Saturday, June 07, 2008

Character vs. Setting

As I was writing about the assumption of a long term campaign in 1st edition, it occurred to me (at least partly) why that is. The game is about the world, not the characters. That's why Gygax keeps going on about "the milieu," that's why the game is supposed to last as long as possible. Because the point is the world that everyone is building.

This is a huge contrast from the sort of game that I usually run, and learned how to run from the 3rd Edition DMG and places like Gnome Stew. The game is about the characters; when they end, when they die or their adventures come to a satisfactory conclusion, the game ends, and you start a new one.

And on a slight tangent, to me, character death makes a lot more sense in a game of the prior variety than the latter. If the point of the game is the world, then one character dying just means it's the end of his particular story, and the chance to add another dimension to the setting. In a game that's about the continuing adventures of one specific group of people, there are probably other ways for them to fail, without having to deal with a character-sized hole in the campaign. Which can work, and be interesting, depending on how the characters are related and what they're doing, but it's a lot more disruptive.


  1. I'm not sure I agree that the important thing in 1st edition is the world; I think the important thing is the campaign. (This ties in with your previous post.) So long as the game goes on characters can come and go as they die or retire, but the campaign itself is sacrosanct. At least that's the impression I always got.

    I tend to prefer it that way, because in all honesty after a while I start to get bored with the same character and want to try somebody new. I really don't mind my characters dying, and I'm less interested in their personal 'story' than I am in the meta-story of a bunch of adventures strung together and what happens along the way. But different strokes for different folks, etc.

  2. 3e and 4e (and to some extent, 2e) assume that you've got a group of around 4 or 5 players and a DM, you get together on a regular basis, everyone has one character that they usually play, and the focus is on this group and its adventures. It's very much the model of a TV show, where you follow these same characters no matter what.

    Mr. Gygax apparently didn't play that way. According to folks who played with him, he had a "total player pool was about 12 to 15.

    Usually, only about 2 to 5 of us could make it any given game day.

    So, everybody acquired henchmen to "fill out the group" if somebody wasn't going to be there.

    And it didn't take long for players to start arranging other times and playing alone or with henchmen.

    Heck, it even reached the point where from time to time we'd just play our henchmen to level them up."

    That's a very different style of game from the current assumptions. As you say, it's more in lines with troupe play and the like, and far more resilient in the face of issues like PC death and the like.

    I'm glad to hear you're finding the DMG a thought-provoking read. I eagerly look forward to hearing what else it sparks.

    - Brian

  3. Yeah, noisms, "campaign" is a better word.

    All this stuff I've been learning about the older play styles -- I'm lucky to have run into the old school revival when I did. I like the TV show model, and that's what I started with, and I'll keep running campaigns like that in the future.

    But I really want to run a Gygax style, larger player pool kind of game, and I'm thinking I'll use that framework for my college game next year. Not only does it sound cool, it might fit people's schedules better -- another arrow in the DM quiver, so to speak.

  4. Bear in mind, also, that character death was far less permanent back in the original Lake Geneva campaign. There were opportunities for raise dead, use of wish to undo death, etc. Plus, many players had several characters (including, as trollsmyth mentions, even playing their own henchmen). That's got to have an impact on the psychology of character death.

    Also, I would say that having the implied focus be the campaign, rather than the characters, turns the game into something more of a "shared universe" project. After all, would Greyhawk be the same without Lord Robilar having overthrown the ToEE? I kind of like that sort of player input.