What I’m Running

I’m presently running two regular campaigns:

  • Lamentations of the Flame Princess – I am running a campaign set during a weird fantasy version of the English Civil War, built out of the excellent but often underrated/overlooked England Upturn’d module by Barry Blatt.
  • King Arthur Pendragon – I am running the Great Pendragon Campaign. Our last session was 503 AD – the campaign started in 480 AD using the expanded material in the Book of Uther.

The above are affiliate links to the products mentioned on DriveThruRPG if you are minded to check them out in PDF form. If you buy PDFs through those affiliate links, I will receive a small commission. Irrespective, I don’t actually recommend that you buy Lamentations of the Flame Princess books in PDF unless they’re not available in print from www.lotfp.com (not an affiliate link), because their print books are just so beautiful. But I digress…

The LotFP campaign is a virtual tabletop game played via Roll20. The Pendragon campaign is a face-to-face game. Both campaigns have been running for over a year – the LotFP campaign for a little longer still. Both games generally run fortnightly, which seems to be a sustainable but still regular-enough time for (theoretically) responsible adults with proper jobs and families to balance their commitments with their fondness for elfgames. The style of each campaign is very different.

I have gotten into the OSR in recent years, and the LotFP campaign is the most successful of the OSR games I have run. Fundamentally it is a sandbox campaign, set in Civil War England. Combined with being a virtual table top game (where there is more of an expectation of virtual maps/mats and tokens being used during play), this game arguably takes the most preparation, as I have to prepare not only notes and thoughts about all the various areas the players might go, but also potentially provide area maps and even battlemaps for the those places as well. I have a love/hate relationship with Roll20 with respect to preparation – if I do the work beforehand, it looks great while we’re playing, everything runs smoothly, and some aspects of play are even better than playing at the table (no way I would pull out the sheer quantity of maps at different levels of detail on a tabletop full of other people’s books, dice, snacks, etc). If there’s something I haven’t fully prepared before the game, however, building areas on the fly on Roll20 either slows down the game or produces substandard results or both. I use a mixture of pre-bought maps and assets from the Roll20 marketplace, maps I’ve made myself or imported from LotFP and third party PDFs, and historical maps found online of early 17th Century England. Combined with a set of tokens custom made for the game on commission by the talented Peter Saga, this is a very visual game, and there is a sort of emerging aesthetic which makes it feel quite distinctive from other flavours of D&D.

I love Pendragon, and think it is a shining example of a game system which perfectly captures its source material. Pendragon is the Arthurian RPG. There is no need for any other. I’ve run three Pendragon campaigns through my gaming career – one in 4th edition, and two in 5th edition. The first of those 5th edition campaigns came to an end when I moved to the other side of the world, to a country where I assumed (wrongly) that nobody would be interested in Arthurian myth or RPGs, let alone both. Just over a year ago, while enjoying a drink with and admiring the gaming library of a friend whom I regard as something of a gaming oracle, I discovered that there were indeed gamers in these part who were interested in Arthurian myths and Pendragon specifically. With great enthusiasm, I got back into Pendragon, acquiring the new expansions which had come out since my last campaign 8 years ago or so, and we started our campaign. As a face to face campaign, this was always going to have a different feeling from the LotFP VTT campaign, but I found it was different in other ways as well. For those unfamiliar with the Great Pendragon Campaign, it is an enormous tome intended to take your party from the days of King Uther Pendragon, to the final battle of King Arthur’s reign, covering every war and quest and intrigue along the way. By the end of the campaign, players will likely be playing the grandchildren of their original player characters. There are elements of this campaign (and the memories of how I ran it and its 4th edition predecessor beforehand) which are fundamentally incompatible with the OSR approach and mindset I had cultivated for the LotFP campaign, however, and it took me a little while before I felt like I was in the right head-space again as a Pendragon Gamesmaster.

Both of these campaigns have given me different perspectives on the concept I made into a gag for the title of this blog – namely, “player agency”. The underlying design philosophy of each game is very different. Running both games (and of course, playing and running many other games beforehand) has taught me that there is no “one true way” to giving players meaningful agency in a campaign.

Black Box Basic Set

I have been playing a lot of old school roleplaying games in recent years, both original TSR versions of D&D, and a number of retroclones/modern OSR games. The version of D&D which introduced me to the hobby was the 1991 “black box” basic D&D set. Despite selling half a million copies in the early 90s, this version of the game seems almost forgotten by the OSR community today. Probably OSR gamers are slightly older than me and got into D&D with earlier boxed sets and thus don’t have nostalgia for this one, but the Rules Cyclopedia remains very popular and the black box came out at the same time. Another potential reason is that it doesn’t cover as complete a range of rules as Mentzer Basic, even though it covered levels 1 to 5. Whatever the cause, the 1991 black box had a lot to commend it.

A comprehensive history of basic Dungeons & Dragons, and the source of this image, can be found at https://www.acaeum.com/ddindexes/setpages/basic.html

This is the box which contained “Dragon Cards” in a small red combination DM screen and folder. The Dragon Cards taught the game in small, digestible chunks. In addition, there was a conventional rulebook, full-colour fold-out map in the style of modern “battlemaps”, a complete set of fold-up figures for player characters, NPCs, and monsters, and of course, a set of funny-shaped dice. I bought this box set with money I had for my birthday as a kid, with no prior experience of D&D or tabletop RPGs, and the contents of the box were sufficient for me to teach myself how to DM, and to teach my friends too.

Incidentally, for years, I secretly worried that we weren’t doing it right because everybody who gamed with me had learned how to play from me and this black box!

I am planning a new “black box” campaign to introduce my children and their friends to D&D. I am also preparing a virtual table top Basic D&D game to introduce the game to some adults too. The virtual table top game will probably be shorter, and I want to give the players an authentic feel for what Basic D&D was/is as opposed to the more modern versions of the game some of them have played before. To get this feel right, I am leaning towards running B1-9 In Search of Adventure, a module which combines most of the best bits of modules B1 through B9.

I plan to post on this blog about how preparation and play for each of those campaigns progresses, among many other gaming topics and thoughts.