Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

To finish a thought…

My ramblings on Jon’s show last Sunday didn’t always make it to where I had intended to go with them. (Though I must say I am quite pleased with how the show could both open and close with some very hard-hitting assertions) So! This post is to tie up all of the nagging loose ends. Here are some minor corrections along with several things that I REALLY wanted to get off my chest.

The Genesis of the Project: “A lot of us were just a little bit too [young] to have been born at the right time to get a lot of mileage out of [the original core AD&D rules manuals.” (I said “old” when I should have said “young”.)

The Griff digression: This was a rather long bit that did not get wrapped up well. The irony here that I wish I could have articulated has to do with that generation of people that despise AD&D for being too inflexible and rules-heavy and who look back on Arneson’s original campaign as being sort of the “free love” era of the game that gives legitimacy to their “just change the rules and fudge the dice roles as much as you want” approach to the game. In reality, Gygax articulates a set of instructions that is both consistent with and which produces the type of play that you see in Griff’s Blackmoor documentary. Gygax is not a big meany that is steamrolling Arneson’s superior approach to the game. GYGAX IS TELLING YOU WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW IN ORDER TO REPEAT ARNESON’S SUCCESS.

The Time Thing: “It’s not very fun to try to explain this because it’s very very simple but it’s very very easy to be misunderstood, which aptly describes practically everything that Gygax wrote.” <– Holy moley, this was surprisingly succinct and cogent coming from me extemporaneously like this. But note that the two pages on “one week later” in the DMG is referring to pages 104 and 105.

The Jeffro Johnson Megadungeon: This is another digression here, but where I was going with this is that running 1:1 time and total player autonomy with AD&D RAW (but not patrons) lead to a game where the players rarely went back to a dungeon more than a couple of times. While I might have learned a great deal during the 30 sessions of play we did in 2020 under the “supercharged B/X” approach to playing AD&D that could have dealt with this, the introduction of patrons absolutely destroyed any chance of me being able to take advantage of the players to help me create a super cool Appendix N themed megadungeon product. I could place the perfect adventure module on the campaign map RIGHT NOW and the players will still ignore it. Why? Because the “always on” overworld is so much more intriguing. Patron play on top of everything else we were doing creates a game that is so engaging and so fun that the players will always choose to interact with this new (old?) type of gaming we discovered rather than recapitulate the type of stuff that is exemplified by classic 1980s adventure modules.

The Alexandrian post: Jon brings up the Alexandrian blog post which the gross nerd YouTube plagiarist cited on his video. If anyone is going to be bringing anyone up in order to claim that someone figured all of this out before the #BrOSR, Nagora is the guy that people should be talking about. His May 2012 post What is AD&D? defines the game as being predicated on both Appendix N and strict timekeeping. (It really is a remarkable post.) The Alexandrian post was about the idea of an open table, which is not exactly a fundamental concept of ANYTHING that we are discussing here. (And likewise, Rick Stump’s Jazz Band Adventuring post is not an example of how someone was already doing what the #BrOSR has done before the #BrOSR ever tried it.)

What it means when the Cave Man patron consistently surprises the DM: This is a thought that I really really wanted to hit on and which I could just not quite complete on the show. The point here is that when you have patrons making decisions that are unlike anything that you would have done as a DM, then you have entities in the game now that are BETTER THAN ANYTHING YOU COULD HAVE IMAGINED. This is very important because it means that DM’s that utilize patrons can create fantasy worlds peopled by creatures that are WAY MORE COMPLEX THAN ANYTHING THEY COULD HAVE PUT TOGTHER BY THEMSELVES. Furthermore, when I ran one-page dungeons where I knew everything that could happen or that was likely to happen, I would get bored. When I have patrons creating situations on the basis of their just interacting with each other, I have something that is ORDERS OF MAGNITUDE MORE INTERESTING than anything I could have devised on my own.

The bit about getting burned out: Okay, I REALLY wanted to put this one to bed. If you are running AD&D RAW with 1:1 time and give players total autonomy to do whatever they want and also refuse to use any modules or campaign supplements, then chances are ANYONE doing this will burn out eventually. This is particularly the case if nobody yet knows how AD&D is supposed to even work, which added stress and confusion to the implementation of EVERY aspect of the campaign as I was pouring over the rules week to week when I would rather have been prepping for the game in other ways. On the one hand, you can get lots of reuse from relatively simple dungeons if they players go back there month to month and cause you to restock it multiple times. On the other hand, you have to be ready for the players to do completely random things on a whim and abandon the very areas that you have worked to flesh out. A lot of people liked this type of play even when we didn’t know half of what the #BrOSR has discovered. But I have to say that at the time, THIS TYPE OF GAMING WAS A HEAVY LIFT. Most people don’t take on half of what I did simply because they are just plain afraid of it. But there I was trying to play all the rules that look way too hard to everyone else! OF COURSE IT WAS DAUNTING! Yeah, people drop 1:1 time now into whatever campaign they are doing and get immediate benefits. But in a lot of ways, what we call Patron play was a natural outgrowth of 1:1 time because it solves all of the problems that were created by 1:1 time. (!!) What I was doing in 2020 was REALLY QUITE DIFFICULT and I don’t think people can appreciate that anymore due to the half-dozen innovations that the #BrOSR worked out during 2021. Here in 2022 it’s just plain obvious now: if you are running a really ambitious campaign and you refuse to delegate anything important to your best players (either on principle or just because you don’t know how), then you are making things way harder than they need to be and you are going to wear yourself out.

Did people lose interest in the city of Trollopulous? — Oh, this one hurts, yes! Look, for real now. In 2020, Trollopulous was the center of the campaign because it was really all there was. Today there are a bunch of other places on the map, and yeah– Minas Mandalf is the de facto home base for the majority of player characters now. Stuff that was introduced during 2020 and 2021 still has a tremendous impact on everything that happens, though. The city of Nilbog has become a roost for an ancient copper dragon. People still make the trek to Cave Six because everybody LOVES the cave men. Prince Elric’s sword Stormbringer is still a tremendous deal even though Prince Elric has been dead for almost a year. And Trollopulous…. What about Trollopulous? It’s still there. Things are still happening there even if the sessions don’t deal with it directly. And even though the players aren’t trekking there with their adventure parties, it doesn’t mean it’s gone. It’s still there. It has a lot of history and a lot of stuff in it. It’s a factor in a whole lot of decisions that get made even if the more chaotic players can’t quite get people to bite the bullet and go sell those gnome heads to Zanzel Melancthones. This type of campaign can surprise you. Stuff can seem to lie fallow for a long while and then suddenly become vitally important for a while due to an unlikely chain of events. This happened just this past week and it will surely happen again! (But note, this is not just a testament to Macho Mandalf’s skill as a player. It is also a vindication of the very strange and nearly unplayed domain rules that Gary lays out in the DMG. They provide a much better frame for a campaign than than whatever you might come up with trying to mimic 1980s D&D product.)

The Planet of the Week thing — Just a minor correction here. In Traveller, the jump takes exactly one week. Once you add up the time it takes to travel to and from the 100D limit of the port, refueling, trading, adventuring, and taking on new passengers… a bit more than just one week will pass. So if you’re playing Traveller the way we do Trollopulous, you’re going to need two parties right out of the gate. Any jump at the end of a session will put the group of people that did it out of play for the next weekly game session. Also, you may having a group conduct two or three jumps within a single session and then be out of play for multiple sessions after that! That’s going to sound dumb to a lot of people, but I would suggest going with the strict approach anyway. Having multiple parties being run by the same players allows the universe to take on an existence independent of them even if you aren’t doing patron play. Further, on any given night, one of those parties is going to be way more interesting than the others. Allowing that cream to rise to the top will be a really good thing. Maybe two groups will be so exciting, you will end up running multiple sessions per week just so you can keep them both going forward with time. Also, the game will typically be quite different week to week– each group will be able to have different types of adventures. Finally, if one of those groups gets wiped, your campaign isn’t over. It’s a way more antifragile approach to an rpg campaign overall even if it sounds weird. Of course, if you want to add patrons on top of this, that is even better. But if you do that you will DEFINITELY want to be running strict 1:1 time there.

3 responses to “To finish a thought…

  1. Nagora May 4, 2022 at 9:39 am

    I certainly wouldn’t claim to have covered everything you have back in 2012 (or back in the late 70’s). Although I had an inkling of patron play, for example, from reading about Blackmoor, we never did anything like that. We generally didn’t have the numbers and of course out of band comms were harder back then. As a bunch of spotty teenagers in Northern Ireland we didn’t have much in the way of resources to run a real campaign with tabletop battles – we did meet in a local hotel for a while when we had very large numbers of players but people didn’t like paying to play :)

    But we did use down time BitD in D&D and, interestingly, in Traveller too, although we played a lot less Traveller than D&D.

    Your remark about Gygax systemising Arneson’s ideas so that others could duplicate them is interesting. When I was analysing the way Dave constructed his mega-dungeons ( I realised that Gary’s system in the DMG looks very different to Daves, but in fact gives a similar result. Since then I’ve been more cautious about accepting the standard wisdom that Gary simply threw away Arneson’s contributions in favour of his own.

    Anyway, thanks for the kind words, even if they’re not *entirely* merited.

  2. Rob Eaglestone May 4, 2022 at 2:00 pm

    Dear Jeffro,

    I saw your note on the “planet of the week thing”, and that’s hit on something I’ve been thinking for awhile now. To wit, I want to promote the 1:1 time thing with Traveller, and I want to drag the Traveller community into the setting, synchronized in this way. After all, the OTU from its beginnings essentially tracked 1:1 setting time from the beginning (we’d be somewhere around 1148 by now…).

    Got any thoughts about that?

    • jeffro May 4, 2022 at 2:14 pm

      We have been running multiple Braunsteins in 1:1 time. Some go hot. Some stay hot. Some simmer in the background and then get turned back on as needed.

      A Braunstein that does not culminate into a wargame scenario is… well, it’s basically a LARP. Try not to feel too bad about it, but some people will just happily embrace this and… the great thing is that the referee can just leave them to it for the most part.

      A Braunstein that DOES culminate into a battle– ie, two armies/fleets coming into contact– well, congrats. You have a campaign that generates battles for you. This is awesome.

      However, a Braunstein can also produce multisided conflicts that do not fit with any existing wargame rule set. THIS IS FINE, TOO. The players don’t care as long as they get an outcome in a timely manner. But this area which you can see in both Trollopulous and on Mr. Wargaming’s channel… HEY HEY HEY. This is that free form gaming which is described in Book 4: Mercenary.

      If you are concerned with maintaining the official setting, this will liimit your player base. Patron play sort of hinges on the player having free reign to create original content that they are excited about. Obviously, I advocate for the small “classic” rule set that doubles down on the E.C. Tubb and Poul Anderson influences.

      But you can’t explain this stuff to people. A few people have been persuaded to adopted BrOSR ideas. But nearly everyone that has PLAYED with the BrOSR have gone off and run campaigns of their own built on the same concepts.

      If you want this to take on… YOU NEED TO HAVE A SUCCESSFUL CAMPIGN RIGHT NOW USING THIS. Experienced referees will see how this applies to all kinds of problems if they can just play this long enough for the lightbulb to go off.

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