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Real Time Trollopulous Domain Play

I am starting up the Trollopulous campaign again on July 1. (And note that the months of February to June will have passed with no significant player or campaign events. The players’ big successes were evidently awesome enough that they took a bit of a vacation!)

After observing my friend Chanticleer running player-run NPC patrons in his fifth edition “real time” campaign, it hit me that this was the key to playing the AD&D domain game. Other guys in the BrOSR are experimenting with enhancing the player-facing side of the game with player run patrons. My question was… what would happen if you cut the usual adventure party groups out of the picture entirely? And what if this was the real point of D&D, way more important than the usual dungeon crawl scenario?

I aim to find out! I can already tell you that the most obvious difference with this type of play is that everything in the rule book gets used at once– and everything you have ever thought about adding to your campaign gets put into play simultaneously and in parallel. And instead of being limited to exploring what a single group of player characters encounter, the whole world is in play at once with things happening all over the place. Finally! Free from the spotlight!

I have ten major domains, groups, patrons, and/or high level characters here that are almost all drawn directly from the original campaign I developed last year running AD&D rules-as-written:

Note that working up a domain/patron like these takes about as much time as making an original one page dungeon. With these fleshed out like they are now, we now have a campaign where the overworld has finally received as much attention as the underworld. But rather than just being a bunch of unplayable “blah blah” like the old Gazetteer series, everything prepped is 100% useful for setting up an old style basement-grade miniatures campaign. Unlike my one page dungeon prep, all of this stuff gets used and played with the moment we turn the game on. (This doesn’t mean much to unflappable DMs like Bdubs, but it sure means a lot to me!)

Somebody asked me how this will work and I think that we’ll get everyone’s orders in before the month begins. During the month, every thing is plotted out in real time. Detachments will be sent around the map and encounters may result.

When I first thought this up I realized that the gameplay would be a LOT like Diplomacy. I wasn’t sure if everything would devolve into total chaos with a massive amounts of player elimination (a la Car Wars arena dueling) or if everyone would reflexively turtle up and cause nothing to happen. My hope is that 1:1 time will cause things to happen slowly enough that it is all manageable, but that nevertheless enough conflict happens that things don’t get boring.

Note that 70s style D&D campaigns are in many respects self-balancing. Players with boring domains can be given a second domain on the other side of the map if everything is too static. (The board game 7 Ages works this way.) This is what playing 9-point alignment is intended to help manage, after all. Alternately, a group of adventurers can find out what it is like to adventure in an authentic D&D campaign setting where the major factions are run by real players– and then interact with THEM instead of just having the referee handwave their behaviors in order to fit whatever he happens to want to make happen.

Really, no idea if this will work! But I can tell you that the players strike me as being unusually excited about these “patrons” that we developed for this. There is a lot of stuff here that people dream of doing but then somehow never get around to. The more I contemplate this, the more I think that something about this is supremely important to how D&D was meant to be played.

But again… we won’t know what this is like until we do it. (Oh, and to the dweebs out there that will pretend they tried this once but didn’t care for it and that naturally run their homebrewed B/X in stop time because that’s how they like it: shut up and go to the gym already!)

One thing that I assume to be totally different from the way other people do this: to me it is fine if the players talk amongst themselves to plan and plot and scheme as much as they like. My rationale for doing it that way stems from the accounts of the original Braunstein. A side effect of this is that the game is always on, always in play, and any player can interact with any other player whenever they think of something. Which naturally leads to maximum gaming surface area for minimal development effort. (70s wargamers needed good solutions to real problems, not something that could be easily packaged and sold.)

A Quick Play of the Original Chainmail Rules

Gonna fake my way through some old school miniatures rules here. On the left, 60 light horse and 320 heavy foot. On the right 60 medium horse and 320 light infantry. Never done this before!

I elected for the light foot to stand still and fire bows. They kill five of the “half armored” medium foot. (!!) The medium horse charge the light horse, kill one enemy, and get “back half move in good order.”

Question: The medium horse keep moving after the successful charge. Do they get another attack when they come into contact with the light horse a second time?

Wait, though. The light horse took > 25% casualties. They fail a morale check and immediately disperse. The medium horse complete their charge movement and are now a full two feet from their starting position. (Chainmail requires a VERY LARGE TABLE.)

The heavy foot charge the light foot, killing 3 figures. The light foot also fall back half a move– just barely outside of the heavy foot’s completed charge move. Neither sets of figures must make a morale check due to casualties– but only just barely!

The medium cavalry are 27″ from their enemies and pointed in the wrong direction. An about face takes a full move, so they are out of play for two full turns no matter what. The infantry battle will come down to initiative and morale rolls.

The remaining 13 light infantry figures win initiative and fire ranged weapons. This kills 4 of the heavy foot, forcing a morale check. The heavy foot succeed. They attack! Again they score three hits while the light foot score none.

The outcome for the melee morale check indicates that melee continues. The light foot must check morale, though. They succeed! Neither group of foot must check morale again, however the light disperse after two more hits and the heavy after just one more hit!

The foot units will be fatigued after the next round. The medium horse will not be able to fire into melee. Everything is down to one more round of melee here.

The medium infantry score three more hits and AGAIN take none in return. The light foot automatically disperse due to morale rules. The surviving heavy foot are fatigued with medium cavalry bearing down on them from behind.

The medium horse can take no damage this turn. They get +1 to their rolls and easily kill two figures. The heavy foot are now past their casualty limits and are removed from play. Three medium horse hold the field!

AD&D Session 22: Crypt of the Ghoulcromancer

Due to Fluid the Druid and friends being on a fourteen day wilderness adventure, we had an almost completely new lineup this week. The players, inspired by my recent professed boredom with regards to the campaign, opted to explore a crypt in the undead quarter which they have been terrified of for months.

First rank: Pedoface and Droopyboobs (elf henchmen of Chaz)
Second Rank: Rubiest (Cleric), Bob Dobs (Half-elf Fighter/Cleric), Brother Parvus the Wayward (Cleric)
Third Rank: Drizzle Pizzle (elite elf henchman of Chaz), Chaz, Druggo Hairycock
Last Rank: New Monk Character

This session was as close to running an original module as I have ever come during this campaign. The situation was devised just after the players first entered the Undean Quarter many sessions ago. I revised my preparations a bit more when I undertook my big one page dungeon project.

The players went in to the this particular crypt after grilling me for clues about it. They wanted to go to the easier location of two choices and I finally had to just stonewall them on this. I think they were pretending to be pathetic and weak and confused just to trip me up and break the fourth wall as it were. Not this time!

They went in and explored some crypts. They disturbed them because, well, I guess these players will NEVER pass by a known monster because they refuse to leave anything in their wake that can complicate their eventual need to exit.

Anyway, some skeletons come out and and the clerics all try to turn them. All of them fail! The skeletons attack and drop one of the clerics. His player immediately rolls up… a new cleric to replace him with.

The party fights on and soon the skeletons are beaten back. They fail a morale check and back up to a wall, twist a sconce to 90 degrees and the entire wall flips around, Scooby Doo style.

The thieves search the coffins and find a hidden bottom. Inside is a single gold piece. The party searches all the other coffins and finds 25 gold peices in each of the others. WEIRD!

The party heads inside the secret passage and comes to an intersection. They send Druggo Hairycock to explore north and the New Monk to the east. Druggo walks around the corner and overhears voices in a room: “Our outer defense has been breached, master, but I’ll show them! I am warming up the ghouls even as we speak!” Meanwhile the monk finds a room with a weird insectoid idol. The players ask if it has jewels for eyes and I say no, I have already used that trick.

I think both scouts reported back. So maybe Druggo went forward quick again? Maybe I got confused I dunno.

Anyway, Druggo lobs a flaming oil vial and hits this dude that looks like Gargamel dead on. Druggo runs away with this other guy that looks like Eyegore hot on his heels. Initiative is rolled and Eyegore bites it before he even gets to do anything. Gargamel gets charged after this and he buys it while trying to cast a spell. The players’ initiative rolls were just too good this night!

There is a machine with some kind of countdown on it nearby. The players mess with it and/or break it. They then find six ghoul chambers in some kind of lock down. The clerics all go for the turn and one of them makes it this time. The turned and restrained ghouls are now trivially easy to dispatch.

They search around and find Gargamel’s man cave. It is furnished with shag carpet, bean bags, and stripper poles. They find a book case with a book by Marion R. R. Jemison-Delaney that gives a SCIENTIFIC procedure to produce ghouls. One of the clerics pour a vial of holy water on it, but some busybody manages two sell it to Zansel Melancthones for 10,000 gp making this one of the greatest treasure hauls for the least trouble that I have ever done in this campaign.

What was I thinking?!

Eh, well let’s just say the next lair will be designed a little differently. That said, the players hit everything just right this time when in other games they hit everything just wrong. The dice went their way, too. But mainly… having three clerics and two thieves just so happened to completely neutralize the challenge I had prepared many months ago when the players were markedly less elite in their overall play skill.

That’s how it goes. Honestly, if nothing surprising ever happens you’re probably doing it wrong.

The players searched the idol room and found another secret passage that looped back to the main entryway. It was obvious that this dungeon was both designed to fit on one page AND that it was pointlessly and unnecessarily Jaquayed. This was a very good mistake to have my face rubbed in. My takeaway is that this is a good example of why authentic megadungeons sprout large numbers of sublevels as actual play continues.

Very disappointing for me but also very instructive. The players calculated xp values immediately after the game and were pleased to discover that they now had many second level characters to serve as backups for their main characters. Or so they thought, anyway!

Treasure and Experience:

1055 XP for killing monsters. 10326 gold is the take which also counts for XP. (However, somehow Chaz and Drugg each end up with 14 additional XP and gold. No idea how this happened!) I count six PC’s and three henchmen, so the shares are divided by 7.5 with henchmen getting half what the PC’s get. 1376 gold for the players and 688 for the henchmen. 1517 XP for the players and 758 XP for the henchmen.

Cast o’ Characters:

  • Rubiest — Human Acolyte (Session 22 only) Frozen at level 1 until he levels! 1376 gold.
  • Bob Dobs — Human Veteran/Acolyte (Session 22 only) XP at 758/758 with 1376 gold.
  • Brother Parvus the Wayward — Human Acoylte (Delves 19[*F] and 22[*F] only.) Frozen at level 1 until he levels! and 1439 gold.
  • New Monk Character — Human Novice (Session 22 only) 1517 XP and 1376 gold.
  • Chaz the Elven Footpad — Level two thief. [Delve 11, 12, 13, 15, 16, and 19, and 22] 1250 + 30 + 528 + 362 + 106 + 239 + 1531 = FROZEN AT 2500 XP UNTIL HE LEVELS. Member of the Order of the Knights of Trollopulous. +1390 gold in session 22.
  • Druggo Hairycock — Halfling Rogue. (Delve 22 only) FROZEN AT 1250 XP UNTIL HE LEVELS. 1390 gold.
  • Pedoface and Droopyboobs — Elf dweebs (Delve 22 only) FROZEN AT 750 XP UNTIL HE BECOMES A LEVEL ONE ROGUE
  • Drizzle Pizzle — Elite elf (Delves 20 and 22only ) FROZEN AT 750 XP UNTIL HE BECOMES A LEVEL ONE ROGUE

If my numbers are right, the clerics are short on cash to do their training. Of course Parvus is so weak, he must pay additional tithes and offerings for his well known errors. Bob Dobs has training penalties due to his bizarre sect. (I am willing to count gold spent on spell research as counting for this.)

Druggo could level if Chaz is willing to take the time to train him AND if he is willing to accept less than the usual 1500 gold fee.

Chaz requires 6000 gold for self-training costs. This is tremendous. However, he can spend three weeks game time training his henchmen up to level one thieves, presumably taking 2250 gold from them for the priviledge in the process.

Chaz player suggested the following right after the game: “So Chaz has turned the living room of our spooky house into a thief training facility. Locks and dummy traps for us to pick/spring until they break down from use. Different lighting source types and shadow shapes to practice hiding in. Different textures of walls placed on the outside walls to practice climbing. All items breakdown and have to be rebuilt and re-purchased, using up Chaz’s self training cash. We only go there during the day then leave the undead district for town. The peaceful protests slow down since Chaz isnt around less to rile them up. Chaz will attempt to make a friendship with his necromancer neighbor by offering the trogs to him as servants. And having tea at the necro’s house when he’s taking a break from training.”

Fluid, Rhedegar, Malbert, and Malalip all return to town on the day before the next scheduled session. Time paradox totally avoided!

“The Man Who Evolved” by Edmond Hamilton

I always had a terrible time with Gamma World. I mean, it was always my favorite role-playing game, but I just could not imagine how people could come up with the sort of stuff it would take to sustain an ongoing campaign for it. Back in 1931, this would not have been a problem, though, as this story from Hugo Gernsback’s Wonder Stories demonstrates. You remember the mental mutation de-evolution which gave a character “the power to strip abilities from a mutant opponent by regressing it along ancestral lines”? Well this short piece is all about what the opposite of that would look like.

Check out what each stage of transformation out hapless scientist subjected himself to:

  • “He was transfigured, godlike! His body had literally expanded into a great figure of such physical power and beauty as we had not imagined could exist. He was many inches taller and broader, his sin a clear pink, every limb and muscle molded as though by some master sculptor.”
  • “He was no longer the radiant, physically perfect figure of the first metamorphosis. His body seemed to have grown thin and shrivelled, the outlines of bones visible through its flesh. His body, indeed, seemed to have lost half its bulk and many inches of stature and breadth, but these were compensated by the change in his head. For the head supported by this weak body was an immense, bulging balloon that measured fully eighteen inches from brow to back! It was almost entirely hairless, its greak mass balanced precariously upon his slender shoulders and neck. And his face too was changed greatly, the eyes larger and the mouth smaller, the ears seeming smaller also. The great bulging forhead dominated the face.”
  • “At first glance the great head inside seem unchanged, but then we saw this it had changed, and greatly. Instead of being a skin-covered head with at least rudimentary arms and legs, it was now a great gray head-like shape of even greater size, supported by two gray muscular tentacles. The surface of this gray head-thing was wrinkled and folded, and its only features were two eyes as small as our own.”

There you go: three all-new mutant types that can be dropped directly into your campaign. Even better, read the whole thing and you’ll have everything you need to role-play their personalities and motivations. The brevity and broad strokes of this sort of pulp tale are far easier to improvise with at the table compared to the exhaustive (and exhaustingly tedious) ecology articles of the Ed Greenwood era of gaming.

And given the fact that nearly one third of the Appendix N list was actually science fantasy and not sword & sorcery at all, here’s a bonus gaming tip for you: there’s no reason you can’t add this sort of off the wall weirdness to your AD&D game, either! In fact, doing so would be well in line with the sort of genre mashups you can find in everything from the original edition of Dungeons & Dragons to the 5th edition of Tunnels & Trolls.

Go nuts, y’all!

Nerds at the Gym

I don’t wear headphones at the gym so it’s turned into a lot of time spent looking at myself in the mirror or else watching how people regular people behave. Seriously, this is the most time I’ve ever spent around people that didn’t involve a compiler or a Dungeon Masters Guide.

It’s surprising to me, though. Normal people are actually pretty nice. They find out I’m into biking and weightlifting and if they’re into it, too, they get so excited. They have to tell me about this thing that they did or some advice that they have. It’s like I’m instantly part of their tribe or something.

Now, I have never in my life given much thought to appearance. But there’s something about that moment when you catch your reflection somewhere and you fail to recognize yourself that can change that real fast. I know you’ve seen it happen with a girl you knew. Maybe you took her for granted because she just wasn’t that good looking. Then one day she shows up with her hair fixed up and a nice outfit and you can’t stop looking at her. You know the whole story… but your head just swivels around reflexively anyway.

My impression of nerds in general is that they don’t get that that sort of thing can really work in their favor, too. A lot of them got smacked down pretty hard in their school days and they’re stuck with this assumption that nothing they do can make a difference. Or maybe they just pretend like they’re not trying on purpose so they don’t have to feel bad about failing.

What’s been eyeopening for me is discovering that nerdy girls really do exist. No, not the cute girl that puts on geek glasses and then get into stereotypical male hobbies. I’m talking frumpy, pasty-white girls with absolutely no muscle tone. I’ll tell you, though… it’s not how they look that really makes them a nerd. It’s the way they act. They can’t just come into class and quietly do the exercises like everybody else. They’re always making noise: self-deprecating jokes, nervous laughter.

Seeing it from the other side is really instructive. But yeah, the biggest nerds of all are still dudes. It kills me watching some of this play out, too.

I walked into a section to do my routine one time and there was this really attractive girl there doing her thing. This trainer goes to give her some help she turned out not to need and then he just went off with this jokey faux-subservient routine. He was loud. He kept on. Some of his friends chuckled at his antics… but he was just plain dying. The awkwardness was painful.

My takeaway…? If you’ve put a lot of effort into improving your appearance and you don’t want it to go to waste, try this: SHUT UP. Goofy self-deprecating attempts at humor simply don’t have the effect you want it to. They really don’t.

Don’t be that guy.

In fact… flip the script altogether. Be the guy that patiently endures the nerdy girls embarrassing themselves in front of him.

It’s way more entertaining.