27 September 2017

Campaign Mood - To Bend the Rules or Not to Bend the Rules.

Swords & Wizardry (Free PDF download and modestly priced hardcopy versions) is an OGL clone of the original D&D game, and while slightly different in rules mechanics than BECMI, it's close enough to be immediately useful. While, in my not-so-expert opinion, S&W collects, organizes and clarifies the rules for an OD&D style game, the core rules refrain from adding anything revolutionary or new, I think this is intentional, as the game also boasts a large community of fans online that produce a ton of supplementary material that does innovate.

Still, there's one section in the core rules that I feel makes a very important statement about DM design and strict adherence to some esoteric idea about rules canon:

Creating monsters
Monsters are not player characters, and their abilities are not at all determined by the rules for player characters — not even the stats for races that can have player
characters, such as Dwarves. The Referee decides a monster’s abilities, and he doesn’t have to follow any rules about this! Feel free to add wings, breath weapons,
extra hit dice, wounded versions, or whatever suits your adventure and your campaign. Toggle and tweak, imagine and invent! The rules aren’t responsible for the quality of the swords and sorcery in your game, you are! So don’t try to create monsters according to any sort of power formula. Create monsters based on how they feel and how they play at the gaming table. Create challenges for the players, not headaches for yourself. Your job is to imagine and create, not to slave at rulebooks finding out what you’re “allowed” to do.

While author Matthew Finch is, obviously, talking specifically about custom monster design, I think this reasoning can apply to any DM design task; magic items, spells, etc.

As the highlighted part of the citation reminds us, you are the game master, and once your campaign gets going, noone knows it better than you and your players, not even the most skilled of game designers. Feel free to tweak, ignore or add things to the rules wherever it suits your game.

S&W is a quality clone game, very nicely organized and presented, and it and its supplemental material are definitely worth checking out for inclusion in any old school game.

Campaign Mood - Hack 'N Slash vs Story Gaming

There's been a lot of discussion  around the blogosphere over the years about "story games", and how they do or don't differ from normal role playing games. It seems to me that there are two "ideal" play styles among role players:
  1. Gamists - This playstyle emphasizes the mechanics of the game over everything else. Your character is a collection of rules stats that improve over time, allowing you to overcome more and more difficult challenges the game master presents. Character and setting backstory and plot are minimal.
  2. Storytellers - On the other hand, this style of play focuses on the story of the heroes' exploits, which rich, detailed backstory and setting development. Whether the story is crafted primarily by the game masters and the PCs are along for the ride, or the group as a whole collectively constructs the story as it develops, story is king and rules and dice results that get in the way can be overlooked.
There is nothing inherently wrong with either style of play. Whatever your group enjoys, the game can accommodate it. The early incarnations of OD&D, Basic D&D and AD&D 1e definitely lean, as written, toward gamism, but Gygax stated that he felt the story and plot could be handled by the DM and players as needed or desired. TSR included Appendix N and the suggested reading lists in some of the Basic sets to give you ideas for story, but you were basically on your own. "Modern" editions of the game claim to embrace story above all else, but honestly the focus is still on the rules of combat, traps, etc. To be totally fair, AD&D 2e has the most claim, among versions of D&D, to being a story telling game, as it had a good selection of materials dedicated to creating long term campaigns, detailing villains, and other very "rules light" things. 

Here's the point though, the two styles of play are not mutually exclusive! I think, in fact, that most of us play the game somewhere in between the two extremes. 

I personally enjoy the story aspect. As a DM, I'll come up with some interesting scenarios and see how the PCs react, and enjoy watching things unfold, and having something more interesting than just "remember that time I did 25 points of damage in one attack!" to talk about when reminiscing about the game. As much as I try and present a story for the players to help flesh out though, I keep in mind that this is a game. In all but the most extreme circumstances, I let the dice "fall as they may", and try not to twist the rules simply to accommodate my story idea. Heck, a failed dice roll, or even the death of a beloved PC or NPC can add just as much to the evolving story as letting the heroes win all the time.

I've enjoyed the discussion, but I really fail to see how people get hard feelings about it. I play the game a little different than someone else, so what?