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Author Topic: [Red Box D&D] Module B4: The Lost City  (Read 6135 times)
Eric Provost
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« on: May 02, 2006, 09:09:03 AM »

A few months back I'd acquired a mint condition copy of the ol' Red Box edition of D&D.  After reading through it again for the first time in what must have been at least fifteen years I decided that I had to play it again.  See, I could clearly remember there being something totally awesome about playing the old red box, but I just couldn't put my finger on it.  So, I wanted to play, observe with an analytical eye, and distill out just what the awesome was.

I finally got my chance this past Sunday.  Mark Causey came over and he, Lisa, and I tore it up.  We'd decided to play as close as possible to the core rules, making only the few changes we thought were important to circumvent obvious no-fun situations.  The old module I'd picked up, "The Lost City", would suffer from more severe changes, which only really meant that I was gonna patch up the color of the thing and make sure that there was plenty of juicy story to go around.  These are the four rules-changes we set up before play;

  • Maximum hit points at first level.  After all, it's Red Box, we had to start at first level, right?
  • Healing & Resting.  Red Box is pretty darned vague on when characters regain HP and spells.  It's implied or inferred at some point that the characters will get those points back "...at the end of the adventure."  Well, the adventure we were playing was way too long for that, and my previous experience with dungeons said that anytime the players were wary about their resources, they'd just go out of the dungeon for a night to rest and recoup anyway.  So, it was decided that a Turn worth of rest was enough to regain everything.
  •  
  • Hireling Awesomeness.  This was a pretty simple re-interpretation of the hireling rules that led to some great awesomeness.  Using the rules on max hirelings and Morale checks as per the rules, we set it up so that all hirelings would remain under player control right up to the point where a Moral Check was failed.  Being that the checks only came up when hirelings dropped to 1/4 HP or lower, this led right to some interesting situations.
  • I know you want to check for hidden things, so you don't need to ask.  Instead of trying to keep some silly connection between player and PC knowlege, I would declare things like; "Ok, roll a d6 to see if you noticed the Secret Door you just walked by.  Combined with an assurance that there would not be any essential secret doors, this rule was immediately declared awesome.

The first awesome thing I learned is that I like a fiat in the right places.  You know all those "Read this to the players"-type blocks in premade adventures?  Well, this particular adventure was about finding a city buried in the sand after the adventurers get seperated from their caravan in a storm.  There was no rolling over surviving the storm, rolling to see if you have any food or water left, none of that crap.  Just a few paragraphs telling the players where they were going and why they're here now.  Rock on.

The second awesome thing I learned is that I love D&D combat when the stakes are high.  In the very first room of the very first level of the dungeon a hireling (one of Mark's) set off a trap.  Four seperate attack rolls for four seperate dart attacks, each threatening 1d3 damage to an NPC with a mere 8hp.  Sadly for the tribe of Dwarves that Mark was leading, all four rolls were a hit and 11 points of damage was plenty enough to kill the poor hapless fool.  In-game some sad words were said over his body.  IRL, Mark declard it to be awesome, and that the players should totally suffer for not having a well-rounded party (there was no thief to find the traps).  So, that was really just the setup for the awesome.  Later on, after severeral hirelings had bitten the dust from over-powered monsters, there was a room where the party fights a giant lizard.  The thing just charges at them when they open the door and they all fight in the hall outside.  It was a pretty tough battle, and was pretty close to killing off a lackey or two.  Well, after they'd dispached the thing, both players decided that it was time to get into that room and pry open the old chest that was there.  After a bit of comedy and a couple failed rolls to notice the second lizard that was hanging from the ceiling, ("Roll to see if you notice that lizard hanging from the ceiling") we went into the second fight for a single Turn.  Which meant that all the injured lackeys were in real danger of being eaten, having not regained their HP from the last battle.  Mark's danger of loosing a whole host of Dwarven clansmen to the sneaky gecko kept the tension high and all the dice rolls interesting.

The third awesome thing I learned is that I still enjoy GMing games where the players soak up a story presented to them by the GM in slices.  Unfortunately, I learned this one because it was absent.  The module presented me with all the information on a lost city, it's reconstruction beneath the sand, the three factions that were trying to save it (but who hated each other), and the demon-god-thingie who had corrupted it in the first place right there in a single page at the beginning of the adventure.  It expected me to dole out this information piece-meal to the players as they met the different factions in the adventure, but failed to give any instructions on how to do this.  When the players met up with the first faction I basically gave them the complete run-down of the entire plot right then and there.  That was maybe an hour or so into a five hour session.  So, when the players met the other two factions, I had nothing new to tell them.  "Yeah, they give you a similar story" was pretty much all I could muster with no prep.  In hindsight I wish I'd have had differing stories for each of the factions to present to the players.  Maybe some stuff that was a little constradictory.  Stuff with a hole or two in it that could be filled with evidence laying around the dungeon.  But I wasn't that prepared.  Oh well, next time.

The one shitty thing I re-learned is that I hate dramatically unbalanced games.  A few of the fights and traps early on in the dungeon were so powerful that the first character to deal with them was killed in a single roll.  Not that it was a quirk of the dice in those situations.  Rather, it was a situation where it was statistically probable that the best possible first-level character who engages these dangers would be squashed instantly.  Poo.  That's no fun at all.

But all in all it rocked.  The end of the story came a mere 45 minutes before we had to pack it up for the night anyway.  The players had joined two of the three factions, then stumbled into a meeting hall of the third faction.  The third faction in this case were all Magic Users, each with a different spell prepared.  They outnumbered the players dramatically.  When it came time for the baddie with Sleep to cast, I looked up the spell and nearly fell over.  There's no saving throw for the spell in Red Box.  It would automatically affect every character remaining.  Yikes.  So, after deciding that we'd stumbled into a no-fun rule, we agreed to just have the players make saving throws vs. spell.  Complete failure left the PCs at the mercy of the Magic Users.  For fun-ness, we decided that the baddies would just toss them out into the desert to die, and the players would have a second go at the treasure of the spell-chuckers.  Unfortunately, Sleep-Guy got them a second time, and we decided that this time, there was no turning back.  The game ended with a scene of the sands drifting up over their corpses.

For a few months there I thought I'd probably never want to play D&D again.  Now I do.  I just have to write up a campaign that meets my desires.  And now I can do that.  Awesome.

-Eric
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James_Nostack
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Posts: 642


« Reply #1 on: May 02, 2006, 11:01:56 AM »

The party did not suffer from not having a Thief.  From what I remember, a 1st level thief was a god-awful liability who couldn't do anything right.  Except climb walls.  I don't know why I played them so unvaryingly back in the day, except that I was 9 years old, and Thieves seemed cool.
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--Stack
JamesDJIII
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Posts: 201


« Reply #2 on: May 02, 2006, 11:36:29 AM »

I too have a lot of fond memories about the Red Box D&D set.


I also remember B4 and it's sheer size. Did you contemplate fleshing out the "undercity"? At the time, that looked far too complicated and vast for myself to even try.

But I did love the layout and buildup to penetrating the levels, which began to invert in size after some point.
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Eric Provost
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« Reply #3 on: May 02, 2006, 12:09:05 PM »

Quote from: James
The party did not suffer from not having a Thief.

I suppose we could go into deep quibbling detail about the value of having a Thief over other classes (which would be fun), but the fact remains that without a Thief there was simply no chance to detect or remove a trap before it had been sprung.  The one exception being the Dwarf's ability to detect those sneaky moving-stonework traps.  Which totally saved his ass from drowning in his platemail.

Quote from: Also James, but different
Did you contemplate fleshing out the "undercity"?

I had no intention of going lower than the 5th tier of the pyramid.  This was the 'base' of the pyramid and the last level that was completely fleshed out in the module.  I wasn't 100% confident that the game was going to be super-fun, so I didn't want to put too much time investment into prep.  When the PCs finally died on the 3rd tier, I wasn't dissapointed that we didn't get to go any further that night.

-Eric
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Larry L.
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aka Miskatonic


« Reply #4 on: May 03, 2006, 06:56:51 AM »

Eric,

Awesome.
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Bryan Hansel
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« Reply #5 on: May 03, 2006, 10:16:37 AM »

The first awesome thing I learned is that I like a fiat in the right places.  You know all those "Read this to the players"-type blocks in premade adventures?  Well, this particular adventure was about finding a city buried in the sand after the adventurers get seperated from their caravan in a storm.  There was no rolling over surviving the storm, rolling to see if you have any food or water left, none of that crap.  Just a few paragraphs telling the players where they were going and why they're here now.  Rock on.
This I remember as one of the best parts of the red box.  As a GM, you never really had to worry the characters hanging out in the bar, or lording over their manor, or really any real campaign.  You just dropped them at the Dungeon and let them hack away.  If I remember right, none of those rules showed up until the blue box.

The other thing I remember is that characters died all the time, and that was okay, because rolling up a new one was pretty darn fun.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #6 on: May 04, 2006, 03:59:32 PM »

Hey Eric,

In case this might be interesting ...

What you're describing isn't "fiat." It's plain old scene framing, getting to the next good part without fucking around.

The Big-Model way to look at it is that this particular task has been relegated to one person to incorporate into his prep ("Situation"), and everyone is board with that happening, so that everyone else besides that person doesn't have to worry about it.

Best, Ron
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Callan S.
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« Reply #7 on: May 04, 2006, 07:53:05 PM »

Hi Eric,

A turns worth of rest recovers everything? Isn't a turn like two minutes? Whoa, that's a big change. Everyone take that on without batting an eyelid?

BTW, I'd like that secret door rule as well, but probably in quite a different way. Because I'd keep asking the GM every so often anyway, because if the GM told me I missed a door that meant I failed my 'spot the secret doors' challenge. Just saying in case it's an interesting contrast.
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Philosopher Gamer
<meaning></meaning>
Calithena
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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Posts: 336

aka Sean


« Reply #8 on: May 05, 2006, 06:06:02 PM »

Though it burns my purist's heart to hear it, the 'pop up at the end of every encounter' rule for healing is a pretty sensible idea - it's superior to spell channeling in 3e which effectively does the same thing IMO.

The 'end of adventure' rule is probably more appropriate to the spirit of the original rules though. Older versions of the game tended to get you back 1 hit point per day of complete rest and 0 if you did anything remotely strenuous, a rule that was mirrored in T&T's strictures on no gains of Constitution or hit points of any kind except through magical healing until you left the dungeon. The idea of course is to up the tension on the spells/hit points resource allocation challenge over time; also that you will be able to play over many short intervals (like people play many non-RPGs) with in-and-outs.

That kind of dungeon is like the mouse in the coconut, trying not to eat so much (treasure) he can't fit back out the hole he ate to get in.

But good on ya for playing this way too. If you want to blaze through dungeons I think it's a good way to go, and you still have the resource allocation problem, it just reboots faster. I do like the 'brutal war of attrition' feel I remember from my older days, but on the other hand those were days when I was in high school so I could play 20+ hours a week...
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Eric Provost
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« Reply #9 on: May 05, 2006, 06:16:46 PM »

Quote
What you're describing isn't "fiat." It's plain old scene framing, getting to the next good part without fucking around.

Hrm.... Ok, yeah, I get that.  So, in light of that, I guess what I really discovered was that some things that I previously assumed were fiat and sucky were both not fiat and not sucky.  Thanks Ron.

Quote
A turns worth of rest recovers everything? Isn't a turn like two minutes? Whoa, that's a big change. Everyone take that on without batting an eyelid?

Everyone (Lisa and Mark) dug it.  From my POV, it was just a logical extention of the way I was used to playing anyway.  It kept the pace flowing with no loss of difficulty or tension in the game.  And the Red Box Turn is 10 minutes of game time.

Your version of the secret doors thing is intersting, but it'd be one of those things that gets on my nerves these days.  I would much rather that the players just know that they 'failed' something and that the door that's there isn't available to them than to not acknowlege it at all.  Just seems more fun to me right now.

-Eric
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #10 on: May 06, 2006, 07:55:50 AM »

My first experience with "end of adventure" full recovery was with Tunnels & Trolls 5th edition, in which the rule is mind-blowingly simple. Out-of-dungeon = back in town = all hits recovered = all items for sale. Amazing in its purity, if a bit shocking in terms of the SIS ... it really is a re-set button.

Best, Ron

P.S. I discovered a misleading typo in my previous post - it should say "on board," meaning full agreement, not just "board" by itself, which could itself be misread as a typo for "bored" - not what I meant at all.
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