Saturday, December 18, 2010

Taking Domain-Level Play Out to the Edges

Thanks again, dear readers, for thought-provoking comments on yesterday's post on domain-level play.

In particular, I was inspired by Rob Kuntz's comment:
“It's just open-ended play. That portion which extends on and on, and those specifics (like maybe ruling a planet and then fighting other planets, perhaps?) are not covered in the rules, though others may construct these as we did. The greatest aspect of our game in this OE (Open-ended) clime is that someone WILL do just that, some time, some where, and may even write about it for others to do.”
Why wait for Mr. Perfect Rule Set? Like Godot, he ain't coming. But in the here and now we can make our own custom dream projects by pushing ourselves and our imaginations.

In general, I like the idea of more products being geared as starting point components to open-ended play. Less supposedly-complete packages and more the kinds of things that can help launch new areas for GMs and players to shape into their campaigns.

In that spirit, here is my own dream supplement, semi-jokingly styled Secret Project X, that would custom blend “build-your-own” components for domain-level play. It's a thought experiment in progress--bordering on some experimental play and a write-up.

Providing Lower-Level Entry Points. Jeff Rients mentioned in the comments that the domain game can start much earlier in a campaign and didn't have to be limited to players as rulers. Looking back at the lower-level entry points of Empire of the Petal Throne, I am intrigued by this idea.

Ideas abound in another point of inspiration, the obscure En Garde-like roleplaying game Heroes (incidentally written by Dave Millward, a player in Bath's Hyboria). In that game, players with the right bribes and political manuvering were allowed to pick from long lists of low and middle-level positions in the court, city government, clergy, guilds, etc. One could, for instance, connive your way into being the Duke's falconer and work up to being the Master of Horse.

Instead of a locked-in system with all the worked out—and thus likely tedious and imagination-limiting—detail, I'd prefer lists and descriptions of historical and fantasy examples of such positions and how can they played out in a fantasy adventure game. (I like to flesh out this approach with other relevant pieces: types of governments, secret societies, religions, strange fantasy political/cultural formations, etc.)

Suggestions and Examples of Experiments with Multi-Level Domain Play. Besides not limiting this kind of play to name level we don't have to limit it to the standard somewhat-linear play of having one persistent group of player characters in a campaign as the only player actors.

In my conversations with Jeff Berry I thought Barker's original campaign had an interesting multi-level dynamic. On one side you had the Monday Night group, the more-aggressive power gamers who quickly got involved in domain-level play. On the other you had the Thursday Night group (Jeff's) who were more of your standard footless explorers. The actions of each group informed and shaped the shared campaign world, an interesting dynamic I'd like to see explored.

What about similar experiments, such as a player group that alternates between playing high-rolling PCs one session and low-level schlubs the next. Why not experiment integrating this level with the open world play we were talking about earlier this week?

Basic/Advanced Domain Management Rule Suggestions. Simply put I'd love to see a supplement provide ideas for building both simple abstract resource-point sets and the granular hex-based ones. Let people pick where they want to start with and add (or subtract) from there.

Mass NPC Generation System. Easy-to-use rules, modeled on Tony Bath's playing card driven system, to build out huge casts of NPCs complete with quirks. One thing I took away from Hyboria is how vitally important it is to build a world of characters that create their own living dynamic. More custom tools here are needed.

A Range of Ways to Simulate War. Tweakable rules for miniatures, cardboard games, mass combat rules, card games, Engle Matrix games—why not have suggestions for them all. More wide-ranging optional rules for campaign logistics, mobilization, movement, weather, fantastic events, etc. would also be nice.

Honestly with the wish list for this I could go on and on. But I guess that's the point with the endless possibility of open-ended play.


  1. Now that's ambition. But why not aim for the stars, or beyond?

    If the mountain won't come to us, perhaps it can be broken up and carried piece by piece? This kind of project can be tackled by a loose group of interested parties with wikis or even the humble blog, as here for a skiffy wargame:

    Little by little, it could be made real.

  2. Porky, I like how you think. Instead of one monolithic system I like the idea of a collaboration with fellow travelers building a wide range of domain-play components. A nice vision that I would strongly support.

  3. Along these, ines, I'm up for running an interstellar campaign based on a space combat game. I envision players starting out as privateers, each with a single frigate. As they gain victories and capture ships, they will move up to larger vessels and eventually command squadrons and fleets. I certainly have the minis for it.

  4. Domain-level play is right at the very heart of the OD&D corpus, and it is also intrinsic to the premise of the Riskail RPG.

    The real crux of the matter is not the rules, but the imagination and ambition of the players. You can lead PCs to the well, but you can't make them think.

    Building-up a Dynasty or Lineage is a good way to engage players in the process of developing and participating in aspects of the overall gaming experience that we're not hearing too many people talk about a whole lot. So far.

    Domain-level play is a lot of fun and can really take things in very unexpected directions. Thanks for bringing this up--there just is not a lot available on this aspect of things and it tend sto get short shrift, which is a shame.

    I have heard that the Dune D20 game delved into this area and did a good job of it, but that's a tough game to locate, let alone acquire these days.

  5. @ckutalik:
    This concept, if I'm following it correctly, pretty much requires that each player character be a 'nobody' - a player character's career/life doesn't risk 'breaking' the world if they begin as a farmer, clerk, etc. Do you feel that this exposes a disconnect (for good or bad) with more recent RPG's, which seem focused on 'killer characters' who are 'epic'?

    Is this the one?

  6. > Domain-level play is right at the very heart of the OD&D corpus

    At the very heart; /explicitly/, where?
    In the material "as published", that is; rather than the widely understood concept of building a castle and clearing the wilderness being a nebulous "endgame" and without any deliberate attempt in the rules to state how preexisting domains should/could be created and managed with regards to those being carved out (in later play?) by the players.

    The overwhelming ethos in OD&D (pre-AD&D) play by people who followed the published material is that of the dungeon crawl - overwhelming to the extent that "role playing games" on a domain or even wilderness level are often stated to be not "role playing games".
    Judges Guild probably deserves more credit than they're given for shifting the scope in print to a degree but even that didn't greatly change the majority viewpoint of actual players.

    If "domain-level play is right at the very heart" is deemed to be true for OD&D and acceptable within "RPG"s, then it's a walkover to state that D&D wasn't the first "RPG". Even wiki' pages hedge on that, of course; using such language as "first commercially available" but probably thinking more to that history via Wesely, Arneson and co.

    (p.s./aside: remember that I'm giving OD&D far wider credit for /potential/ usage than is generally given, too; e.g. )

    02c, as ever, anyhow. :)

  7. > Now that's ambition. But why not aim for the stars, or beyond?

    Aiming for the stars was easier than sticking to one's own planet. Ask John Snider or Rob, for example. ;)
    That's an "easier" option for most GMs than having to maintain overarching sociopolitical integrity within a campaign world, for sure. :)

  8. > Ideas abound in another point of inspiration, the obscure En Garde-like roleplaying game Heroes (incidentally written by Dave Willward, a player in Bath's Hyboria).

    *Millward if googling.

    It's still depressing to hear you repeat "obscure", Chris! Also not a "role playing game" according to some people, despite the underlying theme of advancement of a player's personal character. :)

    Yep, much to like in that (not just the Graeco-Sterling currency that gets lost in its own double angels *jk*) in terms of potential adventure and campaign dynamics on a wider scale, neatly shoehorned into a relatively slim single volume.

    The adventuring hub nod to the En Garde! vs. the traditional cliched D&D pub gets a smile, too, of course.

  9. @Netherwerks
    "Building-up a Dynasty or Lineage is a good way to engage players in the process of developing and participating in aspects of the overall gaming experience that we're not hearing too many people talk about a whole lot."
    One game I have never played but always intrigued by is Pendragon. Truly innovative in the ways we are discussing here--providing such things as multi-generational play in which the PCs can play the kids and grandkids of their original characters.

  10. @scottsz
    Yes that's right. I don't like the idea of ditching the traditional character arc of starting as a relatively rootless nobody. It gives the kind of tabula rasa approach to allow for a richer story to emerge in play.

    But I am interested in making the connection between political/institutional power achievements and the personal power achievements (character level) a little looser. I don't think all rulers or powerful figures should be name-level superheroes, nor do I think all high-level players should inherently become high-ranking players.

    Advancement should come through the desires,actions, and successes of the players in the campaign. If they want to engage in that part of the world earlier than this kind of project can help make space for that.

  11. @irbyz
    Yes I have definitely been won over to the idea that D&D was not the first role-playing game full stop. But it was the first such game to have real social weight due to being both a cultural trend (positive) and an industry (less positive). Nothing else has compared before and after on the tabletop.

    (Which is not to say that there are other games that are more interesting or better designed or what.)

    Yes "Millward" thanks for the correction. Freudian slip on my part "Mark Willward" was a friend of mine in college. "Obscure" not as value judgment but as fact I would guess that there is a very small pond of people on this planet aware of its existence. But if you can prove that it is otherwise, I stand corrected (and gladly since I love this game).

  12. > Yes that's right. I don't like the idea of ditching the traditional character arc of starting as a relatively rootless nobody.

    "A newly generated character is singularly unequipped to deal with the adventuring world, having neither the expertise nor the experience necessary for the active life".

    Are we back to just talking about "traditional" OD&D (whatever that might mean), albeit even there relatives are explicitly ruled-in.

  13. "The more you tighten your grip, the more will slip through your fingers."

    We played as President, Secretary and Treasurer of the U. S. in Arneson's Nappy campaign, so so much for the OD&D arc of leveling/learning, as that was successfully shot through the head in campaign play, erh, 40+ years ago,

    Again, campaign play might differ one way or another; it should be expressed not so much as a rule/rules but as guides, allowing the participants to feel out and decide on their courses. Strict patterning does not singular creation make; the real problem in this is the commercial aspect which ha to be divorced from past knowledge bases in order to promote this from the fan alternative side which is where campaign p[lay grew from to begin with. Its later commercialization (w/OD&D building maintaining baronies) followed that same concept, and then folks could tinker with it as they pleased. The more you attempt to codify this, the more it will slip between your fingers, as it is too large to assemble other than as a guide and then only on a a case-by-case basis.

  14. 'I would guess that there is a very small pond of people on this planet aware of its existence'

    I've been trying to spread the word:

  15. @Geordie
    And a big thanks to you for that thread--that was what prompted me to seek out a copy (got a great deal on a man-handled one from a kindly Australian). There's some great components to that effort just crying out to be put incorporated in a new project.