Writing up Eero's Primordial D&D

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  • I think this is precisely what Eero was talking about when describing "non-hygienic practices". Sure, it won't ruin your game. But it sets a precedent for the game to drift in a different direction: why are we adjusting the timeline, and why are we concerned with dramatic poignancy? Those are not in line with our creative agenda.

    I think that in this playstyle that would best be handled as a mutual group decision. "Hey, if it makes no difference to you strategically, what if we say that you get there at sunset, just for the cool visuals?" "Sure, why not, it'll give us some descriptive visual flair if we want that." It's not the GM's purview, however, to make this kind of decision on her own.
    That's very well said, on both counts - this is indeed a best practices issue in that a GM who feels the compulsion to micro-manage something like this is probably paying attention to the wrong things at a significant moment. I consider it a proper aesthetic impulse if the GM has it at the time, in the moment, as reaction to what he observes to be the facts, but if it's something he's planning for in advance, then it's a hygienic problem that the GM is planning this kind of content in advance, when the only way he could truly enforce it in play is by railroading.

    And as you say, this sort of stuff is totally doable communally. For example, one might make a quick gentleman's agreement with the players about the "challenge not being there", as I often like to say: you state something, draw the players' attention to the fact that you don't strictly speaking have authority for determining that unilaterally, but promise them that it's not an important detail. Assuming that they trust in your creative relationship, they'll let you mess about however you want as long as it's not tactically important. So if you really want that sunset, you can just ask the players whether, implicitly or explicitly, to play along.
  • If I might make a suggestion, you might want to use the expression "best practice" or something like that instead of "hygiene." Hygiene sounds clinical; when used to describe anything other than physical cleanliness, it has kind of a Mengele connotation to my ear. I hope this suggestion is welcome, for whatever it's worth, because I'm interested in your project.
    In contrast, I like "hygienic", at least when it's used to refer to things that can corrupt your game (e.g. letting a setpiece climax encounter slip into your session prep). That's a powerful metaphor when you're trying to stay true to a specific vision.
  • (I like "hygienic", too, for what it's worth.)
  • To go back a little bit to the first question here—about how you can design an encounter without planning, here is how I go about it. I prep differently, since I don't use modules, and generally I follow one of these two techniques.

    1. In the Dungeon. Just set it and forget it. For this space, you can follow two paths: to design things piecemeal and accept that you won't know how they fit together until it happens is the easiest. The big advantage of a megadungeon here is that you can trust that someone is eventually going to trigger your trap—so you don't have to plan for it to happen to any particular people any particular way. It can sit for a year before someone stumbles into the room. And you will be so pleasantly surprised to remember all the stuff you put in there when it happens.

    Of course for your dungeon you are going to want to have some more complicated interlocking parts. Things that are designed to go together. My hygenic practice here is that, if I am imagining possible outcomes, to imagine at least two very different ones and to make sure that the pieces are there to make them both really awesome. Then throw in a few of the type a components around them and you will be almost guaranteed to get something that you didn't plan for.

    2. Outside the dungeon my campaign is really driven by player initiative. They keep coming up with things they want to do that push the borders of the sandbox. This is good. But it means that they themselves are in charge of framing the encounters. I dangle some ideas in front of them and they chose how to pursue. If you want the sunset behind your battle, the only way you can make that happen is to appeal to their aesthetics or to make it somehow matter—which is easy enough to be honest. I'm pretty sure they won't be approaching the terrible forest castle in their region anytime except right before dawn because someone told them that that's when the witch is vulnerable. Give them the tools to set up the situation and trust their judgements instead of using your own.

    Once you've done that setup, you can go back to type 1. In the castle I have imagined a negotiation that could happen, I have imagined a single combat with the party's high level fighter, I have imagined an all-out battle on the field. I also know that there is a list of other weird stuff, like that alleged dawn vulnerability, special qualities of the inhabitants, and most of all the players' own ingenuity and resources (like, I certainly didn't remember that one of them has armour that lets them levitate whenever they want but sure enough...). So I can trust that some exciting, unexpected things will happen even in a situation that has been foreshadowed for weeks.
  • That's all good advice, Adam. In that spirit, an useful advice about practical scenario-building occurs to me: when you're writing your own material, try not to think in terms of getting use out of what you write. Everything can be repurposed and recycled later for new legitimate scenarios. The old trad gaming refrain about having to design linearly to ensure that players get to the cool stuff only applies if you're committed to that outcome in advance; if you don't mind having perhaps the majority of your material not accessed in a single play-through, because it's all going back into the trough anyway, then you lose this poisonous constraint in writing and running scenarios.
  • edited February 2014
    Eero! Those notes. Wow! I was expecting some scrawled notes hastily transcribed and scanned but this, whew, this is something else.

    I see the point about hygiene, I was just trying to push a hypothetical case to see where the bounds of hygiene lay and how, perhaps, cool elements from unhygienic play could conceivably emerge through play. I like this method of DMing a great deal, especially with its emphasis on improvisation, interpretation and reincorporation. I also, for the record, like "hygienic."

    Having looked through your notes a little, Eero, is it generally the case that you'll write up similar for all the general areas the players might explore? I feel like this Wargame Referee stance is contingent on having a number of premeditated challenge/encounter generators to reinforce its impartiality. I think similar can be seen in AW/DW with the fronts etc.

    [edit: It'd be sweet to compile a bunch of system-agnostic community generated OSR encounters/events]
  • So, about hygienic play, a couple of questions.

    If I understand correctly, part of maintaining hygienic play is an awareness in the whole group of what the core concept and activity of play is exactly.

    Another big part is watching out for Drift, and putting a stop to drift that is too far away from the central concepts/activities of play.

    For example, I noticed Eero talked about the retirement of characters. The retirements occurred when their fictional motivations no longer aligned with the core concepts/activities of play. So this is a procedure put in place to maintain the hygiene of the game, correct?

    When and how do you look at certain kinds of drift and decide it is reaching the bounds of the core concepts of play? Do you decide as a group, does the GM decide but then gain the approval of the other players to support the decision? Something else entirely?

    I think I also recall Eero talking about non-treasure XPs/non-monster killing XPs. If this is enacted, it's a kind of drift. At what point would some kind of hygiene-maintaining procedure need to be put in place?
  • I think I also recall Eero talking about non-treasure XPs/non-monster killing XPs. If this is enacted, it's a kind of drift. At what point would some kind of hygiene-maintaining procedure need to be put in place?
    I don't think that's a drift, or at least not a serious one, because XP for treasure isn't defined up at the level of the creative agenda (or even "technical strategy", but I'm not going to try and be completely au fait with Eero's framework from the previous page) - the agenda is challengeful play through fictional exploration. If initially the set up is the challenge of getting treasure from lair beasts, and later the challenge evolves to a point where the XP can meaningfully be awarded for some other kind of challenge, you're still well within the bounds of the agenda.

    That doesn't mean you don't discuss it, but it's not necessarily a big deal. It's the same issue as providing the kind of content that the players will find fun. In the same way that you might introduce an urban adventure into an OSR game that has previously been about dungeons, with or without discussion with the group, based on the players, I think you could introduce new sources of XP. (Of course, XP by its nature is a *goal*, so if you introduce new sources of XP you need to let them know at the point of deciding whether to go for the challenge, not just when it's awarded).

    The hygienic concern here is that the new XP source be something the GM will not be tempted to bias. For example, quest XP might be a good thing - it's within the rules - but it might be unhygienic, if the GM can't set it impartially, and with a fictional basis, the way he or she can with the treasure XP. But so long as the new XP source is something like that - e.g. XP per hex explored, per portal closed - then it's not a big concern.

    (I'm trying to practice thinking about these questions, and articulating answers. I may be entirely wrong, and am happy to be corrected by Eero and others).
  • I guess that Eero mentioning possibly adding other sorts of XPs was simply notable to me, because it seems like a drift situation that may impact his fairly clear vision of what his Eero's Extremist D&D is all about.

    Right now, it seems to be about Adventurous Adventurers-Explorers-Looters-Armed Archaeologists planning expeditions to rumored lost places and getting back alive and tougher for it.

    And I also thought his character-retirement procedures were interesting in that regard. When a character has resolved the fictional reasons for being that sort of adventurer have been resolved, the player either retires the character or the player creates new reasons to continue on with that lifestyle. For example, if a PC went on an adventure, gained enough loot to open that pub they've always wanted, well, off they go into retirement!

    Thing is, I could see alternate sources of XPs rapidly inviting drift away from the core hygienic concept. Some of them possibly not such a big deal. XPs for making a map that they then sell ( or really just get the XPs for the sale effectively).

    Drift is odd. It happens, but it can really change the whole point of something. On a strange tangent, I was watching a thread talking about the game Monopoly and how it radically drifts into something else in an unhygienic fashion ( and often unpleasant fashion) when certain rules are dropped or the common house rules of placing money under Free Parking is added. Doing that causes Monopoly to go from a fairly straight forward, short playtime, competitive game to something more like a long activity mostly about collecting property and building buildings for the sake of building buildings, perhaps with the actual goal of using all of the available building toys.
  • Having looked through your notes a little, Eero, is it generally the case that you'll write up similar for all the general areas the players might explore? I feel like this Wargame Referee stance is contingent on having a number of premeditated challenge/encounter generators to reinforce its impartiality. I think similar can be seen in AW/DW with the fronts etc.
    Well, this particular material was somewhat special for certain reasons of creative context: I'm not the regular GM of the campaign at this point, and that adventure was partly a rejoinder in our on-going discussion about how the LotFP mechanical framework could be used to carry constructions akin to feats and prestige classes; our current referee, as much as we love him, can be a bit of a conservative stick in the mud about any mechanical innovations at times, so parts of the emphasis in that adventure were all about showing some examples of how feats and prestige classes might look like in LotFP.

    Another contextual point is that it's an investigation adventure set in a wilderness environment, which makes it a bit of a hybrid in comparison to the classical formats.

    Those hedges being in place, I can answer the question: when I'm running the sandbox regularly as the main referee, I write up hexcrawl procedure and procedural content generation processes to help me develop and adapt material for the game as it proceeds. Random encounter tables and such, completely ordinary OSR technique. Then on occasion I will also use specifically created overland scenarios as part of this process; commercial examples are a bit few, but Better Than Any Man is a good example of what I mean here. I can of course create my own, as this quick sketch of a Romanian župan, devoid of much in the way of geographic spec, shows.

    In general I'd say that you don't want to do overland, sandbox-y adventuring completely without prep, but depending on the skills and local play culture you might need more or less, or different types of prep. I'm pretty good at this point with a surprisingly little in the way of random encounter tables, for example, due to my having practiced alternative random generation methodologies that don't require tables at hand :D
    If I understand correctly, part of maintaining hygienic play is an awareness in the whole group of what the core concept and activity of play is exactly.

    Another big part is watching out for Drift, and putting a stop to drift that is too far away from the central concepts/activities of play.
    That's an interesting point, about the relationship of drift in the Forgite sense to this concept of "hygiene". My first reaction would be to consider them as somewhat different orders of thing, but thinking about it carefully, it does seem like avoiding drift is sort of one of the motivations behind maintaining rigorous hygiene. We maintain hygiene - or, equivalently, wield available authorities conservatively, in proven reliable ways - in an effort to prevent the game from developing wrong habits that encourage wrongful action. If the group consensus wants to drift the game, then hygiene will ultimately avail to nothing, but I'm sure that a generally hygienic practice will make minor drift more difficult.
    For example, I noticed Eero talked about the retirement of characters. The retirements occurred when their fictional motivations no longer aligned with the core concepts/activities of play. So this is a procedure put in place to maintain the hygiene of the game, correct?
    Retirement is partially hygienic as a concept, yes: the hygienic part is that by requiring characters to have solid reasons for adventuring we prevent the game from slipping into a situation where the referee is responsible for inventing false motivation, and we ensure that the characters remain balanced against the setting; characters who are strong enough to not need to be desperate adventurers anymore quite being such, instead of continuing as weird one-man armies. In this way the concept of character retirement serves to regulate the xp economy and direction of adventuring, in relationship to whatever directions the players desire for their game.

    (The reason for why I call retirement a hygienic concept only in part is that it is also a satisfying fictional conceit, and part of the game's genuine reward system; there's nothing quite like realizing that your character has achieved what he set out to do, and may now have his epilogue - stop adventuring, invest your wealth in something sensible, play dollhouse to whatever degree you find amusing, and perhaps start up a new character if you feel like it. When D&D lost this notion in favour of endless adventuring, or adventuring until the level cap, I think it lost not only an important regulatory element, but also an important reward system.)
    When and how do you look at certain kinds of drift and decide it is reaching the bounds of the core concepts of play? Do you decide as a group, does the GM decide but then gain the approval of the other players to support the decision? Something else entirely?
    What I personally do with drift is that when I realize that it's happening or happened, I attempt to determine what the group's interests are about it. Sometimes drift happens because we wanted it to, in which case we well might simply acknowledge it afterwards. For example, our current D&D has sort of arrived where it is in certain aspects of its creative concord by drifting: we did not know when we started the current campaign how e.g. creative authority would be divided between players, and where the balance between realism and victory would be set in terms of motivation. Only afterwards we could smile at each other in satisfaction and declare ourselves just about the best D&D crew ever.

    Sometimes drift happens due to ignorance and old habits, and it's actually not desired. I'd say that my method in combating this mainly consists of giving inspirational speeches :D For example, we occasionally have players who like to argue from the rulebook (as authority instead of precedent, I mean), which doesn't work too well in this game; one might look at this as a sort of agenda drift. I try to be conscious of such matters and notice them, so I can bring the discussion to the meta level instead of having to listen to boring low-quality rules-lawyering :D

    In general, though, I don't think that creative discord can be handled in any except one way in roleplaying games: you have to come to a creative agreement with the group to continue playing together. Sometimes that agreement can be live and let live, for minor enough differences, while other times you have to talk it out and either reach a compromise, or stop playing together.
    I think I also recall Eero talking about non-treasure XPs/non-monster killing XPs. If this is enacted, it's a kind of drift. At what point would some kind of hygiene-maintaining procedure need to be put in place?
    Martin answered this exactly the way I would: the hygienic issue about alternative xp systems is not in the fact that they are alternative, but rather in maintaining sharp goal-orientation and calculability of the experience points. I often say that the xp reward mechanism is in two parts, and you can't actually understand what it's doing without realizing that: the first part is the trigger ("We got treasure, thus we succeeded"), and the second part is the quantification, which answers how much xp should be collected. My personal understanding of D&D is happy as long as the trigger is clearly goal-oriented, and the quantification is doable, somehow objective so that it's not just arbitrary.

    For example, general quest experience rules are actually relatively tricky to write because of the quantification part. It's not that difficult to determine whether a quest has in fact been accomplished (we've long held that if nothing else helps in this regard, then at least we can write down the quests as they are undertaken, and use this written scrip as proof of the fact that a given deed was, in fact, an intentional quest and not just some random occurrence), but quantification of how much xp should be received for it, that's actually not so obvious. I have some thoughts, but I've never had the time/inspiration for really hammering it out to my satisfaction yet.
  • The thing about drift here is that I don't think that a changing fictional focus for a D&D campaign is creative drift when your conception of the game is as let's say powerful and uninhibited as it is with me. I could see how a player whose character really wants to be a pirate would be a disruptive force in a campaign that really only wants to go into dungeons, but that's not the case in my sandbox, where the entire arc of play is more about discussing a bigger, much bigger issue: how does an adventurer become a heroic success in a world inimical to his purposes? When the society resists attempts at social climbing, and the very physics of the world are set against easy heroic narratives, how do you succeed despite all odds?

    When that's your subject matter, it's not much of a drift for the party to decide one day that they're going to invest everything they've dragged out of old temples and musty dungeons, and buy themselves say a galleon with which to start engaging in triangle trade over the Atlantic. This is certainly a big enough shift in subject matter that it should be talked over with the referee (he needs to be ready and willing to prep entirely new types of content), but it's not creative drift. The creative rules are quite clear: either we follow the character onto his new adventures, or if we deem them non-interesting, we let the character retire into his new adventures. There's no drift where we follow the character's new maritime inspiration, but refuse to turn that into challengeful adventures, and somehow end up playing Monopoly when we tried to play D&D; it's the same game, whether set in a dungeon or a deserted island.
  • I'd love to talk about quest XPs, but unfortunately, I have to run to work right now.

    One thing I'd been considering for similar things was looking at the XP + treasure charts in the books, then using that to determine XPs, even if the actual treasure isn't given out.

    Essentially, if the players rescue the 3HD/12 HP Princess as a quest, the XPs are for what defeating a 3HD/12HP monster are, + XP equivalent of the treasure a Princess "monster" would have, going by the random charts. Similarly, holding off an Orc raiding party intent on sacking a hamlet full of 1HD peasants would earn both the XP value of the peasants and the equivalent amount of treasure those peasants would have if they were monsters for each that survived due to PC actions.

    Not sure it would work at all, but that's where I was starting from.
  • I've been fiddling with an alternative "high fantasy" set of xp rules, suitable for e.g. Dragonlance and other such post-Tolkienistic genre fantasy. Here's a rough outline:
    Adventurers gain experience points by helping the free people against the Shadow, and other more mundane threats of the world. All characters are by default aligned "Good"; some few are aligned Neutral, and follow different xp rules. To be specific, a Neutral character gains xp from treasure in the traditional manner; this might or might not be a good deal, considering how we're not seeding dungeons with treasure just because we'd have to. Presumably "Evil" characters might gain experience points by personal achievement, although this is mostly an academic interest for the campaign.

    Most characters, though, gain xp from good deeds. The basic amount is 1 xp per each person "saved from peril". Saving from peril is not an extremely high threshold in that the danger averted doesn't have to be immediately lethal; saving a village from a monster lurking in the woods counts xp for the entire population of the village due to everybody being at risk of grievous bodily harm, for example, despite the monster concretely eating only one person each week. Similarly vanquishing a tyrant scores xp for the population of the entire city-state. In other words, the "peril" needs to be life-defining, but it does not have to be absolute.

    Helping named, significant characters accrues more experience: such a character rescued from peril is worth 1,000 xp per HD. Merely helping such a character in a less perilous quest or mission is worth 100 xp per HD. The difference between these cases is in the "peril": if the stakes of success or failure involve life-changing peril for the rescuee, then it's worthy of the higher rate, while a mission or service undertaken for a king or such is worth the lesser rate. The mission xp is "per adventure", pinged as appropriate when long-term service is concerned.

    Finally, vanquishing creatures of the shadow (meaning, directly demonic beings with no capacity for redemption) is worth 100 xp per HD. This is basically because of the absolutist cosmology where certain beings are objectively evil. Where in doubt, only apply this reward to beings to which you know this requirement to apply.

    Helping 0th level characters in non-perilous straits is not worth experience points. Helping yourself is not worth experience points, but helping a friend, PC or NPC, is. Vanquishing ordinary foes of non-shadowy persuasion is not worth experience points.
    The thing about these alternative xp rules is that I don't consider these as creative drift, because I do not think that amassing loot is the core creative interest of D&D; it's a game about challenging adventures, not a game about building a money silo for swimming exercises. The core reason for why the xp for treasure rule is a good idea is that it's objective-driven and easy to quantify; if we want to hack the genre of the game a bit, it's simple enough to switch to a different measure of success that is less about the money and more about heroic deeds, at least as long as we can quantify those deeds objectively. I'm pretty happy about this "1 xp for each person saved" metric in this regard: it's easy to calculate, and just as objective and sensible as "1 gp = 1 xp".
  • At least one edition of Rolemaster had an "XP for Miles Traveled" reward that might adapt well to an exploration/hex crawl type game.
  • Yes, that's another good example of an entirely reasonable and straightforward "campaign concept" backed by quantifiable xp rewards: brave explorers hungry for the distinction of being the first to the lake Chad or wherever, gaining 1 xp per mile traveled in uncharted territory. Perhaps add 100xp per exotic knick-knack (and 1,000 for absolutely unique items) brought back to the envy of the rest of the explorer's club (with no distinction for supposed monetary value). The rest of the campaign practically writes itself.

  • Seems like I still have this Solomonari stuff in Dropbox from when we played it, here. I should note that when I say that it's personal notes, I mean it - there's some of campaign-specific, genre-specific, school-specific shorthand in there, so chances are that if something doesn't make sense it's because of that. Also, despite being sort of laid out, that's just one evening's prep work, basically stream of thought ...
    One evening - how many hours is that, roughly?

    And, in the event, how much play time drew directly on this prep? (I appreciate that this is a much messier question than it would be for plotted-scenario prep, or even the prep that I do for my small-location-centric games)
  • edited February 2014
    I don't know, maybe 4-5 hours? A considerable chunk of time to be sure. It'd have been quicker if I didn't feel like writing it up on paper, of course. And the inspiration (the premise about an elf-cursed baronetcy, that is) was pre-existing, so that didn't take any time. I think I probably spent most of the time putting the details on that micro-dungeon at the end of the text.

    The session we played took perhaps 8 hours, I think - it was pretty long, being a weekend session. Much of the material wasn't really plumbed right then and there, though; the župan still exists in the setting, the Solomonari order exists, a player character who's still in play adopted the quasit, we obviously didn't even scratch at the big dungeon implied by that prep, and so on, so it's a bit difficult to measure how much playtime that prep is going to turn into, given time. 8 hours immediately and however much in long-term consequences.

    In general, though, I do agree with the implicit point that prep takes time in this style of play, there's no way around that. Fortunately, however, that prep is very much transmissible and accumulating: you'd be up to your ears in work if you were one of those poor bastards who feel the need to prep every single session carefully and specifically, but in reality it's entirely trivial to rely on other people's stuff and long-term prep for the majority of your content. That particular session got a more detailed prep because of how it was a one-shot run in a campaign where I normally participate as a player instead of GM, so I had more overhead than usual to fill; in ordinary circumstances I prep maybe one hour for each 20-100 hours of play, plus whatever time might be taken by pre-reading adventure modules (which is difficult to count as prep time, as I do it for all sorts of other reasons as well, whether I'm currently GMing anything or not).
  • I don't know, maybe 4-5 hours?
    So 12-15 hours prep in normal-people time, right? I don't know if you've noticed but your words-per-minute is pretty high. ;)

    Would you say that there's a certain need for prep, or at least to behave is if an objective scenario exists for which you are "referee" rather the later incarnation of the Dungeon Master as provider of entertainments through improvisation?

    Sorry for the brevity of my comment, I'm rushing to work. I'll be back later to expand.
  • Here're some more thoughts: Is this kind of hygienic "referee" play a product of the OSR? Could it be translated over to, say, Traveller (the supposed sci-fi arm of the old school) and generate of interpretation of play? I recall Traveller being run a lot like D&D 3.5: GM led storylines, fudges and generally unhygienic - is this the nature of traveller play or would it benefit from being looking at under a similar light to the OSR?
  • I think you could definitely run Traveller hygienically. The original edition of the game does have things like random encounters and such. And the whole death during chargen...

    Actually, this conversation is starting to convince me that the way to make an enjoyable game out of Traveller is indeed to run it hygienically. I've long been thinking how would I make a Traveller game interesting in this age of mechanics for player contribution to setting and rewarding player interests and goals. I'm not sure you need that, you just need a group of players ready to engage the game as presented and make the sorts of extensions Eero has shared for D&D if absolutely necessary, but otherwise, engage the game as is, and find motivation for adventure.

    I don't know all the procedures Paul Gazis used, but I always admired his Eight Worlds campaign. He revamped some of the game mechanics to suit his tastes, but I think he ran a pretty hygienic game and sure attracted quite a crowd of players. And some play groups didn't last long (I remember a story told by Glenn Blacow of a group of players who decided to run a pirate ship which lasted a few sessions at most before they died in a blaze of glory - it sounded like everyone had fun).

    Frank
  • Potemkin, Frank - I'm a little confused by your references to running Traveller "hygienically" without reference to specific goals. What do you mean there?
  • I'm not familiar with Traveller myself, although I've heard good things and intend to read up on it at some point. From what I've heard I understand that it has been played for similar kicks as I do with D&D, so presumably one could have a neutral referee, challenge-oriented campaign, goal-oriented player activity and so on in it as well. Certainly there's nothing in the subject matter to prevent it. Besides, many count recent interest in Traveller as a part of the OSR scene - as has been discussed elsewhere, the concept of "OSR" is pretty vague when all's said and done.
    Would you say that there's a certain need for prep, or at least to behave is if an objective scenario exists for which you are "referee" rather the later incarnation of the Dungeon Master as provider of entertainments through improvisation?
    Well, yes - it is a central conceit of the way D&D is structured that the Dungeon Master is a "referee" who portrays a scenario and leads the resolution process to find out how the scenario falls out. It is also true that the conception of the Dungeon Master as a storyteller or circus ring-leader (these differ subtly in expectations) is a very early one, and e.g. Gary Gygax apparently subscribed to what I would consider an incoherent view of the activity. (I'm sure that somebody else would merely see his perspective as all-encompassing rather than incoherent; whatever the case, fact is that it was pretty early that D&D got gripped by the challenging notion that you should be capable of being an impartial referee and an entertaining storyteller at the same time.)

    You don't absolutely have to have a prepared scenario to run this sort of a game, but large-scale improvisation requires a much higher degree of procedural hygiene to avoid the game becoming the GM's arbitrary storytelling exercise. When running a sandbox you'll often end up improvising from very sketchy notes, so it's an excellent skill to learn. Meanwhile, though, a well-prepared dungeon environment is very easy to run: as is often remarked, one reason for why D&D is so dungeon-oriented in practical materials might be that it's so easy to referee the fiction within the simple underground environment, with its limited social complexities and well-defined spatial geometry.
  • Potemkin, Frank - I'm a little confused by your references to running Traveller "hygienically" without reference to specific goals. What do you mean there?
    Well, certainly an actual instance of play would require specific goals. Given that a bunch of players decides "hey, Fred just rolled a Merchant character who mustered out with a ship, let's play a game where all the PCs are crew members on the ship," one can then use the procedures provided in the game, along with perhaps some additional procedures developed by the group to run such a game hygienically.

    The various Traveller modules might be less suitable for hygienic play (they did quickly fall into a metaplot), so there is more work by the GM to set up a hygienic setting (however, the game provides procedures for randomly generating sub-sectors).

    The GM could also come up with a sandbox setting and then let the players decide what to do with that setting.

    Frank
  • There is tons of sandbox support in Classic Traveller. The improvisational GMing advice in Bk0 is also still quite good.
    The meta-plot stuff doesn't really kick in until 1981 with JTAS#9 and the outbreak of War and I know that lots of people just ignored that stuff in actual play. In terms of "historians", collectors or readers of Trav material this of course become increasingly important. (I have also heard of games that rely on it.)

    However in practical terms you can see continuing parallel development of the sandbox (encounter) tools through CT->The Traveller Book->MegaTraveller (and even in Mongoose Traveller)
    Obviously there is also a crazy amount of tech building tools...but in hindsight I see these as less important and I think the functional aspects of the evolving Trav game design have suffered from over-emphasis on these lonely fun aspects. (Although I have personally got a lot of pleasure out of them, running several multi-player Naval campaigns using Trillion Credit Squadron, playing Striker before I had access to a spreadsheet program etc!)
    IMO the world/sector building is still beautiful though.

    rgds
    rob
  • Are we assembling online in the next 18 hrs? Is there someone I should email re: logistics? Not sure if I'll be free, but if so, I believe my 1-2pm window lines up with 6-7pm London time.
  • Ah, good of you to mention that - I'd already forgotten, better get my affairs in order before then :D

    As Potemkin/Mike is the primary GM for the session, I think, he should probably select the venue he's most comfortable with. (Although D&D is interesting in that technically speaking the task of party organization should fall on the party leader, not the GM, so in practice it's often not necessary for the GM to have a firm handle on social organization of the crew. Depends on the skills of the group, of course, and you can't exactly have party leadership established before a first session.) Both video chat and text chat have been suggested, and I'm up for either myself. Google Hangouts and IRC are respectively the easiest options for me in the two categories. I imagine that we'll use online whiteboards, Google Docs and so on in either case for secondary documentation.

    As for the time, mid-afternoon GMT (Mike's last suggestion) would be around 3pm, right? I'm at GMT+2 myself, but currently also being somewhat nocturnal, so I'll likely take a nap before the game. It'd be most convenient if we can get the timing firmed up within the next 8 hours, so I can schedule my napping. An early start is probably better than a late one, all other things being equal, as it's not difficult to join in on-going proceedings mid-session, while the session setup ("logistical phase" as I like to call it) is likely going to eat up an hour or two from a first session, no matter what one does.

    Regarding plan of action: unless Mike has some different plans, our initial to-do list will probably look like something like this:
    1) Mike gives the low-down on the setting, or we brainstorm the broad strokes if he doesn't have anything in particular. Role of the fantastic, magic, demihumans, religious and ideological nature of the society, technology level, literary flavour - that sort of thing.
    2) Whip up some characters according to whatever system framework Mike's starting with.
    3) Get the adventure from Mike, or the sandbox context if he's got multiple hooks. Plan, gear up and prepare for action.

    The above are all things that can be done "in advance" to various degrees if one feels like it, so Mike shouldn't hesitate to call the session to begin a bit early if it comes to that; it is quite effortless to join a session even after other players have already processed the logistics phase, after all.
  • Yo! Hey team. Sorry, overslept here.

    Yes, 3:00pm (GMT) sounds good. I was thinking we could get online around 2 and get started on general chat and bookkeeping.

    Let's conduct this primarily through IRC and transition from forum posting to real-time video linking a little more gently.
  • edited March 2014
    I'm michaelrburrell @ googlemaildotcom if y'all want to get in touch.


  • If text chat's the thing, I guess we should take the team to our OSR D&D IRC channel #Habavaara - we (our Finnish crew, I mean) originally started it specifically to play a bit of D&D over chat :D
    Hey, I thought we could use this to organise, if the offer is still good? I've just entered the chatroom.

  • Yes, the chat room is available, and I hear that the locals won't mind getting to peek at our proceedings. Most of them are playing a live game today with Jim Raggi, but perhaps somebody'll make an appearance later, depending on how long we'll spend on the channel.

    I've got Mike in the chat already, so I guess now it's just a matter of seeing who else we might get.
  • edited March 2014
    Ok, people are assembling! Come on in.

    So! That went well. The players were Eero, DWeird and my non-SG chum Sam (who, incidentally, was my first DM) who explored the entrance to the Wizard's Seafort off the shores of Greysands. There was lots of good player strategizing, fast combat and meaty reward. After a few more session I'm thinking of opening another thread and posting a write-up.

    Sam says he really enjoyed the game - it was the first time playing old school but he took to the procedural nature of play well and wants back for more. In other Sam news, I introduced him to Dungeon World; he loved it and has been running a game for 4 months now totally unaware of where it came from.

    Over on this side of the DM's screen, I had real trouble deciding when exploration "turns" were over (i.e. when 10 minutes had passed) and so when I needed to roll for wandering monsters/torches etc. So perhaps the Dungeon was a little less crowded that it should have been. I might instigate some "ritual phrasing" to help clearly demark the end of the player's actions and the start of a new turn. "Time passes..." or something.

    Also, I found converting my map into descriptions of space that the players are exploring difficult. The map was loose so I had to eyeball distances in play which came up when the players asked about how far the light from their torches spread, and generally the dungeon was so tightly spaced that that would never be a problem (i.e. if a PC has a light he can see everything in sight). Do I need to spread out the distances in my dungeon to make light/movement speed rules applicable?
  • Also, I found converting my map into descriptions of space that the players are exploring difficult. The map was loose so I had to eyeball distances in play which came up when the players asked about how far the light from their torches spread, and generally the dungeon was so tightly spaced that that would never be a problem (i.e. if a PC has a light he can see everything in sight). Do I need to spread out the distances in my dungeon to make light/movement speed rules applicable?
    There's no reason to do anything like that. If your dungeon (and your rules gloss) is such that light and movement speed do not matter, then they don't matter. Not everybody has to fill their games with the same cookie cutter content.

    That being said, a single torch doesn't really shed light too far; atmospheric scatter mutes light over distance, as everybody knows :D For comparison's sake, I recently created a GM screen for OSR D&D and put some numbers in it. ("Real Constants", a list of various useful natural constants from my own play and research.) Looking it over, I set a candle to shed light up to 5 feet, a torch to 10-40 feet (depending on the construction of the torch, mainly) and a lantern 40-60 feet (ditto). When you also account for some activities being light-sensitive, so that the dimness of lightning matters, it becomes easily possible for the party's chosen lightning strategy to become pertinent. Our home campaign regularly features situations where light is insufficient to see the other end of a room from its door, for example - especially when you'd need to see something more than just there maybe being a wall there out in the dark.

    Of course these are definitely "expert" considerations of dungeoneering, I wouldn't expect a beginner campaign to pay too much attention to things like lightning conditions, dehydration, social hacking of monster encounters, proper shock entrance tactics, effective scouting and so on; there are many, many things that naturally only come up when the group has sufficient expertise to process the simpler things routinely.
  • Potemkin:

    If you're being a really evil DM, the problem with light isn't just that you can only see a limited distance around you effectively, it's that other people can see you holding the light from an almost unlimited distance, provided nothing is blocking line-of-sight.
  • Potemkin:

    If you're being a really evil DM, the problem with light isn't just that you can only see a limited distance around you effectively, it's that other people can see you holding the light from an almost unlimited distance, provided nothing is blocking line-of-sight.
    That's the general assumption, right? I mean, it's a little tricky with the rules insisting on a "Surprise" roll for monsters as the standard beginning of an encounter but I'd assume that light and noise alert the denizens of the deep to the presence of intruders at a reasonable distance. This is why lamp-shutters and stowed equipment are crucial.

    The campaign, however, is in its infancy and I don't want to pile these logistical concerns onto the players until they're confident with standard dungeoneering procedure.


  • The campaign, however, is in its infancy and I don't want to pile these logistical concerns onto the players until they're confident with standard dungeoneering procedure.

    I don't blame you in the least for deciding to do that.

    There's a part of me that feels that a really hardcore dungeon crawl/logistics puzzle is a thing all of its own, a specialized variant sort of adventure.

  • Some might reasonably argue that that specialized adventure is *actually* the game whereas what we see as the conventions of an RPG (character-plot driven, idiosyncratic player motivation, XP for story, etc) are the variant!
  • Some might reasonably argue that that specialized adventure is *actually* the game whereas what we see as the conventions of an RPG (character-plot driven, idiosyncratic player motivation, XP for story, etc) are the variant!
    Perhaps very reasonably as well.

    Another way to look at that is as a sub-game or risky-but-profitable side-quest in the context of a massive, multiplayer, ongoing, open-ended war-game campaign.

    I've made a post over at RPGnet in the D&D forum just now regarding that actually.

  • edited March 2014

    I've made a post over at RPGnet in the D&D forum just now regarding that actually.
    You gunna post a link, you tease?

    I'd go so far to suggest that the idea of there being a party of PCs is probably a conceit separate from the hypothetical MMOOWGC situation. Actually, in the game "proper" the players take distinct turns moving hero-pieces across a shared hexmap, each PC having his own party of retainers - vying with other players for gold and glory.

    Actually, I think this is often how mainstream culture parses D&D. The D&D episode of Community and this awesome animated song are good examples of what I mean. They portray D&D as a PvP experience in a persistent overworld which really fascinates me.


  • I've made a post over at RPGnet in the D&D forum just now regarding that actually.
    You gunna post a link, you tease?

    I'd go so far to suggest that the idea of there being a party of PCs is probably a conceit separate from the hypothetical MMOOWGC situation. Actually, in the game "proper" the players take distinct turns moving hero-pieces across a shared hexmap, each PC having his own party of retainers - vying with other players for gold and glory.

    Actually, I think this is often how mainstream culture parses D&D. The D&D episode of Community and this awesome animated song are good examples of what I mean. They portray D&D as a PvP experience in a persistent overworld which really fascinates me.

    http://forum.rpg.net/showthread.php?718975-Crap-rules-and-early-D-amp-D-as-a-massive-multiplayer-open-ended-wargame-campaign

    Sorry for the tease!

    Mostly I'm positing that the early developers have this idealized MMOWGC in their heads and make rules for it that support that.

    I doubt it ever much materialized in that idealized form even for them, and certainly other people quickly used it more for the style we associate with the game, with a small, consistent group of friends playing the thing regularly ( especially after it hits Fad Toy Status).

  • <
    Mostly I'm positing that the early developers have this idealized MMOWGC in their heads and make rules for it that support that.

    I doubt it ever much materialized in that idealized form even for them, and certainly other people quickly used it more for the style we associate with the game, with a small, consistent group of friends playing the thing regularly ( especially after it hits Fad Toy Status).
    Let's be clear off the bat: this style of play never existed, right? It's just an RPG "hyperborea" fantasy.

    That being said, there's no reason why we couldn't toss some ideas of what a MMOWGC would be like. Would you start a thread here? Or I will - I want to discuss this.
  • <
    Mostly I'm positing that the early developers have this idealized MMOWGC in their heads and make rules for it that support that.

    I doubt it ever much materialized in that idealized form even for them, and certainly other people quickly used it more for the style we associate with the game, with a small, consistent group of friends playing the thing regularly ( especially after it hits Fad Toy Status).
    Let's be clear off the bat: this style of play never existed, right? It's just an RPG "hyperborea" fantasy.

    That being said, there's no reason why we couldn't toss some ideas of what a MMOWGC would be like. Would you start a thread here? Or I will - I want to discuss this.
    We have some evidence that people were attempting to play this way.

    Gary Gygax talks about large group campaigns in the 1e DMG, and rules for castle and army construction go back to OD&D.

    We have evidence of the game that ultimately became Gangbusters being developed and played in a similar fashion and environment.

    We also have various other games that did part of this stuff as contemporaries and precursors to D&D.

  • Not with a PvP element, surely? I thought Gygax was all about the peaceful teamwork?
  • Not with a PvP element, surely? I thought Gygax was all about the peaceful teamwork?
    Arneson wasn't.

    PvP van also take the form of racking up high score.

    And then there's the story of Vecna's Head...
  • Not with a PvP element, surely? I thought Gygax was all about the peaceful teamwork?
    Certainly not. The undercurrent (theoretical, and apparently practical as well) was quite clear: high-level PCs would have their own alignments, political commitments and goals, that might potentially segue into conflicts between characters who could have been comrades in arms in the past. Some magic items such as the helm of reverse alignment mostly get their point from this assumed background: they're amusing excuses for team-swapping, a reason for why past friends become the bitterest enemies. (Tim Kask wrote about this a couple years back in a pretty compelling manner, I seem to remember; he should know.)

    This is a pretty in-depth topic (mostly because the question is not how the game might work, but how it was in fact historically understood and utilized), and I encourage people interested in studying the hopes and dreams of the early '70s gamers to read e.g. the Dragonsfoot forums, and the articles and interviews by various people who were there. There is quite a bit of information out there. My own current impression of the matter, for what it's worth, is basically the same as Bob's: while the nature of the game might not have elevated into a complexly layered wargame consistently, every time and everywhere, the shared world and the potential of the game to segue into more traditional wargaming was definitely acknowledged. For example, it's quite explicitly known that the first Greyhawk campaign had multiple GMs, character stables, multiple adventuring parties, and such, just like our own on-going campaign does today. The Chainmail connection isn't an accident, either.
  • edited March 2014

    My own current impression of the matter, for what it's worth, is basically the same as Bob's: while the nature of the game might not have elevated into a complexly layered wargame consistently, every time and everywhere, the shared world and the potential of the game to segue into more traditional wargaming was definitely acknowledged. For example, it's quite explicitly known that the first Greyhawk campaign had multiple GMs, character stables, multiple adventuring parties, and such, just like our own on-going campaign does today.
    My first conception of D&D (which is a powerful thing, especially to the OSR - trying to "recapture" that fleeting impression of the game as a child) was as a competitive PvP experience. I spent a great deal of time assuming that the player's characters were all wandering independently about a world map and could be generally coaxed or coerced into banding together for mutual gain (i.e. to go into dungeons), but for the most part players would be exploring the hex and uncovering secrets and treasures on their own as a part of a discrete individual player-turn, like a boardgame (perhaps Talisman is the closest game to what I thought D&D was). What we understand as the party dungeon crawl would have been an advanced state of play involving player negotiation and collaboration before splitting off again. I had assumed that you could then take your hero with all his XP and Treasure into another DM's game and that players would walk around with a character sheet ready to adventure with anyone willing to provide a hex. Crazy, I know, but I was very young. I thought Warhammer worked in a similar way.

    Is this kind of thing probably could do with another thread, but I'm loath to start more OSR discussion.
  • That's actually a quite nice vision of how D&D might be. Not that different from how it actually is, either, at least the way we play it. The character stable in practice causes everybody to have characters in the same place at the same time, though, as it is so easy to just say that hey if we're going to be spending this entire session messing about with your war here, how about I make up your NPC lieutenant as a player character - sort of a combined opportunity to develop more characters and a conceit for why the player is gabbing with you about your plans at the table despite his own character currently being at the other end of the continent, doing their own thing.

    The way I explain the true nature of D&D as an emergent phenomenon is that there is "low-level" play and then there is "high-level" play, and the latter is, indeed, all about individual heroes traipsing around doing their own thing. The point where this game breaks might be a little surprising: it's when you get the idea that same-level characters should stick together as a cadre. I've found that not having this preconception has enabled us to discover a much more natural dynamic of play where characters tend to drift apart when they get to mid-levels, new lower-level characters join them, and the original party branches out into a bunch of alternate storylines. Everybody plays each other's grunts and henchmen, in other words, instead of insisting on keeping the original cadre together when it doesn't feel natural to do so.

    In our big campaign a few years back this maturation phenomenon started when individual characters started to get to around 3rd level, after a few dozen sessions of play. One character was ambitious for social position, so he married into a rich merchant family and funded his own mercenary company for the emperor's wars in Italy; another got a religious insight that indicated that he would have to put to rest this ancient pre-Christian pagan god that still existed as a malevolent presence in the dark recesses of the fantasy-Bohemian wilderness; a third quested for a cure to a divine disease he'd procured by stealing from the wrong holy places, ended up turning into an elf, and became a dark magician who ultimately perished by becoming the vessel of a high-level necromancer's rebirth. Then there were also two separate missionary expeditions to the Orient, led by two particularly religious priestly sorts of characters, and a side story regarding a crime spree ending in incarceration and a journey to a penal colony in the distant north.

    All of the above storylines were strategic-level concerns in between actual adventures, and they were handled organically in parallel to each other. Generally speaking each player would have their own "main" character who had their own concerns, but they would then also have lower-level characters joining in on other people's stories. Which character you'd play in each adventure would depend on campaign causality (whether a given character was available at a given time and place, or if he was busy somewhere else) and individual motivations; no point bringing a character who didn't care about a given adventure's goals into it. Not all players had their "own" storylines, as this sort of thing depends on what you're interested in; some just want to tag along. Such players would usually keep their characters aloof of commitments, so they could naturally continue playing that one character at a time, jumping between "theaters of operation" as we usually call these different branches of a campaign.

    The current "spin-off" campaign in which I'm being a player works exactly like this as well. I personally currently have characters involved in two main storylines: one concerns the setting up of a Skoptsi monastery in Moldova (gaining funding and social acceptance for it by doing great deeds for the locals, basically), while another is about delving into Stonehell dungeon for the cure to a space-slug plague infesting a a Moldovan city. (I think I've got two characters involved in each of these, in somewhat different situations.) These two branches of the campaign, and others that aren't currently active but might come up at any time, exist in the same campaign world and cross over where appropriate.

    So all in all, it seems very natural to me to conceptualize D&D as a large, meandering exercise in world-building and wargaming: once we have a campaign setting going, it's easy to utilize its existing lore and established events as springboards for further play. As is natural for my Platonic conception of D&D, I consider most of the above to be natural necessities that devolve directly from the creative agenda and technical strategy of the game; I am not surprised that our own practices resemble the original '70s campaigns in so many ways, as we have just been doing what comes naturally.
  • That's cool! Although I think I already knew about your play-style. What might be your procedural recommendations if I suggested running a game "inversely" - that is, to run so low level-play (after the initial adventure, etc) is about independent activity and higher-level play is about coming together to face adversity or (crucially, and more entertainingly) being about competition. Fighters battling over magic swords, M-Us for rings of power, etc etc. Thoughts? Do you have any PvP in your campaign or is it discouraged at the table?
  • We've certainly had our PvP arcs as well. For example, the aforementioned elf-turned-into-vessel-of-dark-magic was ultimately set against the entire rest of the crew. I think the player in question even played a second character who participated in the take-down. It's not really much of a problem to have PCs set against each other as long as the creative agenda aligns with it; the usual issues with PvP stem from an agenda conflict where players fail to discuss the nature of the challenge together, and one player ends up being disruptive (for reasons such as being bored and not being included in the decision-making over the real adventure), using character roleplaying as an excuse. If you have the ability to step out of the situation and talk it over between the players, then this isn't much of a problem. Just figure out with the players whether they see a legitimate, interesting challenge in having the PCs fight each other, or if doing that just ruins the scenario.

    As for the inverse D&D, that'd be quite interesting! The biggest issue is easily the fact that the normal D&D technical toolset only basically has one way to arrange that low-level situation where each player has individual characters on their own adventures: choose one character at a time, establish their scenario, proffer companion or opposing characters for the others to play (so that they have something to do instead of just watching the proceedings), and then execute the scenario. Repeat with the characters of the other players. The problem here is that it doesn't make much sense for us to first create e.g. six 1st level characters, only to then play individual sessions for each of them in turn - why did we create these other characters if we're only going to focus on this single one's adventures at a time?

    It would be possible to finesse this by abstracting things massively (as in, one-roll adventure resolution), so that play can skip from character to character in their own individual adventures in turn. This could perhaps be used as some sort of prologue for the game proper, I could imagine: during the first session you dice and tell about what your characters got up to before they joined together to sail this ship over the edge of the world, or whatever it is that causes the adventurer cadre to actually come together.
  • I imagine inverse D&D to have to reconfigure how "Player Turns" work. The level of detail in PC activities simply can't be sustained in this format; the table can't sit around for a session speculating on one player's adventures. A strict action sequence would have to be set up - much more like a wargame - so you'd have a movement round (the all players travelling announce their direction of travel, whether or not they're gunna forced march etc.), then an exploring round (the all players roll for encounters), then some kind of abstracted resolution roll with fallout tables for failure ("Ok Bret, your barbarian is defeated by the goblins... fall out is... [roll]... your horses or pack-animals are slain."). So, much more action is dependent on few rolls and we can quickly move from location to location, PC to PC to follow the action.

    Ok gang, I want to try run some more Primordial OSR this sunday afternoon (GMT) so let me know if you're available! All welcome, just whisper me. Eero, is it alright if we use your IRC room again? :) I want to try run this sunday with whoever's available but open discussion about which weekday might be preferable (I get the feeling weeknights are better for most).

    The players will be returning to explore the inner passages of the Wizard's Seafort. Second level beckons!

  • My friend Sam who played last session wrote up his experiences here. He'd never played in the OSR before, so it's an interesting read.
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