Friday, March 27, 2009

On the Loss of D&D's Endgame

You'll find lots of gamers who will sing the praises of the Basic Rules published in the early 80s (either 1981's Moldvay version or 1983's Mentzer version) -- and rightly so -- but it's rare to find many who express the same affection for the Expert Rules, whether the Cook/Marsh or Mentzer version. I personally find that a bit odd, because, for me, the Expert Rules are one of those places I can clearly point to and say, "This is what D&D is all about."

I'm certain that strikes at least a few people as odd. The Basic Rules introduce not only the rules of the game, but also its default setting: the dungeon. If anything is "what D&D is all about," it's the dungeon and surely the Basic Rules do a far better job of describing that environment and what it's like to play in it than do the Expert Rules, which muddy the waters with all this talk of wilderness adventuring and building strongholds and creating magic items and the like. Right?

Well, I'm one of those oddballs who takes seriously the notion that Dungeons & Dragons, despite its name, is actually about more than dungeon delving. After all, OD&D devotes a goodly amount of its sparse verbiage to adventuring in the wilderness -- so much so that the term "sandbox" is every bit as significant for old school play as is "megadungeon." Indeed, OD&D makes it pretty clear that, after a certain point, the focus of the game shifts away from the dungeon and toward establishing and maintaining a "barony." If you read reminiscences of the earliest campaigns in the hobby, such as Blackmoor and Greyhawk, you'll see that this was the case.

The Expert Rules present this shift in focus not as an "add-on" or accretion to the Basic Rules but as a natural development of them. Exploring and taming the wilderness, building a castle, and ruling a domain -- these aren't alien to D&D; they're a major part of what the game was intended to be about. This only makes sense, given the origins of the game in wargaming and yet they're topics that got short shrift even in AD&D, never mind later editions. In this sense, I'd say that, for all my issues with the presentation of Cook/Marsh and Mentzer, they're truer to OD&D than were their various descendants.

I can't stress this point enough, because I think it's a vital counter-balance to the tendency to see D&D, especially old school D&D, as solely about acquiring ever more power in the service of venality. Not only do I think that tendency does a disservice to D&D's origins, but I also think it exaggerates the themes of pulp fantasy to ludicrous heights. While not every Picaro will eventually settle down, many will, particularly if their players wish to continue playing that character beyond a certain point. The Expert Rules showed how to do that; they were where D&D's endgame was fleshed out and revealed it as the logical extension of all that had gone before.

I hesitate to say that the Expert Rules are where Dungeons & Dragons "grows up," because that implies a childishness to dungeon delving that I don't think is appropriate. Nevertheless, the Expert Rules are where D&D grapples with the nature of what it means to have reached high level -- to have "grown up" mechanically -- in a fantasy world. Certainly characters could continue to remain aloof from the world around them, remaining outsiders forever on the make, but how satisfying would that be for their players? The Expert Rules offer up new options of play, things that characters could take up in order both to expand the scope of the game and to ensure that beloved characters can continue to be played even after it no longer makes much sense for them to continue adventuring. These are the rules for King Conan of Aquilonia, as opposed to Conan the wandering Cimmerian.

I am ever more convinced that the progressive deformation of the original Gygaxo-Arnesonian vision of the game is due to the loss of D&D's logical endgame and its replacement by vapid alternatives. Only by restoring that endgame can Dungeons & Dragons again become the game it was meant to be.

107 comments:

  1. Note that these endgame elements are also missing also from some of the retro-clones (e.g., Swords & Wizardry, OSRIC), while they are present in the systems they emulate; I'm not sure why. On the other hand, Labryinth Lord and Basic Fantasy, which resemble B/X Moldvay/Cook D&D do include these elements.

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  2. I'd be curious to hear about people's experiences in this. Building a stronghold is an activity that requires a lot of work on the part of the player. I designed strongholds for lots of PCs but only in one case did the DM take much notice. I wonder if developng a barony risks too much-- first, designing your character's bedroom makes them all the more real and personal; second, extending yourself in all these ways (a fortification, lands, hirelings, soldiers, if not a family, then a pet) makes your character much more vulnerable to loss, and especially loss beyond your control.

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  3. I really could not agree more.

    I consider the idea that D&D is all about "killing things and taking its stuff" to be one of the most corrosive -- and radically inaccurate -- memes of the past decade.

    The lack of this end game -- of a life beyond the dungeon -- makes it very difficult for the game to handle the capabilities of high level characters.

    I also think the logical progression introduced in BECMI is also valuable: You move beyond delving the dungeon into ruling a realm. What happens when you move beyond ruling a realm? Attaining Immortal power.

    I think any core ruleset would benefit from having rules for: (1) Playing out interesting chases (OD&D did, however simplistic they may have been). (2) Realm management. (3) Mass combat. (4) Deity-level play.

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  4. I am ever more convinced that the progressive deformation of the original Gygaxo-Arnesonian vision of the game is due to the loss of D&D's logical endgame and its replacement by vapid alternatives. Only by restoring that endgame can Dungeons & Dragons again become the game it was meant to be.

    I'm in total agreement on this point. A related issue is the abandonment of henchmen and hirelings from the game. I think between the hardscabble start and the barony is an intermediary phase where you manage the members of your gang.

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  5. Some of my fondest memories of play were when individuals would be kicking down my characters' door, killing their friends and trying to take their stuff.

    The best part of winning a championship is defending the title.

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  6. I'm currently running my C&C players through the 'endgame' portion of our campaign. The wizard/thief managed to inherit a small barony (thanks to a draw from a variant Deck of Many Things), and the cleric and the paladin have each built temples in the barony. They were a little hesitant at first, I think, but once they decided to go through with it, they've thrown themselves into it completely, spending a great deal of time and resources to strengthen the land's defenses, and bolster the barony's struggling economy.

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  7. Note that these endgame elements are also missing also from some of the retro-clones (e.g., Swords & Wizardry, OSRIC)

    Some of us have plans to do something about that.


    while they are present in the systems they emulate; I'm not sure why.


    Because Greyhawk won out over the Wilderlands as far as presentation and format. The big overview of the Greyhawk/Forgotten Realms/Eberron style is easier to write than the locale by locale method of the Wilderlands style.

    The Greyhawk style is easier to read as well. Almost like reading a book of short stories. However the format isn't as USEFUL as the hex by hex wilderlands presentation. It more work for the referee to take those big chucks of terrain and come up with specifics than it is to look at a group of locales and come up with a plot to hang them together.

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  8. Total agreement. In the second printing of S&W Core Rules, there are suggestions for magic-users to follow projects where magic moves beyond spells alone, and there is a mass combat house-rule system. Mass combat is the heart of expanding the endgame (well, not for magic-users, where it's exploration of magic beyond spells).

    Frankly, I don't think many old-schoolers would disagree with you. I think the focus on megadungeons (not lairs) and sandbox adventuring is because these are the more forgotten aspects of the game. More modern gamers are still very much alive to the endgame - indeed, partially because it has been moved more into the mainstream treatment of the rules. Old school writing and thinking right now should be taken as the tip of the iceberg - we're focusing on the forgotten themes of the rules, and less so on material that has remained current. There are still lots of old schoolers like me who spent time sojourning in the later editions. So a lot of old school writing is still in reaction to those later editions. When this movement matures a bit away from being reactionary - and this is starting with the magazines and modules already but hasn't spread to the messageboards much - I think that some of the elements that haven't been forgotten will begin to come in for more widespread discussion.

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  9. You know, I'm used to people praising "B/X" as a system. I haven't seen attempts to denegrate Expert specifically.

    I think this might have to do with more people having nostalgic affection for the Basic sets, since they were such successful introductory products. I don't feel that this "warm fuzziness" means they regard the Expert component as any less essential to the overall system.

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  10. An excellent and very true point, I believe.

    A friend of mine just earlier this week explained why he quit playing World of Warcraft, that it had simply "become a grind," not of boars, but of dungeon after dungeon after dungeon. There was no "end game" beyond reaching the highest level and then still going and killing more monsters in more dungeons.

    We saw that development to a great extent in Third Edition D&D, and now I see it as the essence of the Fourth Edition experience. Sure, you get all these various Epic Destinies and Paragon Paths and whatnot, but all they do is give you more kewl powers to kill more monsters faster. To what end? None.

    It doesn't have to be that way, at least, not with Third Edition (from my experience). I've run 3E games with young kids who never saw let alone played the Moldvay/Cook or Mentzer editions, and yet, when given even the hint of old school elements such as hirelings and domains, they took to it readily. Of course, that was in the early days of 3E, before World of Warcraft had inculcated certain expectations.

    Should the 1E party members of my Gary's Greyhawk Campaign survive to mid-levels, I plan to throw at them possibilities that lead to this classic-style end game, and see what sticks. A few hirelings here, a henchman or two, a townhouse or small manor house, and especially a Worthy Opponent with a Fortress can set the player on a road never before imagined...

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  11. Too right!

    I love games that get to this stage. One of my favourite games was one run (mostly) by myself where the players played evil characters. They started at lvl 7 or so since i wanted it to be a game about high power levels. It ran for ages, eventually they managed to carve out a small kingdom in the western heartlands of faerun. A sorceror, a bard and a wizard. All hit epic levels at some point (i think the game ended at lvl 24) and much of the fun was planning conquests of neighbouring settlements (for their own protection of course), how to integrate the devilishly evil Sharran faith as the nations pre-eminent church and making sure do gooders like harpers, neighbouring states and such like didn't ruin things.
    Castles were built, magic items were made, powerful allies wooed (notably placating the Zhentarim force nearby and recovering the still-sentient mummy of an ancient netherese priest).

    My players though about taxes, trade, war, spys, military colleges, mage schools, all that jazz. It was hugely fun.

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  12. I wonder to if it was more a question of timing for many. I myself played Basic but by the time we moved on toward expert, Advanced D&D was around. Nearly everyone I knew who played D&D went from Basic to Advanced, not Basic to Expert.

    I really wasn't aware of the other boxed D&D games beyond Basic until I was well into my second or third year of AD&D.

    AD
    Barking Alien

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  13. The campaign that I have the fondest memories of was run back in the days of AD&D1, in which the PCs early on had to escape from a guild of slavers. Well, they went on to free other slaves and train them, who freed other slaves and trained them, until each player had multiple tiers of henchment and henchment of henchmen. They eventually found a bit of land to call their own and established a kingdom and played through the second generation taking the throne and having their own adventures. That kingdom remains the central locale of my homebrew world even 250 game-years and several campaigns later.

    I'm hoping to be able to replicate the success of that campaign as I get back into the roots of what D&D is supposed to be about.

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  14. This endgame is the primary thing about "old school" D&D that interests me. The actual game mechanics are often not my cup of tea, but the idea of managing hirelings, henchmen, domains, strongholds, etc. is extremely appealing to me.

    "Gygaxo-Arnesonian" is my new favorite word.

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  15. I agree.

    I did have PC's that built castles and ruled a barony (somewhat cursorily) under the Moldvay Expert rules, and it basically worked. I love the look & feel of that book. (Companion dominion rules, not so much.)

    I always struggled to do the same thing in AD&D, before recently realizing that all the necessary rules (mass combat, wilderness exploration, naval combat) had really been left behind in the OD&D little books.

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  16. I don't think it was left out so much as it was abstracted. By the time AD&D 1e rolled around, it seems to me that the focus was more on uniform play for tournaments which, of course, means that castle building and domain management really aren't that important. That was the stuff of home campaigns, not conventions, for which AD&D seemed to be designed.

    By 2nd edition, it was definately there (to the point where it was briefly discussed in the PHB, and then in depth in a couple of various supplements whatever your opinion on those), but again it was left entirely up to the group to define and design it. It was far less codified in keeping with that edition's "do it yourself and make it what you want" mentality. Well, at least before the glut of stupid source books.

    I don't think the endgame got dropped or left behind, it just lost its codification.

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  17. For me this "end-game" is a non-issue since it just doesn't come up in our games. For example, my Carcosa campaign is almost 3 years old, and (IIRC) the highest level any PC ever attained before being slain was 6th.

    In all our A/D&D play since 1980, the highest level PC any of us ever had was 13th level--and that was the exception to the rule. (The DM of that character was the most Monty Haul of us.)

    I honestly don't remember if (outside of that one campaign) any of us ever had characters with levels above 9th. If we did, it was very, very rare.

    In light of all of that, we simply made strongholds. The few sessions we had with characters of levels 10 to 13 were spent adventuring.

    word verification: pasta

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  18. Oops. I meant to type:

    "In light of all of that, we simply never made strongholds."

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  19. (4) Deity-level play.

    This is where I differ from your other prescriptions, which I agree with wholeheartedly. I don't really find deity-level play all that compelling and it's certainly rather divergent from the pulp fantasy roots of the game. Neither, of course, is a certified knock against the idea, but something about it doesn't sit well with my conception of D&D.

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  20. A related issue is the abandonment of henchmen and hirelings from the game. I think between the hardscabble start and the barony is an intermediary phase where you manage the members of your gang.

    Definitely. The loss of henchmen and hirelings is every bit as detrimental to the proper feel of D&D as the loss of stronghold building and domain management.

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  21. The best part of winning a championship is defending the title.

    Indeed.

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  22. Some of us have plans to do something about that.

    Glad to hear it. I have some vague plans as well, but who knows when I'll get around to acting on them?

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  23. So a lot of old school writing is still in reaction to those later editions. When this movement matures a bit away from being reactionary - and this is starting with the magazines and modules already but hasn't spread to the messageboards much - I think that some of the elements that haven't been forgotten will begin to come in for more widespread discussion.

    Very true.

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  24. You know, I'm used to people praising "B/X" as a system. I haven't seen attempts to denegrate Expert specifically.

    You're right, of course. I didn't mean to imply people don't like the Expert Rules, only that very few people make an explicit point of saying how much they liked them.

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  25. @Hamlet:
    "I don't think the endgame got dropped or left behind, it just lost its codification."

    Which is as good as dropping it, especially when the rest of the game was moving inexorably towards more codification in virtually every other facet.

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  26. By 2nd edition, it was definately there (to the point where it was briefly discussed in the PHB, and then in depth in a couple of various supplements whatever your opinion on those), but again it was left entirely up to the group to define and design it. It was far less codified in keeping with that edition's "do it yourself and make it what you want" mentality. Well, at least before the glut of stupid source books.

    I tuned out so much of 2e that I probably have a bigger ignorance of it than I do of any editions.

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  27. 4E actually tries to have an endgame. I remember at least one of the paths is "Divine Ascension."

    3E, on the other hand, not so much. Certainly, at first, it's "You made L20! Congratulations!" Then after Epic Level Handbook it was "Great! Here, have some more hit points and some even larger monsters!"

    But that gets back to one of the fundamental problems with, well, all versions of D&D. The point of strongholds--I always thought, anyway--is that they provided an honorable retirement, and let you have a plausible source of high-level help if you needed it. But basically, D&D was always the most fun between levels 3 and 8, at least in my opinion.

    Beginning-level play is also pretty fun, but different. In that 3-8 sweet spot you have some fun powers, but there's still the risk of death and you miss your saves pretty often.

    Higher than that--and to its credit, 3E works pretty well up to about L14--it starts to get kinda boring: combats take forever because opponents have lots of stuff they can use, whittling away HP takes ages, etc. We actually have an ongoing campaign in which the characters (who all started out at L1 in the early 3E days playing Thieves in the Forest) are L17-20.

    By mutual consensus, that game is on hiatus, even though there's some exciting stuff coming up, because it's exhausting to play and 2 encounters take a whole session. Instead we're playing Microlite74 and doing a straight-up dungeon crawl (with L1-2 characters right now) and everyone's having a great time again.

    I think that classically, the "stronghold" is the recognition of this problem: after a while, it's not that much fun anymore, at least if what you're into is the adventuring rather than the nation-building. High-level play is slower and more irritating.

    I see the point of mass combat, I guess, but if I wanted to play a wargame, I'd be playing a wargame.

    Deity-level play? That seems really hard to pin down into a rule set (see: Fire God). The Great Wheel is one approach, but the OD&D weird-ass-melange-of-NorseGreekThulhu is a very different one, and that in turn is wildly divergent from the Carcosa straight-up-Cosmic-Horror cosmogony. There's no one-size-fits-all rule-set for it, I'm pretty sure. And I say that as someone who owns the first printing of Deities and Demigods (albeit not a paper copy of Gods, Demigods, and Heroes).

    Adam

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  28. It's an interesting point, but like everything it's a very personal thing. When I play I'm very... hands on. I want to be the one kicking in doors and swinging swords, so I tended to ignore henchmen and castle building beyond the notion of having someone to keep the horses from being eaten by wolves while I head into the dungeon.

    I suppose, succinctly, I want to be the adventurer not the one hiring the adventurer.

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  29. This was the edition I cut my teeth on (Moldvay/Cook). I liked the idea of the whole stronghold thing but never felt any attachment to it, and never tried it. It didn't seem like an endgame to me, even in 1981-2: it was quite apparent that the levels went on, that more supplements would be coming out to deal with them, and that your 9th level fighter was going to be an absentee landlord... maybe I just didn't get it, at my then tender age (and I've written about my problems with the other endgame - deity level play - before).

    Nowadays it seems to me that wuxia/martial arts movies are the ideal setting for D&D and those are full of high-level characters, who are largely trolling around the countryside waiting for destiny to strike. That's a bit fourth-wall-breaking, and doesn't at first blush sound very old school, but in some ways they're playing the sandbox game.

    I'm curious that you're not talking here about the genre shift you get into, moving to a stronghold game (sedentary, resource-managing, political and defensive, rather than peripatetic, resource-acquiring, adaptive and aggressive). My solution in other games to the shift in demands/tone is (surprise, surprise) to make the stronghold a freebooting ship - scaleable, stealable, mobile and open to the same kind of mercenary use as the horse and sword, but also bringing responsibilities, needs and a different relationship to political power. I've found that ship(s) + islands/ports can provide a really nice, extensible "intermediary phase."

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  30. >Exploring and taming the wilderness, building a castle, and ruling a domain -- these aren't alien to D&D; they're a major part of what the game was intended to be about. This only makes sense, given the origins of the game in wargaming and yet they're topics that got short shrift even in AD&D<

    Your kidding, right James? The DM guide was full of all that shit I never used.

    End game? How about the current group eventually breaks up. Happens to everyone, right? And through the late 80's and 90's, we could hardly get everyone together once a month. We were too into having exciting adventures and action and basic character development. Sure, a lot of players were like "one day my PC will have a castle and an army and blah blah blay. A year or so I would never see the player again. They friggin come and go.

    Sure, I've had old players stick around for years, or come back years later to newer groups I put together, and they would occasionally have reached some kind of importants: job as royal wizard, inheritor of uncles small castle, troubleshooter for the king...

    But building a keep (and per the DM guide fretting over the cost of every brick and every mook with a shovel) and micromanaging a "barony" in any kind of detail would have been a different kind of game for my groups.

    If you are a player in Dave Arneson's 30 years plus campaign, or are playing three times a week and leveling up contantly, then yeah, I guess it's godhood games or an "endgame" for you. Personally, I'm usually glad to have a campaign/group that lasts long enough to get players above
    8th level.

    Adult time factors are just another thing that makes an "endgame" unrealistic in my games.

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  31. Higher than that--and to its credit, 3E works pretty well up to about L14--it starts to get kinda boring: combats take forever because opponents have lots of stuff they can use, whittling away HP takes ages, etc.

    I feel that 3E broke stuff by allowing hit-dice rolls at all levels (game design by expanding systemization); that's what makes hp enormously high at upper levels. OD&D knew this wouldn't work from the start, and that's why hp gains were minimized at around 9th level.

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  32. Which is as good as dropping it, especially when the rest of the game was moving inexorably towards more codification in virtually every other facet.

    Which is a fair statement I suppose, but I've always been one that less codification is always better, that a slim and sleek rule set is better than the unweildy monster that things evolved into.

    I was only rarely bothered with the lack of castle building and mass combat rules after BECMI. For one thing, I could always pick the BECMI books back up and just look at what they had done, and used that as a baseline. Second, I never saw the overt need for what seemed like something that was, in the end, so customized to whatever campaign was being played.

    This, I suppose, is one of those instances where I feel most at odds with the whole old school concept. While I agree that the barony management "phase" is important to D&D, I don't think that hard and fast codified rules are neccessary for it to be there and, in my opinion, they can be as much of a detriment as they are an asset.

    As for 2nd edition, it was defined by extremes really. There was a lot that was very good, but it was avalanched by so much that was so terrible that it gets lost all the time. My least favorite is still the elf sourcebook that included magical bionic limbs.

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  33. I wonder if part of the de-emphasis of strongholds and followers is the move towards more plot-heavy gaming? Perhaps now the campaign ends when the plot says so, rather than something in the mechanics themselves.

    Our group is about to start up a new Pendragon campaign. One of the things I love about the game is that this sronghold-building stuff is in there right from the start.

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  34. When elements like these come up for discussion, I always like to think back over the pulp fantasy stuff that largely inspired OD&D, but this is certainly a topic that isn't very well covered in that literature.

    I guess one obvious example might be Conan, who rises from nothing to take over the rule of an established kingdom. Not exactly starting his own barony in the wilderness, but a good example of how a "high-level" character can languish and chafe under the responsibilities of rule.

    John Carter of Mars would be another good example of this sort of progression, and again he is a character who chafes a bit at the boring life of the courts of the high and mighty and can't wait for an opportunity for adventure to arise.

    Elric of Melnibone kind of progresses in the opposite direction, starting with a kingdom and ending up a wandering mercenary. But his "endgame" is certainly a fascinating one - participating in the destruction and recreation of his own world.

    Then there are the adventurers like Cugel, Faffard & the Grey Mouser, etc, who seem doomed to always be in search of that next big treasure...

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  35. Adult time factors are just another thing that makes an "endgame" unrealistic in my games.

    This concern has often led me to consider if some sort of parallel campaign would be possible, with players running both local barons and 0xp newbie adventurers at the same time.

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  36. It's interesting to note, though, that the 2nd edition era AD&D gave us the Birthright campaign line, which was the exact opposite of what is described here: PCs start out as powerful landowning rules and focus on politics and warfare to the virtual exclusion of dungeons and such.

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  37. Birthright was that, but it was also pretty damn terrible at the same time.

    So much wrong with that setting.

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  38. Hmm. How so? I glanced at the books years and years ago, but never played it, so the setting details are lost to me.

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  39. >sort of parallel campaign would be possible, with players running both local barons and 0xp newbie adventurers at the same time<

    I think that is workable if you have people in your group for years, or old players come back (both of which has happened to me a few times).

    It happened in my current campaign sort of on accident. I started my new group in the human lands bordering the Hobbit lands. One of my old players, running a new fighter, also had a Hobbit cleric who was a local sherrif on the hobbit border. Sitting in the small keep she inherited in an old game, this 8th level Hobbit lady had married (in past game) and had kids (over the last few years of retirement). But she was sitting sadly wishing for the adventures of yesteryear. So I got her involved in a couple of games as a guest spot, but she is having so much fun with both characters, I plan to rearrange the campaign a bit so a couple of games can take place around her home. It is big fun having a high level character of an old player take the place of at least one NPC official I might need to have in the area, and gives her a sense of life going on even when the character is not in use. Sweet.

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  40. Hmm. How so? I glanced at the books years and years ago, but never played it, so the setting details are lost to me.

    Where to begin?

    Essentially, power creep: players playing what amount ot demi-gods from first level.

    Some of the worst published adventures EVER.

    For that matter, the entire setting reads exactly like a 3rd rate dime store fantasy novel published by a frustrated college graduate with a Lit degree: which is what it is, explicitly so according to the introduction.

    The idea of running a character with the responsibilities of running a province/kingdom/whatever from early levels is just fine by me, but they equated that with having super powers, so much so that "ordinary" unpowered characters get an across the board 10% XP boost to compensate, not counting bonuses from high ability scores.

    It's the groundwork for so much of the mentality on individual characters that went into 3.x that it's disheartening.

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  41. @Brunomac
    Adult time factors are just another thing that makes an "endgame" unrealistic in my games.
    Exactly. It's hard enough trying to keep a regular game group, let alone achieve a high-level campaign involving fiefdoms.

    @kelvingreen
    I wonder if part of the de-emphasis of strongholds and followers is the move towards more plot-heavy gaming?
    Very, very good point. If a game group can only manage to keep together for a little while, why spend energy fussing with rules pertaining to a phase of the game that players seldom see?


    @everyone:

    Personally, I've always been fascinated with the stronghold-building possibilities of high-level play. But since I've never gotten that far before, I've never figured out the best way to go about playing or DM'ing it.

    Since the publication of 4e, a common complaint I hear about it is that combat takes too long. I know this is true because I can compare my experiences with 4e combat and the recent combat I've DM'd in my own 1e campaign. And now I'm wondering about this aspect even more. I've never actually played 0e but I wonder if it's even faster than 1e? If the PCs can advance to higher levels in a shorter amount of real-world time, then it stands to reason that high-level stronghold-building campaigns were more common before the advent of AD&D.

    I'm trying my best to relearn 1e and move my game sessions along at a faster pace. Although there is no clear indication of it yet, I'm always ready for the seemingly inevitable death of the game group. I'd like to keep things interesting and move level advancement along to get to the point of my players building strongholds. My conservative estimate is that I have maybe at most a year of real-world time before the group dissolves or that some players express a desire to play a different game. (Traveller has been hinted at a few times.) Will the PCs attain a high level and build a castle? I hope so. But I tend to doubt it. I hope I'm wrong.

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  42. Even in 3.0 with largely newbies to RPGs, many of them took to the idea of having a town/stronghold to manage as one of their main goals.

    (The other seemingly being how many feats they could get to kill things better.)

    I was not around to GM their town phase, and the novice GM didn't understand why they liked the Simcity bits so much. (He constantly did things to either damage their town or try to get them out of the place.)

    I don't think the idea of an endgame being lost is really there. Its that different people and different games writers have differing ideas on the subject.

    I like middle-high fantasy when I do D&D style games, and I like the idea of running strongholds and PCs being great leaders who earned their position through a mixture of innate talent, drive, and the odd bit of dumb luck.

    Others just want endless adventuring. Others want deep immersion roleplaying. Others want Simcity with Elves.

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  43. You know, when I think of the '81 rules, I am actually thinking of Expert rules alone. I started gaming with Holmes and then moved on to AD&D. It was a few years later, that a well-meaning relative gave me the Cook Expert box, having no real idea what it was. Neither did I! I didn't know that anything had followed Holmes, which explicitly said that you were supposed to move on to AD&D.

    I was fascinated with that little book. So familiar and yet so different. So damn concise. I wondered if "Expert" was supposed to come after "Advanced", although that didn't seem quite right.

    It was only a few years ago that i ever saw the '81 Moldvay Basic. And it's great. But it's the Blue book that I think of with this rules set.

    Anyway, we always played towards ruling a kingdom in the early days. I still recall my first high-level character (a Fighter creatively named Thundarr) who founded the Kingdom of Ambrosia with his best friend (a fighter equally-imaginatively named Mongo). I recall some great thought and effort put into finding a wife too.

    However, that dropped out of our games as time went on. I'm not sure why. Maybe because the DMG was pretty confusing in this arena. Maybe because we played less often and our characters seldom went to such high levels. I don't know.

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  44. This concern has often led me to consider if some sort of parallel campaign would be possible, with players running both local barons and 0xp newbie adventurers at the same time.
    I really don't want to bang on about Pendragon, but it's definitely possible in that game to send your character off to manage his manor, and use one of the sons for adventuring.

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  45. >I'm trying my best to relearn 1e and move my game sessions along at a faster pace<

    I guess in my almost 30 years of
    1st e. (on and off) the thing that helped me make combat easier in the long run was houseruling almost everything away and mostly just keeping how much damage a weapons does. If need be, anyone on top of their game can determine in appropriate situations if a dagger is faster than a mace, or if a long sword or broad sword is best for a narrow tunnel fight.

    I think it was on some podcast, before I ever read James M's Grognardia or started my own blog, that I heard James goofing on there being almost a whole page in the DM guide devoted to the use of mirrors. You just know that shit came up in a bunch of tourney play, so it was one of many many things that got shoved into that tome. Cane you imagine how much more easier it would have been to work with if they had left out just 10% of that stuff. I mean, it was fun the first time you got the book, but how much did we ever use.

    I tell new players that I use a sort of AD&D 1st e. light, that I guess comes off a bit like OD&D with AD&D trappings. Then they go "Hunh?"

    >is that I have maybe at most a year of real-world time before the group dissolves or that some players express a desire to play a different game<

    Yeah, it's best to be hopeful yet realistic. And players should run their PC's like they will be around forever, but the sad fact is most won't. But maybe you can end up like me, able to get an old player or two as anchors for a new group with some new people down the line. Then the former characters can be popping up to be semi-npc's along with the 1st level spuds.

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  46. >Thundarr) who founded the Kingdom of Ambrosia with his best friend (a fighter equally-imaginatively named Mongo). I recall some great thought and effort put into finding a wife too.<

    I don't wanna know the means by which a Thundarr and Mongo went about getting a wife. I imagine the word "suave" never enters into the quest...

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  47. Brunomac said:
    I don't wanna know the means by which a Thundarr and Mongo went about getting a wife. I imagine the word "suave" never enters into the quest...

    Heh. I should have said "wives"; they weren't founding any sort of polyandrous kingdom. I mean, Thundarr and Mongo were friends, but only friends.

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  48. Birthright was that, but it was also pretty damn terrible at the same time. So much wrong with that setting.

    Agreed. I think that Birthright is the only D&D supplement in 30 years that I re-sold instead of keeping in my collection.

    Originally I bought hoping for usable mass-combat, naval, and dominion rules. But the mass-combat and naval rules were incredibly sketchy, indeed a literal card game with all of (I think) 12 possible positions on a card layout board. The dominion rules were inextricably tied up with the specific setting locations, backstory, and PC powers so as to be unusable in any personal setting.

    For my gaming needs, it was the hands-down least usable D&D product I ever owned. It was my great surprise to find that OD&D had more usable mass/naval/castle rules right in the original white box.

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  49. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  50. Nothing much to add here, except to declare my undying love for the 1981 Cook/Marsh Expert D&D rules! I love that book: its layout, its succinct presentation of many cool concepts, and its art (Otus, Dee, Willingham). The fact that the box set came with the epic Isle of Dread makes it too aweome for words.

    I wish that the Moldvay Basic & the Cook/Marsh Expert rules had been published together in a single 128 page hardback (with all the original art). That would've been wonderful. *sigh*

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  51. "I wish that the Moldvay Basic & the Cook/Marsh Expert rules had been published together in a single 128 page hardback (with all the original art). That would've been wonderful. *sigh*"

    That's basically Labyrinth Lord, without the art.

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  52. I always liked the endgame idea but never had a chance to play or run such. I thought that B1 and T1 were interesting becuase they showed sort-of adventurers-after-the-fact - how characters become part of the backdrop.

    In reading about early campaigns it seems like stronghold building had this going for it: players often had multiple characters, only one or two of which were at lord level, the rest of them family/henchmen/etc of the Lord level character - this gave everyone a safe home. It's an agreement between DM and player of very-powerful character. That valued character has a nice safe home where no blue bolts from the sky will come raining down...

    And high-level adventuring can get BORING! So the players would want to use some of their other (lower level) characters for challenging adventures.

    It's as artifical an endgame as any would be on a game designed for 'endless' play - but to my tastes it's preferable, as a rule, to deity-level ascension.

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  53. Agreed. It can be so much more than looting. You play a character after all.

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  54. do you stage barony-centered "adventures"? (like, your stronghold is threatened by . . .)
    and if so, how do you involve multiple players?

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  55. do you stage barony-centered "adventures"? (like, your stronghold is threatened by . . .)
    and if so, how do you involve multiple players?


    Immersion.

    By embeddeding characters in a setting they interact with setting's denizens. They develop contacts, friends, and enemies. In short they build a little social web.

    At first it used for little more then getting cool equipment or developing leads for the next adventures. But when they see the npcs as valuable in their own right they will try to promote the NPC's interests. Complications results which means more adventure.

    By the time the PCs are ready to build a stronghold all of them have vested interested. So while one PC becomes the Baron. The Magic-User is busy recruiting the mage's guild to open a magic shop, the cleric is building up the shrine and training healers for the army, the thief is finding all he can about rivals and enemies and making a nice sum on the side.

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  56. Geoffrey said: "For me this "end-game" is a non-issue since it just doesn't come up in our games. For example, my Carcosa campaign is almost 3 years old, and (IIRC) the highest level any PC ever attained before being slain was 6th. ,,,"

    I love you, Geoffey, but I just gotta say, "stop feeding your players slow potions..." ;)

    As for the rest, this, "end game" is definitely where it's at (and perhaps just part The #1, as there is a universe and planar "establishment" OUT THERE (which at the rate Geoffrey's players are advancing they will never see until in their real wheel chairs, sorry Geoffrey)) :) Joking...

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  57. I think the Expert Set would get a lot more gamer love if it really WAS the endgame.

    Yes in AD&D getting a barony was part of the "endgame", or at least part of being high level (since there really wasn't an end).

    However, BD&D kept having to top itself after the expert set.

    "You thought getting a barony was cool, what about when you ascend and become a god!"

    So I think either you liked that one upmanship, in which case you abandoned your love of the Expert Set for the even awesomer stuff that came later.

    Or you don't like "campaign by power creep", in which case the Expert Set is step one down that path.

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  58. What if: Someone in your campaign suggests building a Castle, or a fortified mansion, and peopling it, thus spending their monies in that manner? By extending the possibilities inherent in a "Live" game, would you allow such?

    That is where we saw the "Campaign" aspects of play-testing the ODnD game headed towards, and that was conversant with the campaign styles attributed to other games before its advent (Arneson's Napoleonic's Campaign, et al).

    The person "way above" (Al?), drew some great points about Conan, etc. That is spot on, actually. Conan starts "small" and ends up "large," so to speak (i.e., completes his goal, which was ever morphing due to the fluidity of the moment (he was a flagrant opportunist)).

    We had no qualms at all at DMing even higher leveled PCs in the original campaign, such as godlings, etc. Why? Because everything's equal if you scale it, just different and more involved intrigues, more Machiavellian, more pronounced with sinister dealings, more at stake, etc.

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  59. I like the Expert Set because it's so close to OD&D (much moreso than the 1981/83 Basic Sets, which start with Holmes and then deviate even further into their own thing), but it seems strange to me to praise them specifically for their "endgame" content when 1) everything regarding the endgame activities in the Expert Set was already in OD&D, and 2) the Expert Set actually leaves out a good deal of the detail and color of the original, such as the fact that cleric "barons" earn double the taxes of fighters, most of the details about NPC castles -- the odds of the inhabitants coming out, the cool list of "guards" (an EHP will share his castle with either trolls, vampires, spectres or white apes), the fact that fighters will challenge you to a joust and if you lose he takes your armor, but if you win he'll host you for up to a month and give you 2 weeks of rations and free warhorses when you depart -- the character support and upkeep rules (which gives a concrete reason to build a castle), some detail about baronies and investments (including the fact that baronies start out with 2-8 villages of 100-400 inhabitants each), the "angry villager rule," and the detailed aerial and naval combat rules (the Expert Set includes some coverage of both topics, but not as detailed as OD&D vol. III), and so on.

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  60. I love when the campaign has a couple of PC lords kicking about. It gives the players more connection to the campaign. A lot of the non adventuring stuff can also be done between sessions.

    There also become some very clear and obvious reasons to adventure-

    "I don't care what Count Allmounte thinks, the Wyrding wood west of the Allverainne river is MINE !"

    "What, no travelers have come down the north road in a week?"

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  61. One advantage of carving out your own stronghold that hasn't been stated is that it does allow you to retire high level characters (or at least let them enter semi-retirement).

    Of course you can still continue play at that level, although often it becomes much more akin to the traditional fantasy wargaming campaign that D&D originally grew out of.

    Of course you can head in different directions too. The original player-characters of the first (admitedly Monty Hallish) D&D campaign I ever played in, created their own strongholds and became literal dungeonmasters in that first campaign world. [The dungeons had been created by them in order to safeguard the power-sources they had acquired during play, which was the reason why purposefully-designed deathtrap dungeons existed in that world.]

    Hmmmm. That's got me thinking. Has anybody else constructed a dungeon in their game (either as a player character or as a non-player character), or are all of your dungeons artifacts from the distant past?

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  62. Ian said: "Hmmmm. That's got me thinking. Has anybody else constructed a dungeon in their game (either as a player character or as a non-player character), or are all of your dungeons artifacts from the distant past?"

    Yes! Robilar, Tenser and Terik from
    the original WoG campaign took over the first level of said castle and
    as the "terrible trio" barracked their troops and confederates there;
    Robilar's wizard, Otto, also created a complex (2 levels); and there are other examples from that earliest period.--RJK

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  63. T. Foster, as usual, makes some very fine comparative points.

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  64. One drawback for "typical" D&D stronghold building for me as GM is that I am using the same gameworld I came up with as a kid in the late 70's. Almost 120 years of game/character continuity.

    I don't usually like running the player character of an ex-player as an NPC. Over 25 years I have had long time players move away or whatever, leaving a high level character in important spots as royal wizard, or Guildmaster of theif organization, or royal groundskeeper or whatever.

    I can only imagine how bad it would be if I had fully encouraged hex-clearing and stronghold building for characters over the decades. My world would be full of these little mickey-mouse "baronies." New groups would have their characters tripping over them all over the place on the way to a dungeon or whatever.

    If you have a world as long as I have, and none of your players are going to be around forever, I heartily recommend that DM's jave high level characters just rent nice comfy rooms for the rest of their lives and forget about that cold, windy keep with your name on the front gate (little cottages by the beach are also acceptable retirement spots).

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  65. I heartily recommend that DM's have high level characters just rent nice comfy rooms for the rest of their lives and forget about that cold, windy keep with your name on the front gate (little cottages by the beach are also acceptable retirement spots).

    Win! cf. Valhalla, video game Hall of Fame, Pokemon's Battle Island.

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  66. I feel like stronghold building/henchmen procuring, while certainly an incredibly rewarding part of a good campaign, does not really need to have rules in a rulebook to govern it. I still have fond memories of the house my first adventuring party bought on the outskirts of the small town we were adventuring near. We mapped it out, spent money on local carpenters and stonemasons to add secret chambers and a basement level, came up with traps, etc. Great fun! Later, we procured the deed to a small castle. This was all in an AD&D second edition game, and really the only "rules" we needed were a conversation with the DM. I am presently running a 3e (albeit heavily modified) campaign, and with no prompting from me the players set about finding and hiring henchmen just because they were scared shitless about what they were going to find in the ancient temple to the old ones below the sewers that they had just found an entrance to. They started out with the idea to get cannon-fodder to sent first into potentially dangerous situations; however, in our last session, they risked life and limb to break these henchmen out of the prison cells where they were being held until the next new moon when they were to be sacrificed, mostly so they could clear their names of the supposed murder of these henchmen (they had been framed by some shape-shifting rat-demons in the employ of the cult) but also because of the attachment to the henchmen that they had formed in just four sessions! Why do you need rules to tell you how to get henchmen or build a stronghold? As a DM I was tickled pink when the players went to the refugee camp outside the city and started advertising amongst the displaced and penniless farmers for employees willing to risk life and limb for a few gold, and a little time on my part spent rolling up some NPC's and jotting down notes on their personalities is all it took to get the ball rolling. Likewise, decisions such as how much it would cost to build that moat, or dig that dungeon, etc, should only take a competent DM a few moments to make after a quick comparison of the PC's wealth with the costs of various goods in the campaign. If anything, I feel that the fewer things that are codified into a ruleset, the better. An interaction between enthusiastic players and an engaged DM should be able to come up with a solution to almost any situation imaginable in gameplay, from learning a new trade by simply roleplaying seeking out a master and apprenticing to him/her (or even simple trial and error! Screw skill points) to building a castle to acquiring followers. You could make a rulebook thousands of pages long and still not come up with everything that is going to come up during gameplay, so why not just buckle on the ole thinking cap, take a chance and just make something up as a DM? It has always worked in my experience.

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  67. Carl's post indeed is a worthy example and suggestion of how things were done in the day and how they can
    still be done without a rule for everything, which is indeed in keeping, as well, with the spirit and essence of the game.

    I also enjoyed the examples you gave, Carl. Such things as described in Up on a Soapbox, by EGG, wherein Robilar tasks his sage to discover time traveling techniques, etc., are not only fun to role-play but IMO add a richness to he game which cannot be found elsewhere.

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  68. There’s a reason I type B/X and Moldvay/Cook/Marsh rather than just Basic or Moldvay. I’d probably just say Expert except that I feel B/X suggests the 1981 edition. Though, the Mentzer Expert wasn’t so different. (Early printings, in fact, were even closer.)

    One of my friends calls it “Extra-crispy edition”. ^_^

    I prefer a D&D in which character progression tends to plateau past 9th level. It’s like any vocation: You progress rapidly as you’re learning the basics. Then you spend a lifetime slowly seeking mastery. PCs should eventually get involved in politics or retire. Or both!

    I dream of running a campaign in which a high-level PC comes out of retirement to lead middle-level PCs on a quest.

    Of course, there’s no wrong way to play, but that’s my preference.

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  69. Brunomac:
    "If you have a world as long as I have, and none of your players are going to be around forever, I heartily recommend that DM's jave high level characters just rent nice comfy rooms for the rest of their lives and forget about that cold, windy keep with your name on the front gate (little cottages by the beach are also acceptable retirement spots)."

    I strongly dislike this idea. With a continuing gameworld I think it's great when PCs have long term impact - founding kingdoms, becoming gods, ruling nations, determing the political course of the world, etc.

    When I wanted a fresh slate, I started a new gameworld.

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  70. I suppose, succinctly, I want to be the adventurer not the one hiring the adventurer.

    There's no reason you can't be both.

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  71. Your kidding, right James? The DM guide was full of all that shit I never used.

    The DMG has rules for stronghold construction, yes, but nothing much in the way of discussing how to build or maintain a barony.

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  72. I feel that 3E broke stuff by allowing hit-dice rolls at all levels (game design by expanding systemization); that's what makes hp enormously high at upper levels. OD&D knew this wouldn't work from the start, and that's why hp gains were minimized at around 9th level.

    I agree. Heck, I prefer not gaining full Hit Dice at every level, just as it is in the 3 LBBs.

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  73. Our group is about to start up a new Pendragon campaign. One of the things I love about the game is that this sronghold-building stuff is in there right from the start.

    Pendragon
    is one of my favorite games.

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  74. I've never actually played 0e but I wonder if it's even faster than 1e? If the PCs can advance to higher levels in a shorter amount of real-world time, then it stands to reason that high-level stronghold-building campaigns were more common before the advent of AD&D.

    OD&D combat is a fair bit quicker than AD&D, at least if you use all of AD&D's fiddliest rules.

    I'm not sure, though, that the earliest OD&D campaigns featured the characters reaching high levels all that quickly. They did so, certainly, and domain management was a common experience of those campaigns, but it had more to do with their overall longevity than the speed with which the PCs advanced.

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  75. For my gaming needs, it was the hands-down least usable D&D product I ever owned. It was my great surprise to find that OD&D had more usable mass/naval/castle rules right in the original white box.

    Absolutely. Birthright was a terrific "high concept" idea whose implications were never really considered beforehand and whose execution was a mess.

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  76. However, BD&D kept having to top itself after the expert set.

    "You thought getting a barony was cool, what about when you ascend and become a god!"


    That's the reason why I prefer the Moldvay/Cook rules sets to the Mentzer versions. I don't like the divine ascension angle for both esthetic and mechanical reasons.

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  77. I like the Expert Set because it's so close to OD&D (much moreso than the 1981/83 Basic Sets, which start with Holmes and then deviate even further into their own thing), but it seems strange to me to praise them specifically for their "endgame" content

    I didn't mean to imply that the Expert Rules were in any way superior or more praiseworthy than the OD&D originals in this respect, only that, given the greater prevalence of these rules, I'm surprised they don't get more love.

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  78. James, High concept bad execution describes a LOT of things about 2e D&D.

    Red Steel anyone?

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  79. Carl, it's not so much that we require specific rules for the endgame, but more that the endgame is at least considered. For example, there are no hireling rules in 4e, but you could easily just have some npcs available for a certain amount of gold. No problem. The issue is that these assumptions aren't built into 4e, which is based on a model of "1st level... but better" all the way. I think it's that which is what people miss. It's less about specific rules and more about an overall design, I think.

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  80. I also dearly miss the rules for managing a domain, using henchmen and sages, and building a stronghold.

    I think I disagree with the grognards in which I think that strongholds and domains are better handled as treasure rather than an automatic class/level ability. If you have an adventure path in which the story doesn't allow for time to stop and build a castle, the rules rather get in the way.

    But if you do a stronghold as treasure, the DM can give the players a stronghold or a title if it fits the campaign. The domain can produce income for the players and be a source of plot hooks.

    For the treasure value of the stronghold itself I wouldn't value it based on its size or on its materials as it has been traditionally done. Instead, I would value it based on the components of a keep. Each component of the keep could be given as treasure, or the PC's could build one for its value.

    For example, A warlock would be interested in a "dungeon" stronghold component which grants the services of a bound devil or monstrous minions. A rogue would be interested in a "hideout" stronghold component which grants income and rogue followers. A wizard gains a library and apprentices, a cleric a chapel that contains a relic and acolytes.

    You could imagine each class having a piece of the stronghold to call their own, with assistants to help with rituals, minor tasks, and domain management. In addition each class would gain a mechanical benefit for having that stronghold component equal to what a wondrous magical item would grant. It is hard to justify building a stronghold when you can buy magical items, when the magic items will be the things which you use in the dungeon to help you along or keep you alive.

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  81. You've hit a nail on the head there. The integration of the PCs into society is what drew me away from D&D to RuneQuest with the integral nature of play within Gloranthan society and a path whereby young headstrong youths could grow into responsible roles in society. I started on Basic/Expert but made the switch to RQ before we really came to grips with the strongholds and stuff in Expert. Your comment about it an endgame in D&D is very apt. My last D&D 3e game followed this path with the PCs effectively settling down as the local lords after 7-8 levels of adventuring in and around a small town on a peninsular. Once this happened it felt 'ok' to move on rather than just leaving the PCs in the air as happens in many games.

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  82. When I used to play 2nd edition, I had a regular group and we played for a couple of years and never reached ninth level with anyone. We also had very few character deaths.

    Now, I'm playing Labyrinth Lord and have been doing since october, once a week, every week. About the same rate as before. Yet we've already got a cleric and a thief up to 5th level and have had a ton of character deaths on the way.

    I would say advancement is definitely quicker in od&d then ad&d. I can even say why. 1gp = 1xp. That makes a big difference!

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  83. I would say advancement is definitely quicker in od&d then ad&d. I can even say why. 1gp = 1xp. That makes a big difference!

    If by "AD&D," you mean 2e, perhaps, but 1e used the same rules for XP as post-Supplement I OD&D, including the 1 gp = 1 XP rule.

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  84. Yep, second edition ad&d. I am liking the advancement rate that classic d&d brings with it, it's making the game feel more fluid.

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  85. > - founding kingdoms, becoming gods, ruling nations, determing the political course of the world, etc<


    I joke about retirement villages for PC's, but as far as becoming Gods or founding kingdoms, I don't think I have ever heard one of my players say that is what they want.

    Even players who are long gone in my games have left huge impact without all the stupd "get a kingdom like Conan" or "I want to be the God of whatever it is I did in mortal life"

    A few games ago I improvised a play the characters attended that had to do with the impact player characters had on the kingdom 50 years before. I was going by sheer memory of things that happened in my games in the 80's.

    Start all the "fresh" game worlds you want, you'll probably never get something as deep as that experience. My newer players were blown away. Completly immersed in my world. I still do this shit just for feelings like that. My world has weight, even if a PC never clears a hex and builds a castle. Their impact historically is huge.

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  86. >The DMG has rules for stronghold construction, yes, but nothing much in the way of discussing how to build or maintain a barony<

    Then in true Grognard fashion James, you grab up your old copy of Chivalry and Sorcery. Mounds of that stuff.

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  87. >But if you do a stronghold as treasure, the DM can give the players a stronghold or a title if it fits the campaign. The domain can produce income for the players and be a source of plot hooks<

    That's a good point, Gerber T. I think I did a lot of that without even giving it much thought. Castle won in a card game, keep manor house left by an uncle. They have even just come across abandoned keeps/monestary/grange houses and just said "shit, it's only a week from the big city. let's HQ here."

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  88. Building and experiencing new varieties of campaign/world settings is consistent with the game in its norm; and indeed experiencing many types and varieties of experiences within these enriches the playing and DMing experience overall and at different, and often, more exalted levels of comprehension and expanded creativity for both. This is consistent with the "Front-Game," which I believe is being exhorted by a few here, which in sum is a large part of this "end game, that of immersing oneself in as many of the game's open-ended attributes as possible. This expands creative dimensions exponentially and moves experiences to different levels of creative immersion for both players and DMs. I personally have found this more refreshing than not attempting same, at least, and prefer it for said reasons, though YMMV.--RJK

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  89. I think I disagree with the grognards in which I think that strongholds and domains are better handled as treasure rather than an automatic class/level ability. If you have an adventure path in which the story doesn't allow for time to stop and build a castle, the rules rather get in the way.

    It is hard to justify building a stronghold when you can buy magical items, when the magic items will be the things which you use in the dungeon to help you along or keep you alive.

    Many of these grognards, however, prefer sandboxes to adventure paths. In their campaigns, magic items cannot be easily bought. If you’re already playing a completely different style of game, it should be no surprise that you feel differently about strongholds and domains.

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  90. Yeah, I've actually ran some games in my FLGS with what I consider the "modern player".

    They tried telling me I couldn't prevent them from making magic items, and were keeping track of their treasure, to remind me that they were behind the wealth per level rules.

    When I started laughing at them they were very confused.

    It actually turned into a good game, though they would occasionally grumble that I had poisoned the mind of their regular DM, in that I taught him that the rules were really more like guidelines.

    It was a strange position for me to be in. In the Old Days (TM) I was actually one of the more "by the book" DMs that I knew.

    I didn't want to run D&D in name only. I knew plenty of DMs who did.

    By today's standards though, I'm a rebel.

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  91. The issue is that these assumptions aren't built into 4e, which is based on a model of "1st level... but better" all the way. I think it's that which is what people miss. It's less about specific rules and more about an overall design, I think.

    That's exactly right. The appeal of old school games for me is that they were written with these things in mind rather than their being something tacked on to them as an afterthought.

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  92. Then in true Grognard fashion James, you grab up your old copy of Chivalry and Sorcery. Mounds of that stuff.

    I could, but I'd rather just go back to my 3 LBBs and use the info there. :)

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  93. By today's standards though, I'm a rebel<

    Amen, brutha.

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  94. I am quite late to this discussion, so the comment is probably pointless. :)
    Anyway. In all of my campaigns (from Mentzer D&D to AD&D) we always used the idea of the "end game". My players have always looked forward to becoming rulers of some sort. My "golden standard" when it comes to evaluating a fantasy RPG is whether it has idea/rules to handle this type of high level game.

    I would also say that "Immortal level" play is not something which goes against the old-school ideas. The Chronicles of Amber are an example of how Immortal level play can be engaging. Actually, Gary mentions Zelazny in the Appendix N of the DMG.

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  95. I realize I'm replying to a very old post but I was thinking about this today, specifically the Mentzer and the RMC's options to become something other than a barony builder and 3rd edition prestige classes.

    What if you took the Mentzer idea and melded with prestige classes. Instead of prestige classes being their 3rd edition power path they instead represented a path to greater responsibility in line with a character's class. Instead of becoming a Baron a fighter might become a Questing Knight who emulated Galahad, the Paladin becomes not another fighter class but the alternative advancement option for the cleric, instead of becoming a tower wizard the wise magician becomes the hand of fate a la Merlin or, for something a bit more prosaic Belgarath from Eddings.

    In this case I think the basic idea behind the Old School D&D endgame is retained and a prestige class actually becomes the assumption of a prestigious position in the world.

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  96. Eh, I've personally always found the idea of prestige classes a little gimmicky, but you've got an interesting idea. My only objection is that most of that stuff (with the exception maybe of the Questing Knight) would be a little weird to model with experience points. That kind of thing might be better handled by little subsystems, especially the paths that aren't very good sources of XP.

    Mostly, I can't think of any reason killing things and taking their stuff would make a baron politically stronger or *any* character immortal. Of the three characters who ever achieved that in any of my games (which have lasted for 13 years or so), one did it with an artifact that slowly transformed him into the guardian spirit of a forest, another did a trio of gods a *huge* favor at risk of much worse than death (and then pledged himself to eternal service), and a third made a deal for unending youth with a major devil and managed to trick it out of collecting her soul. Mere XP seems almost *boring* in comparison.

    I actually prefer to divorce these sorts of thing from XP entirely - even ignoring the "name-level" proviso in OD&D and Basic. I find the prohibitive cost in gold of maintaining an army, building a castle, and conducting serious magical research pretty much limits it to name-level characters anyhow, but if they are just gonna build a castle in the middle of nowhere, I don't see why a less experienced character with a sizable windfall shouldn't be allowed to share the love.

    It *would* be nice to see some sample guidelines for a late-game rise to power in the rules, though. When I was a teenager with AD&D, I had no idea how to handle any of that stuff.

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  97. I think assumption of a prestigious position in the world has always been an option in the end game and that it needs no mechanics.

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  98. Mechanics, no. But I think having costs for hiring retainers, building and maintaining structures and facilities, and maybe a "Random Kingdom Events" table for inspiration would've really helped AD&D.

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  99. CLARIFICATION: It did have some of that stuff to a degree, but it could have used something that would actually fit into a coherent set of mass combat rules.

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  100. I think the outdoors is definately a whole new 'level' after the dungeon, but the thing with keeps and baronies is not for everyone's taste. However, the wilderness and its exploration is as vast as the campaign world is allowed to be.
    And the whole deity thing is a bit over the top for my taste. In fact, an important part of my D&Dish game system is KEEPING THE CHARACTERS MORTAL- and not losing the sense of danger and fatality that lurks around each corner (and threats to sanity- as I mix with Lovecrafting stuff...). I can't stand super-PCs who do 9 attacks per round, and inflict more damage than the Tarrasque. (even more foul than bearded dwarven women...)

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  101. Wow, this is a very long comment thread. Three things I thought of while reading the post and thread:

    1) The best stronghold-building game I've played is Ars Magica, bar none. The game basically tells you that the covenant (stronghold) is the main character, and it's the history of the covenant that's being told by the game sessions. I keep looking for ways to bring that same sense of shared persistence to other games.

    2) For me, the most exciting thing in the BECMI system was always the mass combat rules. I never got to use them in a real game, but I spent a lot of time planning out armies and strategies and strongholds to be assaulted.

    3) I ran a long 3e game with a stronghold, and it was pretty simple. The nation has been devastated by a war and a plague, and so vast areas are basically abandoned. To repopulate the place, the king announces that anyone willing to put together a village charter, enough willing would-be villagers, and reclaim a lost village will be granted the lands around it by royal writ. So a group posted notices around the capital city looking for adventurers to clear and defend the village of Frosthold.

    My PCs went along, flushed out the village, keep, and dungeon under the keep, and then were basically kept on under retainer by the new village mayor. All their adventures revolved around rebuilding, defending, and administering the village and its lands.

    Ultimately, I wrote my own mass combat system, and the climax of the game involved a rebellion that coincided with an invasion of undead armies under the command of the various High Priests of Orcus, who had been biding their time for the last decade (since the first great war). At this point, the PCs were around level 10(ish), and had been engaged in active stronghold building and maintenance for years of game time. Commanding armies to defend the whole kingdom was a natural next step.

    I've generally found that when I adopt some of the Ars Magica concepts into games (really, almost any game) -- here is where you live; this is your home and you must defend it; go out adventuring to improve your home -- you get a couple of neat results. Players who might be hesitant to play in sandbox style will start constructing their own adventures ('our town needs a trading post! let's go meet with various guild representatives and try to recruit one!'). Players who might be willing to risk themselves in stupid behavior will moderate themselves far more if that behavior means the inn they just built will get burned down. And players who aren't highly involved in the game normally will often show up to games with detailed maps, supply lists, NPC names, family trees, and so forth.

    It's always felt, to me, like something you can simply build into the game from the start, right at level 1. For instance, take your typical megadungeon, which often has unspecified 'upper works'. Give the 'upper works' and thus the dungeon itself to the players as a stronghold. Now they have to deal with the dungeon because it's under their keep -- and the first time they haul a 5000gp ruby out of it, they have to defend their keep from other adventurers who want in.

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  102. I think the problem with the idea of endless play is that everyone seems to equate this to playing forever with a single character. Not only would this be boring and annoying if you wanted to try something different but the gain in power no matter how slow would quickly make it all but impossible to find good challenges. Whatever you have for an end game should be more of a place to store your high level guys for when you want to break out the killer dungeons and take a whirl at them. As many people have said or at least hinted at levels 3 to 8 are the funnest to play. A game world has infinite possibility's if done right so lets all roll up a new character and get our feet dirty in that low level stuff once more.

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  103. "You'll find lots of gamers who will sing the praises of the Basic Rules [...] but it's rare to find many who express the same affection for the Expert Rules..."

    Yep. For a reason. I always thought the Expert Rules were kinda cheap, as compared to the Basic Rules that came before and the Companion, master and immortals Rules that came after them.

    For starters: Unlike any other D&D set, the Expert Rules had only *one* rulebook. That one book had its content divided by a "player's section" and a "DM section".(Sure, the Expert game also included that "Isle of dread" module-- but that doesn't cange anything about the fact that players and DMs are two different things and deserve and need separate manuals that symbolize and drive home that fact.)

    Besides, any of the other sets of "classic D&&D" had a separate book for players and DMseach-- yet Expert Set lacked that important distinction. Already a heavy faux pass.

    Also, with *one* exeption, every set of D&D Classic had its own unique theme and "feel":

    1) Basic rules was the "starter set" for D&D, introducing dungeon-crawls, characters, monsters and treasure.

    3) Companion rules was about high-level characters, as well as being about what basically *used* to be D&D's "endgame": building and managing strongholds and dominions.

    4) Master rules was about "epic" characters, planar travels and the quest to become gods.

    5) And finally, Immortals was about the gods that used to be mortal characters-- something implicit in D&D at least since Greyhawk Supplement, where Gygax introduced the magic-user spell "Wish".

    The one exception? Well: 2) Expert rules introduces... wilderness adventuring? In fact, it introduced a lot more, but didn't clarify those, because one book just didn't hold enough for them.

    For instance, it introduced the "name level". That level represents a sort of "threshold", where the character shows himself to be one of the most powerful characters in the world; for example, at the name level, a cleric can raise the dead.

    But this important stage of a character's life lies just in the middle of the first third of a character's potential levels!

    Strongholds/dominions were shortly talked about, but belong more truly to the Companion rules, which were all *about* character ruling.

    And finally, because Expert drew its inspiration directly from OD&D, as seen trough the lenses of Holmes etc, it felt more like something that should've been tacked on to the Basic rules, which likewise drew its inspiration from the same source.

    To make it short: Expert Rules was a wart on the face of the whole BECMI game. It was underdeveloped: written as "expansion" to the OD&D-derived basic rules, even as the game itself was being redeveloped, reevaluated and improved by Mentzner.

    That's why OD&D's original "endgame" starts out in the middle of the first quarter of the whole game. And that's likewise why it is so damnably compatible with the Red Box: for, in truth, the red box depicts a sanitized look at the first half of OD&D, while the blue box depicts a sanitized treatment of the second half.

    However, while Expert Rules fails as a separate step towards the "endgame" (i.e. the Immortals rules), it serves just adequately as a stepping stone between Basic and Companions.

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  104. Andreas - I'm prety sure that comment was made in re the 1981 Basic/Expert game (each of which was contained within a 64-page book), rather than the 1983 BECMI rules you are referring to.

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  105. Matthew:

    Thanks for the hint, but James refers to both versions: "You'll find lots of gamers who will sing the praises of the Basic Rules[...] but it's rare to find many who express the same affection for the Expert Rules, whether the Cook/Marsh or Mentzer version".

    And frankly, even in the early version of Expert, it's easy to see why: we got dungeon-delving, then wilderness-cleaning and finally building strongholds. That's it. And just about 80% of potential adventure possibilities (planar traveling, city adventures, intrigues at a court, to name just 3)are flat-out ignored. no wonder the Expert game isn't loved by us.

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  106. I'm so glad you posted this. The Expert set has long held a special place for me, and I still draw inspiration from it!

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  107. Ageed.

    Could never understand the character arc in companion, masters and immortal settings.

    Becoming a king, I understand.

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