FMC: Kill the Devils! Session 1

Check me out, bitches! I said I wasn't going to, but I did! This morning I ran my first session of OD&D or, rather, my retroclone Fantastic Medieval Campaigns (what difference does it make?). Something I tried to do was not run it according to the principles of so-called old-school play, but rather in its original context as a war game. This meant using some mid-level characters and setting the campaign not in a dungeon, but in an overworld hex map (the one from Outdoor Survival, no less) where players can reasonably expect to run into enemies and duke it out on a big map.

But this sort of raises a question for myself and the good handful of communists who signed up for the campaign (whether they played in this session or plan to participate in a later one). OD&D is undoubtedly about genocidal race war. Like, come on. Be real. Others have litigated it, deciding to treat it as an ironic experiment to get into the mind of a white settler and play Blood Meridian. But I feel like that is kind of a cop-out, or at least a common enough attitude that it's not like new or anything. Like, cool, you're playing exactly as envisioned. Daring!

Instead I surprised the players by putting them on the 'opposite team' as orcish heroes, navigating and responding to the threat of pale devils invading their homeland. This puts them in a really interesting position, especially in future sessions, since I'm interpreting orcs as nomadic so once the party is back on the road they're going to be escorting hundreds of non-combatants.

Thank you to Jenx and Lino for participating in the first session! :) You each get 500 experience points, and each of your lackies get 250 if you want to keep them (I won't track them myself because, for now, I'm basically giving lackies on the fly if we need more figures to play with). Already tracked on the sheet!

Session Summary

Jenx and Lino dreamed about fire. They dreamed about the hearth, food freshly cooked, and celebration with friends. They dreamed about strength of the body and of the heart, the flame that roars within them. They dreamed about warmth and light.

Then they woke up on a battlefield littered with corpses. Most were like them: green and strong, like the ground. Their comrades and kin. Much fewer were unlike them: pale and small, but armed with powerful staffs that shot lightning. What few ‘devils’ had died were slit by axes and pierced by arrows. Their fallen clanmates, on the other hand, were riddled with holes.

Hundreds of feet away, piles of corpses were set aflame. Some of the devils had evidently stayed behind from the army, doing who-knows-what. They were occupied with their task at hand, not yet noticing Jenx nor Lino nor the survivors they pulled from the dead (I let them start with two level-2 lackies each, and both of them picked a fighter [warrior] and cleric [adept]). They attempted to sneak quickly out of the way, but drew the attention of the two nearest devils. Jenx’s warrior friend immediately bashed one over the head, but the other devil survived melee. The other remaining devils took notice; seven of them wielded hatchets, and three carried rifles.

Their leader was the farthest away; initially a large and pale figure, he dropped a bag he had been holding and transformed into a bear before their eyes. Jenx attempted to cast Sleep on the beast devil, but it shook off the spell like a cat with mist in its eyes (I forgot that werebears, having HD 6d, are immune to Sleep—so I returned Jenx the wasted spell). Jenx’s warrior friend was the first to get a swing at the bear, although not before being reduced to 1 hit point; in return, he dealt 9 points of damage (43% total hit points!) to the monster.

The battle eventually ended with four of the devils falling asleep, and with three of the figures working together to kill the bear in one fantastic round of melee (they chose to combine their attack bonuses into one for a bonus of +8, which is something I probably won’t allow in the future except for HD 1 mooks). Defeated and dead, the bear transformed back into the big pale devil. The party investigated his bag from earlier, and found—surprise!—dozens of scalps collected from among the dead, mostly from kin but even a few devilish ones. They also collected seven rifles from the fallen devils and a two-handed sword, originally belonging to the devil leader. Finally, Jenx's adept friend used his one spell slot to heal Jenx's warrior friend.

By then, the sun was halfway across the sky so the party had a reduced movement rate for the day’s travel. They chose to travel north to their abandoned village to see what the devil army was doing. It turned out that they were camping there for the night, killing and eating what livestock was left behind by the villagers.

Deciding to camp outside the village for the night, the party was yet found out by a patrol of five devils carrying rifles. They had to play it very safe, having one ‘free’ turn of action before the devils could fire (since firearms can only be shot every other turn). They opted to advance just close enough for Lino’s adept friend to lock one devil into a melee, and then for Lino themself to make ultimately three shots against the devils over two turns. Jenx also caused two of the devils to fall asleep. Only one devil was left by the second turn of missile-firing, and in firing his rifle he alerted another patrol of seven devils.

Lino and Jenx deliberated about staying to fight and kill the last devil of the first patrol, but decided it was futile if they were going to flee from the second patrol anyway. Their intial attempt at evasion failed, after which the devils pursued them into the mountains across the river southeast of the village. The party finally escaped there, but had to take a full day of rest due to entering the mountain in a rush. (We actually negotiated whether to make the second evasion check, after Jenx convincing me that what he was carrying would not have really impeded his character—we were using Necropraxisencumbrance rule since it was easy to reference, but Jenx’s backpack was empty.)

On the third day of activity, Lino and Jenx opted to return to the village since Jenx could cast Invisibility on the two of them in case the devils remained there. Their lackies and mules would have to instead travel the long way south through the forest, since Jenx did not have enough spell slots (so to speak) to turn them all invisible and protect them. The army burnt down what was left of the village and traveled north along the river while the party was resting, so all that was left was some rubble. Having a leftover move (they had to actually rest for part of this day as well, but they wouldn’t have had the movement points necessary to enter the mountain this turn anyway), they traveled southwest to find wagon trails and boot prints left by the devil army.

Finally, on the fourth day, they entered the mountainous cavern wherein the villagers had taken refuge prior to the battle. Just like the party, they only had a couple days’ worth of food left, enough to last into the end of the week. Their options are kind of limited: they can go out into the wilderness, potentially running into the devil army, or delve deeper into the caves where the goblins rule (with whom the clan has a sort of generational feud, not necessitating violence but certainly negotiation). And that’s where we left off!

Session Preparation

Heads-up to anyone participating in the campaign: you're totally welcome to read the stuff below! :) I expect it's all stuff that your characters at least somewhat aware of since they, you know, live in the fucking area. 😂 But also you don't have to know it because if something comes up, it'll come up.

Figure Statistics

  • HD: Hit dice formula.
  • AC: Armor class, ascending.
  • MV: Movement rate, in tabletop inches.
  • RN: Range for missile attacks, in tabletop inches.

Player Figures

Player Type HD AC MV RN Weapon Type
Jenx Mage 4 2d+1 15 6 3 Dagger (#1)
Lino Halfling 4 4d 11 12 21 Longbow
Adept Lackey Cleric 2 2d 12 9 Club (#3)
Warrior Lackey Fighter 2 2d+1 12 9 Axe (#5)

Non-Player Figures

Figure Type HD AC MV RN Weapon Type
Clansperson 1d 10 12 Dagger (#1)
Clan Warrior 1d 12 9 Battle Axe (#5)
Devil, Hatchet 1d 13 9 Hatchet (#1)
Devil, Rifle 1d 12 9 18 Firearm
Devil Captain 4d 12 9 Two-Handed Sword (#10)
Devil Captain (Bear) 6d 17 9
Dragon, Pet 10d 17 9/24
Dryad 2d 14 12
Goblin 1d-1 13 9 Spear (#8)
Goblin Queen 1d+1 14 9 Pike (#12)
Lycanthrope 4d 16 15

Hex Descriptions

Below is the general area of the session. The party starts in 17.17.

Hex 17.17

You dream of fire, of celebration, the hearth.
You wake in a field of corpses in the late afternoon (2 moves left).
(The goblin’s skin feels like it is burning; it needs protection now.)
There are dozens of butchered corpses surrounding you.
You also see piles of burning flesh strewn about, hundreds of feet away.
A squadron of devils harvests scalps from the dead.
Their skin is pale and smooth, though some have bushy faces.
They are smaller than you, but what they lack in brawn they compensate with superior arms.
2d6 wield hatchets and shields, d6 carry rifles.
Their captain carries a ceremonial two-handed sword.
He is also a werebear who can muster, in his rage, d6 rounds of transformation.
One of the melee devils is carrying a sack of scalps (1,000 g.p.), reaped indiscriminately from the dead.
Prints in the mud indicate that the remaining devils traveled northward towards your camp.
You see billows of smoke over the northern horizon, fading into the sunset.
A forested river crawls on your east, and a dry plain stretches across the northwest.

Hex 17.16

The devils stomped over these plains in marching order.
Toppled cairns, grave markers, litter the landscape.
A mountain looms over from the north, dotted with caverns.
The clan took shelter there in the darkness, where devils cannot see.
There’s also giant bugs that your clan hunts and eats like they’re in The Lion King.

Hex 17.15

The clan numbers approximately 300, though only 3d6 of them are trained for war.
They evacuated the camp at the same time that you met the devils for battle.
300 goblins habit the depths of the mountains.
They could be persuaded to escort you and thereby help you escape the devils.
Alternatively, they could prove a helpful ally in pushing back the devils and reclaiming the camp.
Their secret is that the goblin queen has a pet dragon.
If you can secure gold and valuable stones to feed the dragon, they’ll owe you a big favor.

Hex 18.17

A valley grove unspoiled with innocent blood.
The densely packed trees would have prevented the devils from traversing the area.
The clan, on the other hand, recognizes the east side of the woods as lycanthrope territory.
The trees are scarred with scratches and bite marks from the diseased.
They too were clan members, before misfortune claimed their body.
Now they keep a lonely distance from the clan’s hunting grounds to avoid spreading their illness.
Local dryads (d6) are somewhat irritated at being the lycanthropes’ play-things.

Hex 18.16

The camp was abandoned, though not without unfortunate casualties.
The devils have made themselves happily at home for the evening.
One would guess that they are resting from a tiresome day of marching and murdering.
Tomorrow they will pick up the slack and continue chasing your clan into the mountains.
A party of 4d6 slave traders will take 2d6 captives down the river in the morning.
If you travel up the river (from 18.17), you will see the slaves building rafts at gunpoint.
If you travel by land (from 17.16), you will sight an hourly patrol of 2d6 devils with hatchets.
Either way, their eyes are not adapted to the pitch black dark.
You will see them before they see you, from 2d6 times 10 yards away.
The occupied camp’s total numbers are 80.

Rules Modifications

  • Although Lino was playing a halfling mechanically speaking, they were actually a goblin in the game world. I surprised them with this by explaining that their skin felt like it was burning while exposed to the sunlight.
  • Simplified / skirmish combat rules from the FMC appendix, with one’s attack and damage bonus equaling their hit dice value (plus 1 pip if the hit dice has a bonus).
  • Weapon versus armor tables, also from the FMC appendix.
  • Combat turn order from Chainmail rules (a.k.a. Appendix A of FMC), with different phases for movement, missiles, and melee. Spells were cast in between movement and missiles, though maybe they should come last in order since a mage cannot cast a spell if they are attacked, but they cannot be attacked if no one has a chance to attack them.
  • Necropraxisrationalized hit dice and encumbrance rule. Originally, I was going to replace the default hit dice values with ones based on fighting capability, but at the last minute I used Necropraxis’s values since they were fairer to clerics. That being said, unlike Necropraxis, I would cap hit dice accumulation at 9th level for fighters, 11th level for mages, and 8th level for clerics—the reason being that I would hate for fighters to end up with a +11 attack bonus. I think, in the future, I'll also just base encumbrance on armor alone, minus 1 additional pip if a character would seem to be encumbered.
  • Used a hex map for combat, where 1 hex = 3" and represents 30 yards. This seems somewhat unreasonable for one-to-one scale, though, so I may treat it as 10 yards or 30 feet in the future.
  • Allowed Jenx to throw daggers, on the stipulation that they cannot be retrieved until the end of the battle.
  • Characters start with 3d6 × 1,000 experience points. Add +1,000 if their prime requisite is 13+, or +2,000 if their prime requisite is 15+. Ignore virtual prime requisite points.
  • Ignore ability categories and their scores after calculating initial experience points, in order to discourage thinking in those terms.
  • Don't expect to reward experience points for treasure.
  • Don't track hit points for monsters with ~1d or less hit dice.

Closing Comments

I was surprised at how fun this was! I hadn't run a game in maybe 3 years, so I was nervous both about feeling out of practice and also about running something that felt so different from what I had been playing lately. Turns out OD&D is super easy to run, especially when you try to clear your head of the baggage you might usually associate with D&D as a "role-playing game". Now I feel a lot more confident about running OD&D and games in general, and it was also nice to get a feel for what works and how to better facilitate future sessions.

Everyone was happy with the skirmish combat rules for how it reduced the amount of rolls they would have had to make, though I regret not increasing the number of enemies in the first encounter to truly see how it feels for multiple figures to fight as one unit. The main feedback I got, with a caveat that it was "value-neutral", was that combat felt more lethal than in typical D&D—though I expect this is partly because people are used to making one attack roll and one damage roll, whereas in OD&D as written you make one attack per hit die.

That being said, it might be worth reading and playing ultra-literally in the next session where you only get multiple attacks against HD 1d figures, in which case melees are basically opposed dice rolls. Maybe that would be less annoying if you don't roll damage against HD 1d "mooks", which I'm already doing. By extension, maybe the skirmish rules are a lethal solution to a non-problem.

I might also be interested in, due to the way the campaign is developing, introducing a hunting minigame. Say a creature feeds 10 people per HD. Maybe something like a bison has straight up HD 6—a massive animal that, if you're not careful, will certainly kill you. You would want to lure a herd off a decent sized cliff instead of fighting them head-on. Something like that.

That's all I got right now! Thanks for reading. :)


  1. Can we get a special edition of the print book with that first image as the cover please? ;)

    Hunting adventures are fun. One of the most memorable sessions of the Macchiatio Monsters playtest campaign was about capturing shield goats to raise by the keep. I rolled terribly for weather and it became a whole epic where the goats were fished from an overflowing river under pouring rain and a couple of characters almost drowned!

    Thanks for posting this. It's fascinating to read your experience of the game after you spent so much time dissecting and reorganising it. Your prep notes are excellent as well. Do your players have experience of wargame-style OSR games by the way?

    1. As one of the players I can answer for myself! I have some experience with OSR, wargames and some with wargame OSR (hah). I've run two weekly campaigns, one using OSE and one using OD&D and I have general interest in both miniatures and tabletop wargaming as a hobby.

      As such for me at least the scenario was quite straightforward and easy to handle. I was prepared for the tactical challenges in the fights (a.k.a. - I had a bunch of Sleep spells ready) and felt quite at home using the system Marcia was running.

      Treating groups of enemies or friendlies as a single attack, a sort of skirmish system, is something that was developed as a result of my own experiments of trying to implement that in my campaign (to various degrees of success) and then Marcia offering feedback and, eventually, just writing her own much better skirmish rules that she included in the optional rules in FMC!

    2. hi eric, that sounds like a really fun session!! i might have to def lean into hunting then, and also be sure to take advantage of terrain and weather to make it interesting :D thank you for your kind words!


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