Keep on the Borderlands (Sort Of)

At Free RPG Day, I got to game with a buddy who runs the local RPG con–B/X is his jam, and I love him for it.

He runs his somewhat uniquely, and there are aspects I disagree with (using a d8 base for semi-non-variable damage rather than d6), but there are others which I’ve stolen to make my own game run smoother (rotating initiative by side).

But the most important way he runs his game is that it’s fair–he’s not going to kick you when you’re down, but when you’ve goofed you’re done. PC death can and will happen in his games.

He’d run off some fairly wacky pre-gens from a site that gave stats and equipment that were all over the place. I ran a thief with 17 STR, 18 Dex, 8 Int, 18 WIS 14 CON, and CHA 4. Crusty Jim! I’ve learned from my own players and realized that Thieves have the potential to be the most stupid overpowered class, especially at lower levels. I cut my way through several orcs, bugbears, and giant spiders with my trusty Zweihander. With an AC of 4 and the potential to do over 20 damage in a single hit, I was a force to be reckoned with!

It’s also nice to play Borderlands without the moral quandaries that modernist gaming culture has tried to impose on it. We were told up-front: there are no orc babies; greenskins are creatures of evil that are born from, created by, and composed of evil and chaos taken shape. The goal was to kill them, rescue humans, recover treasure, and work to make the Borderlands just a little bit safer.

It wasn’t run straight from the module, but rather thematic, adjusted for a one-off. The keep was there, but we were given the choice to look for caves, small ruins, or large ruins (all home-made content). So I’ve still never played Borderland proper, but it was still a lot of fun cleaving through gobbos.

11 responses to “Keep on the Borderlands (Sort Of)

  1. Come see me run B2 Keep on the Borderlands at Gencon again this year!!! I have custom ravine map for this run!

    • Sounds awesome! Unfortunately, Gencon is out of my budget; I couldn’t even make it out to North Texas this year.

      I know that the elevation stuff is a part of why I’ve never tried to run B2 (I don’t feel I have the chops for it), so it would be cool to see what you’ve put together.

  2. Holy crap! The conversation we had in comments on the linked post is from FIVE YEARS AGO. Blog buddies 4-EVAH. It was fun rereading that post (and the ensuing conversation) with a few years added perspective.

    I’ve actually run a fragment of the Caves of Chaos since that post: a 5e adventure for my group in which I experimented with a) no “hit dice healing,” b) “death at zero hp” with optional death & dismemberment, c) slowed “natural healing rate,” and d) no “resting in the dungeon.”

    * PCs were more or less forced to retreat from the dungeon when they had consumed their healing items/spells and at the end of each gaming session.

    * Leveling slowed to a crawl because they were generally unwilling to plow through encounters when they realized a wrong step could easily result in a TPK.

    * Individual objects and pieces of equipment were prized for their utility because players never knew what would be useful in a given encounter.

    We had some beautiful moments of paranoia that fed into the greater experience. Some highlights, in no particular order:

    * In order to talk their way past some goblin sentries, the gnome conjurer created an illusory pizza and the PCs disguised themselves as “couriers” to sneak in and search for the evil wizard boss. “Pizza delivery” became one of their go-to ploys for sneaking past sentries of several types.

    * The relative value of gold & copper changed when the PCs learned they could trade their copper to the King of Scarecrows (who was constructing an enormous monument of copper) for gold on a 1 cp : 1 gp basis. They began actively seeking sources of copper to redeem with the scarecrows.

    * After slaughtering their way through a kobold tribe, the PCs accepted a kingship / guardianship of said kobold tribe when approached with a “peace offering.” They began training & breeding kobold special ops. to protect PC interests.

    * Once the kobolds were relocated to a PC’s monastery for the above eugenics program and the hobgoblin population was displaced, orcs & gnolls moved in, prompting the PCs to use mercenaries to secure the dungeon entrance.

    * The “kidnap a zombie” plan which was suggested but never employed became subject of a recurring joke at the table.

    * General villification of druids because they’re weird and won’t talk face-to-face with the PCs and maybe summoning Cthulhu in a forest meadow using innocent woodland creatures. Oh sure, the druids were cleared of wrongdoing after the fact, but everybody’s going to remember slaughtering droves of bewitched bunnies.

    • Haha, yes! ::high fives::

      The pizza bit reminds me of the AD&D group I was in for awhile; the party had become known as “the pie party”, because once upon a time, a pie was given to one of the heavies in the dungeon and it worked out all right for everyone, so the party would always come armed with about a half-dozen freshly baked pies to stay on good terms with said heavies and make political inroads with new factions who couldn’t say no to fresh-baked tasty goodness.

      • I found the Caves of Chaos to be an especially fertile ground for weaving plots. Areas are easy enough for a party to clear out that they can then be restocked with new monsters (turnover seems pretty high). When the PCs collapsed known entrances, I created new hidden entrances for them to discover until that dungeon was porous like a sponge.

        Because I was having trouble keeping track of my shit for those few months, I alternated between using 1e and 5e printings of the Caves of Chaos. And when the PCs needed a break from the Caves, I ran portions of the 4e adventure “Keep on the Shadowfell,” so it was like running three versions of the module across three editions. Joyousness.

        I forgot to say, in rereading our conversation in the comments, some of those really ought to be made posts of some type. We cover a lot of ground in our discussions, which could lend themselves to more blog posts, and more conversations.

      • Absolutely. And I think that could be a lot of fun. I’ve spread myself so thin over the last couple years, I haven’t had near the time I’ve wanted to devote to doing gaming content–I’m thinking that starting next year, I’ll be dialing it back a bit, cuz I’ve missed our long spiraling conversations on game theory wonkery.

        I think I need to try to run either the caves or a variation of them at some point, because that’s the one style of dungeon crawl I’ve not really run much of, but it’s the easiest one for the sort of short runs and one-offs that a lot of groups end up doing. Given that my current group is probably going to split next month (our regular host is moving away), I may have to get used to game-shop sessions rather than protracted dungeon-dives.

      • I’m sorry to hear your group is splitting up. It can be harder to find a good group than it can be to do… other… difficult things. Over the years I’ve had to suffer a few jerkass players long enough to pickup good players, then go through the painful process of jettisoning the jerks and dealing with the resulting fallout.

        But! It’s been steady enough to inspire most of my current programming projects, such as the character generator and faction manager. I don’t know if I’ll have a viable app before the end of the year but it has been SO much fun to play with in between sessions that I can’t wait for an opportunity to actually use it in play.

        So far I’ve used software to roll up random NPCs and treasure, but since the computer can generate content faster than the group can consume it, I spend more time tinkering with the program than using it. ::shrug::

        Once I get factions working, I have my eye on Birthright’s province system. Our group owns some land and “holdings” in a few places, and I want to “stat up the whole world” as soon as that option becomes viable. There are so many simulations I want to run. Ah! It makes me giddy.

      • Our group has had a pretty good run, and we haven’t really had problems with jerks, but the guy who’s moving next month is kind of the lynch-pin of the social circle and for various reasons, I don’t see us smoothly transitioning to a new location. Which is too bad, but it is what it is.

        And I know what you mean about the content; our group actually started to test a friend’s content generation apps. I was one of the few people either old-school enough or sperggie enough to be the one person to pipe up “Hey, let’s go back to your content generator and clear abandoned buildings in the cursed city room-to-room” when the group couldn’t decide which of the dozen or so dangling story threads to pursue.

      • I KNOW that he had entire city blocks of 6-10 story highrises mapped and stocked using that generator, and I an the only person sad that we did not explore every inch of them.

      • I am the only one in my group who wants to hex-crawl with randomly generated content. I am the only player who wants a Dungeon Master to run a hex crawl so I can carve out my own goddamn kingdom Conan-style.

        I had coaxed my group into the “old school” death rules and saw them overturned the moment someone else took the reins as DM. Overnight we went from cautious, methodical exploration to “run and gun” new school play where death is a stranger and dungeons are insomnia marathon-ed Elder Scrolls-style.

        I just started a blog post series to explore my experience with the 5e Tomb of Annihilation (sequel/reboot Tomb of Horrors) where death in a campaign where death didn’t matter (or happen).

  3. Pingback: Running Holmes at AR RPG Con | Cirsova

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