Thursday, July 23, 2009

"In MY Old Campaign.."

Wow.  And THAT's why we (or at least, I) bother to read other folks' blogs.  Checking out a post over at Grognardia got me looking at this old post from 2008, and I've got to say it was a real eye-opener.  I mean, I KNOW that I don't get to play D&D the way I used to, but I didn't realize it was because folks don't know how to do it!

(and this is why I should NOT be reading other peoples' blogs...once again I feel compelled to compose a blarg post of my own when I should be working on the B/X Companion)

Allow me to explain.

I guess I AM a "grognard" even though I was only a kid (8 years old!) back in 1981.  But the way my friends and I (all about the same age) played was definitely old school Campaign-style.  We had a game world that was independent. We had multiple parties (in truth, we had multiple CHARACTERS, but not all "characters" got along with each other so not all of 'em would adventure together). There were over-arching themes and/or plots that came out because of events that happened in play...sometimes on other sides of a continent or in a different dimension/plane.

We referred to our game world...the "Milieu," to borrow Gygax's "the campaign." Later, we "blew it up" and recreated it (with some of the original characters remaining, though re-set to 1st level) and did it all over again. We ever after referred to our first game world as "the Original Campaign." For us it was akin to calling it "the Age of Legend" (and rightly so, as our characters had all had hundreds and hundreds of hit points).

In total we would blow up our campaign world a couple more times. Each time, it was recreated in a hazy reflection of its own image...similar to Tolkien tracking Middle Earth through the "Second Age," the "Third Age," etc.  All shared similarities...for example, they were mostly set in a muddled version of Oerth or the Greyhawk campaign, although we paid little attention to the machinations and intrigues of Gary's world.  Hell...we didn't know anything about Oerth, except for the names of a few cities (we never bothered with kingdom borders, preferring to carve out our own). 

After the release of BECMI (I believe that was our "3rd Age"), Threshold was a definite part. However, this was Mystarra creeping back into the game world.  Originally the characters had been from Specularum or thereabouts (definitely they had set off from there on their historic, if tragic, journey to the Isle of Dread).  Modules (being modular, I guess) were slotted in wherever they might fit...after all, in our fantasy milieu, ancient crypts and forbidden tombs were a semi-regular occurrence.

What I'm saying is there was consistency...or the game world.  This is the reason why, although we read the Krynn books, we never played any of the Dragon Lance modules (even though we owned a couple). "Krynn" did not fit into our campaign. Even when we started over again...multiple times!...we never said, "okay, this time we're playing in Krynn." Or Greyhawk. Or Mystarra. Or anything...we created our own legends and NPC powers and politics through play.  I guess that's the most important thing I want to get at.  You don't need to have a "Forgotten Realms" game setting, and a DM does not need to script a giant fantasy world of his or her own on the scale of FR or Greyhawk or whatever.  All you need to do is PLAY...and play for a loooong time.  The characters may change, but if the world stays the same, then those characters will have an impact on it...even if their own destiny was, um, short.

Here to me is the most interesting thing about JM;s campaign post (and I would have simply commented on that post if it wasn't from 2008).  I can see why MY experience of play mimics the old Gygax and Arneson days, even though I was only born in 1973 and didn't pick up a copy od D&D till 1981.

OD&D facilitates real campaign play. As in campaign world, not "one-group-of-adventurers-campaign-to-become-heroes" (ha! sounds like a political campaign!).  OD&D is not especially lucid (or implicit or both) on the subject, but LONG TERM, that's what it facilitates.

AD&D facilitates tournament codifies and defines the rules so that everyone can play on its strangely even playing field. It is complex and specific. It can be used to play "campaign style" but mainly if one already has a background in this style of play.

Now look at B/X and the system its closer is pretty much the same as OD&D, save for better written rules and the addition of a thief class.  I remember when I first picked up the LBBs and thought...this is the fuss?  It's poorly written B/X?

I grew up playing B/X...and playing B/X long term (through the dungeon, out of the box, and into the wilderness). THEN I moved to AD&D.

Tournament style made no sense to my group. The slavers (A1-4) series was my least favorite TSR modules, and even C2 needed to have the rules bent here and there to facilitate play. 

AD&D2 and BECMI were post-Dragon Lance, of course, so their campaign style became the type we see today.

One last thing before I sign off.  Gygax and Arneson may have run their campaign worlds with 20+ players, and this became a reason for separate adventuring groups, all running in the same world and having an impact on each other without interaction.  I did not have 20+ players.  The highest number of different players in our games were 9, total.  And a couple of those guys only appeared in one-off adventures.

However, we were KIDS...and kids at an age when sometimes one or two are "on the outs" with the others.  And so these falling outs led to starting different characters in different parts of the game world.  Then when everyone made amends (and perhaps someone DIFFERENT got ousted  as often happened), well we'd go back to playing the original characters, or we'd start some new ones.

We gamed a lot...we went to school together, we were too young to have jobs, and we were pretty smart.  Of the bunch, I actually had probably the most extracurricular activities (though that could be debated).  We had time to eat, drink, and sleep our campaign world for several years through several incarnations...enough to write at least one, maybe two decent novels (if you take out the juvenile whimsy that was occasionally thrown in).  But that's how you did it, back in the day.  At least that's how I did it.

And by the way, when you start gaming a high level game, you pretty much forget about Turns as a unit of time altogether. No one cares how long a torch lasts once you can cast continual light.  You worry about Rounds in combat, and days, weeks, or months the rest of the time. I have to remember to discuss that in the B/X Companion.

[my apologies for the lateness of this post...I'm sure it's no longer relevant.  But I had to catch an outdoor movie screening at the Redhook Brewery in Woodinville, tonight.!]


  1. Yeah. I started gaming even later than you did (I was born in '84, and slung my first die at age 9 in '91-'92 or so), but I had the good fortune to learn to play at my dad's table. He had run AD&D in the same gameworld since his college days in the very early 80's - Many parts of it were actually older than I was. I played through two characters in that world, with a total of about 4 million EXP to their names. Good times.

    I may be one of those dirty Millennials, but I got so used to playing in that style that it still kind of depresses me when other campaigns end after a few short weeks or months. And I still have never seen another game with that sheer wealth of *detail*.

    RE: Turns, I agree...mostly. DMs still have some uses for them, like wandering monster checks and basic timekeeping. But players? Once you make your first Continual Light Rock, the only thing you really use turns for are a couple of spell durations. And (in AD&D) casting times for the really sweet spells. Call Lightning! ***ZOT!!!***

  2. Hell, yeah…that’s a bit of what I’m talking about. You probably know as much about the “secrets of D&D” (new post coming down) as I do.

    “Dirty Millennials”…heh-heh. Don’t take it personally, kid. Sometimes I come across as an asshole. Don’t you remember Whitney Houston singing about YOUR generation being the future? If any of us judge others (or ourselves!) for being born in the wrong time period, they’re being a ridiculous asshole IMO (yes, I am including myself in the category). A person’s dharma is to live the life they’ve been given at the time it’s given to do so. A person can consider, analyze, or use the past for lessons and inspiration, but should not let the fact that they’re in the present stop them from doing things in the present.

    (hmm…maybe a bit too philosophical for Friday morning)

    ANYway…as I post stuff on my B/X Companion idea, I’d greatly appreciate your feedback, Rob. I’m not sure there’s all that much “long term experience” people bopping around the ‘nets right now.