View Full Version : "A Quick Primer for Old School Gaming"

04-30-2009, 04:17 AM
I've read through "A Quick Primer for Old-School Gaming" (http://www.lulu.com/content/3019374) a couple of times now, and I'm not sure what to think.

On the one hand, I can sympathize with a desire to return to simpler rules and narrative techniques. Problems with pass/fail "information skill rolls" inspired the GUMSHOE system, to take one example. I like colorful descriptions from players and DMs both, and I'd rather picture a master swordsman who describes masterful sword techniques than a stack of bonuses from feats, powers, spells, class abilities, and positions on a map.

On the other hand, specifying the mechanics of each trap and the details of each clue adds to the burden of a DM who, except perhaps in this economy, has a demanding day job. Worse, I can see that sort of game play devolve into what Ron Edwards uncharacteristically concisely called "illusionism": a railroad plot chugging toward a predetermined finish, with pesky players merely speedbumps if they don't read the DM's mind. It also begs the question why combat gets rules and random rolls, which DMs can and must improvise from, whereas die rolls for doing things and knowing things outside of combat somehow "kills" role-playing.

I also think about RPGs nearly as old as D&D, like RuneQuest and Traveller, which *did* have those pesky skills for speaking languages, repairing things, and persuading people. And then I wonder whose old school we're talking about.

04-30-2009, 08:58 PM
I have not read the book, but will certainly be looking for it. I can agree on some points, but think that there can be a balance between the two. I will agree I favor a heavy background story driven chronicle, but I rarely plot out much and allow the players to wander and decide on what issues and causes they wish to stand for. I just happen to give them quite a few and usually end up only being able to focus on one or two. My players don't seem to mind and actually compare it to real life where there are usually just too many causes to fight for them all. I guess that is just choices.

I do like dice rolling when something is odd or uncertain if the pc would know/perform it well, but I eliminate most tedious rolls that might just hinder the game or really not be needed. They are the heroes, so I give them a bit of room. (i.e a miner character requiring a mining roll, but a priest trying to discern an archaic text that has an odd dialect would certainly require a roll)

05-01-2009, 12:22 AM
The old school that is described in the book rely's on the idea that the DM actually is good at what they do, both in creativity and in ruling. Sadly, that was never the case when I played 1e. Maybe it was not a problem with older persons playing in a civil matter but throw in a bunch of teenagers together and you have some real problems.

Rules about certain aspects of the game are a necesssity if the players and the DM are to agree on what are good rulings. The DM/players can always change the rules but they have to start somewhere. And I trust the game designers as the starting block in that regard.

I don't think I would have every came back to D&D without 3e rules.

05-01-2009, 04:25 PM
As an example, Spirit of the Century has skills covering (nearly) all possible character actions, and yet it encourages GMs and players to contribute colorful descriptions through its Aspect mechanic: in order to get better bonuses, characters must describe how their actions exploit details in the setting, or pre-defined but freeform descriptions of their own character.

One of my complaints about 4e is that it details combat abilities in page after page of the PHB, but relegates just about every other aspect of a character or adventure to simple skill rolls or "just roleplaying". To be honest, in the one 4e game I played, I much preferred "just roleplaying" with occasional skill rolls to the hours of "quality time" with battlemats and power cards. I could write my own system to do the parts I liked and save the cost of a $35 PHB.

Still, as I indicated, the "old-school" techniques described in AQPfOSG do remove the temptation to let die rolls substitute for storytelling. For the moment, I don't have a day job, so maybe I do have the time to explore what "old-school D&D" can teach me.

Arch Lich Thoth-Amon
05-01-2009, 04:27 PM
It's been a while since i read that article. Thanks for posting, fmitchell. It brought back fond memories.

05-05-2009, 01:13 AM
Actually, here's something (http://grognardia.blogspot.com/2008/10/i-still-dont-like-thieves.html) that makes me feel less sanguine about this "Old School" thing. To quote, hopefully not out of context:

... I think Thief abilities open the door to a more generalized skill system, which I see as a large nail in the coffin of old school play.

This comes from a vision where DMs use "rulings", not "rules": characters can attempt anything, and the DM simply decides by fiat what happens. An unambiguous statement that character A is better at stealthy movement or understanding complex mechanisms than character B apparently tramples on the DM's academic freedom, or something. And, once again, I note that this same logic doesn't apply to whether a character hits with a sword: for that we have levels, armor classes, class-based to-hit tables and/or THAC0 ... For that matter, it doesn't even apply to whether a Magic User can sense the mystic emanations from an idol; either he has Detect Magic in an unexpended spell slot, or he doesn't.

Perhaps he's goring my own sacred cow: I think skill systems advanced RPG design enormously by providing a concrete, tangible, general mechanism to resolve conflicts outside of swords and spells. I also like the idea of defining characters with distinct traits and abilities, and not as transparent avatars of the players. Apparently, though, both sentiments are heresy in "Old-School Gaming" ... which swings me toward the conclusion that "Old School Gaming" is merely rose-colored nostalgia for experiences that I missed entirely, or that I recall in a harsher light.

05-11-2009, 01:03 AM
I am an old school gamer. I long for some of those days not for the rules (which sucked) but for the people and the times.

I still play the old school way where if the idea is a good one and the rules don't allow it, I allow it.

To my mind the difference for the old school gamer is that everything that is not forbidden is possible. So you don't have a given skill on your character sheet. Or the game designers never thought of that action. The old school gamer will make an answer or invent a roll to let you try it. The old school gamer doesn't need a pile of books and a box of minis to run a game. The Instant Authoritative Answer is his stock in trade. If a rule makes no sense he states "that makes no sense" and changes it.

"New School" is everything that is not permitted by the rules is forbidden. A question results in a scurry and search through the rule books. Every battle is carefully mapped out. Rules are not changed unless errataed. Actions not considered by the authors cause even more searching though source book after source book for the rule that fits. The only athority is the almighty book even if totally stupid.

To my mind RPG fun does not require a foot tall pile of books.

05-11-2009, 05:47 AM
I think what a lot of the new guys I've met (Coming from 3.X, generally) don't realize is that old school gaming the better referees had a complete world in their head.

No need for monster manuals, and splat books and such. You joined the group and genned up a PC. In doing that, you in effect clicked the binding agreement box, that said, "I'll give this thing a try, with the understanding that you are not gonna make some crazy BS Game that nobody understands, that is playable, and is challenging and fun." (More or less).

Now that's also true these days, but in the old days, there was a level of TRUST in the DM that existed, that nowadays, has been blown by the corpies saying Oh, the DM isn't following the rules we printed? Get a DM that follows the books we printed.

Yeah, I know DMG 3.X Both say "These rules are guidelines." But who needs 50+ books of guidelines?

The spirit of old school is in the ref, 90%. The spirit of modern games is in the character sheet, skill list and list of feats.

The whole Tesral Post nailed it re Modern Gaming:

A question results in a scurry and search through the rule books. ETC ETC.

Bang on, right there. You've been there and it shows.

I see the article's example of modern day relying on the dice a la pits, etc...and I disagree. But there's some truth to it, also.

05-11-2009, 10:48 AM
Wow that was so well put it brought a tear to my eye. All I have to add is that the few 4e games I played seemed to lack that kind of feel that made me fall in love with rpgs. Is it 4e fault? I would say no it falls to the DM to make it fun and if it means tossing some rules out to make it fun then do so. Ask your players its their game too.