Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

Real Time Trollopulous Domain Play

I am starting up the Trollopulous campaign again on July 1. (And note that the months of February to June will have passed with no significant player or campaign events. The players’ big successes were evidently awesome enough that they took a bit of a vacation!)

After observing my friend Chanticleer running player-run NPC patrons in his fifth edition “real time” campaign, it hit me that this was the key to playing the AD&D domain game. Other guys in the BrOSR are experimenting with enhancing the player-facing side of the game with player run patrons. My question was… what would happen if you cut the usual adventure party groups out of the picture entirely? And what if this was the real point of D&D, way more important than the usual dungeon crawl scenario?

I aim to find out! I can already tell you that the most obvious difference with this type of play is that everything in the rule book gets used at once– and everything you have ever thought about adding to your campaign gets put into play simultaneously and in parallel. And instead of being limited to exploring what a single group of player characters encounter, the whole world is in play at once with things happening all over the place. Finally! Free from the spotlight!

I have ten major domains, groups, patrons, and/or high level characters here that are almost all drawn directly from the original campaign I developed last year running AD&D rules-as-written:

Note that working up a domain/patron like these takes about as much time as making an original one page dungeon. With these fleshed out like they are now, we now have a campaign where the overworld has finally received as much attention as the underworld. But rather than just being a bunch of unplayable “blah blah” like the old Gazetteer series, everything prepped is 100% useful for setting up an old style basement-grade miniatures campaign. Unlike my one page dungeon prep, all of this stuff gets used and played with the moment we turn the game on. (This doesn’t mean much to unflappable DMs like Bdubs, but it sure means a lot to me!)

Somebody asked me how this will work and I think that we’ll get everyone’s orders in before the month begins. During the month, every thing is plotted out in real time. Detachments will be sent around the map and encounters may result.

When I first thought this up I realized that the gameplay would be a LOT like Diplomacy. I wasn’t sure if everything would devolve into total chaos with a massive amounts of player elimination (a la Car Wars arena dueling) or if everyone would reflexively turtle up and cause nothing to happen. My hope is that 1:1 time will cause things to happen slowly enough that it is all manageable, but that nevertheless enough conflict happens that things don’t get boring.

Note that 70s style D&D campaigns are in many respects self-balancing. Players with boring domains can be given a second domain on the other side of the map if everything is too static. (The board game 7 Ages works this way.) This is what playing 9-point alignment is intended to help manage, after all. Alternately, a group of adventurers can find out what it is like to adventure in an authentic D&D campaign setting where the major factions are run by real players– and then interact with THEM instead of just having the referee handwave their behaviors in order to fit whatever he happens to want to make happen.

Really, no idea if this will work! But I can tell you that the players strike me as being unusually excited about these “patrons” that we developed for this. There is a lot of stuff here that people dream of doing but then somehow never get around to. The more I contemplate this, the more I think that something about this is supremely important to how D&D was meant to be played.

But again… we won’t know what this is like until we do it. (Oh, and to the dweebs out there that will pretend they tried this once but didn’t care for it and that naturally run their homebrewed B/X in stop time because that’s how they like it: shut up and go to the gym already!)

One thing that I assume to be totally different from the way other people do this: to me it is fine if the players talk amongst themselves to plan and plot and scheme as much as they like. My rationale for doing it that way stems from the accounts of the original Braunstein. A side effect of this is that the game is always on, always in play, and any player can interact with any other player whenever they think of something. Which naturally leads to maximum gaming surface area for minimal development effort. (70s wargamers needed good solutions to real problems, not something that could be easily packaged and sold.)

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