Thursday, June 20, 2024

Analysis of Dubzaron session 120: “I hate everything and everyone”


Today is June 20th, 2024 and my name is BDubs. Below is the session report and relevant stats for Dubzaron session 120. I never released this report publicly because I was so confounded and unsatisfied by the whole event. At the time I wasn’t exactly sure why. But with almost a year of hindsight and the amazing success of Jeffro Johnson’s “Battle Braunstein concept and my own success with the Fishstein, I have a better idea of what went wrong here for myself as a dm and the (lack or) campaign excitement itself. 

I’m placing the session report as is directly below as it was written in July of 2023. Then after that I will have some analysis from where I stand today in June of 2024. 

Why do this? Well I was recently on a string of extremely successful podcasts where I publicly stated my thoughts on the Braunstein concept. I rated the other BROSR campaigns here and I discussed the concept itself with Jeffro here

Both streams had BIG FINDINGS and BIG CLAIMS which I realize now apply to this unfortunate session of Dubzaron. 
 Now here is what I wrote last year:

07/19/23 to 07/22/23. Rest 07/23/23. Actions 07/24/23


Dilly the Dwarven Fury, L1, Neutral

Edelweiss, lvl 8 mage Magical Scholar, Neutral [Mortal Wounds where she jumped back up and did some yoga]

George L4 Beastmaster, Lawful [mortal wounds where he's a superhero who got shot 36 times]

Gront Coldsky, Level 7 Neutral Barbarian Housecarl

Tuck Tenders You Death Level 6 Barbarian Pit Fighter with Ducky Level 4 Fighter (and a cast of thousands)

Marauder Barbarian Neutral (Group 2)

Standing Mountain L4 Elven Spellsword

Xanthos L7 Lawful Cleric(Mendicant)


Tuck: Ducky L4 Fighter


Frost Weaver, lvl 4 spellsword Captain, Neutral

Davian Cruise, lvl 5 Dwarven Machinist Artillerist, Neutral

Azalea, lvl 6 Shaman, Neutral

Lily, lvl 6 Bladedancer, Lawful

Gilford, lvl 6 Venturer, Neutral


Ulysses L1 Neutral Explorer(Mariner)

Koite & Potami L0 Dudes

(Not a hench but there) Fides III, Hunting Dog

George: Wolfie - Wolf

Gront:  Hafgrim, Level 3 Neutral Assassin Cutthroat. Bravis, Level 4 Lawful Mage Elementalist

Foray XP Pool: 11,660
Mass Combat Kills XP Pool: 1,200
Spoils from Defeated Troops: 14,760 (half to be paid to troops or Calamity) = 7,380
Foray Cuts: 25
Hench Foray Xp: 467
PC Foray Xp: 933

Session Report 
Edelweiss led a big army to sack the town of Fishton. There was a mass battle the dm was not prepared for between the Lawful forces and the Fishton kind of vaguely Cajun and Lovecraftian hybrid folk who live there. They had french napoleanic troops which were interesting for story but not particularly powerful in practice. The session only had time for one Heroic Foray and this itself took about 2.5 hours. It was a grind with essentially no chance of any players losing much of anything due to them be bedecked with many powerful magic items acquired primarily in solo or downtime play, and each having about 3 or 4 buff spells cast on them.

Said foray involved 4 dragons on the bad guy side which scared none of the PCs due to all the buffs, hundreds of musketeers and hussars on the Chaotic side, and like every single pc and hench. The chaotic side also had a warlock that was able to pop off a fireball before his next spell was fizzled and then a giant strength Standing Mountain threw a boulder crushing him into the dirt. There was a big robot there too fighting for the PCs hench, apparently. Who knows.

The whole thing was very unsatisfying and I wonder if there might be something to say for the overall #brosr preference for 1e AD&D.

During the battle a couple of Barbarian PCs were hiding out in fishton and stole away into the unguarded Huge Tower and grabbed a chest full of gold and platinum. That would have been ran better and been more fun if my mental capacities were not tied up making an army of thousands with their relevant leaders and such; just to get stepped on like roaches.

George and Edelweiss fell during the battle but Xanthos is a powerful cleric so they were healed back up.

Also I got a headache.

PC Grades:

Perfect on all cases. This is truly elite level play which will be celebrated across the cosmos for all time. Starring: that guy and The Pc who was buffed a lot. And super wizard. (dubs 2024 note: I was being sarcastic… in a way since they did kind of play their in session “get the ruby” role but didn’t go beyond that.)

DM Grade: D-. I played the Foray quite badly wherein I lost the use of a dragon breath due to not realizing a player had a particular item to mitigate it. Dragons are smarter than that but I’m not. I also should have focus fired more PCs with muskets & focused on missile fire more. Additionally, I added no story elements of any interest and nothing I said about the worldbuilding will be remembered. Except the jagermeister mist off the river; the only reason I didn’t get an F.

Analysis by BDubs 2024

I'd like to start by saying I don't hold any ill will to my players at that time. They were playing the game that was put in front of them. My annoyance with this session, and the subsequent splitting headache I got running it, was due to mine misunderstanding of what a real D&D campaign (at the time).

I was missing the axioms! But which ones? And what am I talking about?

Well on my recent podcast with Jeffro Johnson he made the bold claim that real D&D has a handful of axioms that, if changed, will result in a different (worse) game.

Some of the axioms are this:

1. Play your game RAW (rules as written) NOT with Rule Zero "due as thou wilt shall be the whole of the law".

2. D&D is appendix n focused. Reading these books/stories will make it easier to run real D&D which is a pulp fantasy simulator.

3. 1:1 time is foundational to real D&D.

4. Scaling up for mass combat is foundational to real D&D. (Example: 20 troops etc = 1 unit on the board)

5. D&D is a Braunstein!

So if you read the above report, and certainly if you were playing BROSR style in the summer of 2023 and before, you'll realize that I was failing to follow the 4th and 5th axiom!

Scaling up is not something I have tried much in my ACKS campaign because, well it's ACKS. Alexander Macris wrote what I believe is a pretty cool wargame called "Domains at War" which is built to work with ACKS perfectly. It uses a Battle Rating system. So, who needs to scale up, right? Wrong.

I'm going to start exploring scaling ACKS up to be like 50 men = 1 unit on the board or whatever. I have zero wargaming background so we'll see how that goes. But you can read above that the wargame and "heroic foray" took the bulk of the session time and had little to no interesting strategic or tactical elements. I was bored and had a headache the whole time despite (just look!) there being DRAGONS, and GIANT ROBOTS, and HUSSARS. Like... how could this be boring? How could this not be worth running? 

I'll tell you.

None of us had the fifth axiom in our mind, that real D&D is a Braunstein.

Let me take you back to 2023 Dubzaron and how the town of Fishton came about. I was on a break from DMing and playing due to irl concerns. And some great Co-DMs stepped up to fill the void and keep Dubzaron alive. Thank you all!

During some of these sessions the PCs went exploring the wilderness in search of a new city to buy and sell goods in. They wanted to pay less taxes, or not need to bow to Patron Drakon, or maybe DM Ambrose just wanted to try using Appendix B to generate random wilderness and see what would happen. (This was at the height of my "zero prep is best" rhetoric which had taken the BROSR memesphere by storm in the DesertSwamp.)

So Fishton was generated in session. Including it's crazy elements of having Napoleanoic troops, and a Taylor Swift Lovecraft monster named CThaylor and the cult of same. The PCs found the crazy town and were chased off. So they went back to the drawing board of 1:1 downtime to bide their time, lair smash, and get all the best buff spells and items to attack Fishton and take it for themselves.

I don't fault them for this. It's the game in front of them at the time. But it's become clear in June of 2024 that this was inferior gaming. Because this was NOT a Braunstein.

This was a name level Get Along Gang that was building up big numbers to come blanket me (the poor bedraggled DM) with huge numbers and spells and buffs that there is no way I'd be able to parse well enough to give them a real challenge. I missed that Edelweiss couldn't be hit by a breath attack because I was trying to run an army of thousands and parse the 4+ buffs that were on EACH of the PCs. Meanwhile my NPCs had bascially no buffs on them (and the PCs still whined that one of the NPCs could See Invisbility.)

In BROSR 2023 style I came to DM Ambrose to ask him what the troop numbers would look like in this town he created in a noprep session. Now firstly, his notes weren't great. That's just one of those things. My DM notes suck, as well; and I'd be loathe to try and communicate them to another DM to challenge me and my Get Along Gang army if I had to.

But if the sacking of Fishton was run like a Battle Braunstein (rather than a Get Along Gang beat down to the DM)... oh man I promise you DM Ambrose (now playing NPC CThaylor) notes on his army numbers would be impeccable! Because he has something to lose. He cares. He wants to beat the other PCs. He wants to hit them with his own "stupid PC plan".

Recall my last podcast where I joked how Jeffro's one player was broken and ragequit due to being faced with ONE "stupid PC plan"? Well DMs like me face these plans every week. And session 120 almost broke me.

This was compounded by the fact that Edelweiss the mage was playing solitaire every single day to smash lairs and get more cash and prizes preparing for this attack on Fishton. This, until recently, was celebrated as a sort of Elite level downtime play. It's similar to what Mandalf did. Except Mandalf generated many interesting sessions for PCs to enjoy during this downtime solitaire. Edelweiss had a few, but was overall just focused on stacking Gs, man.

Myself and the better BROSR DMs have had, since discovering the solitaire approach to 1:1 downtime play, an uneasy feeling about this. Something not quite right about PCs playing a solitaire game in which they can't really lose. But we couldn't put our finger on it beyond thinking it was probably just too easy.

I felt in 2023 as long as the Patron or Name Level PC was generating interesting session hooks that it was probably ok. They were doing their job as a sort of adjacent "co-DM". Smashing lairs for cash and prizes was kind of their reward for helping co-dm and create campaign hooks. While I still think this is BETTER than just playing solitaire for cash and prizes, it doesn't quite hit the mark.

Because the mark is the Braunstein. 

These players should be playing their role in a way that looks for contention. That looks for the faction based PVP. That generally ignores the NPC aspects of the campaign world because the DM honestly can't be bothered to figure all those out or create them in such a way to be challenging. Even if I made every NPC of Fishton perfectly, they wouldn't all be decked out in +3 Armor, shields, and swords. They wouldn't all have the best possible spells and troops they could find. But the PCs did when they attacked Fishton!

I would never, as a DM, try to hit the PCs with a totally unfair plan like PCs often hit a DM. There is a social element there, an unspoken agreement that PCs will think the DM is a real jerk if he did something like that; if CThaylor sent a sleep demon to eat them during 1:1 time before they could get their army in place. But if PCs did it to my NPCs? It's all good, man!

So as long as a DM is hemmed in by the Goldilocks theory of challenges not being too hard OR too easy, there's no way a PC vs NPC campaign can be as engaging as PVP.

So, as a I discussed on "This is DunderMoose", this is why approaching D&D as a Braunstein, and some sessions as a Battle Braunstein is key.

Doing so would have prevented Dubzaron Session 120 from being titled "I hate everything and everyone" and I wouldn't have needed to give the campaign world a do-over with the Fishstein. We'd have instead had a city sacking for the ages. A session we'd have all been buzzing and talking about forever. Instead, we had a session which I hid from the public for a year.

What a disaster.

1 comment:

  1. This is a brilliant post, which really shows the benefits of Braunsteins. In large part, this is because PVP is the true hard-mode of D&D.


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