Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

New Video Series on Dungeon Mastering by Alexander Macris

Great new video here from Alexander Macris here on how to be a great dungeon master. Totally looking forward to more of these! Love it!! This will make a fine addition to the sort of rpg analysis on YouTube that you can only find on shows like Gelatinous Rube’s and The Joy of Wargaming!! CAN’T WAIT FOR MORE!!!

I have to say though, that one thing you might have noticed about the talk he gives here is that it might sound strangely familiar to you. After all, he opens with a gloss on “storyteller” style game mastering. Then describes this type of play as being a sort of “not game”. After that he pivots back to talking about the early Braunstein in order to establish a framework that has a proper foundation for instructing people on how to be a good game master. WHERE HAVE I HEARD OF SOMETHING LIKE THIS BEFORE???

This brings to mind another question as well. Just when exactly did this concept of Braunstein go from being a curious tale from the earliest days of the hobby to being viewed as something fundamental to getting roleplaying games right? Is it something that just sort of emanated into the material plane from some ethereal realm? Was Alexander Macris simply sitting at home reading through the AD&D Players Handbook when he was struck by an epiphany about the true nature of Real D&D? Or has the pioneering efforts of a notorious band of rpg outlaws proven to be so effective, so persuasive that we are all witnessing an inevitable sea change in how people discuss what rpgs are as a result of their efforts? YOU BE THE JUDGE OF THAT ONE, FRIENDS!!

I’ll tell you, though. There is a way that somebody could top what Macris lays out here. I mean, sure, it’s all very good advice and a totally solid case. But how can you really know that the old Braunsteins are relevant to how you should run D&D? The guys in the Blackmoor campaign themselves could tell you that it was a significant departure from wargaming, sure. And yet… it was not exactly quite like what people think of as role-playing, either. What if the Braunstein was merely an intermediary form in the evolution of D&D out of wargaming? What if the concepts contained within the Braunsteins are purely vestigial today, and completely irrelevant to these discussions on how to be a great dungeon master?

I gotta admit, that is a SUPER TOUGH question. Seriously, it’s one that has kept me up at night for months on end. And I am very sad to report that the incredibly brilliant and phenomenally capable Alexander Macris DOES NOT present a solid answer to this objection within the span of this brief introductory video. I am sure this is really distressing to hear. But don’t worry!! You can totally relax! Trust me on this!!! THERE IS AN ANSWER TO THIS VEXING QUESTION AVAILABLE TO YOU RIGHT NOW. GET IT HERE!!!!

A Sandbox Adventure that Encourages Empire-building

Friend of the blog Rob Eaglestone asks:

Can I write a sandbox adventure in a way that encourages empire-building?

The continuing campaign is the proverbial “stone soup”. Every player is gonna want to do something you can’t prepare for or they are not actually playing. Every campaign generates enough stray threads over time that you can’t follow up on them all. And yet as play continues, events occur which naturally call back those loose threads as if you had planned for it.

Time moving forward at a steady pace for all campaign elements encourages the referee to continually embellish everything such that they become useful in just this fashion. Also, each thread that is revisited is sufficiently different from the first encounter that everything remains interesting.

Core Traveller rules with something like 76 patrons allows you to keep things going even when you don’t have a prepared adventure. Just taking notes on everything you’ve improvised and honoring it going forward creates the campaign adventure. This process is how rpgs were intended to be played, even Traveller.

I conjecture that people that get modules– even really good ones that are not contrary to the above– these people they get them and the run the portions of the module that they are comfortable with in “stop time” or “variable timekeeping” and the campaign elements don’t really multiply or develop as much as they ought to and then they get to the point where they NEED to improvise more and NEED to start playing what the players want to do rather than what they have a prepared module for and then because they were trained on modules they are afraid to actually transition over to a REAL campaign.

Which is why my suggestion is to eschew modules and just make up stuff from the outset out of whatever it is that your players are putting into the game.

Now, all of this is standard Jeffro doctrine so far… but the question is specifically about encouraging empire-building. Particularly in Traveller. And I confess, that is a toughie with Traveller. The bookkeeping of something like Trillion Credit Squadron should consume the campaign in rather short order if you went down that particular path. But of course, an entire edition of Traveller was rigged to facilate an empire building campaign– the fan not-favorite The New Era!

Imagine you’re running a TNE campaign, though, and the players explore the nearby planets and then have adventures where they discover many more starships. They then work to refurbish them and find crews for them and become faction leaders in the process. They forge alliances with other worlds, forming a sort of pocket empire in the process– and then play out adventures where they defend their Confederation from threats internal and external. You don’t want perfect detail in the bookkeeping here in my view. You wouldn’t even play out all the missions the players send out with the ships they recover. The referee would have the subsector map and then use a couple of die rolls to resolve them– akin to the spying and assassination rules in AD&D. But gradually via a kind of pointillism, a sense of the region will gradually develop.

Above all, you want to keep things moving. You would possibly even want to use a ratio of “one real day equals one game week” or possibly even a tempo of “one real day equals one game month” in order to accommodate the scale of development you would like to see explored.

Note that what I am describing here does not leverage sort of thing that the BrOSR calls “patron play”. The players here are all cooperating to run a single polity together and can divide it up among themselves however they choose. The players may not be working at cross purposes per se, however if one player’s scout mission returns during downtime you would inform him of the results of the endeavor– and then it would be up to him to relay the details to his peers if he so chooses! This synthesis of decisions that are made independently over time and the interactions between the players throughout this is a key to what makes this type of gameplay so engaging. If you can build on this stuff as you set up succeeding scenarios, you are sure to win at rpgs!

The Very First Review of “How to Win”!

Obviously, I am very excited to see the reactions to my latest piece start to trickle in.

You blog-reading people tend not to venture onto Twitter, so here is probably the first review to pop up over there:

The preview excerpt of Jeffro Johnson’s forthcoming book is intriguing and suggests the full volume will spur plenty of discussion. Those looking for Internet Heel Jeffro in these pages will be grossly disappointed by the reasoned presentation and calm authorial voice. Within this short, almost zine-like excerpt (with art by Sky Hernstrom), Jeffro touches on three central assumptions of Gygax’s AD&D which have since been de-emphasized: the Braunstein, time tracking across myriad playgroups, and the wargame framework. The full volume, ‘Winning Secrets’, is teased for later in 2023. In the meantime, follow Pilum Press for updates, or spring for the excerpt yourself.

Erik Jensen

That is a pitch perfect Space Gamer style capsule review, there. Very nice!

“This is not a theory book. This is an after action report.”

On Geek Gab today!

A recap of last Thursday’s EPIC Machodor session followed by the first reviewer comments on my latest bit of writing from Pilum Press.

Check it out!

Appendix N is Essential to Understanding D&D

After playing AD&D almost constantly for three years, I was almost ready to back off on my claims about how integral Appendix N was to understanding the game. After all, the case could be made that game mechanisms such as Braunstein play, timekeeping rules, and 1:10 figure scaling are far more important to anyone looking to master the game.

Fortunately, some rather dimwitted people showed up to set me straight on the matter. Consider the following:

Yes, this is the same guy that has been very aggressive about arguing that D&D is nothing but a rip off from Tolkien’s oeuvre.

But notice the pattern. First, he denies that D&D is comprised of a heterogeneous synthesis of a great many sources besides Tolkien’s famous fantasy works. Next, he comes across a game element that very much contrary to how Tolkien would have approached either storytelling or worldbuilding. Baffled and enraged by the inherent strangeness of the game, he then goes on to conclude that Gygax is a fool– and that he is of course God’s gift to role-playing! (A not uncommon occurrence among role-players it seems!)

Of course, anyone familiar with Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser stories would immediately recognize that Gygax’s City/Town Encounter Matrix is not an attempt to model anything remotely like a stuffy sort of Minas Tirith city at all. Gary Gygax was not incompetent at presenting a Tolkienesque game setting. He had entirely different tastes and assumptions about fantasy! And anyone that desired a game session that felt more akin to Fritz Leiber’s City of Lankhmar would be more than satisfied with what the tables offered up to him– even if it was a cheap trollop with a 30% chance to know valuable information!

Obviously, the capacity to recognize which sources Gygax is drawing from and which types of fantasy he is simulating not only allows people to play the game as Gygax conceived it, it also saves them from drastically underestimating his intelligence. It pains me to say this as I had really hoped to have grown to be far more open minded on the subject than I was back in 2016 when I was putting the finishing touches on my treatise on the subject, but being familiar with the works in Appendix N really is a prerequisite to both understanding Gary Gygax and to playing the game he co-created correctly.