10 November 2010

Braunstein redux

One of the events we can trace the origins of role-playing games back to are the Braunstein games run by Dave Wesely. The first occurred in 1967. Here’s a description of it from Law Shick’s book, Heroic Worlds:

Some players represented advance elements of the armies just entering the town, and others represented factions from within the town itself. Each player's faction had differing goals and abilities. The players, used to set-piece battles between armies, had never encountered anything like this before, but soon they were deeply engaged in all sorts of intrigue, with their figures chasing each other around the miniature town of Braunstein. The game dissolved into apparent chaos, and the armies never did get to the town.

This undisciplined brawl violated all Wesley’s cherished theories of organized game conduct, and he thought of it as a failure. But the players loved it and were soon pestering him to run “another Braunstein”.

Now consider this PvP blog post, “The Tribunal of Erathis”, from this year (2010):

Last night’s D&D session with my group was really something special. Lucky for me, cause it could have gone either way. And to be honest, I was certain all night that most of my players were bored out of their minds. But after our session, and I apologized for the failed experiment I was met with a surprised merriment. They had a great time and one of my players said it was his favorite night of gaming so far with this group.

It closes with these words:

It was a night of pure role-play. The dice rolled only for skill checks of History, Insight, Diplomacy and Bluffing. And we had a great time.


I encourage all DMs to take at least one night out where the dice are never rolled for combat. And get your players role-playing. It was an incredible time.

The similarities are striking. Why are D&D players in 2010 repeating one of the incidents that led to D&D and being surprised by it?

(Yeah, that’s something of a rhetorical question that I plan to revisit...)

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