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Category Archives: Old School D&D

Big Times with Aaron and James

Okay, this show was massive.

I am really happy with it. Especially the parts in High Streissandian.

Let’s see if we can do something with the “Luke Gygax says Gary didn’t use 1:1 time” bit.

  1. Nobody talked about the significance of the D&D time rules for 40 years.
  2. When we started playing them, we very soon were able to put into practice parts of the rules that seemed baffling or pointless to us before.
  3. We know that rpg designers in the seventies incorporated some variant of the D&D time rules almost universally. But then around 1980 or so this just stops.
  4. We also know that the debate over time rules in the seventies was not over whether or not to use the time rules, but rather what rate is best to use. For example, according to an article in Strategic Review, Gygax takes for granted you will be using the time rules, but describes a different rate being used than 1:1.
  5. However, when he penned the DMG 1979, he reaffirmed that the 1:1 ratio was the best.
  6. And of course, as I have said before… Frank Mentzer was put in “training jail” by Gygax when his character leveled. The only way for Gygax to know how long to keep Frank’s character out of play is by using some sort of consistent rate of time continuing on within the game between sessions.

What is the OBVIOUS conclusion from this?

People running Adventure modules and then freezing time from one week to the next ARE PLAYING D&D WRONG. People running Story Time D&D where there is no sense of time or space within the campaign ARE PLAYING D&D WRONG.

Gygax used the time rules. He wrote them into both editions of the game. If they aren’t important to the game you’re running, it’s because you aren’t running even remotely the same sort of game at all. At best, you’re tinkering with just one element of the thing. It would be like buying Axis & Allies and only experimenting with a battle concerning two or three territories instead of actually playing the game.

Did he run time EXACTLY the way I do? ONLY GROSS NERDS LOOKING FOR A CHEAP GOTCHA CARE ABOUT THIS. Maybe you can get better results in your campaign doing it a little different than I do. Knock yourself out if you think you can! The salient point here is that for forty years, NOBODY EVEN TRIED.

This one fact BY ITSELF makes the #BrOSR approach to playing D&D more correct than any other style of play. You cannot imply that these rules are inconsequential or optional to either OD&D or AD&D as described in Gygax’s rule sets and be a credible authority on either game.

And yes, I know that no boomer took you by the hand and explained this to you back in 1984 when you first got the game. But if you ever wondered why your game didn’t play like what you’d heard about the notorious Blackmoor and Greyhawk campaigns, not knowing the implications of this rule is a big part of why that was!

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.

How to Win at RPGs: The Live Stream

Because YOU demanded it!

Jeffro Johnson! Back in the hot seat! Answering EVERY objection that the gross nerds could throw at him!

And even better: the charming and affable Mr. Wargaming hisownself! Ably steering the conversation in such a way that we achieve MAXIMUM EDIFICATION.


“When No Play Is Happening”

Aaron the Pedantic asked during the debate if this phrase “when no play is happening” contradicts my interpretation of how strict timekeeping should work in AD&D. Let’s address this.

Let’s be clear about what is happening, though. It is not AD&D that is turning the rpg world upside down right now. It is the approach to running a campaign that spilled over from my campaign and then propagated across dozens of tables in a short period of time. This way of playing allows people to take their campaigns to heights they never imagined they’d reach. They integrate multiple parties, non-attending patron players, Braunsteins, independent domain developers, massive Chainmail-scale battles. Everything opens up!

The people running these astonishing campaigns, they never get hung up on trying to find some kind of exception clause in the text that would somehow give them permission to go back to running rpgs with more conventional techniques. Why would they? This stuff just works! It’s true that there have been times when we have wanted to suspend or alter or fudge our strict interpretation of the time rules, yes. Still, it never makes it into the game. When there are so many independent actors at play, explaining a deviation to them all and getting it to actually stick is all but impossible.

You have two choices at this point, and I honestly don’t care which one you prefer. One option is that Gygax intended that you play like me and everyone that didn’t is a gross nerd that never even once played D&D right in his entire life. This is a really great choice! I love it! Your other option is that I am a game design genius and I’ve improved on what Gygax wrote to the point that it has become a new and unique contribution to gaming in its own right. Given the YouTube grifters claiming this is all in the rule book, I quite like this option as well.

So, which is it? Are D&D players a bunch of illiterate dweebs? Or am I a once-in-a-generation game design genius?

Both suit me just fine!

The Most Important Debate in Gaming

Well, the dust has settled. How did it go?

Well, I don’t know who was keeping score, but I definitely got some licks in. Here are some highlights:

Urbanski: There is nothing in the rules that talks about the #BrOSR style of play.

Jeffro: That’s not true.

Urbanski: …

Jeffro: It’s on page seven of the players handbook.

Urbanski: A living world is the best way to play D&D. It’s really hard, though. Takes a lot of skill. And it takes a LONG time to really develop.

Jeffro: The #BrOSR has made it trivial to get a living world right out of the gate. Anybody can do it.

Urbanski: The OSR is so great. Everything is cross compatible. I can use stuff from any game with whatever I am running!

Jeffro: Bruh. It takes like two minutes to stat up anything you can imagine. It’s not that hard.

Urbanski 500 times: The #BrOSR is a cult.

Jeffro: Good gosh, man, this is so tedious. Please… just stop.

Urbanski: Look, man. I’ve been in cults. I’ve even started cults. I know all about cults, dawg. AND YOU’RE RUNNING A CULT!

Jeffro: ??!

Some of the comments have been quite entertaining. This one is my favorite:

I’m not saying that the way he’s talking about wouldn’t be fun, but most of us don’t have that time, but the one thing that he said that irked me was that Gygax’s imagination was more developed than mine… how the [heck] does this guy know Gygax was more imaginative than me?

Bahhahahha! DIRECT HIT!!!

Anyway, check it out if you dare. It is, as I understand it, rather hard to listen to. About a third of the time is wasted on reading the many execrable comments from the chat.

The fact remains, this is the most important discussion in gaming. RED HOT. People won’t be able to stop talking about this!