Archive for August, 2010

August 31, 2010

A Game About Tourists.

Old school D&D is a game about tourists.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one: three guys walk into a dungeon…

The basic premise of the first few editions of Dungeons & Dragons is fairly simple. Some dudes wander into some foreign, alien environment in order to explore it, for whatever reason. Who these dudes are, or if they’re even dudes, doesn’t matter. It’s the dungeon that really matters.

I’ll be referring specifically to Basic D&D (Moldvay/Mentzer) throughout this article, and I’ll just assume all of this applies to the original and Holmes editions as well.

What the DM does.

Before every game of Basic D&D, including the very first one, the DM must prepare a dungeon, either by creating one or by reading one created by someone else. This is usually done without reference to the players’ characters. The DM may not even know who will be playing, much less what characters they will play. Players may be creating their characters at the beginning of the game, and they may end up playing more than one character in the same dungeon, because of casualties.

This dungeon is a static situation for the players to discover. During play, the DM sets parts of this static situation into motion based on what the players decide their characters do. The DM also uses random charts to introduce new situations during the game. The DM is expected to adjudicate fairly and be faithful to the dungeon as it is written.

So the focus is on the dungeon from the very beginning. Without a dungeon, there’s no game. Without players, the dungeon is still waiting for characters to enter it.

What the players do (and don’t do).

Characters are assumed to want treasure. This is a game about killing monsters and taking their stuff, right? No. If you don’t want to do that, you can still play the game, as it’s written. You can run away from monsters, or avoid them altogether, and sometimes that’s actually the wisest course of action. You don’t have to pick up any of the treasure, either. You could just leave it and check out the wall paintings instead.

One of the most popular rules variants for D&D is how experience points are awarded. In Basic D&D, characters receive most of their xp from treasure. In other editions, monsters are a major source, and in various house-rules, completing quests and role-playing get you xp. Thing is, the DM doesn’t even have to write any new rules or make any difficult rulings if the players don’t want to kill monsters or take stuff, or even collect xp at all. It’s not the reason characters exist, it’s just how they get better.

And so they don’t have to get better, either. The endless circles of efficiently overcoming obstacles so you can get more stuff that will help you overcome obstacles more efficiently is certainly there, but it’s not necessary. The characters do have to go into the dungeon, but they don’t have to level up.

Who gets to say what.

Because the characters are venturing into a foreign setting, dividing narrative responsibilities is fairly easy. Players say what their characters do, the DM handles the whole setting. Characters are experiencing the dungeon for the first time, so of course players do not describe any part of the setting. Character background is pretty much irrelevant—only their actions while they explore the dungeon matter—so players are not expected to invent new narrative elements, by which I mean proper nouns: people, places, or things. After they name their character and decide what he or she looks like, they are only ever interacting with narrative elements, not introducing new ones.

The DM does all the creation and introduction of elements. The players manipulate them.

Why this is good.

The main advantage to this system is that it’s easy for players to get into. Because players are only tasked to make decisions and interact with the DM’s fictional creations, there’s much less trepidation to participate. This is only enhanced by the disposable nature of characters. They are easy to create and players have little or no immediate attachment to them. Which means it’s still a fun time when your character is killed in a gruesome, heroic, or even hilariously pointless manner. Your character is simply your gateway into someone else’s fantastical imagination. If you lose one, you just make another and dive back in.

And while this puts most of the weight on the DM, there are plenty of tools to make that job easier. Not only whole modules and instructions for how to make them, but hundreds of other types of information are available through the wealth of the internet and the history of published games.

Why this is bad.

Of course, the game has constraints and when you step beyond them, play runs less smoothly. Some of the problems and complaints that arise out of old school D&D include the game of character building, a lack of familiar settings, a lack of player input, a lack of focus on characters and their narrative arcs, and railroading. All of these will be the subject of future blog posts.


August 28, 2010

Giving Players What They Want

When we started playing B1: In Search of the Unknown, I told the players some rumours their characters had heard about the dungeon: goblin slaves, magic mortal man was not meant to mess with, a magic stone that gives you power if you eat it, stuff like that. One of the rumours was that the two guys who built the dungeon had left a giant diamond there. It was worth 100,000gp!

Nobody believed that one, of course.

When we ended one session, Dalamyr the cleric was 25xp away from leveling up. Plus, I was reading some rules in the Moldvay rulebook. And I had a thought. I decided to not be boring.

The next session, I told the players that there really was a diamond worth 100,000xp in the dungeon, for this session only. If they found it tonight, they got it. If they couldn’t, it wouldn’t be there next session.

So, they found a few big black iron doors. Instead of picking the lock, they removed one from it’s frame, and were immediately attacked by the zombie king! Amusingly, the trapped chest killed more characters than the king did, but they found the diamond he was guarding.

Pretty thrilling, right? They can all go home and retire now right?

Well, you can only go up one level per adventure. It’s still kind of like two levels, because you’re 1xp away from leveling up twice, but still. Even with I think six PCs and about the same number of retainers, there was excess experience points lost for everybody. And I didn’t have to do any accounting! Yay!

And then they couldn’t sell it either, so they didn’t get any money out of it. The town of Threshold probably doesn’t see a hundred thousand gold pieces pass through it in a week, nevermind anybody having that much and wanting to buy a diamond with it. So Marrieth the Elf ended up carrying it around and who knows what happened to her.

I mean, I thought it was pretty funny.


August 18, 2010

Old-School Modules: Actually Rather Boring.

For our Black Peaks game, I decided to try running various old-school D&D modules, in order to get a sense of how the game is really supposed to play (as opposed to just making things up myself and hoping the game comes along for the ride). The first module I ran was B1: In Search of the Unknown.

This is, probably, the second-most canonical starting module (Keep on the Borderlands holding the top position). It’s also an incoherent mess of nonsense with no hint of internal logic.

The first thing I had to do was modify the map, and not just because some of my players had done this adventure before. The text states that the walls of the dungeon (called “Quasqueton”) are carved right out of the black slate that the hill is made out of. But there’s secret doors in this black slate? My ass. I went over the map with markers to denote which walls were black slate and this had no secret doors in them, and which were lined with brick, stonework, and wood paneling. The wood paneling was the easiest to check for traps, because they could just tear it off with their crowbars to observe the bare wall behind it. I made sure there were no secret doors in the brickwork, though some of the stone carvings in the brickwork were secret doors. Most descriptions of the construction that came with the module were of the variety that might impress 14-year-old boys, like the seventy foot stone mural in the wizard’s bedroom. Compare this with, say, Hammers of the Gods by James Raggi IV. That module has both enthusiastic descriptions of the architecture, as well as the motivations behind the dungeon’s construction and what it was used for.

I kept most of the more bizarre architectural elements, eliminated those I thought were just too ridiculous, and made some of them even stranger. The main result of these strange features was a constant stream of “architects on acid” jokes. For the four sessions it took to run this adventure, I did not make any maps for the players. I described the dungeon and one player drew it out, based on my words. While this had some charm to it, and lead to a few chuckles, for the most part it was a pain in the ass. Additionally, while I understand the reasoning, I find it patently ridiculous that adventurers who take ten minutes to travel sixty feet can’t remember their spatial surroundings better than players sitting around a kitchen table listening to a DM describing ten foot stone walls. Perhaps if every room had been memorable, this would be a more fruitful practice, but in the first session, the players somehow managed to explore the emptiest part of the dungeon. Too much time wasted mapping empty rooms makes me think about how I’m going to die soon. And I’m the youngest person in the room!

I also cut down the wandering monster chart, so it didn’t feel like a monster zoo. Aside from the strange habit of taking unique monsters and turning them into species, the other monster problem D&D seems to have is that every member of the species is the same, so the only way to get variety is to have a bazillion different types of monsters inhabiting one tiny dungeon. I also added a new back entrance for the orcs to enter, and came up with a reason for them to be there—they were the remnants of a marauding army who had slaughtered the nearby village, and now lived in holes in the ground near the mass grave. They entered the dungeon to hunt the goblins and eat them. Strangely enough, the players kept trying to find a way to seal off the back entrance, even though it was just on the other side of the hill from the front entrance where they were camped. They never did try to track the orcs down.

Out of all the weirdness in the module, two things worked best, and even then, the module doesn’t really follow up on them. The cat preserved in a jar who comes back to life when the cork is removed is certainly bizarre, but didn’t really pay off until I had them find a much larger jar, with a woman in it. The magical stone that grants you “wishes” when you eat it proved to be an even bigger success… when I started rolling on the mutations charts in Realm of Chaos: Slaves to Darkness.

But really, the most ridiculous part of the module is the premise. What are these two great heroes doing living in this crazy dungeon? Nothing in their background suggests that they have ever even adventured in dungeons, they are known for defeating barbarian hordes. And yet, they live in a series of windowless tunnels carved out of slate, they keep goblins as slaves, they grow mutated mushrooms, they ply their contractors with LSD, and they have the physical essence of Chaos itself in their basement! Clearly, these two have been traumatized by the horrors of the endless dungeoncrawls they undertook in their youth. Before they were famous, they watched in horror as their colleagues and fellow tomb-robbers were eviscerated, disintegrated, crushed, and mauled. One turned to the obsessive physical perfection of bodybuilding and skill at arms, the other poured over arcane tomes recovered from underground, and dared to uncover mysteries man was not meant to—yeah, you get the idea. When the player characters found their secret notes, it gave me the opportunity to plant some hooks and let them know about dungeons the pair never finished looting, which led to the Tomb of the Red Mummy, one of the best sessions of D&D I’ve run.

But that stuff’s not in the module. The module feels pretty dated, actually. Sorry.

I’ll trash Bone Hill in a future post.


August 12, 2010

Something Other Than Nostalgia

Unlike most of my fellow Red Box players here in Vancouver, I never played D&D when I was a kid. I bought the AD&D 2e books, and barely played it a handful of times before getting rid of them a few years later. Instead, I found other games, like Cyberpunk 2020, Call of Cthulhu, and Vampire: The Masquerade, and lost all interest in games with experience levels and dungeoncrawls.

While I always liked the promise of epic fantasy that AD&D 2e promised, but never delivered on, I never found 3rd edition at all attractive. Amusingly enough, the first time I enjoyed playing D&D, it was 4E, which had both epic fantasy and satisfying tactical play. When we started playing Basic D&D last year, however, I realized I already knew how to play. It wasn’t something new like I thought it would be.

I’d certainly picked up a lot of the culture from other gamers, and during that first game when Paul riffed on ten foot poles and flaming oil, I got all the references. But that’s not the same as understanding how play works. No, it wasn’t gamer chit-chat or blog posts that taught me to play D&D, it was Call of Cthulhu.

I think Call of Cthulhu is the most successful repurposing of the dungeoncrawl style. Leaving aside sandbox play for the moment, the dungeon adventure transfers almost exactly to the mystery and investigation style of CoC. Instead of adventurers, you have investigators; instead of corridors and rooms, you have leads, clues, and persons of interest; instead of finding treasure, you stop the Great Old Ones from destroying the human race. And there lies the real difference in play: in D&D you try to avoid dying so you can level up—in CoC, just surviving is considered a triumph, and a few extra points on your Handgun skill is a bonus. Oh, and the skills, of course.

See, Basic D&D has this one major advantage over s many other games: it’s honest. In Call of Cthulhu, you spend all this time determining your character’s skills, and this tricks you into thinking the game is somehow about your character. It’s not. The game is about the dungeon. It’s about some dudes going into that dungeon and exploring it, and how they interact with it, but those dudes could be anyone. As individuals, they don’t matter—the game doesn’t give a fuck who your character is. All that matters is how well you can deal with the dungeon and the threats, the puzzles, and, yes, the opportunities within it. Basic D&D doesn’t encourage you to spend time investing in the Accounting and Locksmith skills, only to put you through an adventure with no money and no locked doors in it.

Both games are about people in unfamiliar situations, and so neither game cares about what your character does at home. If your character doesn’t want to go into the dungeon, or investigate the mystery, you make a new one who does. But D&D is the one that only gives you what your character can do in the dungeon, and little else.

This makes it a remarkably easy game to play. With such a rigid premise and the small selection of rules that everyone at the table has to agree to, we easily move to the point where we start thinking about what extra stuff we want to throw on top of that (if any). Every time I DM, I tweak the rules, or add new ones, to see what works for the people playing, whether that’s adding attacks of opportunity, how we roll for initiative, what to roll when you throw flaming oil at the ground or dissect a carrion crawler, having your Wisdom modifier affect your chances of finding traps or secret doors, including magical items of my own invention, or using mutation charts from other games. But this is all part of play itself, not part of the process of learning how to play.

And that’s why I play. Not for the nostalgia of coming back to a game I used to play, even though I kinda did, and not because this is the game I’ve always played, because it ain’t. No, I’m playing Red Box because it knows exactly what kind of game it is, and it doesn’t try to be anything else. Instead of making you screw around with stuff that doesn’t matter, it starts right at the dungeon, and that’s where I want to go when I play D&D.

– Johnstone.

August 9, 2010

Destroy All Monsters

Our next post comes from one of the first RBV players, Jason L. Thanks, Jason!

I am a 41 year old white North American male. This means that during the early 80s my friends and I were directly in the crosshairs of TSR in it’s heyday. I wasn’t a wargamer nor did I have the White Box but we pretty much had everything they put out after that. We played Boot Hill, Gamma World and Top Secret but were pretty much the target demographic when TSR was selling 7000 Red Boxes a month.

In Grade 7 our free thinking teacher, Mr. Bergland, allowed us to take over a large alcove in the back of the classroom. On the table there we laminated to the surface our various character and tables to the exclusion of all others in the class. This meant we gamed at recess and lunch in addition to our after school and weekend sessions.

One weekend we convinced my father to go up into the woods behind our town and set up a sort of D&D proto-LARP. He drew detailed maps and hid little treasures then we tore around battling imaginary goblins and beholders that came out of the woods. We had plastic swords and I believe these Star Trek disc guns that we were somehow able to integrate into the fantasy narrative.

All these reminisces were brought to mind after coming across an article in McSweeney’s The Believer magazine called Destroy All Monsters.  In it, the author Paul LaFarge, describes his lifelong experiences with D&D.  The article is in 2 parts: in the first he describes the game and how it came to be.  It is a well written account and he tries to link the popularity of the game with his pet theories about how:

“in a society that conditions people to compete, and rewards those who compete successfully, Dungeons & Dragons is countercultural; its project, when you think about it in these terms, is almost utopian. Show people how to have a good time, a mind-blowing, life-changing, all-night-long good time, by cooperating with each other! And perhaps D&D is socially unacceptable because it encourages its players to drop out of the world of competition, in which the popular people win, and to tune in to another world, where things work differently, and everyone wins (or dies) together.”

We certainly felt this way when we were young boys immersed in our fantasy world.  Not only did it cement friendships that I have maintained until today but at the time it generated an “us vs them” feeling that I think helped us weather the small town peer bullshit that was a part of growing up then.  The reason I play D&D today is not because it is “retro” but because it brings together people who I like to spend time with.  As LaFarge says:

“D&D conjoins: this is not the first thing you notice when you enter the cave; nor is it mentioned very often by the game’s recruiters (or by its detractors), who prefer to talk about killing and money and other things the uninitiated can understand. And yet it is an essential feature of the game—ritual–whatever you want to call it. Adam’s fighter may be more powerful than Brian’s elf, but if the fighter kills the elf, or even pisses him off seriously, who will find the secret door? In order to get very far in the cave, the players need to work together. Which would make D&D not very different from any other team sport, if there were another team; but there isn’t. The remarkable thing about D&D is that everyone has to play together. Even the DM, who plays all the monsters and villains, has to cooperate; if he doesn’t–if he kills the entire party of adventurers, or requires players not to cheat on life-or-death dice rolls–the chances that he will be invited to run another session are small.”

August 6, 2010

Running a Red Sandbox

Ever since I read Ben Robbins’ now famous West Marches blog posts, I dreamed of running a sandbox of my own, but when I tried to imitate Ben’s experience, using first 3.5e and then Savage Worlds, the prep killed me. Not to mention I couldn’t get the players to organize games, or to set session goals. I could get people to show up just fine, but they expected to play whatever I had prepared. Combined with the heavy amount of up-front prep in a West Marches game: maps, dungeons, wandering monster tables, treasure… and a compelling “history” to tie it all together, well, it was tough without external deadlines and solid direction.

Then along came the old school renaissance, especially New York Red Box. They were having such a great time, and Red Box seemed like it had it all: low prep, lots of tables and charts for winging it, and a really simple system. The One Page Dungeon template sealed the deal; I started my wiki/forum and started running games a few months later, in March of 2009. A little over one year, 44 sessions,  four DMs, thirty-six PCs (not counting the ones that didn’t survive their first adventure), dozens of retainers and thousands of gold pieces later, here’s what I’ve learned about running a West Marches-style sandbox with Red Box D&D.

1. Give the players a hex map.
Ben specifically mentions this, so I have nobody to blame but myself. I don’t have much in the way of art skills, so I tried describing the lay of the land during games. Nobody listened on the way to the starter–and for months, the only–dungeon. Nobody remembered in-between sessions, when the planning was supposed to happen.

Then I wrote up wiki pages for each area, with links to adjacent regions. Even more confusing and harder to visualize than traveling through the area in-game. Finally I broke down, cropped the Nentir Vale map and replaced the place names with my own. That sort of helped. But not really, because I only gave them the immediate area around town, which is what Ben did.

For why I think that didn’t work out for me, you’ll have to read #4 below.

I’m pretty sure what you want is a big hex map, so players can tell how far apart everything is. And on that hex map, you want interesting looking names and pictures, separated by swathes of white space. And the interesting names and pictures don’t necessarily have to be where they really are on the players’ map, just in the general neighborhood. That way players can make meaningful decisions like “let’s do a three-month trek to the Spire of Iron and Crystal” or “let’s see what this ruin is two days down the Dwarf Road”. Versus “let’s go north through the Haunted Forest and find out what’s on the other side. Hope there’s gold!”

2. Make the first dungeon small.
Fully half of the early adventures in my game were in the Lost Mine, the “starter” dungeon. Why? Because not knowing what else was out there, and being busy adults, my players were content to go over the same ground, again and again. Also, Red Box characters are fragile. In a world where the average blow from a weapon does d6 hit points, and fully 5 of 7 classes have d6 hit points at first level, information is the difference between yet another massacre on the Rope Bridge of Death or survival. It pays to go back to familiar territory, because you’ve got prior knowledge of some of the dangers. Knowledge your companions paid for with their lives.

My first dungeon was pretty big: two levels and about thirty rooms/features/death-traps. Even now there are still areas the players haven’t explored and treasure they haven’t uncovered. If you want the players to explore the wilderness, you want them to finish the starter dungeon, and you want them to finish with solid leads to other “plunder pockets”. Not kill nine months and an equal number of characters fighting the same gang of stirges and goblins.

3. Bribe ’em with xp.
None of the players doing session summaries? Award xp for writing them. Nobody talking on the forum/email list? Award xp for signing up. Nobody showing up to a last-minute game? Award xp for attendance. Because the pace of Red Box advancement is glacial, and survival so difficult, it’s like a license to print money. And as everyone knows, in Red Box D&D money == xp. I’ve awarded almost 1,000xp to one player for his session summaries, more than all the xp he’s earned from enemies and treasure, but I don’t worry about unbalancing the game because we both know that odds are that character will die long before he hits 2nd level, at which point it hardly matters if he had 9xp or 1,999xp. And yet because leveling is such a grind, players will do anything to increase their chances of getting another hit die before some shrimp with a rusty spoon ganks them. I know I will, and I play a thief. A THIEF! (My thief died soon after I wrote this — cr0m)

4. Don’t run a West Marches game.
I know, this probably should have been #1, but I don’t think Red Box and wilderness exploration for the sake of wilderness exploration mix well. In the original West Marches, Ben was using 3e D&D, where you went up levels for defeating enemies. Thus, it was worthwhile cruising for wandering monsters and filling in the wilderness map while uncovering new dungeons. Every wandering monster encounter was worth xp (if it didn’t kill you). Not so in Red Box. Monsters are worth bupkis. And they’re worth even less than bupkis, when you realize that nearly every one of them is a potential TPK. I’ve seen a lone orc take out three PCs in three rounds. Do you know how many orcs are in a wilderness encounter? 10-60.

It gets worse. You can run into much tougher monsters in the wild than in the dungeon, where the level below ground roughly corresponds to the level of the bad guys. Also, monsters you encounter in the wild are, by definition, not at home. And home is where the money is. And we already know that money == xp. So in the wild, you have a better chance of running into stuff that will kill you faster than the stuff that already kills you very efficiently in the dungeon, thank you very much. And that stuff won’t have any treasure, so if you survive, you stand to earn at best a few hundred xp.

As a party. Your PC will get 50.

If I ever do this again (a virtual certainty), the wilderness exploration won’t be the focus. Or rather, filling in the map between suspected pockets of awesome will be the focus. Getting from Threshold to the Caves of Chaos, yes. Crossing the ghoul-infested Haunted Forest to find out what’s on the other side, no.

5. Everybody loves being an elf.
It’s not just because you can fight and cast spells. Wait, no. YES IT IS. If anyone ever wants to make a new rules-light sword-and-sorcery game, they’d do very well to let everyone cast a couple of spells. People love being able to solve their problems more than one way, even if it means giving up the laughably remote possibility of ever reaching second level. The Elf is great because he’s a wizard who can fight with a sword, unlike every other wizard except Gandalf. And Elric. And probably a lot of other cool wizards. I’m not terribly well-read when it comes to fantasy, okay? That guy with the flaming sword in Song of Ice and Fire. What do you mean he wasn’t a wizard? Wasn’t he the guy who killed some chick with a shadow? I stopped reading when it took him four years to finish the next book. They need to put out Cliff’s Notes. I’m telling you, there’s an untapped market there.

Where was I? Right, and people love being able to contribute positively to the adventure after their one spell is gone, by firing arrows, finding secret doors, or looking for footprints with their infravision. Which brings me to my next point.

6. Fracking infravision.
You can’t go ten steps before someone wants to track someone else using the heat of their footprints. Cue discussion of infrared cameras. Cue discussion of conductive properties of shoe leather. Cue discussion of ogre footwear. Cue the DM slitting his wrists.

Darkvision. Monte Cook, et al got that one right.

7. It’s a slow burn.
Don’t go whole hog filling up your wiki with stuff before the first session. A wiki populated by DM-written pages is a sterile, alien place. Write the bare minimum your players need: a brief intro to the setting, the hex map, the starter dungeon, house rules, done. It’s way too easy to put lots of energy into tweaking the forum, downloading old school artwork, writing all kinds of interesting NPCs, etc. That time is better spent constructing wandering monster tables, writing up very solid leads to the next dungeon, and stocking your map. My rule of thumb as a DM–which I break constantly–is to only write pages that help me run games. I write-up retainers, because I need to remember which ones are cowards, which are lazy, which are traitors, etc. I used to write-up session summaries, but players do that now (see #3). I do record the shares of xp/gp for each session, for book-keeping purposes. And I update the timeline so I know where and when everyone is. Everything else I’d like to leave to the players.

The reality is that I still spend way too much time on the wiki, but not as much as I used to.

Also, it took nine months of gaming and mentioning my sandbox on the internet before we got walk-ons. I put a link to my wiki in my signature on Dragonsfoot, pestered the NY Red Box guys on their forum until they linked to me, and made occasional comments on various old school blogs. For the first few months, I only had enough players for one group. It takes time to bring in casual players, friends, and eventually, every nerd’s dream: a stranger who tracks you down on the internet.

In all seriousness, the great thing about attracting players off the internet is that they’ve usually done their homework. That is, they read the blogs, have read your wiki (more than the rest of your players can say), and want to play your game. It’s a great feeling, and so far they’ve been an injection of enthusiasm and fun, that after 15+ months, any campaign can use.

8. The wiki is a backup.
When I started this, I got an old three-ring binder for my rule books, dungeons and character sheets. It’s way, way more useful than the wiki. It’s got notes jotted here and there, scraps of paper, old retainers, sketches, all kinds of maps, characters, dead characters, loot calculations… in short, it’s got context. And it goes to every game I attend. The wiki is always out of date, you can’t quickly search it unless you already know what you’re looking for, and you need to be online to access it. It’s great for restoring lost character sheets, remembering what happened two sessions ago, or tracking xp. But it sucks for figuring out who got the healing potion, where the blue stone came from, or which part of the Mine to explore next. It’s a pen-and-paper game for a reason. And that reason is: Gary wrote it in 1974. But paper is still pretty handy.

9. Red Box is an arcade game, not a video game.
There’s an element of slot-machine gambling with Red Box. You roll your stats, 3d6 in order, and see what you qualified to play. Did you make elf? Dwarf? Fighter is cool. Thief? LOL.

You play your character like you play a game of Space Invaders. You know you’re going to die. It’s just a question of how much glory! Bad luck with the dice (whether its yours, during play, or the DM’s while stocking the dungeon) means you start over. Good luck and skillful play (some people would say “cowardly”. People with dead characters, mostly.) means you make it to the next round.

Over at New York Redbox they’re playing a game of White Box where the PCs start at third level. I’ve noticed that game has a lot more investment in the setting, a lot more complicated schemes, etc. I imagine some of this is due to the increased longevity–or at least the expectation of longevity. A first level Red Box character has no such expectations.

10. D&D is a flawed, human creation.
I got into Red Box for the nostalgia, but I stayed because it’s a fun, rules-light system. What it’s not is perfect, by any means. I started this experiment slavishly devoted to playing “by-the-book”, to see how the old girl held up after all these years. The good news is, she holds up fine. The even better news is, she still needs some help from us. House rule the hell out of it. Try things on for size. The nice thing about a rules-light system is that you can introduce new rules without bringing the entire game down. I’ve got house rules about dying, fighting with two weapons, maintenance costs, lock-picking, splintering shields (all of which I stole from the internet)… and probably more. I’m definitely going to take a long, hard look at xp and advancement before I go much further. (We introduced carousing after I wrote this — cr0m)

There are blogs out there that are devoted to the idea that the rules work, if you interpret them correctly, or in the right context, or with Chainmail handy… and they might be right, but that’s a lot of effort. Change ’em. They’ll be fine.

My secret wish (other than a decent public space for gaming on weeknights in Vancouver. (we now play at Waves Coffee on Broadway @ Spruce — cr0m)) is for one of the players to propose a custom class. Someday!

I hope it’s not too obvious how hard I had to work to get to ten, but I couldn’t stop at seven. There’s no seven-sided die. Thanks for reading, and if you’re in Vancouver, BC, and want to play–look us up: