Thursday, November 13, 2014

The Chaotic Caves for the Basic Fantasy RPG

When I picked up Basic Fantasy, I also picked up "The Chaotic Caves", a beginning adventure for the same system. I had a longer version of this review written, but I scrapped it as I think I can make my point with fewer words. Let's compare this adventure to "The Keep in the Borderlands", home of the Caves of Chaos:

  • One-page-square-gridded wilderness map in both? Check.
  • Kobold lair in both? Check.
  • Goblin lair in both? Check.
  • Hobgoblin lair in both? Check.
  • Bugbear lair in both? Check.
  • Gnoll lair in both? Check.
  • Undead lair in both? Check.
  • Two Orc lairs in both? Check.
Now there are a couple of variations - the bandits and lizard men are moved into the cave area in "JN1" instead of being wilderness encounters as they are in "B2", and the ogre lives in a separate mini-dungeon instead of in the caves, but let's be clear here: this adventure is a straight rip-off of B2.

It's not an "homage" with a few nods to the old module. It's not a conversion of it to a new system. It takes almost every element of the most-published, most-owned, most-read, and most-played adventure in RPG history, rearranges some of them slightly, and then is published as a new adventure for a new system. It's a terrible way to do things and to me it looks really bad.

Here's why: If someone wants to play B2 they can just get a copy of B2! How about putting together something new for your new interpretation of Basic D&D? There is nothing even slightly new, innovative, or interesting here. Just as one example of the kind of thing I mean here take a look at The Haunted Keep here at Dragonsfoot. It takes the starter adventure from the Moldvay Basic book and expands it into a full 3-level dungeon. There is a nice combination of respect for the original material, connecting to something familiar, and new material.

When 3E came out one thing that was really popular for a time was the conversion document. These took an known adventure, typically a well-liked AD&D adventure like the Saltmarsh series, and put all of the stats for the creatures, magic items, and some relevant skill checks into a document with a numbered key that could be used alongside the original module. Something like that would have been welcome here too.

The closest analogy here that  I can think of is this: Have you read The Lord of the Rings at some point? After that have you read the Iron Tower trilogy by Denis L McKiernan? Did you walk away from it thinking you'd just read a lesser version of LOTR? That's the same feeling I had here. I think there is plenty of room to do something connected to KotB and the Caves of Chaos, but it's not this.

The copyright date on this one is 2009-2011 so this didn't come from some dark age - eBay and PDF's have been around for a while, as have used bookstroes and Noble Knight Games and other places.

My final point: As a level 1-3 adventure, a lot of people coming back to D&D type games in general and new to your game in particular might pick this up as their first expedition. Is this what you want them to play? Is this the best you can do? Shouldn't this be something that makes a strong positive impression rather than an edited version of an older starter adventure. I can see how people might like Basic Fantasy as a game, I don't see how the people creating it can be happy with something like this as one of their main starting adventures.


Chris Gonnerman said...

Hey, I'm sorry you didn't enjoy JN1. I understand the love for B2... it's where I started my first game back in 1982. J.D. Neal, author of The Chaotic Caves, was going for "homage" rather than "rip off" but I know that's a subjective thing. I personally think his choice to add a second dungeon area (the manor) and the different details within his dungeon areas makes the total lean more toward homage. Again, that's a personal decision.

JN1 isn't our recommended starting module, though; BF1 Morgansfort, which is also in a way a homage to B2, is that adventure. Unlike B2, BF1 presents named NPCs, some with given history and personality traits, and three separate dungeon areas, none of which mimic B2's dungeon areas.

It's actually common to combine BF1 and JN1 as a single starting campaign; it's much like a much larger B2 when you do that.

But as I said, it's a matter of personal taste as to whether JN1 is a "rip-off" or not. I wouldn't have chosen to publish it in print if I hadn't felt it was a good adventure; I've run most of it in my playtest campaign, and as someone who also ran B2 I have to say I felt no deja vu in doing so.

Blacksteel said...

Well, I wanted to like it but it was just too much to ignore. I get cloning a rules system because it's not available anymore but I don't care much for cloning adventures. I don't see how someone familiar with B2 can look at the map and the encounters and not see that it's way closer than "homage" which is what I was hoping for when I read the title.

Anyway, as you will see in tomorrow's post, I liked BF1 much better and I'm glad that's the "flagship starter" rather than this one.