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Old School Maximums

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Rulings, not Rules - The players can describe any action, without needing to look at a character sheet to see if they “can” do it. The referee, in turn, uses common sense to decide what happens or rolls a die if he thinks there’s some random element involved, and then the game moves on.

Player Skill, not Character Abilities – Original D&D is game of skill in a few areas where modern games just rely on the character sheet. In an old school game, you are always asking questions, telling the referee exactly what your character is looking at, and experimenting with things. Die rolls are much less frequent than in modern games. You don’t have skills and dice rolls for everything you want to do. You have to tell the referee where you’re looking for traps and what buttons you’re pushing. You have to tell the referee whatever tall tale you’re trying to get the city guardsman to believe.

Heroic, not Superhero
– Old-style games have a human-sized scale, not a super-powered scale. At first level, adventurers are barely more capable than a regular person. They live by their wits. To make a comic-book analogy, characters don’t become Superman; they become Batman. And they don’t start as Batman – Batman is the pinnacle. Old school gaming is about the triumph of the little guy into an epic hero, not the development of an epic hero into a superhuman being.

Forget “Game Balance.” - The old-style campaign is with fantasy world, with all its perils, contradictions, and surprises: it’s not a “game setting” which somehow always produces challenges of just the right difficulty for the party’s level of experience. It’s more like a story with dice: the players describe their actions, the referee describes the results, and the story of the characters, epic or disastrous, grows out of the combined efforts of referee and players. The referee will be just as surprised by the results as the players are.

Just as the players have no right to depend upon a rule in the book, the referee has no right, ever, to tell the player what a character decides to do. That’s the player’s decision (unless there’s a charm spell going).

And the Final, Most Important Maximum – Play and have fun!

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  1. cjs0216's Avatar
    Well said.