Friday, July 30, 2021

New School Adventures, Old School Game

Coming to you from the glamorous 
Mother-in-Law's Basement Studio
(Vacation gaming is awesome!) 

Tuesday night was my first full-length session playing a Candlekeep Mysteries adventure using Lamentations of The Flame Princess for my podcast. I found it quite revealing about the assumptions made between different editions of D&D 

(Spoilers ahead for "The Joy of Extradimensional Spaces" ) 

Now, keep in mind Lamentations of The Flame Princess is not a perfect analog to Basic and Expert Dungeons & Dragons. The classes have been tweaked somewhat. Elves cannot see in the dark, for example. And only fighters get better at hitting things.

At its core, however, it is still B/X with a Cannibal Corpse album sleeve painted on the cover. I feel safe in stating that playing it is close enough to B /X D&D to count for the purposes of this discussion.

One of the first things you know is that combat is assumed to be way more often in Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition . Rather than relying on things like reaction rolls, most monsters in the adventure entitled "The Joy of Extradimensional Spaces" attack automatically. Some to defend their owners property, some as a prank (nonsensically), some out of hunger. Even creatures with no reason to hang around and murder player characters attempt to do so.

And there are a lot of monsters. For a first level dungeon, this adventure included an imp, a quasif, two flying swords, one mimic, two fairy dragons, four crawling hands, one powerful animated library, and one swarm of animated books. I was rightly concerned that this could lead to a TPK with the average soft first level BD&D characters.

Candlekeep Mysteries cover Art
By Clint Cearly;
©2021 Wizards of the Coast
This adventure includes monsters that can only be hurt by magic, and assumes 1st level PCs have access to an infinite supply of attack Cantrips. It is assumes that there's going to be some healing available for the player characters. Neither are guarantees in older editions of D&D. My party had no healing available. While my players were lucky and rolled relatively tough characters that was no guarantee either. D&D5e is in essence a game that allows for players to charge in and overcome fairly tough foes without too much difficulty.

This is also reflected in the way the adventure rewards the PCs. If PCs are awarded experience for killing monsters primarily and level 1 requires only 300xp, then this monster a-go-go dungeon will have you half-way to level 3. On the other hand, if you are being rewarded for finding treasure, and fighting monsters is designed to have a low reward:risk ratio, and level 1 is meant to be a challenge, not a formality, this dungeon offers a pittance that doesn't even take a Thief close to the 1,700 they need for level 2.

This is well discussed osr OSR and not really news. But there is a flipside to this I had to see played out to understand.

Modules written for modern Dungeons & Dragons don't assume cautious, strategic play at all.

<spoilers, ahoy! >

At the beginning of the dungeon in "The Joy of Extradimensional Spaces," the PCs encounter a sage who has been trapped inside the dungeon for hours trying to guess a password to escape. When the PCs open the door, he asks them to hold it open so he can escape. He then offers to help them with their mission if they will explore the demiplane-dungeon he was trapped in. He will hold the door open while they do, so that they don't need to find the password he couldn't guess.

In the module, e he is killed immediately upon leaving and the door shuts, forcing the PCs to exore the dungeon and find the password anyway to escape.

Only my PCs were well-versed on 1980s dungeon crawling SOP. They did not leave their escape to the sage: they held the door open after him, then nailed it door open with iron spikes and a hammer.

Boom! That was the entire premise of the dungeon thwarted with one classic D&D trick that not only every player knew, but was recommended in several iterations of the PHB. 

The dungeon includes a pair of helpful and blabbermouthed homunculi that are eager to please. The PCs are expected to get some background from them, but it doesn't account for the possibility that the PCs might actually use their services to simply ask 5/7 puzzle pieces once they identify them.

Likewise, there are a pair of faerie Dragons that know where one of the most critical secret doors were - that the PCs were able cow into service with the help of the Homunculi. NPC reaction rolls and smart Role-play made one of the most important obstacles in the dungeon moot. 

Likewise, the players refused to mess around in rooms full of monsters in jars or summoning circles, because the reward for killing monsters is not worth the risk in B/X D&D or Lamentations of the Flame Princess. They walked away from some dangers a Dungeons & Dragons 5e party would deliberately blunder into for the XP. Even with the treacherous Faerie Dragons egging them on.

In fact the only combat encounters the PCs wandered into was a weakened mimic and a pair of flying swords. One was a surprise, and one was careless pillaging when they had already been warned about the swords. 


At the end of the day, the PCs explored half the dungeon, took most of the treasure, plundered the liquor cabinet, and left with two (highly suspect) minions.

It didn't hurt that my d20 forgot how to roll anything but 6, 7, and 9 all night, too except for one Homunculus attack. I suspect witchcraft. 

But this is it: the players thwarted the central conflict of the dungeon in turn 1 using an iron spike and hammer. They got NPCs to do all the hard work, and nope'd out of the most dangerous locations because their characters were not built for an were not being rewarded for combat.

This dungeon, like many written for Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition are not built to account for players that play smart to avoid combat altogether.  It is not really part of the game loop anymore. 


  1. OK, that's really funny! And sad.
    I guess it's what you get when all characters are superheroes, and experience is granted almost exclusively for killing monsters. 5e really is Murder Hobo, Inc.

  2. Official D&D 5e content lost me way back at the beginning, but it seems to have gotten progressively worse. From hack-fests to sparkle prom. Sad!

    1. By far the best content for 5e was Tales from the Yawning Portal... Which is mostly 1e content.

      I didn't start using modules until son #2 came along and I stopped having enough time for planning. So 5e's supporting content didn't figure into my uptake, but it sure matters now.

      I would not buy 5e again, if I had to rebuild my library.

  3. I don't get it. Are you unimpressed that the module assumes combat, or unimpressed that it allowed players to bypass combat via smart play? How can it be both?

    1. I am unimpressed that it was built on a puzzle that assumed players would take no initiative to keep the door open in spite of decades of D&D tradition. No one did anything in the proofreading of this module except to make sure it ticked the CR boxes.

      If there was a single person who played the game before 1999 involved in the editorial process, they could have caught that and prevented this from being a non-challenge.

      The whole dungeon could have been fixed by simply having the door not work like a physical door that can be held open, but a portal on a timer. And that would have required the players to find the password.

      Or even just having Matreous the scholar dead with a diary describing his dilemma on his person in the foyer.

      And there's it in a nutshell: There was no challenge to this adventure except if players stopped to think for one moment. All tension and interest is built on combat. The Dungeon's premise was contrived to force combat, and it doesn't do it well.

      In some cases, the combats are ridiculous as well. Why would two faerie Dragons, having just escaped a lab, and lost one of their number to a monster loose in the dungeon, try to prank strangers rather than to trade information in exchange for help in escaping?

      Why have incredibly knowledgeable homunculi be the custodians of a dungeon, but not give them something as simple as a passphrase to tell guests from burglars? Especially when half the furniture in the house is animated just to deal with burglars, as the mistress of the house is clearly worried about such?

      Why would an imp, suddenly free from captivity, in a library brimming with desperate people seeking Arcane knowledge and books full of Forbidden secrets hang around to murder the PCs rather than sneak off to start Mischief in the name of Hell?

      There is a mountain of nonsense in this module that speaks to poor editorial process and an assumption that players will just storm through the dungeon, and an edition structured to make that easy to do.

    2. Why? Because ohmigosh cutesy oh so random!

      This is the fun ! Edition of D&D...