Due to some weird circumstances, I ran a 1-shot last night for a group I am an actual player in (as opposed to mostly GMing). It was for three of the players as the others could no make it (hence the 1-shot). The barrier was partially a social one: I do not know one of the players very well and one of the players had anxiety (for personal reasons) for learning a new system (more on this later). I knew I needed something quick and easy that I knew well and landed on Stormbringer 4th/Elric!/Magic World. I curated the system down to the basics, which was not difficult really, re-named a few spells, and made three characters for the players to use.
Have you seen The Sword & The Sorcerer? If not, I recommend it not as a great film, but as a fun romp that still manages to exemplify what I think good sword & sorcery is about. Also Richard Lynch, the best 80s villain-character actor. In the movie there is an 11ish year gap between the beginning and the meat of the story. I set the game halfway between those parts. A selection of nobles of Ehdan sought out "volunteers" to resurrect another sorcerer to combat the evil King Titus Cromwell. One was a knight of Ehdan who escaped the destruction of good King Richard's army. Another was a barbarian mercenary, there for the money, and the third was a witch who was helping so that she could be left in peace by the society who despised such things as magic and witches.
Situation & Prep
The goal was to enjoy some B-movie hack n slash. I built Sorcerer Isle and placed three sorcerers on it inside of two old towers and a cave. Each sorcerer was different and had a different motif. They only needed one of them, but I did not give more clues. The players did not know how many sorcerers were on the island or where to find them, at least not at first. I placed a few minor foes, nothing too difficult, though it turns out the one actual combat was against the weirdest foe (other than the sorcerers).
Oh there was a volcano that rumbled, mostly for color, and a lighthouse that had some clues in it.
The three landed on the island, received the ominous warning from their boatman, and immediately investigated the old lighthouse. Ser Paulos nearly drowned falling down into the basement ofthe lighthouse where the tide had been encroaching. They found a few maps, one of which had circles and sorcerous writings around the towers and the cave. The characters moved to the swamp tower, where some careless throwing of coptic-style jars released six preserved horse tongues that attacked the characters.
Here I forget completely to have anyone, character or animated tongue, parry or dodge even though I had gone over the parry and dodge rules. The fight had a bit of tension and was satisfying from a thematic point of view with the characters scrambling to avoid being tongue-lashed. The characters did encounter the first sorcerer but they did not recognize as such, partly due to a failed lore roll. The sorcerer was a pack of rats that covered a tree just outside the tower. I had individual rats do tricks, but the players did not seem that interested and neither did their characters, so I did not try to make it more interesting. They moved onto the tower in the forest, by a lake.
Here they did encounter Kul (not Kull, not cool, kuuuul) a druid-sorcerer. Kul agreed to be resurrected to fight off Cromwell if he could have the flesh of one of the characters. The knight volunteered, knowing full well that Kul would take his body and leave nothing of him left.
The witch performed the ritual and I had the player make a power roll for each line of the ritual. If they succeeded, which they did for all four lines. they lost 1d6 MP. If they failed it would have been 2d6 and if the character had run low, they would have had to borrow from nearby sources, ie, one of the other characters. In the end, the dice were with the characters and Ser Paulos sacrificed his immortal soul so that Kul could live and fight against Cromwell.
Tropes and small-s Situation
The scenario relied heavily on playing into tropes. For these players, I avoided the heavy metaphysical questions and relied on knowledge of the movie and/or the idioms of sword&sorcery. I did not make the play on rails: they had a choice of where to go and what to do in service to the overall theme, but they knew they were there to get a sorcerer and they got one. I feel there was some bounce, but not a ton of it, and that's because I did not plan for a huge amount. The choices were small, some obvious and some not, and the encounters fed into that backdrop.
I like having tropes in play, mostly to play against, but in this case leaning hard into them. It made for a quirky play experience, that did not have a ton of surprises. And it created some constraints on the character's actions. I was not disatisfied with how play grew out of the prep.
Contrast this one shot with the larger amount of prep and play for the 3.5 game I recently ran here and here and talked about some in Tommi's post here as well. I feel like I did a better job this time conveying the situation through idiom than I did in the 3.5 game.
When Not to roll on % Skills
The player who had some anxiety said that they liked the system. While it has intricasies, there is no version of the Chaosium Stormbringer run that its overly complex, IMHO. The experience of rolling for armor to see how much it resisted was new the players, but that turned out to be a positive as well.
One thng that I had in mind while running and prepping the game was conversations about when not to ask for a roll. I do not think I had played a %, roll low skill system since those conversations popped here at Adept Play (and other places). How do you judge when a character is "good enough" to not have to roll?
In this case, any skill that a player had added points to during the brief character creation was a skill I felt they had real experience in. So if they came across a situation where there was no life or death, I just handed them the basic information.
And I will be honest, I did not miss rolling for every fucking listen or search or atheltic feat at all! I really did not miss asking for those rolls. Now, it might have been different had this been a longer set of sessions where improvment was important, but even then I could see asking for less rolling.