Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

You Didn’t Complete the Training, Did You?

“Stopped they must be. On this depends. Only a fully trained Jedi Knight with the Force as his ally will conquer Vader and his Emperor. If you end your training now, if you choose the quick and easy path, as Vader did, you will become an agent of evil.” — Yoda

An entire generation of dungeon masters cut their teeth on the old Basic D&D sets. So many people learned the game straight from Holmes, Moldvay, or Mentzer. But maybe not nearly so many continued on and really mastered the wilderness adventuring scheme of the Expert set. Now that I’ve finally run the second of the two most iconic training modules, I have to say… the Basic Set was our Obiwan Kenobi, but Expert was Yoda. So only a fraction of us actually completed our training! A consequence of this is that most people’s conception of Dungeons & Dragons is filtered through only a portion of what it actually is. Entire gaming systems have been launched to address the deficiencies of this incomplete picture of the game.

Think about the much-maligned “fifteen minute workday” that emerges in dungeon adventures. Magic-users only get a very limited number of spells per day, eh? So the whole party goes back to town after every encounter. Every trip to the dungeon, the players come loaded down with enough vials of oil that they can burn the place to the ground. Now… take that dynamic…. Switch to a wilderness adventure and see what happens. Suddenly the spells become really plentiful and the mundane equipment becomes very, very scarce. On the Isle of Dread, the chance of running in to more than one encounter in a single day is usually quite small. But most of the time, the players are going to be a week or more away from something even vaguely town-like. And even then, there is no well stocked general store to provide a limitless amount of goodies. It’s like an entirely different game. But most people’s house rules likely address “problems” with the Basic game that completely disappear in Expert play.

And think of all the dungeon modules and adventure scenarios. Think of all the time you spend studying them, reviewing them, choosing ones that are a perfect fit for your campaign … And think how you just go from one to another, hand waving the journey in between. And it’s all a grind, maybe… without the scope and depth of something like The Lord of the Rings. And think again how you always thought that your D&D sets were just so lacking in the world-building area. Well… the Expert set deals with all of that. Or it would have if you’d stuck with it.

You want to go into a session and run it with almost zero prep or scenario development? You’ve got it. Just play out the wilderness journey, and actually try rolling on the random encounter tables for once. Those aren’t just treasureless monsters that distract from the “real” point of the game. No way! Sure, in the dungeon oriented campaign, they were mostly there to prevent people from searching for traps in every single ten foot square. But that world map that you look at and just dread having to stock…? The players can’t go experience all the planned encounters you might have set there anyway. Why not find out what a region is like right along with your players?

The random monster tables to give you a grab bag of situations whose meaning can vary tremendously depending on the terrain, the time of day, and the status of the party. A sense of place will emerge from the slightest hints. What’s more, when the brain confronts a  sequence of random situations, it inevitably combines them into a coherent narrative. It’s trivial to stock a wilderness area after the players have already been through it. You thought you were burnt out on dungeon mastering, but in reality you’ve ignored the greatest set of tools that you ever had to simplify your job and provide a fantastic spur for your creativity. But you never found out about it because you decided it was pointless before you even tried it.

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4 responses to “You Didn’t Complete the Training, Did You?

  1. Jason Packer March 18, 2013 at 11:48 am

    This resonates with me. So much so that I’ve written and deleted two different replies because they go off so far on tangents that they probably deserve to be posts of my own.

    Suffice to say that yes, many of the “problems” with the old skool play style have to do with our own inherent disregard for our responsibility as a GM to provide appropriate limits to the characters. Too much “keep it moving and fun at the expense of all else” I suspect.

    • jeffro March 18, 2013 at 1:48 pm

      That was one thing that impressed me about Jeff Rients. He could make comments on other blogs without spinning out into a blog-post sized missive…! [which is what I invariably do!!]

      Please do post your ruminations on your blog if they’re at all cogent.

  2. Pingback: Revisiting Matt Finch’s Zen Moments of Old School Gaming | Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

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