Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

Category Archives: Old School D&D

New Video Series on Dungeon Mastering by Alexander Macris

Great new video here from Alexander Macris here on how to be a great dungeon master. Totally looking forward to more of these! Love it!! This will make a fine addition to the sort of rpg analysis on YouTube that you can only find on shows like Gelatinous Rube’s and The Joy of Wargaming!! CAN’T WAIT FOR MORE!!!

I have to say though, that one thing you might have noticed about the talk he gives here is that it might sound strangely familiar to you. After all, he opens with a gloss on “storyteller” style game mastering. Then describes this type of play as being a sort of “not game”. After that he pivots back to talking about the early Braunstein in order to establish a framework that has a proper foundation for instructing people on how to be a good game master. WHERE HAVE I HEARD OF SOMETHING LIKE THIS BEFORE???

This brings to mind another question as well. Just when exactly did this concept of Braunstein go from being a curious tale from the earliest days of the hobby to being viewed as something fundamental to getting roleplaying games right? Is it something that just sort of emanated into the material plane from some ethereal realm? Was Alexander Macris simply sitting at home reading through the AD&D Players Handbook when he was struck by an epiphany about the true nature of Real D&D? Or has the pioneering efforts of a notorious band of rpg outlaws proven to be so effective, so persuasive that we are all witnessing an inevitable sea change in how people discuss what rpgs are as a result of their efforts? YOU BE THE JUDGE OF THAT ONE, FRIENDS!!

I’ll tell you, though. There is a way that somebody could top what Macris lays out here. I mean, sure, it’s all very good advice and a totally solid case. But how can you really know that the old Braunsteins are relevant to how you should run D&D? The guys in the Blackmoor campaign themselves could tell you that it was a significant departure from wargaming, sure. And yet… it was not exactly quite like what people think of as role-playing, either. What if the Braunstein was merely an intermediary form in the evolution of D&D out of wargaming? What if the concepts contained within the Braunsteins are purely vestigial today, and completely irrelevant to these discussions on how to be a great dungeon master?

I gotta admit, that is a SUPER TOUGH question. Seriously, it’s one that has kept me up at night for months on end. And I am very sad to report that the incredibly brilliant and phenomenally capable Alexander Macris DOES NOT present a solid answer to this objection within the span of this brief introductory video. I am sure this is really distressing to hear. But don’t worry!! You can totally relax! Trust me on this!!! THERE IS AN ANSWER TO THIS VEXING QUESTION AVAILABLE TO YOU RIGHT NOW. GET IT HERE!!!!

The Very First Review of “How to Win”!

Obviously, I am very excited to see the reactions to my latest piece start to trickle in.

You blog-reading people tend not to venture onto Twitter, so here is probably the first review to pop up over there:

The preview excerpt of Jeffro Johnson’s forthcoming book is intriguing and suggests the full volume will spur plenty of discussion. Those looking for Internet Heel Jeffro in these pages will be grossly disappointed by the reasoned presentation and calm authorial voice. Within this short, almost zine-like excerpt (with art by Sky Hernstrom), Jeffro touches on three central assumptions of Gygax’s AD&D which have since been de-emphasized: the Braunstein, time tracking across myriad playgroups, and the wargame framework. The full volume, ‘Winning Secrets’, is teased for later in 2023. In the meantime, follow Pilum Press for updates, or spring for the excerpt yourself.

Erik Jensen

That is a pitch perfect Space Gamer style capsule review, there. Very nice!

“This is not a theory book. This is an after action report.”

On Geek Gab today!

A recap of last Thursday’s EPIC Machodor session followed by the first reviewer comments on my latest bit of writing from Pilum Press.

Check it out!

Matt Colville Gobsmacked by Time Rules

Matt Coleville is gobsmacked by the fact that the old editions of D&D “reference the notion that the game was intended to be played in real time.” I don’t blame him! It’s absolutely foreign to how people have played D&D for, oh… THE LAST FORTY YEARS!!

The really cool thing about this is that he can be sure that this crazy idea really is true because he has a famous module that expressly goes out of its way to arbitrarily protect the players between sessions. It’s almost as if it was commonly understood that game time would continue to move forward between sessions and that things could happen to your characters even if you weren’t actively playing them.

Pretty wild stuff!

Note to everyone that has said I was wrong about 1970s D&D over the past three years here: I look forward to seeing you go into the comments on this video in order to tell him that Gygax didn’t play that way, that nobody used the rule, that he is reading the rules wrong if he thinks that this was seriously the intent of the designers, and nothing that matters about D&D can possibly work if somebody tried to run a campaign in this manner. Good luck!

It won’t do you any good, though. My concept of what real D&D actually is is proliferating. Why is that? Well, one reason is that my view of D&D is derived from the game’s actual rules. Sane people like Matt Coleville are persuaded of the basic idea as soon as it is pointed to them. But there is another reason why timekeeping is back in style. And that is because it really is a fundamental idea that will allow you to experience the kind of successful long-running campaigns you have always dreamed of.

But you won’t hear anything about that in this video. Alas, Matt Colville is still only in the “gobsmacked” phase of rediscovering what classic D&D was really about. But fear not! There are in fact people that have spent countless hours exploring how these strange rules function within an actual campaign. Even better, one of them has written up the definitive introduction to this style of play.

You can get it here.

The Open Table vs. Multi-tier Campaigns

Here are a few things from the Trollopulous campaign in 2022 that bugged me:

  • The emergence of the perpetual “mono-party” that is only marginally different from the “spotlighted” fellowship style party of conventional rpg play
  • The development of a single dominant patron that somehow gets involved in everything happening in the campaign
  • The first level player character that easily gains one or more levels every session when he tags along with a mid-level party
  • The guy that respawns as a new character in the middle of a complex sequence of sessions and that can sacrifice him in such a way as to disrupt a complex scenario that has developed organically over a long time
  • The “patron” player running a solitaire domain in the background who over time introduces so many characters, factions, and forces into the campaign that it becomes difficult for a mortal referee to create scenarios that accommodate them
  • The 6th level characters that have so many henchmen of so many types that there’s really no point for most of the other players at the table to even have shown up at all

Now, I hasten to add here that everybody had a blast last year, the people involved in making the things happen last year were all smarter than me and none of these things seemed out of line at the time. It’s only in retrospect that I think the setup of the campaign as a whole should be reassessed. Most people involved in the campaign don’t want to make any drastic changes to how we did things last year– it was that fun!

The reason I don’t take these protests seriously is because I don’t think it is consistent with how Gygax would have wanted it:

The danger of a mutable system is that you or your players will go too far in some undesirable direction and end up with a short-lived campaign. Participants will always be pushing for a game which allows them to become strong and powerful far too quickly. Each will attempt to take the game out of your hands and mold it to his or her own ends. To satisfy this natural desire is to issue a death warrant to a campaign, for it will either be a one-player affair or the players will desert en masse for something more challenging and equitable.

Anyone honest about it should be able to admit that this hits just a little too close to home for us to ignore it outright. In that light, these are some thoughts I’ve been kicking around to address this:

  • There should be a low level tier of play within the campaign where people can experience the challenge of actually working up a first level character
  • The middle tier of play should have a qualification level. If you don’t have, say, a third level character in your stable then you don’t get to play on nights when the midlevel characters are adventuring.
  • If there is some way that the name-level characters can enhance the experience of people playing at the other two tiers, I am all ears. But if these high-level characters want to play in the kind of epic monster game they truly deserve, they are probably going to have to wait for one our yearly throwdowns to get it.

The gut feeling of the game group is, I would say, that this would probably be an overcorrection given the number of things that actually went right last year. Obviously, with more players, more sessions, and a dedicated referee for each tier of play we would have more options in how we go about this.