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Category Archives: Old School D&D

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!

Guest Post: Trollopulous Reloaded Session 3 – Down the Lazy River


The session starts with the current party after fleeing the Octogon of the Adventurers Aid Society:

  • Druggo Hairycock – 2nd level Thief
  • Franz – 1st level Fighter (a former henchman)
  • Tancred – 1st level Paladin
  • Pius the First — 1st level Cleric
  • Slomo Goldberg – 1st level Cleric
  • Fagor the Half-Orc Hero – 4th level Fighter

The party sits in the Valley of Trobellor waiting for the Master Warrior to return. After a week the only thing sighted is a herd of elephants heading east. Giving up on Trolbellor, the party decides to head back to Trollopulous. They march east to the river to build a raft to float down to the city rather than march the whole way. It is 330 miles away after all. Realizing they have meager tools, an axe, swords, and rope, they decide on building a simple raft from bundled reeds cut from the riverbank. It’s far from dry but it floats and the weather is warm and the water is not too cool. Thus begins, something of a lazy jaunt worthy of Huck Finn. They have several encounters along the way.

  • 9/18 – while camped out on the riverbank at midnight they are awakened by the sounds of marching and singing. The song Fagor recognizes as the famous Orc romantic song “Where There’s a whip, there’s a way!” They deduce a large body of orcs are marching nearby – around 200! Soon there is the sound of hooves. Outrider scouts from the orc column have spotted them. Hurriedly they push their raft into the river. The orc riders gallop along the riverbank pacing them. Fagor grabs Druggo and pretends to hold him hostage. He shouts into the night in orcish, “You can’t have him, he’s mine! Rare and plump he is and will make tender stew!” I roll a reaction roll for the orcs. The orcs are totally taken in. They assume the party are friendly orcs and gallop on their way.
  • 9/20 – the raft is lazily drifting near the bank where a stand of large trees overhang the water. A giant boa constrictor falls out of the tree upon Druggo. Unfortunately for the snake the attack rolls a 3, it’s a miss! Nonetheless, the raft is swamped with some party members falling overboard. But, in the end Tancred and Fagor do battle with the scaly monster. Ultimately, Fagor dispatches the beast with a swing of his two-handed sword. The sodden members pull themselves aboard and the journey continues. 
  • 9/22 – they spot a large scruffy man walking along the shore. On his should he carries a hobo stick with a bundle tied to one end. Paddling in cautiously, they see he is large hunched and dressed in ragged furs and dirt. He walks barefooted and waves now and again at flies buzzing in his hairy scrunched face. Reaction roll is double zeros.  He’s super friendly. He waves to them and says, “Howdeedo! I’m Big Pete. Care for some lunch?” They realize Big pete is friendly and they come ashore for a picnic lunch. Big Pete carefully opens his bindle to show a large and dirty pile of fresh truffles. “Just smell that! Have you ever smelt anything better?” The party questions Big Pete how he came across the fungus? “Oh, I smelled them out. Takes some practice but, I reckon, anyone can do it if they try.” They ask, don’t people normally use pigs or dogs to sniff out truffles? “Well, they sure do. The lazy ones do at least but, you should try it. Nothing better than sniffing out a nice fresh truffle.” They eat their lunch in the pleasant sunshine. Most of the party declines the truffles to a clearly disdainful, “suit yerself” from Big Pete but, two try them. While lunching they warn Big Pete about the previously encountered orcs. Big Pete avers that he doesn’t cotton to orcs. He finds their pig snouts a fundamental insult to good honest pigs everywhere, “It should be you see a pig snout; you see a good honest hard-working friend. But, those orcs give pigs a bad name! It’s not right!” After lunch they part ways. Big Pete heading west towards the nearby forest stating he can smell the truffles from here. The two party members that tried his truffles spend a day hallucinating, then another day puking. Afterwards both of their wisdom attributes have raised by one. 
See the source image
  • 9/23 – the river narrows to a faster running stream. It’s not a rapid but the riverbanks are close and the bordering dense forest. With a hail of snorts an horde of pugmen emerge from the jungle near the raft. They launch spears, wounding several party members. One member cleverly chucks a spear back. Reaction Roll. As one the pugman horde’s heads turn to follow the hurled stick. They go off yipping after it to fetch it. Using the distraction wisely the party paddles towards the middle of the river out of throwing range. 
  • 9/25 – a flock of ostriches runs along the river bank with them. Otherwise it’s uneventful.
  • 9/26 – After ten days the raft sits idly in the river to the east of Trollopulous. It’s obvious something is amiss. Black smoke rises from the city wall in the distance. Dust from horses and marching troops rises into the air. The city has come under siege by a strange army. Druggo makes a makeshift gilly suit for himself with marsh grass and scouts ahead to find the warriors wear strange brightly colored angular armor, carry two swords, long handled glaives, and wear flags on masts off the back of their armor. The sigils on the flags are both ornate and geometric like nothing he’s seen before. However, upon relaying his story to the party Fagor’s two sumo henchmen exiles from the east tell the party it sounds like people from their homeland the island nation Yamagata.

There is discussion of what to do. Sneak into Trollopulous? Head downriver to the bay and try to steal a ship? The life of piracy seems attractive. Some PCs need training. Go greet the army and seek training from them? It all seems uncertain. In the end, they decide to put off the decision. It was getting late and the session ended there. 

The Lands of Trollopulous

But, what of Trollopulous? What has been its fate? There are rumors of a plague. Now an invading army. Things seem rough for the bucolic burgh of Trollops. What has been going on? This is the story how Fluid gained the experience for fifth level and ended up a sadder, wiser man.

In mid July a wide variety of maladies broke out among the pimps of the High Panderers Society. The symptoms are all over the map: coughs, runny noses, sore throats, sagging skin with sores, stinging urination, black diarrhea, fevers. At first it was seen by the commoners and the members of the High Church as just reward for the tawdry powerful men of Trollopulous. Soon though, the common men and trollops began to come down with it. Per the DMG the cost of a Cure Disease spell is 1,000 gp. Few of the commoners had such a sum but, the rich did, they were cured by the priestly class. This left the commoners to cough and crap themselves in their hovels. And it spread. A couple weeks later the first people began to die, victims of a malady that became known as The Quakes – victims swelled up with unreleased intestinal gases until they ruptured and died. Then the clerics of the city knew things were serious. The fees for Cure Disease  spells were dropped and the priests of both the High Church and the street of the gods could be heard praying for divine intervention both night and day. The priests worked hard with nary a break between praying and laying on hands, falling into delirious stupors only to rise to do it again. 

By the next week, victims of a malady called Vinegar Piss started to fall – their urine burned both through their organs of elimination but eventually their bladders wore away and they died of sepsis. By that time the powers that be, already bunkered in their mansions and towers, ordered lockdowns to slow the spread. Soldiers boarded whole families into their homes while clerics wielding maces patrolled the streets to strike down any breaking quarantine. Still people died. The sickly sweet smell of rotting corpses boarded into buildings pervaded the lanes and alleyways. 

Six weeks in, another group of the ill began to die – those afflicted with the skin condition known as Droopsy. Victims of Droopsy had their skin loosen and sag to drag upon the ground. Eventually, the weakened skin ruptured all together leaving just a skinless corpse.  The terror started to rein. The still living afflicted rose up and began assaulting the priests who, pray though they might, could cure a few but never fast enough for the spreading miasmas of disease. This only accelerated the spread as clerics were killed or in hiding. Really, the acceleration was hardly noticed as most people were already afflicted with something, multiple conditions even. Nearly everyone had a cough, a sag, a fever, bloated guts. In fact, nearly everyone had been suffering with black diarrhea for weeks – called the Bloody Flux. They started catapulting bodies over the walls of the Undead Quarter to remove the contagion from the realm of the living. 

And, by mid-September the first Bloody Flux victim died, followed rapidly by another, then more. And, more. It was obvious that everyone was doomed. The Bloody Flux was endemic. They’d ignored curing it due to the urgency of the other quicker killing afflictions. But their complacency let the Bloody Flux spread everywhere. Death stalked the streets. 

Then the invading army arrived and the dead started walking out of the Undead Quarter.

And this is how Fluid the Druid, happy-go-lucky nature lover, waged his war on the pimps of the High Panders society. He arrived from the far north after training for fourth level. Met his new trollops rescued from their servitude. The charming (and Charmed) lasses regaled him with the stories of their previously harsh existence. Fluid, who had always dreamed of returning Trollopulous to Nature, visited town. He spent a week charming trollops and pimps, shaking their hands and leaving them with one disease after another. He retreated to his tree house to watch. Every so often he’d scout into town to see how things proceeded. Three weeks in he was shocked. Then horrified. Then guilt ridden. Occasionally, he’d find families dead on the prairie trying to flee the doomed city. He’d strip them of their money and valuables. They no longer needed it.  He left his tree house and his Trollops again to travel north to seek advice and contrition from the Druids of greater rank. He now hauls water, chops wood, and crochets endless pants and vests for the High Druids of the Great Arcadian Arbor Society while holed up in hiding in the Massive Forest Extraordinary Reserve. The Great AAS MFERs prefer more harmonic methods and will see that his fifth level is truly earned. What’s become of the assassins of Trollopulous. No one knows but priestly divinations no doubt have informed the elites of who the culprit was. 

If it seems fanciful that a fourth level Druid in AD&D can kill a city then let me suggest you peruse the disease rules found in the early part of the DMG, pages 13 (lucky 13) and 14. It all came about with the question, if the Cure Disease spell can be reversed to Cause Disease then what disease is it? Well, the spell description doesn’t say – it just describes an afflicted character weakening. After some discussion it was decided the table on page 14 should be rolled on to find out. If there is a rule then we should use it, right? So…a fourth level Druid can cast three cause disease spells per day. I rolled savings throws and then for those failed (all but one) I rolled for the disease details. In one weeks time Fluid inflicted four terminal illnesses on the High Panderers of Trollopulous and sixteen non-fatal illnesses. 

Then came questions of how they spread. There is a rule for determining if someone catches a disease they have been exposed to. Unfortunately for Trollopulous it is next to a marsh and is a hot and moist climate. Then came questions, all debatable, of how many exposures of people per day could be had. I made what I thought were reasonable assumptions. No matter how I sliced it eventually nearly everyone in the city was eventually afflicted with something terminal. But, what about Clerics? Cure Disease spells? Can’t Cure Disease stop disease?  Yes, individually. I even used the City random encounter table to estimate how many clerics of sufficient level to cast Cure Disease might be available. I estimate 125 clerics of sufficient level for a total of about 350 Cure Disease spells cast per day. Surely that would be enough to nip it in the bud? Well, yes, if the diseases were caught early. But, the DMG gives the price for cure. It seemed obvious there would be a period where the diseases weren’t considered fatal, especially with so many nonfatal afflictions spread at the same time. Then another period where the usual practice of charges for cures was carried out. And, then it was too late. The linear function of available Cure Disease spells could not catch up with the geometric function of spreading disease. 

So, lockdowns and quarantines needed to be imposed. That also was too little, too late. Only the most extreme measures slowed the spread. No matter how much I reasonably lowered an individual’s exposure within weeks everyone was afflicted with something. Of course, it’s all a game. No doubt, the DMG rules aren’t scientifically accurate depictions of disease, nor is my approach to any degree “accurate”. But the exercise did give one pause as to the difficulty of modeling the spread of disease – even fictional fantasy diseases like Droopsy, Vinegar Piss, and The Quakes. It was humbling that I could not find a way to save Trollopulous unless the city clerics were both more powerful, less corrupt, and on the ball. But, Trollopulous is not a place with on-the-ball institutions. Fluid’s guilt lies heavy upon him. It is also good to learn the power of magic in AD&D. Clerics and Druids can be weapons of mass destruction. No wonder the Paladins really love to smite those evil priests.

Guest Post: Trollopulous Reloaded Session 2 – Interdimensional Mind Control Bugs


Time Marches on. Last session we left off with the party still camped at the Adventurers Aid Society Octagon. Pius the First was recently cured of a mysterious (possibly vampiric) wasting sickness by a lovely Acadia, handmaiden of the ambassador Emlyn of Wisdom Glen. Last report I said this was the Paladin Tacred but I’d misremembered which character had been struck with the sickness. Suspiciously, Emlyn had seemed put out by Pius’s miracle cure. Meanwhile, Druggo had been spying on the Palanquin of Hastoth the ambassador of Yauhiklendusz and discovering sinister goings on. The session starts with the current party:

  • Druggo Hairycock – 2nd level Thief
  • Franz – 1st level Fighter (a former henchman)
  • Tancred – 1st level Paladin
  • Pius the First — 1st level Cleric
  • Slomo Goldberg – 1st level Cleric

There are some obvious things going on in the Octagon:

  1. The servitors of Hastoth are constructing some sort of device outside the opening of the rental dungeon. This is the one the party last session discovered giant glowing beetles, a sinkhole, a mystical gate to another place (and perhaps time), even more gargantuan beetles with the ability to cause earthquakes, odd tentacled cone beings, and the land scattered with gems.
  2. The retinue of Emlyn is all ahoo due to the mysterious death (perhaps murder) of Acadia the handmaiden who had cured Pius of his illness. 

After some discussion the party decides to try to investigate the death of Acadia. Pius goes to Emlyn’s tent to speak with her while Druggo sneaks around the back. Emlyn is warm and welcoming and expresses distress about Acadia’s fate. What could have happened? Pius asks to go examine the body and sure enough the body has the hallmarks of vampiric draining. Druggo uses the opportunity to slip under the edge of the tent and ends up in a fancy chamber with a large camp cot, silks, furs, urns, and a large chest. He opens the chest to find clothes, toiletries, and the like, plus two vials. Palming the vials, Druggo makes a quick exit and avoids notice. Only afterward he realizes the chamber smelt strongly of vinegar. The vinegar smell triggers one party member’s distant memory — Pius the First turns pale at the recollection. Could it be? What?

The party is somewhat taken aback that a vampire may be about, what with them being mostly first level characters and so backs off on the investigation. Next they go to observe the servants of Hastoth at the dungeon entrance. There are a good dozen servants all building a large chrome tripod with a parabolic dish on top. At the focus of the dish is a large crystal illuminated by pulsing light from within. At their approach the servants at first warn them away and block their entrance into the tunnel. Upon questioning the servants say they are performing a task for their master Hastoth and that the PCs wouldn’t understand what even if they told them. The party then decides to press the issue of entering the complex. Intimidated the servants relent and let them in with a warning that they best be quick and they can’t be held responsible if anything unfortunate happens. 


In they go. Down the empty hall to discover the previously found sinkhole is now teeming with glow beetles plus several more of the large earthquake beetles are there. As is the glowing portal. Once again Druggo is lowered by a rope into the pit. The glowing beetles make way for him as he approaches the gate. Then he is through and back in the square surrounded by cyclopean buildings. Except this time the square is occupied by marshalled ranks of earthquake beetles all standing dead still as if lifeless. At the far reaches of the square Druggo sees many more of the weird cone shaped creatures he’d seen on his previous visit. Keeping one eye on the cones, he scoops up the random rocks scattered about the square. He stuffs his pockets and then gives a casual friendly wave at the cone beings while preparing to exit via the gate. A voice enters Druggo’s head, “Be not afraid.”

This stops Druggo in his tracks. Through telepathic communication Druggo learns that the cone beings and their city is under attack by the servants of the Primordial Ones. They are losing and preparing to flee. He learns that the cone beings cannot survive in his world and thus they have prepared vessels for their minds in the form of the giant beetles. He’s reassured that his own mind is not sufficient for the task. 

At right about this time a strange beam of light illuminates the tunnel, the sinkhole, and the gate rendering everything transparent. The rune-edged border of the gate states to ripple with disharmonic forces. The cones warn Druggo “We must go!” The cones sag in place and one by one the beetles spring to life and charge the gate. Soon the beetles are flowing through the gate in large numbers. The party members in the hallway are taken aback when everything becomes transparent. Plus the beetles in the sinkhole begin their thumbing rumbles shaking the room. After losing their savings throws several PCs lose their balance and start crawling gingerly by feel back up the hallway. Only then to be swarmed over by the horde of beetles with Druggo riding the lead beetle with an antenna in each hand. 

The servants of Hastoth as surprised by the ferocity of the beetles charging out of the portal. Several of the robed servants are bowled over outright but then the rest pull out rayguns and start blasting chunks out of the beetles. The party joins in with thrown weapons and flaming oil. A key victory occurs when the parabolic machine is doused in oil and with spits and sparks ceases functioning. Soon the immediate servants are defeated and the beetles keep pouring out of the hole. But, then Hastoth arrives in his palanquin carried by wooly mammoths along with the rest of his servants. And, with the Golden Armored warriors of the Three Regiments. The Golden Warriors march forward pikes lowered. The beetles crash into and are skewered on the long spears. But then number come into play and the stout warriors start to be pushed back. 

See the source image

Meanwhile the party members have picked up fallen rayguns and begin blasting away at Hastoths palanquin. Eventually they score a decent hit (and the steel palanquin fails a non-magical item saving throw) which blows a decent hole into the palanquin. This doesn’t have the effect they’d hoped for because out of the hole flows a liquid black yet transparent ever-changing mass of horror. Which rolls right over the lead beetles. With this assistance the golden armored warriors regain ground and begin pushing back the insectoid ranks. 

Back at the Octagon camp the Handmaidens of Wisdom Glen and the Knights of Saint Therese are beating a hasty retreat in the face of this unexpected battle. The party thinks better of things too and heads out away from the conflict. After gaining some distance, they decide to head to the Valley of Trolbellor. They arrive in the valley on a rainy overcast day to find it empty. Trolbellor is gone. The giant skeletal warrior’s throne of stones sits empty with a mass of muddy disturbed earth in front of it. The party decides the rest a bit and waits to see if the master warrior returns. After several days, there is still no sign of Trolbellor. The only signs of life are the mysterious lights in the sky in the direction of the Octagon, the valley’s native herds of sheep and cattle, and a herd of elephants passes through heading east. All is quiet. 

But, what else is happening in the world? I can’t say. Or, rather I won’t because the PCs don’t know. There are things afoot. 

  • The Hobgoblins continue their depredations to the south. 
  •  What has happened to the AAS and the Octogon?
  • In the foothills and woods some travelers have said they have spotted some small forts topped with a tower in the shape of Macho Mandalf’s hat. But, then the brief glimpse is lost in the shadows and mist. 
  • Bandits seems to be springing up all over the far reaches of Trollopulous. 
  • The dwarfs in the mountains report spotting a giant skeletal figure moving among the rocks. 
  • Word is that Trollopulous is sending emissaries out of the city looking for assistance. 

The Lands of Trollopulous

The party each gain 66 XP for combat and 1,000 XP for the captured rayguns. 

The Secret History of Trollopulous

Okay, this was a very wild game with over a dozen players running strong for a solid month. When it worked, it really worked. When it didn’t work… opportunities were made for elite level players to seize the initiative. Factions lived. Factions died. The Trollopulous Universe will never be the same!

As I have mentioned previously, running AD&D with multiple player characters and domain-scale entities operating independently in sessionless 1:1 play will generate a LOT of secrets. I can’t detail everything that happened without spoiling some ongoing aspects of the campaign. But this type of gaming is so different from anything that anyone has really described up until now, it seems I am OBLIGATED to spill at lease some of the beans here…!

This type of gaming allows you to fairly quickly answer a LOT of questions about the nature of a campaign world. In my 30 sessions from last year, I created a LOT of big dumb situations on the fly, often from random wilderness encounters pulled from the tables in the back of the Dungeon Masters Guide or Fiend Folio. The players passed over many of these hooks and they sort of just waited there for someone to play with them, not unlike the scenarios of the best text adventures of the late seventies and early eighties. Some things would get circled back to within a few weeks or months, such as the Undead Quarter environment. Other things just got left behind in the search for more and better and different adventure options.

Now it’s great that players can do whatever they want within the context of a campaign framework like D&D. But at some point, the campaign itself deserves to take the spotlight. And that is exactly what happened here. All of those loose ends from adventure ideas I’d had got scaled up, spruced up, worked up, nailed down and turned on… ALL AT ONCE! In the same way that Dave Arneson’s temple of the Frog existed simultaneously as the first adventure scenario and as an army in a very large miniatures campaign, I blew everything upward into this new (old, really) model of thinking about D&D elements. Using ideas from Chainmail and Swords & Spells and recognizing the scalability of the AD&D combat rules, I was confident I could handle anything that happened at this level even under time pressure and juggling multiple players by Twitter DM. Finally, Chainmail itself takes for granted that anyone playing the game will be capable of whipping up their own original campaign even without any guidelines or direction on how to do it. The AD&D rules– particularly the ones everyone ignores– preserve and convey the precise types of cultural attitudes that make all of this possible.

This should not have worked. This scenario took game elements that were thrown together incrementally with no thought for how an actual campaign scenario should work and then set them in motion ALL AT ONCE with no serious thought at all for fairness or game balance or even feasibility. What was surprising is how little this seemed to matter. In fact… building off all original (and often stupid) campaign material seemed to make everything MORE engaging in spite of the raw game design being so terrible. A good half of the fun was in seeing how EVERY SINGLE THING THAT EVERY WAS EVEN MENTIONED in our rpg sessions was developed into a rich and constantly changing news feed in the tradition of TNS. Stuff we spent months wondering about was suddenly alive and active. Seriously, there is not one thing that I did not think up in the course of running 30 totally improvised by the book D&D sessions that did not get dusted off and leveraged to make this “always on” game work.

And now we have this totally new and updated high level campaign situation. The world has been adjusted to accommodate significant rules that none of us had much experience with before. Situations that were fundamentally unstable have been resolved into a new, and much more internally consistent detent. Also, the nature of patron-level and domain-scale entities are much more understood now so that such situations and scenarios can now be devised which are consistent with both the rules and the actual gameplay that derives from them.

Now, my original idea was that there would be a phase of open discussion among the players as they would essentially divide up into teams more or less based on alignment. Then they would form some kind of a plan… and then there would be some kind of epic miniatures type battle where everything got settled. When I look at large collections of D&D stats… that’s just what I see as a DM. There are remnants of Chainmail throughout the Monster Manual and Dungeon Masters Guide, after all.

The players did not see things this way, however. For one thing, it took a while for them to break the ice with each other. It is very hard to organize an actual battle when the game is producing time and distance and communication problems that make forming a coordinated army difficult in and of itself. Add to that the fog of war, unreliable information about even the location of your enemies, and then people being unfamiliar with some of the rules and yeah… people are naturally going to want to turtle up, acquire information, and attack each other indirectly if at all. I told everyone flat out that this was not what I was going for, that the patrons are supposed to interact with each other or else there would be no game. Twelve people playing solitaire D&D in their own hex is not what I was going for… and most of the patrons initially leaned heavily in that direction as they first dipped their toes in for whatever reason.

The guy running Elric of Melniboné was the first to oblige me. He had originally wanted to spend a couple of months researching Serten’s Spell Immunity, which would have eaten up ALL of Trollopulous’s domain income and possibly have forced him to sell off some magic items or take out a loan from Zanzel Melancthones to complete it. But then he got this insane idea to instead take all of his heavy infantry and ride out for many days to the United Caveman Federation in order to exchange trollops and iron for mammoth tusks.

How could this happen? Well, the guy running the Cave Men was very active on Twitter making these hilarious grug memes. It caused a sensation. Everybody wanted to interact with the grugs because they were so funny. But then when people DM’d him to set something up, he insisted on the declaring which cave they were visiting and from what direction. He did this totally in character instead of informally determining the who, what, when, where, and how. This only made people want EVEN MORE to know what was going on in the caves and jungles. Player characters from the old sessions– Fluid the Druid and Bob Dobs the Half-Elf Fighter/Cleric both set out for a cave before I could even officially turn the game on, so insisent were they about playing the game. (I wasn’t even sure I wanted to allow more people to play as I was already overburdened with more that I could reasonably handle.)

Anyway, elsewhere on the map… the Green Alliance had formed. The Sorceress of Mount Glovermore set off to go to Nilbog to implement a particularly evil scheme that could have drastic effects on the game. As she headed south with her small number of frog-man attnedents, she miraculously avoided countless wilderness encounters that could have ended her outright. Even better, she passed within one hex of Elric has he was journeying to the visit cave men! I was strongly tempted to just let them meet… but passing at a distance of 30 miles or so just didn’t justify it.

Miscommunications turned out to have a tremendous impact on the game at this stage and indeed forever. Elric was actually going to the wrong cave. THE WRONG CAVE!!! Had he gone to the correct cave where Ringo Starr was, he WOULD have run into the Sorceress. But due to the topology of the campaign map, Elric just so happened to go to the exact same cave that Fluid the Druid had selected.

Meanwhile, the guy running the Tharks had elected to remain far out in the desert. When I encouraged him to establish a trade outpost much closer to Trollopulous, he continued to run his troops as if they were coming and going from the desert rather than a location where the turnaround times for scouts would have been more reasonable. This lead to the Goblin King sending 100 of his troops to go on a journey on the other side of the campaign map when they really needed the Tharks to be coming to them. The guy running the Dervishes got the drop on those goblins and then set up a perfectly executed battle plan that wiped them out. (This battle was a beaut, let me tell you.)

So note that at this point we had several hyper-specific situations developing simultaneously on different parts of the campaign map that were the results of multiple patrons and player characters independently (and in isolation) pursing their own strategies. I don’t know if I can convey how exciting this was to watch unfold. Things that I would normally adjust in order to create a coherent adventure just for a session… well, they were coalescing on their own without me doing anything. And several high risk, high reward scenarios were emerging out of my terribly planned and poorly executed refereeing. It was just plain amazing. I am not kidding when I say that it is inconceivable to anyone would ever waste their time running someone else’s canned material when making up a bunch of stupid stuff and then turning your friends loose with it works THIS well.

Now, as these simultaneous strategic level train wrecks were being orchestrated, Elric had designated John Wick as the regent overseeing the city in his absence. Macho Mandalf came into town and had this crazy idea to go refurbish the ruined keep that was a few hexes away from the city. I thought this was stupid as he had no allies and no henchmen and it didn’t make any sense. He went into the Nilbog hex right next door, so I gave him an encounter with the goblin wolf-rider sentries. His tactics were way off and they ended up closing to melee range and he was in trouble from these guys surrounding him and attacking him from all sides. He was in deep trouble, really. But fortunately for him he had Teleport memorized, it only takes one segment to cast, and the ended up winning initiative. So he only just barely escaped this pitiful encounter.

He teleports back to the city gates of Trollopulous, causing a huge scene. This of course comes to the attention of the Assassin’s Guild. John Wick sends one of his guys to kidnap Macho Mandalf while he is severely wounded. Now… I was hoping that the vanilla assassination rules would just be used so that we could eliminate a patron player early enough that my work load would be reduced. Heck, I wanted a full on battle royale, a blood bath! But I caved and allowed a successful assassination attempt to result in merely a kidnapping. The odds of success were only 30%… and when I informed Mandalf of the endeavor’s success, I got inundated with all of the foolproof precautionary measures he had no doubt set up beforehand without telling me. I told him that the level cross-reference dealt with all of that abstractly and we went with just the flat die result.

The XP value of Macho-mandalf’s spell book and magic items was immense. This one assassin was well on his way to leveling during downtime. But John Wick not only spared Mandalf’s life, he let him have is stuff back if only he would undertake some kind of mission to recover the body of his dead wife. (?!) Once again, role-playing trumped the requirements of the brutal no holds barred war game I had envisioned. I cautioned the players to pay attention to their alignments as this was an unlikely matchup for a lot of reasons. But hey, why would I let people run patrons for me if I’m going to turn around and tell them they are doing it wrong???

But not everybody was going to play paddy-cake with these high level D&D characters. Out in the jungles, the Mushroom Men had taken Mount Glovermore, even going so far as to kill the frog-man attendents the sorceress had left behind and stealing her extensive LP record collection. The Mushroom Men sent out emissaries in different directions at this point. It would take so long to travel, this would be the last strategic level decision that patron would make for the game. (Time and distance contraints are HARSH.)

Meanwhile Elric was pulling in to the unnaccountably popular “Cave Six”, home of the Grugs of Fug… who had already claimed the life of the hapless Bob Dobs, the first multi-classed character to level in my campaign. I had no idea what he was doing. Did he just want to trade with the grugs for real? Did he have a plan to kill them all and take their ivory? What WAS going on? I had no idea!

At any rate, Elric and his army met up with a cave man scout. In order to indicate his supposedly peaceful intentions, he made a big show of taking out his sword and putting it on the ground. Somehow this got interpreted as “ZOMG, Stormbringer is on the ground right there and Elric has just left it there did you see that he left it ON THE GROUND.” Fluid the Druid and the grugs were on high alert, seeing all of this as the chance of a lifetime AD&D gaming stunt. We all waited for each DM message out of Australia on this with bated breath, getting up early in the morning to check them and then staying up late into the night on the odd moments everyone was around at once.

The scout then took Elric and his army through the woods and hills, stalling for time as another runner goes to retrieve Fluid the Druid from a mammoth hunt. They set up for a battle and then brought the army to a place where they could be flanked by a massive cave bear attack. Now, we had had a practice in our game that the druid Call Lightning spell could only work if there was rain or thundershowers at the DM’s location at the exact time he wanted to do it. In another epic level synchronicity, the thunder and lightening just so happened to be out in force outside my door. It was majestic.

Elric’s opponents were not sure what to do. Was he about to strike? What does he want? Well, he was at the wrong cave, too. Fug did not know anything about Ringo’s deal with Elric. Elric makes a gift of the trollops and begins to talk to this random chief that has no idea who he is. But something somebody did or said was taken the wrong way and then… suddenly Elric was hit by a bolt of lightening.

Now there was a question of wether Elric’s magic resistance was going to counter this or not. My take on it was… that magic-user spells like Fireball and [Force] Lightening and Magic Missile were just not going to work. But druid spells are not magic per se, but the weilding actual natural forces. Elric got his awesome saving throws per Deities and Demigods, sure. He only took half damage. But his insanely high magic resistance was not going to work.

The next round cave bears flanked the army and started tearing it apart. Elric started casting a spell, Fluid started casting a spell. Anything could happen. I think Elric successfully cast his spell. This weird Egyptian god looking thing appeared in their midst. Elrics troops were torn to shreds all around him, then Fluid emerged from the forest, pointing at Elric. An insect swarm engulfed him!

I ruled in subsequent rounds that Elric could be attacked by one dinosaur and two cave bears. They rolled pretty good on one round and then whiffed the next. Another whiff and Elric just might be about to get out of this. (Again, natural insects are not “magic” so they actually prevented him from casting spells or doing anything– even a teleport.) The dice were not with him. He was just barely finished off with a cave bear bear hug followup attack on the last round of the insect swarm.

In the aftermath of the battle, all that anyone cared about was the fate of Stormbringer. Fluid scooped it up without touching it, placed it on the back of his dog Petunia, and gave him one of the many ridiculous commands that he had painstakingly trained him with last year. He then mounted his bison and disappeared into the forest without another word. At this point… time and distance constraints would take him out of play for the rest of the month.

Meanwhile, back at Trollopulous the city was in chaos. Goblins were rioting, looting AEI co-ops. An elf army had appeared in the Undead Quarter for no good reason. Everything was insane. At some point, I threw out that the Tower of Ultimate Evil was going to have an open house on a certain date. (It was a slow news day, hey.) John Wick jumped all over this and got everybody excited about it. There was a big scheme set up to take out the Goblin King by inviting him to come. All of this was baffling to me as it appeared that the game was trending terribly close to some kind of LARP. I sat back and let things take their course as six patron players in close proximity set the course of the campaign’s future.

Macho Mandalf meanwhile had set up a new cover as the proprietor of the Prancing Umber Hulk Tavern and Brewery. He wanted to go check out the Ruined Keep again. He was flying there this time instead of walking and sure enough… a big time patron encounter was headed right towards him. It was two Thark skiffs hurtling towards him at speed. This time he managed to buff himself up before engaging. He stacked Enlarge (to 18′), Protection from Normal Missiles, and Mirror Image. The Tharks were dumbfounded by this bizarre looking barbarian and definitely underestimated him.

Now, there was one skiff with 5 warriors and 30 trollops. The other had just 5 warriors. He lands on the skiff that just had the warriors and casts Charm Monster. Combat ensued and we found out that if you are twice as tall and twice as heavy as someone, the AD&D unarmed combat rules offer you 100% chances on to-hit and stuns. The stun attack on the grapple even offers a free followup attack. This fight was just plain brutal. As Macho Mandalf was consolidating his control of the Martian Skiff, the guys with the trollops were taking the better part of valor and attempting to get as far away as possible.

At this point, things got weird. Macho Mandalf hid the skiff with Illusory Terrain and teleported back to The Prancing Umber Hulk. He then took his hired hand Rhedegar (a player character that had always wanted to have a dumb day job to work during his down time and which I’d always felt bad about not coming up with anything for him with that) and also two first level druids that were looking for work. He teleported them all to the skiff and then went to the ruined keep.

We looked at the original Keep on the Borderlands map for this one. I’d checked for random monsters to restock this location and I’d gotten 200 pug men– the very ones that had plagued the players in the sewers last year. Macho Mandalf cast Cloudkill and took out 25% of their forces instantly. From there he Enlarged and brought in an Earth Elemental. The pug-men surrendered at this point and their chief got charmed. Macho Mandalf then loaded up 100 pugs onto the skiff. They also noted that the keep was defended by large vats of flaming oil and that many of the pug-men were armed with torches and vials of flaming oil. Where did the pug-men pick up such strange customs, one wonders!

Breaking News: Lugal-Adad, leader of the horsemen at the gates of Trollopulous, has entered the city for diplomatic talks with Regent John Wick. Everywhere he and his advisors go, the poor receive Summerian delicacies– and expensive doxies are healed of all their infirmities!

Back at Trollopulous the big event with the party was going down. Everybody was there. John Wick’s people. Zanzel Malancthones. The leader of the Dervishes that had won an awesome (and secret) battle against the goblins. On the very night of the party, the Thark scouts arrive with their 30 trollops. They ask if the Goblin King needs a ride anywhere. He asks for a ride to the party. And the sorceress even agrees to go with him!

Now… if this had been a D&D session and all these high level characters would have been in the same spot at the same time, there is no way that anything other than total chaos would have ensued. Playing the game by Twitter DM, however, the overall effect of this was to produce a weird sort of Prisoner’s Dillemma. If one person threw a punch and the others did not… they could win big. On the other hand, there was a lot of risk involved. What ended up happening was that there was an elaborate scheme to get the Goblin King to show up in a particular set of special robes. There was going to be some kind of op with the Dervish player taking him out… but for some reason, they thought it was a fake Goblin King and ended up canceling the plan. (To tell you the truth… I don’t even know myself what happened as all of this was sorted out by the players without me.)

The crazy thing was… the Sorceress was right there at the party AND NOBODY KNEW IT. But then the inevitable happened. John Wick faked his assassination and the city went into lock down. I told the goblin player that he was being taken captive. But he was 100% convinced that he was being groomed to become the new ruler of Trollopulous and went along with it. I asked him he if he wanted the sorceress to bail him out somehow, but he signals to her to stand down. This was really wild to adjudicate as there were potentially four different double crosses interacting at once. Concurrently to all this in second Prisoner’s Dilemma scenario, all changelings were forcibly expelled from the city and not one single player elected to harass them or run them down as they made their trek to a nearby fairy forest. (Players. Who can comprehend them?)

The weird freeform events of the city reached a fever pitch at this point, however, and the leader of the Dervishes had second thoughts about not acting during the party. He casts Aerial Servant to retreieve this Goblin King guy in the yellow robes that he had seen at the party. It comes back and he is interrogated. He uses Detect Lie to find out that this was in fact the Goblin King. After that he has one of his magic-users cast Geas on him. This was a scroll spell that was too high level for him to cast normally so it had a chance of failure. The Goblin King was then told to gather his army and go wipe out the Mushroom Men at Mt. Glovermore.

The Goblin King went along with this, though I suppose he might have gotten the sorceress to spoil this by casting Dispel Magic on him. Before he did this, a third Martian Skiff arrived asking the sorceress if SHE needed anything. I think she sent a group of goblin warriors with them with instructions for the Tharks to go take out the Mushroom Men if they would. Unbenownst to her, this was a second chance to leave a very dangerous place and her turning it down would ultimately spell disaster for her.

The Goblin King arrived and then took most of the rest of his warriors on a journey to Mount Glovermore. The sorceress elected to stay behind. Then, at this exact moment, Macho Mandalf was trying to decide what to do with his newfound Pug-an army. As he and Rhedegar brain stormed about this, they finally elected to just dump them all into Nilbog. With no idea about any of the crazy things that were going on there right then!

So they journeyed by skiff to Nilbog and went up to the iris valve that lead to the goblin city. Macho Mandalf charmed the guards that were there and then cast Cloudkill into the tunnels. The rules were tailor made for this scenario, it seemed, as the fog was designed to go into and permeate just such an environment. Several minutes later, the pug-men were sent inside to conduct mop up operations

The sorceress was then alerted to the breach. Goblin guards that had witnessed the effects of the Cloudkill reported it to her. When she investigated, she ended up charming a group of ten pug-men barbarians herself. In the chaos of the goblin city, she observed pug-men taking treasure out to the crater. She follows them to the entrance where she sees… Macho Mandalf on a skiff along with four Thark warriors.

This was a fully buffed Macho Mandalf, too, so 18′ tall and with protection from normal missiles still on. The fate of Trollopulous now hung in the next combat round. Sorceress began casting a very elaborate and very awesome spell that I have never seen cast before and which would have of course won her everything. But Macho Mandalf was 1″ away from the entrance. He flew down toward her, over the heads of her meat shields. He executed a ridiculous wrestling move that resulted in pretty much an automatic stun result on the overbearing table, trumping practically anything in the initiative order to boot. (As far as anyone knew, she did not have a weapon which could have been used to possibly keep a man three times her size at bay.)

The following round he grappled her for maximum effect. Mandalf’s AC was good and he had plenty enough hit points to resist the attacks of the frog-men and pug-men that were defending her. And though the AD&D game goes out of its way to spoil magic-user attacks, there is very little there that can shut down effective grappling tactics. Mandalf flew up into the air and executed his followup grappling attack against her stunned body in yet another mind-blowingly stupid WWF wrestling move, permanently altering the campaign by spiking the ball that had been unknowningly set by the Dervish player’s Aeriel Servant/Detect Lie/Geas combination play from a few days before.

Several days later, the goblin army would arrive at Mount Glovermore. The outnumbered mushroom men would refuse to give battle, but the goblins countered this by using the mining rules from the DMG to make multiple entryways into the the dungeons. Beset on all sides by goblins and wargs, the Mushroom Men would be completely wiped out while the goblin army is reduced to something much closer to a typical Monster Manual result.

Totally exhausted from adjudicating weird AD&D situations nonstop for four weeks, I finally called the game right there.

So what ultimately happened?

  • The monster factions got utterly destroyed. Nilbog is just plain gone. All that is left of the Mushroom Man faction is the two little diplomatic missions they sent out… which currently do not even know the fate of their king and their people. (Of course, there might be a few spores popping up here and there later on. And if Mushroom Men are not classified as changelings, The Prancing Umber Hulk may well end up getting a potion brewing sideline.)
  • The Elfs and the Tharks will set up relatively distant domains that will avoid direct battle of the sorts that I would like to play out. Instead they will attempt to conduct raids or else cut the city off from trade.
  • While many wandering monsters posed no threats to the groups that were moving around this month, the ones that did significant damage are still out there… percolating into full on keyed scenarios concocted by my subconscious even as I attempt to not even think about D&D for a while.
  • Very surprising to me, the HUMANS of the map pretty well all joined forces to wipe out, push back, and push out all of the non-human factions in the game. Alignment is secondary to this much more fundamental aspect of identity. Trollopulous is more humanocentric than even the AD&D rules indicate campaigns should be. This is a massive change to the campaign world that I would never have come up with if things were left to me.
  • The remaining patron level characters in Trollopulous have a tremendous incentive to keep a low profile and direct things from the shadows– and the events I described in this “session” report are why. A fake ruler will be established, no doubt. Their interactions with player characters will no doubt be carried out with a range of stooges, hirelings, and agents. (It’s like I said the other day… even Galactus has a herald!)
  • Lower level player characters had NO PROBLEM of engaging with the chaos of a total war between ten patrons players. In fact, Fluid the Druid, Rhedegar the Fighter, and two Druid henchmen all managed to level during all of this. Real 70’s style campaigns are so robust that everyone seems to find SOMETHING to do. It’s surprising, really! You would think this would be a very difficult problem to solve, but the reality is… a dozen people thinking independently are collectively smarter than any single referee.
  • This problem you have in rpgs with a rich background where the PC’s think there is no way they can have an impact on the world-level events? Holy Moly! It’s hard to imagine anyone thinking games could play that way now.

What’s next? I actually don’t know! All of the things I had thought up to add color and threat-points to my campaign are either GONE or else behaving in a much more strategically sound manner.

While I recover from this stunt, I am curious to try something like this again, but focused on the action taking place within maybe a single 30 mile hex. Also… no player character monster factions next time. (What’s the point if everyone is just going to gang them?!) Also… maybe only five or six players… preferably all in the same time zone. (Not gonna lie, coordinating with people in Australia just about killed me.)

Being able to switch from role-playing type situations, to Swords & Spell type scenarios, to Braunstein-like interactions, up to Diplomacy interactions playing out in the context of multiple double blind conflicts… in the backdrop of an ongoing D&D campaign that can accommodate practically any kind of gaming that the group can imagine?! This is like the best thing ever. The 1:1 timekeeping spreads out a game over a much larger canvas than is possible to work with in normal game sessions. This opens up a type of gaming that is unlike anything that the “industry” is capable of packaging up for you. A dedicated referee makes it possible to do anything you can imagine… all without the type of design and development that gaming products would tend to make you think are essential.

I can’t tell you all the implications of this type of gaming just yet… but I can tell you that this style of play is much closer to the overall ethos of the people that originally put Dungeons & Dragons together in the first place. The mid-seventies approach to gaming is far more robust, far more effective than anyone has been able to convey up until now. YOU REALLY GOTTA TRY THIS!!!

How do you do Patron style play in D&D?

You knew it was coming and you know that it’s true:

I’ll tell you why it’s a fair comparison. Somehow, some way… no one is playing D&D the way that either Gygax or Arneson did in the bad old days. They are playing some other type of game, really. They have no idea that they are taking on assumptions about how the game is played that prevent them from playing anything remotely like what the creators of D&D understood to be normal about its gameplay.

At any rate, when we talk bout Patron play and how great it is, most people have no idea what we are talking about. Further, we are generally talking about three or four different things under the same banner. So I am going to break this down in such a way that you begin your own journey into experiencing the D&D game as it was intended to be played.

  1. If you are playing 1:1 time, then monster lairs that the players encounter will generally have a week to prepare for the players’ return when they come back to try again in their (typically) weekly game session. Now… Gygax gives advice in the DMG on pages 104 and 105 on how to do this. You can use your imagination and decide what to do based on what you know about the monsters involved… or… you can hand over this monster group to a friend that can’t join your usual sessions and then see what he can come up with. This is the easiest way to begin playing patron style D&D right here. Your friend will imagine himself as the monsters and come up with all kinds of details and tactics that you would never think of– and his input will be way more interesting than anything anyone ever put into some kind of game book. You get a hyper-specific monster tribe for the low low price of allowing a friend who wants to play join the campaign even though they can’t be present for the actual sessions!
  2. If you look at most “old school” dungeon levels or even classic adventure modules like Isle of Dread, you often get situations where there are three or four different monster groups in the same area. A big part of your adventure can end up being a group of players getting involved with one of these factions, forming and alliance, and then using them to kill off the odd man out. This can be really hard to adjudicate fairly and consistently. Sure, people do it all the time. If you would like to create a simulation of a weird fantasy situation rather than merely handwaving all this… just get one friend for each faction, tell them what they would know as that faction, and then use their advice to determine how to play each one when the player characters show up. You can chose to be either session-oriented in how you play this or campaign-oriented. In session-oriented gaming, enhancing your players’ adventure sessions is the goal, so you use your outside friends’ input to create a richer game world for your regular players to engage with. In a campaign-oriented approach, the interactions between these faction players becomes the primary focus of play as they each engage independently in a sort of weird ad hoc 4X strategy game with a tremendous fog of war element.
  3. Now, every D&D game has a town to go with their dungeon environment. Sometimes it’s a full fledged city. These places are definitely going to gain various groups and personages and factions over time that the players will either contend with or else work for as patrons. Determining the behavior of these various groups can be made up in the heat of play to serve the ultimate goal of facilitating the adventure at hand. I know I did it that way! But after a while, these groups begin to take on a life of their own. At some point you may not be able to run them intelligently when your campaign grows beyond certain point. One way to handle this is what I call the Runequest method. When there are large scale unresolved political issues in your campaign city, simply do a Braunstein session in place of your usual adventuring. Turn over a major patron or faction of the town over to each player in your campaign to run just for the session. See the original Braunstein for how to do this. (Watch the Blackmoor film if you haven’t already, it explains everything!) This will be very free form and much will depend on how the players ally with each other and betray each other behind the scenes. Once you have sorted out the major large scale issues facing your campaign (and generated a good idea of how some significant upcoming events will be colored) you can revert back to normal adventure sessions.
  4. Another way to run your fantasy city is to stat out these factions as high level characters and/or Chainmail armies and then just giving them total autonomy to do what they want in a weird play-by-Twitter “always on” campaign that runs in the background of your players’ adventures. As a guide on how to do this, look no further than the AD&D rules. The Monster Manual explains how to set up monster armies with clear descriptions of their Chainmail-scale assets and also gives details on all their leveled characters. Alternately you can use the descriptions given of the large organizations described in the players handbook– the assassins, druids, monks, and so on. Note: this type of gameplay is so fun in and of itself, I don’t really care if we have “normal” rpg-type adventures happening in the campaign world that all of this produces.

Now… this really is rather simple when you explain it like this. But there are reasons why nobody spontaneously recapitulates the style of play that Gygax and Arneson took for granted.

  1. People think classic D&D characters are too simple to be worth playing and then come up with systems where it takes hours to develop them and then want to play in campaigns where they can’t die because making characters is such an investment. Then they start campaigns with a session zero where they sort out everybody’s characters that are surely going to stay alive forever and then the DM decides what the campaign “story” will more or less be in advance.
  2. People hack the D&D combat system so that it no longer scales up. They want to have a rich tactical gameplay where every single character gets their “spotlight time” during every danged combat round. This is not D&D, sorry. D&D combat is weird and stupid and is done with initiative by side where each side will commit to a specific plan AS A TEAM before the dice are rolled.
  3. People DON’T want to run henchmen even though they really really need them in order to survive real D&D sessions where there is a strong chance that one or more of the players’ characters will die every session.
  4. People are AFRAID to run mass combat scale interactions where there are hundreds of character on each side. Note that real D&D scales up to this level EASILY because its combat rules are all ripped off from chainmail. You can run huge battles theater of the mind style if you just steal couple of tricks from Chainmail and Swords & Spells: 1:10 scaling, average hit points for mass combat figures, and average damage for mass combat figures… with individual monsters interacting with the mass ones by dividing their damage by 10 unless they are using area effect attacks.
  5. People are REFUSING to run multiple characters within the same campaign. I dunno why this is so hard for some people, but obviously… you can create a much richer fantasy world if your best players are running different PC’s who have different power levels and different alignments and which are operating in different places on the map.
  6. People ADD dumb skill systems to the classic D&D game when it really never needed them in the first place. Want to know how the high level patron reacts to your dumb plan? You don’t need a diplomacy check when you can just ask the patron player what he thinks of it. Most of the game mechanics added to D&D really are there because the game has ceased to be played in its assumed context! Real D&D can go on non-stop for weeks without needing any sort of skill or attribute check.


So let this be a lesson to you. When you altered the D&D game to suit your idea of how it could “obviously” be more fun… you unknowingly cut yourself off from the kind of legendary gaming experiences that Gygax was actually setting you up to experience. It didn’t have to be that way, though.

Begin your path to gaming greatness today! Allow TOTAL PLAYER AUTONOMY in your game. Use 1:1 time. Encourage multiple characters per player, both henchmen and multiple independent “backup” characters. Embrace the mass combat possibilities inherent to the AD&D rule system. Add in patron players to your existing campaign when you get to the point where they can enhance your game.

It’s gonna be awesome!