D&D General Gaming From Above vs Gaming From Below

TheSword

Legend
Did you mean, "no one is going to play an adventurer?" I'm pretty sure that no one in the Fellowship of the Ring was, by trade, an "adventurer." Farmer, however, would be pretty accurate for Samwise, Pippin, and Merry (Frodo was just a trust fund baby). Same goes for D&D characters: there's no Adventurer class.


So, theSword divides definitions up a bit, here. Is Gaming from Above when the PCs and/or their contacts are upper class, or is it when the related adventures are upper class? Interestingly, "gaming from above" is represented by the lord-heroes of LOTR, despite them actually "fighting trolls" (a gaming from below example).

As GM, I don't care what the status of my PCs are. They're going to trudge through the mud and steal the hearts of princes no matter who they are. Obviously, I'll tie it all into a decent tapestry, but my game generally won't be Gaming from Below where the mantra is, "we don't care who rules us or what they do, as long as we can peacefully live our sedentary lives, dance, and drink Bud Light beer."

Aside, this guy would probably identify as "fisherman":
I’ve chosen to define Gaming from Above (copyright : The Sword 2023) as being concerned with the goings on of the Great and Good (not meaning alignment) : Monarchs, Heads of Churches, Generals, Noble houses, and Great Merchant Dynasties. Where the king summons you to court to save his princess from a dragon - or some such.

It doesn’t matter where the PCs come from or how poweful/rich they are - it’s about how as a DM you reveal the world to your players… through the rich and/or poweful or through the common folk.

In published game examples of Gaming from Above would be spending your screen time with NPCs like Duke Ulder Ravenguard, Laerl Silverhand, The Merchant Princes of Port Nyazaru, The matron mothers of Drow Houses, Liara Portyr, Strahd von Zarovich, Zariel, Bel or Baphomet etc etc.

Essentially the question is: do the PCs in your campaign gravitate to the most powerful instead of the everyday folk? Either because that’s where they think the money/power is, or because that’s who you put in front of them / write the hooks for / invest the most time in.

Let’s be honest - campaign guides for a long time have focused on these folks almost exclusively… take a look at the 3e Forgotten Realms Campaign guide for instance. An excellent book but almost wholly focused on power players.
 
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TheSword

Legend
I wouldn't expect any bright red lines between the two focuses of play. After all, he does indicate that the campaign may, in fact, shift in focus from one to the other.
Plus, you've got the influence of the PC origins - hence, the LotR being largely Gaming from Above. They interact with the highest echelons of society and only one of them is anything resembling a commoner (Sam, the other 3 hobbits being local aristocrats/gentlefolk families). Even the Fellowship's ultimate goal is to destroy a dangerous tyrant and put a rightful heir on his throne. While they may fight a troll, fighting a troll is incidental to that goal, and shortly thereafter they are back in the company of elven nobility. A campaign focusing on Aragorn's pre-Fellowship career would be an interesting hybrid between Gaming from Above and Gaming from Below given his origin and contact with Rivendell, but also his work in the wilderness protecting the folk of Bree and the Shire.
Absolutely. I think dealing with kings and archmages can be great. But best when it’s grounded in a world with a healthy dose of commoners.

To be clear I’m not just talking about farmers though - junior priests, clerks, toll keepers, watchmen, guards, inn keepers, soldiers, peddlers, cut purses, shop keepers, outlaws.

In Lord of the Rings we start off with Farmer Maggot, a Gatekeeper and a Barman, then quickly move on to a princess, a future king, one of the three great lords of the elves, a prince of mirkword, a couple of human princes, a dwarven lord, the head wizard of the realm, the tomb of another dwarf king, a human prince, a human princess, an elf queen, and her lord, the chief Ent, the chief advisor to a king, a king, another king, an undead king, 9 wraith kings, another prince, etc etc etc.

I can count on one hand the number of named characters in Tolkein after leaving Bree that don’t have some form of royal bloodline or significant position of authority. Clearly Tolkein believed in Gaming from Above - or at least it’s storytelling equivalent.

Quite a few folks her publish their own products. Worth considering whether you focus on the poweful in this products or the everyday folks.
 
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Whizbang Dustyboots

Gnometown Hero
I am very much a ground up DM. Even when my PCs eventually start becoming movers and shakers, I try and keep them connected to the ordinary people around them, whose concerns aren't who's raiding the tomb of the ancient dragon kings, but whether instability within the empire will lead to their family will not being able to get enough to eat.

And all of my players seem to really connect with the setting as a result, often eschewing the big superheroic stuff that D&D can provide in favor of being the people who can help the little guys out, time and again. It's one of the few things that all of the PCs can agree upon, and we actually had a bit of PvP early in the campaign due to otherwise wildly differing world views.
 

Clint_L

Hero
Did you mean, "no one is going to play an adventurer?" I'm pretty sure that no one in the Fellowship of the Ring was, by trade, an "adventurer." Farmer, however, would be pretty accurate for Samwise, Pippin, and Merry (Frodo was just a trust fund baby). Same goes for D&D characters: there's no Adventurer class.
Not sure if you're being ironic? Obviously, by adventurer I meant it in the normal sense of "someone going on adventures." All of the Fellowship became adventurers when they joined Frodo. Every PC in a TTRPG is an adventurer.
 


TheSword

Legend
The thing is, messing about with Rulers and High Priests etc can be great. In fact it’s kinda important if you’re going to be involving kingdom spanning stakes and threats. Interacting with these folks can make PCs feel significant and important themselves.

The problem occurs when they interact in a vacuum without the proper buildup and context presented by Gaming from Below. To be clear. In Gaming from Below you can still observe and interact with the deeds of the great and good but it’s by observing the impact their actions have on everyday folks.
 

Stormonu

Legend
I think a good example might be the difference between Saving Private Ryan and The Longest Day (and what @TheSword was originally pointing at).

In The Longest Day, while we see everyday soldiers fighting, in all but one case we're following the officers, the generals and the upper staff as they implement and react to the invasion of Normandy. It's definitely a Gaming From Above style.

Compared to Saving Private Ryan. Sure, the initial quest comes from on high, but it's just to give us the starting point. Throughout the movie, we're following Tom Hank's squad and their interactions with other common soldiers and the common civilians, seeing the war through their eyes, without a grand overview of the situation, interaction with generals, officers and the like. This is Gaming From Below.

For my own games, it tends to shift over time. Unless the group contains a noble of some sort, it begins as a Gaming From Below style as the characters try to find their way in the world. As their reputation grows, they often draw the attention of the higher echelons in the world and rather than be moved like pawns by such individuals grow to become peers who may even begin directing the actions of others - often through the establishment of a fortress, business, academy or some other agency, guild, army or whatnot that lets them in on "the great game".
 

TheSword

Legend
I think a good example might be the difference between Saving Private Ryan and The Longest Day (and what @TheSword was originally pointing at).

In The Longest Day, while we see everyday soldiers fighting, in all but one case we're following the officers, the generals and the upper staff as they implement and react to the invasion of Normandy. It's definitely a Gaming From Above style.

Compared to Saving Private Ryan. Sure, the initial quest comes from on high, but it's just to give us the starting point. Throughout the movie, we're following Tom Hank's squad and their interactions with other common soldiers and the common civilians, seeing the war through their eyes, without a grand overview of the situation, interaction with generals, officers and the like. This is Gaming From Below.

For my own games, it tends to shift over time. Unless the group contains a noble of some sort, it begins as a Gaming From Below style as the characters try to find their way in the world. As their reputation grows, they often draw the attention of the higher echelons in the world and rather than be moved like pawns by such individuals grow to become peers who may even begin directing the actions of others - often through the establishment of a fortress, business, academy or some other agency, guild, army or whatnot that lets them in on "the great game".
This is it - precisely.

The first time I coined the term was in a post comparing Odyssey of the Dragonlords and Raiders of the Serpent Sea. In Odyssey the first significant NPC the party meet is the King of Estoria and he asks them to save his daughter the princess from a vengeful god (Jason and the argonauts style). In Raiders the first major NPC they meet is a viking raider and they go on to try and wrangle a boat out of some other raiders. In order to do which they have to speak to a load of townsfolk.

Serpents is grounded in reality - Odyssey isn’t grounded at all really. That doesn’t mean it can’t be fun. My players enjoyed meeting kings and gods no doubt - but did it really have the impact it could have without the Gaming from Below element to give it context.

This would have a big impact on a someone running a Birthright Campaign or something like it. Don’t neglect the common folk in those adventures.
 
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Ancalagon

Dusty Dragon
I think the system has a big impact on this. The more powerful PCs are/can be, the more independent they can be of social norms and power. You see this a lot in high level D&D games.

Warhammer 2nd ed frpg is *really * good at showcasing the "from below" aspect, it's baked into the system. And because warhammer is not a "high powered" game, the social status of PCs and NPCs matters more.
 

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