15 March 2015

No One True Path

Note: by sheer coincidence, a few hours after I posted this article I saw a very similar thread over on Dragonsfoot. I just didn't want anyone who saw both that post and this one to think this was a reaction to what was being said over there. I've posted a brief opinion over there but I want any readers to know I don't strike from the shadows ... I am not a fan of passive-aggressive tactics (or trolls in general).

There is much discussion on how to run a D&D campaign. Newbie referees (DMs in the later vernacular) are often frustrated by the frequently repeated adage there is no right (or wrong, by logical extension) way to run a campaign. 

There! Now we have that out of the way. I'd ask you to keep it in mind so I don't get a lot of "but what about ..." type of responses. 

You see, there are many ways to conduct a campaign. Lately, I've been seeing a lot of posts from longtime players of the game that are strongly implying if you don't run a "high concept" type of game with layer upon layer of plot, intrigue, and machinations then you simply do not "get it." I believe this is a result of becoming jaded, perhaps coupled with a desire to prove to the rest of the crowd just how bright and above the pack one really is. And? If that's the kind of campaign you want? I truly believe that is great. Play it your way, run it your way.

For the rest of us? The casual gamers, both relatively new and long-time, and folks who want to try that game with the elves and goblins and magic swords? Here are some thoughts for you!

IT'S OKAY TO RUN A FAIRLY "BY THE BOOK" CAMPAIGN! This is not to say the rules are sacrosanct. In point of fact, those holding the the text of the rules as holy writ not to be violated are missing the spirit of the authors' stated intent behind publishing the game. Most referees tinker with the rules right out of the box. This is natural and expected. What I'm saying is every campaign does not have to be like Barker's Empire of the Petal Throne Tékumel campaign with all its layers of complexity. Tékumel is an amazing role-playing experience but you don't have to have all that to run a great game.

Understand that a lot of newcomers and many casual gamers want the familiar experience ... that typical D&D game existing in the shadowy area between Conan the Barbarian and Aragorn the Ranger. Gaming isn't a serious business to them, they want to roll some dice while socializing with their like-minded buddies. Not that a complex campaign precludes any of that, but the referee may find of lot of his work and much of his subtlety lost upon his group as they swap anecdotes about their week and munch on snacks.

IT'S OKAY TO CHANGE THE RULES AS YOU SEE FIT It's your game by any reasonable definition of the word. If you don't like the way something works in your campaign? Change it to something you like. It's that easy! Many aspects of D&D often cited as issues by some gamers can be altered, removed, or replaced without breaking the way the game works. Don't like the Vancian style fire and forget magic system? Add in your very own spell point system and get to playing. Don't like 3d6 in order character generation? Add in your own point buy system, or assign attributes according to class, or anything else your mind can devise. Don't like the gold standard monetary system? Change to the silver standard and get to playing the game.

THE PLAY IS THE THING In all its aspects, D&D is a game and not a business (for most of us). The idea is to have fun, this means you, the referee, will have to figure out what your players want and give it to them. Do they want a deep Tékumel type of game? Do they want a somewhat lighter campaign where dungeon exploration is the key aspect of play and trips to town to resupply are nearly abstract in their simplicity?

FOR EXAMPLE My own campaign began with the original boxed set, no supplements. While I did acquire the OD&D supplements after a time, many of the issues addressed in them had already been house-ruled so I carefully cherry-picked campaign additions. There were many aspects of my campaign not from any official rule book, but my campaign could have easily been understood and run by a referee new to it with a very short (a few minutes) introduction to the variant material. I've always liked the simple and fast resolution for doing things the OD&D rules (in my opinion) espoused and kept my add-ons similarly simple.

I expanded the combat rules, added non-weapon fighting, invented a pantheon of deities, inserted additional armor types and weapons, more spells, some future technology, in general I tried to do things to keep the players from becoming complacent. Knowledge of the book rules were insufficient to give the players an undue edge, I was always trying to keep new things coming at them. My game add-on The Gnome's Jewel Crosstime Pub & Mercantile might give one an idea of how I tried to mix it up for gamers.

AT ANY RATE These are my general thoughts. Every gamer is different, but as one who has played since the 1970's in various campaigns? I've been in games profound and deep, shallow and bordering on the silly, campaigns both new and well-established. To my mind, the key is to have fun. If you aren't enjoying yourself, find a different group or run a campaign yourself.


  1. Wiser words could not be spoken, Sir. I salute you!

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