One year ago, I broke the news that “one real day = one game day” was the key to understanding real old school D&D. Today I am here to tell you that the implications of this rule go much deeper than we originally imagined.
Now, the first thing you notice is that the AD&D game world of your campaign ceases to be static. As is explained on pages 104-105 with EXTENSIVE EXAMPLES, any monster lair or dungeon location that the players fail to finish off in the context of a single session will typically have about a week to prepare for the players’ return visit. The spirit of these rules is going to come up in most “old school” circles, often times in the context of discussing Keep on the Borderlands, say. However the conventional “stop time” approach to the game will simply not grapple with these time-related issues on near the same frequency as a 1:1 campaign. In real D&D, the notorious “15 minute work day” just isn’t an issue at all.
Note that real D&D gameplay is fundamentally at odds with the assumptions of most modules. Dwimmermount– which until last year had produced the best set of game sessions I had ever experienced– is conceived of as a set of rooms that the players can wander into at any time and then experience a gradually unfolding sense of a weird D&D campaign world. Yes, interesting things should emerge as the players explore, but the setup assumes a more static dungeon environment than I think the rules imply. In any case, there is a world of difference between the dungeons of Dave Arneson’s First Fantasy Campaign and the sort of neo-classical take on the mid-eighties style of adventure module. A decade ago, adapting the OD&D mega-dungeon concept to contemporary understandings of module design was one of the signature challenges of old school game design. But what if there was some other lost axiom of old school gaming that had such a drastic impact on gameplay that this turned out to be solving the wrong problem?
Maybe we didn’t need to adapt seventies style rpg lore to eighties style module conventions. Maybe we needed to adapt ourselves to even more seventies era rpg lore! 1:1 timekeeping with multiple independent domain-level actors is the fundamental axiom we have been missing. Here is what you get by implementing this one neat trick:
- Every monster lair you hand over to a real player will necessarily generate personalized and idiosyncratic encounter locations. Details on how patrols are set up, even the names and personalities of sergeants and captains. Random table “content generator” supplements take for granted that running the game is a one man show. D&D as it was intended to be played puts players to work helping to flesh out the campaign world.
- When player characters need to interact with a domain level player, the DM does not need to improvise something to fit the type of adventure he is trying to run. Instead, the person running the relevant domain merely needs to play his role. Bonus: the domain level players will not pull their punches but will instead play their parts FAR BETTER than what a DM will be able to do. They are not limited by the players’ feelings being wounded by a game mastering decision.
- There will be so much domain-level information being generated and no way to create fair or useful session reports that you will have no choice but to set up a news feed for your campaign comparable to the old Traveller News Service from the pages of the Journal of the Traveller’s Aid Society. And for this one, I confess to not being the sort of person that is creative enough to come up with the ponderous world-building blah blah that comprise most articles and supplements about rpgs. However, with an actual war game running behind the scenes IT IS TRIVIAL to convert game events into hints and rumors about what all is going on.
- Similarly, your campaign will immediately begin spontaneously generating SECRETS as soon as you turn it on. I always dreamed of someday running a campaign as legendary as the one implied by GDW’s old Secret of the Ancients adventure module. Heck, even something like the nature of elves and dwarves gradually emerging over time in Dwimmermount would be cool. But no, y’all. I’m telling you today that the secrets your ridiculous AD&D campaign will generate JUST AS A SIDE EFFECT OF BEING PLAYED will be more hilarious, more ingenious, and more fun than anything you’ve read about anywhere else. ADVENTURE DESIGNERS CANNOT COMPETE WITH THIS.
Looking back at my 30 game sessions in the Trollopulous campaign last year, as wild as the game was it was still relatively static. The players would merely walk away from many adventure situations only to return a couple months later. At that point I would arbitrarily rule how much things had changed. And yes, this did create a living backdrop. But it was still just a backdrop. Adding the domain-level patron players creates tremendous game elements that cease to behave like set dressing and matte paintings.
Best of all, the game is ALWAYS ON. Players can plot and scheme with each other even when I am not in contact with them. They can act as de facto Dungeon Masters for individual player characters that are running their downtime actions within their domain locations. And they can find a use for many, many old rules that never seem to get applied in more conventional rpgs.
The reason that accounts of Gary Gygax’s Greyhawk campaign are so baffling today is because he had assumptions about D&D that are 100% foreign to practically everyone playing the game today or even that were playing it in 1985. Judging by the magazine articles and remarks I have received from angry boomers, nobody really understood this in 1975. And the amazing thing is… Gygax’s definitive treatment of the subject of Dungeon Mastering ASSUMED THAT YOU WILL BE RUNNING A GAME THAT IS MORE OR LESS LIKE WHAT I AM DESCRIBING HERE: ie, 1:1 timekeeping, multiple characters per player, player-run domains, and NO DISCERNABLE SPOTLIGHT ON ANY GIVEN GROUP OF ADVENTURERS.
D&D is a framework for creating a game THAT IS NOT LIMITED BY WHAT YOU CAN ACCOMPLISH WITHIN AN INDIVIDUAL GAME SESSION OR EVEN A SERIES OF INDIVIDUAL GAME SESSIONS. And when you run it as intended, you get far better results than what people have decided roleplaying games can be. The reason for this is that D&D as Gygax intended creates a MODEL FANTASY WORLD WITH REAL POWERS & PRINCIPALITIES AND WHICH DEVELOPS OVER TIME IN TANDEM WITH THE REAL WORLD.
It really is amazing. If you have never experienced this, you really ought to try it. My friends Chanticleer and Bdubs1776 have experimented with using these techniques to enhance their ELITE LEVEL rpg sessions, folding in patrons and downtime actions with player character adventuring. I have pushed as hard as I could toward the game’s wargaming roots to produce downtime play that is so compelling in its own right you need not ever run an rpg session with it at all in order to play D&D.
Somewhere in this range of gaming styles, you can surely find SOMETHING to take your campaign to an entirely different level. I look forward to hearing from the people that do.