogre and looting his cave). Eventually they came upon a merchant caravan heading south.

I had pre-rolled this random encounter, because I was hoping to get some good roleplaying out of it. There were five wagons in total, each with two merchants, and 8 armed guards between them. Each wagon was carrying goods of differing total value, with wagon 1 carrying only 10 gp worth of goods, and wagon 3 carrying a whopping 100 gp of goods. Wagon 3, belonging to the merchants Ferol and Flynn, was the only wagon to have three armed guards. Wagon 4, belonging to the merchants Zhest and Zhivago, carried 70 gp worth of goods, but only had 2 guards. Zhest and Zhivago resented Ferol and Flynn getting an extra guard, even though their goods were nearly as valuable. Meanwhile, the merchants of wagon 5, Bildrath and Frod, were carrying 50 gp worth of goods, had only one guard, and resented both wagons 4 and 5.

What I had planned for this, was that Ferol and Flynn would try to rip the party off, buying goods as 25% of their value in the rulebook, and selling at 125%. Obviously some haggling could change this, but Ferol and Flynn are wealthy and arrogant and not inclined to drop their prices. However, if the party negotiate with Zhest and Zhivago after speaking to Ferol and Flynn, Zhest and Zhivago would try to undercut the competition, not because they are greedy, but just to spite Ferol and Flynn. And Bildrath and Frod would potentially undercut both. (Wagons 1 and 2, carrying 10 and 20 gp worth of good, respectively, are just too poor to play this game, though for the record they hate all three of the richer wagons.)

However, I forgot that my daughter is rather spendthrift with game money, so when Ferol and Flynn quoted their prices, she happily shelled out. She has also been known to voluntarily pay double when her characters are particularly flush. So most of the prep I did for the merchant caravan went to waste. They managed to sell the cleric’s chainmail (he got some banded mail from the ogre hoard), and they bought a new bow string and some ordinary arrows (Ferol charged 25 gp for the bowstring alone). They also restocked their rations and bought a whetstone (they found a rusty greatsword in the ogre hoard, but they can’t use it until it has been sharpened).

The other thing they got from the caravan was news. They had just come through Klaganfort, a small farming village to the north. It has been hit hard by a plague of locusts. At this point, my daughter broke the player knowledge / character knowledge barrier and said “Hey daddy, aren’t you writing an adventure about bugs?” So when they hit Klaganfort and saw the locust-eaten fields, they elected not to hang around. “We’ll help them out on our way back.”

Unfortunately for them, that night they were attacked by wolves as they camped out under the stars. Eight wolves, which is more than a match for a party of four first-level PCs.

The wolves plan was to lure the PCs away from their camp and attack them one by one. So while Singing Geoff the Thief was on watch (and thus the only one still wearing armour),  two wolves howled off to the right, less than a hundred feet away. They were trying to draw his attention while three more wolves sneaked over to where they had tied their mule to a stake in the ground. To resolve the sneaking, a rolled for surprise (when running OD&D, I try to resolve as many situations as possible on a d6, preferably using one of the handful of defined checks in the original game: surprise, trigger traps, open doors, listen at doors, search for secret doors). The wolves failed to surprise the thief, so I told the kids that a wolf was sneaking up to their mule. My 8yo had the thief shout a warning to the rest of the party and spring into action.

The party won the first initiative, so the thief let loose a sling that actually dropped the wolf in one hit (even at 1d6-1). An auspicious start. However, on their initiative, three more wolves appeared. Two closed to melee range with the mule, while the third closed to the thief.

The wolves one the next initiative. Two wolves attacked the mule. The first missed. The second hit, but failed to drop the mule. The mule kicked on its returning blow and another wolf was down. The thief meanwhile took 4 damage from the fourth wolf and failed to kill it on his return blow.

By now the rest of the party was awake. There was no time to don armour, but the fighter had a brand new bow. She took two shots, one at each of the remaining (visible) wolves. In OD&D, when you fire into melee, there’s a chance you hit your allies, but fortunately she missed with both shots (because she would have killed the mule if she had hit).

In the party’s melee phase, the mule and the thief managed to drop the last two wolves. There were still four more hiding in the brush, but this was not the outcome the wolves were hoping for. What they really wanted was mule and venison for dinner. Now they were at half strength, but no closer to that goal. I rolled a morale check and the four wolves who were still hidden decided to flee in search of easier prey. The party managed to patch up some of the mule’s wounds, restoring 2 hit points, and they passed the rest of the night without incident.

At about mid-day the next day, the party reached a point where the gorge flattened out enough that it could be crossed with pack animals and vehicles. Once on the other side, they turned south again. The going was slow, as they entered thick forest, and were not on any defined path. It was only by remaining within sight of the gorge that they avoided getting lost.

During this detour, they tried to butcher the deer. For something like this, where the PCs may or may not be able to do something, and aren’t particularly trained in it, I use a baseline 2 in 6 chance (a roll of 1 or 2 on a d6). If they have a particularly low ability score that would be relevant to the action, it might be a 1 in 6 chance, or a 3 in 6 if they have a particularly high score. And if there’s some kind of demi-human racial bonus that is relevant, it could go as high as 4 in 6. That’s basically how I do “skill checks” in OD&D (I save the “roll under your ability score” method, which I also like a lot, for B/X or Basic Fantasy). The first day they managed to cut some deer meat and roast it on their campfire, but the second day it went wrong and they didn’t get anything usable, so they had to revert to their trail rations. They don’t know this, but in three more days, the deer will go off, and if they try to eat it after that they will need to save against poison or spend a day vomiting.

They camped in the woods, and I put on some forest sound effects, including wolf howls, and played up each PC’s turn at taking watch, rolling dice for no reason to freak them out, they were still pretty shell-shocked from the fight with the wolves before. But of course I knew all along that there were no encounters that night.

The next day, they picked up the trail again, and as they passed the log bridge I pointed out that they had basically taken a three-day detour to get to this place. But my daughter didn’t care. She was already studying the map again, planning their route (they were nearing a fork). But first, they came upon ruined cottage. They sent Singing Geoff the Thief (who sounds more like a bard to me) in to investigate. He found four bottles of various pickled foods: garlic, eggs, red cabbage, and fish. There were four coins in the fish bottle. They gleefully knicked all four bottles, planning to eat their contents, apart from the coins of course (you better believe I will be requiring saving throws for this). Then they put forth the theory that this is where Mad Marge lives. It’s not far from the log bridge, which is not far from the ogre den, so this checks out to me. Now Mad Marge officially lives here, and I guess the party just stole her dinner. They were also pretty stingy with the loot they gave her. That might be worth an XP penalty.

Then again, they’re going to Rappan Athuk. They have enough problems in store.

Author: Robert

I'm a freelance editor and stay-at-home dad. I've been running Dungeons & Dragons for my daughter, son, and their cousins for about two years.

3 thoughts on “The Origins of Mad Marge (OD&D Campaign Diary 2)”

  1. Thanks for the post! I read the first OD&D diary and really enjoyed it. Being a father myself, I like to read things like this where parents connect with their children through rpgs. Looking forward to the next installment!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! It’s a great family activity and a great way to introduce a new generation to the hobby. I hope more people try it.


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