Monday, May 19, 2008

Maybe This is How D&D Was Played?

Over on his wonderfully titled blog Lamentations of the Flame Princess, James Edward Raggi IV laments (even though he's clearly not a princess, flame or otherwise) that few of us were lucky enough to get to play with Gygax or Arneson or any of the other DMs who were there at the beginning of our hobby. Left to fend for ourselves, many of us turned to the published modules for inspiration. Unfortunately, those modules were mainly crafted for tournaments, not campaigns, and so have skewed how people think D&D is supposed to be played.

So the question remains: how was the game played by the folks who invented it? What were their intentions? Well, we know a few things. We know that Gygax himself had a large crowd of players, something like 20 or so, according to Old Geezer (though now I can't find the actual quote, darn it). We know that players often instigated adventures, wanting to plumb the unexplored depths of Castle Greyhawk or other such mysterious locales. And we know the game was deadly, with players each having a stable of PCs and henchmen they could run if their primary PC was captured or slain.

So maybe the game looked something like this:

West Marches was a game I ran for a little over two years. It was designed to be pretty much the diametric opposite of the normal weekly game:

1) There was no regular time: every session was scheduled by the players on the fly.

2) There was no regular party: each game had different players drawn from a pool of around 10-14 people.

3) There was no regular plot: The players decided where to go and what to do. It was a sandbox game in the sense that’s now used to describe video games like Grand Theft Auto, minus the missions. There was no mysterious old man sending them on quests. No overarching plot, just an overarching environment.

My motivation in setting things up this way was to overcome player apathy and mindless “plot following” by putting the players in charge of both scheduling and what they did in-game.

Ok, so I'm making up being late to the ars ludi party by serial linkage. So sue me.

Still, this is a really neat idea, and clearly another way to overcome the issues of trying to schedule gaming around adult lifestyles:

The West Marches charter is that games only happen when the players decide to do something — the players initiate all adventures and it’s their job to schedule games and organize an adventuring party once they decide where to go.

Players send emails to the list saying when they want to play and what they want to do. A normal scheduling email would be something like “I’d like to play Tuesday. I want to go back and look for that ruined monastery we heard out about past the Golden Hills. I know Mike wants to play, but we could use one or two more. Who’s interested?” Interested players chime in and negotiation ensues. Players may suggest alternate dates, different places to explore (”I’ve been to the monastery and it’s too dangerous. Let’s track down the witch in Pike Hollow instead!”), whatever — it’s a chaotic process, and the details sort themselves out accordingly. In theory this mirrors what’s going on in the tavern in the game world: adventurers are talking about their plans, finding comrades to join them, sharing info, etc.

Be sure to check out all four parts (Part 2, Part 3, Part 4) plus the Q&A.


noisms said...

It's one of those ideas you wish you'd thought of first, right?

Trampled Dwarf said...

Wow, very cool. Thanks for the links! I missed this boat too. Maybe if I start working on a game like this now, when my 5 year old is old enough to play and has tons of school friends, I can run it for them. Guess, I should start drawing some maps...

--Mike D.

trollsmyth said...

It's not antithetical to how I play, but it is antithetical to how I put together a group to play with. There's no way I would have stumbled across this. But still, yeah... ;)

trampled dwarf
That is an awesome idea. Especially since it really plays to both the strengths of simpler RPGs and the usual interests of young boys.

- Brian

Sham aka Dave said...

Good idea Mike. If I can continue to flesh out Solstice and add to the sandbox feel, maybe my two year old will be ready to play when the sandbox is 'full'.

Good observation, Brian. A dungeon crawl requires a different mindset than open-ended world exploration.