[West Marches] How do they get back home every time?

What if they are trapped in a cell or in a pit or something what happens? @Ben_Robbins
I've wondered this for years but never thought to ask

Comments

  • For our West Marches style game, we just made sure to have a stone of recall for most adventures. That is a common, cheap magic item that let's the entire party back to a preprogrammed location (our home base).

    Saved the lives of several of my PCs. The few times we went on a job without a stone of recall wound up with dead PCs, so we made sure to have them every job after that.
  • I'm so curious to hear more answers here! The two campaigns I have run to teach people D&D have been west marches style games (approximately), and I love the format. I definitely haven't followed the advice in that blog post to a T though, so take anything I say with a grain of salt.

    Not that anyone asked but generally I do one of two things:
    1. If it's not a very "interesting" situation (e.g. they're stuck in a pit that they are bound to get out of eventually), then we might summarize and say they get out of the pit somehow but at some cost like losing some amount of gold in the process (how does that make sense? It doesn't really). A lot of times though we just stay at the table at little longer until it's resolved.

    2. If it's a bigger thing and we're actually all really interested in how it turns out (like they are stuck in a wizards tower that has sunk under the ocean), then we use some narrative conceit to hit "save". Basically any session we play after that comes fictionally before the session we are saving to play out later. Once we have that same group together again we play out the rest of that scenario and everything snaps back into a linear timeline.

    ^^ This definitely could have some problems though, especially if one of the adventurers in the "saved" scenario dies before we can get back to it! I haven't actually had to deal with that because my 5e games are so rarely lethal. I doubt it's a good solution for one @2097 campaigns for example though.
  • Yeah, really appreciated both of your answers and like you, @ebear, eager to hear more. I was considering something like @NickWedig's but it seemed like it'd take away some of the danger. I kinda like ebear's approach.

    What we've done for the past five years through out all of our campaigns have been: just continue where we left off. In the middle of the wizard's tower. Anyone who was there that session but isn't here now — they're character is "scouting ahead" or "in a side chamber" or whatever. We don't use their spells or items they are just gone.

    But we only have 5 players+GM rn so it's still "the same group" just with some people missing sometimes (understandable since we play several times per week).

    I've been thinking of making the game even more like West Marches i.e. multiple groups etc and so this issue immediately came to mind.

    Another limitation is that WM has one safe haven and no other cities etc. Where I want to make more of a traditional campaign with many villages, towns, maybe the PC's build thieves guilds or they raise an army and march on the king or w/e. (Frantically scrambling through Adventurer Conqueror King, An Echo Resounding, Rules Cyclopedia etc to build systems for all this stuff, which, uh, kinda complicated and I'm thinking of giving up. I liked the War Machine in the RC though.) Oh I got sidetracked.
    What I meant to say that if I start them out in a village they might want to move the base to a bigger city or to their own stronghold or a reclaimed dungeon or w/e.
  • Our campaigning tends to have some pick-up game features; at times the players are very regular about attending, but at other times you never know who's going to make it to the next session. The WM conceit is certainly familiar.

    When the balance of interesting situation and group cohesion demand it, we'll continue an adventure from where it was left off in the last session. Any PCs whose players don't make it disappear, and players new to the scenario come in with new characters. This may or may not involve some specific conceit in the fiction, depending on how much we care. (Bland filler characters usually don't cause caring, while having some highly specific player character suddenly appear requires an excuse.) Character who disappeared in the middle are generally assumed to get back home hale and hearty, but without any treasure; they may get a share of what the others bring back, depending on how the players want to handle it. If the rest of the party TPKs while a player conveniently missed a session, it's possible that their character ends up taking the long way home (via various random downtime tables and such), but that's generally how far I'll press it for negative consequences.

    My personal GMing requirement for these types of "saved situations" is that the game needs to be continued within one week of the last session. Otherwise I can't be bothered to remember the exact situation the adventure was in. My metaphorical flash drive will only save the game state for one week at a time, essentially, so if there's a lull in the campaign for some reason then we're starting back at home base the next time, no matter what.

    At other times we'll do the quick reset thing voluntarily: abstract the party out of the dungeon at the end of the session with a few quick dice rolls, and have them start again at home base at the beginning of the next session. It is rather rare for characters to be trapped in a dungeon in such a way that they can't just walk out, especially if you don't roll random encounters during the retreat for convenience's sake. If the dungeon is far into the wilderness, the "home base" is usually the base camp the adventurers set up before going into the dungeon, of course; the journey to civilization will then be hexcrawled at the start of the next session.

    In either case I would rather prefer to not end the session in a cliffhanger, exactly because it causes potential situations where characters are either removed or introduced into a highly lethal situation. I've never had a player skip a session specifically to save their character from dying in a tense situation, but I could see that for a favourite character if we made a habit of ending sessions in dangerous situations. It's basically a house rule that sessions are only ended at relatively stable tactical plateaus: we might be in the dungeon, but we're not in immediate peril.

    It all depends on how confusing and confused the player base is, really. Sometimes the same players come to play like clockwork every week for months at a time, which makes it easy to have as much tactical continuity as one cares to. I haven't found it difficult to switch between arrangements in a sandbox campaign, though; the different structures flow together rather well as situation demands.
  • Oh, I just thought of another drawback with the Stone of Recall… what if you’re like six months away from home base. That’s the sitch in my campaign right now. They’ve trekked through jungle for over 180 days diegetically (57 sessions). If they had to warp back to Port Nyanzaru and then wanted to go back to the dungeon they would be kinda miffed… :bawling:

    Any PCs whose players don’t make it disappear, and players new to the scenario come in with new characters. This may or may not involve some specific conceit in the fiction, depending on how much we care. (Bland filler characters usually don’t cause caring, while having some highly specific player character suddenly appear requires an excuse.)

    OK, that sounds similar to how we do it, too. But again, that’s for a situation similar to yours: same core group all the time, pretty much (some “guest stars” occasionally) . I’m thinking that for a world more open for multiple groups, multiple expeditions, multiple constellations etc it might be trickier?

    At other times we’ll do the quick reset thing voluntarily: abstract the party out of the dungeon at the end of the session with a few quick dice rolls, and have them start again at home base at the beginning of the next session.

    This seems risky to me, in case those die rolls end up SNAFU. Whoops we accidentally an encounter of three beholders, five oblexes, and twelve slaad with each with their own custom spell list. Let me just get out my books… wait, where’s everyone going?

  • They're not that kind of dice rolls. More like "OK, so you're on level 3 of the megadungeon and you want to do a quick retreat so we can start the next session free and clear, so let's roll three times, once per floor, on whether there's any trouble during the retreat. If there is, it's just going to be 1d6 damage to every party member, or alternatively you'll drop all your treasure on the way out to distract the monsters."

    The point is to create a moderate amount of quickly resolved risk without actually running a tactical simulation of what happens during the retreat. The expenses of the procedure can be rough as long as they're non-lethal; the players could have saved up some session time to do a proper retreat procedure, so in a way it's their fault or their choice that we're using the quick abstracted retreat procedure instead.

    I specifically don't roll for random encounters or other world-initiated procedures when the session of play is ending. That would run contrary to the goal of avoiding cliffhangers.
  • I’ve seen three approaches to this:

    1. Have a strict deadline about when the adventure can be “resumed” (it should, most likely, be before the next otherwise-scheduled session takes place, so there’s no potential time travel paradox!), as Eero outlines.

    2. Any subsequent play simply takes place in other locales and with other characters. So, until you get the requisite players back in order to complete that adventure, we explore other things, instead.

    Make new characters and start a new adventure elsewhere, basically, until you get the requisite people to get back there and complete what you left off.

    We did quite well with this in our Story Games-based Grey Sands campaign - we had lots of different groups and adventures going, and the players which showed up to any given session would determine which group and which adventure we’d be playing out that day. If continuing something existing didn’t make sense (e.g. all new players), then we’d start a new thread, trusting that we’d get back to that situation at a later date.

    (But we also switched up GMs, which meant the sessions weren’t contingent on ANY single person showing up consistently, which was great.)

    (This is one of those things that’s easy with an OSR ruleset but not terribly doable with 5E... unless everyone is a total wiz with character creation, I suppose. Still, for me, one of the reasons I don’t use 5E for this kind of thing.)

    3. Another traditional solution is to have a “lost in the dungeon” random table. Lots of campaigns in this style had those.

    I’m typing this without an internet connection right now, so I can’t link to one... maybe someone else can?

    Basically, you take into account the position of the PCs (are they lost? Do they have water? Are they injured?) and roll on the table. It will say whether you get home safe, are lost in the dungeon, or escape but with some kind of price (like lost equipment).

    You generally don’t want to risk your character on a random table roll for no reason, so it acts as a strong incentive for players to make sure they leave the dungeon and retreat to a safe place before the session ends.
  • As an aside, the first time I made a Labyrinth Lord character it took me a couple of days and I still got things wrong.

    I like the idea of “lost” tables, I had a city book (… Midkemia? Or something that sounded like that?) that had that idea but for cities.

    Searching for it, I didn’t find one for the dungeon but I did find a rule similar to what Eero describes, here on The Alexandrian. Weird how when you look for your glasses you find your keys :bawling: I like his system because you can die, lose gear etc (reminiscent of the Exploration/Lost in the Dark tables in Veins of the Earth). And that you don’t have to roll if you can make your way out on your own. The connection to real-world playing time is also good. What it doesn’t do solve some of the other issues here (mostly that sometimes you don’t want to go home, you’ve set up a good camp near your ultimate goal. Or sometimes you want to move your base.).

    OK, so let me sum up the four approaches so far, and their pros/cons.

    They go to their save haven

    (Either safely, with Stone of Recall or handwaving, or super dangerously, with The Alexandrian’s brutal tables.)

    • Can handle bigger groups and more wildly shifting player composition, like 15 or so people in various compositions of 3-5 people
    • Tried & true in the og West Marches
    • Can mess with challenge element, making it easier to avoid getting trapped/lost or making it harder because you have to “start over” all the time

    Play continues where we left off

    (With differences in group composition handwaved, or via a “what did you do when off-screen” random table)

    • Is what we do now
    • Works when there is a consistent core (basically a normal-sized game group, five people) with some drop-in/drop-out qualities
    • Allows far travel
    • Allows changing the base
    • Offscreening yourself can mess with challenge element, making it easier for you to survive a pinch (just offscreen yourself) or making it harder for your party friends (if they relied on the rope or lantern that you carried while making their plans and now you’re just gone).

    That particular party is reserved for that particular group

    (And so people have multiple characters, one for each group composition)

    • Weirdness in how to handle passage of time
    • If they rescue their own characters, can mess with challenge element
    • Can be a really good solution for multiple more-or-less separate groups in the same world (if there are a couple of overlapping players they can have multiple chars)
    • Can be combined with the preceding solution, i.e. there is one “where we left off” for each group

    The characters are still there, not just ran by that player

    (“I’m sure our cleric wouldn’t mind casting Identify on these gems even though her player is missing”)

    • I hate this approach so much. I wouldn’t want it done to my character
    • I played in a game that did this; we had to go back to town every session but there, we could use heal & identify from those who weren’t there
    • Another campaign, absent characters were “sick” on the boat. Kinda humiliating for them

    So, still open for other ideas or nuances on these ideas & interested to hear how other people have handled it.♥

    I talked to some rando strangers on the subway a few weeks ago (because I heard them say the phrase “short or long rest” so I went over to them and started blabbing D&D with them) and they were new to the game and one of the questions they had was this. I told them the pros & cons of what we do and said that it was a hard problem. (The other Q was if replacement characters, if PCs die, should be same level as the rest of the group or start at a lower level – again, I told them that we’ve tried both & both had some serious cons – I guess I wasn’t selling D&D particularly well :bawling:)

  • Rereading your post now, Paul, I see that you did mean the kind of table that Alexandrian uses.

    What I thought you meant, and what I went looking for, was something along the lines of "OK, it's next time you're back, you've missed a session or five, let's roll to see what you've been up to". I.e. a complement to the "missing players go off screen" method but one that can legitimately lead to more adventures ("wow you found a treasure map & you owe the local chicken farm 200 gp?") instead of just being what we do now, pure color ("we were scouting ahead but we didn't find anything how have you guys been?").
  • Yes! The table on the Alexandrian is an example of what I was talking about. I’ve seen quite a few of these, but they always have different names, so they’re hard to search for. Still, it’s an existing tradition.

    Didn’t Ben make a post about this for West Marches somewhere? I feel like it was described in the outline for how sessions are organized. But maybe I’m misremembering.
  • (The other Q was if replacement characters, if PCs die, should be same level as the rest of the group or start at a lower level – again, I told them that we’ve tried both & both had some serious cons – I guess I wasn’t selling D&D particularly well :bawling:)

    Curious on what the pros/cons were here as I'm looking to run a higher lethality game in the near future and have been wondering about this very thing, but that's a different topic all together.

    What it doesn’t do solve some of the other issues here (mostly that sometimes you don’t want to go home, you’ve set up a good camp near your ultimate goal. Or sometimes you want to move your base.).

    Yeah that one hurts and it's one of the reason I wouldn't run West Marches style (or my own west marches lite version of it) all the time. I also really like it when the characters get shipwrecked or lost in the underdark for instance, and I'm not sure there is a way to have your cake and eat it too here (but I hope I'm wrong as I have been many times before).

    That said I love love love this style for introducing new players to the game when I have a big group to draw on. One of the reasons is that it's clear from the beginning that I don't expect them to show up to more than one session unless they want to. Some people just want to see what D&D "is" without committing themselves to something big, and I feel like this style lowers the barrier to entry. Also when you play this way new players coming in are never plunged into the middle of a dungeon with a bunch of stuff already in progress which they don't have context for. Most importantly they get to be part of the discussion about where the party is going and what they are going to do for the next 4 hours which is pretty important for making it a good first experience I think. At the same time it feels like an improvement over just running a series of one shots because players who do end up coming back get to use there same characters, and whatever knowledge they've gained about the world still holds.

    Once I start seeing the same group of people at most games though I usually do away with the "returning to the safe haven" rule so that we can add the possibility of having shipwrecks and things like that back into the game. I definitely can relate to the complications of "offscreening" characters in a more traditional campaign like @2097 mentioned though, and I don't really have a good answer for it.
  • Note that “retreating to safety” doesn’t have to mean “getting all the way back home”. You can play with that variable - is it just a question of finding a safe spot, going all the way back to “base camp”, or is it enough to have the characters “walk out” of the adventure area on screen, and then we can handwave how they end up wherever they end up next (“they might have caught a ship or some such...”).

    In successful campaigns of this style, you just make a new character if it seems like yours couldn’t plausibly be here or if you don’t want to take them out of the adventure where they currently are.

    It makes gaming INCREDIBLY friendly and accessible for players coming and going, dropping in or dropping out.
  • edited April 20
    (Several days to make a Labyrinth Lord character? That’s hilarious! What took a long time? Is the book poorly organized or something? I’ve never played Labyrinth Lord, but with the most recent OSR group I sometimes join, they just made a simple random generator for B/X characters: you click on it once or twice and grab one of the resulting characters. Since 1st level characters are basically identical mechanically, it works great and takes all of 30 seconds.)

    EDIT: Here's the generator we use. Dead simple (I would remove the ThAC0 chart, of course, and the saving throws, both of which are somewhat unnecessary complications, and at that point the character fits on an index card with no trouble).

    http://character.totalpartykill.ca/basic/
  • Agree with the options mentioned so far. I think the go back to the safezone option with or without some abstracted penalties (depending on the situation) unless the same group agrees to meet again and continue before any other time-weirdness can happen is the way to go.
    In successful campaigns of this style, you just make a new character if it seems like yours couldn’t plausibly be here or if you don’t want to take them out of the adventure where they currently are.
    I think this is key for moments where a character is meaningfully trapped somewhere. That character is now trapped in that location, the player can create a new character and going to rescue the old character can be a new mission.
  • Yeah that one hurts and it’s one of the reason I wouldn’t run West Marches style (or my own west marches lite version of it) all the time. I also really like it when the characters get shipwrecked or lost in the underdark for instance, and I’m not sure there is a way to have your cake and eat it too here (but I hope I’m wrong as I have been many times before).

    I guess same here – really hope it’s possible to square the circle here♥

    Also when you play this way new players coming in are never plunged into the middle of a dungeon with a bunch of stuff already in progress which they don’t have context for. Most importantly they get to be part of the discussion about where the party is going and what they are going to do for the next 4 hours which is pretty important for making it a good first experience I think. At the same time it feels like an improvement over just running a series of one shots because players who do end up coming back get to use there same characters, and whatever knowledge they’ve gained about the world still holds.

    Yes, this is really good! That was actually one of my first sessions of D&D. The “mirror story” session! I had joined a group who did the “return to safe haven” rule; we were doing a mega dungeon rather than pointcrawl (which the orig WM was, right?). It was a really good intro to the game. I had played one session of 4E Essentials (that character also took a few days to make) and one session of B4 The Lost City (but with a non-D&D, Swedish dice pool retro game) before.

    Once I start seeing the same group of people at most games though I usually do away with the “returning to the safe haven” rule so that we can add the possibility of having shipwrecks and things like that back into the game.

    Yes, switching modes either formally or informally is also on the menu for our discussion here, that might be the ticket [still hopeful to stumble on the perfect rule].

    (Several days to make a Labyrinth Lord character? That’s hilarious! What took a long time? Is the book poorly organized or something? I’ve never played Labyrinth Lord, but with the most recent OSR group I sometimes join, they just made a simple random generator for B/X characters: you click on it once or twice and grab one of the resulting characters. Since 1st level characters are basically identical mechanically, it works great and takes all of 30 seconds.)

    EDIT: Here’s the generator we use. Dead simple (I would remove the ThAC0 chart, of course, and the saving throws, both of which are somewhat unnecessary complications, and at that point the character fits on an index card with no trouble).http://character.totalpartykill.ca/basic/

    “That’s hilarious! I use an app” :bawling: what kinda gatekeeping attitude is that! Yes, Lab Lord is horribly organized, even worse than the orginial B/X, which isn’t easy either.

    Remember that I was very unfamiliar with and confused by D&D. At the time, I was playing Fudge, SLUG, Everway, Fiasco, Fate – the most crunchy game I had ran was Trail of Cthulhu. Sure, I had GURPS but I was utterly confused by it. It’s not just a question of intelligence, it’s a question of not having the cultural capital or understanding of the tropes. What the heck is Dexterity? I hadn’t played video game RPGs either. (I was pretty into Magic (the card game), but Magic only has two stats per character (“power” and “toughness”).)

    We were using LL-AEC and it seemed like every stat had its own way to get a modifier, I had to understand what each stat meant, how to attack, how to save, how to use thief skills (I was monk), etc etc.

    I’m proud af that I managed to figure it out at all, let alone that it took two days.

    Now that I know D&D better than my own pocket of course it doesn’t take many minutes to whip up a character.

    Last summer at a con, I was there to play Magic but someone saw my T-shirt and said “hey you, yes you with the fifth edition shirt! Come here and sit down!” and told me that they were a DM, that everyone at the table just had rolled up a character using an app and that I should do the same. They didn’t have PHB’s available. I told them that I don’t have a smartphone but how about if I make a champion, I’ll use the standard array 15 14 13 12 10 8, go human so I’ll just add one to all and not have to worry about other features. I’ll put the +3 in dex and +2 in con. I get 12 hp, second wind, I’ll grab a rapier and duelist style. I’ll go leather, I think that leaves me with AC 14.

    Bam that took like 2 seconds! It’s all about being familiar with whatever game you’re using and that comes after time. Lurkers, please don’t be discouraged by Paul’s laughing at it taking time to make a character.

    What takes time for us is rolling up all the backstory (“OK, now let’s roll to see which alignment your father-in-law is”) and selecting spells and gear. Counting out all the gear weight was one of the things that took time when I made that first Lab Lord character. Now we have the inventory sheet makes that part easier but still choosing what to get takes time. And that’s fine. I want them to be invested in their characters. They’re not just throwaway piles of number. That’s relevant to this topic, too, because that makes the “different characters for different constellations” part tricky. I as DM also get more confused. It might still be worth it, it might still be the best tack to take, but it’s something to think about.

    I know that D&D has a “fast pack” system where you’re like “I’ll just grab Pack B from the last page of B4 The Lost City” or “I’ll just grab an Explorer’s Pack from the PHB”. (A similar system for spells would be great.) But my players like to be really picky about their gear. As Veins of the Earth puts it “Toothbrushes have handles filed off”.

    5e is simpler mechanically than B/X, RC, let alone the AD&D variants. A 5e char fits on an index card, too. Sure, there are D&D games that simpler still; Lamentations of the Flame Princess or Searchers of the Unknown comes to mind.

    (And obv you can grab a pregen or app-generated character for 5e too, and they usually have backstory, gear, spells etc all selected. That’s what I do for all the new players at our table; I’ll point them to the pregens for their first character – optional, but they’ve went for the option. I think it's good, you get table experience on how the game works, on what the various numbers are for, what gear is commonly in use etc and then you're usually eager to make your own.)

  • Oh, wow, Sandra. You're really misrepresenting me here. I didn't mean that, "hey, you can do it if you have this handy app!" Rather, I meant, "It's so dead simple and quick that some people can even just whip up a random generator and it's simple as pie."

    I agree with you that the texts aren't great, and I could imagine someone struggling with them (I probably would, too). In practice, though, at a B/X table, no one ever needs to pull out a book or reference it, so long as a handful of people are familiar enough with the rules (except for equipment). You roll your stats, choose a class and alignment, write down your saving throws, and roll a spell or write down thief scores.

    The tricky step is buying equipment - the most and only time-consuming part of the process. I think D&D5 makes that easier in most respects (you get a "starting loadout" based on your class and Background and what-not) but harder in others (instead of just buying off a list, you need a book and to look up the equipment loadout in each of those sections).

    But, more importantly, at most D&D5 tables your decisions in character creation mean something - your ability score allocation, race choice, Background choice, spell choice, and so forth all should go together in an intelligent way.

    You, Sandra, may be able to create a 5E character (as you did in your post) in under 30 seconds, but that's basically because you have a good memory, right? And you can't keep creating new and unique characters that way. Most OSR-style games (like Maze Rats, say) have a quick and easy way to "roll up" characters which don't require a character concept or any understanding of the game. My experience of 5E has been that we spend an hour, sometimes at each session, just checking and double-checking abilities, hit dice, spells and cantrips, feats, and so on. For instance, changing one ability score means going through all your skills and recalculating their totals. (And I don't really see how you can disagree with me on this when you, yourself, have created a whole new class - the Searcher - precisely to get around this problem!)

    This all enables far less consternation when it comes to questions like "how do they get back home every time?", because it's relatively easy to make new characters. I can see that if you WANT greater character identification, 5E's way may be a feature and not a bug (the Backgrounds and Traits, Bonds, Flaws, and Ideals alone tell you SO MUCH about a character). But the OSR philosophy is that you don't know any of those things about your character until you've played them for a while. Different approaches.

    The only reason this is even remotely relevant to this thread is because it really affects how careful you have to be about questions like "how do they get back home?". It's worth considering how much time and investment is involved in character creation when we look at such questions and decide on what our solutions might be. I'd be far more concerned about continuity and character sovereignty at a 5E table than I would be at a B/X table - that affects what kinds of "did we get out safe?" random tables I would write or use, how seriously I would consider rescheduling to make sure a certain adventure can be resumed, and so forth. For another example, a 5E version of this would need to address resting, as well, since it will be very important to determine whether the adventurers starting or resuming the next session have had a short rest, long rest, or otherwise.
  • edited April 20
    Oh, wow, Sandra. You’re really misrepresenting me here. I didn’t mean that, “hey, you can do it if you have this handy app!” Rather, I meant, “It’s so dead simple and quick that some people can even just whip up a random generator and it’s simple as pie.”

    Well, you were saying that in the context of me saying that the first time I made a Labyrinth Lord char, it took me a couple of days and I still got things wrong. You called that hilarious.

    Which I thought was kinda a weird context because I was not familiar with D&D.

    The point I was trying to make is that the reason it takes a long time to make 5e chars is fourfold

    1. you are not familiar with the game. 5e is itself simple. Saves for example are even easier in 5e than in B/X. (And yes, they are easy in B/X. They’re just even easier in 5e.)
    2. Selecting spells
    3. Selecting gear
    4. Rolling up backstory, appearance, name etc

    2 and 3 is time consuming in other D&D based games as well. With Maze Rats you even have to generate your own spells!

    Most OSR-style games (like Maze Rats, say) have a quick and easy way to “roll up” characters which don’t require a character concept or any understanding of the game.

    Well, it’s good that you’re familiar with Maze Rats because that’s the perfect example that I can refer to for the following point.

    One reason some of our characters take a really long time is because we are rolling on a system, in the book Xanathar’s Guide to Everything, that rolls up like how many siblings you have etc. That’s not a core part of the game but that’s a lot of what takes time for us. It’s similar to the tables in Maze Rats on page… the page numbers are confusing, but the tables numbered 6 through 12.

    Rolling tons of dice and writing everything up w/ pencil takes a lot of time.

    I agree with you that the texts aren’t great, and I could imagine someone struggling with them (I probably would, too). In practice, though, at a B/X table, no one ever needs to pull out a book or reference it, so long as a handful of people are familiar enough with the rules (except for equipment).

    Familiar enough with the rules. Which I am with 5e. And, these days, with B/X too for that matter. (That said, I have to reference the saving throw tables. When we played LotFP, which is wonderfully well laid out, I just recorded my abilities and spells, and when I needed to roll saves and stuff I just looked in the book. I.e. I used the book to replace a lot of my character sheet<3)

    You roll your stats, choose a class and alignment, write down your saving throws, and roll a spell or write down thief scores.

    Because you know to do that. You know how the whole prime requisite XP thing works and how the different abilities have different modifiers etc.

    The tricky step is buying equipment - the most and only time-consuming part of the process. I think D&D5 makes that easier in most respects (you get a “starting loadout” based on your class and Background and what-not) but harder in others (instead of just buying off a list, you need a book and to look up the equipment loadout in each of those sections).

    Well, this isn’t a difference between 5e and B/X. You can use the standard loadouts (“The Fast Pack” in B4) or you can buy it yourself.

    But, more importantly, at most D&D5 tables your decisions in character creation mean something - your ability score allocation, race choice, Background choice, spell choice, and so forth all should go together in an intelligent way.

    Yeah, that’s a good point. I guess I am kinda strawdolling here because we used LL-AEC which is more similar to 1e than to B/X, and does have some confusing choices. I’ve played a lot of B/X clones as well (in fact, we were playing LL w/o AEC with one DM alternating weeks and LL with AEC alternating weeks – the latter had also implemented ascending, 3e-style AC).

    You, Sandra, may be able to create a 5E character (as you did in your post) in under 30 seconds, but that’s basically because you have a good memory, right? And you can’t keep creating new and unique characters that way.

    That’s not the part of them that’s unique. Actually that’s one thing that I really grew sick of with LotFP, that I pretty much only liked the specialist and the casters. So a lot of my characters were the same thing all the time.

    My experience of 5E has been that we spend an hour, sometimes at each session, just checking and double-checking abilities, hit dice, spells and cantrips, feats, and so on.

    B/X has abilites, hit dice and spells. Cantrips are spells. Feats is an optional expansion and not part of the core 5e game.

    For instance, changing one ability score means going through all your skills and recalculating their totals.

    Yes, the original character sheet was badly designed there.

    I made a character sheet for 5e that instead of listing every skill, just had the ability scores listed twice, without and with proficiency, and then under each ability score a list of those abilities checks, saving throws and attack rolls that are trained. For example, on the first page is the cleric and you’d see she has strength +2 and +4. For the mace, which is listed, she’d use +4. For strength save, which is not listed, she’d use +2.

    This character sheet never caught on, not even in my own group, so obv there’s a couple of things about it that are unappealing. People like being able to see everything even redundant things..?

    I think I’m gonna design a new sheet incorporating some of the lessons I’ve learned since making this one. It’s been 4 years.

    But keeping the lack of redundancy, the idea of not repeating that same number for every weapon, every skill, every save, every spell etc.

    That said, the new official sheet—(check out “Character Sheet - Alternative - Print Version.pdf”); it groups the saves and skills next to the relevant ability so you can updated them at the same time.

  • And I don’t really see how you can disagree with me on this when you, yourself, have created a whole new class - the Searcher - precisely to get around this problem!

    The Searcher was designed as a reaction to The Black Hack. It is much simpler than The Black Hack and other D&D games. Except “Searchers of the Unknown” which it is heavily based on, except balanced with real 5e classes.

    Remember, the Searcher does not have Strength, Dex, Con, Wis, Int, Cha, Armor Class, Saving Throw – all things that B/X and even The Black Hack also has! It doesn’t even need gear since you get 1d8 damage w/o choosing a weapon or looking at weapon stats.

    The Searcher has HP, HD, Fighting Ability (starts at +5), and Non-Fighting Ability (starts at +3). And when you roll damage it’s always 1d8+NFA. That’s it. You step in it? Roll NFA to avoid dying. You wanna go aggro on someone? Roll FA to do it.

    But what the Searcher does have is plenty of room for traits, ideals, bonds, flaws, backstory etc.

    This all enables far less consternation when it comes to questions like “how do they get back home every time?”, because it’s relatively easy to make new characters. I can see that if you WANT greater character identification, 5E’s way may be a feature and not a bug (the Backgrounds and Traits, Bonds, Flaws, and Ideals alone tell you SO MUCH about a character). But the OSR philosophy is that you don’t know any of those things about your character until you’ve played them for a while. Different approaches.

    What I’m saying is that this is a Backgrounds/TIBF issue, not a B/X vs 5e mechanical simplicity issue. I’ve played Lab Lord with backgrounds from 5e added in (and the backgrounds were generally well received in the OSR community when 5e came out). I’ve played 5e without backgrounds.

    The only reason this is even remotely relevant to this thread is because it really affects how careful you have to be about questions like “how do they get back home?”. It’s worth considering how much time and investment is involved in character creation when we look at such questions and decide on what our solutions might be. I’d be far more concerned about continuity and character sovereignty at a 5E table than I would be at a B/X table - that affects what kinds of “did we get out safe?” random tables I would write or use, how seriously I would consider rescheduling to make sure a certain adventure can be resumed, and so forth. For another example, a 5E version of this would need to address resting, as well, since it will be very important to determine whether the adventurers starting or resuming the next session have had a short rest, long rest, or otherwise.

    Yes, that’s why it’s relevant. I agree. I do want invested chars. And I do want to figure out a mechanic that addresses this.

    Remember that the og WM used 3e. Not B/X. It was plenty complicated to make a character.

  • I made a character sheet for 5e that instead of listing every skill, just had the ability scores listed twice, without and with proficiency, and then under each ability score a list of those abilities checks, saving throws and attack rolls that are trained. For example, on the first page is the cleric and you’d see she has strength +2 and +4. For the mace, which is listed, she’d use +4. For strength save, which is not listed, she’d use +2.

    This character sheet never caught on, not even in my own group, so obv there’s a couple of things about it that are unappealing. People like being able to see everything even redundant things..?
    Huh I'm pretty surprised that didn't catch on, it does seem like a significant improvement to me. I do think character sheets can play a big role in making character creation easier. There's a game called Mothership whose rules are pretty complicated (in my eyes), but it's greatly helped by the fact that the character sheets are essentially flow charts for character creation http://www.tuesdayknightgames.com/downloads . You essentially don't need to reference the book to create a character.

    That said you would need to reference the book to understand the fictional significance of the things you are choosing between. Which ultimately I think is what makes all of these systems kind of difficult for character creation when you are doing it for the first time. In order to understand the full implications of what you are choosing you need to understand the full system of the game. I pretty much always find character creation complicated the first time no matter which of these systems I'm using. Ultimately I think it ends up being rewarding because it means the system cares about your choices, but as a point of entry to the game it can be pretty daunting. But hey that's why pregens are great.
  • I think that, ideally, some form of AW-like playbooks should be the norm for any game where characters need to be made quickly. Older games almost never make character creation easy for you, and D&D has inherited its character design process from a long, long tradition of checking tables and writing things down.

    I *hope* that I've nailed a sweet spot between "quick and replaceable" and "unique and interesting" for my own house D&D character creation, but I haven't had a chance to playtest that yet. Should take 5-10 minutes, and be fun enough that making a new character is exciting (it doesn't require you to think of a character concept, like many modern games - you don't even need to choose a class until you level up! - but does create a larger variety of characters than, say, LotFP). We will see when I actually get a chance to run that thing!

    I like those improved character sheets! Much better.
    p>Well, you were saying that in the context of me saying that the first time I made a Labyrinth Lord char, it took me a couple of days and I still got things wrong. You called that hilarious.

    Which I thought was kinda a weird context because I was not familiar with D&D.

    Oh, sorry if I came across as insulting! I didn't know you hadn't played D&D before. I agree that familiarity with the basics of the game (especially when dealing with those older texts!) is supremely key.

    I thought it would help me when I first joined a 5E game, but even there it took me over an hour to get the basics of the character down, and I had to finish the rest later. There's a lot to read before you can make your choices!

    Overall, I think you're right that there's a lot in these games and texts which affects the final equation. For instance, I'm conflating "B/X D&D" and "OD&D" a bit in my mind. (It's hard for me to keep the details straight, because no one I know actually runs any of those games directly "out of the box", so my personal view of "basic D&D" is a hodge-podge of different rules and procedures from early versions of D&D. I had forgotten that B/X had different damage dice for different weapons, for example!)

    On the other hand, 5E character creation gets a lot easier if you omit Backgrounds and BIFTs (or whatever the correct acronym is!).

    Still, I see a big difference in the rules as well as the culture of play surrounding those games. For example, it's fairly normal to expect a backstory for any character created for D&D5, but most OSR tables I've seen would outlaw character backstories, or, at best, ignore them!

    As another example, a 1st-level magic-user gets one first-level spell, usually rolled from a table of 10-12 spells, and a 1st-level cleric doesn't even get a spell! In practice, a newbie can just be told "roll a die", and then to write down the name of the spell. That requires no effort from the new player. You're ready to play! (Granted, your spell might turn out to be entirely useless... but that's just how the game goes. Ha!)

    A 1st-level wizard in 5E, by comparison, gets three cantrips and six 1st-level spells, plus anything they get from classes or Backgrounds or other sources (e.g. my Sorcerer character had several cantrips or once-per-day magical abilities available from his race, I believe, and something else). That's nine choices to make already!

    You might need to know what stats you need to choose to get the Magical School you want at third level, as well (ideally, anyway!).

    You need to read the spell lists enough to at least have a sense of what you're choosing: for example, it would probably be foolish not to choose a combat-effective cantrip, and it should work with your equipment choices (e.g. ranged cantrip with a hand-to-hand weapon or vice-versa) and other spell choices (ideally, you wouldn't pick a fire-based attack spell and a fire-based combat cantrip, right?). That all takes time and knowledge. Finally - even worse, perhaps! - you have decide which of those spells you now want to memorize, before the adventure starts. The complications start to pile up pretty fast! And those choices are all important ones.

    But it's true that some of this has to do with culture of play, as opposed to the rules as written.

    A lot of these things could be improved further, as the various things we're discussing here show.

    You make a good point, though, that, depending on the game and the commitment of the players to the game, as well as the expected lethality level, greater investment in the character isn't always a bad thing.

    How often do characters die in your home game? Is it something you keep track of? How often does character creation "happen", in practice?

    My experience of D&D5 so far has been that the "death saves" rules, in combination with highly available magical healing, means that downed characters usually just require another character to waste a round or two to save them, and rarely does death actually result (there are just a lot of close calls, if the game is dangerous enough!). But I think that might be quite different if magical healing isn't as common. (In the games I've seen and played, pretty much everyone carries a couple of healing potions on their person at all times, for example.)
  • Yes, our characters with so many spells and so many TIBFs do have more choices than a “here’s a random cleric spell” character but a lot of the other rules are simpler.

    How many have died? Not counting their henches and bosses and, like… uh one character took his young son with him and the son died :bawling: and they’ve taken on a couple of escort missions (“take me safely to place X and I’ll give you Y and here’s Z in advance”) and those NPCs have all died but counting only player characters, we’ve had 13 deaths in the last year. That’s fewer than I’ve experienced as a player in B/X or 1e games. Considering we play a couple of times per week. I’ve ran a couple of one-shots at cons and no-one died. The 13 deaths are over our two home campaigns: six sessions of KotB and 57 sessions (so far) of Tomb of A.

    Two level one characters, one level two character, four level three characters, one level four character, three level five characters, one level six character, and one level seven character have died. This an artifact of the “replacement level” rule in Tomb of A where you reenter at the party level instead of starting over. A rule I don’t like, as outlined in that thread.

  • edited April 21
    Nice! Thanks, Sandra. It's great to see someone taking such careful measure of the game, instead of misremembering and making things up. 13 deaths in 63 sessions? Sounds like a delightful ratio.

    What's the presence and availability of healing magic, potions, and revive/raise dead or similar magic in these games?
  • edited April 21
    Also, you might like this - I found a quote by Ben about his West Marches:
    "“Sounds great. Did the party returned to the outpost at the end of every session? If not how did you handled situations of one players not being present and their characters being entangled in the unfinished journey?”

    It was a stated policy that the party should try to get back to town before the end of each session, making each game a different sortie into the wilderness.

    In practice this happened about 70% of the time. If a game did end with a group still out in the wilds it just meant we had to schedule another game with those same people, and that those characters couldn’t play with another group until they got back to town — really not any more trouble than scheduling a normal game.

    I also tracked parties coming and going on a calendar in game time, so even if you had played your character making it back to town you couldn’t join another party that was leaving before the game date you got back. So yes you could camp for 5 weeks in the woods during one game session if you wanted to, but you were effectively unable to play until the rest of the players “caught up” in game time."
    Looks like my solution #2, more or less.
  • Nice! Thanks, Sandra. It’s great to see someone taking such careful measure of the game, instead of misremembering and making things up. 13 deaths in 63 sessions? Sounds like a delightful ratio.

    It’s been pretty good. Far fewer than in our LL/LotFP games, but, a non-zero amount making it still a risky endeavor to adventure here. And it’s been throughout the campaign at all levels. I wouldn’t want it to be as lethal as LL/LotFP was. I’m ok with them never dying. But it’s not up to me, it’s up to the gloracle and to the player’s choices.

    What’s the presence and availability of healing magic

    They have plentyful access to minor healing magic (and bardic songs of rest) that heal up their HP. They haven’t gotten access to Heal or Regenerate so they still walk around one-armed and on peg legs.

    potions

    Healing potions are rare. There’s a 10% chance that a market class VI has one in a given month. Port Nyanzaru is a market class I and they get 15 such flasks each month. Sometimes it’s been a real fight between the PCs to be the first to shop so they can stock up on flasks. But they are far from Port Nyanzaru now. They are in TPK City deep in the T9G. They’re pretty SOL when it comes to finding healing potions. That said, they have a herbalist in the party, he can make healing potions if he can find the ingredients (about a 25 GP value, XGE p130).

    revive/raise dead or similar magic in these games?

    That’s the maguffin – there’s a machine that, while it runs, makes it so that you can’t revive or raise dead. So that’s the quest, to find this machine and find out more about it and decide what to do with it.

  • Big thanks for digging up that quote from Ben!
    Oh, so not all the calendars are in sync! That is really really useful info for how to handle this! (In combination with having multiple characters.)
  • Good answers, thanks! That's definitely unusual, I think, for a 5E game. I like the implications!
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