Today we will talk about converting all your old modules to Old School Hack! It’s easy once you get started. Here is my suggested guidance.
Step One. The “Wow” Button.
West End Games’ version of the Star Wars RPG talks about the “wow” button. Remember when the star destroyer was flying overhead? When the Millennium Falcon flew at the closing jaws of the space slug? When Vader appeared in the carbon freezing chamber on Bespin? Those punch the “wow” button.
So comb through the scenario and find a handful of “wow” moments to build the game around. Revelations, gorgeous scenery, epic clashes, and so on. These are things you want your players to talk about years later–images that will stay with them.
Don’t hit it so often it becomes the new baseline. But if you have no “wow” button moments in the scenario, you don’t have something worth adapting.
Step Two. Cinematic Backdrops.
As you work on the “movie trailer” for your adventure, what parts would make the cut? Cool battles over a dizzying drop on a slick bridge in front of a waterfall! Flanked by displacer beasts on rough stone at dusk! Combat at the foot of a giant standing stone, or better yet, giant statue! A horde of minions rushing through shattered ruins at a determined last stand!
These aren’t as big as the “wow” button moments, but they are far more plentiful. You should have at least one per scene; a moment where the director of cinematography gets nominated for an award.
Most of your adventure should have cinematic backdrops. Either go back and add them, or drop the boring parts.
If your adventure takes place in a dungeon of worked stone and 10′ by 10′ stone hallways, that’s dull. Make the mortar luminescent, stamp each stone with a sigil noting one of the carver’s ancestors, make the stones translucent, or the teeth of giants–something.
If it’s a 10′ x 10′ x 10′ room with an orc guarding a chest, then the orc might have horns and a tail and a double-bitted axe, and the chest could be a nut bound shut with iron, and the room could be luminescent with the orc-monster’s condensed breath–yeah, the orc thing breathes luminescent smoke.
Go big or go home.
Step Three: Cool (but focused) Foes.
Look at your monsters. Pick 1-3 things about each that make them cool. Attach a talent, or make up a game effect to cover it. If it is magical or unusual, give it an Awesome Point cost–the DM must feed the bowl that many Awesome Points to activate the monster’s ability.
You do not have to attach numbers to cosmetic changes. The orc in the previous example might have the normal properties of an orc, but look different and be played differently. The numbers don’t define your foes, they just try to keep up.
Don’t try to convert everything about your monsters. Just pick out what makes them cool and focus on that; you can add other stuff during the fight if you want to, after all.
Here are some sample monsters. OSH Monsters
Step Four: The Plot is a Safety Net.
Plan two things in the adventure: what the bad guys want and how they’re going after it, and some points where that plan could be in serious trouble if the characters mess with it.
Your plot is not something that you put together that the group must follow. Instead, prepare the bad guy effort (or the site and its defenses, or the journey and its hazards, etc.) and let those things react normally when the characters challenge them.
When the players do something unexpected, pull at your prep to wrap adventure around their course of action. Do not try to pull their course of action over to wrap around your plot. In that tug of war, you shouldn’t win. Not in this game.
If they don’t want to get involved in what you planned, see what elements they could tangle with independently. Improvise an adventure around that. Maybe in the next adventure, the bad guys from last time got what they were after, and now are tougher challenges for the characters to face. Or maybe they just go away.
Step Five: Give Your Players Entertainment.
If it is a mystery, liberally sprinkle clues. If it is a battle, make sure they’ve got meaningful tactical choices and weapons and support (if needed.) Still, in spite of all that preparation, sometimes your plot blows up.
As part of your safety net, consider; if things go desperately wrong, some characters die, or get hopelessly lost, what are you going to do to make sure the players still have every chance to have fun? If your plot blows up, that shouldn’t spoil their evening! (Even if they blew it up.)
Maybe that means preparing contingencies around your main plot. Or maybe that means having other plots bits on hand you can drop in and elaborate on that have little or nothing to do with the main plot.
This is enlightened self interest. If they are not having a good time, you will not be enjoying yourself nearly as much as if you are the gateway to a game that has lots of awesome moments and delighted players. That’s at the heart of Old School Hack; if you don’t like that philosophy, play a different game.
Each game has its strengths and weaknesses. Imagine the OSR games are like journal entries, 3E is like a novel, 4E is like a video game–Old School Hack is like a gonzo summer blockbuster movie.
Your special effects budget is limited by your imagination and description. What happens at the table is your Director’s Cut. Like any director, you want to coax the best performance from your ensemble of actors. They will give their best if they feel like they are part of what’s going on, they care about the outcome, and they think they have awesome characters.