Friday, May 27, 2011

Visualizing Your Campaign

I believe that it is fairly important to rehearse what one is going to do on that first session, even it if it is only in one’s mind.

I do want to DM in a more spontaneous way, but especially for that first session, I think it important to plan out, in a general way, what you will say and be doing. I have had plenty of first sessions that were disastrous because I was so unorganized.

I do intend to roll up characters with players before the first session. I’ll take their raw rolls and translate them into character sheets. Using note cards for sheets has some nostalgic value, but I think I will stick to a regular, uncluttered sheet, perhaps along the lines of the S&W Complete sheet.

I’ll give a short, one or two line background for each of the players, which will be on a note card. There will also be three rumors note cards, one keyed to a location in the starting hex, and another two keyed to locations in the surrounding six hexes.

I’ll prepare the one page background mentioned in an earlier post, and begin the session by showing the players a map of the Wilderlands, just as a way of showing the scale of the place.

Then, I’ll show the exploded Wilderlands hex map, which contains the village of Brushwood and the surrounding area.

Finally, I’ll show the map of the village, and name a few of the prominent NPCs.

Then, I’ll ask, what do you do? If they need a little more guidance, I’ll suggest they use their money to buy equipment and supplies. They can pick up more rumors from the various NPCs they speak to, but eventually they will need to choose a rumor to follow up on. I may decide to have various NPCs offer work, usually of the “take this here” variety.

Most of the rumors will be keyed to adventure sites in the current or surrounding hexes. That leads us to the maps.

I’ll be using the Judges’ Guild Campaign Hexagon System, which allows us to drill down from a five mile per hex continental map to 0.2 mile per hex map. You can get a blank copy of these maps at

I’ll explain that the players may travel wherever they wish. And further, that they can choose to travel through a hex, or search the hex, or explore it.

As they travel, their rate will be determined by how much they can travel in a day, and the sort of terrain they will be travelling through.

If they choose to explore the hex it will take more time. I’ll let them look at an exploded version of the hex map, on a 0.2 mile per hex scale. They can then use this map (a unmarked copy I will give them) to point to a particular hex and say “we take a closer look at that”. I’ll also use this scale of map for any long range chase or wilderness battles.

Or they can simply say, “we search for X”, where X is a rumor, directions or a treasure map, assuming they have one of those sorts of resources, and don’t want to fool with the 0.2 mile per hex scale map.

After a certain amount of time, I’ll roll for random encounters, and let them travel as they wish. When they arrive at a ‘dungeon’ or other adventure area, we’ll switch to a more collapsed time keeping, and from then on it will look much like any other campaign.

And this is the way I envision it going.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

More Stuff I Want Part II

A ‘sandbox’ style campaign. For those of you unfamiliar with old-school play, there were two different sorts of play styles. The first involved dungeons, and only dungeons, which players serially invaded and shut down.

That, as time went on, was perhaps the more common play style, but the original play style (which I was fortunate enough to participate in) dealt with an entire campaign. A campaign, simply put, was a hex or other map of a wide-ranging area that the players could explore at will. (My DM used a hex map. I’d kill these days to get a look at his original maps.)

These could be really time-consuming to create from scratch, but there are various aids and techniques that help with the effort now. Once of the first 3rd party products for D&D was the Wilderlands, a pre-generated campaign, focused on just such a set of maps, with brief entries detailing lairs, citadels and other locations for a about a third of the mapped hexes. This sort of set-up leaves plenty of room for expansion and work (as I am discovering now) while still speeding up the process of getting a campaign off the ground. I have always been a fan of the original Wilderlands, as well as its recent revision, so this was a no-brainer for me.

The players are given a partially completed version of the map for their own use and they travel about as they will, discovering ruins, dungeons, and all sorts of mischief, in a completely self-directed way. Called a ‘sandbox’ style of play currently, it can blow up in one’s face if the party is given too many choices, with no way of discerning which direction would be interesting or useful to them, so I plan to use rumors to guide them to the more significant areas of interest, while still allowing them complete freedom of choice.

Player engagement in the background of the campaign. This is one of those balancing acts. Too much information and the player’s eyes glaze over, too little and players don’t know what to do. So my base will be the following:

I want each player to have a personal background for each of the players that fits on the size of a note card. One paragraph, ideally. This will be ideally self-generated, but I plan on offering them to players for their characters should they not wish to make up their own. Any more than this is probably too constraining, but I don’t intend to keep them to this limit, if they want to produce more. I intend to base the character’s skills on their written background.

One-half page to explain the Wilderlands world background. Reading this would be optional, and not required.

One-half page to explain the character’s start area: the village of Brushwood in the Wilderlands. Again, reading this would be optional.

Three rumors for each player, each one line, on a note card. These will initially direct the characters to local dungeons, lairs and other sites of interest.

Focus on neglected activities. Things like encumbrance, mapping, and exploration. I think, for one, something is lost when a frenetic, kill-the-monster, grab-its-stuff, and-level-up play style is encouraged. I always told my players that D&D is a game of managing resources as much as it is about killing monsters. That is also a part of the game that is universally dismissed.

I can see why. It simply seems boring to most people, much like personal accounting and doing your taxes is boring. But it is very significant part of the original game. I see acting on the experience in several beneficial ways. It slows down play, especially in the dungeon, which can be seen as a gigantic puzzle in many ways. It allows such equipment (and thus encumbrance) to act as a sort of mini-game, where the right piece of mundane equipment can save a character or even the whole party at some point. It puts the focus on the experience of play, as opposed to what level-up beanie you are going to get when you get your next xp award.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

So, what do I want? Part I

I have spoken a lot so far about the sort of elements of D&D I don’t like. So I thought I would begin to discuss the sort of D&D campaign that I do want.

To begin with, a game with simple rules. Specifically?

I intend to use Swords & Wizardry Complete as a base. I strongly considered using Labyrinth Lord or LotFP as my base rules, but even though there are things that I like about both their approaches, S&W complete is a better fit for the Wilderlands, which I intend to use as my campaign background. With the addition of the original Bard class from Best of the Dragon, Vol. I, all the PC classes I want will be available for play. Wilderlands specific classes I intend to bring in later, in case anyone wants to play a Witch, Amazon, Alchemist or Sage, which I don’t really anticipate.

Fast combat. I want to be able to have multiple combats per session. In the area of three to four, which is how I remember a combat heavy session going in the old days.

I intend to use a variant of Daniel R. Collins’ ‘Target 20’ system for combat, which I hope will help with speeding up the calculation of to hit rolls. In addition, I am intending to implement two simple rules for modifiers. Positive modifiers don’t stack (that is, you take the highest of all possible modifiers and apply that modifier only) and there is absolute cap on modifiers of +4. Fighter Str bonus and Dex bonus for attack rolls wwill be exempted.

Simple (to the point of non-existent) skill systems. I don’t want tons of rolling and looking up modifiers on charts. I want to be able to ask the player if their character has a skill from their background and then say yes, or ask them to roll some dice (see Baker’s Dictum). Specifically, though I can’t currently source it, I intend to use the multiple d6/stat system for skill and statistic rolls (roll a 2d6 under the relevant stat for standard tasks, 3d6 for hard tasks and 4d6 nearly impossible tasks). Skills will be a ‘real world’ listing of skills based on background. I don’t want to pin down a specific list, but they will be things like Huntsman, Equestrian, Archery, Knightly training, etc.

No feats or cafeteria list of special powers. I do want to have players to be able to acquire special powers or techniques, but I want these to flow out of their experiences in the campaign, rather than get an automatic new bennie every level.

No prestige classes. No dual classing. No class switching at all. I have seen a few times in my long history where someone took one of these options for ‘character’ reasons, but damn few of them. That’s why I want non-humans as classes, ala Labyrinth Lord or LotFP. In fact, I’ll probably take elements of both racial classes from the two B/X inspired games.

Alternate spell list. I will be giving the spell lists for both Cleric and Magic-user the once over. I definitely want a more Vancian feel for the mage spells, and a more focused version of the cleric spell list. This won’t be quite as difficult as it sounds, as I will only have to deal with a few mage spells initially and the 1st level of cleric spells. I will probably make the cleric spells cast-able at will, like the 3.0 sorcerer.

Next: more stuff I want.

So you have been doing what?

As I have recently returned to college as a full-time student, the last three weeks or so were taken up by the painful process of writing term papers for three classes.

No excuse, perhaps, for letting my blogging lapse, but there it is. And I have three A's (I believe) to show for it, which is justification enough for me.

Before my next terms starts, I plan to throw the hose open wide, and eventually build up a buffer of two weeks of posts, so that I don't have to let my regular posting lapse again.

If you are checking back after a long period, thanks for your patience.