Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Changing Meaning of "Campaign"

One of the interesting observations I've made in looking at the history of Dungeons & Dragons -- and, by extension, the entire hobby -- is the way that the word "campaign" has changed in meaning. "Campaign" is first used in a RPG context in OD&D and is obviously borrowed from wargames, which in turn borrowed it from the military science term for a connected series of battles. Although OD&D does occasionally make a connection between mass battles and campaigns, this doesn't seem to be the primary meaning of the word, since the text makes reference to Gygax's "Greyhawk campaign"and Arneson's "Blackmoor Campaign" in ways that don't quite make sense if the meaning was focused primarily on military matters. Indeed, I think it's in these particular usages that we can intuit just what is meant by the term in the context of OD&D.

In the Forward [sic] to Volume 1 of OD&D, Gary Gygax notes two things. First,
While it is possible to play a single game, unrelated to any other game events past or future, it is the campaign for which these rules are designed. (emphasis mine)
Second, he comments on the "longevity" of the Blackmoor and Greyhawk campaigns. Taken together, it seems clear to me that an OD&D campaign is something that is 1. "Larger" than a single "game" (i.e. adventure) 2. Maintains continuity between individual adventures 3. Not tied to a single "story" or focused on the exploits of a single group of characters.

The third item is, I think, key. We know that, in the Greyhawk campaign at least, there were multiple groups of characters, some of whom did not interact with one another regularly, if at all. I am not certain if the same was true in Blackmoor, but I believe it was. I know that it was the case with the Tékumel campaign, with its Monday and Thursday Night Groups. In each case, though, we speak of a single campaign, not multiple ones. That is, we don't speak of the Greyhawk campaigns but instead the Greyhawk campaign, even though the actions of players not necessarily playing in the same groups or on the same nights (let alone the same adventures) had an impact on one another. A "campaign" is thus what might be called nowadays, in video games jargon, a "persistent world." Thus, a campaign could -- and often did -- outlast the lives of any particular PC or series of adventures. A campaign continued on, changing and growing as the years wore on and the actions of myriad characters affected it.

While I'm not certain this is the case, I get the impression that contemporary gamers don't think of a campaign in this way. For them, a campaign is a series of adventures involving the same group of characters (more or less) and that comes to an end when its story is finished. Whereas the older understanding of a campaign was geared more toward sandbox play, the newer one seems built around the notion of a story or at least a "theme." The popularity of the Adventure Path style of play in 3e (though it has antecedents going back to 1e, Dragonlance foremost among them) is, I think, good evidence of this shift in the understanding of a campaign. Listening to gamers speak nowadays, they talk of having played several campaigns, even if all these campaigns are set in the same persistent world. It's a subtle difference, to be sure, and not a universally pernicious one, but I think it's a shift nonetheless.

I'm still not sure what to make of this or even if my intuitions are correct. However, I can't shake the sense that campaigns are different now and viewed differently and that's had a profound impact on the way RPGs are designed and marketed.

45 comments:

  1. So basically, newer gamers (or today's gamers) are using the word more like the original military usage.

    The Campaign for North Africa was but one campaign in the overall scheme of WWII, but it was a distinct and separate phase, using distinct and separate units.

    Whereas WWII involved the German, British, French, Soviet, Chinese, Japanese, and US armies, (as well as forces from almost every other nation).

    So I can kind of see the usage. But I still disagree with it in a roleplaying context.

    One of my DM's had a campaign that lasted over 15 years. It had many different playing groups, and covered rules systems from AD&D to 2e to 3e to 3.5, including such diversions as a homebrew Alternity-based combat system and a brief fling with Big Eyes, Small Mouth! But overall, it was the same world, the same attitude, the same campaign.

    And there's something to be said for that.

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  2. I've noticed this gradual evolution of the story-based campaign over the years. I'm at the point where I reject its validity as a "game" but instead "gaming entertainment." Unfortunately, I have little choice when it comes to choosing game groups to join.

    My most recent blog entry addresses this issue. And considering my small readership, the response was large and sparked controversial discussion. (All 10 replies worth!)

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  3. I think your analysis is absolutely correct, James. It's certainly one of the reasons why I've felt like a coelecanth when attempting to talk to gamers of today about gaming in the past. I've always had that sandbox-play sense of "campaign" and it's what I encourage amongst my players.

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  4. CoC's Shadows of Yog Sothoth may be an early/iconic usage of the latter meaning - an extended but dicrete storyline extending over several adventures - leading to the question "what constitutes an adventure?"

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  5. In the area that I play, a 'campaign' was always synonymous with 'world'. As in "The character that I play in Dan's world.". There is a shift from the never-ending 'world' campaigns to more finite campaigns in modern times, but I don't always see that as a bad thing. If the DM or player's tire of a particular 'campaign' it is certainly easier to reboot if an endgame is planned all along

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  6. We have multiple "campaigns" within our homebrew world of Irrin. We've done so with a couple of different system and gaming group compositions. We talk about "acts" or "arcs" when we discuss various, clearly individual parts of the over all campaign.

    Since our play is generally from New Year's to Labor Day, we also talk about "Seasons", as in "I know what I want to play next Season".

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  7. It's interesting you bring this up, as I recently had a chance to observe the difference first hand with my Pendragon "campaign."

    As I'm sure you know, Pendragon is meant to play in the old meaning of the word campaign--a persistent world in which each player will almost certainly have several characters over the course of the years.

    Yet, even though all my players explicitly understood this, the old hands in my group, the ones who I've been gaming with since the early 90s, couldn't really handle it when their first characters died/retired. For them, the "campaign" ended with the passing of their first characters.

    Only my girlfriend, whom I introduced to gaming relatively recently and who is much more open-minded as a result, was on board with playing multiple characters. In the end, the campaign wrapped up with her as the last remaining player--having played no less than four characters over the course of thirty game years, an unthinkable accomplishment for the story-arc oriented "grognards" of my group.

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  8. I think both uses of the term are valid, and for me they are concurrent. I have been running my AD&D "campaign world" on and off for about fifteen years, and have run six or seven discrete "campaigns" in that setting (taking up maybe a decade of "game time").

    A campaign usually lasts from the point a group forms until it disbands (or goes on hiatus), but the ongoing campaign continues to exist for me, even though each discrete campaign might involve entirely different players.

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  9. A couple of comments...

    - I'm still always amused at the idea of "new players these days" being people who've been gaming 20+ years. Reminds me of how in certain communities your family can have lived there for generations, but you're still "newcomers" if your family wasn't there when the town was founded. Ah well.

    - In terms of the use of "campaign", one person did make a good point - to use it in it's proper word-ly context, it references a military campaign, which has a beginning and an end. What you're talking about might be more "old school", but it is in my mind much less intuitive. What I'd call that is a "campaign setting", and by default I tend to think of "campaign settings" as unique to the GM, while a "campaign world" is different. I'd call Greyhawk or FR or Tekumel or whatever a "campaign world", while MY Greyhawk is MY "Greyhawk campaign setting".

    - Also, the word might work better in the context you're describing for those gaming groups who meet together for years on end, with one long series of sessions set in the same setting, same players (although you might get a slow turnover as time goes on). I played in a Harn "campaign" for a few months that has been in existence, in one incarnation or another, for 25 years now. Players have come and gone, but the GM considers it the same "campaign". That's fine, but he's not GMed ANYTHING else for the last 25 years.

    - For those of us who enjoy running and playing in a whole host of games, most of which only last maybe a dozen sessions or so, using a wide variety of systems and settings, the term "campaign" fits the need for a term that refers to "this instance of loosely associated gaming sessions". If someone's run six Greyhawk "campaigns" in the last 25 years, each of which with a whole new set of players & characters, each set in different parts of the world or at different times, calling this the same "campaign" makes zero sense to me. If the events and campaigns somehow influence each other I'd consider it the same instance of a "campaign setting", but why would you call it the same "campaign"? It has, as far as I'm concerned, no bearing on the word itself - you'd be using the term in a completely unrelated manner.

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  10. I love the idea of playing a game where a character starts out, becomes an adventurer, gets in trouble, gets out of trouble and becomes a hero of sorts. Growing to the point where he gets titles and lands and eventually retires from "public service"...and his son takes up the mantle, or complete strangers take up the fight in the same world...same "Campaign".

    In my own usage "Campaign" is used to define a world, setting, and a common set on NPCs/ history/ groups...etc. Usually this uses the same ruleset...but I have changed rulesets mid-campaign before with positive results.

    Having several characters over the course of years, in game and out are all considered cool and greatly encouraged.

    On the flipside, it is entirely cool to have a one-shot game, within a campaign setting. It's even a good addition to the Campaign Setting lore: the actions of the PC party made an impact on the world. It's a great setup for later of folks want to pick up and play events surrounding what happened in the one-shot.

    I won't lie: I prefer gaming where I have a character to care about, and one-shots make that hard and longer-term games make it easier.

    Still, Campaign doesn't NEED to denote story arc except in a very general way (the existence of a world setting and stuff is happening in it). It's perfectly ok and IMO preferable to leave the story arc as extremely generalized and just make whatever the PCs doing THE STORY...without planning your own plot.

    Some folks DO use campaign to denote "This is my story and you guys get to participate in it". I can't say whether that is necessarily the exception or the rule.

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  11. "I get the impression that contemporary gamers don't think of a campaign in this way. For them, a campaign is a series of adventures involving the same group of characters (more or less) and that comes to an end when its story is finished."
    Speaking as a "contemporary gamer" I don't agree with this. If you look i.e. at the old campaigns (chronicles) WW has published, those deal with an escalating series of events, sure, but each part is written with the assumption that new characters are entering to replace lost ones.

    A new campaign happens only if the GM
    a) significantly shifts the locale of the adventures
    and/or
    b) doesn't pick up all the "unfinished business" of the previous campaign, but starts from scratch
    and/or
    c) completely "reboots" the setting (i.e. so that NPCs killed in the other campaign are alive again).

    c) is the most extreme and only rarely used (I ran a couple of campaigns that never touched on stuff from my prior campaigns (except in one case, where the players were *constantly* bumping into reminders of their old adventures, even NPCed versions of their old PCs), but were still assumed to take place in the same world)

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  12. So basically, newer gamers (or today's gamers) are using the word more like the original military usage.

    I think that's correct, more or less.

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  13. CoC's Shadows of Yog Sothoth may be an early/iconic usage of the latter meaning - an extended but dicrete storyline extending over several adventures - leading to the question "what constitutes an adventure?"

    That's an interesting observation. I think you're right about CoC being an important point of divergence here, but then CoC, as a game, is a very peculiar thing.

    On the question of what constitutes an adventure, that's a good question and one I should probably discuss at some point.

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  14. I don't always see that as a bad thing. If the DM or player's tire of a particular 'campaign' it is certainly easier to reboot if an endgame is planned all along

    No, it's not bad, just different. I find that the idea of a years-long campaign that continues through multiple sets of PCs and possibly even players is something most gamers simply can't imagine, let alone participate in.

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  15. In the end, the campaign wrapped up with her as the last remaining player--having played no less than four characters over the course of thirty game years, an unthinkable accomplishment for the story-arc oriented "grognards" of my group.

    I'd be curious to know when your more experienced players first starting gaming. I think that would shed some light on this discussion.

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  16. I'd be curious to know when your more experienced players first starting gaming.

    With the exception of my girlfriend, we all started out at around the same time--back in the early 90s. So yeah, very much immersed in the latter assumptions of the meaning of the word campaign.

    I think they approached the Great Pendragon Campaign in the context of participating in a major "story arc" campaign in the vein of Shadows of Yog Sothoth, not quite realizing that the GPC is more old school in its assumptions.

    (My girlfriend, FWIW, started gaming right around the time I was beginning to take an interest in a more old school approach to my gaming, about 3 years ago.)

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  17. What you're talking about might be more "old school", but it is in my mind much less intuitive.

    Granted, but what I'm interested in is the shifting away from the notion of a persistent world with multiple groups of characters (and possibly players) that lasts for longer than a single "story arc." Phil Barker's Tékumel campaign has been running without interrupting for 30+ years now, with the setting advancing in time and changing in accordance with both PC action and in-game events beyond the players' control. That's a style of play that used to be much more common and what people meant when they talked about a "campaign." Assuming then that the issue isn't about terminology, the fact remains that the older style of play has been cast aside. I find that interesting.

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  18. (My girlfriend, FWIW, started gaming right around the time I was beginning to take an interest in a more old school approach to my gaming, about 3 years ago.)

    I think -- and I mean this without any negative connotations whatsoever -- that the old school campaign play style is a more "naive" one that people without an expectations or prior experience of gaming naturally fall into. It's probably why it was the approach take in the old days. Now, I think it's harder for anyone who's had even peripheral contact with the "roleplaying is amateur theater" school of thought to wrap their heads around the earlier approach.

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  19. I don't know. Despite having played since the white box days, I think my groups have pretty much always called the setting the world and the continuing series of incidents a particular set of PCs get involved in a campaign (typically with no over-arching plot). So in the setting of Neng there's a Rose Tower campaign, a Swiftside Campaign, a Rambling Bumblers Campaign, etc. Now, PCs come and go, so there's a certain amount of "this is the axe of my grandfather" about it, where a collection of PCs can be regarded as part of the same party (and therefor campaign) as the founding PCs despite not a single founding PC remaining...

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  20. @JM
    "I think -- and I mean this without any negative connotations whatsoever -- that the old school campaign play style is a more "naive" one that people without an expectations or prior experience of gaming naturally fall into."

    I agree, and that also why IMO a lot of old school gamers prefer snagging gaming virgins whenever possible.

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  21. "Granted, but what I'm interested in is the shifting away from the notion of a persistent world with multiple groups of characters (and possibly players) that lasts for longer than a single "story arc." Phil Barker's Tékumel campaign has been running without interrupting for 30+ years now, with the setting advancing in time and changing in accordance with both PC action and in-game events beyond the players' control. That's a style of play that used to be much more common and what people meant when they talked about a "campaign." Assuming then that the issue isn't about terminology, the fact remains that the older style of play has been cast aside. I find that interesting."

    1. First, talking about "old school gaming" in the late 70's and in the same breath talking about "campaigns" that lasted years and years doesn't compute for me. How can you have a game running for years and years when the RULES have only been around for a handful of years period?

    2. Related to the first point, you'd have situations like the above because you didn't HAVE several hundred published role-playing games and worlds to play in, and millions of gamers all around the globe. You're calling it a style of play, but it's a "style of play" that was natural because back then, the idea that one year someone runs a FR campaign, another year you're playing GURPS, six months later you're playing Savage Worlds, then you're back to FR but now it's a game set 1,000 years before the first game because a player wants to run a game in that time period, didn't exist yet.

    So in short, I think you're right in that you're describing the style of play at the time accurately, but I feel that the "shift" as you see it, was simply because there were more choices on the gaming menu, thus people want to sample them, and it stops being "playing in Bob's campaign" but rather just one of many, many games available to the ever-growing player base.

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  22. but then CoC, as a game, is a very peculiar thing
    I'd love to see more of your thoughts on this. I've been reading the blog for a while now, as something about D&D, particularly the old school variants, fascinates me, but CoC is "my" game, the one I cut my teeth on, the one I'm nostalgic about, the one I know like the back of my hand. While I enjoy reading your thoughts on That Fantasy Game, I'd love to see what you have to say about CoC.

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  23. So in the setting of Neng there's a Rose Tower campaign, a Swiftside Campaign, a Rambling Bumblers Campaign, etc. Now, PCs come and go, so there's a certain amount of "this is the axe of my grandfather" about it, where a collection of PCs can be regarded as part of the same party (and therefor campaign) as the founding PCs despite not a single founding PC remaining...

    Fair enough. I am beginning to suspect that the big shift over the years has been less a terminological one -- though I still think it's a component in some cases -- and more one of play style. Very few gamers nowadays stick to a single game and setting long enough to really experience campaign play as it used to be. I think that's a shame.

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  24. I agree, and that also why IMO a lot of old school gamers prefer snagging gaming virgins whenever possible.

    Very much so. I think old school play works best when played by those either who have lots of experience with it or those who are new to gaming. I find that long-time gamers without much experience of old school play styles are the most resistant to its charms.

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  25. Kelvin,

    Maybe I'll write about CoC on Halloween. It's actually one part of my "Holy Trinity" of gaming, along with D&D and Traveller. I've probably played more CoC than any other game except the two I just mentioned and I retain a huge soft spot for it, even if, as I get older, I see more flaws in its design than I used to.

    Still, it's a mighty fine RPG and I can't fault anyone who loves it with a passion.

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  26. "talking about "old school gaming" in the late 70's and in the same breath talking about "campaigns" that lasted years and years doesn't compute for me. How can you have a game running for years and years when the RULES have only been around for a handful of years period?"

    Well, Blackmoor started around 1970-71 and Greyhawk not long after that. Tekumel existed as a "world" long before Empire of the Petal Throne was published, and that came out in 1975 - and people had been playing with Prof. Barker for at least a year before that. So, to answer your question, by the late '70's some campaigns HAD been going for several years, upwards of nine or ten in the oldest cases. Gygax actually alludes to this in the last issue of The Strategic Review: "As BLACKMOOR is the only campaign with a life of five years, and
    GREYHAWK with a life of four is the second longest running campaign, the most able adventurers should not yet have attained 20th level except in the two named campaigns. To my certain knowledge no player in either BLACKMOOR or GREYHAWK has risen above 14th level." (April 1976)

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  27. James, although I didn't play in any longrunning campaigns in the 70s, and my later gaming was increasingly character- and arc-centric, I agree with others that you're right...it agrees with what I read back in the day. And it's a very astute observation in that it shows the undeniable difference between world-centric and character-centric play.

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  28. All of our early campaigns (even the shared world one) were effectively single worlds where multiple players had sessions that were generally independent of each other. In many games sessions were actually one-on-one with the gamemaster, unless you had somehow managed to team up with another player in game.

    Many of the events in the campaign thereby ended up being effectively player-generated (although the gamemaster was always there to stir the pot).

    There was no single story to be told, although there were many (often-connected) vignettes. It was a style much more reminiscent of the pulps (as in a collection of loosely related short-stories that may or may not be fitted into a chronological order) than a modern fantasy novel.

    Then again, this worked because there were a large number of people running games at the time. And we all came from a traditional wargaming background, so it seemed natural to do it this way.

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  29. I look forward to the Cthulhu post!

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  30. Here are a few rambling thoughts

    Jeff Rients has a great discussion of this here:

    What is a campaign?

    But I also think its worth pointing out that we shouldn't read too much into comments like these by Gary -- especially when what we read is with the understanding of there being 30 years worth of RPGs. There's one obvious point that I think is worth noting that's easy to overlook.

    When D&D was first published, there were very few games that extended beyond a single session. When you've finished a game of Monopoly, you're done and if you want to keep playing you start over. The notable exception to this rule were wargames, with its "campaigns" of interrelated battles. So, just like the term "wargame" was the closest match to what D&D was, "campaign" best described the fact that the game continues from one session to the next. If you re-read that section with the understanding that people reading it didn't necessarily know about experience points, levels, etc., then the intro section could easily be describing these things in broad terms familiar to wargamers.

    There's also the point that, at the time, the major mode of play was with a single megadungeon. With that point of view, most adventures could be thought of as campaigns in the ongoing war of players vs dungeon. Re-read the section on Successful Campaigning in the PHB and compare it to the wikipedia article on military campaigns:
    Military Campaign

    Remarkably similar, no?

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  31. "Well, Blackmoor started around 1970-71 and Greyhawk not long after that. Tekumel existed as a "world" long before Empire of the Petal Throne was published, and that came out in 1975 - and people had been playing with Prof. Barker for at least a year before that. So, to answer your question, by the late '70's some campaigns HAD been going for several years, upwards of nine or ten in the oldest cases."

    I obviously no grognard, and I'll prove my ignorance by asking what role-playing game rules set was being used in the late 60's? Since you're talking about gaming "nine or ten years" before the late 70's.

    And, as an extension of that question, just how many players & "campaigns" are we talking about here? Blackmoor was one unique campaign, Barker's was another...you're talking a few dozen people at most there, plus Gygax's Greyhawk and his crew.

    So I guess what I'm getting at is, we're complaining about how a term changed over 35+ years of gaming in a hobby where the term was defined by perhaps a hundred or so people, and is now (apparently incorrectly) used by millions?

    Fascinating.

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  32. "As BLACKMOOR is the only campaign with a life of five years, and GREYHAWK with a life of four is the second longest running campaign, the most able adventurers should not yet have attained 20th level except in the two named campaigns. To my certain knowledge no player in either BLACKMOOR or GREYHAWK has risen above 14th level."

    That's a terrific quote, both because it gives some idea of when the two campaigns began and the rate of progression that was expected as being typical. It's a far cry from WotC's 1-20 in 18-24 months.

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  33. Then again, this worked because there were a large number of people running games at the time.

    That seems to be one of the things that's changed the most over the years. Despite claims to the contrary, there definitely seem to be far fewer games being run nowadays and far more infrequently than was the norm 30 years ago.

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  34. I obviously no grognard, and I'll prove my ignorance by asking what role-playing game rules set was being used in the late 60's?

    Blackmoor began around 1971 or a little earlier and Greyhawk in 1972. In both cases, the rules used were "proto-OD&D" -- a mix of Chainmail, other assorted wargame-derived rules, and referee fiat. OD&D was first published in 1974, but draft versions of it existed for several years beforehand. People plugged into the wargames community in various places (most famously the Twin Cities and Lake Geneva) could get access to this proto-OD&D and it was in this way that Phil Barker got into the hobby around 1972, laying the groundwork for the Tékumel campaign.

    So, while there were no published rules until 1974, that doesn't mean people weren't playing something recognizably "D&D" until that date. By 1979, the Blackmoor and Greyhawk campaigns were both 7-8 years old, with Tékumel only a little younger.

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  35. I obviously no grognard, and I'll prove my ignorance by asking what role-playing game rules set was being used in the late 60's? Since you're talking about gaming "nine or ten years" before the late 70's.

    Reasonable question - the short answer is "proto-D&D" - both Blackmoor and Greyhawk evolved around rules that derived from Chainmail, with Arneson initially devising rules for individual adventurers and those were further developed by Gygax. As for Tekumel, Prof. Barker had engaged in a kind of freeform story-telling game with friends when he was younger, and then used D&D as a base for developing the rules that became Empire of the Petal Throne.

    So I guess what I'm getting at is, we're complaining about how a term changed over 35+ years of gaming in a hobby where the term was defined by perhaps a hundred or so people, and is now (apparently incorrectly) used by millions?

    Well, no, actually. Quantity does not equal quality, you know.*

    What makes James' observation important is that from about 1974 until about 1977, there was a general assumption made in the hobby that this was how to run your game. In other words, everybody built their own sandboxes, and played in them. I rather suspect that the emergence of modules was the beginning of the shift - up until that point, there were published adventures and settings, but they were designed to be "stand-alone" for the most part, with the assumption that referees would insert them into their existing campaigns. The first TSR modules, notably the Giants series, introduced a kind of narrative arc that may have inadvertently led to the gaming we know today. (There are other influences to be sure, but for origin points, that's my suspicion.)






    *I mean, in another context, I'd point you to Edmund Burke's Address to the Electors of Bristol, but that's a bit of a sledgehammer for a fly as far as this is concerned.

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  36. "That seems to be one of the things that's changed the most over the years. Despite claims to the contrary, there definitely seem to be far fewer games being run nowadays and far more infrequently than was the norm 30 years ago."

    I assume you mean "old school" games? Otherwise, you're claiming that in 30 years, with hundreds of RPGs and millions of players out there, there's actually LESS gaming going on.

    If that's your claim, I'd love to see some actual numbers to back that up, please.

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  37. "That's a terrific quote"

    The article, entitled D&D is only as good as the DM can also be found in the first volume of the Best of Dragon Magazine.

    "...and the rate of progression that was expected as being typical. It's a far cry from WotC's 1-20 in 18-24 months"

    From the same article, preceding the quote vraymond gave:

    "It is reasonable to calculate that if a fair player takes part in 50 to 75 games in the course of a year he should acquire sufficient experience points to make him about 9th to 11th level, assuming that he manages to survive all that play. The acquisition of successively higher levels will be proportionate to enhanced power and the number of experience points necessary to attain them, so another year of play will by no means mean a doubling of levels but rather the addition of perhaps two or three levels. Using this gauge, it should take four or five years to see 20th level."

    I recently shared this article with my current group of players (half of which came into the hobby via 3e or 4e) as we are converting our game to AD&D. I also quoted another article that claimed Gandalf was only 5th level (Sauron at 12th).

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  38. Otherwise, you're claiming that in 30 years, with hundreds of RPGs and millions of players out there, there's actually LESS gaming going on.

    I suspect there are fewer examples of consistent, persistent, weekly campaigns than there were in the past. Most gaming groups nowadays, in my experience, play more infrequently and are much less focused on a single campaign. I recall that WotC's own survey data confirmed this, which is why 3e (and I assume 4e) was built on the presumption of much faster and more precipitous level progression than earlier editions. The assumption is that very few gamers stuck with the same campaign for more than 18 months at most.

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  39. I've long-wondered how much of the WotC survey data was a marketing program designed to shift the then-current gaming paradigm to be more receptive to, and accepting of, Third Edition's design standards. The conclusions WotC drew from the data were published, but the data behind them was never shared, so WotC could easily have spun the results (or even willfully misrepresented them) with impunity.

    I took the original survey when WotC commissioned it from National Family Opinion (I just happened to be among those in the general populace that they surveyed), and have a copy somewhere in a box.

    And FWIW, my recollection is that 3e was designed to go from levels 1-20 within one year, not 1.5-2 years ;)

    Allan.

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  40. Vraymond: The first TSR modules, notably the Giants series, introduced a kind of narrative arc that may have inadvertently led to the gaming we know today.

    Victor, that's an interesting idea--I've never read/played the Giants series, or any of the early modules for that matter--the D&D games I played/GMed were always made from scratch.

    Another influence, that I've considered to be a factor in the more "arc/character-based" approach, is simply the influx of people straight into D&D who weren't at all connected to the wargame side of the "adventure game hobby", and many of whom were younger as well. Wargamers IMO have an ethos of "you win some you lose some" and fascination with the way the system as a whole works. In fact these are pretty strong prerequisites to enjoying a competitive game with a dozen or more pages of densely-written rules. It's a view of the game with "a colder eye" that neither asks nor gives quarter, while simultaneously evaluating the quality of a wargame in terms of its ability to represent the dynamics of a situation, and derives a great deal of enjoyment from that.

    The generation that came straight into D&D, often via a boxed set bought at a chain toy store instead of a corner hobby store, had a very different set of interests--partly because they were played up on the box covers and the game texts themselves. In a nutshell it was the start of the "big d**n hero" phenomenon, the emphasis shifting from "explore strange worlds" to "be a hero".

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  41. Elliot, I think you are right with your thinking about the generation that did not start as wargamers. Between that and the potential narrative arcs in some of the modules (which themselves were often a product of iterative tournament rounds at conventions), and this sense of "it's all about me!" is an understandable outcome. This is what I've been calling "story-arc play" rather than "sandbox play" - there are better terms, I suspect.

    I want to be cautious about saying that the early modules enforced a story arc - as James has pointed out here, here, and here - there doesn't have to be a "plot" to follow for these adventure. What people did was to take what was there and retcon a plot, and then use that model for their further adventures. The continuation of publication of modules from tournament use fostered this process.

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  42. Allan,

    That's an interesting theory and one I wouldn't be surprised to find was true. However, I think people often credit WotC with far more forethought than is deserved and this strikes me as an instance where they likely weren't doing anything more than reporting what they discovered in their survey.

    One year, huh? I wonder why I remember it as 18-24? In any case, when we played 3e, in 2+ years of play, we never made it to 20th level, so I suspect that, even with the rules pushing us onward, we still played in sufficiently old school ways that level advancement was slowed.

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  43. Wargamers IMO have an ethos of "you win some you lose some" and fascination with the way the system as a whole works. In fact these are pretty strong prerequisites to enjoying a competitive game with a dozen or more pages of densely-written rules. It's a view of the game with "a colder eye" that neither asks nor gives quarter, while simultaneously evaluating the quality of a wargame in terms of its ability to represent the dynamics of a situation, and derives a great deal of enjoyment from that.

    This is a keen insight. I'm not a wargamer myself, but I was brought into the hobby by wargamers, so I wonder if they didn't impart some of that culture to me, which I've preserved all these years.

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  44. What people did was to take what was there and retcon a plot, and then use that model for their further adventures. The continuation of publication of modules from tournament use fostered this process.

    Then, as now, I remain convinced that the strategy of building and developing the game with an eye toward tournament play considerations is a huge mistake. The level of tournament interest will simply never be as great as the more general interest in home play and the needs of the two are very different and often contradictory. It's a pity that TSR and WotC after it both made the same errors on this score.

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  45. WoTC's claim from their survey was that the average D&D campaign _in fact_ lasted 1 year. From this they drew the inference that a D&D campaign _should_ go from level 1 to level 20 in 1 year of weekly play, or about 52 game sessions, that PCs should consistently level up every 3-4 game sessions, and that the rate of power increase should be consistent across those 20 levels. None of those inferences came from the survey data, to my knowledge. They also decided that complexity should escalate across the level range and that monsters and NPCs should use the same rules - be as complex - as PCs.

    In practice, I believe that by following through on these inferences they created a game which becomes far too complex and entropic and is much less playable than 1e-2e AD&D beyond the first 10 levels or so.

    In my recent current 3e campaigns I run it twice-monthly, ie half the WotC assumed rate, give out half standard XP, and focus on the first 8-10 levels; this gives me a much more playable game.

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