Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Bringing back the Old School Style.

This'll likely be of interest to Efrem and some others, not so much to some. Your mileage may vary.

*Important Note*
This post is not under any circumstances designed to be a debate on the theory of "System Matters" or really any other game system debate. There's no debate. It is what it is.

"Just as a casual observation, anyone who considers the presence of Vancian magic a dealbreaker is probably lost to us, and I'm ok with that.

Personally, I view the pulp fantasy roots of the game as a feature and not a flaw, and I'm glad that there is an edition of the game for people who don't, because that is not a version of the game I am very interested in publishing."

Erik Mona, Publisher,
Paizo Publishing

There is a resurgence in Pulp Gaming lately; specifically in gaming via old school games ala Original D&D, 1st Edition AD&D and the like (new systems designed under the OGL as a loose framework based upon the classics).

The important clarification here is that it isn't necessarily as a "vehicle for killing monsters and getting loot" but as roleplaying as was done at the time (full-bodied roleplaying; playing the hilt out of their character in situations in and out of combat in very loose systems).

The core of the argument is that the systems were designed for IMAGINATION to play the largest portion of the game...not system.

It is steadfastly against newer, more streamlined systems which remove the imagination elements in place of simply being okay to create homebrew/ ad hoc solutions, and play without a "net" of system.

Ultimately: System Doesn't Matter*
*More accurately, if system matters to games where system matters.
Does System Matter?
If it matters to YOU...then yes...system matters. (Play any game only as it was written)
If it doesn't matter to you...then no...system doesn't matter.
(Play old-school style)

The largest push on this is coming from a resentment of game systems that posit that the game is written to be encapsulated by the rules/ systems/ mechanics...and if it isn't in the's not a part of the game.

This is strictly the opposite of many gaming theories that have come forward in the past eight years or so.

The goal of these folks is that the purpose of this old school resurgence is to bring back an interest in gaming that is definitely and very literally"outside the box". Game systems that are purposefully loose (sometimes published in PDF AND DOC formats so you can easily adjust to fit.) so that most of the roleplay elements of the game are free-form and free for imagination to take the front seat in the game, not contained neatly between the lines of the game mechanics.

For a long time these game theories and gaming preferences have been derided as poorly written, very loose and incoherent. The position here is that they aren't loose or incoherent so much as they are designed to place a MUCH greater importance on the players and GM to roleplay the game and use imagination as the very heart of the game and cooperation and trust in GM Fiat...not the system.

GM Fiat is expected. Game systems are guidelines only...and less is better when it comes to anything that would inhibit the role of imagination, specifically social interactions and non-combat interactions...but even including combat interactions when you deem fit (see DM Fiat).

A LARGE chunk of this is based on a trust system where the GM is the final arbiter of the game: cooperate, don't rely on the system to get you around a GM decision.

Some folks are really getting fired up about this. Games, campaign settings and adventures are being developed for this by respectable developers. This isn't just some grass-roots, effort by home actually has a following.

I have to admit a bit of admiration for folks spearheading this shift in paradigm away from the more recent trend of one game theory and the necessity of game theory to be this deep academic discipline.

For a while now there really hasn't been an opposition to the modern theories, just a divide between:
a. System Matters (and a large body of academic work developed to reinforce and justify the prevalence of this theory)

b. System Doesn't Matter (and the body of work that came before that was based on very little crunchy system and elaborate game design theories and an absolute reliance on imagination, cooperation and GM Fiat).

The former has been lauded as the new age of gaming...where the latter is a throwback to an uninformed age of some sort...leading to ultimately the new way...and the old way. Heavy emphasis has been placed in the past several years that the old way was for some reason "bad" or "not as good".

It's nice to see more than one view for a change.

Now before the steamroll of flamage is very important to note that this Theory and Resurgence makes no claim of being the one true way, or that it is better than the games built upon the principle that System Matters. Not at all.

Folks that believe in System Matters are wholly free to believe as they wish, and play as they the games they prefer and go in peace. That style of play and design theory is perfectly valid and okay for those who subscribe to it. Rock on with thyself!

Folks that believe that System Doesn't Matter now have an outlet, a support mechanism, and game theory (such as it is) to back it up. That style of play and design theory is ALSO perfectly valid and okay for those who subscribe to it. Party on!

Play as you like with the games that you like.

Now it seems that it is becoming okay again to like Original Dungeons and Dragons, AD&D and really any old school system that relies on gaming outside the pages of the rulebook and it's not just a hole for the old stinky die hard D&Ders from the old days to play.

It's okay to see D&D as a game for something other than simply killing monsters and getting loot. That's not what it was originally designed for, and it's not the ONLY way to play anymore.

"It's okay to play old school games in old school ways."


Puma said...

I always felt that AD&D was one of the best rule sets for pure role-playing, as the rules were simple and easily found if one didn't choose to memorize them. Most everything happened in the heads of the players and DM, rather than worrying about how best to place a fireball template to hit the most enemies.

Really, only Call of Cthulhu is better.

RonSaikowski said...


While I can't speak to the resurgence of the "old school ways" as I don't really keep up with it... I think you've got a valid point with your post here.

I play 40k and it's one thing to play within the current ruleset and the universe created and go no further and it's another to use that as just a framework and go it on your own "without the net" to keep you safe.

I think it's a different kind of gamer who looks to play without the safety of a net so to say. You have to be willing to make certain concessions and be comfortable with the less black and white structure found today in most games today.

I would add that if you haven't tried the "old school" way before, it's worth giving it a go sometime. A little bit of faith can mean alot of freedom.

Gamer Dude said...

I just stumbled upon this blog via Grognardia (great stuff there, great stuff here) and thought I'd throw my two cents in as well.

An interesting thought occurred to me the other day as I sat having a conversation with one of my pals about this "old school" movement; the rules matter. Now that epiphany might seem both blatantly obvious as well as simplistic but it's the way that I came to it that brought it home for me.

After commenting that too many rules constrict imagination my buddy said well why don't we take the approach of rules subtraction and apply old school methodology to our current (4E) game. I've heard this argument before...

In a nutshell, it doesn't work. At least within the construct of 4E.

Here's an example: Say I've got a thief (er, rogue...sorry.) and he's in a bit of a tussle in the local constabulary. The room is strewn with tables and furniture of one sort or another and he's eager to put his vaunted dexterity to the test. After all, that's what thieves are known for right?

So he plans to flip a footstool into the face of an oncoming assailant and then leap onto the table in order to foil the clumsy attack of the bumbling guardsman.

OK, so in 4E it plays out rather like this:
DM: Your turn...
Player: I kick the small footstool through the air towards the oncoming guard on my left there in order to slow his approach.
DM: What power are you using to do this?
Player: Power? Uhm...Er...


Scene dramatics fizzle out and fade to grey.

To put it simply, the 4E rules are meant to be used in a very certain way. Granted, a creative group could describe what they're doing and bend the power to the action. But IF it doesn't specifically fit then they're shoe-horning things. And this is a pain. Why do it? Why not use rules that were meant for this style of play?

Thus the resurgence of "old school". IMHO of course.