Saturday, October 9, 2010

Fresh Blood at the Keep on the Borderlands (Part 1)

How many times can one trot out the venerable B2: Keep on the Borderlands and play it straight without stifling a yawn?

How many licks does it take to get to the center of a tootsie-roll pop?

[a damn sight more than three, Mr. Owl...I've tried!]

And yet, this indeed was the module we were playing at Baranof's Thursday night. Matt and Matt (should I use the M&M label for them? Nah...already used earlier for Mutants & Masterminds) were new to the whole B/X thang and unfamiliar with B2, and it remains a pretty darn good introduction to the Basic game.

On the other hand, as I mentioned a bit before, there are certain aspects of the adventure with which I am, quite frankly, exhausted...the goblin caves, for instance.

So, once again, I decided to "change things up" a bit.

Here's how it went down:

[and by the way, as it is quite possible my players are reading this post, I'm not particularly worried about *spoiling* spoiling anything; if this "peek behind the curtain" gives you anything, it's most likely a glimpse into my mind and way of thinking, not any particular "trade secrets." In other words, don't feel bad for reading]

It was just as well that Steve-O and AB weren't present as the first hour or so was taken up with the standard meet-n-greet, welcome to our Fair City and My Local Bar, kind of thing. All well and good...then, of course, we had to roll up fresh characters for everyone. Luke had used Labyrinth Lord (and a handy dandy on-line app) for writing up a character before-hand, complaining that he felt he'd taken "too long" last session (his first time gaming, too, but I appreciated his it was he ended up sitting around while Matt and Matt rolled up their dudes).

Luke's character this time around was a magic-user, sporting a short, conical hat (as in cone, NOT "comical"). He was again named something Swedish a la IKEA, where Luke has been shopping lately. Matt #1 had a thief, last name Muir (don't remember the first name and everyone took their characters with them, so I've got no notes!) with a long tasseled hood (light brown). Matt #2 had a cleric named Gubr (with an umlaut over the U). He was notable for his complete lack of athletic ability (strength 5, dexterity 8) and his tri-cornered captain's (or rather, minister's) hat. Broke as a joke, the cleric was willing to accept enough alms from the MU to purchase a shield of "fine, elven steel" (yeah, right) to go with his chain mail shirt.

Oh, yeah...relationships. Turns out the thief and the magic-user were brothers (I will refer to them as The Brothers Muir from now on), the MU and Gubr had studied/trained together (though apparently in different disciplines) and Gubr and the thief had met over a drunken brawl (we never decided if they had been fighting each other or not, but it was hard to believe the puny parson could take anyone in a fist fight...). The Brothers Muir were both Neutral in alignment and Gubr was Lawful (interesting note: this is the first time I realized that LL allows 1st level clerics to cast a spell! We were decidedly NOT using that particular rule!).

The only house rules used (besides the random hats and relationships) were 1) Max hit points at first level, and 2) all classes could use all weapons. The latter was more a method of expedience than anything else...since all weapons were doing 1D6 anyway, it didn't matter too much to me what weapons a particular class used. Besides it made sense after we discussed the whole "cleric" thing (i.e. the guy's no village priest preaching to the Faithful, but rather a Holy zealot/crusader type...pick up your damn sword!). The priest did carry both a sword and a short bow (natch), pretty much the best weapons he could afford (yes, yes..."best" is certainly relative when all weapons do D6 damage...damn it, this is a role-playing game!).

To the Keep. Luke, having gone through this drill before (and being an Old Hand I presume) was fairly strong in his presumption that they go to the tavern, hire some guys and be on their way in the morning. He also seemed to grasp that the group didn't have to worry about random ambushes and such, as any "scary narrative" I was adding was pure mood-stuff; again, my interest was getting everyone TO the adventure proper with the right mindset, not rolling for random encounters or worrying about making them set watch on the road.

[the last time we played, Luke was much more cautious, not even wanting to sleep within sight of the cave mouths when the party got to the canyon after dark]

Ah-HA! But I fooled him somewhat still! The four mercs available for hire (roll of a D4...the D4 by the way was rolling hot all night) were a surly lot that seemed to be smiling behind their hands at the the adventurers. The players found this a bit disconcerting after they'd already paid the mercs up front...they couldn't decide whether the hirelings were laughing at their "newb" status or because they planned to abscond with the pay in the middle of the night. Well, they had bigger fish to worry about anyway...

The Corporal of the Watch along with the Bailiff showed up as the party was finishing their meal and politely demanded the party accompany them to the Inner Gatehouse wherein they were given an audience with the Captain of the Watch. "We have a problem," the grizzled Captain informed them, and proceeded to tell them the following:

The Keep was the last bastion of Law and Order between the civilized Realm and the chaos of the wilderness and had stood for many generations against the encroach of the evil hordes. Yes, they were aware of the Caves of Chaos and the humanoids within, but their duty was to hold the Keep, not mount sorties on the monster tribes.

Recently, lookouts in the tower had spotted a GNOLL skulking around the wilderness, armed to the teeth and attempting to hide within the depths of an over-sized cloak, when unable to conceal itself. If the gnolls were scouting the Keep, things could be bad. The Keep had men enough to withstand an attack from the disorganized orcs or goblins of the Caves, and the Hobgoblins were too disciplined and tactically-wise to risk an assault against the fortress (too many of their own kind would be lost).

But the gnolls were another thing entirely. Chaotic in the extreme, prone to insanity within their own tribe and twice the strength of a normal man, if they were plotting to an all-out assault, it could me a strong war chief had managed to rise in power...and the gnolls would care little for the casualties they would take in attempting to eradicate the Keep. This was a potential danger that could not be ignored.

While no soldiers could be spared to investigate the Caves, the Captain was willing to reward any intelligence brought back from the Gnoll camps, especially anything regarding an impending assault. Furthermore, the Keep officer was willing to pay a bounty of 10 gold pieces per pelt for any gnolls killed.

[as a look behind the mechanics, basically this would mean award 150% experience for any gnolls slain...though in retrospect I should have made it 20gp for double XP. Ah, Witherdrool, what paranoia had you wrought?]

So onward and outward to the Caves of Chaos. This session, the elder brother Muir (in sheer contrariness to the standard "dwarven practice") volunteered that they should always "go left" whenever possible. The younger brother Muir was given a rope and told to scurry up to the closest cave, and the entire party followed after.

Should I just skip to the part where everyone dies?


  1. It is good that you changed things up. If you read the Notes To The DM section, changing things after the PC's have marauded their way through a lair or three is standard policy. But you were pro active and switched things around before the PC's went in.

    B2 is a very versatile module and a whole campaign can be based around it as there is so much to do.

  2. I just reacquired a copy of Caves and plan to run my sons through it. I'm psyched for this. I've been reading your posts closely to see how many ideas I can steal. =)