Eero's Muster: a friendly primer to old school D&D

Johann's picture

Our fellow Story-Games veteran Eero Tuovinen is setting set out to write Muster: a friendly primer to old school D&D at IndieGoGo. This is a project very much in the vein of Matthew Finch's seminal Quick Primer for Old School Gaming and Jason Cone’s unforgettable Philotomy’s Musings.

As you know, Eero’s been blogging and writing about the philosophically underpinnings of wargamey D&D and how to run and play in a sandbox campaign for many years. He’s been a major influence on my gaming, along with Ben Robbins’ West Marches campaign. But enough with all the OSR links – go check out Eero’s crowdfunding pitch for yourself!

Best wishes,

P.S.: I'm not quite sure where to post this. I'm not affiliated with Eero's campaign but merely enthusiastically backing it, so I opted for putting it here rather than the Plug section. Feel free to move it, Tod!

komradebob's picture

Thanks for posting this! I very much have enjoyed Eero's jkourney into Old School and his look at it through modern eyes, so very nice to know he's collecting his thoughts on the subject in one place. I'm also very interested to see what his take is on the unwritten methods involved, since I've come to think those are by far the most important parts of old school play.

Billy's picture

Very cool, I know Eero's been meaning to write a book like this for years. I went ahead and shared the campaign to the OSR reddit page; maybe it can win some traction there.

Johann's picture

I'd love to see this take off.

I think the focus on the philosophy and methodology behind the rules is a very worthwhile endeavour.

(I know next to nothing of wargames. I certainly wouldn't associate "unwritten rules" with wargames, but that's probably because I instinctively think of Axis & Allies as a wargame (which it isn't, it's a boardgame, right?) and have only ever heard Advanced Squad Leader mentioned in hushed tones...

komradebob's picture

What is considered a wargame, or influenced by wargames, is as broad as what is an RPG or influenced by RPGs.

Axis & Allies is a wargame, a boardgame, and probably also a "family game" in the sense that it is widely available in non-specialty stores and marketed to the general public.

What makes it tricky is that, in the context of old timey RPGs, they aren't usually talking about the influence of something like Hex n Chit gamnes or Risk, trhey're talking about the influence of Diplomacy ( board sorta wargame, kinda family game) and many commonly played miniatures wargames, and to some extent military training games that the public had access to ( kreigspiel and Strategos). Not the broad spread of wargames, but a specific subset.

Edited to add, even more:

While the Boatrdgame Diplomacy is very important, it's important to understand too that aspects of miniatures war gaming specifically has a big impact, even though RPGs would rapidly move away from miniatures use as a common aspect of play.

1) Minis gaming is inherently heavy on Do It Yourself aspects of play in a way board gaming is not. In a board waregame, you'll have the map/board, the scenaario, and all the approrpiately designed markers you need, and all the relevent rules for them. In miniatures games, you'll need to make some or all of that.

2) Miniatures games are inherently more ambiguous in play than board war games, leading to neutral referees being more desirable. At minimum, in a board wargame, your piece is either in a space or not in a space, and that space is either adjacent or not adjacent to the space holding the enemy piece. That alone gets fuzzy in miniatures gaming, just duie to the nature of the pieces used. Likewise, in a board wargame, a space of rough terrain costs three movement points. In a miniatures game, an inch or cm of rough, modelled terrain costs three movement points. Whart happens when only a fraction of an inch/cm is encountered during m,ovement? What if only a small portion of a large unit moves through the rough terrain, and the rest is in clear terrain the entire move? What if the rules never mention either situation?!?

Again, while many, many miniatures wargames never mention nor encourage nor require a neutral referee...neutral referees are still common in actual play.

3) More controversially, using little toy people ( as opposed to little cardboard chits with symbols or silhouettes on them) tends to also bring out the ham improv actor in people, leading to early characterization and character differentiation. Which is funny, considering how players closer to the current day often complain that miniatures in RPGs have the reverse effect, making it harder for them to get into character. I guesss that all has to do with what your prior experience with gaming is.

Johann's picture wargames. Thank you!

I especially like your point on DIY - that's how a friend of mine moved from RPGs into Warhammer Fantasy Battle: first, he painted PCs, then NPCs, then entire orc bands and terrain for boss battles in our RPG campaigns ... and then he painted armies for WFB. He was mostly into it for the DIY aspect -- I remember a 25 mmm figurine for which he created a flail, complete with a working chain he assembled from thin wire via pincers. Unbelievable.

I also appreciate the ironies surrounding the use of little toy people...

komradebob's picture

I have a similar story involving minis, DIY, and gaming, although in a slightly different order.

That whole almost-necessary aspect of miniatures wargames really does heavily influence how early RPGs are played.

FWIW, I was a Tween During Fad Era entry in rpgs, so my early experience with RPGs ( and using minis in them) sits in this weird nebulous zone, neither coming from strict wargaming nor with WotC Era D&D miniatures use, but more RPGs=Choose Your Own Adventure Books + Multiple players+ Dice + Mother May I?

Using miniatures was all of the above formula, but with the addition of + Star Wars Action figure Play. :D

Johann's picture

My friends and I would totally have used our large collections of Star Wars miniatures if we had already been playing RPGs at that time. Alas! It was many years later that we discovered RPGs and childhood toys were long gone.

komradebob's picture

A fair bit of the design stuff I putter around with is to try to incorporate the good parts of toy play into gaming, but for grown ups who have experience with gaming ( and want something other than the well-trod war game approach).

Johann's picture

Eero has finished writing Muster - A Primer for War. Advice for playing D&D the wargaming way!

It is now available for free at DriveThruRPG.

It's taken longer than anticipated, but it's also grown from it's early estimated length of 50 pages to 250+ pages! Fortunately, (1) there's a brief manifesto at the beginning and (2) it's been split into a basic and advanced section. As a backer, I couldn't be happier!

Among other things, Eero offers a mature take on Chauvinism and D&D and penetrating observations about 'The Nihilistic Void' encroaching on long-term campaigns conducted in the wargaming way --- but judge for yourself!