Saturday, October 31, 2020

Reflections on 43 Years in the Hobby

   In less than six months it will be the 44th anniversary of the first time I played D&D and my lifelong obsess-, uh, hobby, began. And this very recent August the 41st anniversary of me starting my own homebrew campaign came and went. We were so busy playing we missed it, which is apropos.

  But it has also been pretty tough in some ways. One of my very first players, Dave, fought really, really hard but lost to cancer. George, another early player, lost all of his early gaming stuff (from first printings of AD&D books to his first 20 characters and notes and the first player-facing map of Seaward) to storm damage. So we've lost at least 5 of the players from the first 10 years of the campaign and a tremendous amount of the original notes, maps, and such.

  Tempus Fugit.

  But looking back there are a few things I learned (or at least came to believe to be true!). I'll try to condense them here.

The Roles within the Party

My theory of The Roles - the positions filled by character classes in D&D and its clones. The roles are:

-Physical Offense: pretty obvious - killing things with weapons.
-Physical Defense: being a 'meat shield' and keeping the physical offense of foes contained.
-Magical Offense: Killing things with magic.
-Magical Defense: Stopping enemy magic from harming the party.
-Scouting and Intelligence: Using information and skills to control the location and tempo of encounters.

The AD&D 1e classes fill these roles like this:
Fighter = Physical Offense
    Ranger = Physical Offense + Scouting & Intelligence
    Paladin = Physical Offense + Magical Defense
Cleric = Physical Defense + Magical Defense
    Druid = Magical Offense + Scouting & Intelligence
Magic-user = Magical Offense
    Illusionist = Magical Offense + counter Scouting & Intelligence
Thief = Scouting & Intelligence
    Assassin = Scouting& Intelligence + Physical Offense
Monk = counter Magical Offense + counter Magical Defense + counter Scouting & Intelligence
Bard = everything

  This framework allows me to get a better estimation of what the party is capable of doing and handling and how to oppose them with clever foes.

NPCs Matter, especially Henchmen

  Time after time I have seen henchmen truly matter in the game. Perhaps most recently and dramatically in the Assault on the Fortress of Lord Whitehill. The PCs were pinned and about to be wiped out when the henchmen, following orders, arrived in the nick of time and just barely pulled victory from the jaws of death.

  If nothing else, with henchmen an NPC or three can play the class no player wants for a PC.

Jazz Band Adventuring Matters

  Something I first tried to describe here Jazz Band play just means every players has multiple PCs in the campaign and the party composition varies by mission, which players are there, what PCs are available, etc. It makes it a LOT easier if a player can't make it or you want your PC to go learn a new spell and more importantly it shifts focus from "this party" to the campaign as a whle..

It Isn't About One Thing

  RPGs are about fun, so it can't be about the GM, or a single player, or even this particular party. What seems to me in my limited experience to matter is that people are emotionally and intellectually invested in the campaign. Less pressure, more fun, at least as far as I can see.


  1. Do you think Fighter and Paladin don't fill the physical defense role?

  2. Interesting point about jazz band adventuring being more than just a contingency plan for when people cannot play but also about opening out the aperture from the individual group to the macro environment. That is a great point and a reason to push that style even when you have forgiving schedules.

  3. On henchmen - looking at fantasy fiction from that lens, they are all over the place. I'm re-reading Guy Gavriel Kay's Fionavar trilogy and you can assign roles between the lead "characters" and their supporting retinues.

    Never thought to do that before.

  4. I just finished re-reading Guy Gavriel Kay's "Fionavar Trilogy," thinking about your Henchmen comments while reading and how they are reflected in the fantasy source material, sci-fi and fantasy. I'd have to reread your posts to see if you explicitly stated what they brought to mind.

    Most genre fiction uses that system, even Goodkind's Conan the Libertarian had allies with him, and it just makes sense.

    A character with henchmen and hirelings is almost a party in themselves. For solo or small party adventures the DM has to do less hand-waving to offset the character's holes in "roles," and can continue using limitations on endurance and encumbrance.

    Thank you for your insights, your campaign updates are always fun reading for someone without a group or game.