B4 is certainly living up to its reputation as a pyramid of blood. The party has already faced multiple PC losses as well as losses from their potential replacement pool.
Though I’m sure it’s familiar with our player who’s been with us since we’d used LotFP, the DCC players who were not with us in the funnel are a bit taken aback by how lethal B/X is, especially when allowing players to roll for their HP at 1st level. Like the DCC funnel, I’ve given everyone multiple characters, allowing them either to roll up their own or use the pre-gens that come with the module. Unlike the DCC funnel, everyone doesn’t magically jump a level because they survived the first session; of course this assumes that reaching level 1 is ‘leveling up’; here, you’ve already got all of your classes with their perks – what you don’t get is that extra HP from having 1d4 at level 0 and the extra boost from being based on d8 rather than d6 hit dice.
One of the complaints some players had in DCC was how little XP they felt they received. Though the numbers in B/X are going to be higher, I don’t know if players who are focused on the desire to level up will be any more satisfied getting 200-300 XP vs. 4-5 XP, given that it still may take several weeks to reach the next level. I think that once the party thins a bit and XP will not be split as many ways folks will be a bit more satisfied with their XP hauls, but we’ll see. The party technically missed out on some free XP they could’ve gotten by signing up with the Brotherhood of Gorm, and still may be able to get that payout if they get those sweet gold masks. Depending on how they do, though, I think that the party should be able to finish the top half of the pyramid finishing out between levels 3-4 depending on their class. Once folks reach level 2, I may introduce Death and Dismemberment, particularly if the pool of fresh PCs runs dry.
So, how am I playing my game?
Players have a pool of 24 potential characters who were part of the caravan. PCs are rolled up out of this pool. Once they’re gone, they’re gone. A few died in the night because the party opted to rest a day after fighting the firebeetles rather than press on and find food and water. There are about 8 non PC members of that party left. Each player got 3 characters to start, as we only had a few folks show up at first, but as latecomers arrived and we suffered some PC deaths, we settled on 2 per player.
I’m trying to do combat simultaneously with shared initiative. I’m using some inversion of weapon speed or weapon reach so that two handed weapons strike first in combat. So what it’s been looking like is the guy with a two handed sword swings, I’d go around the table and everyone else would make their attacks, and if the monsters hit, I’d tell folks who they hit and what damage they did. I may tweak this a bit, but it has been working out fine so far. In the cramped corridors of the pyramid, there isn’t much in the way of moving around or complex tactics beyond “fighters, plug this hole”.
I’m going with the shield option I described the other day, but I have warned my players that I may revoke it if they start abusing it by just lugging dozens of shields with them everywhere they go. I may restrict it to once per combat or somesuch.
Magic users start with 4 random spells, including read magic. Holmes memorization from scrolls/dungeon book rules apply.
I’m nominally using encumbrance, but I’m going to leave my players to keep track of their own. I don’t know that I’ll be particularly tough on this excepting when finding treasure hoards. When the players found some gems and asked about cashing them in, I recommended they hold onto them, as it would be much easier to hang onto a couple gems in the dungeon than it would be a chest with nearly 2000 coins.
So how did my players fare in the dungeon?
They were careful enough in the entryway, but forgot to bother checking the cylinder doors for traps. A falling block (I misread a trap on the fly) killed a fighter, and no one bothered to spike the door, so when the top room filled with poison gas, it killed a 1 HP fighter and nearly killed a couple others who derped around until I pretty much asked “are you going to open the door?” One player’s characters actually hid in the cylinder, escaping poison gas, and jumped down and fought the fire beetles. Amazingly, the fire beetles didn’t kill anyone!
The party decided to wait and rest and doing so, lost 4 from their replacement pool from thirst and hunger. Back in the pyramid, the party ran into a wandering group of goblins looking for food for Zargon. The goblins rolled remarkably high on their reaction – which is good for me, because I love RPing goblin encounters – and told the party about hunting and how they could help by killing a few of the white beardy men for food, thus pointing them in the direction of the first faction they were to encounter. Though it quickly became obvious the ‘white beardy men’ were humans, the party briefly considered cannibalism in their desperation.
The fight with giant geckos was a fright, but amazingly no one died. Drawn by the noise, the white beardy men, aka the Brotherhood of Gorm, showed up to investigate, ultimately offering the party refreshments.
One of the many tough bits about Lost City is that while you have factions, only the Priests of Zargon have a clear motivation – feed people to Zargon; the other three factions all want to ‘restore Cynidicea’, but there’s no real explanation for what that means nor is there any indication of the factions differing strategies in accomplishing that goal. In the couple days I had to go over the module, I hadn’t really assigned any modus operandi to the top level factions, nor had I developed them beyond their personality quirks. Once the party met the Brotherhood of Gorm, the Brotherhood didn’t have much for them to do yet other than offer a bounty on wandering greenskins. This week, I’ll be fleshing out what each faction wants – each will want something the other has. I also need to figure out what each faction can offer in terms of a solution to their city’s problem. Probably each will specify some thing on level 5 of the dungeon that they think will help restore the sanity of their people, or at least further their cause and put them on top.
After a rambling explanation of what was going on with Cynidicea from Grandmaster Kanadius and a Gormless joke that went over my players’ heads, the party set out to explore and maybe meet some other factions. The party was put off a bit by the Brotherhood’s chauvinism, which was to be expected. I doubt they’ll find the other factions to be entirely to their liking either, but that’s kind of the point – hedge your bets and side with the least odious option.
They met the sprites, got some fireworks, ran into the weird buzzard undertakers, found the dead hobgoblin, were forced to pay the undertakers to haul off the hobgoblin, ran into a weird bird-masked lady who gave them a pouch of sweet smelling powder and found the treasure cache in the secret room full of stirges. The party did decently against the stirges, but the two-handed sword wielding warrior maiden was sucked dry by one. Damn shame, as she would’ve been a great addition to the Sisterhood of Madarua.
I’ve been having fun with this one so far, and I think my players are too, though some of them are a little taken aback by how quickly you can die in B/X. I also think it’s easy to take for granted how much additional prep work B4 demands of you compared to the previous Basic modules. It’s meant specifically to bridge the gap between running a Basic game and an Expert game and hopes to teach budding DMs more nuanced faction interaction, but it doesn’t hold your hand; just as it expects you to come up with a lot of details of bottom half of the pyramid and the city itself, it’s up to you to figure out what makes each faction different and special and how they should interact. I was able to wing it, but I think my game would’ve been better for it if I had actually sat down and took the time to plan out faction interactions rather than refresh myself on room keys for levels the players certainly would not have reached in the first session.