The call for adventurers went forth. I’d reread the module to try to get a feel for the overall situation. I sprayed some matte finish on some miniatures I wasn’t going to use. My quintessential gaming dip was warming up on the stove… and then the caravan arrived. Complete chaos ensued as eight people rolled up characters simultaneously. While four players had been through this with me before, there were lots of questions to answer for the other four players that were new to B/X D&D. Yet even the old hands had to be brought up to speed again. (Or perhaps I should rather say “downshifted….”)
Q: I got dibs on the druid!
A: There is no druid class in this game, sorry.
Q: But what about this? [Hands me a print out of a BECMI compatible druid class with some Larry Elmore looking illustrations.]
A: I’m only using the original B/X books for this game, sorry.
Q: Can I use this cleric spell? [Shows me a print out from Labyrinth Lord.]
A: You can add that spell to the campaign if you spend money and time on spell research later, but you can’t use it for this game, sorry.
Q: Can we rearrange our attribute rolls?
A: No, it’s 3d6 in order. But remember, the main consequence for playing a Fighter, Cleric, Magic-User, or Thief with horrible scores is that you get an XP penalty if you have a low prime requisite. You can be a dumb Magic-User and a clumsy Thief and still perform your class function just fine!
And so on.
It was going to take a good two hours to sort all this out, though a very large chunk of pain could have been avoided if I could have had a half dozen copies of the Expert rulebook on hand. We’d all end up fighting over it throughout the night. At the very least, the spell casters needed full copies of the spell definitions for their class. Everyone needed the class definitions, the attribute bonus charts, the saving throw charts, the to-hit charts, and the equipment lists. (We were mostly done before I realized that I had a copier…!) The fun part here was rolling for magic items. I let everyone have three rolls. One cleric rolled a Plate+2/Shield+2 combination. The fighter traded for a Sword+3. Almost everyone got something relevant for dealing with Lycanthropes.
A chance visitor who was intrigued by the game of his youth took a second to roll up an elf: he ended up getting Gauntlets of Ogre Power™ and a Wand of Fireballs®! As he was leaving, the party asked if they could borrow his character. When he declined, they talked about maybe charming him. The guy wondered out loud what would happen if he made his saving throw…. “Is the party fireproof by any chance…?” The party seemed to back down and he left. After he was gone, someone asked if they could still mug him or something and I told them that they’d had the chance, but chickened out at the end.¹
So everything was finally wrapped up for beginning play. Players were allowed all the normal equipment they could carry. No one took any henchmen except for one of the Magic-Users– he took eight skeleton bodyguards! (I didn’t even bother to check the rules on that as the party needed the extra help and it would be less confusing to have the mooks under the control of a single player anyway.)
I passed around the regional map from the Expert book and the continent map from X1. I told everyone that the players were the top adventuring group out of Specularum, that the Keep on the Borderlands was to the west of them and that the Isle of Dread was far to the south. I explained that recently, large groups of giants² have been attacking the civilized regions in a very systematic manner. It was unusual in that the giants were coordinating combined arms tactics… and the nature of their strikes were dealing a strategic effect far beyond their expected intelligence. (I referenced the fall of Vicksburg as a comparison of the dire nature of the overall situation.) The party’s patron had already scouted out their first target. The players are responsible to go in, deal a counter-blow to the giants, and find out the nature of their new-found strategic acumen. A safehouse was already prepared for them by advance scouts, and they would be teleported directly to it.
Someone asked how long the party had known each other. As I grasped for some kind of explanation, one of the new players announced that they were all like the Avengers: they’d all had their own origin movies, but now they were coming together for the big all star production. That seemed to stick, and the group became “The Freaky Avengers of Specularum.”
I asked if the players had any questions before they went, and we spent about ten minutes dealing with the skeleton-army Magic-User’s request for information regarding giants and vulnerability to cold. I reread the monster descriptions and a few spells, but never did seem to give an answer that satisfied him. I have no idea what it was all about. Anyway… there were no other serious questions, so the players all bid farewell to “Nick Fury” and went through the portal to the safehouse in the mountains near the Hill Giant’s steading.
The game was afoot!
Now… I’ve seen this done a lot of different ways in other groups and situations. At one extreme, you have the game masters that personally interview each player to get their character concept just right, make sure that it fits… and then follow that up with an entire session devoted to planning the overall campaign. At the other you have the completely scripted convention scenario, with six planned encounters and pregenerated characters. Because of B/X’s rigged archetypes, you have the option of dialing back on the preparation that both extremes require and just jumping a bit more directly into wide open play. As you can see here, though, it’s much more difficult to launch a high powered³ session this way! The extra time taken to get started meant that the adventure was begun with irritation levels already running at a low level.
I don’t know how thrilled I am with this rocky start, but it certainly was a quick way to get going on figuring out if “name level” play with the B/X rules is something that we’d ever want a campaign to (potentially even) be able to evolve towards….
¹ All of my rulings for dealing with this player-versus-player process were challenged, refused, questioned, or only grudgingly accepted. I’m afraid that the game such as it is assumes a certain amount of cooperation between the players… and that it pretty well breaks down if it isn’t there.
² As I pulled out G1 and revealed the module that we’d be playing, one player made sure to force me to admit that this would be an adaption. This was an AD&D module that we’d be running with B/X, after all…. Of course, this same guy was running the Zenopus adventure straight out of the Holmes Blue Book with 3.5 style rules earlier this year!
³ Everyone started with 400,000 XP (modified by their prime requisite bonus, of course.)