|The original Basic set|
A long time ago Big J, our usual DM, wanted a night off so I stepped in with a throwaway idea to do a 'Game of Thrones' inspired game. While the players created their human-only no magic characters, I quickly drew the game map, a Europe-sized land called 'Nurthund'. Players were allowed to create their own family House names and the first ready for play could choose where their kingdom was, the second could choose next, etc. Then I filled in the last few kingdoms with random House names, designed a capital with a High King and then we rolled randomly to decide how the Houses felt about each other. On a single D6 a 1-2 meant they were 'OK' with each other, a 3-4 meant they disliked each other, a 5-6 meant they were openly hostile.
The players were also allowed to come up with a basic culture for their House and kingdom based on the real world, so one player who had placed his kingdom further south opted for a Greek/Persian-inspired design, the player on the mainland chose Medieval Europe, and the other, from the north, chose a Nordic feel.
Then we had to decide why they were together. As the three Houses they were from were at odds, I decided that a small kingdom to the south, who basically acted as bankers for the realm and who the Kings and the High King were in debt to, demanded diplomatic help with raiders who were coming up from the unexplored southern lands.
In an attempt to stop, or at least slow, the fracturing of the realm - strangely, most of the Houses had rolled a 5 and 6 in their relationship with the High King, telling everyone that the kingdoms were hostile to him and this threatened bloody war - the High King's advisor instructs the three most temperamental Kings (ie, the player character's fathers) to send their youngest princes who would band together and, in a show of unity, travel to the south and deal with the problem.
There was an hour of wrangling as each son argued, made demands, threw tantrums, and tried to con each other. They played their characters as they had rolled them and the conflict between their houses bled into their group dynamic. It was great to game, and everyone had a hand in the creation of the campaign setting and direction that we made up there and then. That's a great night's collaborative gaming.
They finally got themselves onto a boat to head south to the small kingdom, with plans and ideas at the ready. Sadly, they were boarded by pirates and, after a series of disastrous rolls not helped by high damage rolls and low hit point scores, they were all killed.
All was not lost, however. There were still three sailors on the boat after the raid ended. So, the players rolled up three new characters and I suggested that these new PCs were the surviving sailors who, in an attempt to gain riches, notoriety and a half-hearted attempt to stop the realm from collapsing around their ears, are going to attempt to pass themselves off as the princes and complete their mission to the small kingdom. The story was saved!
The notorious first-level deathtrap that Basic D&D is may not have been the best choice for the campaign idea but the fact that we were having fun with it meant that we didn't want the almost inevitable TPK to be the end of it, forcing us to improvise.
Basic D&D forces a gaming group to be creative. We didn't want to let go of the central premise but also didn't want to restart the campaign with the same characters. So, what we end up with is the same ideas and goals but with a huge twist on the story and meatgrinder Basic D&D was pretty much responsible for that. All the players have to do now is get through the next couple of levels without dying, but I think the fact that I allowed them maximum possible hit points might help.