As I mentioned in a previous post, I mentioned a section at the start of the AD&D Players Handbook entitled simply "The Game." It's a fascinating section, because it lays out, over the course of about a dozen paragraphs, Gary Gygax's understanding of not just AD&D but roleplaying – and RPG campaigns – in very broad terms. There's a lot of insight to be gleaned from this section, which is why I'm returning to it again this week.
As with most other role playing games, this one is not just a single-experience contest. It is an ongoing campaign, with each playing session related to the next by results and participant characters who go from episode to episode.
The importance of the campaign is something I've been emphasizing over the course of the last year. I've grown ever more convinced that it's the key to understanding Gygaxian (and probably Arnesonian) D&D and that that understanding can in turn be applied to many other early roleplaying games (like Empire of the Petal Throne and Traveller, to name two with which I am very familiar). In fact, I am increasingly of the opinion that it's impossible to play D&D as intended outside of the context of a long campaign.
As players build the experience level of their characters and go forth seeking ever greater challenges, they must face stronger monsters and more difficult problems (and here the Dungeon Master must likewise increase his or her ability and inventiveness).
This and what immediately follows is an echo of things Gygax says in the Dungeon Masters Guide. I wish to draw attention to his invocation of "inventiveness." He is absolutely right to do so, as it's one of the keys to ensuring continued player interest over the course of months and years. I very much doubt that my House of Worms campaign, now just shy of six and a half years of active play, would have lasted as long as it has had I not continually demonstrated the kind of inventiveness Gygax recommends.
While initial adventuring usually takes place in an underworld setting, play gradually expands to encompass other such dungeons, town and city activities, wilderness explorations, and journeys into other dimensions, planes, times, worlds, and so forth.
This is a superb summation of the expected development of a Dungeons & Dragons campaign and the one for which the game's design works best. That's not to say that other approaches cannot be used successfully – they certainly can – but the progression that Gygax outlines here is, I think, the surest path to campaign longevity and enjoyment. I think it noteworthy that he mentions "journeys into other dimensions, planes, times, worlds" as the kinds of places where higher-level characters seek adventure.
Players will add characters to their initial adventurer as the milieu expands so that each might actually have several characters, each involved in some separate and distinct adventure form, busily engaged in the game at the same moment of "Game Time." This allows participation by many players in games which are substantially different from game to game as dungeon, metropolitan, and outdoor settings are rotated from playing to playing.
This is another aspect of old school play that I think is forgotten nowadays: the play of multiple characters. In my House of Worms campaign, this is not unusual. Most of the players have several characters whom they can play at any given time, depending on what is happening in the session. For example, the player of the scholarly priest of Sárku, Keléno, played a crotchety navigator named Váshur when some of the characters set off on an extended sea voyage around the east coast of the Achgé Peninsula. Months went by as that voyage continued and Keléno, though one of the original characters of the campaign, was not played. Eventually, focus shifted back – both in space and time – to the city of Linyaró, where Keléno remained, and his player again took him up again (and the other players assumed the roles of others who remained behind with him). This "back and forth" is quite common in our campaign and has, I firmly believe, contributed to its health and longevity.
And perhaps a war between players will be going on (with battles actually fought out on the tabletop with miniature figures) one night, while on the next, characters of these two contending players are helping each other survive somewhere in a wilderness.
Now, this is something I've yet to see in any of my recent campaigns. The characters of the House of Worms are a tight-knit bunch and, for the most part, their disagreements are ephemeral. That said, Tékumel is full of secret societies and clandestine factions, some of whom have attempted to recruit the PCs. It's certainly possible that, one day, as they continue to rise in power and influence within the Tsolyáni Empire, they might come to blows.
In the meantime, though, what's very clear – and what Gygax alludes to here – is that, in a good campaign, the players can take on many roles, each distinct and each adding to the depth and texture of the whole. While I am very fond of saying that "the referee is a player too," a corollary to this is that "players are world-builders too." By this I mean only that no campaign should be so tightly controlled that there is not room for creative contributions by the players. If anything, a referee should welcome such contributions and afford opportunities for them whenever possible. This has happened too many times to count in the House of Worms campaign and it's all the better for it.