Thursday, January 26, 2023

An Advanced D&D Campaign

Damn. I was not going to post anything today, but this one's too good not to share. From 42 Rolls of Duck Tape:
"I've got this one player who keeps asking me to run this or that old module for him, and I keep saying that they exist as locations and he would have to get his pc to make the effort to discover and go to that place(which he finally did for [module B4] the lost city). Because I use my version of mystara that means that most of the basic line of modules are present in my world, I just don't run them as "adventurers" that I take the party on. 

"I run a setting not an adventure. I don't separate between the two. The current actions of the PCs are the adventure, they don't go from one adventure to another, going through a cycle of Dungeons and plots and whatnot. The only real thing separating "adventures" is each individual session we get to play; it's all one continuous adventure. The adventure is the players(not the pcs, but the actual players) discovering my world and interacting with it. Without their direct interaction, there is no game. As much effort as I put into the campaign setting it is nothing without someone else playing in it and finding their own adventure. 

"It's my job to present the setting, and most assuredly not to give the players an "adventure" to play through; the adventure is created by them."
Lance Duncan gets it. 

Take all that in and you won't need another long-winded, digression-filled scrawl of text from me. I mean, I'll keep writing them (because I'm bat-shit crazy), but you won't need them.

Remember this old post? Yeah, I said making dungeons was the "hack" approach to playing D&D, and promised I'd write a follow-up explaining what you needed to do for an "advanced" campaign. And then I never came back to the subject. *sigh* Because I'm busy and I suck, all right?!

But now I don't even need to write that post, because Lance has spelled it all out for you:


This is what "advanced" D&D play is. It doesn't matter that Lance uses Mystara and (probably) some version of Basic D&D as a rule set for his game...he's still playing D&D in an advanced fashion. 

What do I mean by that? Look: the Basic sets (as has been well-documented elsewhere) were written and designed to INTRODUCE NEW PLAYERS to the foundational concepts of Dungeons & Dragons. Full stop...that's why Holmes wrote his book, that's why B/X was published, that's why BECMI was written. 

And AS SUCH they provide a method of play and procedure that allow players to dip their feet into the whole D&D thing. Here's a dungeon. Here's a wilderness. Here's some cheap-o rules for domain play and immortality quests (Mentzer's C and M sets).

Fine. Dandy. Great, even...D&D is a complex game and introductory rules are strongly recommended for new players. B/X taught me how to play D&D, too.

But that's only the opening move of the game. The TRUE game is the ADVANCED game, readily and headily described in Gygax's Dungeon Master Guide. The DMG discusses (explicitly and at great length) how to create campaigns and how to run campaigns, as well as providing a plentitude of specific ideas of the content one can put into their campaigns...from diseases and hirelings to politics and economics to legendary artifacts and relics.

It also (as I've noted before) provides precious little guidelines on how to create/write a an "adventure."

[still, that last bit makes sense when one considers the campaign to have moved out of the dungeon and into the wider world of the campaign. Which (duh) also explains why world building is so important, right? Yep, I just keep end up harping on the same stuff...]

Anyhoo. Lance has got the concept down. Doesn't matter that he's using Mystara as a world setting/map. Doesn't matter what rule set he's using (not much, anyway...). What matters is the way he uses them. 

All right...we'll cut this one short and sweet. Happy Thursday, folks.
; )


  1. Agree playstyle is way more important that rule set being used. You can run a game like Lance does with any eddtion from OD&D to 5e.

    The trick is lots of prep and accepting that much of that prep will never be used.

    1. Mm. You’re looking at it wrong, 7B. It’s not “lots of prep” that will “never be used.” It’s world building. And that’s not wasted effort. It just…isn’t.

      For example, you could prep multiple interesting NPCs and/or scenarios for some village in the players’ path, right? But then they bypass the village (and your prep work) completely. Is the effort wasted?

      Not at all. In addition to being a good mental exercise (applicable to later work) it’s possible to adapt the NPCs and situations to the NEXT small town the party finds themselves.

      BUT even THAT is unnecessary. If you use prep from Town A in Town B, and then the party returns to Town A at a later time…uh-oh! You’re scrambling.

      Better to let things lie in Town A, and sit on it for the possible (eventual?) return of the party. Or for the next party (after a TPK).

      Hell, if you REALLY want to use your prep work, just direct the players via rumor, gossip, etc. in Town B back to Town A (or “dungeon A” or whatever).

      Just because something isn’t used “right now” doesn’t mean it won’t be used in the future.
      ; )

  2. Just to note, Both the campaign world and rules system I use are so far diverged from anything TSR ever published that they are really their own thing. I simply use the label 'Mystara' and 'Classic d&d' as a point of reference for you internet folks

  3. (Long winded response below)

    I 100% understand the value of world building, but I can say from experience running open world games its not always easy.

    My last campaign is a great example. 130 some sessions of an average of 5 hours each. Basic set up is an big island. The island was mostly wilderness, but 40% populated by Northmen. It has silver mines ran by a dwarven merchant guild that caused a population boom over the last 100 years as wealth started flowing. 20 years ago an evil wizard raised an orc horde swept through the island. To survive the Northmen made a deal with a southern kingdom that pushed back the orc hordes killed the wizard. Now the southern kingdom rules the land taking its cut of the silver mined and the island is 20% populated. You got ruins both recent and ancient, remnants of the orc horde and some of the evil wizard lackys, political strife between the southern kingdom occupiers and the Northman, and lots of other ingredients for adventure.

    I set the PCs loose with a ton of rumors and places of interest to visit, and every week more pop up.

    I had to resign myself that all many of my fun and clever bits might never be seen in play. Dungeons would be passed up, treasure maps would never be found, NPC would never be spoken with.

    For example there was a whole bandit gang working with slavers that never made more than a peripheral appearance. But to make it work I had to know how the bandits operated, map of the camo, who they worked with, all the NPCs, and such so when the players asked questions they got consistent responses. But the PC never went after the bandits and once they defeated the slavers the bandits disbanded. Hours of prep was never really used. Another example was some miners outside the guild had an issue with giant raiding. The guild made sure the local lords troops wouldn’t help so the miners were offering a reward. My players chased a different rumor in that village and then another so to be realistic I needed to resolve it another group of mercenaries took care of the giant. Again all great world building and showing the players the world wasn’t static, but lots of prep wasted when the party went the other way.

    The game ended because when my second kid was born I could keep doing the prep work.

    Again I had fun world building, my players loved it, and it was a great campaign, but I think it worked because I didn’t fall for some of the traps of a story game.

    Not that I wasn’t tempted. Several times I almost just shifted something from Town A to Town B. Sometimes the temptation was because I thought it would be fun, others because it would have reduced prep. But my ego wouldn’t let me. Even though the players would have never know, but I’m stubborn and prideful about my D&D. And my pride is based on playing the game the (way I believe is the) right way. But lots of other people take pride in showing their art and creativity. Tons of what I think was some of my best work is notes on a hard drive. Heck maybe my game would have been better if I had fudged to move a cool trap or fun encounter from one dungeon to another?

    My long winded point is that it’s hard work and even though I can agree that it is not wasted it has its downsides and probably not for everyone.

    This is one of my sad thoughts I have often. I loved the group I played that campaigned with. 600+ hours with them not counting the no game related text chains and the discord chats. But inwardly I say, hey if I found a new group I could rerun the same stuff, and it would be even better the second time. That sucks. That being a good DM is more important to me than being a good friend.

    Anyway that’s probably more than you needed for me to simply say I mostly agree with you.

    1. Hey, 7B:

      My father is 76 years old. Lives in a retirement community in Indio, CA. Plays golf most every day. He has never been a pro golfer. Will never be a pro golfer. I don’t even think he’s a GOOD golfer (I’ve never played with him, as I don’t golf). He just likes to play golf. Hours spent on a daily basis…day after day, week after week, etc. till he (eventually) can’t do it anymore.

      I understand the whole “wasted prep” thought. I do. But it’s a bogus one (I say this as someone who’s had the same thought). We don’t do the DM thing to show off how creative we are to others…I mean, that’s a form of narcissism, right? Like bragging about how big your bank account is? How hot your spouse is?


      When you find you’re called to be a DM, you create to create. I’ll scribble a lengthy dissertation on the subject at some point, but that’s the bottom line. Who cares how awesome that bandit encounter was? That’s just a draft…the next one will be better, more likely than not.

      It’s practice. It’s refinement. It’s a vocation…a great work.

      No, it’s not for everyone. Neither is golf. Or writing. Or…whatever.

      You wrote:
      “…if I found a new group, I could rerun the same stuff, and it would be even better the second time. That sucks. That being a good DM is more important than being a good friend.”

      Huh? Is it? Maybe for some. Just like for some folks being a good golfer is more important than friendship. Or being a political activist or cancer research scientist that or a priest or…whatever.

      You can take pride in being a good DM, you can work on your craft, and still make friendship a priority. Those friends who played things the first time? They are part of your process of development. Honor them! Appreciate them! You wouldn’t be the same DM without their first play tests of your material. If you run another 600
      Hours for a different group, that group will have your first batch to thank for the strides you’ve made in your ability to run.

      Heck, maybe you won’t run the material a second time…but you might still (some day) publish your notes as an adventure or supplement, helping others.

      No, it’s not for everyone, and it’s not always easy. Same holds true for a lot of things. Being a firefighter. Or a novelist. Or a social worker who cares and can stay optimistic in the face of tragedy after tragedy.

      It’s okay to build a healthy sense of self-esteem from the work and effort you’ve done…and the work and effort you continue to do. And there are others, reading this, who might also want to try to build that same sense of pride.

      Just saying.
      ; )

  4. A reading of the ADD DMG, with its many random tables, seems to envision a combination of strategic long term prep, just in time prep, and content generated in play.

    Over the years I've developed guilds, economic details, factions, etc. as the players move through the world. Once established it is done.

    I have found that my players will tell me, by their actions, which things to focus on. I used to spend much more time creating foils, but it turn out they are much better at creating them themselves.

    Quick example, random wilderness encounter. Bandit patrol allows party pass for 20 gold (bandits outnumbered, but enough to weaken 0arty on long haul). When a large force of bandits later attacked their camp, they never forgot the 4th lvl dude who promised safe passage. 2 years later they get a crystal ball, spend time and resources finding that guy after he had run from the camp battle, and took down the new group of bandits he joined.

    This wasn't the bandit leader, not anyone I built up, just a random low level leader(Bob) with a random quirk in behavior and appearance.

    I think Gygax ( and Arneson), who had multiple sessions per week for years, learned to interpret and use random events and player behavior as primary world building tools. That means that I develop things AFTER my players have shown me its importance.

    1. Yeah. One thing I haven’t yet done (but keep thinking about) is creating a DM’s screen that includes JUST the wandering monster tables (adjusted or not).

      My “orc tale” (still not written) was all about a wandering monster.
      ; )

    2. The MM2 is a surprisingly good tool for customized wandering charts, with its lists by frequency and terrain. I've found that less is more, as too much variety results in every area being the same.

      Including something more than encounters is something I haven't quite figured out. Figure iill get there eventually. Experimenting with a 1 being an encounter and 2 being non encounter point of interest (on d6).