HomeGates & GlamoursOld School: A Style of Play or Just Playing Early RPGs?

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Old School: A Style of Play or Just Playing Early RPGs? — 11 Comments

  1. I think it's a valid criticism. Alternative character classes and monsters for old school games are, to some extent, dangerous, because that's what originally led to the new school approach in the first place, with its stat blocks and detailed ability breakdowns. If you don't like new school, why re-invent it?

    For me, the point of "old school" is to get back to minimal rulesets and one-line descriptions of items, spells and monsters. I have alternative rules for octaNe (an indie narrativist-style game) which make it superficially D&D, but with the same underlying octaNe approach. No '70s-era rules, all indie/narrativist, but still old school.

    The recent suggestion of the term "neoclassic" for retroclones and old school-style rules may help. The original rules are "classic". Labyrinth Lord, Swords & Wizardry, Spellcraft & Swordplay, and M74 are "neoclassic". Minimalist indie games with a focus on player puzzle-solving and adventure aren't classic or neoclassic, but can still be "old school".

  2. I agree with Talysman: Minimal rulesets and one-line descriptions of items, spells, and monsters. And I am also wary of all the optional this class and that ability. I don't want to be trapped in a time loop and relive the past. I've started thinking of old school in terms of affordance. What is it I like about the game and how are the rules or their lack going to support it?

  3. I agree that minimum rules is a big part of what makes any game old-school, but minimal published rules does not have to dictate how you play. For me at least,the house-rules experience is just as important. Leaving game-masters and players the option to house-rule and ad-lib whenever they want is what appeals to me and others I have had this sort of discussion with.

  4. Kensanata,

    I think that there is something to your affordance
    point especially if the players or the GM are expecting something like the rules as written. If they aren't it is less of a problem. However, the rules as written are always going to set up expectations in the minds of players.

    I still think it is possibly to play old school style with just about any system if the GM and players are willing to ignore rules that get in the way and house-rule things to work better. To me, this "make the game your own" with house rules is just as important to old school as rules-light and fast-playing. In some cases, the amount of effort this take might be akin to writing a new game from scratch. However, Microlite20 shows that it is possible to boil down even a very complex system like 3.5 to something that could be played old school style with little effort.

  5. In my opinion, I’ve seen old games run in a style I wouldn’t call “old school”. Heck, to me any “new school” was largely spawned by people, like me, trying to fill in the missing pieces that the books failed to communicate.

    I also believe I’ve seen “new school” games played in a largely “old school” style. The bits that the “new school advocates” tout about the new games—these people largely ignore those bits. They play the game much the way they always have…just with the new rules, which they ignore and tweak just as much as gamers always have.

    That said, I find doing these things is suboptimal. Choosing rules that are a good fit for your style makes things go smoother.

    Well, in the end, I can only speak for myself. I’ve come back to the old games because I didn’t enjoy the way I used to play them, but I discovered people who did enjoy them but played differently than I used to. For me, it’s been about discovering the style that makes the old games fun, and discovering that I really enjoy that style.

  6. "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.

    Very true. To me the argument is not one of ascending AC or Spell Points, though. These are nothing more than mechanics. I never understood the rejection of modern, often simpler or more logical means for resolving the same game details. M74 is a good example of streamlined mechanics which address the same game details found in OD&D, but in a more modern method.

    I'm all about the concept these days anyway, much more than the actual printed words or tables from 30 years ago.

    I think one of the big issues with OD&D is that by nature Referees are going to make that game their own, so much so that it can become not "Old School" to a certain small segment of our gaming brethren. AD&D 1e was no more than Gary's version of doing that very thing.

    My own appreciation of OD&D stems from the fact that in order to play the game in the method I enjoy most, I need to remove or change a whole hell of a lot less than I would with later editions.

  7. The Old school debate is tired and pointless. We might well try to place a definitive definition on "good" or "fun".

    If you're enjoying your game, does it really matter whether or not it qualifies for some imaginary distinction?

  8. "with rehashed games, rehashed articles about variant rules and classes, and even rehashed debates about role-playing versus rolling playing"

    He's spot on. But that is just the loud part of the Old School Blogosphere. It has nothing to do with people actually playing games or the OSR in general.

  9. I firmly believe it's playing style, not rules, that determine whether a particular game is "old school" or not. It's very subjective, but I can imagine new-edition rules being used to play old-school games.

    That said, playing new-edition games by the book would make it very difficult, if not impossible, to get a real "old-school" feel because of the cumbersome and complicated ways of doing things.

    There's a light freebie game out called Dungeonslayers that, I think, has the potential to capture the old-school vibe perfectly. It uses mostly new-school mechanics, but it's simple, light, and open.

    School's out for summer. Go play.

  10. @kensanata: from your use of the term "affordance", I take it you've read "The Design of Everyday Things"?

    On the issue of alternate character classes, I guess I should mention I have no problem with changing the existing classes or even writing the info down for others to use. But to me, the best way to do that is, again, short descriptions and off-the-cuff rulings. Too many alternate character classes — especially the ones that later became official in AD&D — put too much emphasis on changing hit dice and experience progression or detailing fancy new powers, instead of saying something like "my character is a death-mage. He's like an ordinary magic user, but change all words like 'life' in spell descriptions to 'death'. And he can try to retain a spell in memory after casting it, but he has to make a saving throw vs. death or lose 1d6 constitution."