A Walkthrough for B2: Keep on the Borderlands

Go N. Hail castle. Go N. Get mission. Go S. Go S.

As readers of the New York Red Box and Red Box Vancouver forums know, I’ve been working on a piece for the online magazine The Escapist‘s Issue 271: The Red Box Diaries, “How a decades-long love affair with Dungeons & Dragons is reshaping the industry.”

My just-released article is called “Imagine Your Perfect Arcade Game“. The title refers to one of the key metaphors I use to talk about what makes Basic D&D and the way we play it unique, shamelessly lifted from cr0m’s blog post Running a Red Sandbox: “Red Box is an arcade game, not a video game.

In my enthusiasm for the subject, I ran well over my word count. Heroic editor Greg Tito just emailed me to say:

I cut it down a little bit more to get it under 2000 words. Unfortunately, the anti-walkthrough was a casualty, even though I thought it was hilarious it just didn’t illustrate more than what you are already saying with less words in other places.

As an appetizer, then, here is that excised tidbit: an illustration of what it would look like if you tried to write a video-game style walkthrough for the original Red Box’s starter adventure Keep on the Borderlands, meant to illustrate how radically different its improvisational approach is from the kind of RPGs most gamers know from computer games or even most modern tabletop ones.

Enter the lowest cave to the north. There is a 33% chance six kobold guards are here. If so, your DM may roll dice to see how they react to your arrival. If they want to be your friends, just play it by ear; maybe you can guess what explanation the DM has dreamed up to make sense out of this turn of events. Don’t let the conversation go on too long or you could be interrupted by a random wandering monster! If there are goblins, and they decide to fight, according to the rules your best weapon is flaming lantern oil. However, since one of the DM’s jobs is to model the physics of the imaginary world, you should first make sure no house rules have been introduced to reflect the danger inherent in tossing Molotov cocktails around a cave the size of a schoolbus.  If you can kill one of the goblins, and the DM is using the optional rules for morale, a lucky roll may cause the rest to run away from you. If not, you might need to roll up a new character. Try to get more than one hit point this time!


8 Responses to “A Walkthrough for B2: Keep on the Borderlands”

  1. September 14, 2010 at 2:24 pm

    Funny stuff, looking forward to the full article! Any sense when the piece is going to hit?

  2. September 14, 2010 at 2:29 pm

    Wow, it’s up already! To think I was still making changes to it on Monday – electronic publishing is a wonderful thing. I’ll edit the post with a link.

  3. 3 cr0m
    September 15, 2010 at 5:31 pm

    I have pretty much ignored 4e for the last year or so, after I played a short campaign and decided it wasn’t for me. So I was really surprised (and excited) to read this interview with Mike Mearls about the new direction they’re taking with the new Red Box and the D&D Essentials line:

    I know the old school bloggers have roundly condemned the new Red Box as some sort of cynical money grab from gullible fogies, or proof positive that WotC has lost its way, or some other expression of WotC hate… but I can’t help be psyched about it! If WotC is admitting that some of the things we love about Red Box are great (classes that play differently, simplicity, less dissociation between mechanics and fiction), maybe we’ll see a return to some of the OTHER things we love about Red Box (random tables, emergent story, situations-not-plots, etc).

    I’m going to buy it and see if I can convince some RBVers to let me run them through it. Hopefully I won’t be burned at the stake as a heretic.

  4. September 15, 2010 at 5:35 pm

    Personally, I [absolutely love that freakin’ bus]. No hate here!

    Keep in mind that the Essentials starter set doesn’t have rules for making characters (you have to extract them from the pre-made adventure); you’d want Heroes of the Fallen Lands etc if you want to get the full mileage out of the classes that play differently.

  5. 5 cr0m
    September 15, 2010 at 9:12 pm

    Heroes of the Ehhhhhhhh? I gotta go look at the Wizizards site…

  6. 6 Scott LeMien
    September 16, 2010 at 1:39 am

    re: new red box. Would it have killed them to summarize the steps in a checklist at the end of the players handbook? They act as if that little choose your own adventure thing was something with infinite replay value.

  7. September 16, 2010 at 1:04 pm

    I agree. I’m going to lift the determine-your-stats-through-play thing for my afterschool class, but I’ll also give them a handout explaining how to do it yourself.

    In the Escapist piece I point to anti-swinginess predictability as the big difference between Red Box old and new, but another is the degree of crippleware. We’ve run many, many games using just the old Basic Set before needing to buy Expert, whereas I can’t in good conscience recommend buying just the 4E Starter Set for someone who wants to play Essentials more than a couple of times.

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Past Adventures of the Mule

September 2010

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