Friday, March 13, 2009

The First Living Campaign

The first Living Campaign was actually not the Forgotten Realm of the 1990's. It was Original D&D.

When D&D was ramping up in popularity it was common that players would take their characters from DM to DM. When the group of us was small we knew each other by reputation and if we knew that character X had some adventures in DM Y game we accepted the results in our game.

As Grognardia points out here, there wasn't as much "stuff" to worry about in the rules. If you were at all serious about DMing you quickly learned what were the problem areas and what was OK. So while each of us made some unique items and stuff we were all working out of the same small playbook. This made it feasible for players to jump from one campaign to another. You can see echoes of this time in the caller system and the fact that the rules talked about 10 to 20 players for a session.

But as everything grew the whole thing fell apart when players tried to bring characters into another game that came from a Monty Haul game. Soon there was just so many DMs we stopped being able to track who was who and the closed game became the norm. Remember at one time Dragon Magazine used to have listing of all the DMs in your area.

Despite AD&D's efforts at standardization it was the death knell for this type of play as there was so many new options that it was hard to reconcile characters between two arbitary campaigns. Given what we know now about the issues of running Living Campaign it doubtful it would survived even if rules remained at the same level of complexity.

Still I remember a glorious summer where I walked all over my hometown, carrying my box of books and tattered character sheet to play with and DM with different groups.

However with the Old School Renaissance this type of play could make a comeback. The type of players that cared for Monty Haul play have mostly gravitated to MMORPGs. It will be interesting to see if this form of gaming makes a return.


Scott said...

I love the idea of open gaming, but I have trouble finding players for one tabletop group, much less a larger player and referee pool. :(

Jeff Rients said...

I would love to see someone show up to my game with a charsheet in hand, but I'm not sure what I'd do if somebody showed up with a perfectly reasonable character who happened to be better than any of PCs of the regular participants. Should I let the new guy be Gandalf to everyone's Bilbo for a session? What if he stays on and remains ahead of the curve, possibly dominating play? Until I found my sealegs handling this issue the game could become a bit of a mess I fear.

Michael S/Chgowiz said...

I'd probably ask the player to meet me before the game and we'd have a reasonable discussion on what he/she could bring in and what they couldn't. I wouldn't expect that everything I bring into another campaign would be allowed - it's like playing ball on someone else's court or field - they have their rules and you either live by them or you take your stuff and go home.

In Jeff's stated scenario - if it's perfectly reasonable, but a bit overpowered, I would find a good match. If it's way overpowered, I'd negotiate on limits or not allow the character as-is.

Frank said...

I'm not so sure AD&D is what killed this. All of my experiences with this style were using AD&D.

What I see as a more dominant cause is the decline of importance of clubs. Once most gamers were playing in their home or dorm room, groups became much more static.

I'm sure another aspect was the rise of story line games. Also, I think more campaigns became more rooted in the goings on in the campaign world even if there wasn't a story line.

And another factor was the plethora of games. In the late 70s, there were few other games. By the 80s, there were more games that you could really absorb. And the people who participate in a wider network of gamers tend to also be more likely to play something other than D&D.

When I did game in this style, I did often see characters who were out of whack with my group. I would sometimes trim magic item lists. I'd disallow custom spells. I think once or twice, I even negotiated with a player to drop a level or two.

But that raises another point of that early style of play. Most players who shuffled between games had a folder with several PCs. They probably had a PC close to the level of the other PCs in the group.

Oh, and we had PCs cross between OD&D and AD&D just fine.

I think you are right that rules complexity, or more specifically, character complexity, makes it much harder to move PCs from one game to another.


Victor Raymond said...

I would agree with everything Frank said. Decline of clubs, rise of storyline campaigns, and simply more games out there than anyone could really absorb.

I'm a little puzzled by Jeff Rients' uncertainty about how to handle this, especially since he's already figured this concept out - Chgowiz's comments are exactly the way these things get worked out.

Jeff Rients said...

No big mystery here: simple newbie anxiety. I don't want to be unnecessarily hard on the new guy but I also have to balance his charsheet against the concerns of the regulars. I understand the theory but I have no direct experience in this sort of issue. No wait, that's a lie. I have experience as a player where the DM got it wrong and the session turned into the Guest Star and his Bumbling Sidekicks show.