The Eastern taxonomy

loverdrive

Makin' cool stuff (She/Her)
I think it's a useful framework to think, talk, and analyse games, so I don't see why not share it with westerners. You know the drill already, I hope: not prescriptive, rpgs are complex, all that jazz. And, yes, labels like "old" and "new" suck, as, say, Dogs in the Vineyard is almost twenty years old at this point, but I didn't choose them.

So.



There's

the Old School,
spawned from Kriegsspiel-style wargames. Y'know, not the kind of wargames where you field a Draigo deathstar (you can tell I'm like five years behind, can you?) barely painted in three colours to give you that sweet bonus points, no. The kind of wargames that look almost indistinguishable from RPGs, and if you're not listening closely, can easily be mistaken for one.

Old School is about players overcoming challenges through their knowledge of strategy, tactics, lore and, to at least some extent, ability to "read" the referee. The rules are simple, if not simplistic, but the large scope of the game allows for a great overall depth and a lots of small decisions add up over time — this is the reason why such games focus so much on "boring" stuff like counting torches, food and water — things that in, say, D&D 3E are often glossed over as unimportant.





That brings us to

the Mid School.
Mid School is also about players overcoming challenges, but in a very different way. Mid School adds another, "game" layer to, well, the game — character optimization, leveraging mechanical synergies between abilities, and all that jazz is much more important.

Say, in Moldvay's, there's no character optimization — you make exactly zero choices about your character's progression anyway, so there's nothing to optimize. Contrast it with D&D 3E, where picking the right class, the right race, the right feats, the right spells, the right magic items and then utilize all this stuff in the right way in the moment-to-moment gameplay are the key to achieving success.

Naturally, this often leads to "boring" stuff being discarded — first, because our capacity to process information is limited, and when you're already tracking a metric crapton of different things, tracking torches becomes burdensome. Second, because there already is depth, and large-scope things just aren't required — if you remove all the minutiae from Moldvay's, you'll end up with a very boring game that largely boils down to randomness, but if you remove it from 3E? You still have a reasonably solid game.

Another important difference is, well, characters: they are expected to have an interesting personality separate from the player on their own right from the get-go, as opposed to being the player's avatar rolled in two seconds. Mechanics for personality traits (like, say, Overconfidence disadvantage from GURPS) are not uncommon too, and, overall "what would my character do here?" is a more important question than "what is the best course of action here?", but, since there's still challenge, they're often at odds.





But what if we get rid of it? Welcome to

the New School.
Here, your skill at playing the game barely matters. It's not being tested, and playing smart doesn't influence the outcome that much. "What is the best course of action here?" and "what would my character do?" are the exact same question.

Think about this way:

  • Old school: you defeat the dragon because you've outsmarted the scaly bastard
  • Mid school: you defeat the dragon because you've created a strong character and smartly used all their strengths
  • New school: your character defeats the dragon because they've struggled and changed enough and it'be awesome if they won
Since everything works, and you aren't really solving problems, you're free to focus on portraying your character with integrity and you never have to choose between doing something cool and something effective — they're the same thing anyway.



I know you probably understand this already, but I'll highlight it: it's not a linear evolution from old to new, with each new iteration getting just plain better. That's not the point — different games serve different needs, but it's important to use tools that align with your goals. Trying to forge a neat story about a bunch of fascinating characters in, say, Moldvay's is bound to backfire when your hot-headed fighter will start a brawl that is impossible to win, just like going into Fate with a desire to get your planning skills tested is bound to be disappointing.



Хуй війні. Треба спалити москву.
 

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By 'Eastern' you mean 'Slavic'? (From your quote I am fairly sure you don't mean 'Russian'! Путін хуйло!) At least in the USA that implies 'Chinese/Japanese/Korean' by itself.

That said, this is a fascinating new typology. I don't know anything about the Slavic RPG world, apart from the recent success of 'The Witcher'.
 


dragoner

solisrpg.com
My game is popular in the east though I have not heard of these specializations, it is interesting, thank you.
 
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Dioltach

Legend
Interesting take, and I definitely recognise the difference between "old school" and "mid school" (I still play 3.5 and variants, so anything after that is outside my experience).

But could we avoid the political slogans please?
 

aramis erak

Legend
I can honestly say that I NEVER encountered any of your "Old School" types until the 1990's.

I know they existed, but for many, Old School RPGing was borderline boardgaming or were explicitly minis wargaming. Including D&D, AD&D1E, Star Frontiers, Marvel Super Heroes, and some of the adventures for Traveller, WFRP 1E...
We were never about "reading the GM"... we were about the push your luck and accomplish the module goal, within the resource limits.

We had story emerge, but the game was the key element, not the story. Personal bragging factor.

So, at best, it's a misnamed category. A category that will lead people to misunderstand other uses of the same label, because it's incongruent with that common lable and with the actual what was played back in the day. (I've limited my own "old school" to about 1984 and before - the point where skill based games were now dominating the non-D&D market, and D&D was introducing NWPs.)

The Free Kriegspiel style has been around a long time (1890's) in wargaming, but it was never dominant in wargaming outside the military, and it's looks to have never been the dominant mode in RPGing, at least not post 1976. It's a niche, an artefact that is much touted as having been prominent in "the good old days" but there's not enough evidence for that to have been true. (It's explicit that Kriegspiel was an influence on Weseley and Arneson, hence Braunstein, and eventually D&D. I don't recall mention of Frei Kriegspiel by either. Likewise, Ken St. Andre has implied being familiar with KS, but hasn't mentioned FKS.)

Note also: Frie Kreegspiel has had a revival growing out of the OSR - the OSR being another case where claims of uniformity in the past are 90% rose colored view. It's a perfectly valid mode of play... but the reactions to the rules back in the day were far from unified, and those who came to the game without being a player in someone else's game might be playing VERY differently.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
I can honestly say that I NEVER encountered any of your "Old School" types until the 1990's.

I know they existed, but for many, Old School RPGing was borderline boardgaming or were explicitly minis wargaming. Including D&D, AD&D1E, Star Frontiers, Marvel Super Heroes, and some of the adventures for Traveller, WFRP 1E...
We were never about "reading the GM"... we were about the push your luck and accomplish the module goal, within the resource limits.

We had story emerge, but the game was the key element, not the story. Personal bragging factor.

So, at best, it's a misnamed category. A category that will lead people to misunderstand other uses of the same label, because it's incongruent with that common lable and with the actual what was played back in the day. (I've limited my own "old school" to about 1984 and before - the point where skill based games were now dominating the non-D&D market, and D&D was introducing NWPs.)

The Free Kriegspiel style has been around a long time (1890's) in wargaming, but it was never dominant in wargaming outside the military, and it's looks to have never been the dominant mode in RPGing, at least not post 1976. It's a niche, an artefact that is much touted as having been prominent in "the good old days" but there's not enough evidence for that to have been true. (It's explicit that Kriegspiel was an influence on Weseley and Arneson, hence Braunstein, and eventually D&D. I don't recall mention of Frei Kriegspiel by either. Likewise, Ken St. Andre has implied being familiar with KS, but hasn't mentioned FKS.)

Note also: Frie Kreegspiel has had a revival growing out of the OSR - the OSR being another case where claims of uniformity in the past are 90% rose colored view. It's a perfectly valid mode of play... but the reactions to the rules back in the day were far from unified, and those who came to the game without being a player in someone else's game might be playing VERY differently.
Good grief. @loverdrive is sharing how their RPG community, which has a different language and cultural view, discusses RPGs and you're saying it's misnamed and doesn't mean what you think it should mean. Step it back a bit.
 

gamerprinter

Mapper/Publisher
While I've played some war games like Battletech (many years later), and my first game of D&D was 1977, I didn't play regularly until 1980. So while the time before D&D is war gaming, I never played that (at the time), so to me Old School is no less map focused, than "current school" - whatever that label is. Maps and figs are important for combat, and much of the rest of the game can be played "theater of the mind". I don't think it's much different today in that way.

As a publisher, I didn't start publishing until Mid School, with my first venture with Pathfinder, and today publishing Starfinder. So I am familiar and understand the difference between Old and Mid School.

Because I have zero experience with New School, at least as you've explained it, and not imagining what I play now qualifies as new school - I can honestly say, I don't know what New School is, at least I haven't knowingly seen it to recognize it. And though I rarely play, versus running the game, I'm still a problem solver kind of guy, and you say that's Old School, well maybe so, but I don't know if I could play a game where my problem solving skills wouldn't fit somehow.
 



loverdrive

Makin' cool stuff (She/Her)
I can honestly say that I NEVER encountered any of your "Old School" types until the 1990's.

I know they existed, but for many, Old School RPGing was borderline boardgaming or were explicitly minis wargaming. Including D&D, AD&D1E, Star Frontiers, Marvel Super Heroes, and some of the adventures for Traveller, WFRP 1E...
We were never about "reading the GM"... we were about the push your luck and accomplish the module goal, within the resource limits.

We had story emerge, but the game was the key element, not the story. Personal bragging factor.
...
So, the same thing I described?
 

aramis erak

Legend
...
So, the same thing I described?
If you think that's what you described, then you failed your writing roll. In fact what you described was the exact opposite, or at least from my forge and BWHQ influenced brain's read of it: you described the FKR-style rules-super-light play... as the old school way. And the true old school was a chaotic mess of many different and irreconcilable modes. varying by table. The implied temporailty of the labels is obfuscating. (see also the jargon thread...)
 
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Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
If you think that's what you described, then you failed your writing roll. In fact what you described was the exact opposite, or at least from my forge and BWHQ influenced brain's read of it: you described the FKR-style rules-super-light play... as the old school way. And the true old school was a chaotic mess of many different and irreconcilable modes. varying by table. The implied temporailty of the labels is obfuscating. (see also the jargon thread...)
"True" old school still being your cultural hegemony?
 

loverdrive

Makin' cool stuff (She/Her)
And the true old school was a chaotic mess of many different and irreconcilable modes. varying by table.
Does it matter? 80s-early 90s hip-hop was also a chaotic mess, yet it's possible to productively discuss old-school hip-hop.

The implied temporailty of the labels is obfuscating. (see also the jargon thread...)
I didn't come up with the labels. You're welcome to hunt down whoever come up with them first (you can start with Ivan Devyatko at the Eastern Lands blog, but he mentioned several times that he himself lifted the terms from someone else) and take it to them, if you feel like it, but I don't see any reason to.
 


Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
I'm saying that, if trying to share a taxonomy, it's misleading... which is an intelligibility issue.

For once, I agree with Ovinomancer.

You don't own either the school, or the language space. Not matching your language doesn't make their use "ineligible", as they have as much right to the language as you do. So please slow your roll, here. Try kindness and curiosity, instead of asserting correctness, if you want to have an interesting and constructive conversation about language use.
 


I think it's a useful framework to think, talk, and analyse games, so I don't see why not share it with westerners. You know the drill already, I hope: not prescriptive, rpgs are complex, all that jazz. And, yes, labels like "old" and "new" suck, as, say, Dogs in the Vineyard is almost twenty years old at this point, but I didn't choose them.

So.



There's

the Old School,
spawned from Kriegsspiel-style wargames. Y'know, not the kind of wargames where you field a Draigo deathstar (you can tell I'm like five years behind, can you?) barely painted in three colours to give you that sweet bonus points, no. The kind of wargames that look almost indistinguishable from RPGs, and if you're not listening closely, can easily be mistaken for one.

Old School is about players overcoming challenges through their knowledge of strategy, tactics, lore and, to at least some extent, ability to "read" the referee. The rules are simple, if not simplistic, but the large scope of the game allows for a great overall depth and a lots of small decisions add up over time — this is the reason why such games focus so much on "boring" stuff like counting torches, food and water — things that in, say, D&D 3E are often glossed over as unimportant.





That brings us to

the Mid School.
Mid School is also about players overcoming challenges, but in a very different way. Mid School adds another, "game" layer to, well, the game — character optimization, leveraging mechanical synergies between abilities, and all that jazz is much more important.

Say, in Moldvay's, there's no character optimization — you make exactly zero choices about your character's progression anyway, so there's nothing to optimize. Contrast it with D&D 3E, where picking the right class, the right race, the right feats, the right spells, the right magic items and then utilize all this stuff in the right way in the moment-to-moment gameplay are the key to achieving success.

Naturally, this often leads to "boring" stuff being discarded — first, because our capacity to process information is limited, and when you're already tracking a metric crapton of different things, tracking torches becomes burdensome. Second, because there already is depth, and large-scope things just aren't required — if you remove all the minutiae from Moldvay's, you'll end up with a very boring game that largely boils down to randomness, but if you remove it from 3E? You still have a reasonably solid game.

Another important difference is, well, characters: they are expected to have an interesting personality separate from the player on their own right from the get-go, as opposed to being the player's avatar rolled in two seconds. Mechanics for personality traits (like, say, Overconfidence disadvantage from GURPS) are not uncommon too, and, overall "what would my character do here?" is a more important question than "what is the best course of action here?", but, since there's still challenge, they're often at odds.





But what if we get rid of it? Welcome to

the New School.
Here, your skill at playing the game barely matters. It's not being tested, and playing smart doesn't influence the outcome that much. "What is the best course of action here?" and "what would my character do?" are the exact same question.

Think about this way:

  • Old school: you defeat the dragon because you've outsmarted the scaly bastard
  • Mid school: you defeat the dragon because you've created a strong character and smartly used all their strengths
  • New school: your character defeats the dragon because they've struggled and changed enough and it'be awesome if they won
Since everything works, and you aren't really solving problems, you're free to focus on portraying your character with integrity and you never have to choose between doing something cool and something effective — they're the same thing anyway.



I know you probably understand this already, but I'll highlight it: it's not a linear evolution from old to new, with each new iteration getting just plain better. That's not the point — different games serve different needs, but it's important to use tools that align with your goals. Trying to forge a neat story about a bunch of fascinating characters in, say, Moldvay's is bound to backfire when your hot-headed fighter will start a brawl that is impossible to win, just like going into Fate with a desire to get your planning skills tested is bound to be disappointing.



Хуй війні. Треба спалити москву.
Its pretty D&D specific, but I think I've pretty much posted essentially the same taxonomy in some 'history of D&D' thread somewhere at some point. Essentially you have D&D itself, and other early TSR variations (Holmes, B/X, 1e), then you have 2e which is somewhat transitional but definitely blends into 3.x, and finally 4e. Outside of D&D the groupings kind of fall apart though. I mean, its not super clear what games that emphasize a lot of dramatic elements, AND mechanics, like OWoD, fall under, really. There are really relatively few other games that fall under this definition of Old School besides D&D and a few other early games. I mean, even Traveller defies this taxonomy, as it involves a fairly elaborate character generation system that can produce a wide variety of outcomes, followed by a mostly pretty trad game, but with a few aspects that, at least in the '77 version, hint at Narrativist play to a degree (like when you use Streetwise).
 

I can honestly say that I NEVER encountered any of your "Old School" types until the 1990's.

I know they existed, but for many, Old School RPGing was borderline boardgaming or were explicitly minis wargaming. Including D&D, AD&D1E, Star Frontiers, Marvel Super Heroes, and some of the adventures for Traveller, WFRP 1E...
We were never about "reading the GM"... we were about the push your luck and accomplish the module goal, within the resource limits.

We had story emerge, but the game was the key element, not the story. Personal bragging factor.

So, at best, it's a misnamed category. A category that will lead people to misunderstand other uses of the same label, because it's incongruent with that common lable and with the actual what was played back in the day. (I've limited my own "old school" to about 1984 and before - the point where skill based games were now dominating the non-D&D market, and D&D was introducing NWPs.)

The Free Kriegspiel style has been around a long time (1890's) in wargaming, but it was never dominant in wargaming outside the military, and it's looks to have never been the dominant mode in RPGing, at least not post 1976. It's a niche, an artefact that is much touted as having been prominent in "the good old days" but there's not enough evidence for that to have been true. (It's explicit that Kriegspiel was an influence on Weseley and Arneson, hence Braunstein, and eventually D&D. I don't recall mention of Frei Kriegspiel by either. Likewise, Ken St. Andre has implied being familiar with KS, but hasn't mentioned FKS.)

Note also: Frie Kreegspiel has had a revival growing out of the OSR - the OSR being another case where claims of uniformity in the past are 90% rose colored view. It's a perfectly valid mode of play... but the reactions to the rules back in the day were far from unified, and those who came to the game without being a player in someone else's game might be playing VERY differently.
I'm not convinced the OSR FKS movement actually understands FK, lol. Wesely would ABSOLUTELY have been familiar with it, as it is a primary training device for US military officers (I played a couple of them in an ROTC course I took in 1981). These are still quite common, there are numerous examples of DoD/National Defense Community FKs and related 'open ended' wargames. You can find some on youtube where they are analyzed. Definitely RPGs, in a broad sense, and they have never stopped being played, not even close!
 

loverdrive

Makin' cool stuff (She/Her)
Its pretty D&D specific, but I think I've pretty much posted essentially the same taxonomy in some 'history of D&D' thread somewhere at some point. Essentially you have D&D itself, and other early TSR variations (Holmes, B/X, 1e), then you have 2e which is somewhat transitional but definitely blends into 3.x, and finally 4e. Outside of D&D the groupings kind of fall apart though. I mean, its not super clear what games that emphasize a lot of dramatic elements, AND mechanics, like OWoD, fall under, really. There are really relatively few other games that fall under this definition of Old School besides D&D and a few other early games. I mean, even Traveller defies this taxonomy, as it involves a fairly elaborate character generation system that can produce a wide variety of outcomes, followed by a mostly pretty trad game, but with a few aspects that, at least in the '77 version, hint at Narrativist play to a degree (like when you use Streetwise).
I think it describes the goals of play more than it describes the system used, and while different systems enable certain goals better or worse, what you're trying to achieve I think is more important than what tool you're using.

I refer to systems because a) I dropped the ball a bit here and b) it's a bit easier to talk about.
 

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