Friday, July 24, 2009

Ancient Chinese Secrets

AKA “D&D’s Secret Endgame”

Wow, I’m not sure where I gave the impression that my B/X Companion was going to reveal some great secret (or even that there were secrets to be revealed about D&D after all these years). But I suppose to some folks this kind of information is new; when you start researching Lost Atlantis you dig up all sorts of things that past researchers (Ignatius Donnelly, Graham Hancock) may already consider elementary. But to the newbie, the info seems fresh and exciting.

How could there be so many newbies among so many…um, “oldbies?”

Welp, I don’t think there IS a “secret endgame.” (ooo…maybe I should create one! We’ll be our own little endgame secret society!) Let me draw your attention to this old post on Grognardia. The comments by folks are fairly interesting, if you don’t mind reading ALL 94 OF THEM (and counting!).

Check this quote from Rob Kuntz:

Building and experiencing new varieties of campaign/world settings is consistent
with the game in its norm; and indeed experiencing many types and varieties of
experiences within these enriches the playing and DMing experience overall and
at different, and often, more exalted levels of comprehension and expanded
creativity for both. This is consistent with the "Front-Game," which I believe
is being exhorted by a few here, which in sum is a large part of this "end game,
that of immersing oneself in as many of the game's open-ended attributes as
possible. This expands creative dimensions exponentially and moves experiences
to different levels of creative immersion for both players and DMs. I personally
have found this more refreshing than not attempting same, at least, and prefer
it for said reasons, though YMMV.--RJK

(in another comment, RJK makes a reference to “the Original Campaign” which I think is funny, since that’s exactly how I used to refer to MY original game world)

The “secret” (if you want to call it that) is that extended play in a continuous “campaign world” with regular players can, over time, evolve into something greater than its original humble beginnings.

That’s it, really (I think). And it may be something difficult to experience without a dedicated group of gamers.

In the past, there wasn’t much BESIDES dedicated gamer groups…I am NOT just talking about insular groups that happen to be friends (or not), coming to rely on a “particular style of play” or particular house rules. THAT’s been going on for a long time, and still continues.

But for this whole “high level” thing to succeed, for my B/X Companion to mean anything, a group must be dedicated to ‘world building,’ not ‘character building.’

This is kind of the antithesis of the current editions of D&D (I’m talking Paizo as well as 4E). In these games, players are still “building a world” but one centered squarely from the ego-centric perception of their character’s eyes. Should their characters perish (an unlikely event in today’s gaming world), the campaign world may well cease to exist. Hell, the play group may cease to exist (mean old DM!).

Old D&D campaigns built up a world that was living and breathing independent of the current batch of PCs. Greyhawk is a valid example, I believe: Robilar, Mordenkainen, the Circle of Eight…these are all old retired PCs. Now they are legendary (NPC) pillars of the game world. Robilar lets out a bunch of minor demigods, and they become new patron deities of the campaign. Iuz or the Horned Society go to war with some PC kingdom, and the history of the game world is enriched by the outcome…win or lose.

But of course, to do this you must have the players (and as usual I include “DM” as a player) that are willing to commit to this vision long-term. And that’s pretty tricky in this day and age. Difficult, though not impossible.

I mean, in my own ancient campaign, the majority of the regulars were friends that went to the same elementary school as myself. I went to Catholic school (of course) that had grades for 1st through 8th. We saw each other, in class and out, weekdays and weekends for years…we played D&D beginning in 2nd or 3rd grade up past graduation. Certainly the last couple years were not ONLY D&D (as I’ve written elsewhere, we had a smorgasbord of games to choose from), but whenever we played D&D we were in our little game world. “D&D Land,” I guess you could call it.

(my friend and co-DM Jocelyn did NOT go to the same school as most of us, but because she was my best friend, and our parents were best friends we found time to get together a ton also…even when one of us were out of town we kept a pretty serious written correspondence…this is back before email and cell phones, kiddies!)

Gygax’s original campaign consisted of friends, relatives (children), friends of relatives…that’s a pretty tight connection for on-going campaign gaming. And the guy played for DECADES. Blows my friggin’ mind. But you see, you can’t get rid of your relatives…note that even when my game group broke up (when we all went to different high schools), I still had my brother and HIS friends to game with.

But today’s gamers…especially you nouveau-grognards like myself…don’t get this opportunity to game like this anymore. At least not unless we’re lucky enough to have older children, or spouses, or neighbors, that are gamers. Unless your co-worker is also your best friend…and gaming is your main hobby!...chances are you won’t have the core group to run a long-term, consistent campaign world. We’re stuck playing one-off pick-up games on-line with fellow grogs.

And that’s too bad, because it's in the long-term play that the abstractness of old edition D&D really begins to shine.

Sometimes I wonder if games like Pendragon and Ars Magica were specifically designed to communicate this “long-term campaign game” feeling. If so, it hasn’t worked out for ME in the past except maybe as a solo exercise. The “secret” of playing in and through the D&D “endgame” is that there is a natural evolution process that occurs when people start building an imaginary world. But don’t just look at Greyhawk or Blackmoore, or Greenwood’s Forgotten Realms. Check out the series of Wild Card novels based on the Chaosium Super World game. That’s world building folks.

I will say that although folks “don’t (generally) game like this anymore” there may be room for the use of technology to facilitate it. If I was a kid again, at the same school, with the same friends, but living in 2009 we would probably have a facebook page dedicated to our campaign world, we’d probably be “twittering” what one set of PCs was doing at any given time, and when our parents took us on vacation to Montana or Kansas, we’d probably be emailing every day of the summer. I might even run a (private) blog chronicling the latest exploits “heard ‘round the game world;” kind of like a town crier.

Perhaps some of these suggestions should be Chapter 9 of my B/X Companion?
: )


  1. Well, all I can say that I learnt all that from blog posts in the last year or two, and that's cool. Why didn't anybody put it in the rule books I read? Why is it not in the Labyrinth Lord book I read? Why is it not in the Primer for Old School Gaming?

    Here's how I learnt to play. My mom introduced me to the Black Eye, a German game apparently written by the first D&D translator who was unable to buy the D&D license. And my mom bought some modules. Then I designed similar games. We kept on playing different modules using the same characters, and then I moved, and a few years later we play AD&D 2nd edition with no bought modules but using the same style until we reach 12th level, and then I moved, and many years later we play D&D 3E with the odd bought module and an adventure path or two, and I'm frustrated with D&D 3.5 gameplay between levels 12 and 15. And I start looking for some rules light alternatives.

    And suddenly I hear people talk about the end game, and a consistent world, and PCs turning into NPCs of said world, and players just switching characters and continuing to play, and I wonder: WHY DID NOBODY EVER TELL ME!?

    Anyway, just trying to let you know where I come from. :)

  2. What I meant by secret endgame is that nowhere in D&D is it spelt out that characters will probably end up with dungeons rather than castles as strongholds - because they are the logical place to store one's stash:

    1 PCs raid dungeon, steal gold, advance in levels
    2 PCs need somewhere to stash it away from roving dragons, large armies, other adventurers, maybe underground.
    3 PCs need guards - ooh monsters and traps don't need wages.
    4 PCs end up with their underground stronghold guarded by monsters.

    Having charted the evolution of characters and their descendents in a friend's 20yr Dragon Warriors campaign where the PCs eventually staged a coup to overthrow the monarch then ended up fighting one another in a civil war, I'm excited about the possibilities of world-shaping high level play. Unless they become hermits/recluses (and people will still seek them out) high-level characters become a target to jealous rivals, old enemies, thieves etc and have to keep their domain in order to enable them to survive.