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Re: Returning to Rappan Athuk

Infernal Pact writes in an awesome essay:

I recently started running a new Pathfinder first edition game of Rappan Athuk, a throwback to my first “real” campaign which was the same thing roughly 8 years ago.

The incongruity between the heavy char-op of Pathfinder and the old-school dungeon crawl of Rappan Athuk was the reason I got into the OSR.

This was such a great essay. I don’t have anything to add to it or argue against it, I just wanna celebrate it.

I usually say that OSR-style prep can be a match made in heaven for the char-op of heavy systems since that kind of prep makes the character building decisions really matter. And that sort of prep is also a good match for rules light since the game is still interesting even without a lot of answers on the character sheet. It’s just better for both.

Running RA in PF was a pretty clunky experience initially. I was engrossed in the play culture for Pathfinder at the time, I was thinking about problems like “How will my players get The Big 6 in the middle of a megadungeon?” and “how do I do milestone XP for a game that doesn’t have a story?” and didn’t have the necessary mindset to even understand how a long-form dungeon crawl was supposed to work. Players didn’t track arrows, rations or light sources, I didn’t roll random encounters (the Paizo forums people said they just take up time!), I spent hours agonizing over how to “balance” encounters that were never meant to be so and I handwaved travel of hundreds of miles to buy new items because “travel is boring.” I ended up running a pretty hacky RA run through into a custom campaign for about a year before I dropped RA entirely and switched to custom Pathfinder campaigns and APs. I always regretted not being able to get the dungeon crawl I really wanted back then.

Perfect, concise summary of how the 3e/PF game culture leads to incongruity. As IP points out, the problems aren’t inherent to RA; the culture led them to remove all the things that were necessary for it to work (logistics challenges, time as a resource) and introduces things that makes it totally break (milestone experience).

Seems like IP know exactly why it didn’t work the first time and what makes big dungeons like RA work. No notes, perfect, just stoked to see what happens with the campaign.

There was a late 2e, 3e, PF game culture that was based on serving up a long line of supposedly balanced encounters. Since this is super hard to actually do, fudging (either of dice rolls or on-the-fly monster stats like hitpoints) became pretty common. The question is whether it’s worthwhile to even do in the first place.

We still see some survivors of this game culture even today; some who have clung to those ideals (and keep on giving bad advice) and other who have mashed those ideas up with more functional ways to play, but overall I think it’s no coincidence that the reason D&D and TTRPG has been taking off and became bigger than ever now that we have a large influx of people who do not play “that 90s way”.