Monday, July 11, 2011

Beedo's Hierarchy of Campaign Needs

With apologies to Maszlow

Some things over the weekend got me thinking about where D&D and the OSR thing is going.  Folks have noticed that rules guys are moving beyond retro clones to keep the old games in print; designers are publishing new formulations that aim to smooth over some of the rough spots, incarnate common house rules into the base rules, or otherwise reflect the writer's take on the genre.  More rules are fine, but I'd also like to see the creation of more tools to help the DM run a better game.

The hierarchy chart is how I want my campaigns to go - start with a rules set I like and some monsters I like.  Present compelling adventures.  The setting isn't that important if the first two needs aren't met, but once you've got the basics out of the way - yeah, it's good to have a nice setting with some history and depth.  Then the goal is to see a campaign live long enough to reach name level.  The 1970's rules have some support for castle building and attracting followers, but it's limited - it's hard to go further and reach that pinnacle of the pyramid without making up a whole lot of stuff.

I used to love Mentzer's BECMI because it was an all-in-one system that included army building, mass combat, naval warfare, sieges, and economics, but then I realized my campaigns don't last more than a year or two on average, and no one was getting to level 36.  And the economics are a bit off.

Domain level play is an end goal each time out - I've talked here about converting all the Greyhawk armies to War Machine and statting out some of the nations with the dominion economic rules (I only got as far as Sterich for the current campaign).  The ghoul war has been played out using War Machine - so even in Gothic Greyhawk, I have that end-game in sight.

Isn't that how we should view a campaign - start by making sure the basic adventuring needs are met and the game runs well and folks are having fun, then focus on the long range goals - building out the setting and providing a framework for the players to seize ruler ship?  After all, Kings are for Killing.

As I look out onto the OSR publishing landscape, it seem like folks are starting to move up the pyramid with their projects.

Taking a look at my book shelf, here are the products I see on it that light up the pyramid for me - you've got 2nd generation rules items, like the LOTFP game or supplements like Realms of Crawling Chaos.  For adventures, my reviews page has a number of things in the 4-5 star range that have broken new ground and demonstrated some OSR muscle.

How about campaign support products?  I'm seeing lots of cool hex crawl books.  I liked the random ruin hex generation in Lesserton and Mor, and the urban crawl rules in Vornheim.  I seem to remember the Dungeon Alphabet just got an award, too.  I still keep Kellri's huge compilation of random encounter tables and NPCs handy.  So there have been some tools that support campaign play.  I'm not recalling any new settings that lit the world on fire, though.

I don't know that any other recently published rules have taken on the economics of D&D, yet, which is the lynchpin to getting army building (and ultimately mass combat) to work as a game element and not a story element.  Economics seems like a rabbit hole.  Every once in a while I check in on the Tao guy's place and see that he's still building spreadsheets that calculate the price of imported walrus tusks from Greenland to Central Asia in the 17th century, down to the penny, and I despair.  Oh that way madness lies, says good King Lear.  Or at least, if I tried to run my campaign with that level of detail, I'd lose my job and be divorced for neglect.  Perfectionism or OCD, right there.

What are you guys seeing as far as new projects out there that are developing campaign supplements and tools?  I'll be following the progress of the Domain Game effort over at Hill Cantons and the ACKS game over on the Autarch blog (Adventurer Conqueror King).  There's a trade off between minimal bookkeeping and abstraction, and realism.  If you go for minimal bookkeeping and abstraction, you get War Machine and the Companion set economics approach.  Or you could have oodles of spreadsheets calculating free market commodoties from the 17th century.  Not an easy balance to maintain without making the game Papers and Paychecks.

Seems like a good time for a poll.  How far up  the hierarchy of needs do you focus your campaigns?


  1. Well, as you've seen, I'm aiming to create a campaign that will take characters up to level 9, with a keep and stuff to look after from Level 1 onwards. Not sure if I can handle too much economics though, sounds like a lot of hard work. But maybe I'll give it a go, when the other stuff is out of the way :)

  2. Even ignoring the trade goods side of thing, you'll find economics keeps popping up once the group builds castles. When the land is tamed, do peasants come and live there? What kind of taxes can the PC's collect, and what is the land's upkeep? How much can they spend on troops? And just how unbalancing is it that their treasury is fueled by raiding dragon hoards and carting off wagon loads of loot, and the next barony over only gets his money from taxation?

    Good times, good times.

  3. I think your observation on the general direction at the moment is sound.

    Re the upper levels of the pyramid, and economics say, it seems to me possible to bind these things up as part of a rules-light modular system, in which the various levels interact simply, with changes cascading down and passing up.

    The way Alexis does things certainly gets me thinking, and that rigour is very useful in keeping those who want it grounded in the factual.

    I also find Talysman has an interesting way of looking at things, a way that might work well the higher up the pyramid we go, into less explored territory.

  4. What's your definition of "Adventures?" I tend not to use modules -- though there are a couple in the Dark Country. Most of the time I start with the campaign setting then pick which version of D&D best suits it. After that I stock a hex map for it and come up with how certain areas interact with each other. Then I pick one of those to flesh out and drop the players into it. I only really develop the other "adventures" as I think they'll bump into them. The rest of the work is handled by various random tables.

  5. Adventures could be modules or home brew - for instance, is it most important to have a dark ages South France campaign setting, and then trying to figure out what kind of adventures to run there, or say - "we're going to do Pirate-style island hopping in a lost world island chain with ancient ruins" and then figure out later the details for the larger campaign setting.

    I tend to lay out my adventure ideas first, then figure out the campaign setting, and detail the setting even later.

  6. I suppose we just have different hierarchies. My settings (or at least misty, ill-defined versions of them) come first, then rules, then "adventures" and then the rest follows pretty much what you have.

    Not sure what to click on the poll.

  7. I'd think your a rules/adventures/campaign person - economic rules and mass combat seem low on the priority list.

    Part of it goes to whether one's approach is bottom up or top down - top down folks tend to start with big ideas (like campaign settings) and figure out how the world works before developing specific adventures.

  8. I suppose with the Dark Country I really started with Nightwick Abbey. I even ran half-formed versions of it a couple of times before I started developing the Dark Country and "the World." So maybe that counts as adventures. Of course the rules I was using for the early versions of it were OD&D with a whole new monster list, now I'm using LL/AD&D with three point alignment and LotFP thieves.

  9. As a player and a DM, I actually find barony-building and large scale economics rather boring. I don't balance my real checkbook for fun, why should I balance my PCs for fun? I'd rather be killing princesses and rescuing orcs. Or something like that.

    I'm less interested in what the PCs do than in why they do it. You're adventuring to become rich and powerful? Why? What do you want the wealth and power for? What compels you to risk life and limb, day in and day out?

    So when I run games, I focus on story and setting, because that answers those questions. Rules are for how they interact with the setting. Without setting and story, the rules are like having a car, but nowhere to drive it.