I have been noticing traffic flowing to the HC from Big Purple for several days now. The RPGnet thread that is spawning the page views is—for a refreshing change—near and dear to this blog's heart, posing the question: when did domain-level play drop out of D&D as a major play area?
The various responses are uneven, but interesting. The most interesting dropping (perhaps not surprisingly) from Michael Mornard aka the Old Geezer, one of the most OG of the hobby's pioneering souls having having hit the trifecta as a player in the original Greyhawk, Blackmoor, and Barker's Tekumel campaigns.
I could spend several posts parsing his comments in that thread and linking back to thoughts about Borderlands and domain-level play in general. But one somewhat tangential one stuck out for me. He answers some of the out-loud wondering about what was particular about play groups back then that more readily supported his concept by saying:
“Remember that 'the group is one, solid, and indissoluble' was not a concept. We were all roving adventurers who would band together at times, but the highest form of play was to play solo. So once strongholds were built, one player might be a wizard staying in his tower and sending minions out to gather components for spell research, one might be building a mighty army, one interacting in the political intrigue, etc.”
The FLAILSNAILS experience developing on Google+--an ongoing series of mostly old school D&D dungeoneering linking by my guess a 100 or so players to more than a dozen different campaign worlds--seems to model more and more the open world feel of the big tent original campaigns. Players float in and out in mostly ad hoc combinations between the various campaigns, maps and magical items are bartered between sessions.
While I have been running the hell out of my Hyborian Age, Petal Throne, and Domain Game II campaigns in that pocket universe, until this week I have been merely a player and not a GM of these games. Last week I finally threw my hat in the ring and ran two open world sessions in my home face-to-face campaign in the eponymous Hill Cantons (session report from the foray into the Golden Domed Battle Barge coming later).
All tremendous fun, but I keep thinking about the second part of that middle sentence “the highest form of play was to play solo.” Big tent type of play, lots of players moving between worlds, was part of my own experience of the game even as late as 1981, but more frequently were the near-daily games we ran for several years with small groups.
As our early characters ramped up the power arc more and more there would be these sessions with one player. Back then it would have taken no effort to pull in at least another smallish group, but it was something of a prestige thing. Indeed it was a badge of “making it” as a player to be tough enough to tromp around the Suss Forest, either alone or with a private army of few NPC henchmen and men-at-arms.
And as a DM there was a certain quality of play that I enjoyed about those solo forays. You didn't have the rollicking camaraderie of a group, but you did get this laser-beam focus, a certain deeper intensity of play. And yes, as name-level crept in there was the stronghold building, the wilderness clearing, the army raising, and all the elements—come to think of it they were always in those intense me with the player sessions. Building plans would be drawn, great menaces to the freehold dealt with, mass battles run with small hordes of Heritage and Ral Parthas.
I find myself yearning for that “quality time” again as much as I do the big tent. Two of my current campaigns really lend themselves to it in fact.
Some of my best experiences playing and running Conan/ZeFRS have come with only two players, the system with its focus on high action, swashbuckling like the genre it emulates really lends itself to a smaller cast. And given what raised the question, the Domain Game II is also crying out for at least a session or two of such play (of course, most will still be the bigger "y'all come" sessions.)
Is any feeling this too? Or running or playing in solo games out of choice or necessity that you enjoy? Why so? What do you get out of them (or hope to) then you don't get in the troupe sessions?