Play the Domain Game at low levels too!

This is a post I originally published on January, 15th 2023. My original post was written in german. But since I figured it might be of interest to english readers as well, here’s a translation:

Back the other day, over on our Discord server, I was babbeling about hirelings and followers, and how to level up faster…

Before we start, we should be aware of the the difference between hirelings and followers:

Hirelings: they cost wages and money for equipment and upkeep. They get no XP and no levels, but their number limited only by cost(!). A low-level player character could bring 20 Hirelings as long as he/she can afford it.

But, wait a minute, wouldn’t 20 Hirelings be something like a 20 Hit Dice monster with 20 attacks per turn? 🙀

Followers: they also want equipment, but expect shares of treasure as their pay. And they get XP and levels. Their number is limited by Charisma.

You need both, I think: the hirelings to ambush the big monsters at a low level. So more gold, more XP, faster leveling up for the main character. You need followers to build backup characters and stronger teams for the even bigger monsters. For example, how about a level 3 mage with two level 2 warriors, a thief and 20 hirelings?

Example of 20 hirelings being hired as combatants:

I calculated the upcoming numbers using my new Swords & Wizardry rulebook … this is significant, because a german translation of S&W was published recently, makeing an early TSR-era, D&D compatible rules set available in german again for the first time since the mid 80s


20 x ringmail 600 gp
20 shields 300 gp
20 hand axes 20 gp
10 short bows 150 gp
20 sleeping bags 4 gp
20 Canteens 1 gp

2 handcarts 20 gp

total 995 gp

Monthly charges

Upkeep 20 gp
Lieutenant 6 gp
2 Sergeants 8 GM

17 infantrymen 34 gp

total 68 gp

So, with an initial investment of 1,063 gp, you could really rock it. Of course you should do everything you can to keep loyalty and morale high 😁

And the example also hints at why you shouldn’t do this setup during a game session. Don’T have the others wait, while you do the big shopping. Such strategic planning is perfect for the downtime between games, and when you tell your game master about your great new plans, they also have the opportunity to prepare a corresponding scenario 🤓

Mind you, three level 1 player characters and the above crew would have a substantial chance against a 9-headed Hydra (23 TW vs. 9 TW).

Of course, this presupposes that the player characters do (a) know about the Hydra and (b) have enough dough to but together their entourage. They could always try and get the Baron to pay (RPG encounter!). Or they might still have to do some tradional dungeon delving to come up with enough treasure. Anyway, getting rid of that old Hydra would certainly be widely appreciated.

Well, assuming it works, let’s say two of the three player characters and 2/3 of the mercenaries survive. They would come back with 850 XP each for the Hydra and a treasure worth about 3,400 gp. That would be around 2,550 XP per level 1 player character, all in one session: bam! leveled up! …

Aha, so that’s how you do the Domain Game at the low levels 💡🤓

And while we’re talking big money, why not invite those mercenaries (and the GM) to a proper banquet afterwards!

Did this Domain Game fail?

Back in March 2022 while having refereed some 15 sessions of our Traveller 5 Octagon Campaign, I stumbled across some posts about Patron Style play in classic D&D campaigns. Patron style play is often, and probably much more commonly, referred to as domain level play, or simply domain game, so think of those terms as being synonyms for each other. I’ve commented on the topic in general over here. In any case, I was so fascinated by the idea, that I tried to incorporate domain level play into the ongoing campaign.

While I’m still convinced, that patron style play is a great idea, which should be conducive to the campaign style I’m aiming for, I must admit that my experiment didn’t work out as expected. I’ll try to pin down a couple of reasons as to why this happened, and what I’d likely try, in order to be more successful in the future.

This is a lengthy post. For a quick read, you might want to skip ahead to the section “So, what happened?” below. For the dauntless, let me begin by briefly recapitulating:

Domain level play? Patron style? What are you talking about?

Just to give you a quick idea, in patron or domain level games, players take up the roles of influential rulers and leaders who might command armies and may have large amounts of resources at their disposal. With this kind of gaming, players are more or less expected to play antagonistically to each other, rather than play the usual collaborating adventuring party. Of course domain level play harkens back to the war games, our modern role playing games developed out of.

The fascinating thing about domain level play as part of role playing game campaigns is the potential for the players to generate their own adventure hooks. If for example a player fancies, the prince she’s playing is going to invade the neighboring country: Conflict arises and adventure hooks follow naturally: someone has to scout out the enemies defenses, bands of raiders might be hired to steal money and weapons to fund the invasion, and so on. Sometimes things might be played out in the manner of your usual role playing, other times large scale conflict might be solved using actual war gaming rules.

Patron Characters in the Octagon Campaign

The Octagon Campaign had four Patron Characters. There was pharma business tycoon Virginia Edgerton, played by @kensanata:

# Virgina Edgerton

UPP 773A9C (50) Citizen, 7 terms, home world: Vland (A967A9A-F Hi Cs)

Broker-13, Admin-3, Trader-3, Advocate-3, Bureaucrat-3, Psychohistory-3, <One Science>-3, <One Art>-1, Computer-1, Counsellor-1, Liaison-1, Hostile Env-1, Rider-1, Streetwise-1

## Commonly known information

Ruthless entrepreneur with main base in the Rhylanor Subsector. Fame-20 (sector wide). Her portfolio includes, among others, Fico Pharmaceuticals & Insurances. The tabloids say she owns a superyacht on Rhylanor.

## Goals/Motivation

* Increase your wealth
* finally be ennobled
* Expand Fico Pharmaceuticals & Insurances 
  into a sector-wide MegaCorp.

## Resources

* 400 foot super yacht on Rhylanor with 
  landing platform for her speeders. Skipper 
  *Elon Linkovich* is loyal to Virginia.
* Generally good relations to the high 
  society of Rhylanor, including the Duke.
* 100% ownership of Fico Pharmaceuticals & 
  Insurances, annual sales MCr 950
* Stocks/Shares:
  - Rhylanor Shipyards (overhaul, repair, 
    construction of star ships): 10%
  - Oberlindes (Major shipping line, feeder 
    routes to all major starports, charter 
    traffic outside imperium): 0.1%
  - Tukera (Long Distance Shipping along 
    XBoat Routes) 1%

There was the mighty Duke of Rhylanor, played by Conti:

# His Grace Cosmin Hault Draghicescu, the Duke of Rhylanor

UPP 4658AF (62) Noble, 11 terms

World Knowledge (Rhylanor)-8, Advocate-5, Leader-4, Navigation-4, Flyer-3, Bureaucrat-2, Blades-2, High G-2, Strategy-2, Comms-2, Artist-2, Athlete-2, Diplomat-1, Language (Zhodani)-1, Liaison-1, Tactics-1, Philosophy-1, Zero-G-1

## Commonly known information

The Duke owns a princely estate on Rhylanor, as well as lands on various planets in the Rhylanor sub-sector. Formally representing the interests of the Emperor, Strephon Aella Alkhalikoi. He is the commander-in-chief of the Rhylanor Imperial Navy.

## Goals/Motivation

* Maintain law and order in the sub-sector
* Prevent another Zhodani invasion, at least 
  stand out as a victorious general.
* Secure and increase family wealth
* Advance to Sector Duke of the Spinward 

## Resources

* Royal estate on Rhylanor
* Land grants on Rhylanor and all other 
  main worlds in the subsector with a base 
  income of around 3.8 MCr per year.
* 25 proxies in the Imperial Parliament, 
  the *Moot Spire* on *Capital*, messages 
  take about a year there and back.
* Commander-in-chief of the Rhylanor 
  Subsector Navy.
   The following can be mobilized at short 
   - *Ruthless*, Batte Cruiser, Regal class, 
     75,000 tons, Jump-4, currently in the 
     Regina system (Regina subsector)
   - *Revenge*, Regal Class Battle Cruiser, 
     75,000 tons, Jump-4, currently in the 
     Rhylanor system
   - *Regulator*, Regal Class Battle Cruiser, 
     75,000 tons, Jump-4, currently in the 
     Lonesda system
   - Two 400 t *System Defense Boats* Jump-0 
     in each system of the subsector
   - Squadronds of three 400 ton *Type CE 
     Close Escorts*, Jump-4 in the Rhylanor, 
     Jae Tellona, Margesi and Porozlo systems

There was the smart Zhodani Agend Karthik Salvi, played by Moritz:

# Karthik Salvi

UPP 674B59 (44) Agent, 6 terms

Bureaucrat-3, Grav Flyer-3, Stealth-2, Language (Anglic)-2
Navigation-2, Pilot-2, Turrets-2, Vacc Suit-1, Survival-1, Rider-1,

Codename: the jackal

Chief agent of Zhodani Intelligence in the sector. A slim,
tall man with a carefully trimmed full beard and accurate manbun.

## Goals/Motivation

* Undermine and weaken Imperial forces 
  in the Rhylanor sub-sector.

* Gather intelligence to prepare for 
  another invasion of the sector.

## resources

* Intelligence base on Fulacin disguised 
  as a company MagnetoDynamics Inc., which 
  operates the class A spaceport.
* Agents on Yori/Regina subsector, Jae 
  Tellona and Gitosy, both Rhylanor 
* encrypted communication to the 
  following Zhodani ships:
  - "Aasha" - Shivva Class Patrol Frigate 
    600 tons, Jump-4, currently on diplomatic 
    mission in Celepina system (Rhylanor)
  - "Aazaadee" - Shivva Class Patrol Frigate, 
    600 tons, Jump-4, currently on a secret 
    mission in the Gitosy system
  - "Pragati" - Shivva Class Patrol Frigate,
    600 tons, Jump-4, currently on a secret 
    mission in the Henoz system

At first none of the other players knew that Moritz was secretly playing an enemy spy. I saw much potential in this set up, but I will comment on this later.

Finally there was the head of an extra-imperial corporate state , one 07#23MAJ, called “Major Seven”, played by Pyromancer:

# Director 07#23MAJ

called *Major 7*, Home world *Termous Dex* (Vilis)

UPP B4A8AB (54), Genetic Profile: 6644XX

Merchant 4 terms, Functionary 6 terms.

Bureaucrat-9, <one art>-6, Broker-5, Leader-5, Admin-4, Advocate-4,
Biology-3, Steward-3, Strategy-3, Vacc Suit-2, Diplomat-2, Driver-0
(Grav-2), Comms-2, Astrogator-1, JOT-1, Sensors-1, Teacher-1 Trader-1

Benefits: Directorship, Life insurance, Knighthood (Soc B)

## Commonly known information

Major 07#32MAJ, known as Major Seven, is the chief official of the
Tremous Dex Inc.

Obvious resource is the planet located outside of the Empire:
Tremous Dex in the Vilis subsector. As the supreme decision-making authority, Major Seven has ultimate authority over the merchant fleet
of Tremous Dex, all ships of the 2,000 ton CARAVAN class. How many
there are, where they are currently located, and ultimately, the where abouts of Major 7 are not known.

## Goals

* Open up the market for high-tech 
  pharmaceuticals in the Spinward Marches.
* If necessary, drive potential competitors 
  out of the market.
* Develop the market for industrially 
  manufactured "Synthetics", i.e. androids 
  based on human clones
* Research project: programmable psionics. 
  There is a constant need for psionic 
  gifted "breeding material". 
* Ultimately introduce psionically 
  controllable military androids, with the 
  Zhodani Consulate being the most likely 

## Resources

* The planet Tremous Dex (Vilis subsector), 
  with a factory that produces human clones 
  and synthetics with high efficiency.
* 10 ships of the 2,000 ton CARAVAN class
  - 3 of them, numbers X76, X21 and X98 
    are currently located on a trading trip 
    in the Zhodani Consulate
  - 3 CARAVAN ships X28, X33 and X95 are 
    in the home system Tremous Dex.
  - 4 ships are currently in the Spinward 

    The X42 under Commander Zes 62#13ZES, 
    currently in jump space between *Jae 
    Tellona* and Rhylanor. The ship will 
    arrive 064-1106.

    The X12 under Commander Major 
    07#23MAJ (that's you!) in the Porozlo 
    system (Rhylanor). A civil war is 
    currently looming there.

    The X13 under Commander Roc 87#18ROC 
    in the Paya system (Aramis)

    The X99 under Commander Hui 44#99HUI 
    in the Extolay system (Lanth)

The Patron Game Turn

I send out “News” to each Patron player once per week, asking for a reaction. Here’s an example of the news I initially send to the Duke:

## News 014-1106

* The *CARAVAN X42* a large trader ship 
  owned by Tremous Dex Inc. is currently in 
  the Henoz system. It is assumed that the 
  journey will continue via Celepina to 
  Jae Tellona.

* A price war appears to be brewing between 
  the Shovelton and Oberlindes trader lines.

* Smugglers are regularly caught in the Jae 
  Tellona system.

* Fico Pharmaceuticals & Insurances, a 
  company wholly owned by oligarch Virginia 
  Edgerton (also based on Rhylanor), seems 
  concerned about competition from Tremous 
  Dex. Rumor has it that Virginia is preparing 
  to send a trade delegation to Tremous Dex.

I gave the following basic instructions to each patron player:

As a reaction, a written order is then sent back to the referee, who will implement the effects in the campaign world. Anything could be ordered: sending out diplomatic missions or agents, assembling troops, throwing a party for the rich and famous, whatever. And even if someone were to declare war, the campaign can’t be ruined by it. It would only get more dramatic. There can/may/should be interaction with the regular player groups. For example, the assignment of a special unit to steal industrial secrets could lead to an adventure for one of the player groups.

These were basically “the rules”. Reactions varied quite a bit from concise, bullet pointed orders, to lengthy explanations of general strategies, to play by post style, first person statements and descriptions of imagined dialogues.

So, what happend?

First let me say, that all players send back great orders and reactions. Some were puzzling, almost all entertaining, and I saw dedicated engagement in the characters and the gaming world, all around.

The domain game provided some color. It was fun to have the players scan a system, reveal a Zhodani Ship far out, and know, that this particular ship is actually controlled by a player.

As expected some interesting plot hooks were generated, the highlights of which were:

  • Assemble pirate crews to interfere with Tremous Dex Inc. and destabilize the neighboring subsectors with a ducal letter of marque.
  • Recruit a covert mission to Gerome to get a sample of the clones alledgedly produced there.
  • Assassinate the Dukes Spy.

Unfortunately, neither of these became relevant. In one instance I could have introduced the Covert Mission to Gerome but, simply forgot about it. In all other instances, the characters were simply to busy with whatever they were doing, and had no demand for new jobs or missions.

My favourite situation that arose from the domain game, was the opportunity to let one of the patron characters, Karthik Salvi, the Zhodani Spy, have a “cameo appearance” during one of the regular sessions. The players were quite surprised when their characters went to see the star port warden and suddenly a new player joined our sesssion to act as an antagonistic player. The effect for me as the referee was actually amazing: I could lean back and watch the situation unfold as the opposing characters played out the situation.

Apart from that, all patron players obviously had to struggle with the “slow” speed of communication. As in the Traveller Universe news won’t travel faster than jump speed, most of the time the players saw the results of their orders literal weeks later. For example, when Karthik‘s Agent Cobra had been uncovered by Major Seven, it took two actual weeks to get the information back to Karthik, almost a month after Karthik had ordered Agent Cobra to go on her secret mission in the first place. For me as a referee this generated a feeling for how enormous those astronomic distances really are, but I think it was quite difficult for the players to maintain a feeling of ongoing plot that way. Really, a lot of information generated in the domain game simply got lost. Almost none of the players realized, that one of them was actually playing an enemy spy. A timely reveal might have led to a very different, and much more interesting development of events.

Curiously two of the Patron Characters, Virginia Edgerton and Duke Draghicescu were in the same system all the time. By logic of the basic Traveller rules, their players could have comunicated with each other directly, with no imposed delay at all, even without knowledge of the referee, but they consistently relied on me relaying the communication back and forth. I assume they simply didn’t realize the advantage they actually had.

Also, I quickly felt, that whatever the Patron Characters did seemed to be lacking in terms of consequences. There were almost no game mechanics to engange with, hardly any risks to be felt, no obvious gains to be won, appart from interactively telling the story. And the story as a whole was only visible to me as the referee, anyhow. There was just too little feedback of the Domain Game back to the regular players.

Finally, the most crucial problem I found was this: Each week I prepared a seperate set of news items for each player and relayed all messages back and forth between all players. As the players orders were in no particular, or standardized format, this afforded a lot of rephrasing, paraphrasing, formatting, and paying attention to the speed of news, as well as keeping a calender to remind myself, when some remote event would actually become known to each player respectively. Plainly, this was just too much work! Before the end of the campaigns first season I gave up on the domain game, to be able to concentrate on the two regular gaming groups.

While at the time all of this felt like a failure then, I can now see:

My takeaways

  • Generously feed back any developments in the domain game to the whole group. Make sure everyone knows what’s going on. Start sessions with current XBoat News, gossiping tavern patrons, summaries of current rumors, whatever is appropropriate to the setting. Make everyone benefit from the extra work. There will still be enough fog of war.
  • No free form orders. Everything must be send as a message with a clearly stated recipient, ready to be relayed as is. NPC recipients will adhere to the word as precisely as possible.
  • Encourage direct communication, whenever the situation allows it.
  • No individual news posts. “Publish” campaign news for everyone to see, other than that, only relay messages as stated above.
  • Use the rules and mechanics the respective game system provides: Traveller has the Social Status attribute, military ranks and a hierarchy of nobility, D&D has rules for “name level” characters and their strongholds. These are the basics for any domain game, they’re baked into the original rules, and they are there for a reason.
  • Use the monetary systems, the rules provide. They make risks and gains tangible.
  • Be explicit about the speed of communication.
  • After all, it still was fun, I enjoyed what we did! I hope the players did, too!

Interestingly Classic Travellers Adventure 05 Trillion Credit Squadron provides a valuable template for a domain game in a science fiction setting, and is quite explicit about precisely these issues. I wish I had read and digested what was put forth about Patron Style Games back in 1981, before introducing patron characters into our campaign!

So, did this Domain Game fail? I’m not so sure anymore. I feel it did fall short of what we hoped to get from it. Then again, it’s still been a valuable experience for me, and I think I learned a few things about how to better set up the next Grand Campaign.

Grenzland reloaded!

It’s a sunny morning, last night’s storm has ceased. There have been no earth quakes for weeks now. The last tsunami to wash over our home islands is more then six months ago. Jolund our sage says better times will come: “Entropy … the forces of change … have had their way. The white moon is gone forever, the old imperiums and kingdoms of the northern continent are buried under the debris of their own hybris.” There are rumors of a new continent, too. It has been born far to the east. Brave young adventurers are daydreaming of proud ships, of vessels to carry expeditions, to find out what’s there …

These days, I find myself pondering whether to open up my D&D campaign again. The Grenzland-Kampagne had been going from 2016 to 2021. It started out as a red box Basic D&D game with B2 Keep on the Borderlands and turned into a 1:1-time, multiple player groups, OD&D campaign about half way through. You can find more on the Grenzland-Kampagne here (mostly in german), and I commented on grand campaigns in general over here (in english).

Now, I had a couple of issues with the Grenzland-Kampagne, that’s why I had decided to drive it to an end by early 2021. I guess I was also simply tired of it, DM burnout … that sort of thing. But as I said, I had some issues which led to that decision. Technically I didn’t want to simply call the game over, but I found an in game reason which led to a cataclysm: reckless gambling of ancient dragons had instigated mad cultists to destroy one of the two moons … they succeeded in a way, only the wrong moon was destroyed. I’ll come back to the moon story in a bit, now let me first come to the issues I’ve had:

Not our World …

While the campaign grew out of Keep on the Borderlands which sort of happend according to our shared imagination, I placed the Keep into the canonical Known World of Basic D&D, which was later expanded to the Mystara-Setting. While it’s a cool setting in it’s own right, it clearly isn’t ours. It’s tied strongly to the BECMI-Rules Set, to the Rules Cyclopedia and the Gazeteers. The more I think about it, the more it feels like somebody elses campaign. While I’m fine to play in Mystara for some time, I clearly wouldn’t want to follow along a prewritten campaign for years to come. And this long term focus are what Great Campaigns are all about, right?

… and it’s a mess!

I tried to cram into our campaign world as much as possible. At some point I envisioned it to be an all Old-School D&D campaign, like a sight-seeing tour that should lead from the Keep on the Borderlands to Hommlet and The Temple of Elemental Evil along a couple of OSR-Modules on to the GDQ modules, which were supposed to be the Greatest Adventures of All Time. And so the campaign world became an amalgam of Mystara and Greyhawk … and somehow the characters didn’t even care to go near the Temple … it was neither in the end. And now I’m not even so eager to reuse those old modules anymore. The emergent story telling that happend was much more interesting. These days I find emergent campaign play with proactive players, with multiple characters playing in multiple independent player groups, even to the point of player versus player war gaming, the most interesing bit of the game thats Original D&D!

… also the rules!

While this might not seem like a big issue, I was aways a bit unhappy with the rules. I had switched the campaign from Basic D&D to OD&D, but had applied a couple of house rules, thereby meaning to ease the transition. Still, those House Rules always felt a bit clumsy to me. It’s hard to pin down now. Maybe it’s just, that it didn’t feel like true OD&D to me, since we had started with something else.

As a side note: I like “white box” OD&D much better than Basic. It’s clearly the more flexible, more campaign oriented, rules set. And if you use the original d6 based hit points and damage system, it’s even less deadly than Basic. Also if you start out with just the three little booklets of 1974 and add new rules only very carefully and slowly it’s a much more open system, that can support anything your campaign might develop into.

Start with Earth

If you’re a listener of Ken and Robin Talk about Stuff, you’ve probably heard this advice before. While crazy fantasy world building is fun and interesting, most folks can relate to our own world much more easily than to the ramblings of one amateurish game master. While one could of course use a well known published settings like Middle Earth or the Star Wars Universe, that would throw us back to the Not our world issue. Alternate Earth scenarios like the Marvel Cinematic Universe or even Robert E. Howards world of the Conan Saga have the advantage of both worlds (that’s more than a pun in this case). They use the common knowledge everyone has of our World while adding fantastic elements liberally, justifying them with clever changes in the actual history of our planet. Thinking about Mystara, it’s true that Frank Mentzer tried to retcon, that Mystara acutally is our own Earth in his Immortals Rules Set. I’m not sure this idea was largely accepted … you’ll have to ask the Mystara crowd about that.

For one thing, discovering that Mystara was supposed to be Earth — at least in one particular timeline — led to the problem that I had set up our known world with two moons beforehand. Thus came the Idea to devise a catalysm that would get us rid of one moon.

So there you have it: our world of the Grenzland is actually our world. It has been Earth all along. Only way back in time, aeons back, when Earth still had two moons. Now the larger lawful moon of the old empires is gone forever. The smaller moon is still there. Luna, the moon of entropy and renewal. The new continent in the east will one day become known as Thuria. Later times will be known as the Hyborian Age … but that’s still aeons in the future, and not part of this campaign … unless of course they discover time travel …

Technically the original Grenzland campaign has four surviving player characters …

Samo: “today is brighter than yesterday, don’t you think?”

Liskolf pulls his thick fur cloak tighter around his shoulders, and looks up into the dusty clouds: “I think you’re right. Tonight I thought, I could catch a glimpse of the moon …”

Fardir looks around over the wastelands covered in grey snow: “Maybe we should follow Jonny, and also go south. I wonder if it’s warmer down there …”

Samo: “Yes, I seem to remember stories of islands in the sea …”

Rules Options for Domain Level Play

In my recent post Plotting Grand Campaigns, I’ve written about domain level, or patron style play at length. Here are some references to rules systems one might want to consider to support domain level play. They’re mostly rules for large scale conflict simulation, war games in other words.

Now, before I go on, let me say this: “war game” is a term, I abhor. While I’m obviously mighty fascinated by the derivatives of war games, I consider myself a pacifist. “Conflict simulation” sounds innocent and sophisticated, academically interesting, but let’s face it: we’re talking about armor values and damage potentials and violent death.

Especially at the time of this writing, even thinking about war games feels utterly wrong. There is a real war going on in Ukraine right now. I wish nothing more than the fighting to stop at once! Then again, most of the time we’re playing there’s is some violent conflict going on in the world somewhere. We should always be mindful of this.

If setting up conflict in games teaches us one thing, it’s the fact, that it’s actually quite hard to construct credible reasons for armed conflict. Motives we come up with, are either criminal or corrupt, often both. So, let me say this: reaons to go to war are always made up, they’re always messed up! Reasons to go to war are always fabricated, messed up bullshit, driven by the interests of few corrupt individuals in their criminal pursuit of power.

As H.G. Wells put it in his adendum to Little Wars: “You have only to play at Little Wars three or four times to realise just what a blundering thing Great War must be.

Rules for Political Scheming

This would be the place to link to the original Braunstein rules. But as I already said in my previous blog post, there seem to be no published rules. The best documentation I’ve found is on Ben Robbin’s blog Ars ludi:

The Adventurer, Conqueror, King System, might be useful here, but I can’t claim any experience with this game.

If you have any other suggestions, please do add them to the comments.

Rules for mass combat and large scale conflict

Basically crude mass combat rules can be achieved by simply lumping together a certain number of combatants into one larger “meta-creature”. For example 20 “normal men” in OD&D with one hit die each, dealing one die of damage each, might become one unit with 20 hit dice dealing 20d6 of damage to an opposing similar unit. Only one to hit roll is performed for each unit. Armor class and bonuses remain the same, as for single characters. Combined with the usual rules for morale. This simple scaling of figures might do all that is needed.

Actually the importance of morale can’t be overstated, since in any larger scale conflict, the question is not only survival or death, but whether one side prevails, routs, gains or loses ground.

If anything more is needed, here are a host of various rules sets.

  • Chainmail by Gary Gygax and Jeff Perren, published in 1971 by Guidon Games, and later by TSR. A rules set for medieval miniatures games. It’s “Fantasy Supplement” is considered to be the predecessor of Dungeons & Dragons.
  • Swords & Spells, and amalgam of D&D’s “alternative” d20 based combat system and Chainmail, published by TSR in 1976
  • Daniel “Delta” Collins’ Book of War
  • Alex Schroeder’s Mass Combat Rules
  • Robin Stacey’s Mass Combat Rules
  • Don’t give up the ship, a rules set for naval fleet combat in the age of sail, published in 1972 by Guidon Games, and later by TSR.
  • Warriors of Barsoom, a rules set for war games set on Edgar Rice Burroughs‘ John Carter of Mars Setting. While it’s available on, it’s copyright status seems to remain unclear.
  • War Machine, a set of mass combat rules described in the D&D Companion Rules.
  • Battle System, mass combat rules designed for use with AD&D 2nd edition.
  • Classic Traveller’s Book 4 Mercenary for a rather abstract, sort of birds eye view approach on infantery mass combat.
  • Classic Traveller’s Book 5 High Guard, for battles of large space fleets.
  • Full Thrust by Ground Zero Games, for even more detailed fleet battle in space.
  • Striker, the rules for modern day to far future miniatures combat accompanying Classic Traveller, available from Far Future Enterprises on the Classic Traveller CDROM.
  • GURPS Mass Combat, another abstract system somewhat similar to D&D’s War Machine and Traveller’s Mercenary.

Plotting Grand Campaigns

EDIT 3 (2023-08-01): Recently I had to learn, that the “BrOSR” group of gamers, of which the below mentioned Jeffro is a member, does not only advocate interesting gaming concepts, but also political stances, I cannot approve of at all. If you want to learn more about these concerns, you might want to follow this post over on Tower of the Archmage. Well, maybe you don’t even want to follow the link, since it’s really not funny. I’m afraid the posts Archmage is referring to are no fabrications. Consequently I asked Jeffro to take down the link from his blog to my blog. I’ve never been part of the BrOSR, never will, and I don’t want to be associated with it in any way.

I’m happy, that the OSR and the ttrpg community in general is a creative, broad and diverse bunch, having fun with great games. Also my own interests don’t stop with rules-as-written old-school gaming. Life is colourful! Let’s embrace and celebrate diversity! Let’s be welcoming and share the fun!

With that out of the way, here is the original post:

So I took a deep dive into this rabbit hole for the last couple of weeks. Over on Mastodon user phf pointed me to a blog post by Jeffro on how to play Original D&D. Now, while somewhat polarizing, what Jeffro writes is intriguing. After I commented on one of his earlier post on How do you do Patron Style play in D&D, he answered with yet another blog post on the subject, clarifying some questions I had. So thanks Jeffro for this great inspiration! Consequentially these ideas led me to expand our current Traveller5 campaign to include High Level PCs (post in german).

Basically Jeffro suggests, that in a fantasy campaign, as it was originally conceived, experienced and played by the gaming groups of Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson, the players do not only assume the roles of individual characters going on dungeon excursions, but also the roles of leaders, potentates and antagonists, with “the patrons”, i.e. the players who play these high level characters, given free hand to develop their dominions, and to make up their own agendas and strategies. Thus regular character parties will actually receive quests from, act on behalf of, or against high-level characters, who are in turn also controlled by players. In this kind of game the game master will act much more as a true referee than as a one-man-show puppeteer.

Recapitulating how the Old School Renaissance ventured to repopularize 1970s gaming style, Jeffro states:

“1:1 timekeeping with multiple independent domain-level actors is the fundamental axiom we have been missing.”

He goes on to describe, how by applying these two fundamental principles to his campaign, Jeffro observes how factions begin to act much more consistently and driven by intention, than could be simulated by a single game master, even with the help of various source materials and random tables. The reasons why this should work seem to be quite obvious and convincing to me.

Jeffro anticipates:

“your campaign will immediately begin spontaneously generating SECRETS as soon as you turn it on.”

And as from what I’ve experienced since adding patron style play to our Traveller5 campaign, I think I can confirm this expectation, and I will report on how this turned out in a future blog post.

If all of this sounds convincing to you, and you want to give it a go, I suggest you read Jeffro’s post The “Always On” Campaign, it’s a good place to start.

EDIT: Ben Milton of Questing Beast hast put out a great video about the same ideas.

EDIT 2: in the meantime I saw several videos about Robert Wardhaugh’s enormous D&D campaign. It’s been going on for 40 years. Apparently Robert also has domain level play going on. He refers to it as a macro component using war gaming rules, where players get to control tribes, realms and even whole nations and empires.

While “researching”, I’ve looked at quite a number of rules options to support domain level play. They’ve made it into their own blog post.

If you’re interested in my further thoughts on this subject, read on.

Domain-Level Play in the Original Games

After reading all those blog posts, I went back to the original 1974 rules of the game. If domain level play should be the original assumption, the rules surely must contain some clue about it. Certainly there is a clue, but it’s not easy to find.

While there are rules about constructing castles and strongholds, ruling over baronies, cost of men at arms and so forth, I could not find any obvious mention, of what would be considered “patron style play” … not until I actually leant back, closed the booklet and looked at it’s subtitle: “Rules for Fantastic Medieval Wargames Campaigns” … there it is, hiding in plain sight.

Considering all of the above, I think it fair to take said subtitle as an indication, that those rules were originally conceived as rules to be part of the set up, not necessarrily it’s only defining element. It has often been stated, that one reason, why the original three booklets seem to be difficult to understand in some places, is due to the authors being war gamers, writing for an audience of experienced war gamers. So it’s probably safe to say, that the basic assumption was the war game. And war games, naturally, are games of conflict simulation, in which players take up the roles of conflicting parties.

The first fantasy campaign, widely known as the Blackmoor campaign by Dave Arneson, and considered by many to be the origin of fantasy role playing games, started out in 1971 as a Braunstein game, set in a medieval fantasy setting. Braunstein in turn is a losely defined style of game, conceived by David Wesely in which players take up the roles of various allying or conflicting parties across a broad range of power levels from peasants to generals. Players are supposed to get information from the referee and act by giving written orders. As long as their characters are in the same location, their players may also communicate directly. While there seem to be no pubilshed rules for Braunstein, a lot can be inferred from published play reports and handouts.

In Secrets of Blackmoor, a documentary on the Blackmoor campaign, Stephen Rocheford, one of the original Blackmoor players states: “Yes, I am the High Priest of the Temple of the Frogs“. Clearly you don’t start out as a High Priest when you do conventional character creation in D&D. Obviously this was a patron player character, on which “Rocheford and Arneson [had] worked together to create this character as a humanoid alien with ties to extra terrestrial forces and technnology”.

The fact that in two of D&D’s most famous adventure modules B2 – Keep on the Borderlands, and T1 – The Village of Hommlet, not just the “monsters”, but also the “good non-player characters” are fleshed out with complete combat stats, has been commented on with some amusement, but in the light of an adversarial game being the default, this seems to actually make a lot of sense.

So, these findings seem to indicate, that domain level play might actually have been the default assumption. But there is more, if we look at games and adventure modules published after D&D hit the market.

Antagonistic play in other games

In the canon of Classic Traveller, there are two adventures, which I find quite remarkable with respect to patron style play. Namely Adventure 5 – Trillion Credit Squadron (1981), and Adventure 7 – Broadsword (1982). The former offers an elaborate frame work for setting up a game of conflicting space navies, with missions for individual characters mentioned only as a secondary possibility. The latter is a collection of scenarios designed around the crew and troops of a mercenary ship. The referee is given the advice to have some players play the antagonists, and instructions to stage the scenarios on large scale terrain maps. Similarly in Adventure 5 – Leviathan the referee is advised to have “the player party preferably […] occupy command posts”, giving the game a wholly different perspective, than that of the usual struggling adventurers.

Interestingly also the basic rules set of the Generic Universal Roleplaying System (GURPS) by Steve Jackson Games, contains rules and suggestions about adversarial players, albeit with the notion that an adversarial player will play adverseries ultimately designed by the game master.

And then, there is also Fate, a modern character focused, “story telling” game which, by treating every important story element as a character, offers rules and examples to play on a, possibly adversarial, faction or domain level. There are examples in the Fate Toolkit, as well as in the Burn Shift and Mindjammer settings by Sarah J. Newton.

I’m sure one could find many more examples. If you know of any, please add them to the comments!

The gentle but seldomly trodden path to domain level play

Of course I am perfectly aware, that Dungeons & Dragons’ actual rules put forth in the three brown booklets of 1974 do fokus on characters starting at low level, going on dungeon expeditions as the default setting. This primary focus of the game is again repeated in the paragraph THE FIRST DUNGEON ADVENTURE, in Gary Gygax’s 1979 Dungeon Masters Guide. And it has become the assumed standard ever since, with domain level play only starting once characters reach the lofty, so called “name level”.

Similarly in Traveller, patrons are usually considered to be non-player characters, who might offer jobs or quests to the player characters. And while Marc Miller writes “With time and a growing knowledge of the universe, the players themselves will develop their own missions and become for a time, their own patrons.”

From an educational perspective this gentler path to domain level play appears to be an easy, little demanding way to do it, but achieving patronage through play seems to happen rarely enough, and if at all, only after many sessions have been played.

While in this light, games which never reach domain level play might seem to be missing out, I don’t believe wargame like, adversarial, domain level play to be the end all and be all. Since the days of the old war gaming grognards, a lot of great developement has happend, and character driven role playing games have developed into a multitude of intersting genres and sub genres. Playing a well scripted 1920s pulp adventure may be a phenomenal experience, telling relationship driven stories in a postapocalyptic dystopia might be all you’ll ever want from this hobby. And heroic high fantasy as embodied by todays 5th edition of the original fantasy role playing game has become a whole genre of it’s own. If you like it, there’s nothing wrong with playing the game by it’s modern rules.

All this post is really about, is just say, that playing the game by it’s original rules, might offer an experience much more immersive, than you ever thought. And clearly those original rules sets contain those rules aimed at domain level play. They may just as well be applied right from the start — when you begin to plot your Grand Campaign!

More food for thought


Finally, be sure to watch Secrets of Blackmoor!

Octagon Campaign – Session 1

The Initial Situation

After seven calm days in jump space aboard the sleek, jet black yacht Dark Moon, it’s crew of five are awaiting the iminent exit to normal space, heralded by a familiar low rumble.

There is Carmen Marshall, 35 year old captain and owner of the Dark Moon and Van Dex, Carmen’s 39 year old “first officer”. The two have been business partners for a while. So far Van Dex didn’t notice anything unusual or even illegal about Carmen’s business practices. After a prior career in the employ of his home world mega corporation Tremous Dex, he’s used to the ins and outs of space trading. Carmen has never told much about her home world Raschev, why she left, and never went back home. Carmen and Van Dex are non-imperials, they’re from independent worlds far on the spinward edge of the sector.

There are also three passengers: the young and wealthy scientist Suri Brown, who specialises on psionicology, and two imperial veterans, medical doctor Edward Phila and army captain Walter Kemp, they both served in the army and have known each other since they met during the infamous Siege of Gitosy.

Over the last few days in jump space some tension has been mounting aboard. A week ago, mere seconds before the jump, the Dark Moon was almost hit by a rocket. The crew realized they were being persued only moments before and couldn’t make much from the sensor readings. After reviewing the recorded visuals of the other ship, all Walter could tell was: “they’re not imperial and they’re not from Gitosy, that’s for sure”. Carmen seemed tense at first, but shook off her nervousness quickly. Then they came up with a plan: “as soon as we exit to normal, we divert from our course to Vanejen, power down and wait if anything pops out of jump behind us, everyone put on vacc suits!”.

They spend some hours “lying doggo”, passive sensors show nothing. Then they power up again, do an active sweep some 500.000 km around, still nothing. Soon enough they get hailed: “Dark Moon, this is the Tortuga Heritage, stand by for boarding”. There is some commotion aboard the Dark Moon, “damn, why didn’t we sense them, not even a jump flash when they emerged”.

But now they’ve got a reading on their screens. The Tortuga Heritage is closing in, obviously. They know they’ve still got hours to prepare. As time passes sensors show, that the other ship is a modified far trader, it’s fast and about the same size as the Dark Moon. It sports the emblem of a blindfolded skull on it’s fins. They hail the Tortuga Heritage and ask for their objective.

Surprisingly it’s captain, one Benjamin “Quicksilver” Turkin, is quite frank about this: “see, there’s this bounty of 50.000 Credits on Carmen Marshall’s head – it’s dead or alive, so you might as well eject her from your air locks for us to pick up, but wouldn’t that be a pity? Besides, nice ship the Dark Moon, almost pathetic to see her in our cross hairs”.

Walter Kemp turns to Carmen angrily “why, surely there’s something about you we should have known, not a bad idea to cycle you through the air lock and be done with it”, but Suri takes a stand “no one is going to take anyone of us”. Van Dex is puzzled. Carmen snarls “I bet there’s more bounty on Quicksilvers head then mine!”

After some discussion Walter Kemp picks up the comm: “Tortuga Heritage, this is Captain Walter Kemp. I’ve seized control of the Dark Moon, we’ll be awaiting your docking maneuvre, and will exchange Mrs. Marshall for an immediate payment of 10.000 Credits” and Quicksilver seems to bite: “Copy, Captain Kemp, stand by”.

The Tortuga Heritage slowly closes in, both turrets aimed at the Dark Moon, Van Dex has manned the Dark Moons turret aiming at the air lock of the other ship and watches the tubular boarding gantry slowly extend across the gap. Carmen is still in the pilots seat and programs her ships computer to keep a close boarding distance to the Tortuga Heritage.

Suri and Edward take up position in the Dark Moons Airlock, ready to cover Walter, who’s preparing to meet the bounty hunters. All are in Vacc Suits and armed with rifles. Walter has secured himself with a long multifilament, EVA-security chord, tied to the air lock and pushes Carmen’s black, custom made vacc suit in front of him. They’ve filled her vacc suit with some scrap metal for mass and filled it up with hydrogen. Carmen whined at the plan, but gave in. They’ve tied the arms of Carmen’s vacc suit behind it’s back and tied the boots together to make it appear like she’s bound up.

“Ok, this is Captain Kemp, I’ve got Mrs. Marshall tied up and will meet you half way between our ships in the gantry. Have 10.000 Cr ready for the exchange.”

He slowly moves out into the gantry. On the other side he notices a woman in combat armor with head lights and a dark visor accompanied by a small combat droid. He knows these droids all to well, and mentally prepares to aim for it’s vulnerable control circuits. Then after a pause:

“Negative Kemp! We’ll meet you on our ship. Make no mistakes!”

Walter moves on carefully, everyone on the Dark Moon get’s nervous.

Suddenly Suri can’t hold it anymore, she jerks on Walters security line, tries to pull him away from danger, Walter shoves the empty space suit away from him, as he get’s pulled back. Van Dex hears the commotion and fires pulse laser at the other ship, Edward fires at the prepared space suit. Both ships get pushed appart from the explosion, the woman in combat armor and her droid spin out into space lifeless. Walter dangles on the security chord in between the ships surrounded by debris and finally get’s pulled back into the safety of their air lock. Carmen face palms.

Walter says “they’re not getting away with this, now we’re going to board, we can have the Tortuga Heritage! I’ve done this many times while in service”. He jumps, drifts some 150 meters and lands right next to the outer hatch of the Tortuga Heritage. The security line reels out to maximum length. As he manages to successfully open the hatch from the outside (a bunch of amazingly successful Vacc Suit and Electronics rolls), he feels something bump into him from behind. Suri has attached herself to the security line and cable cared accross. Edward follows quickly thereafter. Through the view port of the inner hatch they spot four mercenaries in combat suits, aiming sub-machine guns at them. Now everyone has had enough of this:

Quicksilver panicks and orders his gunner to fire rockets at the Dark Moon, despising the dangerously short distance, Van Dex fires recklessly at the Tortuga Heritage, a couple of explosions ensue, Suri gets blinded by laser reflections from the Dark Moons protective coating. Captain Quicksilver dies from a direct hit to his bridge. One mercenary goes down in the cross fire. The Dark Moon suffers hits to her fuel tankage and the cargo hold, damaging Van Dex’s Air/Raft badly. They’ll still be able to land.

Finally the Dark Moon’s Crew takes four surviving mercenaries captive, secures ten brand new SR-5 Survival Rifles and four HES-6 Hostile Environment Suits from the Tortuga Heritage’s cargo hold. They manage to restore control of the Tortuga Heritage just enough to put the badly damaged ship on a trajectory for a safe orbit around Vanejen. Then they make for Vanejen Space Port.

Vanejen is a bit larger then Mars, has standard atmosphere, still breathable without protection in spite of some notable industrial pollution. About 60% of the surface is covered with oceans and there are large ice caps on both poles of the planet. The local tech level is similar to Terra’s early twentieth century, and a feudal technocracy maintains a rather permissive law level.

Down dirtside, the crew discovers that the old navy facilities of the class C space port have been deserted more then a century ago. There are no repair facilities, and only unrefined fuel. Seems like they’re stuck on Vanejen for some time. The mood get’s worse as Van Dex finds that his calulations we’re off by some degrees. The Tortuga Heritage’s orbit is decaying …

About the rules

This has been the first time i’ve played and refereed a game with Traveller5 rules. Writing this session report, I’m surprised how much actually happend in this first four hour session. I had to look up a few things during the session, especially the space combat range bands. And some weapon stats for space combat.

Things I liked:

  • the base mechanic is super simple, roll 2d6 under target number. Basically that’s all a casual player would have to know.

  • optional granularity of the system seems to scale well. The rules allow to include technical details to various degree – as long as it’s fun.

  • Range Bands are great, they facilitate realistic narrative without bogging down the game by having to count squares or measuring distances on the gaming table.

  • ablative armor and the “10 hits put any NPC out of action”-rule, speed up combat resolution nicely.

Things I struggled with:

  • Calculating numbers of dice to roll and modifiers in combat, there are a lot of variables to take into account: distance, cover, rate of fire, is the combatant firing cautiously or snap firing? I guess I’ll get used to it.

Things to look up in the rules

  • Rules for sensor actions. I thought them less important while reading the rules but found them to contribute quite a bit to the narrative and set up of the situation, even in the first session. I hand waved this for now. Fair enough I think.

Die Grenzlandkampagne

Eine Old-School D&D-Kampagne

Die Grenzlandkampagne war eine Dungeons & Dragons Kampagne, die in der fiktiven Welt Mystara spielte. Kern der Kampagne war das Modul B2 – Festung im Grenzland. Und ganz offensichtlich wurde von diesem Modul auch der Name für die Kampagne entlehnt. Neben dem klassischen Mystara Setting kamen in der Kampagne auch Elemente aus der Greyhawk-Welt vor, wie zum Beispiel die Ortschaften Hommlet und Nulb.

Die erste Session der Grenzland-Kampagne wurde am 08.04.2016 gespielt, die letzte am 23.04.2021. Über diese 5 Jahre spielten wir rund 50 Sessions. Zu Beginn in monatlichen Abständen, später alle 2 Wochen, und seit Anfang 2021 wöchentlich – immer mit einer Sommerpause von Ende April bis Ende September. Rund 20 Spieler:innen beteiligten sich in wechselnder Konstellation an der Kampagne. Rund 30 Charaktere starben im Verlauf der Kampagne … oh boy … Die alten D&D Varianten sind berühmt und berüchtigt für ihre “Tödlichkeit”.

Die Handlung

Zu Beginn spielten sich die Ereignisse der Kampagne zwischen der Festung im Grenzland und den Chaoshöhlen ab. Die Charaktere waren ins Grenzland gekommen, um auf Abenteuer auszuziehen, und so Ruhm und Gold zu gewinnen. Nicht wenige Charaktere bezahlten das mit ihrem Leben, und noch mehr Monster in den Wäldern und Höhlen mussten dran glauben. Schließlich überfiel der mächtige Drache Darpantor die Festung und die Charaktere waren gezwungen die Festung zu verlassen. Sie fanden Zuflucht im zwei Tagesreisen westlich gelegenen Hommlet und zogen fortan von dort auf Abenteuer aus. Zu Beginn auch noch gelegentlich in die Ruinen der Festung, die nun von Dämonen heimgesucht wurde.

Später – in der 4. Spielzeit – begab man sich auf eine Reise in das Reich der Zwerge im nördlichen Gebirge. Das Ziel war, Handelsbeziehungen mit den Zwergen aufzubauen, und andererseits einem der Spielercharaktere bei der Erfüllung ihrer Queste zu helfen. Am Ende wurde so ein von dunklen Mächten gefangener Golddrache – der “irdische” Avatar einer rechtschaffenen Gottheit – von den Spielercharakteren befreit, und das Land der Zwerge vor dem Verderben bewahrt.

Das Grenzland aus Sicht der Spieler

Schließlich trat mit der 5. Spielzeit ein seltsamer Kult auf den Plan. Die “Einmonder” – fanatisch rechtschaffene Kleriker und Zauberkundige aus der Hauptstadt Spekularum – hatten sich in den Kopf gesetzt, einen der beiden Monde Mystaras, den roten Mond Daro aus dem Himmel zu heben, um dadurch dem Chaos ein für alle mal Einhalt zu gebieten. Am Ende stellte sich heraus, dass alles eine Verschwörung des Drachen Darpantor war. Er hatte 50 Jahre zuvor mit einem anderen Drachen gewettet, dass es ihm gelingen würde Daro aus dem Himmel zu heben.

Allein, Darpantor verlor am Ende seine Wette. Den Spielercharakteren gelang es zwar nicht, die Einmonder an der Durchführung ihres wahnsinnigen Rituals zu hindern, doch sie konnten so viel Verwirrung stiften, dass es am Ende Maro, den anderen, helleren der beiden Monde traf. Selbst Darpantor, der die Wut über sein Scheitern an den Helden auslassen wollte, konnte in die Flucht geschlagen werden. Schließlich, durch das Zerreißen des Mondes, erschütterten heftige Erdbeben das Grenzland, tiefe Erdspalten rissen auf, und verschluckten so manchen Abenteurer für immer. Andere wurden auf fremde Ebenen gerissen, und nur wenige konnten später von den letzten Tagen des alten Grenzlandes berichten.

Die Quellen

Die Kampagne begann 2016 mit einem Spielabend mit Freunden, auf Grundlage des Basic Set von 1983, auch bekannt als “Rote Box”, und wie schon gesagt dem Modul Festung im Grenzland (beim System Matters Podcast gibt es übrigens eine empfehlenswerte Episode zur Festung im Grenzland).

Basic D&D und B1 – Festung im Grenzland

Im Laufe der Jahre ist ein dicker Aktenordner an Notizen zusammen gekommen, und ich habe als Regelmaterial für die Spieler 3 Bände Menschen & Magie geschrieben.

Der Kampagnenordner und Menschen & Magie

Außer dem Hauptplot gab es diverse Nebengeschichten, für die ich verschiedenste Quellen sowohl aus den alten Originalen, als auch aus der OSR-Szene genutzt habe:

Die übrigen Quellen der Grenzlandkampagne

Lessons Learned

Zeit in der Kampagne

Je länger die Kampagne lief, desto mehr habe ich den Zeitverlauf als Basis der Planungen und Vorbereitungen genutzt. Zu diesem Thema habe ich bereits hier etwas geschrieben. Wie Recht Gary Gygax mit dem folgenden Zitat hat:


Gary Gygax, AD&D Handbuch für Spielleiter, 1979

Umgang mit Charaktertoden

Old-School D&D ist wie eingangs bemerkt ein “tödliches” Spiel. Charaktere niedriger Stufen haben so wenig Lebenspunkte, dass ein einziger Schwerthieb die Karriere des Charakters beenden kann. In der ersten Spielsession hätte – streng nach Regeln – bereits nach etwa 10 Minuten Spielzeit der erste Charakter tot sein müssen.

Es ist wichtig Gefahren sehr deutlich zu machen, in dem mögliche Warnzeichen eindeutig beschrieben werden. Es sollte immer klar sein, dass sich die Spieler:innen sehenden Auges der tödlichen Gefahr gestellt haben, und selbst für das Wohl und Wehe des Charakters verantwortlich sind.

Ein besonderes Problem sind hier Zufallsbegegnungen, bei denen die Würfel ergeben, dass die Charaktere überrascht werden, und der Reaktionswurf eine feindselige Haltung oder sogar sofortigen Angriff gegen die Charaktere anzeigt. Solche Begegnungen haben häufig zu vorzeitigem Charaktertod geführt, wobei die Spieler kaum Gelegenheit hatten zu reagieren. Über die Gefährlichkeit solcher Situationen sollte man sich als Spielleitung immer im Klaren sein, und man sollte sich bemühen, wenigstens eine ungute Vorahnung entstehen zu lassen.

Wenn es schließlich doch dazu kommt, dass ein Charakter stirbt, dann sollte der Moment genutzt werden, dem Charakter noch einmal ein letztes Spotlight zu geben. Vielleicht stirbt er nicht sofort, sondern kann den Gefährten noch eine Botschaft mit auf den Weg geben, oder er reißt vielleicht einen Gegner mit in den Tod … eine goldene Gelegenheit für cinematische Dramatik.

Auf der anderen Seite gibt es in der Fantasywelt viele Möglichkeiten, verstorbene Charaktere aus dem Reich der Toten zurück zu holen. Diese Möglichkeiten wurden tatsächlich bis auf ein einziges Mal nie genutzt. Das ist eigentlich schade ist, denn der Versuch Wiederbelebung oder Reinkarnation für einen verstorbenen Charakter zu finden, ist natürlich ein hervorragender Aufhänger für weitere, durch die Spielercharaktere motivierte Abenteuer.

Erfahrungspunkte und Stufen

Zu Beginn der Kampagne gab es für jeden Charakter, der an einer Session teilnahm 500 Erfahrungspunkte, und zusätzlich 200 Erfahrungspunkte, die an einen beliebigen anderen Charakter verliehen werden durften. Ich hatte diese Regel eingeführt, da ich Sorge hatte, dass den Spielern das Erreichen neuer Erfahrungsstufen sonst zu langsam gehen könnte.

Leider führte diese Regel aus meiner Sicht aber dazu, dass sich die Spieler zu wenig um das Erreichen von Erfahrung auf dem klassischen Weg, nämlich durch das Sammeln von Schätzen, und das überwinden von Monstern kümmerten. Beides wichtige Story-Driver in einer klassischen Fantasy-Sandbox-Kampagne. Die Charaktere erwarben also nicht wirklich die Erfahrung die höherstufige D&D-Charaktere eigentlich haben sollten, und die Spieler:innen hatten wenig Anlass, entsprechende Strategien zu entwickeln.

Auch später, um diese Erkenntnis bereichert, habe ich es bis auf sehr seltene Ausnahmen nicht übers Herz gebracht, mit den Erfahrungspunkten strenger zu sein. Es hatte sich in der Kampagne eben etabliert, dass die Charaktere fast in jeder Sitzung 500 bis 1000 Erfahrungspunkte gut machten.

Ich möchte jeder Spielleiter:in empfehlen sich bei einer Kampagne mit den alten Regeln auch vertrauensvoll an die Standard-Regeln zu Erfahrungspunkten und Stufen-Aufstieg zu halten.

“Emergent Story-Telling

Als nächstes nehme ich mit, dass ich für meinen Geschmack noch viel zurückhaltender mit den der Planung von Abenteuern hätte sein können. Immer wenn ich das Gefühl hatte, die Charaktere wie auf Schienen durch eine Situation zu führen, lag das daran, dass ich zu viel vorgeplant hatte, und eine zu rigide Vorstellung davon hatte, was passieren sollte.

Dabei hat die Sandbox ihr Eigenleben, es gibt Nichtspielercharaktere, die etwas wollen, Gruppierungen mit konkurrierenden politischen Haltungen, Gerüchte und gelegentlich auch mal Auftraggeber, die helfen können eine Geschichte in Gang zu bringen. Aber der Impuls, die Motivation auf ein bestimmtes Abenteurer ausziehen, muss immer von den Spielercharakteren ausgehen. Erst, wenn die Charaktere von sich aus beginnen mit der Welt und den Nicht-Spielercharakteren zu interagieren, wenn sie beginnen eine eigene Agenda zu entwickeln, können authentische Geschichten – das emergent story telling- entstehen.

Die Kampagnenkarte aus Sicht der Spielleitung

Alle drei Punkte berühren letztlich ein gemeinsames Thema: die Spielmechaniken der Sandbox selbst bieten reichtlich Antrieb für Geschichten. Es ist unnötig, und sogar eher hinderlich, Abenteuergeschichten für die Charaktere voraus zu planen. Durch Ressourcenverbrauch und die Aktionen der Charaktere ergeben sich von selbst Spannungen, die zu Abenteuern führen. Damit das funktioniert, müssen diese Mechaniken allerdings auch zum tragen kommen können – dass bedeutet vor allem, dass die Spielleitung konsequent, unvoreingenommen, und unparteiisch die Regeln der Sandbox einhalten muss, die quasi als Erbe der Konfliktsimulations-Spiele in die DNA der alten Versionen von D&D eingebaut waren.

Eine recht späte Erkenntnis war schließlich, mich bei der Entwicklung der Welt auf die menschlichen Nicht-Spielercharaktere zu fokussieren. Wenn über D&D gesprochen wird, entsteht schnell der Eindruck, dass es in erster Linie eben um Dungeons und Dragons, also Monster ginge, und dass der Fokus auf dem Kampf gegen Monster läge. Aber es ist wahrscheinlich kein Zufall, dass die Abschnitte über Menschen in Monsters & Treasure, und im AD&D Monsterhandbuch, zu den längsten und detailliertesten Einträgen gehören. Auch Chainmail – das Regelheft für das Spiel mit Zinnsoldaten, welches als Vorläufer von Dungeons & Dragons gilt, beschäftigt sich ja in erster Linie mit Konflikten zwischen menschlichen Gruppierungen. In der zwischenmenschlichen Interaktion liegen natürlich die wahren Quellen für spannende Geschichten und Abenteuer, und wenn man sich die Details der Regeln genauer ansieht, wird auch deutlich, dass die Kampfwerte der menschlichen Kontrahenten viel besser und fairer mit den Werten der Spielercharaktere ausbalanciert sind, als die der Monster – letztere sind eben in erster Linie monströs und gefährlich.

Die Geschichten in einer Fantasy-Sandbox erzählen die Charaktere am besten selbst. Alles was es braucht ist eine plausible, wenn auch fantastische, lebende Welt, Nichtspielercharaktere, die ihre eigenen Ziele verfolgen, und Gerüchte und Situationen, die den Charakteren einen Einstieg ermöglichen.

Mit einer tiefen Verbeugung danke ich allen Spieler:innen dieser Kampagne für die Geschichten, die wir im Laufe dieser fünf Jahre erzählt haben!