An old school D&D season concludes, see the campaign arc

A few years back I wrote a pretty detailed example of what a "campaign arc" might look like in a long-form, full-panoply old school sandbox D&D campaign. As I mentioned then, the "campaign arc" is something that I think is not necessarily considered and appreciated in armchair discussion of the game as much as it should be; this is one of the slowest rpgs known to man (not moment to moment, but simply in how slow some of the things that are actually tracked develop through time), so it is entirely normal for the long-term movements to be largely ignored in favour of worrying about moment-to-moment concerns.

As we finished another such arc just yesterday, and it was a pretty clear one, I thought that it might be nice to take a structural look at that one as well for comparison while it's still fresh in mind. Some things have changed through the last couple of years, some things have remained the same, and of the course the game has immense width, so it's rather unlikely that two of these mid-term arcs would ever be too similar to each other.

Background on the campaign

The current game is a spin-off of our rambling "historical fantasy Europe" campaign that's been on-going for soon to be five years under four GMs so far, with more or less continuity of aesthetics, fictional positioning, rules traditions and such.

The current GM, Tuomas, started his stint with 5th edition D&D as "hilariously" documented in the adventures of Iron Thomas the Loco Motive; in January, when I joined the game, the group had been playing 5th for the fall season already. As documented in that thread, in February we had a major breakdown of creative goals which caused a campaign realignment towards a decisively more old school form: Mentzer rules chassis, hex map approach, etc. The player base was reshuffled a bit at the time as well, with the most hardcore middle-schoolers retreating from participation while a few hardcore old-schoolers who'd avoided the game so far got into it.

imageThe new phase of the campaign has been quite interesting, and right up my alley in general. A few key observations:
* We have three regulars in the game now with major GM'ing experience with this style of play, in addition to the GM Tuomas, who - while being an experienced gamer and GM - is running his first properly challenge-based old school sandbox campaign with all the bells and whistles here. Obviously enough we're getting along swimmingly, as we've all played in each other's games at times and so on.
* I helped the GM with creating one of the most work-intensive bits of tools paraphelia for the game by putting down a hex map of Prussia in the 15th century. You can see for yourself, it's in Google Draw - in Finnish, unfortunately, as I am pretty happy with how it turned out in some subtle ways. Lots of useful notational detail that has been serving the GM well, we could continue adventuring on that single map near indefinitely as far as I understand.
* The game's strong mix of historical content with D&D continues apace, quite nostalgically in the same way I originally did it in 2012 :D On occasion I get to give little lectures on the history and habits of the times, the GM peruses Wikipedia on relevant historical background to mix into his machinations, and D&D material is mixed in liberally to concoct a historical fantasy setting with evil (or let's say, liberally-challenged) Teutonic Knights, keen Jagellonian Polish royalty, all sorts of ethnic minorities, medieval economics and so on and so forth.
* We're running a full panoply of sandbox D&D tools here, in part because I've been honing my apparently-mandated role as a party logistician. (I already was the logistician when Heikki was GMing for us last year, and apparently I'm the logistician again.) The biggest new bit in my toolbox is sharp calendaric journaling - I keep notes of everything of note that happens, and track time. The GM wondrously is tracking time as well, but frankly it seems like having a player do it works better overall - the GM has other things on his mind, after all. The newly precise calendaric work has certainly brought more depth to the logistics and emergent elements of the game.

I could talk rules and characters and such detail, but tonight I'm here to talk large-scale features.

Comments


  • The Spring Arc

    So, we started on the newly refurbished Mentzer edition of the campaign in February, and broke it up yesterday for the GM's summer vacation. The intent is to continue either later in the summer, or in the fall, as everybody's quite happy with the campaign so far.

    During the last three and half months we got in 12 sessions of the game (weekly, fixed time-slot, about 3-4 hours per session), spanning near two months of fictional time. The short description of the accomplishments would be that we played through two "adventures" or "campaign arcs" in that time while getting a few characters to 2nd level and discovering a rough half dozen adventure hooks that we have on various degrees of spin when we continue the campaign later on. The last arc wrapped up in last session, just in time before the vacation season.

    Let's see what our play looked like, from a bird's eye perspective:
    Session #   Type       Description   
    1LogisticsA new party of ne'er-do-wells congregates in Danzig, the major trade hub in the estuary of the river Vistula. They decide to travel to Elbing up the coast, attracted by rumours of an eldritch task related to an abandoned manor house. My Old Prussian (halfling, that is) character gets eaten by a giant weasel.
    2DungeonThe party continues investigating the abandoned manor, which is basically empty. My Teutonic spy/thief dies to ill-festering humours in a wardrobe.
    3DungeonThe party continues investigating the abandoned manor, finds stirges in the attic. We use cats as missile weapons to take down the stirges.
    4DungeonThe party descends down below the manor, into a smuggler hideout. My backwoods Livonian Mystic dies while defending a retreat.
    5ClimaxThe party incorporates, buys a boat, enters hideout by water, finds it abandoned; we discover the former mansion alchemist's hideout with his gold. My Neural Thief, Lecter Boy, survives and becomes the logistics officer for the corporation.
    6LogisticsThe party returns to Danzig to buy lots of plate mail with the manoral wealth; spends a week drinking and whoring; spends another week discovering adventure hooks in the nearby countryside. When the plate mails are done, the party leaves for Lauenburg to explore an ancient ruin. Lecter Boy gets an arrow in the throat from goblins, retires and becomes a psychiatrist.
    7DungeonThe party hires a crew in Lauenburg to explore "Der Kopf", a skull-shaped outcropping. My character Brother Wizzard joins in and becomes the party logistician. The hirelings all run back to Lauenburg when they realize that the place is haunted.
    8DungeonWe discover that the ghosts in Der Kopf are vulnerable to Protection from Evil; Brother Wizzard becomes an unlikely archeologist-hero as he soloes the entire fortress/laboratory while the rest of the party stands watch. We unearth a bunch of interesting artefacts.
    9LogisticsThe party decides to not sell the ancient junk from Der Kopf; rather, we returned to Danzig, hired Isaac the Troubadour to accompany us, and set forth to Külm, wherein the first prince and viceroy of Royal Prussia holds court this spring.
    10LogisticsThe party arrives in Külm after avoiding some disease outbreak on the way. Start maneuvering to tamper with the royal troubadour Lorenzo, and to gain access to the Prince for our troubadour, Isaac. Make some quick money, everybody's nigh-starving. A party member seduces and kidnaps Lorenzo to get him out of the way.
    11DungeonI'm the only regular player this time, but we've got some of the best Finnish dungeonistas, so play anyway. The new party tries to clear an illegal mine of even more illegal interlopers. Sells the map to the mine to a moneylender after failure.
    12LogisticsThe party refinances by apprehending some horse thieves in Külm, our troubadour Isaac gets to perform in court, Isaac introduces the court in Külm to the chivalric epic of He-Man and Attila the Hun. He-Man's regalia is sold to the Prince for 8500 rupees to much rejoicing.

    As can be seen from the above, we basically did two adventures during the season: one was a simple scooby doo thing with smugglers in a haunted house, the other was a small wizard laboratory tomb thing with ghosts and ancient stuff. We also had a single one-shot dungeon in between, as well as a fair bit of "logistics", by which name I'm calling travel and urban adventuring and general planning sessions here. For example, sessions #9, #10 and #12 are basically a follow-up adventure to sessions #7-8, as we decided to cleverly multiply the value of the treasure by investing in a bard, lies and courtly contacts. The latter "tail" to the adventure was entirely player-initiated: I personally invented the prince, the target town, the political context of the action and the sales plan, so the GM just needed to run interference while we made the plan reality.

    As regards adventuring initiatives, here's a rundown of the season's adventure hooks as far as I've noticed them:
    Haunted manor - introduced in Danzig in session #1 - solved
    Ancient ruin - introduced in Danzig in session #1 - solved
    Giant pike - likely a mere special encounter, hinted at in hexcrawling in session #6.
    Pirate hideout - hinted at in hexcrawling in session #6
    The Black Cauldron - likely epic, Ulf's divine insight in session #9
    Riverbend Plague - the GM wants us to do this one, hooked and baited in sessions #9-12
    The Illegal Mine - the mine from session #11 is still there, with raw saphires
    The Horseflesh Cave - a dungeon the horse thieves happened to hide in
    The Prince's invitation - the prince wants to give us a new job once the game resumes
    That doesn't account for things the PCs might want to be doing, those are just the stuff the GM has been pushing at us. A pretty good array - I think Tuomas has been doing a very entertaining job weaving adventure opportunities into the events as we've been playing.
  • edited May 2015
    About my characters

    As can be seen, I went through six different characters during the season, of which two are alive at the moment. One is Brother Wizzard, a Polish failed sage who become a cobbler and then a desperate adventurer; the other is Teppo Conrad, an exiled Bohemian Hussite who's decided to become a Witcher in Poland.

    I am amused by how I managed to play through no less than four characters who I rather liked before Brother Wizzard, who rightfully as per his stats (1 HP for starters) should be dead as a doornail, apparently became my regular character for the second half of the season. As I can't kill him (couldn't even contemplate doing that in the later sessions, as he's the one with all the local knowledge about Külm and the Charisma score to pull off the scam), I'm now trying to make enough money for him to retire from adventuring and buy his own cobbling shop in Külm, where his wife and children live.

    The other players have had some character deaths, but nothing close to my numbers - I think more than one third of the dead characters have been mine in this so far, if not half. It's not even been a particularly deadly season, as we haven't been doing too much dungeon crawling. It's just that almost every dungeoneering session has seen one of my characters bite it, before Brother started inexplicably surviving.

    At least I concocted that plan for the big score, so it cannot be said that I'd have just spent the entire season getting killed. Clearly Brother Wizzard has a future as a plotter, if nothing else. Thanks to our entirely fabricated chivalric romance about the ancient Polish hero He-Man and his heroic wars against Attila the Hun, we managed to turn 250 rupees worth of junk into a 8500 rupee payday, all without having to do any extra dungeoneering (unless you count the kidnapping of a court troubadour, I guess).

    And finally, for a sense of scale: after that last heist, we managed to finally get a few characters to 2nd level. (Mine are still 1st level both, though.) This is still strictly a low level game we're playing here. I judge that the GM is playing a very legit game by local measure, I don't see him pulling his punches, and that makes me think that we're pretty good at this nowadays, considering that we actually managed to succeed in a couple of adventures in a row. Admittedly the #8 success in Der Kopf was more luck than anything, as we just happened to have the 1st level spell that avoided almost every hazard in the place. Still, 12 sessions to level 2 is pretty respectable in my books, especially in as straight a line as we have here :D
  • Excellent write-up, Eero, and a fascinating read.

    I think it won't surprise you too much that I have a handful of specific questions:

    1. Most importantly, how does one defeat stirges using cats? (And how does one herd all those cats in the first place?)

    2. How was the sale of the He-Man paraphernalia adjudicated at the table? Was it a case of the GM basically deciding they were amused enough by the players' ploy and having the NPC agree to it, or is there a more systematic approach with this group of handling such situations?

    3. How did the sale of the "fake" treasure work out for the PCs, XP-wise? Was it just a financial landfall, or did it also increase the XP value of that particular treasure?

    Also, that map is gorgeous! Can you explain the method used in making it? What information is "subtly" encoded in the map, and how does it look so damn good if you made it in Google Draw?
  • edited July 2015
    1. Most importantly, how does one defeat stirges using cats? (And how does one herd all those cats in the first place?)
    First, you capture some cats in a town or village. I recommend being a heavy-handed mercenary sort so the locals won't ask any questions or anything - it's just a cat after all. Procure a gauntlet at this point too, you'll be needing it later.

    Then, you put each cat in a different sack, or if the stirges are close by, you can put them all in a single sack at this point. Later on you'll want them in a single sack to get them good and angry, of course, but you don't want to tire them out.

    Once you get to the stirges with the cats in a sack or sacks, you want to get the stirges flying, which won't be difficult. When the time is right, you get into your sack, with your gauntlet on, and draw out a cat, which you then proceed to pitch straight at a stirge flying straight at you. The pitch is similar to throwing an oil flask, basically, and shouldn't be too difficult, considering that the stirge is coming right at you. I recommend taking hold in the middle of the cat, on the backside, and throwing quickly, before it decides to cling to your arm or something.

    After the pitch you wait until the angry cat hits, attaches to the stirge, and drags it down with its weight. Finish the stirge with a boot once it's in the ground, and if possible, pick up the cat and put it back in the sack for reuse. If using them outside, don't expect much of a recovery rate.

    In our case we found that two cats were quite sufficient to deal with the handful of stirges; Romulus and Remus were promptly adopted into the party inventory in case we'd find more stirges. Later on Remus disappeared in some unfortunate skirmish, but presumably Romulus will cover the stirge angle for now - haven't had any stirge trouble since it joined the party, anyway.
    2. How was the sale of the He-Man paraphernalia adjudicated at the table? Was it a case of the GM basically deciding they were amused enough by the players' ploy and having the NPC agree to it, or is there a more systematic approach with this group of handling such situations?
    The sale basically hinged on the chivalric romance we composed about He-Man ("Virvirtus" in Latin, of course): the idea was that our troubadour would announce a newly composed romance on an ancient Polish hero, whose tomb had been discovered in the newly Polish parts of Prussia. Then, after the buy-in from the audience for the legend of He-Man and his faithful men-at-arms (and bird-headed wizard helper, as it happened), and their dread war against the famous horde leader, Hordak Attila, the troubadour would tell the story of the discovery of the tomb, and we would display the regalia we had uncovered. Afterwards we would, presumably, get an opportunity to talk sales with a He-Man-crazed flock of nobility, if not Prince Sigismund himself.

    I think we'd need the GM to answer on the exact details of the adjudication he was using, but basically it involved a few ability checks to determine the quality of our epic material and composition (and a few more when we spent more time on it), and then a Mentzer style reaction roll at the party, when we trotted out our epic multimedia performance.

    Amusingly my character Brother Wizzard ended up participating himself in the actual show-and-tell, as the rest of the party had managed to greedily leave town for "just a little quick adventure", leaving me to actually press-gang my 13-year old son to help lug the "regalia" around. This was not exactly ideal, as I'd wanted to just get the money and start up my cobbling business, but this was too important to mess up.

    It was pretty fortunate that I was in the show myself, as I could then perform my best single maneuver of the entire campaign so far. It is, I am told, already being called "the Hand of God" maneuver, very likely entirely in awe for the brilliance.

    Oh, all right, I'll tell you about the Hand of God - it was like this: when we rolled the crucial reaction check for the performance, presumably with some secret modifiers the GM had determined based on the earlier ability checks (I'd probably have explained the exact math myself to the players in his stead, but whatever), our troubadour Isaac sadly failed us: the roll was merely 4-1, for a total of 5, a worryingly low outcome.

    When I saw the dice, and before anybody else could react - most crucially, before the GM could formulate the next step of the adjudication - I took a third d6 and rolled, saying that "very well, I shall provide sidelines support for Isaac here - after all, with my Charisma 15 I am well suited to step in if his portrayal starts to drag!"

    The new roll was a '5', which I promptly used to displace the '1', thus indicating that the new reaction roll outcome was a 9 - a much more comfortable score, never mind secret modifiers. After that we asked the GM for his judgement :D

    (For those lost on the nuance, the funny part here is not how I bullied anybody about ignoring the dice, but rather the implied and quickly justified "rulings, not rules" action I took to suggest that a supporting actor intimately familiar with the show could help out by rolling a "bonus die" into a traditional Mentzer 2d6 reaction check. This is humorous because you usually see the GM making new rulings in new situations, not a player.)

    No idea if the Hand of God had any impact on the situation, but the fact of the matter is that the GM declared our show a success that brought flush to the face of young prince Sigismund, and excited aplause from the crowd of nobility in the court. I finalized the success with a critically successful psychological insight check, and hazarded to end the revue with a rather bootlicky extended comparison between the bold He-Man and our beloved Prince of the Blood, Sigismund :D
  • 3. How did the sale of the "fake" treasure work out for the PCs, XP-wise? Was it just a financial landfall, or did it also increase the XP value of that particular treasure?
    We got full XP for the sales price, and of course hadn't yet gotten any XP for the same treasure/junk before, because we'd delayed selling it for the sake of the scam here. In practice this took junk worth maybe 250 rupees and turned it into 8500, which I really can't complain about. (My advance estimate based on some rough numbers about the wealth of the Polish crown holdings and the cost of living was a minimum of 5k and a maximum of 20k rupees - in hindsight the political situation and our low social rank practically prevented the high end from occurring, of course.)

    Speaking of pricing methods, I generally go by an abstract "real value" for xp pricing, so it is not always possible to upgrade your gain by making smart sales. What made it possible in this case was simply that the method of sale itself was an adventurous proposition; we effectively staked our earlier profits, our reputations and very skins (should the scam blow up real bad) on it to improve the take. You'd get basically the same outcome if the party declared the first adventure closed, kept the junk and then started an entirely new adventure about scamming a prince; if you're going to allow "scam a prince" to be an adventure in your campaign, then there's no reason not to allow it to start up organically when the PCs happen to think of it instead of being presented with a GM-made hook for it.

    Then again, I totally would allow a reliable specialty contact to raise the value of specialty treasures a bit. For example, if a party had an art dealer contact who could and would pay more for art, I'd let at least some of the extra take to translate into xp. It's sort of an extra efficiency bonus for being positioned so well to take advantage, same as having mules so you can carry out more treasure.
    Also, that map is gorgeous! Can you explain the method used in making it? What information is "subtly" encoded in the map, and how does it look so damn good if you made it in Google Draw?
    Thanks, I'm pretty happy with the map as well - it looks pretty nice, there's a big bunch of data hidden in there, and it's also a good take on my more recent hex-mapping style. (Well, I've already thought of some new ideas in that regard, but let's say that this is my most recent actual work.)

    I started the map by creating some hex grids in Draw (I use single hex objects, which is heavier on the processor but enables some finer control) and by choosing a base map of historical Prussia (the base map is from the 18th century, I think). I placed the base map with appropriate scaling under my hex grid, so the hexes indicate 6-mile (actually, they are 1 "Prussian mile" each - gotta love these old measurements) increments on the base map.

    With the base map, a topograhical map of Poland, some waterway and road logistics maps, maps of medieval towns and castles in the area, and a dash of arbitrary game design spirit (to sew up the various information sources into a fun and functional gaming map) I then determined the base type for each hex, and the possible extra features (hilliness, swampiness, townyness, basically). I think I drew the rivers first before coloring the hexes, and placed the towns and castles as well before the big hex typing stage. I cut off the map to the east somewhat arbitrarily, on the principle that the areas there aren't that interesting, and Tuomas would want to stay in the western bits at the start anyway.

    (A little explanation, because map in Finnish: the colors on the map do not indicate terrain types, but rather population density, and therefore the density of roadways and villages in the area. The yellow bits are basically civilized countryside with several villages in the hex and some sort of wagon-paths going every which way, while the darkest green is inhabitated only by savages and monsters, and does not necessarily have even animal trails going any way you'd want to go.)

    After typing the hexes, I wrote up notes (Google Draw allows object-specific notes, so if you click on an object the respective note pops up) for all the towns and castles and rivers and such to indicate the most significant info about them - just a sentence or two on each. Then, to help out with zoning the map (for e.g. random encounter systematics), I used red dash-lines to indicate important geographical/cultural/political areas, such as the Vistula river delta, and wrote a bit of commentary on those as well to keep the GM up to date on my research.

    I don't know which part of the map looks so good to you, but I created the impression of a more organic map combined with a hex map by leaving my base map underneath the hexes, and setting the transparency of the hex material appropriately, so that the notations on the base map show through in places, particularly up in the Baltic area that I didn't hexercize. It's purely for aesthetics, as the base map is from a much newer period - it shows the heavily populated Prussia of the 18th century, rather than the combination of woodsy bits and big trade hubs that Prussia was in the 15th. The map would be cleaner and easier to read without the base map under there, but we haven't felt the need to take it out yet, apparently.

    Making the map took 10-ish hours maybe? Something like that. A fun task, to be sure - as I said, I like showing off that map. Would be faster in a real vector art software of course, I mostly used Draw in case Tuomas would want to mess about with the details himself, copy the map or do other cloudy things with it later.
  • Thanks, Eero! Fun to hear about all the details behind this particular game.

    "Virvirtus" is sufficient for the price of entry, alone.

    I'm curious how heavily house-ruled this campaign is. Is it close to Mentzer by-the-book, or is it more like your house D&D, with different stats, initiative rules, etc?

    In particular, is character mortality by-the-book, or somewhat more forgiving?

    Also, does the actual creation of Situation in this game follow the traditional D&D lines (as we did in our IRC campaign), or did you develop a more detailed or involved method for the purpose?
  • I'm curious how heavily house-ruled this campaign is. Is it close to Mentzer by-the-book, or is it more like your house D&D, with different stats, initiative rules, etc?
    Not heavily house-ruled (so far), but I think that the paradigm is healthy - the GM is thinking, and we change things when necessary or when his vision develops, so the system does morph slowly. It's not as progressive (as in, far away from the root text) as my or Peitsa's table, but more so than Heikki's (to mention the four primary GM personages who've had a hand in shaping this campaign cluster or scene or whatever it is that we've been doing).
    In particular, is character mortality by-the-book, or somewhat more forgiving?
    Technically the GM has postulated a more modern injury protocol basically similar to mine - go to zero HP and you go down, with more or less permanent injuries but not necessarily death unless there's bad luck or lack of first aid involved. However, as we have a bit of purism at the table (speaking of Heikki here, basically) regarding this matter, and the GM has not taken a convincing stand on it, in practice we have not used the option. Or no, I think one player does have a character in recovery that they might bring back later. I had one character who technically speaking survived going down, but I decided to retire him (and discard the character sheet) because there was ambiguity in the procedural purity of the survival - the GM basically hesitated a second too long in explaining the rules, making it seem like a mercy bit.

    As you know, I advocate an injurious D&D where there's a clear and present grey zone between "fine and fighting" and "dead as a doornail", including various types and degrees of injury that force players to determine what constitutes a career-ending trauma. I find it probable that this is the direction Tuomas is taking as well, but I think he'll need to work on the procedure a bit to make it feel like an honorable option; as long as he's presenting it in a lukewarm way as an afterthought, and Heikki is there to mock it, honorable players will presumably continue opting for the clean death. It'd also help if there was a tad more in the way of established character improvement options; if serious injuries cause permanent mechanical character degeneration, and there are no practical ways to ameliorate the penalties, continuing to play that character who lost an arm or a leg is likely not going to be too common. (In comparison, the most common consequences of serious injury in my own take on the matter have been stat damage and bed recovery, both of which are survivable and non-permanent, if slow to heal.)
    Also, does the actual creation of Situation in this game follow the traditional D&D lines (as we did in our IRC campaign), or did you develop a more detailed or involved method for the purpose?
    The procedure is textbook, insofar as I understand the GM's part of it; Tuomas preps adventures, places them on the map, discusses options with us via the medium of rumours and clients and other adventure hooks, rolls random encounters, improvises as necessary and so on - you know the drill. As I think I mentioned up near the beginning, I've enjoyed his work in this regard. Situation-negotiation and the "logistics phase" in general is like one third of the artistry of this sort of GMing, and I've liked the variety, balance and setting harmony of his material. Tuomas is not as improvising and fiction-prolific as e.g. I or Peitsa are (that is, he doesn't usually run his mouth), but he's more so than Heikki, and I've found that I enjoy all positions on this particular continuum - doesn't matter so much how much you paint with your words, as long as what you paint is not lame, and you answer player questions, and let them participate in filling in the small detail to their satisfaction.

    I enjoy the fact that Tuomas has not driven me off with a stick despite my proclivity for extra-curricular activities such as creating the hexified Prussia and giving impromptu lectures about medieval politics, economics and culture at the table. (Like, Tuomas says something about some guy being a merchant, and I immediately start speculating about his ethnicity, political views and business goals in the here and now of the fictional setting.) I could well see a GM with more viking-hatty attitudes growing rather tired with my antics in rather short order. (Not that I'm exactly the only one taking the occasional liberties from seat-filling, but I am probably the worst in this regard.)

    For example, this whole sequence that started with "hey, this junk is much too impressive-looking to just recycle, we should sell it to a collector" was basically a player-narrated fictional situation set-up: I'd already established earlier that my character was from Külm, and I forget why I'd established that the viceroy of Royal Prussia was holding court and distributing fiefs there as well, but I did mention that a few sessions earlier for some reason. Then at the end of session #8 my character pitched the scheme at the rest of the party about hiring a troubadour, going to Külm, etc. So ultimately the only thing the GM brought into that general Situation was the ancient junk we were selling; the idea, our target and the political context of the adventure were basically me free-associating. I admit that I did check with the GM in like session #10 about whether all the blabbing I'd been doing to set things up was kosher with him - would have been pretty amusing if we'd gotten to Külm with a bard and ballad, only to find out that Brother Wizzard had been full of shit with his talk about princes and courts and whatnot :D
  • Ah! Interesting. I very much like the image of Brother Wizzard turning out to have been a liar (or completely clueless). Has that kind of thing ever happened in this game? If so, how did it go?

    Meanwhile, two more questions come to mind:

    First of all, do you consider the evolution of the game rules in process a vital part of this kind of old-school play? In other words, would a ruleset which ceases to evolve be a sign of stagnation in some way? Or does a group which plays "by-the-book" reliably still fulfill the promise of this kind of play, as well?

    Second, on the matter of injury and death: we had a discussion a while ago (I believe it's even linked, above) about the role of injury, hit points, survival, and that grey area you're fond of. However, I realize now that you've never indicated your position on the role of the GM in all this. It sounds like you enjoy the nuance of a character being severely wounded or maimed in the process of adventure, as a sort of decision point for the player: is this character still worth playing for a while, or has s/he suffered too much?

    What is the role of the GM in this respect? Is it to keep asking, "How about now?", almost as in some Narrativist modes of play (e.g. Dogs comes to mind)? Is it to be creative and colourful? To challenge the player in specific ways? (Brother Wizzard always gets his way by being charming, so let's give him a horrible disfigurement...) Or simply to come up with the most fictionally plausible injury?
  • Ah! Interesting. I very much like the image of Brother Wizzard turning out to have been a liar (or completely clueless). Has that kind of thing ever happened in this game? If so, how did it go?
    Nope, the GM has backed us so far. Apparently nobody's suggested anything too stupid without checking with the GM first. What you suggest would be a pretty unlikely scenario, as the game isn't really about that sort of ambiguity or tension - players inventing stuff about what's behind the next door and then checking to see whether the GM's taking their suggestion on board, that is. In practice the GM is there listening to us plot, so I would hope and assume that he would tell us at some point if we're simply way out of place with the player-determined setting assumptions and such.
    First of all, do you consider the evolution of the game rules in process a vital part of this kind of old-school play? In other words, would a ruleset which ceases to evolve be a sign of stagnation in some way? Or does a group which plays "by-the-book" reliably still fulfill the promise of this kind of play, as well?
    My answer is a careful yes. I don't think that the rules need to actually ever change, but I think that a group that closes off that particular chance, that part of the procedure, is playing in a lesser form that has all the opportunity to degenerate into flouting fiction and favouring legalism. I'm happy as long as the option of challenging rules is there, even if it is never or almost never utilized in practice. Even if the GM consistently refuses all innovation, as long as the premise about GM responsibility to make rulings (as opposed to justifying himself by the book) is maintained, I am pretty satisfied.

    Heikki is the most mechanically conservative GM I've played with in this style of game, and I don't have any procedural complaints, even as I would run many particular rules differently from his 90% by-the-book LotFP. He allows discussion of rules rationales, occasionally adopts player input concordant with his vision and justifies his rulings, even as they are more often than not identical to the LotFP text, and that's really all I ask - back each and every rule you use with your own creative opinion as to why that rule should be used, and I don't mind even if in practice you end up endorsing the entire AD&D core rules.
    Second, on the matter of injury and death: we had a discussion a while ago (I believe it's even linked, above) about the role of injury, hit points, survival, and that grey area you're fond of. However, I realize now that you've never indicated your position on the role of the GM in all this. It sounds like you enjoy the nuance of a character being severely wounded or maimed in the process of adventure, as a sort of decision point for the player: is this character still worth playing for a while, or has s/he suffered too much?

    What is the role of the GM in this respect? Is it to keep asking, "How about now?", almost as in some Narrativist modes of play (e.g. Dogs comes to mind)? Is it to be creative and colourful? To challenge the player in specific ways? (Brother Wizzard always gets his way by being charming, so let's give him a horrible disfigurement...) Or simply to come up with the most fictionally plausible injury?
    I'd say that the nature of injury comes from the same place that consequences in general do - creative interest and fictional consistency. Those two principles are in tension when the GM invents content or consequences (the same principles apply to both): you want to explore the creative space thoroughly and find new interesting facets of it, but at the same time you want to respect causality and have things make sense. In practice you want to use your "inner eye" to see the fiction and describe what you see, because the effect you're shooting for is making it easy for the players to do the same.

    In practice this means that the GM is ideally not really challenging players with the injuries he provides - if a given consequence looks like an escalation of a former development or a tailored challenge for a specific character, I think that's mostly coincidental. He might well use a random table or other impersonal mechanic in this; Heikki has been talking about instituting such in his table rules, which I enthusiastically favour (his standard has been the LotFP "at 0 you're unconscious, at -2 you're dead" line), for example. His suggested approach provides for the "grey space" I like, but without making it as much of a matter of spontaneous GM creativity and deal-making as my own technique does.

    I should note that my own specific homebrew rules set puts a lot of emphasis on the long-term character development and campaign development implications of major injury, which also informs this issue. Specifically, if the table rules use injury as a character development setback, more interesting death alternative, enforced temporary retirement and resource sink, then that has many implications about the nature of injury that might or might not be exist in some other rules gloss. People around here have tended to interpret my house rules in a somewhat awry manner in this regard when they emphasize the idea that critical injuries cause funky, debilitating injuries that make characters into amusingly crippled, grizzled monstrosities; this is not my original intent, I myself tend to make most critical injuries into cinematic things like gut perforations or mangled limbs or torn muscles that might or might not heal properly given time and patience, without necessarily crippling the character. If the primary strategic focus for your system in handling these "grey zone" injury consequences is providing for amusing handicaps and reasons for characters to retire, you naturally favour losing entire appendages or eyes or such (really, anything that makes you look more like a pirate is popular here) over things that merely ruin your health and force you into bed-rest for a time. It's a different feel, for a different overall picture of a rules system.
  • So what does an example of such "deal-making" look like, in practice? Can you think of a good actual play example, and your rationale behind it?
  • Deal-making in assigning injuries? That's a pretty small detail about play, but then again it happens somewhat regularly...

    Much of the time players accept grim injuries gracefully, but sometimes they blanch at something, which may become a situation for some light and discreet consideration of the exact nature of the injury. The negotiation/coordination between the player and the GM in this is even more subtle than what goes on in e.g. selecting adventures, largely because there is less overt PC agency at work with injuries.

    A typical example of how a player opens a negotiation about dialing back an injury would be optimistic, determined maneuvers to curtail the injury, often accompanied with speculation about it maybe not being as serious as it looks. This is of course mostly possible when and if the GM uses literary, impressionistic language in assigning injury, leaving players into suspense about the exact degree of seriousness; if the GM assigns the fictionally perceived immediate consequence ("He bursts into fire!"), the outcome of first aid efforts ("He is black all over when you finally extinguish him!") and the mechanically formalized impact of the events ("Take a -5 penalty to doing just about anything and everything going forward!") all at once, without waiting for player reactions, then this type of subtle negotiation is not possible, because the GM has already established his position all in one go.

    A successful player negotiation causes the GM to reconsider their initial impression of the situation, and may inspire a subtle ruling in the direction the player prefers. This goes for other things aside from injuries as well, of course, as players remind the GM about facts and positioning and character capabilities and whatever else, alongside their emotional and intellectual reactions to the preliminary details the GM establishes as the fictional situation develops. We may consider this process in terms of consequence negotiation, even as the system framework does not call for a formal negotiation in how the GM assigns consequences.

    A concrete example of this technique/phenomenon in use: one time I was GMing when a player character got some (untyped) acid in their eyes. I described how it stung and blinded, and how green froth mixed with blood poured from the corners of his eyes as he stumbled about. This was a somewhat fatalistic/passive player who rarely takes very imaginative and proactive steps without prompting, so I was entirely prepared to have their character get blinded. However, another player got into the act with water flushing and whatnot, and when I broached the subject of blindness, they argued for some first aid checks, and ultimately what we agreed upon was an ambiguously non-permanent eye injury - they bandaged the character's eyes and later took him to civilization to recover his eyesight, which he more or less did in time. The fundamental consequence of "blindness" was not modified, but the minor, organic details aggressively established or emphasized by the players swayed the resolution process in a way that a strictly GM-led process would not have - I'd have just had fun with the visceral imagery of the fantasy acid eyebath myself, had the players not pushed back hard.
  • I see what you mean, Eero. That's definitely an important part of OSR-style play; the whole "hidden" negotiation about the nature of the fiction and the severity or magnitude of various effects and so on - the "truth" becomes established through the process. That's a great observation of the pace of play: adding some space to the GM's proclamations about outcomes allows a sort of gradual process not too different from IIEE into establishing fictional details.

    This is inspiring me to add some details about such things into my own homebrew. Interesting, thanks!

Sign In or Register to comment.