I Cannot Keep Characters Alive In B/X & That Is Okay

Once again, I am reflecting on a weekly B/X game (B2: Keep on the Borderlands) that I have privilege of being in. You can read a little about our last couple of sessions here.

Here is our current “death list”

My characters in the picture were Bjorn the Hammer and The Seer. I may never level up a character at this rate. Even with the best plan and a good roll on a sleep spell, any character may fall. That’s what happened with my Elf… until I began to fail at rolling initiative rolls. Eventually, the hobgoblins carved my character up quite thoroughly. I am surprised the group still let me do the group initiative roll!

But you know what?

I don’t care.

Most of you aren't coming back
Most of you aren’t coming back.

I am having more fun playing D&D than I have in a looooooooooooooong time. Every fight could be the character’s last, even against “trash” enemies like goblins. Suddenly critters that in newer editions are nothing more than sacks full of XP are now worthy opponents. Each time, the GM says, “roll initiative”, my heart skips a beat.

Every action and movement is tactical and important, moreso than in 3.X / Pathfinder, which is stuffed to the gills with actions to take in combat! If you make some bad decisions in newer games, there is a good chance that you will survive. But in B/X, one mis-step at level 1 and you are going straight into the grave. Yet, it never feels unfair.

B/X is one heckuva system.


Maybe I should try to convince my GM to use the Mortal Wounds from ACKS…

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Ideas for the “Tomb of the Mad Jarl”

I may have mentioned that I am trying to create an adventure for “Viking ACKS”. I am fleshing out the region and I have decided that the main focus is the recently-opened tomb of ancient Jarl that worshiped Loki, thus the title of the module would be “Tomb of the Mad Jarl”.

I have been doing some research into what makes an adventure module work or not work, so that this will be a good module. I’ve found Bruce Lynch’s website to be particularly helpful in this regard.

Viking Tomb
Possible entrance into the tomb. Ominous, no?

So what is in the tomb? Because the Jarl was a Loki-ite, I want weird and wonderful things in the tomb, not just undead and dust. I have put together a little list of some things that I am considering putting in the tomb.

– A throne that gives rewards based on deeds. The character says a great deed they have accomplished and then sit on the throne. A reward is given. However, if a second character tries to do the same, their deed must be greater than the previous deed, or else no reward. The third character must tell a greater deed than the second and so on and so forth.

– Draugr patrolling an underground river in a longboat.

– Dwarven miners in conflict with beastmen. Dwarves promise a single item to each party member if they help. The beastmen promise a full share of the loot. Who will the party support?

– The body of Baldr surrounded by spears of mistletoe poking the corpse, to prevent his rebirth. What would happen if the party removed them?

– The actual tomb of the jarl, surrounded by mummified, undead cats. Completely harmless, unless you are allergic to cats.

– 2 opposing necromancers in a stalemate (think WWI). They raise skeletons and zombies and whatnot, but their private war won’t end…unless the party intervenes.

– Library of unreadable books. If a read languages-type spell is cast, the books are modern books like “Windows 95 for Dummies” and the Encyclopedia Britannica.

– Frozen-ish lake with fairies that ride penguins into battle.

– Crashed UFO (looks like a metal longhouse), but the aliens are still alive.

– Wounded Valkyrie near the body of a dead adventurer. If a Christian Priest tries to heal her, it actually harms her. If healed, she makes an offer:

1) Take one character to Valhalla forever (which removes them from the game)
2) A magic item
3) Aid of the Valkyrie in one future battle

If you were in a Viking-ish OSR game, do these sound appropriate?

Fantasy Game Naming Conventions

So, I enjoy listening to Billy Joel. I was listening to the great song, “The River of Dreams” (not his best, but nothing tops “Piano Man”). Throughout the song, several places are mentioned.

Mountains of Faith
River So Deep
Valley of Fear
Jungle of Doubt
Desert of Truth

I know that these are not real places and the song is probably some extended metaphor for Mr. Joel’s personal journey through life. However, they stirred up emotions as a I listened and Made the idea of these places stick in my mind.

These simple descriptors tell me something important about these locations. For example, “Mountains of Faith” I can imagine several monasteries high up in the mountains, filled with devout monks and nuns contemplating the mysteries of the divine in the thin mountain air. Perhaps the “Valley of Fear” is always filled with fog and of those that wander in, few come out. And none come out unchanged.

Even Tolkien, with all of his unusual names, had a little of this. The Misty Mountains or Mt. Doom for example. Sure they probably had some great name in Elvish that sounds like a songbird playing a flute, but the common English name is how we remember it.

When creating a game world, keep it simple. No need to give everything a made-up name with a couple extra apostrophes in it. Even something like “The East River” or “The Great Ocean” gives your players either a sense of location or an emotion related to the geographic feature you are discussing. What does “The Gu’rr’lars’h Plains” convey to your players?

This can help the players make a connection to your world, particularly when they are only in your world once a week. A novel may be read over the course of several consecutive days, so the novelist’s world is fresh in the reader’s mind. A novelist can more easily get away with inventing weird names for places. The GM, not so much.

This isn’t to say that nothing can have a weird name. Just don’t overdo it. Only use the weird names for the really important or truly alien places.

2018 Goals

Goals
“Knox Goals Notebook” by Jamie is licensed under CC by 2.0

I don’t do New Year’s resolutions. I fail them by the second week of January. So I have decided to start building positive habits NOW, independent of the New Year’s rush. It’s easy to say “I want X”, but without a plan, nothing will happen. However, with the end of the year coming up, I figured that a 2018 goals post would be appropriate.

There are two princples I am using in determining my goals:

MAKE PLANS

Not resolutions

EXECUTE PLANS ASAP

Don’t hesitate!

Let’s break down each of those statements:

MAKE PLANS

It is easy to say “I want to lose some weight in 2018”. Before I go any further, please be aware that nothing I say is medical advice, check with your physician, etc etc.

Don’t simply say you want something! I want lots of things, yet without the will to do it, I won’t get what I want. How many of you reading this would freely give a significant portion of your time, talent, and/or treasure to give me what I want?

You might buy something from me if you think it is valuable, but that is not freely giving me anything. You are giving me something in hope of getting something back.

Instead, say “I am tracking my food and exercise every day” (there are free smartphone apps that do this for you) or “I am doing at least 10 push-ups / sit-ups every day” or “I am jogging around the block twice at 5:30 pm on Mondays and Thursday”. Make your plan specific. Set times if needed. If you miss a day, that is okay. Keep at it!

EXECUTE PLANS ASAP

It’s not the first of January yet. Don’t let that stop you. If you decide to make a change in your life, do it immediately. I have heard it said that best time to start something was yesterday and the second-best time is today. There is no third-best.

Driving home from work and you decide to start exercising? As soon as you get home, open the door, get on the floor, everyone walk the dinosaur.

er…

I mean…

Open the door, drop to the floor and do 10 pushups. Maybe throw in 20 sit-ups. It’s not much, but it is a start. Do it again the next day. And the next. Once you are comfortable with that, add some reps. Once you have pushed yourself to the limit that you can do alone, head to the gym and get a membership. Even if your plan starts small, do it! A mighty oak tree grows from a small acorn. It doesn’t magically appear overnight.

So what are my 2018 plans? After all, I should practice what I preach.

I) Writing

  • Write every day, even if I don’t publish something every day. I scribbled the first draft of most of this post on my lunch break with my pencil in one hand and a protein shake in the other.
  • Publish something on Steemit or WordPress at least once a week. I use Steemit mostly for fiction writing and WordPress for tabletop gaming / reviews of nerdy cultural stuff. I will try to limit the crossposting.
  • By the 31st of January, complete the second draft of my story for a secret anthology.
  • If Cirsova re-opens submissions from randos, I will submit a story. If submissions are not re-opened by the 31st of October, I will submit the story elsewhere.

II) Reading

  • Read a minimum of one “new to me” pulp book each month.
  • Read a minimum of one “new to me” non-fiction book each month.
  • Leave a minimum of one Amazon review each month, may or may not be related to the above books.

III) Health

  • Continue using MyFitnessPal to track meals / exercise and add friends to keep me accountable.
  • Continue morning routine of pushups and situps
  • Check local gym prices / hours in January. On or before the 5th of February, sign-up for a gym that works with my budget and schedule.
  • Bring my lunch to work. Don’t eat out for lunch more than twice a month.

IV) Spiritual

  • Tithe to our new church. Set up recurring online payment, so I don’t “forget”.
  • If I sell a story or cash out anything from Steemit, tithe that too.
  • Use Daily Prayer app at breakfast, dinner, and before bed.
  • Read at least one book by a Church Father or saint (preferably pre-Great Schism) each month.

V) Tabletop Gaming

  • Register for the NTRPG Con.
  • At NTRPG Con, GM a table of Adventurer Conqueror King System (ACKS).
  • By year-end, have a new playtest of ‘Demons in Space’ out.

Do you have plans? Make them happen! Find people to hold you accountable and that will help you succeed.

B/X Reflections

After playing a lot of 3.X / Pathfinder / 5E (for the rest of this post, referred to as nü-D&D), I’ve finally been able to play in a regular B/X game. The difference is night and day.

When I originally started this blog, I intended to try to and blend nü-D&D with older D&D. I have given up on that goal. The more I look into older editions of D&D, as well as the OSR games that try to emulate that style, the more I am enamored with these older rule sets. The simplicity of the rules that emphasize GM ruling and speed of play are always a plus in my book! Here are some of my observations:

* Combat is lethal. Event “trash” enemies like goblins are deadly.

Bad List
I miss Bjorn. But he died as he lived, with a hammer in his hand.

* Gold for XP is beautiful. The party will do crazy, wacky stunts just to get some of the sweet, sweet coinage.
* To follow up the previous point, sometimes the party gets into huge battles and sometimes they pull Ocean’s 11-style heists.
* Moreso than newer editions, disabling spells seem to more important than single target damage spells.
* Refreshing lack of overdone skill system. Making a nü-D&D character is a long and arduous process, as you need to carefully calculate all the skills that your character has…especially when you won’t use 99% of them. It is a waste of time to calculate all of that, particularly when making multiple characters.

Pathfinder
You won’t use most of this, but you are obligated to calculate and fill it out properly.

* Combat is simple and quick. I love initiative by side, which helps make combat move quickly. Some of the fights I have been part of in the B/X game would have taken the better part of an hour in nü-D&D. Yet in B/X, you can crank out fights pretty quickly.
* Negative AC and using the to-hit chart is really easy. Much easier than I anticipated. I can imagine that new players would find it simple to just roll a d20 and check the chart. In nü-D&D, as you go up in levels, the to-hit rolls require more and more mental math. Even if the player is good at mental math, it can slow down the game over time.
* 3d6 down the line for character creation will put hair on your chest. When you have a non-optimized character, all your successes are squarely on your shoulders, not on the perfectly optimized character sheet.
* Scaling is not out of control, compared to nü-D&D. In nü-D&D, the numbers can increase exponentially as the character levels up (ok, not really, but it seems that way).
* You don’t have to obsessively understand the system to play the game well. Simply being somewhat logical or at least not stupid is enough to be a good player.

But not everything is perfect about B/X

* Because of the flexibility in the rules, you must have a fair GM. If your GM is bad, your experience will be bad. Period. B/X gives the GM a lot of power to interpret and issue rulings on the spot. Unlike nü-D&D, there are not rules for every conceivable situation, which keeps the rule books at a manageable length and prevents rule book bloat. If you find a fair and consistent GM, stick with them!

Now you can argue that any system works with a good GM (except FATAL). So why is B/X special?

It is an easy to pick-up and play fantasy role-playing game. There is a minimum of fuss and you can get into the game faster than a thot can get 100 thirsty beta males to follow her on Instagram.

You can argue that a particular game is more detailed or simulates a superior dungeon crawling experience, but no game does as good of balancing fast to learn / play with depth.

TL;DR – If you can find a B/X game (or an OSR game similar to B/X), do it!!!

Merry Christmas from The Mixed GM!

I hope you all are having a wonderful Christmas. May you get some awesome OSR gaming supplements under the tree!

But in all seriousness, on this blessed day, the Lord and Savior of all mankind was born in humble circumstances. But it was not a safe and secure place.

DATE - EVENT
Your nativity should include a dragon

Now a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a garland of twelve stars. Then being with child, she cried out in labor and in pain to give birth.

And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great, fiery red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems on his heads. His tail drew a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was ready to give birth, to devour her Child as soon as it was born. She bore a male Child who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron. And her Child was caught up to God and His throne. Then the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, that they should feed her there one thousand two hundred and sixty days. Revelation 12:1-6, NKJV

Was this a cheesy attempt to link the birth of the Christ with Dungeons & Dragons? No. Just a reminder of the spiritual reality in which we live. However, this is not the end of the story. Read the rest of Revelation. It ends with the Lord Christ sitting upon a throne, with his enemies crushed and driven before him.

I know that most of you don’t follow me for my religious ramblings, but please indulge me for today. I’ve got big gaming plans for 2018, but for now, I am going to spend some time with family and friends. I sincerely hope you do the same!

If you have a spare 30 or so minutes watch “A Charlie Brown Christmas” with your family, if for no other reason than the ending speech:

Have a great Christmas everyone!