09
Oct
09

Score 1 for death, 0 for play improving

Last night in Eric’s Glantri campaign we got slaughtered. Jesus, just avert your eyes. (N.B.: That link is NSFW, or if it is I want to work in your office.)

It wasn’t technically a total party kill because there was never a point where all of us were lying dead on the dungeon floor. More like a total party replacement; by the end of the session almost none of us were playing the character we started with. Here’s my post-mortem analysis of what went wrong:

– Jumping to conclusions. Our plan was to visit Sebastian, one of the necromancers in the Caves of Chaos with whom we’d previously made a treaty. When we arrived no one was waiting at the mouth of their cave, it took a while for them to respond to our hail, and there were noises of things moving around inside. I interpreted this as evidence that the necromancers were under attack and that we could take advantage of the situation to kill and loot them. It wouldn’t have taken much intelligence-gathering to prove this assumption wrong, but I sailed in with blind faith in my assessment of what was going on.

Roleplaying. Self-preservation is a top priority for rational beings, so arguably it’s poor roleplaying not to act with that in mind. Or, in the “what’s my job in the party” sense rather than “what’s my motivation”, a guy whose romantic ambitions cause him to run into a cave known to be full of zombie guards in order to rescue a medusa who has already betrayed him twice is playing the role of Suicidal Lunatic to the hilt. Good or bad, roleplaying killed Era the Elf Captain of the Dragoon Lancers, the only Red Box character I’ve ever rolled who died in their second session of play instead of the first.

– Beer. Some of the mistakes we made were stupid enough that we need an external factor to blame them on. For example, in the first successful (pre-alliance) raid we made on the necromancers, we took two kinds of badges from their slain apprentices. We knew that one of them protected us from the zombies, but went in wearing the other kind of badge. Oops! It was also a big group of players and the place where we play was unusually noisy, so difficulty in communicating and inattentiveness made things worse.

– Numbers. When we did establish contact with the necromancers, they offered us 2,000 gold to capture a hawk-bear dwelling in the Caves and 3,000 to bring them a bull-man. Our first-level characters shied away from these, suspecting those monsters would have ample hit dice. Instead, we decided to go after the bugbears in the hopes that their numbers would have been thinned out when we defeated their patrol that attacked us while we parlayed with the necromancers. This was foolish not only because the chieftain of those goblinoids probably had as many hit dice, but also because we allowed ourselves to be outnumbered by his forces. If we’d gone after the hawk-bear, we would have been the ones swarming over it – more troops almost always have the edge against a single powerful critter in old-school D&D. We also failed to bring any henchmen, having let the previous ones go over a dispute over whether they deserved full shares on the next expedition. We got hardly any treasure and the henchmen probably would have died before they could claim shares in any case, so in retrospect this was also foolish.

– Lack of profit motive. The hawk-bear might have killed as many of us, but the survivors would have gotten paid. We got no cash from our raid on the bugbears. This relates to survival both because making it to second level would dramatically improve our longevity, and because keeping our eyes on the prize would encourage more caution.

– Born to die. The loss of Francois, the founder of the Crossed Swords mercenary company, was bitter both because of his vivid presence in the campaign and because he died with almost enough XP to level up. Characters who’d just been created had less to live for, and so having fun rightly took precedence over saving their newly-minted PC’s skin at all costs. One of the two new players we had last night rolled a dismal set of ability score rolls, distinguished by a dismal Constitution and a pretty-good Charisma, and decided that his PC would be an enormously fat and jolly elf. What better destiny could such a character have than discovering the sign on the entrance to the bugbear lair promising a hot meal; running in full of enthusiasm, trust, and gluttony; and being promptly skewered to death? Survival is a drab thing compared to such glories.

In retrospect, one of the things this proves to me is that knowledge is power only when the players are invested in it. Eric writes great session summaries and answers to our questions about what’s happened in the campaign. (I’m relying on his summary to supply all the names of the dead; if I don’t mention your fallen hero, it’s because I can’t remember what they were called, not because their passing wasn’t noteworthy!). Details about things like which amulet repels the zombies are probably in there, but reading the summary didn’t get it in our heads where it’d be useful in play. Writing our own summary would help rehearse that knowledge, and the process of recording events in play would likely also foster insight into wise strategic approaches for future sessions. (For example, Oban came up with the idea for the Express Elevator to Hell while thinking about what map symbol to use for the rising-and-falling statue.)

Another thing last night reminded me of is that we need more handouts. The other one of our new players was a pure drop-in, having wandered over to our table when his Pathfinder Society game didn’t materialize, and we should definitely have had stuff to get him up to speed (a one-page guide to character generation, another on how to use the basic Red Box rules – as a 3E-era player knowing the mechanics was important to him – and finally the one-page distillation of Matt Finch’s Quick Primer for Old School Gaming that I found somewhere) and plugged into the larger network of gaming (something better to point to our online presence than the napkin scrap on which we wrote the New York Red Box URL, and a TARGA flyer once such exists).


18 Responses to “Score 1 for death, 0 for play improving”


  1. 1 maldoor
    October 9, 2009 at 2:49 pm

    > Good or bad, roleplaying killed Era the Elf Captain of the Dragoon Lancers, the only Red Box > character I’ve ever rolled who died in their second session of play instead of the first.

    So you could say it was the end of an Era?

  2. 2 Lord Bodacious
    October 9, 2009 at 2:50 pm

    This made me cry a little bit. Is KoB notoriously this murderous or are we just extra bad?

  3. October 9, 2009 at 3:12 pm

    “This made me cry a little bit. Is KoB notoriously this murderous or are we just extra bad?”

    Neither; this was simply a rough session. In the party’s first venture into the Caves of Chaos, which had many of the same players, there were no fatalities at all. That’s pretty good!

    On the whole, though, that particular encounter is murderous. I anticipated a total party kill once you decided to press the attack after the first wave of defenders broke, and was both surprised and pleased that the party survived, albeit with heavy casualties.

  4. October 9, 2009 at 3:43 pm

    There’s something about giving hirelings full shares that just rubs me the wrong way. Bill the Mule has defied death repeatedly and loyally, and we pay him in OATS. The hirelings shall be paid (in oats) once they contribute more than Bill does.

  5. 5 tavisallison
    October 9, 2009 at 3:47 pm

    My theory is that Bill survives because he contributes nothing! Volunteering ideas, resources, or a strong sword arm in combat are all the things that get PCs killed.

  6. October 9, 2009 at 3:52 pm

    Now that several of Javier’s mercenaries have become PCs (Francois, Isaac and your own Emory), their remaining NPC fellows (Henri and Guy) chafed at the fact that their former partners were denying them equal partnership while immediately accepting random strangers as full members of the party. Yes, these random strangers were PCs and Henri and Guy are merely NPCs, but it’s no wonder that the hirelings found their former comrades’ behavior toward them to be repugnant.

  7. October 9, 2009 at 4:04 pm

    Bah! You partner with equals. When Henri and Guy show an equivalent level of vision and initiative (i.e., when they become PC’s) then and only then shall they become full members of the partnership.

    For this sort of ingratitude, I am of a mind to retire Emory, play Henri, and get him killed immediately. All who disrespected Rama-Tut must die. Maybe Henri’s example will inspire Guy to see the light of reason.

    But I guess it shouldn’t bother me so much: we never find any treasure anyway, and so long as the hirelings are the first to die, giving them a full share of nothin’ isn’t so bad. But boy, the principle of the thing really irks me.

  8. October 9, 2009 at 4:06 pm

    @Maldoor:

    “So you could say it was the end of an Era?”

    That is terrible.

  9. 9 maldoor
    October 9, 2009 at 4:25 pm

    Yes. Yes it is – I have poor impulse control when it comes to puns.

  10. October 9, 2009 at 4:33 pm

    “Bah! You partner with equals. When Henri and Guy show an equivalent level of vision and initiative (i.e., when they become PC’s) then and only then shall they become full members of the partnership.”

    It’s perfectly okay to decide out-of-character that all PCs get full shares and no NPCs get full shares. But as an in-character justification, your feeble explanation causes me nigh on physical pain. “Hey, I’m some random dude you know nothing about and have no reason to trust, hire me!” is scarcely indicative of greater vision and initiative than, say, “I’ve been your loyal sword-sister for ages and now I want to be equal partners with you.”

  11. 11 1d30
    October 9, 2009 at 4:47 pm

    The NPCs are the ones wearing the Crest of the Loyal – a red surcoat with a yellow bulls-eye on the front and back.

    Henchmen are required to wear the Crest on their surcoat, shield, helm, and codpiece.

    (Any magical items bearing the crest must immediately be painted black and given to a PC)

  12. 12 1d30
    October 9, 2009 at 4:49 pm

    “There’s something about giving hirelings full shares that just rubs me the wrong way. Bill the Mule has defied death repeatedly and loyally, and we pay him in OATS. The hirelings shall be paid (in oats) once they contribute more than Bill does.”

    I love this. And I’m sure he’s damn happy to get his OATS!

    Maybe eventually he will demand a full share of all oats discovered in the dungeon. Seems appropriate.

    (Your first-level adventurers were fighting Bugbears?)

  13. October 9, 2009 at 5:01 pm

    @1d30:

    “(Your first-level adventurers were fighting Bugbears?)”

    This fact proves I was not in attendance. 2 HD and stealthy? No thank you!

    But I think the group concluded that they’d already worn down the bugbears’ numbers a bit, and everywhere else in the Caves of Chaos proved very difficult for us. I keep suggesting we loot the fabled Citadel of Defenseless Babies, but apparently the others mistake this for a purely facetious suggestion.

  14. 14 Lord Bodacious
    October 9, 2009 at 5:07 pm

    “I anticipated a total party kill once you decided to press the attack after the first wave of defenders broke”

    Yeah, there seems to be a persistent notion that we shouldn’t be “wasting our time” with things like orcs, goblins and kobolds. While this high minded approach is certainly great in theory, this grimy b/x world seems to demand that we chip away a bit more.

    I think everyone felt really confident as we pressed into the caves, handily dipatching the first groups of buggy’s – just chalk it up to learning experience that there is always going to be something that can kill you lurking around the next corner.

  15. 15 tavisallison
    October 9, 2009 at 5:09 pm

    Keep on the Borderlands is probably the most widely-played tabletop RPG adventure of all time (unless you count the nameless sample adventure in the Pokemon Adventure Game, which I think outsold the Basic D&D sets that was packaged with KotB by a wide margin but arguably saw a lot less actual play). So we are by no means the first adventurers to have fought these particular 2 HD creatures at first level! Which leads to my own “what game were we playing” moment, because I certainly don’t remember this level of merciless slaughter when I played as a kid. Probably we cheated like nobody’s business back then.

  16. October 9, 2009 at 6:06 pm

    “So we are by no means the first adventurers to have fought these particular 2 HD creatures at first level!”

    Well, there’s your problem. I don’t know how they’re statted out in OD&D, but in Red Box, bugbears are by no means 2 HD creatures. If you’re going to sneak your out-of-game knowledge into play, at least make sure that your knowledge is accurate!

  17. 18 tavisallison
    October 9, 2009 at 6:54 pm

    I was just repeating James’ out-of-game knowledge above, which indeed wouldn’t account for how much flaming oil those dudes laughed off. You can tell that I’m not using out-of-game knowledge in play by the fact that Era the Elf did not immediately flee the vicinity of the Caves of Chaos and instead go looking for the Citadel of Defenseless Babies. (I’d want to make sure those babies really were defenseless – in a fortified position and armed with lots of flaming oil, the strength of numbers, and maybe some heavy crossbows they’d had grown-ups wind up for them, even babies could put us in a world of hurt.)


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