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BSOLO: Ghost of Lion Castle
HelgaCon is less than a week away now, and I'm getting psyched. This year I'm playing in both of Delta's old school D&D games - one OD&D and one 1e AD&D (Tomb of Horrors!) Look like my old school D&D kick won't be ending any time soon.

When I was going through a phase of buying old D&D stuff on ebay, I bought a couple modules. Mostly stuff I had when I was younger and lost. Luckily I managed to quit after just a couple books, as I am susceptible to the collector's bug. Anyway, I started off by buying M1 Blizzard Pass, not to be confused with M1 Into the Maelstrom (well done TSR re-using the same code). This module is a 'solo' module which I remember being very fond of as a kid. It sort of runs like a choose your own adventure with D&D mechanics interspersed. It came with an invisible ink pen and you had to color in the sections as you chose them. Not sure what the point of this was, were they really concerned I was going to cheat?

Anyway, this got me curious about how many solo adventures they put out, and it turns out there were a few. I picked up BSOLO Ghost of Lion Castle as a PDF from Paizo, as the real thing is pretty pricey on eBay. I also bought M2 Maze of the Riddling Minotaur and XSOLO Lathan's Gold pretty cheaply on ebay. I think the only ones I'm missing now are XS2 Thunderdelve Mountain and MV1 Midnight on Dagger Alley. I'm in no hurry to find them though.

So two weeks ago I caught a cold and was stuck home from work for two days. I decided what the heck, let's see how one of these solo adventures plays. I wasn't expecting much, but I was sick and bored, so any distraction was welcome. I started with BSOLO, as I suspect it's the first one of its kind.

BSOLO is in typical choose your own adventure style, where the story is written in labeled sections and at the end of each section is a decision point on which section to go to next. The module is designed for a magic user or elf of level 1-3, and there are six pregen characters in the back, three magic users and three elves, of levels 1-3 respectively. Interestingly, even the level 1 characters have some kind of magic weapon, so you can tell the adventure is going to be tough.

The plot is pretty thin -- there's a big castle built in the shape of a lion that's supposedly haunted by the mage who built it. No-one who went to explore it has ever returned. However, there is a magic journal and map at the local tavern that is given to each soul who goes off to explore the place, and when that person dies the journal and map magically returns to the tavern. The reader is instructed when he dies to write the details of the dead body and its gear in the margin of the book, should it be discovered by a future character. So it's pretty obvious that I'm going to burn through a couple characters in this adventure.

It plays pretty much like any early D&D dungeon crawl. Combat is left to the player to adjudicate, the module simply gives you the monster's stats and informs the reader which section to proceed to if he wins. In fact, there aren't even any intentionally placed encounters in the game. There's a fairly elaborate wandering monster chart with all the stats. The die type and a modifier are given for each major area of the dungeon (eg. if you're on level 2, roll d12+8 on the wander monster chart). Some sections tell you to roll on the wander monster chart if you roll a 1 or 1-2 on a d6, others tell you you must always roll, but never is there a specific monster in any room.

One neat mechanic though is that it comes with a partially outlined map, and you're encouraged to fill it in as you go. As I had this as a PDF, I had no qualms about printing out the map and doodling away on it. I think filling in the map was one of the more satisfying parts of the game. Plus, unlike other choose your own adventure style books, it gave me some sense of how much unseen content was still in the book.

Is it fun? Well, it was about as fun as you'd expect playing D&D by yourself to be. Interestingly though, the death mechanic does reduce my temptation to cheat. As a kid I really enjoyed choose your own adventure books, but when I came to an ending, especially an unsatisfying ending, I would always flip back a decision point or three and change my choice. I always felt like I was cheating when I did this, but honestly it's either that or stop reading. In this game, I would just jot down the corpse info, and roll up a new character. Fortunately in basic D&D that's pretty easy.

And I died a lot. This is a hard adventure, especially when you're stuck playing a magic user or elf. I'm not sure why they made that rule, given that they then make special rules that make most of the spells useless. Pretty much the only spell you really want in this adventure is magic missile. At that point, why not just play a fighter? Of course, I also belligerently ignored the pregen characters and made my own, always a first level elf. Perhaps if I allowed myself to bump up to level 2 or 3 I'd have done better. I can't imagine though if I'd used a magic user that I'd make it through the first room. Without armor, you might as well give up.

So here's how I did. Note that although my character names are repetitive, I did roll entirely new stats for each one.

Silverleaf I -- Approached the castle, rested outside and had to fight a wandering monster - a giant crab spider. After the fight, approached the main gate and got hit by the portcullis as he entered. Creeped forward and got hit by rocks falling from murder holes and died right there at the gate. Didn't even make it inside the castle.

Silverleaf II -- Entered the castle through the postern gatehouse. Met a bugbear in the tunnel leading into the castle and was killed.

Silverleaf III -- Made it through the front gatehouse, and followed the path around the castle to the front entrance. Shot with arrows as he approached the front door, where he was hit with the second portcullis and rocks from murder holes. Died at the front door into the castle.

Silverleaf IV -- Went through the postern gate, killed the rock baboon in the tunnel (got a wand of paralyzation off it!), and proceeded into the castle dungeons. At last, I made it inside the building! Explored the dungeons, found a few bits of treasure hidden in some otherwise empty rooms, and was then killed by a wandering giant ferret on his way back to the stairs.

Silverleaf V -- Entered again through the postern gate and killed the monster in the tunnels (this seems to be the easiest way into the castle). Went up the stairs immediately instead of exploring the dungeon. Explored many chambers of the upper levels, and found a potion of healing. Killed on level 4 by a gnoll.

Silverleaf VI -- Entered through the postern gate and started exploring the other half the dungeon level. Found some scrolls, then discovered a room labelled 'Treasury'. Killed by the only contents of the room: a swinging blade trap.

Silverleaf VII -- Entered through the postern gate, then used the magic map to seek out the bodies of Silverleaf IV, V, and VI to accumulate all the treasure. Continued on to the top level. Entered the final room and was killed by a bugbear.

Towards the end I was really tailoring my characters to the adventure. I stopped buying ranged weapons when I discovered there was nowhere to use them, and instead landed on the following standard equipment: plate mail armor, sword, and shield. I still find it curious in basic D&D that an elf can wear plate mail and use spells, but I can't find anything disallowing it. I was also originally rolling randomly for my spell, and later started just always choosing magic missile. I was surprised to discover that magic missile in basic D&D is pretty powerful, doing a whopping d6+1 damage. If you're not using the optional damage by weapon type rule, this is more damage than any normal weapon. Even with the optional rule, the only weapons better than it are swords, battle axes, and two handed weapons.

After Silveleaf the VII died, I read the passage that I would have gotten to if he had lived as it was the ending. I had no desire to play through the whole thing again, and likely die along the way, just to read those couple of final paragraphs. Combat was the most brutal part of the game, as I often faced off against monsters with 3 HD and 2-4 AC. Only very good luck would let me get past them. I think the game might have been more fun with a level 2 or 3 fighter instead of a level 1 elf.

Next, I'll play and review M1 Blizzard Pass.
March 29th, 2009 - 10:26 am | Comments (0) | PERMALINK

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