The discussion on #BrOSR ideas over on Twitter is really solid. The reason is that people have tried these things and then observed tremendous differences in how rpgs play afterwards. It does not take a lot of time before unusual things start to emerge from this approach to playing D&D! And indeed, it is the emphasis on PLAYING successful campaigns that sets #BrOSR discourse head and shoulders above the competition.
Each of the ideas, taken alone, is going pay dividends to any campaign that implements them. For me, it is something like, “There is a fundamentally different way of playing the game, that conventional rpgs practices won’t produce.” Accepting this possibility helped me to reconsider the presuppositions I had about playing.
The #BrOSR ideas are especially helpful for DMs. Players can discover the intensity & immersion through experience. The DM requires the vision to use them before its been demonstrated. Yes, Jeffograxian time, patrons, emergent story > contrived story, rules > campaign > pcs, appendix N, full player autonomy, mass scalable warfare, taking the spotlight off one pc group, rule-zero aversion, and more all contribute to an immersive and living world. To someone stuck in conventional rpg practices, any one of these becomes unimaginable because of how it ends up affecting every layer of activity in the world.
Example, tracking encumbrance: If we hand wave the encumbrance for a pc, to remain consistent we’d have to hand wave it for groups; merchants, armies, nomads, etc. Instantly there’s no meaningful difference between a pouch filled with diamonds and a warehouse full of iron tools.
Grounding time (Jeffrogaxian time), seems to be the glue that holds everything else together. If time isn’t grounded then a game could spend six months playing out two weeks & this would keep additional parties, patrons & high level players out of the game indefinitely.
Adding patron play to my game meant the players spent months unsure if they were interacting with the DM or another player. It’s a whole additional layer of fog of war. The pcs would get pissed when a patron cleansed a widow’s basement of giant rats before they had got around to it, because they wanted the glory, loot & favor of the fit widow.
The #BrOSR ideas were so compelling that all my players tried talking their wives into joining. Some of them started campaigns of their own & I got to play in them. They key seems to be a shift in fundamentals, and, naturally, that affects every single other thing.
By conventional rpg practices, I’m referring to spotlighting the pcs, putting emphasis on contrived plot, handwaving rules for what seems cool, thinking the dm is above the rules, assuming the pcs are heros instead of letting them earn it, being lax with time, fudging dice, etc
This contrast with conventional rpg practices is especially helpful. But also, the observation that each plank of the #BrOSR platform seems to fit together in an almost magical way and produce a fundamentally different type of game– one that repeatedly ends up pulling more and more players into the game with deeper levels of engagement.
The understanding that DnD is a campaign system for chainmail is the lynchpin of the whole thing. Patron play is about seeding an active campaign. 1:1 time is about keeping campaign time moving forward. Adventurers delve to equip armies for Mass battles.
Pretty well everyone bred on conventional approaches to roleplay takes for granted that the domain game is an “end game” for the campaign. The #BrOSR turns that on its head and shows people how to make domain play both relevant and playable from the start, creating an exciting can dynamic play-environment in the process. The #BrOSR ends up experiencing things that NEVER happen in conventional rpgs. Meanwhile, people in conventional games look forward to a domain experience that will never end up happening.
1:1 time combined with the usual D&D wilderness maps produces a very large canvas for the players to operate on. Because the game is “always on” and because there is no single spotlight and no conceivable action is off the table, everything that is placed in the campaign is active and in play effectively forever. With time ticking forward at a steady and consistent rate, all of these elements develop and move and engage with each other constantly. Rather than players interacting with a story, they end up acting within a model fantasy world.
Scaling out from sword swings to armies marching against each other turns a group solitaire campaign into a truly cooperative experience.
With everything in play at once, and everything that is ever placed into the campaign taking on a life of its own, the old model of how rpgs even work is shattered.
The DM is no longer this grand sage that has somehow created a brilliant fantasy world with adventures that are designed to appeal and entertain the players. No! He is reduced to being merely a referee. And though he might know some secrets that the players are not aware of, he will be just as surprised and entertained by how events develop in the game as everyone else at the table.
The legendarily overworked DM disappears. And instead, the players gain many ways that they contribute to the vitality of the campaign.
The #BrOSR is real D&D. It is AD&D played as intended. It is successful fantasy campaigns that just won’t quit. It is a fundamentally different type of play that is distinct from the conventional approaches to roleplaying that have dominated hobby gaming over the past forty years.
What does it consist of? I asked the #BrOSR’s most vociferous advocates on Twitter and this is what they said:
1:1 time aka Jeffrogaxian timekeeping — The game world is tied to the real-world calendar. For each day that passes in the real world, a day passes in the game world. This may sound strange, but it turns out to be foundational to everything that the #BrOSR does. If you ever thought it was dumb that adventurers go from battling rats in sewers to assassinating demigods in a span of a couple weeks in contemporary games, rest easy. Gygax never intended the game to work that way!
Faction play aka Chantsonian patrons — You may have noticed that high-level characters don’t really do much except give out quests and missions to the player characters in conventional games. The #BrOSR hands these roles over to players that don’t necessarily even show up to game sessions. What is mere scenery in most other games turns into a constantly developing backdrop that influences player character activities in countless ways.
1:10 scaling aka Chainmail scale battles — #BrOSR campaigns spontaneously generate exciting battles that integrate individual player characters and large army factions. Because D&D rules derive from a medieval miniatures game, it is trivial to resolve them without coming up with variant systems. It has never been easier to find, develop, and keep wargame opponents than with this approach to campaigning.
An “always on” campaign made up of multiple interacting Braunsteins — #BrOSR campaigns create a framework that allows many different environments and situations to develop independently while all influence each other in surprising ways. Multiple Dungeon Masters find it trivial to coordinate their efforts and elite level patron players exercise many powers that are normally restricted to the DM.
This approach to playing D&D answers countless problems that have vexed lesser tables:
Alignment finally makes sense because it can be seen to work in its intended context: defining several different sides in a complex ongoing wargame. Restricting player behaviors with these odd-looking rules frees them up to even play different roles that operate with conflicting objectives on different parts of the map.
The original monster manual finally makes sense! Combined with the random tables in the DMG, it puts detailed Chainmail scale factions into play that have a wide range of leveled characters backing them up. Only the #BrOSR has the objectively correct answer for what to do when the players encounter 300 orcs!
How dungeon masters created and ran campaigns without piles of adventure modules and supplementary material is finally revealed. This system generates so much adventure and conflict, there is no longer any need for adventure modules. The random tables in the back of the DMG are more than sufficient for sustaining a campaign practically forever.
The Dungeon Master no longer needs to make up any stories. All he has to do is resolve the many conflicts that arise between factions consistently and fairly according to the rules. Further, a campaign with a culture based on rules as written allows for individual patrons and characters to operate independently while still maintaining campaign cohesion. You can now start playing the legendary domain game starting with your very first session!
D&D has never made more sense than right now.
By the way, I will be featured on this episode of Inappropriate Characters this Sunday. DON’T MISS IT!
Pretty good show here from the Wandering DMs that demonstrates that Appendix N is still the talk of the town:
I feared the worst for this one when I turned it on today. This bit “Our Appendix N” typically means “here is my list of crappy video games, blockbuster movies, Japanese cartoons, and bloated post-1980 pink slime fantasy series that most influence the derivative rpg products I make which nobody plays.”
But no! Delta Dan and his co-host pretty well go down the line with everything that I would want said on this topic:
Short stories from before 1970 are a better match for what most people tend to do in D&D sessions than the big epic fantasy series that are today synonymous with the genre
Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser stories are more in line with the D&D rules than practically anything else in existence.
If you’re going to play real D&D, it is going to help a great deal if “your” Appendix N includes Howard’s Conan stories, Michael Moorcock’s Elric stories, and Jack Vance’s Cugel stories.
Delta gives a suggestion that if you are playing G1, be sure to read “The Roaring Trumpet” by de Camp and Pratt.
For that last one, I don’t know who the first person in the game blog scene to call that out. Whoever it was is definitely a very perspicacious individual that deserves our gratitude!
Now, I bring up this show not so much because these guys are able to speak at length on this particular topic without ever mentioning my name. But I will say there is a very good gloss on 2016 Jeffro baked into this show. A set of claims that brought an endless stream of gross nerds out of the woodwork to challenge me back in the day is clearly now just the way most people in gaming understand this topic.
What’s really interesting is where they drop the ball. Now… as one of the players in the Trollopulous game has said, the only person that can defeat Jeffro on an rpg topic is FUTURE JEFFRO. This is a jibe at my very famous switch from endorsing Moldvay Basic to Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, the reasons for which I have elaborated at length on this blog and on Twitter.
But notice how these Wandering DM guys claim that The Lord of the Rings is not really the best fit for D&D. And notice how both they and 2015 Jeffro would say that there are easily five or six other authors that are more influential to the nature of the game than even J. R. R. Tolkien.
What’s missing from this take is something that was uncovered by 2021 Jeffro. And that is– of course!– you cannot run a fantasy campaign that works the way that The Lord of the Rings does if you have not mastered both 1:1 timekeeping and the integration of Chainmail battles into regular D&D play. And note that this topic has consumed the #BrOSR’s efforts since my January 2021 Chainmail scale adventure session, Chanticleer’s pioneering of patron play, and then my massive month-long Braunstein in July 2021. All of this has culminated now into a FUNDAMENTALLY DIFFERENT WAY TO PLAY D&D that is best detailed on many of Jon Mollison’s recent videos on the topic.
Which is where this Frank Mentzer quote comes from.
Check it out. Frank Mentzer says here that Gygax kept his characters in some kind of “training jail”. Man… I wonder how Gygax knew how long he should keep Frank’s characters out of play? If only there were a rule in the DMG which nobody has explained over the past 40 years which gives the referee a consistent, clear duration for working that out!
The answer is of course… 1:1 time correspondence between sessions.
And while we are on the topic: who else besides the #BrOSR has endorsed the concept of Training Jail over the past forty years. I can’t think of any!
And who else has put the word out that Training Jail… somehow… someway… incredibly even… is the key to unlocking the D&D game as Gygax played it and as Gygax intended YOU to play it? Well, hey, that is my bag. Though it would not be the sensation that it is right now were it not for the dozen or so gaming geniuses that all embraced and continued to explore these ideas after playing in my Trollopulous campaign.
Which, finally, brings us back to this Wandering DMs show.
The most interesting thing about it is what is not said. And that is that there is a big big story here, as big or bigger than that of Appendix N itself. And the amazing thing about it is that Delta doesn’t make any offhand comments on this point even though he has himself worked up a pretty solid and well-tested set of Chainmail rules!
But don’t worry! He’ll get there eventually.
And whoever he credits for this stunning discovery, you can rest assured that Phantom Jeffro will be there quietly guiding his talking points on whatever show he does for this.
Daily reminder that no one can “gatekeep” you from playing ttrpgs. You can just, like, buy the books and play.
Boy howdy, those woke people can’t get to you or your vintage rpg collection! You have every reason to feel super smug about this. I mean, as long as you don’t have kids in public school. And as long as you don’t work in a company that has an HR department. But, yeah. At least those freaks and weirdos can’t ruin the very last thing in your life that you can enjoy without them mucking it all up.
Unfortunately for you, you’ve never been a part of hobby to begin with. I mean, sure, you bought the games back in the day. You looked at the pictures. You rolled up some characters. Maybe you even had a long-running game with a group of your best buds.
But none of that matters. The greatness of those really old games that utterly fascinated your teenaged self? You were gatekept out of it even then.
How did it happen?
Well, some gross nerd told you that you couldn’t learn the game just by reading the rules. The guy seemed pretty smart and what he advised seemed to work okay for what you were doing. And you never found out what the game described by the rules was really like. You counted yourself lucky. After all… you were initiated into the hobby– or so you thought.
If you ever had a desire to find out how the game really worked, your DM more than likely didn’t go along with it. The moment he turned you down, there were five gross nerds on hand to insist that as the DM, HIS WORD IS LAW. And that was the end of it.
Still there might have been some lingering doubt about all this. Maybe you wanted to run an rpg by the rules for once just to see how it went. But chances are, you sat down at the table and someone among your on players sagely explained to everyone there, “if you’re not having fun, you’re doing it wrong.”
Even with you at the helm, you faced an uphill battle.
Regardless, all of these gross people worked tirelessly to gatekeep YOU out of the REAL rpg hobby. And as a result, none of you ever experienced the classic rpgs as they were originally conceived and as they were intended to be played. What’s more, everyone involved in creating your favorite rpg products that you are most nostalgic about all had a vested interest in you never learning the gaming secrets that are routinely detailed on this blog.
You cannot construct a large, successful ongoing campaign on the basis of rule zero and total arbitrary referee authority. Everyone who told you otherwise was selling you a fake hobby and preventing you from experiencing the real thing.
D&D isn’t a JOB, and presenting it as such is, IMO, just as “toxic” as suggesting that you are “doing it wrong” if you don’t kill off PCs, or you don’t fudge dice, or whatever. D&D is a game you play with your friends. It isn’t a JOB unless you are paid to do it
It’s crazy to me to watch how assumptions start to become the default. The BROSR dudes suggesting that no one played their way until 2 years ago and that if you aren’t playing this way “you aren’t playing real D&D.” So the last 40+ years of people playing D&D…
… was a massive hallucination, apparently they were all “playing it wrong”. And the story gamers who have decided that DM’s who do not encourage and incorporate extensive character backstories are “not doing their job” as a DM. That’s the default.
That’s odd, because I’ve run and played in games for more than 3 decades and SOME used character backstories, but others did not. I guess all those thousands of tables that didn’t use character backstories had DM’s who were “not doing their job”
So, to any new DM’s out there who are looking to Twitter to “improve their game” or find out how to “run a great D&D session”, I have some unsolicited advice for you.
IGNORE ALL OF THIS NOISE.
If you want to have character backstories, then use them. If you don’t, that’s just fine. If you want to use strict time records and 1:1 time play, do so. But if you don’t, that’s just fine. Take all the play style advice here for what it is, someone else’s opinion.
By all means, if you want to try keeping strict time records then follow the people who do so and take their advice, read their blogs, learn from their experience. If you want the big backstories follow those who promote them, learn from them. Expertise is worth mining.
But your one and only responsibility as a referee is to RUN THE GAME. Create a setting (or use a published setting), create adventures (or use published adventures) and adjudicate the PCs actions in game. HOW you choose to do that is up to you.
If your game is low lethality tea party D&D with lots of social interaction, complex backstories and lots of DM fudging, THAT’S FINE. If your D&D is strict time records, super lethal, never fudge the dice D&D, THAT’S FINE.
NO ONE CAN TELL YOU HOW TO PLAY.
And don’t let the revisionists convince you that ANY of these things are new, strict time records D&D existed before it was “discovered” by the BROSR, backstory D&D existed before it was made into your “job” by today’s story gamers. These are just styles of play.
Everyone thinks they were the first when they are ignorant of the game’s history and they fail to realize that their table and their friends’ tables are not the whole of the game. Thousands and thousands of tables have run D&D over the last 40+ years.
Thousands of designers and players over the years have tried out variations on the game. Even the most cursory familiarity with the history of the game shows that. It’s not that something new can’t be done, it’s that many more things than you realize have been tried.
My advice is to stop assuming that your way of playing is everyone’s, and stop telling people that they are “playing it wrong”, or that it’s their “job” to play a certain way. IT’S A GAME. Play it as you like, the only opinion that matters at your table is your table’s opinion.
Well, let’s review the argument one more time here.
The 1:1 time rules in OD&D are a exactly that: rules.
Every design element of OD&D and AD&D are predicated on the assumption that the time rules will be in force within an original campaign milieu.
The Dungeon Masters Guide famously and unequivocally asserts the importance of this rule via an all-caps declaration.
Page seven of the Players Handbook gives a capsule description of the type of game Gygax was presenting, and it’s clear that what he took for granted can only emerge at a table that honors the 1:1 time rules.
Any game with D&D branding on it that omits these rules is an intrinsically different game and– compared to the 1970s rule sets– is necessarily broken.
As Gygax himself stated, it is completely fair for someone joining an AD&D campaign to expect to play in an AD&D campaign and not some other game made up on the spot.
Taken together, there is only one conclusion that can reasonably be drawn from this:
If you aren’t playing the 1:1 time rules within an original, old style D&D campaign, then you are playing D&D wrong.
What then of these thousands of tables that have been playing D&D wrong for the past forty years? Just what are they playing, anyway?
Well, take your pick: Pidgin D&D, fake D&D, Calvinball, “Basic”…
Whatever you call it, it isn’t working! Now that the real thing has been rediscovered by the gaming elite, you really ought to consider adding playing in a REAL D&D campaign to your bucket list!