Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

Patron Play and High Level Characters

A reader writes in:

Hey Jeffro, so I’ve been devouring your posts after I was pointed to your “Fifty years of fantasy gaming …”. Even made me re-watch Secrets of Blackmoor. Awesome stuff!

I’ve run OD&D with multiple groups before and my current Traveller5-Campaign has two groups going as of now. And both run 1:1 time, for sure!

However I’ve not had “patron style” play in my campaigns, yet. So that’s why I’m asking:

Do “patron players” actually get to play fully statted high level characters in your games? Like, say a level 12 Cleric leading some 300 dervishes? I know the MM and DMG give all the details on how to stat out high level characters and their entourages. Or do you do those high level characters more on an abstract level without any D&D stats (à la Braunstein)? Would you mind sharing stats / character info for one of your high level charachters?

Another question: do you think AD&D (which you seem to prefer) as a rules set is more suited to this kind of play than OD&D (which I do prefer)? If so, why?

Cheers, Wanderer Bill

Hey, Bill!

The Moon Pool

Yeah, that level 12 cleric with an army of 300 dervishes was actually in the Trollopulous campaign. He destroyed a significant goblin force with no losses, used divination to get clues about what the other patrons were doing, used another spell to have an invisible angel bring the goblin king to him and then put a geas on him to go wipe out the mushroom people.

As you can see from the original Monster Manual, groups like this can get fairly complex if you just do what Gygax said to do. Wilderness Encounters taken straight from the core tables are liable to have clerics and magic-users and entire chainmail units. Add in an allied monster unit and you now have an opportunity to master psionics rules as well– but in a strategic game rather than a dungeon crawl!

It is a lot to take in at once. Way more complex than anything I would need in a typical adventuring type session. Like, I’d actually need a dedicated player to sort all this out because I have too much time sunk in managing the game. This is true even of the people running single high level characters like this one:

Sorceress — 22nd Level Magic-User STR 11, INT 17, WIS 14, DEX 16, CON 10, CHA 15 THAC0 13 AC 10 HP 40 Level 22
M-U Spell Book:
1: Read Magic, Detect Magic, Erase, Enlarge, Unsen Servant, Magic Missile
2: Continual Light, Darkness 15ft Radius, Detect Invisibility, Forget, Mirror Image, Wizard Lock
3: Dispel Magic, Slow, Suggestion, Tongues, Clairaudience, Clairvoyance
4: Charm Monster, Confusion, Dimension Door, Explosive Runes, Fire Trap, Massmorph
5: Leomund’s Secret Chest, Stone Shape, Teleport, Feeblemind, Contact Other Plane, Wall of Force
6: Globe of Invulnerability, Guards and Wards, Geas, Invisible Stalker, Legend Lore, Move Earth
7: Bigby’s Grasping Hand, Drawmij’s Instant Summons, Limited Wish, Mass Invisibility, Monster Summoning V, Simulacrum
8: Clone, Mass Charm, Mindblank, Serten’s Spell Immunity, Symbol
9: Imprisonment, Temporal Stasis, Time Stop
** 7 pathetic frog-men attendants.
(Your army was destroyed, and your treasure taken in January.)

Can you imagine trying to come up with an “adventure” for a character like that? I know I have always struggled to imagine how to handle high-level play. It turns out that if you let go of this concept of adventuring parties and retool your concept of the game to include large quantities of “down time” where you can do anything you can imagine, everything just falls into place!

The place where all the stats really matter is in instances where you have patron versus patron combat, either at the character scale or the Chainmail scale. These contests are very typically unfair, so take your time in setting the scene and getting player buy-in on what is really going on. They will often agree to several innocuous things that (due to information they don’t have) will flat out doom them to a silly and embarrassing death. They will take it better if it is clear that they walked right into it on their own.

As far as Braunstein-like play goes… I am convinced that it will happen spontaneously even though you have everything statted out in cold, hard D&D terms. Due to the fog of war, players are hesitant to take a swing at someone when they have no idea how it will go or when potential losses can make them vulnerable to everyone else after the battle. People will naturally want to just play their role and negotiate and get a feel for what is happening and if that ends up being fun people will forget about the bloodbath that is liable to happen when any two patrons are near each other. In fact, 1:1 time, a large number of patrons, and an “always on” style of play is functionally identical to a LARP in key ways. This can be frightening if you aren’t expecting it. But the players end up entertaining each other without the referee having to be there to baby each and every development along. (Of course, the referee will end up not knowing what is actually going on in some cases…! Don’t worry, though… if this happens, it’s how you know your Braunstein was a success!!!)

It is really amazing stuff, but you don’t have to go whole hog. A smaller number of patrons is less likely to rage out of control. The resulting playstyle of this keeps traditional adventuring actions as the focus with Patrons spicing up the normally much more static campaign backdrop. Rather than a bizarre wargame campaign that generates off-the-wall scenarios that you need to play out, this type of game is going to be much more comprehensible to most players. (But face it, people would go nuts to be able to play an entire army and go out and make castles and such.)

Finally, as to OD&D vs. AD&D, I really see them as being pretty much the same thing. The original supplements give you so much that is emblematic of AD&D. I prefer AD&D because its extensive elaborations spell out WHY the game was set up the way it was. However, I end up referencing OD&D anyway to find out how things are supposed to work because its brevity makes it so much easier to locate things!

Good luck with your game, man. And let us hear about how it goes, too!

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