Microlite74 lead to an online reunion with one of the players in the college games of D&D I ran in late 1975 and 1976. One of my early players downloaded a copy and was surprised to discover he knew the author long ago. After a few emails catching up on that last 30 years, John got to asking just what is “Old School” really is. He sees it as a style of play, but over the last few weeks of looking at “Old School” web sites he thinks most online “Old School” players see it mainly as playing old, out-of-print games or clones of those games.
Unfortunately (In my opinion, at least), he sees the majority of online “Old School” movement as “a sad attempt to repeat the last half of the 1970s with rehashed games, rehashed articles about variant rules and classes, and even rehashed debates about role-playing versus rolling playing — just with much higher production values.” Please understand that he considers himself “Old School” as his homebrew campaign runs the player-skill, relatively rules-lite, sandbox swords & sorcery style that online “Old School” proponents advocate. He just doesn’t run it with old rules. In fact, some of his rules have very modern origins.
My rules incorporate all sorts of “modern” things that online “Old School” proponents would have a hissy fit over given their reactions to things like ascending armor class or spell points. For example, players get narrative control to describe the results of their hits (subject to GM veto, of course). I discovered that borrowing this player narrative idea from story games makes our combats more interesting to newer players who really like 3.x and 4.x tactical slugfests without the complex combat rules that annoy my long-time players and make a 5 minute combat in my game take an hour in D&D3 or D&D4. However, I’ve been told by a couple of online “Old School” pundit-wannabes that this alone means my game and campaign aren’t really “Old School.” The impression I get from online “Old School” proponents is that “Old School” means “I’m playing an early version of D&D and playing it by the book.” By that definition most of the people playing D&D or AD&D in the 1970s and early 1980s; the time period the “Old School” movement apparently wants to bring back were not really playing “Old School” games.
While I think John’s criticism is a bit too harsh and projects the position of some of the extremists in “Old School” movement on the entire movement, I have to admit that I have encountered the attitude he describes far more often than I would like to. And, IMHO, far more often than I think is good for the “Old School” movement. If “Old School” is to ever be anything more than an small fringe of RPG players, it is going to have to accept the idea that “Old School” is a style of play that can be played with many different rules sets, not just old favorites from the early days of the hobby.
What do you think?