"Black Dougal gasps 'Poison!' and falls to the floor. He looks dead."

Friday, May 29, 2009

Why B/X Is My Favorite #8

8. A tight power scale with a max of 14th level - I know this one is serendipitous given the unpublished Companion Supplement but I think the power level of the Expert set is about perfect for my games.

Basic & Expert D&D requires a different play-style than later editions. It is not a game of heroes doing superhero things. The power level doesn't ramp up like that. It is a game of exploration and discovery. Imagine if you, yourself, were thrust into a D&D adventure - you would take all steps necessary to ensure that you survived. You would investigate for knowledge of what you were up against, you would make sure that you had all the resources necessary and available to overcome obstacles and you would make sure you had enough muscle to survive. Instead of Superman think Dr. Livingstone.


  1. Actually, in Expert (page X8) it states (as 'a suggestion') that Fighters, Thieves, MUs, and Clerics are all able to rise to 36th level. The 14-Level cap is for the Race-as-Class folks.

    I was just reading it a day or two ago. :)

  2. I had a B/X campaign that lasted 15 years and the players never advanced above 9th level. I ran 24 adventures to get to that level. I do not think Companion is really necessary.

    I do find that B and X are very different. B1-3 characters are one hit away from death at all time. X4+ level characters are capable of slugging it out in combat. I like aspects of both.

  3. Actually, in Expert (page X8) it states (as 'a suggestion') that Fighters, Thieves, MUs, and Clerics are all able to rise to 36th level. The 14-Level cap is for the Race-as-Class folks.
    You are correct that on pages X7 and X8 it says that Clerics, Fighters, Magic-Users and Thieves can advance to 36th level and there are a number of references in the Expert rulebook to a "Companion Supplement" that was never published. However, dwarves are restricted to 12th level, elves to 10th and halflings to 8th. Also, experience tables only go up to 14th level so it always became the de facto cap in my campaigns. I know it was possible to extrapolate the higher levels but why? The range given by 1-14 always more than covered what I was interested in.

    I believe that there needs to be an endgame (reason #24), that there has to be a way to "win" D&D. The establishment of a stronghold and the eventual retirement of a player does that. I always found that after a character establishes a stronghold, xp always slows down and no one has ever reached 14th level in any of my campaigns - 12th has been about the max when someone hung up the spurs.

  4. I shouldn't have added the Demihuman bit to my statement. Sorry about that overreaching. :|

    It is an interesting notion to me that there is a definite 'win' scenario in any RPG, but I can understand your reasoning, and likely must defer to your experience in this matter, as I've never had player characters reach such a point due to a levelling mechanism, rather than an event-based conclusion/climax.

    I'll think hard on this for a while. Thanks. :)

  5. "X4+ level characters are capable of slugging it out in combat."
    It is nice when you reach a point where your character can finally take a punch. From a game standpoint it also means that the DM can open up the roster of beasties.

    I remember a 5th level dwarf in a game long ago that had to return to the Caves of Chaos to retrieve something and the havoc that he caused in the goblin lair. However, it wasn't long before his corpse was left on a trail on the Isle of Dread. The power scale of B/X keeps things interesting.

    A 9th level Fighter with a modest Con bonus and some good rolls will have about 54 hit points (6 x 9)

    A average red dragon will have about 50 hit points (5 x 10).

    Fighter meets dragon and has a 55% chance of making his save vs breath weapon or we suddenly have a 9th level Fighter with 4 hit points and a dragon with 2 more breath weapons. [insert evil giggle here]

  6. I have PCs in my playtest campaign (BFRPG/BX-level) that are at 4th and they are not experiencing quite the edge I am reading (into?) your curve/power-ramp descriptions, although it isn't far behind.

    I wonder if their next levelling will put them back in the groove, so to speak?


  7. TS,
    Are you saying they still feel fragile?

  8. Yes. Not only do I, as Referee, feel they are, but their players do, as well.

    Personally, I prefer them to refrain from combat as often as possible, but there aren't but one or two with much tactical sense now that 5' steps and all that Latter Day gaming junk isn't available to them as outright 'rules', and they frequently ignore terrain issues before moving into a combat and suffer for it later.

    The toughest character has perhaps 40ish points, but she can dole out 9-14 per strike, and on crunchy targets (Kobos/Skels) I allow a sort of 'cleave' or swing-through to get a second attack, which she has executed more than once (at lower levels).

    That, coupled with the lack of a divine healer, minor (1d6+3) healing potions, but a generous per day recovery (Level + Con mod.), makes them really dread burning all their 'dodginess' on minor encounters.

    So, it is likely a combination of these factors.

    Any suggestions? :D

  9. I agree that 4th level guys are still fragile. Sure they can take a punch but they can't take much more. They will always be fragile in B/X.

    I have no real suggestions. I think you hit the issue with:
    "refrain from combat as often as possible' and
    "they frequently ignore terrain issues before moving into a combat and suffer for it later"It took awhile for my players to "get it" with B/X. It is a resource management game - not God of War. Now veteran players in my games, especially if they are going into a dungeon, are quick to do the following things:
    1. buy polearms for the first two rows of the marching order
    2. buy caltrops, bear traps, flasks of oil, etc
    3. hire retainers to carry crossbows - the reload guys
    4. hire 2 retainers to carry shields for each magic-user
    5. have a magic-user that knows recon type spells - ESP, Invisibility, Detect Evil, etc.

    It isn't unheard of for the party to be 4 or 5 PCs and another dozen retainers, porters, etc.

  10. 1-5: In full agreement.

    I will once again suggest that they take the military approach rather than the hobbyist/enthusiast level of just kickin' around ruins for fun. After that, if they don't do it, their PCs' blood will be on their own heads, as it were.

    Thank you very much. :)

  11. The farther you go back to D&D's origins (and B/X is not very far removed from OD&D), the closer you get to a wargame. To succeed using the earliest rules it has to be approached as such.

  12. I couldn't agree more. I'll let you know if they adopt and increase in their prowess, or, you know, ...die. :)

    Thanks again.