Sonntag, September 23, 2012

"What is the Megadungeon?" Some non-definitive Definitions of RPG/OSR concepts

Defining some of the RPG and OSR concepts, or at least, giving an explanation from a personal point-of-view is an exercise found on quite a few OSR related blogs. Here's three of them:

Tenkar's Tavern
The Chronicles of Ganth
The Warlock's Homebrew

And here is what I found in the depth of my mind.

Short versions (, not necessarily to the point)

What you do in day-to-day life. Start from A walk over to B, pick up X, deliver to Z, receive pay. Get into some quarrels on the way, and discuss with others how stupid everything is run, and dream up opportunities to leave it all behind, start a-new, and make everything better the next time (see Sandbox).

Special Assignments, or commitments over a period of time. Holiday trips counting as well as job assignments. Usually strictly railroaded, especially holiday trips.

For people who made it past the "discussing the flaws of railroading" point, and are ready and determined, or at least determined to explore the world by their means most suitable. Suddenly, they find the heart to talk to the woman working at the store, write cards to friends, call their parents, relax without television, or entertainment programs, and make true love happening, which they find out has nothing whatever to do with anything ever said in the movies.

Short for a serious condition of Overtly-Commercialized-Systems Rejection. A kind of delusionary state where those afflicted believe that the badly written multi-pamphlet set of rules of the(ir) early days of gaming are seriously better than the multi-tomed hi-gloss editions offered by today's leaders of the gaming industry.
Some consider OSR as a kind of PR stunt of the gaming industry itself, or as controlled opposition.

Crunch & Fluff
The bare necessities of life, and everything that makes it worthwhile; or distracts you from it, if fluff is overdone, as in entertainment industry.

The poor, the rich. Multiclassing seems not possible.

Clones, Simulacrums and Beyond
They are among us. Beyond is different.

Hit Dice

"What is the Megadungeon?" - "Eternal railroading perfected."

Long versions (, but not less to the point)

Railroading is what I connect with modules/adventures. Basically you have your characters play some part in the stories somebody else made up. And you have to pay for that. I bought quite a few, only to find out, I'd never play them (see Module/Adventure).
Really, I started role-playing games to tell my own stories. Some of them, though, were indeed railroaded, boring, badly structured, and full of cliches. That's okay, because you can learn from these mistakes. I did.

There is one reason why I would recommend playing published modules/adventures. You can by playing, and through analysis learn a lot about the bare bones of adventures, stories, adventure hooks, mapping, descriptions, non-player characters, writing styles, and so much more.

Even if you dislike what you find in the module, you can at least figure out why you dislike it, and think about what you would need to change, in order to make it work for you and your game.
That's exactly what you have to do in order to learn from your own mistakes. And certainly I did, when going through the adventure material I had written for my groups, and different systems.

When you're familiar with this practice you will be able with enough determination, and a little more patience to use nearly any material, work through it, and tell stories with what you find in there, and in the depths of your own imagination.

A lose set of guidelines, and fragments, key words, and such things. Some consider it a style of play where players decide what their characters do. (Which I thought was a basic concept of the game.) It was obviously dreamt of by people wanting to immerse themselves in the game world.
I call Sandbox whatever I use as preparation material to improvise a story on. In short my imagination. And I found out it can work that way.
I improvised an entire fantasy campaign on my game world Mad-Kyndalanth. Twice, actually.

The sandbox is everything that is in my imagination, and experience. Some things are really helpful if prepared properly. Lists of names, some places, maps, some mind-maps as well. Adventure hooks, random encounter tables.

Again, with a consistent story line either prepared in advance or divined from one's own ingenious improvised material, and the ability, and/or determination to narrate that story, it is possible to start out with a bunch of player characters, and a vague hint of adventure. But that does not mean it will result in the kind of game you will enjoy. It takes more to achieving this one. (Participate as an empowered player, as will be lined out in a future post on player empowerment in old school games.)

Practice automatic writing, same as automatic poetry and babbling. In other words, practice all kinds of improvisation but with the option of refining what you made up, and taking it into different directions where necessary. Improvise first, compose later.

A couple of months ago I had never heard of the OSR before, nor did I know much of the vocabulary found in the role-playing register like railroading, player empowerment, crunch and fluff, and so on.
I had been working on some house rules, and essays on rules interpretations for the AD&D 2nd Edition, which was the second role-playing game system I owned, and of which I am quite fond of. The first system I played was "Das Scharze Auge - Die Helden des Scharzen Auges" (The Dark Eye) which included a basic version (the original rules), and an enhanced rules system with skills, and more.
I bought many of the AD&D 2nd Edition rules supplements until I finally realized, that a) I will never use them, because nobody cared to play AD&D b) the additional rules were so inconsistent they violated concepts of the basic rules c) I will never use them, because SAGA was so much easier to handle.
I then started to interpret the basic concepts of AD&D, the ability scores, experience level, combat skills, and magic, and what the application of these concepts meant for the game, and for the game world respectively. And I fondled the idea to run an AD&D 2nd house-ruled campaign one day.

Anyway, nothing happened for several years. And then I stumbled over the OSR. And then I understood D&D. Or something like that. And I realized what I had been trying to achieve with my AD&D house rules, was exactly what you had to do in order to enjoy the game. Make it your own. Any edition.

I guess the OSR doesn't exist. It is elusive. Or is it a secret order of enlightened ones, who live among us like normal people, and playing their game about thieves, and wizards? Who knows? Nobody seems to be quite sure about what the OSR actually is, or does.

Crunch & Fluff
Crunch is what you pay for (rules), while fluff is everything you play, and make up yourselves. When it comes to crunch I stick with rules lites systems (SAGA, 0e, d6, DC Heroes for example). I bought a lot of fluff which I never used. Sourcebooks and campaign settings. I made up a lot of fluff myself. I enjoyed a good reading of fluff, but I find today, that RPG sourcebooks, well ... I consider it more worthwhile to to visit the university library and randomly browse through the books to learn something new.
Funnily enough, that's exactly the kind of advice you'd read in the AD&D 2nd Edition Player's Handbook and Dungeon Master's Guide: Go to the library! The PR worked.

Use it in whatever way it suits your game.

Clones, Simulacrums and Beyond
My favourite is Swords&Wizardry, because of the title font, and the way the rules and everything is presented in the book. OSRIC is fine, too. I think I may like everything Microlite, but I'd have to re-format the files, and use different fonts, and probably do some illustrations myself. Microlite is quite minimalistic.

Hit Dice
They tend to roll to low for player characters, and too high for monsters all the time. I still have to find a way to fix this.
In a way, they tell you something about the level of a character or creature.

I started one many years ago. And I was a player in another one where I played a half-elven bard. I can't remember much about it. But when I think of Megadungeon, FTL's classic computer game Dungeon Master comes to my mind. It is large, dark, full of magic, and traps, and riddles. There are monsters, and treasure to be found. At the end, there awaits you a red dragon, and Lord Chaos, or whatever his name was.
And I know that Dungeon Master was the game that inspired me to design a Megadungeon for AD&D. The reason why it didn't work out were quite a few. We did not have much experience with dungeons, and I as the DM lacked enough to have the players embark rather unprepared.
Players need to know what kind of game will await them when they volunteer for a megadungeon expedition. I know that many of them were in for the friendship, and the pizza (or chili con carne), some hours of fun. But not for the long hours of dungeon exploration.
The players themselves did not choose, nor prepare their characters for such an expedition. And they went in alone. Without hirelings.
Now, I have to extend the list of OSR words to be explained. I'll add hirelings.

Hirelings were never ever used by players of my games. I didn't like the idea of bringing along hirelings, either. Not because they had to be paid, or kept track of. Rather, it was this uncomfortable idea of a group of heroes having to rely on hirelings.
As it were, we didn't know much about the world, nor about heroes, nor about the guys who do all the real work. When I read Swords&Wizardry for the first time, it occurred to me, that we had missed out on one of the best things in game worlds: Other people's help. That includes hirelings, as well as other minor or major non-player characters. A dozen hirelings with bows can be of great help, even if they were no veteran fighters, but workers, craftsmen, guides, and cooks. Better even to bring along a healer, or two.
Why, we never thought about that.
We were trapped in this idea of underdog heroes fighting their way through whatever world it was they lived in, never looking beyond the fight, and some dark adventure.

And this newly gained knowledge is another reason why the OSR is so interesting. It is not so much about the game system that might have changed. But the players changed. The players gained experience, grew and matured, and thus they can go back to dig out the old dusty rules books, and with their own magic of imagination tempered by their experience create and play games they never thought of before.

I do believe, that this is common to tradition. Role-playing games are part of the gaming and pop culture now. And there is some kind of tradition going on. Tradition not in the sense, that only the old stuff is the good stuff, nor that things, and rituals and whatever must, or may not be changed, or discarded. But in that sense, that people grow, and pick up old things, and handle them differently.

Note: I like long posts better than short ones. Presenting every little thought as a single post may generate more traffic, but these little gems get lost just so easy. And I do not publish for traffic's sake, but for the wandering reader.

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