As you might know, I’m a bit of an old fart when it comes to gaming. Not only did I cut my teeth on Basic D&D and Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, but even now I love returning to the “scene of the crime”.
I’ve been recently re-reading classic tomes like the AD&D Dungeon Master’s Guide with a view to seeing what lessons the games of yesteryear can teach the gamers of today. It was inevitable, though, that I’d also check out the famed stalwart of the early hobby—B2 Keep on the Borderlands. As you probably know, it was designed as an introductory adventure and so it had some special notes for beginning players and GMs.
All the notes below are direct quotes from page 4 of the Keep on the Borderlands. I think you’ll agree this advice is both timeless and (ironically) basic.
- The DM must be fair. He or she cannot be “out to get the players” nor should he or she be on their side all the time.
- If a party has played well and succeeded, the DM should not punish them by sending more and more monsters at them or thwart their plans
- If the players have acted foolishly, they should get their “just rewards”.
- In combat, the DM should play the monsters to the best of the monster’s ability
- The DM must be fair, but the players must play wisely.
- The DM is also the designer of the situation and must bear in mind the abilities of his or her players.
- It is the job of the DM to see that the situations and character balance.
- As DM, much satisfaction comes from watching players overcome a difficult situation. But they should do it on there own.
- To defeat monsters and overcome problems, the DM must be a dispenser of information.
- The players must be allowed to make their own choices.
- It is important the DM give accurate information.
- The DM must remember that he or she is in control.
It’s good to see the basic role of a GM hasn’t really changed all that much over the last forty years or so. I think it’s fair to say the dynamics and size of most groups has changed over the last four decades but a GM of today reading the list above could implement all of Gary’s suggestions (in fact, I’d argue every GM *should* follow his advice).
In fact, the only piece of advice above I slightly disagree with is “It is the job of the DM to see that the situations and character balance.” I agree with that up to a point, but I’d add the caveat, “unless the players do something stupid.”
All the notes below are direct quotes from page 25 of the Keep on the Borderlands. I think you’ll agree this advice is both timeless and (ironically) basic.
- Players should be organised and cooperative.
- Each player should have complete information on his or her character easily on hand.
- Players should work together to use their abilities effectively.
- Arguing among players will cause delays, attract monsters and often result in the deaths of some or all of the members.
- Cooperation should also be given to the DM.
- The game should be fun for all involved.
- Planning is another important part of play.
- Caution is also necessary and is a part of planning. A party that charges forward without preparation is almost certainly doomed.
- Too much caution is as dangerous as too little.
- Above all a player must think. The game is designed to challenge the minds and imaginations of the players. Those who tackle problems and use their abilities, wits and new ideas will succeed more often than fail.
- The challenge of thinking is a great deal of the fun of the game.
I think pretty much all the advice above is still relevant today. It’s all basic, foundational stuff and that cheers me immensely. While the games many of us pay nowadays have evolved to be more complex, more tactical and more option rich, they are essentially the same games.
And I think that’s a good thing.
What Do You Think?
Is this advice still relevant? Are some aspects of successful game play essentially eternal or have we moved on? Let me know, in the comments below.