So, I had my first (of hopefully many) sessions in Dangerous Brian's Isle of the Earthshaker Campaign last night - and by Pysos' flaming balls, it was great.
In part, it was due to Brian's quality GMing - every detail added new layers of intrigue, extra elements to explore, and created a feeling of exploration and danger. I can really learn a lot from this guy.
Of special note was the ruined temple we visited (and later fortified) - the description was magnificent, giving a real sense of grandeur to the place, which in turn made the defaced statuary, destroyed furniture and... soiled walls all the more effective. I'm very sorely tempted to nick this place as a dungeon for my next campaign...
I'd seen him in action in a previous campaign, but in a setting he has built himself, over years of accumulation, he's a master of his craft. I can't praise him enough.
Second, was the system. I wasn't too sure of OSRIC at first, I will admit (there's a bit of me that likes 3.5's fiddlyness - a sad, ashamed part, to tell the truth), but seeing it in play, it's pretty wondrous. For a start, it held together with 10 players (one of whom joined us by Skype) - and I've seen games with 4 players take over an hour to settle a combat (4e, I'm looking at you!). But combat was done quickly without feeling rushed, and the simple system really offered player ingenuity a chance to shine - like having players distract giant rats with thrown fish, impaling a half-crazed demon-thing hiding in a chimney with a cooking spit, or my character narrowly avoiding losing an eye to a well-placed meathook:
Me: "The rat is attached to my face!"
Other PC: *evil grin* "I'll just be careful not to roll a 1..."
The initiative system is nice and simple - roll a d6, take your turn from 6-1 (in case of ties, highest Dexterity goes first), then any NPCs/monsters attack. Really simple, but still provided the right amount of granularity to prevent a free-for-all.
And third (and possibly, one of the most important factors in enjoying a game) was the rest of the players. Between trading deals gone horribly wrong, one PC realising another PC was the man who sold them into slavery, and Thanatos, aka Shadow Guy the Assassin who "guarded the stairs" while everyone else was being mauled to death by rats, we had some group going. A lot of fighters (4 out of 10 characters), a surprising number of Assassins for a well-off trade ship (2 and a dual-classed Assassin/Illusionist), and a Cleric, a Druid and a Wizard.
There are people who claim that inter-party conflict weakens the group, and makes the game no fun for anyone involved. These people are both wrong, and weak.
Our party, due in part to our wide and diverse backgrounds, had plenty of conflict - whether physical (like a duo having a problem of trading, leading to a fistfight, only stopped by another PC headbutting one of the offenders, and my character slapping manacles on the thief), emotional (the aforementioned headbutter, a giant of a man, realising the Wizard was his slaver), or conflicts of interest (aforementioned thief character is a haughty Elf, sees humanity as something less than himself, and is far more interested in his own survival than any of ours, and will not hesitate to tell us so) - and all of it was entertaining as Hell. We're pretty much desert island castaways - and the classic "Scorpions in a Box" plot is having characters in conflict forced to co-operate, and learning a thing or two about teamwork and humility along the way. Indeed, as soon as the chips were down, we pooled together quite spectacularly, forming a fearsome fighting force (witness the Giant Baboon charge us in a doorway, only to land on two spears, a trident, and the sharp end of a skillet. Brutal.), and were coming up with plans to help everyone survive the night. The conflict is still bubbling under the surface, but until we can ensure a safe place to sleep and a decent supply of food, it'll need to wait...