Musings on Beyond The Wall

I wrapped up my Beyond The Wall game on Monday night. It was not only my first time playing Beyond The Wall but also the first time I have run anything D&D-based since the mid ’90s.

I am pleased to say that I think the game went really well. We played The Opened Barrow scenario pack and for characters my players chose The Reformed Bully, The Young Woodsman, The Student Of The Dark Arts and The Fae Foundling. It was very impressive how well all the random rolls on the charts in the playbooks tied the characters together and when the players drew up the map of their village it all slotted together naturally. The Scenario pack then did a great job of providing me with plot hooks, events, antagonists and adversaries for the game.

While the character generation and scenario generation were both a big success though, we had some issues with the actual play mechanics. Essentially, Beyond The Wall is another OSR game built on the skeleton of Basic D&D. Beyond simplifies and tidies up a number of the old quirks of Basic by doing away with subsystems like d100 skills and reaction rolls, even so, it is still very much in the family.

Some of our issues are the same ones Basic D&D always had. One player couldn’t understand why Armour makes you harder to hit but doesn’t reduce the damage you take. I kept on forgetting if I was supposed to be rolling high or low (for reference, it’s high for Attacks and Saves, low for ability checks). Players sometimes got confused about the difference between Abilities and Ability modifiers.

Admittedly, all of those are fairly minor quirks which we managed to get our heads round before long. Less minor is how random the challenge of combat seemed to be. Some encounters were a walk in the park thanks to a few good rolls, despite the supposed power of the opposition, while a few bad rolls fighting a bunch of skeletons almost put an end to session 3’s dungeon adventure before it even started. Whether this is a feature or a bug depends on how you like your games to play but that level of random seems to me more appropriate for a lethal Swords&Wizardry dungeon delve than a more character driven Beyond The Wall scenario.

This randomness is somewhat mitigated by the handful of Fortune Points each player has which let them re-roll bad dice or declare that a killing blow actually just missed. What this meant in play though was that PC Hit Points were almost redundant as the players were far more interested in their Fortune Points. It wasn’t really a problem, it did mean that the PCs were a lot less fragile than they first seemed.

Anyway, if this posting has come across as negative that wasn’t my intention, I’m just thinking about what I can do to make it even better next time. I would definitely run another Beyond game straight out of the books (you really can’t beat zero-prep) and I’d love to try out the campaign rules in the Further Afield supplement.

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