Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Putting the "X" Back in B/X (Expert Adventures Part 1)

Ahh, the eyes of a child…

I played D&D with my nephew S. this weekend. This was only his second foray ever into the world of Dungeons & Dragons, and his first time solo; previously he played with his brother. Now, I realize little brothers tend to follow their big brother’s lead in things, but S. is a fairly independent little kid. After all, he showed up at the house even after his brother decided not to go (his mom told me this is his first time spending the night somewhere without either his brother or one of his parents). Regardless it would be interesting to see how he did.

S. will be 12 years old in late November (a Sagittarian) and doesn’t much like to read. He doesn’t even own comic books, save a few I got him on “Free Comics Day” last year. He DOES have experience on half a dozen gaming consoles and has a Level 39 “Hunter” on World of Warcraft. He enjoys drawing and likes Star Wars more than Harry Potter. He is VERY "high energy" and active, though he only plays one sport (pee wee football) and none of the “skill positions” (he's a lineman). He is very conscientious with money, putting all of his allowance in the bank and keeping careful track of debts owed to him (monies borrowed by his brother or allowances "forgotten" by his parents). He may have a cell phone for emergencies, but I never see him getting calls or texting friends. He does have an email account.

Quite a contrast from my life 25 years ago…well, except for Star Wars and the drawing thing.

Anyhoo, that’s where HE is coming from. Rather than pick up play where we left off, I gave him the option of starting a new character at high level. S. obliged me by jumping at the chance.

Thing is, I’ve been blogging all this stuff about B/X here (and elsewhere), and have even had the chance to play and run a few games recently. But while all these games have been squarely in the B/X field of play, they’ve really only involve B(asic) level characters: starting characters of 1st and 2nd level. I haven’t played X(pert) in YEARS and I’ve really been itchin’ to give it another shot. And rather than wait for one of these “mini-campaigns” to develop into a long runner with high level characters, I decided it’s about time I just jump-started the thing (hey, I'm not getting any younger!).

We rolled up a character with ok scores except in Intelligence and Constitution (low enough that no demi-human class was available). I allowed him to re-roll, and he rolled almost the exact same, except trading Strength and Constitution. The final tally: Str 9, Int 7, Wis 15, Dex 10, Con 13, Cha 6. After discussing options he decided to try out a cleric (“it’s like the WoW paladin”). I let him start at 7th level, gave him a couple magic items (warhammer +2, shield +1, potion of invisibility) plus a full load of equipment, a small house, and 15,000 gps. I provided explanation for all his possible spells, and he made his choices (pretty assertively) for a standard line-up, understanding he could pray for different spells on any given morning. I also explained “Turning.” S. couldn’t think of a name so I made him pick a book at random from my library with the understanding his PC would share the name of the book’s protagonist. Thus he became Roland, a neutral 7th level cleric.

Then I read him the background for X1: The Isle of Dread.

For those who haven’t played X1, it is the premier example of a B/X “Expert level” adventure. It involves both over-seas and over-land movement. There IS a dungeon with higher level threats, but the vast majority of the module involves outdoor encounters of one type or another. It has only the barest hint of a plot…your party finds a map of an island and a journal entry that leads you to think that there’s treasure in a “lost city” somewhere on the island. It feels very pulpy, a bit like "Dwellers of the Forbidden City-light"…except that I1 doesn’t make you navigate the ocean/jungle/mountains to get to the City. Thinking back, I only remember one group ever making it to the lost city on the Isle...but I don’t think I’ve run this module more than 3 or 4 times ever.

Since I’ve been researching the Old School pretty heavy, I decided to play strictly “by the book.” S. had to buy a small sailing ship (“The Lucky Lady”). He hired a captain (a recently beached drunk named Captain Garrick) who rounded up a navigator and crew of ten. He paid them three months wages in advance, and purchased provisions for the same period of time. Then, he went about hiring some retainers to share his adventure.

Pulling half a dozen random names from my pre-gen’d characters, Roland went through the interview process. His Charisma of 6 didn’t help any, and in the end he hired only three, turning down one Halfling and one Thief, as well as being rejected by a 2nd Thief. Once the contracts had been finalized, he had the following hirelings:

Gorm Stoneson (N D1): "an honorable dwarf bristling with weapons."

Narcolim (C M1): "a wizened wizard in dark robes."

Marvello the Magnificent (N M1): "a young adept trying to make a name for himself."

Since they needed to be of proper level for the adventure, I raised the dwarf to level 5 and the two magi each to 6th level. I stuck with the original equipment I’d purchased them as 1st level pre-gens (they’d all had plenty of cash for equipment), but gave them magic items from the Dwellers of the Forbidden City pre-gens (though modifying for B/X play). For the magic-users I rolled their spell books randomly and neither had any spells that duplicated the other. Of course, Marvello had no offensive spells whatsoever(!!), but after consideration I allowed the dice rolls to stand, as A) I figured he’d make a good "utility" mage, B) Narcolim did have lightning bolt, and C) how many dinosaurs would be affected by a sleep spell, anyway?

Speaking of odd spell selection, “Roland” surprised me by not picking up ANY healing spells! Well, he did have cure disease and was pretty excited about being able to raise dead, but he took no cure light or serious wounds. As has become my standard practice, I made no judgments (out loud, anyway) and no suggestions as to what might be a “proper” spell selection. Anyway, a 4th level spell is a 4th level spell; who am I to say Cure Serious Wounds is more useful than Sticks to Snakes.

Actually it seemed like I was sensing a pattern in the spell selection: animal growth, speak with animals, snake charm, sticks to snakes. I did explain that any snakes created from sticks would understand and obey him withOUT the need of other spells…AND that animal growth would not work on enchanted (i.e. conjured) monsters. "Okay." Asked if he worshipped some sort of snake god, he said, “no…um….can I worship Pan?” Sure.

[I should note here that neither S. nor his brother have been brought up with any kind of religion whatsoever. Their parents aren't atheists as far as I’m aware; they’re simply rationalists that don’t practice any organized worship. The kids know who “Jesus” is and that’s about it]

Anyway, I personally am not into being pigeon-holed into any particular expectation of play-style, and I wasn’t about to subject S. to the same. He would need to find a way to use his abilities creatively. Besides, he was playing a cleric, right? I figured he’d end up engaged in a lot hand-to-hand combat.


With crew selected and character completed. Roland the adventurer set out for the Isle of Dread…supposedly seven days due south of the city of Specularum. Only time would tell if he'd re-coup his investment (close to 10,000 gps!)!


  1. I anxiously await the next part of Brother Roland's tale.

    I love playing with kids stories.

  2. Sounds like a great start. It's pretty cool that S. seems to have a theme to his character; even better it's a theme I've never seen in a B/X game. Kudos to both of you.

  3. Thanks. The kid is fairly sharp, but without any reference or guide (he doesn't read much adventure fiction) he's still picking his way through things.

    He totally surprised me by wanting to hire and provision his crew for THREE MONTHS. However, by the time the adventure was over it appeared HE had been the fore-sighted one (the round trip was a bit more than two months all told, taking time to heal and such).

    The kid likes to plan!