Reflections on the B/X Campaign

I’m a fan of ‘old school’ RPGs, particularly earlier editions of D&D.  As such, having a chance to run a B/X campaign for a few months was something that I’d been looking forward to for a long time now, and I had a blast.

That said, I (re-)learned a few things about my preferences and GM-style:

1) I hate accounting.  I made sure the players kept track of the really important stuff, like treasure, potions/scrolls, flasks of oil and ammunition.  But rations or torches?  Couldn’t care less.    Same goes with making wandering monster checks every X turns.  Instead, I’d check for wandering monsters when it seemed appropriate, or if the players did something really noticeable (like standing around in a corridor arguing about their next course of action…perfect time for a wandering monster check 🙂 ).  I’m not a big fan of the logistical side of the OSR play style.

2) I’m also not a fan of big dungeons.  Temple of the Frog really brought this home for me.  Now, at first glance, Caves of Chaos seems like a big dungeon, but it’s really just a series of smaller dungeons loosely strung together with a few secret doors and side passages.  White Plume Mountain also seems large at first, but it has a lot of long passageways with relatively few encounters, so it’s more spread out than dense.  So I guess I won’t be running any mega-dungeon crawls anytime soon.

3) I didn’t make the players map the dungeon.  I drew rough outlines when required, or mapped a room for complex battles, but otherwise didn’t worry about it too much.  The players weren’t much inclined to map the dungeons, and I sure as hell wasn’t going to do it for them.  I can see the importance of mapping for a mega-dungeon, but most of the dungeons I ran weren’t so large that the characters could really get lost in them.

4) The feats I added didn’t really do much for the game.  It’s not that they weren’t used or didn’t come into play, they just didn’t add the taste of character customization I thought they would, probably because there were too few of them and they were a bit too generic.  However, I sure don’t want to add too much more complexity to the game, either.  So, in a future game I think I’d just skip the feats and maybe use them as abilities for new classes/sub-classes instead (or maybe new magic items).

5) When I run published modules in the future, they need to be tight and focused, either geographically or thematically, to help keep the players moving along.  Temple of the Frog and Isle of Dread were a little too spread out (they could almost be setting books instead of adventure modules); with these sprawling modules there were times when the players really bogged down and I’d have to prod them or drop a hint to get them moving again.  Also, the more complex the module, the more difficulty I have keeping track of all the moving parts.  Flipping back-and-forth through a module tryting to figure which room so-and-so NPC is supposed to be at that time of day is not a lot of fun for me, nor is trying to remember a convulted series of events beyond the PC’s knowledge that could affect the outcome of the module.

Up to now, my interest in the OSR had been mainly a nostalgia trip.  Now having run a B/X campaign, it really brought home the aspects of early editions of the game that I really liked:  light rules that allow for easier improvisation by the GM, fast combat resolution, focus on player skill rather than character skill and easy house-ruling.

Still, I recognize that my preferences do shortchange the exploration aspect of early D&D, and I’d like to play in a game sometime that keeps faith with the more ‘traditional’ aspects of OD&D, namely the logistics, map making and exploration, if only to learn how other GMs manage them in their games.

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2 Responses to “Reflections on the B/X Campaign”

  1. RobG4 Says:

    Ed,

    I found your site Googling “PFBB only campaigns”. I’m converting my PF group over to Swords & Wizardry for the same rules lite and nostalgic reasons.

    Thank you for leaving your thoughts – I was wondering how some of the aspects you mention played out in a real game. I know when I was young we barely mapped, miniatures were just cool to look at, and never kept stock of supplies.

    I am looking forward to those things now (we shall see). Will you continue with your B/X campaign?

    • edowar Says:

      Many thanks. The current B/X campaign is over. We’re starting a Shadowrun game next, run by a different player. However, we’ll probably make a return to old school D&D (or a retro-clone) at some point. I’d like to run a Swords & Wizardry Whitebox game sometime, so we’ll see.

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