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Variety of "Old Schools"

Iosue

Adventurer
I originally posted this over on RPG.net, but I'd love to hear EN Worlders' takes on this as well. I posted this in General Discussion rather than Legacy D&D because I'd like people who perhaps don't normally venture there to see it as well.

I'm in the excluded middle. I'm not an OD&D grognard. But I was playing B/X and BECMI before 2nd Edition hit the shelves. I enjoy the TSR-era games, but I'm also a big fan of 4e. I like me some sandboxy hack-and-slash, and I also like narrative goals. I read accounts such as this of gaming at Mike Mornard's table, and I think, "That's awesome!. I read Chris Perkin's descriptions of his campaign at The Dungeon Master Experience, and I think, "That's awesome!" In the immortal words of Bill Cavalier: "Does this game have Dungeons? Does this game have Dragons? Then I want to play this game."

I don't deny that there are differences between D&D back in the day and D&D of the last 10 years or so. The media gamers are exposed to is different, roleplaying games are different, hell, just the world is different. But what's frustrating for me, as a TSR-era gamer, is that whole era has been hijacked, in a way, by the image of play described in such pieces as the Quick Primer for Old School Gaming. This is not a criticism of anyone or anything, but just an observation that when the Old School/New School arguments start, the points of reference get polarized. That image of "zero-to-hero, player skill über alles, rulings-not-rules, high lethal combat with Save or Die," and so on becomes the go-to reference, by self-described Old Schoolers and New Schoolers alike.

But Old School is a moving target. Virtually from the beginning, the game was changing. The Greyhawk supplement was virtually like 0.5e. Holmes Basic was similar, yet different. Moldvay Basic also similar, yet different. Mentzer Basic was almost exactly the same as Moldvay, and yet different. AD&D was yet a whole other thing, and while the original AD&D diehards may laugh and point at the 2nd Edition players, those folks certainly consider themselves Old School compared to WotC-D&D players. Old School D&D was homebrew. It was campaign settings. It was dungeon delves. It was adventure paths (Dragonlance!) It was Otus and Sutherland. It was Elmore and Easley. It was matrices. It was THAC0.

I read the Old/New School arguments, and find myself not agreeing with anybody. Our D&D wasn't about "pixel-bitching", though we had no rules for rolling for perception/spot check. Our D&D wasn't about starting out as farmboys and becoming heroes, it was starting out as competent professional adventurers that did battle with goblins and saved princesses and such. That didn't mean we wanted "superheroes". We plotted out labyrinthine dungeons, but filled them with hardly any traps. DM fiat was king with no concept of "player empowerment", but there was no adversarial relationship between DM and players.

What I'd like to do in this thread is celebrate the varieties of "Old School". Note that this is NOT to say that "New School" is by implication not varied and diverse. QUITE THE OPPOSITE, I assure you. However, I think the varieties of WotC D&D have been pretty deeply delved into with the 3e/4e wars. What I'd like to do is have folks come and talk about how they played Old School, regardless of what the general image of it may be. What I hope will happen is it will be seen how much so-called Old School and New School are really alike.

So, folks, tell us about your old TSR D&D games! What D&D did you use? Homebrew or campaign setting? Fantasy :):):):)ing Vietnam or High Adventure (or somewhere in between?) What literature and media were your influences? High lethality? Low lethality? Over the top outrageous adversarial relationship with DM? More dramatic/narrative type stories? Sandbox? Modules? Just like the "Old School Primer" or something different? Whatever you want to share, please do. I only ask that the thread be kept positive, with no jibes or backhanded compliments towards WotC D&D or other playstyles. If you want to take issue with someone's statement, please start a new thread. I'd rather this thread be about contribution and inquiry rather than debate.
 

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S'mon

Legend
My main campaign (1e AD&D from 1987/1988 on) was:

High Powered - we started at 3rd level. Two 6th level PCs once chased off Graz'zt.
Extremely high lethality - 28 PCs dead in the first adventure, according to my log.
High risk/high reward - several PCs made Demigod, one (Thrin) made Lesser God
Expansive, high powered - fate of nations stuff, not fantasy effin Vietnam
Not much dungeon-crawling, and never 'routine'
No megadungeons, more like short delves.
 

Celebrim

Legend
There are two things to consider about your thesis.

First, humans are very bad at describing things in terms of quantities. They tend to be rather digital in their thinking and in their language. Things are either 'yes' or 'no'. In reality of course, many things differ by degree more than by kind, and reality is analog and this is true even when there aren't obvious physical characteristics that you can measure. When humans argue or debate, there is a strong tendency to want to assign everything to two easily differentiatable camps, so there is a tendency to always describe everything according to extremes so as to highlight how different the thing that you don't like is from the think that you favor. Of course, in reality, even if the two debaters are as extreme as they make themselves, which is unlikely, the majority of people probably are not and the difference between them - while real - isn't as easily described or labeled.

Secondly, from my experience of the 'old school' days, every table was different. House rules and interpretations of the rules dominated. Many people played mix ups of basic and the advanced game, and widely supplemented their game with ideas from Dragon and their own ideas of what would be 'realistic' and 'fun' (often at the time confused, as their was a prevailing idea that what took the game in a more realistic direction would be inherently more fun). You could not make blanket statements about what sort of game people where playing. This is of course true to a great extent of 'new school' as well, which explains to me quite well why the fan base as fragmented.

I played several different games. One was basicly D&D modules strung together. Another was gritty and dungeon delving. Yet another was high powered political stuff with artifact powered magic items distributed about the party. I played a couple of sessions with a DM who didn't even like the players to have character sheets and was played entirely by game proposition without reference to the rules. My own game(s) started at 1st level, but wasn't 'zero to hero', more like local hero (who might be a farm boy) to national hero. Luke was a very compotent farm boy. I had assumptions about player interaction via concrete game proposition, but I don't remember anyone thinking it was 'pixel bitching'. I sometimes used modules, and sometimes wrote my own material. Dungeons were often goals to be reached and where the climax of a story or chapter would take place, but they weren't the sole form of gaming nor where they usually more than 30 or so rooms. Megadungeons were imagined and fantacized about by myself from the very beginning, but ultimately seemed to daunting to create or explore so I never ran them. Players were expected to interact with NPC's as if they were themselves the PC rather than simply saying what they wanted the PC to accomplish in the conversation, but I sometimes rolled dice to determine how the NPC responded. Magic items couldn't be bought, except for potions and scrolls of the more ordinary sort, and there was a general assumption that gear of +2 level wouldn't be obtainable before 3rd or 4th level at the earliest, and gear of +3 wouldn't be available before 8th-9th level. More powerful items weren't generally placed at the level of play we'd commonly reach, but sometimes I'd also randomly roll for treasure. In general, I expected my players or fellow players to obtain a high level of skill in the game above and beyond mere 'systems mastery', but I don't at the time remember differentiating systems mastery from other skills of play. The DM was in charge and his word was law, but I don't recall more than one or two incidents where anyone had a problem with that. There were often intense adversarial relationships between the PC's and the DM, but rarely do I recall that being a problem because players wanted to be challenged and they also wanted to 'win'. Players were far more concerend that other players would consider their game 'Monte Haul' (by which they meant 'too easy' with 'unearned rewards') than with the DM 'disempowering them' - a concept I don't recall existing. Traps were very common dungeon features, but I can only remember that being considered a problem once and then only when we hit college age and began to tire a bit of the same old same old. Mostly players seemed to find them fun, and desired an 'Indiana Jones' feel to their dungeon crawling. In short, I don't think I had any hard and fast rules nor purist approach to the game. I did what seemed fun.
 
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Iosue

Adventurer
There are two things to consider about your thesis.

First, humans are very bad at describing things in terms of quantities. They tend to be rather digital in their thinking and in their language. Things are either 'yes' or 'no'. In reality of course, many things differ by degree more than by kind, and reality is analog and this is true even when there aren't obvious physical characteristics that you can measure. When humans argue or debate, there is a strong tendency to want to assign everything to two easily differentiatable camps, so there is a tendency to always describe everything according to extremes so as to highlight how different the thing that you don't like is from the think that you favor. Of course, in reality, even if the two debaters are as extreme as they make themselves, which is unlikely, the majority of people probably are not and the difference between them - while real - isn't as easily described or labeled.

Secondly, from my experience of the 'old school' days, every table was different. House rules and interpretations of the rules dominated. Many people played mix ups of basic and the advanced game, and widely supplemented their game with ideas from Dragon and their own ideas of what would be 'realistic' and 'fun' (often at the time confused, as their was a prevailing idea that what took the game in a more realistic direction would be inherently more fun). You could not make blanket statements about what sort of game people where playing. This is of course true to a great extent of 'new school' as well, which explains to me quite well why the fan base as fragmented.
I don't necessarily disagree with anything you say, but that doesn't address the point of the thread, which is: "Tell us about your TSR-era D&D campaign, particularly how similar or dissimilar to the style of play described in the "Quick Primer", and without edition warring or putting down 'new school' style of play."
 

Treebore

First Post
Played Old School? Still playing, by the book 1E AD&D every Wednesday. I've even played in several one shot Swords and Wizardry games (Little Brown Books, all of them, with some optional rules), and had fun playing in all of them. I still prefer to GM with Castles and Crusades, but I still manage to have fun with each system for a variety of reasons, most importantly, to me, the different approaches I have to take to be a "successful" adventurer, which is why as a player I have enough fun with each that I play again with no hesitancy.
 

Treebore

First Post
Plus, again from my perspective of actual play, just days ago, the story is much more the focus. It is definably much more about the story. The DM makes ruling along the way to move things forward in as fair a way as they can come up with, when the rules don't actually cover the situation, which is actually rarely, so far at least.

There are things I definitely prefer how it is done in newer versions of D&D, but even with the little idiosyncrasies I find myself feeling like I am having noticeably more fun as a player than I have been having with the newer games. Not that I don't have fun. It is just more a matter of coming to find that even with all the weird/odd rules ideas the originals have, or the OGL/OSR versions have, that after the session is over I am thinking of how much fun I had, and the thoughts are about the story, how it unfolded, how lucky we were, etc... and not much thought at all to the abilities of my character, but how I actually played him, the decisions I made, the decisions my 3 fellow players made, and just how fun the character was.

Even the odd ball rules don't bother me enough to think about them after the game.

So from my perspective of having played every edition of D&D, I find myself having fun with each for different reasons. Those who have brought up over the years how much more the "story" is front and center with the old editions, well, I have to say I now agree with them.

To be clear, this does not mean that story is not front and center in the newer editions/versions, but because the rules are really so much fewer, once character creation is done, the story is much more the focus, because we are not paying attention to all the various rules, powers, skills, etc... we really do focus more on the story, decision making, etc...

One thing I got reminded of is that when your doing 1E btb there is a lot of rules to character creation, especially in the gear, because we are using the weapon speeds and the weapon versus armor tables. I discovered, hopefully rediscovered, that my dwarven Fighter Cleric CAN use edged weapons, by the book, and it was a sentence written in an easy to miss place. So easy to miss I am not sure if I ever noticed the sentence back when I originally played 1E for several years, things like that.

I had also forgotten that having a 17 WIS allows me to start off with 3 first level spells, and that when I got to second level, I got 2 more bonus spells, etc...

So its been a lot of fun for me to get back into the "old editions" and play them by the book, and see once again precisely how they do play, and the play itself has been tremendous fun. Like I said earlier, I now jump into these games without hesitation. They were fun way back when, and I have fun with them now. Lots of fun. Its been eye opening, for sure.
 

Celebrim

Legend
I don't necessarily disagree with anything you say, but that doesn't address the point of the thread...

You wrote a good deal more though than simply what you quote as the point of your thread. And I wrote a bit more than what you quote when you respond to me. I don't see how you get to choose what to exclude when responding to me and I don't get to choose what to respond to out of what you wrote.

In particular, I'm responding mostly to this claim: "I'm in the excluded middle.", which I took to be your thesis. I don't necessarily disagree with your thesis or anything you use to support it, but I don't see why I can't elaborate on it.
 

Mark CMG

Creative Mountain Games
I sometimes run across newer gamers who deride old school play after having picked up an older ruleset on ebay and given it a try with some friends. I've met other newer players who have done the same thing but with far different results. A lot of what is playstyle (not necessarily roleplaying style) comes from what folks bring to the table rather than what they get from the rulebooks.

I know that for myself, as someone who has played all editions and many, many other roleplaying systems besides, describing a game as old school or new school seems sometimes a fruitless endeavor. I've gamed with the original old school gamers in RPGs at the convention in the mid- and late Seventies, and still do these days at fun conventions like Gary Con in Lake Geneva each year. I've been DMed by folks like Frank Mentzer and Tim Kask, and this year will have a seat at a table run by Ernie Gygax. You'll gain no greater understanding of old school gaming style from blogs or essays than you will directly from the source. I hope to see the 5E designers at Gary Con this year, integrating with the attendees in the (O)D&D, 1E, and other games to get a true feel for those traditions.

There are plenty of younger gamers who run RPGs in that style at Gary Con and elsewhere too, younger being anywhere from fifty to fifteen, in some cases. :D Many of them are folks who have been doing it since the early days in the Seventies or run the old rulesets handed down to them from friends, fathers, or other family members. I can certainly understand how someone who wasn't part of or raised on that type of gaming would find written accounts seemingly lacking. I sometimes do as well and I was there so you'd think I could look over such accounts and point out which are accurate and which could be more so. But I don't know that it is as easy as all that.

Even back then, for example, as someone who loved both Tolkien and Howard, as well as many other fantasy and swords & sorcery authors of the day and previous eras, there were people bringing different expectations to the table. I knew of plenty of Tolkien fans who never touched a Conan book and plenty of Howard fans who thought Tolkien's work was not the type of material they would want to emulate in their gaming. (Their words, from both sides, were often stronger. ;) ) So it's fair to say that "old school" is a mash up of many attitutdes and to put too much emphasis on any single account would be doing the traditions of many others a disservice.

So I wouldn't say it is a moving target but merely that it has never been as narrow a target as some would have others believe. Let the definitions be loose, as that would more accurately reflect the true spirit of old school anyway.
 

Aramax

First Post
Ok heres a brief history of my 30 year game
the game started in a comunity collage in about10/81.
!st ed was still new but I wanted something more so I added skill point which in to days term would be more correctly identified as feat points.
I wanted the majority of the players to be fighters cause that would be more "reallistic'.so I told the players that magic Items were skewed toward
fighters and fighters got 8 skill points and everybody else got 5.
I added a barbarian class from White Dwarf Mag. that was heavilly modified.The adventures were set in the, eponimois city that gave the game its name.Mysantia=By far my main literary influance was The Thievs World anthologies and the gitty steet leval adventures reflected this.Most players never got past 2 or 3rd level,and the games were so riviting I caused about 4 of the players to fail college because we played around my schedual and they were all missing class to play.
this phase continued for abot 2 years untill I ran a series of adventures surrounding an Orcish Messiah.
At this point the focus of the game changed from trying to scrample for every meal to world saving at first level.
I also intoduced the concept of the greater adventering Kharmic Line,as simply as I can put this-the players were a 3 dimentional construct of a 4th dimentional being that was like the antibodies of the material plane.This is also the beginning of the HEAVY influance HP Lovecraft has on the game to this day.
Amoung the effects of this are,when seperated the players have no problem finding each other,when first meeting the group you insattly
know that these are the people you were destined to adventure with and
the group must get along as harmoniusly
over the years I ended up writting my own PHB,but it was still recognizable as D&D,just optimized for low leval play(1-5)
eventually I had too much power creep in my rules so the year before 4th came out I switched to 3.5.
when 4th came out I switched again,we took those characters to L27
and decided 4th was not for me.
switched to Pathfinder and Im still not happy
Maybe 5th........
 
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Rogue Agent

First Post
But what's frustrating for me, as a TSR-era gamer, is that whole era has been hijacked, in a way, by the image of play described in such pieces as the Quick Primer for Old School Gaming.

Can't blame you. The Quick Primer for Old School Gaming is a decent (if heavily biased and frequently nonsensical) manifesto for GM fiat. But it's hardly a holistic appraisal of what gaming was like "back in the day" and the things it tries to claim were inherent in old school game systems are incredibly laughable when you spend any time actually looking at those systems.

As for me: My TSR-era BECMI and AD&D games looked and played pretty much exactly like my 3E game does today... except the rules were a lot clunkier, we had a lot more house rules, and I wasn't as good at GMing. My campaigns were pretty much limited to dungeoncrawling and linear railroads which I tried very, very hard not to be railroads, but since the only thing I knew how to prep were linear railroads I was fighting the prep structures TSR modules were teaching me.
 

WizarDru

Adventurer
So, folks, tell us about your old TSR D&D games! What D&D did you use? Homebrew or campaign setting? Fantasy :):):):)ing Vietnam or High Adventure (or somewhere in between?) What literature and media were your influences? High lethality? Low lethality? Over the top outrageous adversarial relationship with DM? More dramatic/narrative type stories? Sandbox? Modules? Just like the "Old School Primer" or something different? Whatever you want to share, please do. I only ask that the thread be kept positive, with no jibes or backhanded compliments towards WotC D&D or other playstyles. If you want to take issue with someone's statement, please start a new thread. I'd rather this thread be about contribution and inquiry rather than debate.

Well, there were several, to be sure. The first games we played were Basic D&D, Red box and they were pretty fast and loose. There wasn't a concept of story, per se. The whole idea of the RPG was still taking shape and while it was clearly a game of the imagination, the 'game' part loomed larger than the 'role-playing' part, as I recall. This would change fairly quickly.

The goal was to move on up to AD&D (which we foolishly thought of as 'real' D&D, at the time). This is where we would create campaigns, story-arcs and linked adventures that had some staying power.

Rules were in plenty. I find it funny to hear how later editions are supposed to be so rules-heavy, when one thing we did was ignore chunks of the rules that seems clunky or unnecessary to us in AD&D. Every campaign of which I was aware had house-rules, some small and some extensive (like, "here's a booklet of MY changes" extensive). Gary gave us plenty to work with and the mandate to use what you wanted. And so we did.

My game has always been what we would call cinematic. Free-wheeling and dependent more on what was fun or interesting than specific adherence to the rules. In one game I had elemental dragons destroy the temple the players had been raised in, forcing them on a quest to stop the dragons from rising and destroying the world. They traveled to a pyramid of traps that was full of anachronistic details. It was WONDERFUL.

In a game we played in college, my character was turned into a half-demon, wielding a sword called "Sanguinarius Predator", which was a demon bound in sword form. I remember fighting side-by-side with a bunch of Samurai Orcs in a pitched battle against a Frost Worm, hanging on to it's maw for my life and swinging my sword as it smashed my nigh-indestructible body into a glacier while the wizard summoned up an imperial fire demon to slow it down.

Good Times. Good Times.
 

billd91

Hobbit on Quest (he/him)
I read the Old/New School arguments, and find myself not agreeing with anybody. Our D&D wasn't about "pixel-bitching", though we had no rules for rolling for perception/spot check. Our D&D wasn't about starting out as farmboys and becoming heroes, it was starting out as competent professional adventurers that did battle with goblins and saved princesses and such. That didn't mean we wanted "superheroes". We plotted out labyrinthine dungeons, but filled them with hardly any traps. DM fiat was king with no concept of "player empowerment", but there was no adversarial relationship between DM and players.

I'd like to point out that the bold emphasis I put above tend to be used by critics of the old school approach and are, I think, intended to caricaturize that style of play with extreme characterizations. So I wouldn't sweat not agreeing with those statements. Almost nobody who actually liked/likes old school play would really describe the play style like that.

That said, we used to play a lot of modules, a few home brew dungeons, and lethality was relatively low when we played 1e. After a few years, we started playing longer and more epic quests involving more story and personal interaction, as well as a higher lethality in some ways. I thought it had a lot to do with our tastes maturing away from the quicker gratification of the quick monster smackdown and toward a bit more subtlety, imagination, and fidelity toward a character portrayal. This isn't really to say the hack and slash taste was immature, rather that the skills involved in that sort of play are easier and first to learn, while the others generally come with time and development in the hobby. At least, that's my experience.
 

The Shaman

First Post
I don't necessarily disagree with anything you say, but that doesn't address the point of the thread, which is: "Tell us about your TSR-era D&D campaign, particularly how similar or dissimilar to the style of play described in the "Quick Primer" . . .
The problem with this is that Matt Finch's Quick Primer is a very good introduction to playing the OD&D clone Swords and Wizardry but it is not, and according to Mr Finch isn't intended to be, a guide to all things 'old school.'

The notion that 'old school' is defined exclusively by OD&D is much too narrow, in my experience.
 

Iosue

Adventurer
The problem with this is that Matt Finch's Quick Primer is a very good introduction to playing the OD&D clone Swords and Wizardry but it is not, and according to Mr Finch isn't intended to be, a guide to all things 'old school.'

The notion that 'old school' is defined exclusively by OD&D is much too narrow, in my experience.
I entirely agree, hence this thread. In internet discussions "old school" basically gets defined by Finch's Primer, so I'd like to get folks to share their own "old school" experiences, particularly varieties different from the Primer.
 

Grazzt

Demon Lord
So, folks, tell us about your old TSR D&D games! What D&D did you use? Homebrew or campaign setting? Fantasy :):):):)ing Vietnam or High Adventure (or somewhere in between?) What literature and media were your influences? High lethality? Low lethality? Over the top outrageous adversarial relationship with DM? More dramatic/narrative type stories? Sandbox? Modules?

Campaign started in 1986 using AD&D 1e. Homebrew fantasy. Medium to high lethality influenced by Moorcock's Elric, Norton's Witch World, Tanith Lee, RE Howard's Conan, etc. Basically the grim/gritty, dark fantasy, magic is evil, let's summon demons, type stuff.

Never was really over the top adversarial, though I think it started that way :) We shifted more to dramatic stuff as the game progressed but the game remained fairly lethal. Both me and my players like death to be a real possibility for the characters, not just a speed bump that can be overcome with a night's rest.

We ignored rules we didnt like or that seemed to slow the game down somewhat (weapon vs. AC, weapon speed factors, etc). We changed or added some rules because they felt "right" (to us). For example, vorpal blades were +6 longswords, not +3 as in the 1e DMG. (Got this from a DM friend when I played in his game and liked it so i used the idea.) Since we used the "Good Hits, Bad Misses" article for crits and fumbles from Dragon #39, there was a chance of weapon breakage on a nat 1. And breaking a vorpal blade caused an explosion that radiated out from the weapon, dealing damage to everyone in the area...and possibly killing anything that was low on hit points...like the wielder or his allies. It kept the vorpal blade in check quite a bit actually. :)

We ran some modules in the beginning but moved on to homebrew addys. Some written out by me with a specific goal laid out for the PCs (like a lot of the canned modules you could by); others free-form and sandbox, basically "So, what do you guys wanna do today? Rob the treasury in the Tower of the Black Serpent? Ok..." or "Wander the countryside looking to see what's out there? Ok..." and off we'd go.

Memorable moments would be:
* The party's world-spanning quest to find and assemble the Rod of Seven Parts. (Which they eventually did.)

* Party fighting with Demodragon (yes- I lifted him from the D&D cartoon and statted him out; he was the main adversary for many many years). The party's fighter sacrificed himself by jumping in front of Demo's lightning breath weapon to save the party's magic-user who was performing the 'ritual' to send Demo back to the Abyss

* My brother playing a paladin who was swallowed by a remorhaz and died. Party killed remorhaz, cut it open, pulled out paladin. Journey back to town, cleric prepares to restore the paladin to life, only to watch my brother's dice roll 00 when making his resurrection survival chance. Paladin dead. Forever.

* The party's dwarf fighter running into a cave opening, then tearing out of there screaming as he's being chased by giant bees. He swan dives off of a cliff to escape them, crashing into the rocks and water 100+ ft below. He didnt die, but almost did.

* Fighter having his arm bitten off by a dragon (remember, we used the crit rules). Fighter was mid-level at the time. Retired. Opened a business called "The Severed Arm Inn" which the party frequented and used as a base camp for quite a while.

* Party walking through town. Chamberpot emptied onto the head of one of the fighter's from a window above. Fighter refuses to wash off his armor. After party leaves town and is attacked by a couple of wandering monsters, the fighter, still refusing to wash himself, is ceremoniously tossed into the nearby river, platemail and all, by the rest of the party. He survived.

We moved from 1e to 2e, and then ended up playing a mashed up version of 1e/2e (we liked some 2e stuff but not all). Migrated to 3.0 and then 3.5 when they arrived. Tried 4e. Hated it. Never switched. Still run the same campaign (with some of the original players; some of the original characters are still active as well, ruling a kingdom, running a thieves' guild, etc.) using a modified version of 3.5.
 

Mark CMG

Creative Mountain Games
I like me some sandboxy hack-and-slash, and I also like narrative goals.


I took a second look at the OP and realized one of the misconceptions bothering me was the association of "sandbox" style play strictly with one end of the continuum between hack-and-slash and games including narrative goals. H&S is a player's playstyle (not always a roleplaying style) and achieving narrative goals is also part of a player's roleplaying style.

On a separate continuum, sandbox play is a GM's presentation style which requires certain setting considerations and can be used to house a game anywhere along the players' playstyle continuum for hack-and-slash and games including narrative goals. The more "sandboxy" the presentation, however, the fewer plotted lifelines a GM will throw to the players while they attempt to introduce their narrative druthers into gameplay.

At the other end of the GM's presentation style continuum is full narrative control by the GM, sometimes referred to as linear plot progression. It's a mistake, though, to think of it as linear plot progression because a GM need not have decided upon a plot in advance to maintain full narrative control, the GM need only be the deciding factor in how gameplay will produce story with or without taking player narrative goals and choices into consideration. A railroad need not be built with a destination in mind or in regard to who will be riding the train, nor need that railroad be built straight or without forks. And even if the GM has a destination in mind, it is impossible to know all the details of a story produced through gameplay until the game is over because just by virtue of players being at the table and being allowed any input whatsoever, the story is being affected.

I like to refer to this phenomenon as Schrodinger's Plot. There is a box into which many elements are throw during gameplay but until the game is done and the box is open, there's no telling the form of the story.

But these continuums (or continua) have always existed and continue to exist. The important thing to remember, IMO, for recognizing Old School and New School styles of play is how much the guidelines/rules affect play. Once again in this area, we find there is no clear line drawn but games where the GM is the final arbiter of consequences within the game as opposed to the rules as written tend to cleave closer to old school gaming. New school gaming is marked more often by the rules as written rather than thinking of the game as supplying merely guidelines. It is rare for any game to be played at the far extreme of either of these philosophies as almost all GM's make provision for the rules to carry some the burden of arbitration of consequences and likewise will make some judgement calls that set aside the rules in certain circumstances. What you will generally see, though, is old school style games tend to skew toward rules as guidelines and new school style games tend to rely more heavily on rules as written.

And let's not confuse randomness with who makes the call, for if the GM allows for all judgement calls to rely on the dice that alone doesn't tell us if this is old or new school gaming. It might seem as if a GM is abdicating his position if he let's the dice fall where they may but that is actually a very strong choice. In these circumstances, to detemine if this is more so old or new school, one has to look at how the GM is allowing those dice rolls to interact with the game. Does the GM think of the game in terms of guidelines and go to the dice often or does the GM utilize the rules as written and go to the dice when the rules call upon them?

It should be noted, perhaps most importatly, that published games can adopt mainly one style or the other (or something in between) and it is possible to take rules written primarily for one style and run them as GM in a fundamentally different manner but doing so is likely to also frustrate player expectations unless there has been a discussion of gaming philosophies prior to play among all involved. This conflict can sometimes be mischaracterized as a player entitlement issue. Although such issues do exist in other situations, there is no reason why a player who reads a rulebook geared toward rules as written shouldn't expect such a game to be played in that manner unless the above mentioned discussion takes place.

So, old school or new school? First look to how the game is written and then to how the game is being played. When these two factors are in synch, it's fairly easy to make the call. Otherwise, use your best judgement. ;)
 

rogueattorney

Adventurer
I've written a number of places that the delineation of D&D into two lumps of "old school" and "new school" is far, far too simplistic.

The content and aesthetics of the products and assumed play style therein varies wildly from 1976 to 1986 to 1996.

I would argue that the style of the products - which sometimes would push the zeitgeist of playing public, and was sometimes pushed by the zeitgeist of the playing public - can broadly be lumped as follows:

Formative years: 1974-1977
Peak years and plateau: 1978-1983
Decadent silver age: 1984-1992
2e crash: 1993-1999
3e rebirth: 2000-2007
4e reinvention: 2008-

These phases don't necessarily track with edition. For example, I'd say the 1e of 1986 had a lot more in common with the 2e of 1990 than the 2e of 1994. Also, there have clearly been forerunner and retro products in each of the phases which make for exceptions.

I'd also say that the flow of D&D's style would sometimes go with that of the greater rpg world and be completely at odds with the greater rpg world at others. Which makes it hard to track D&D's "schools" with other games.

And once again... I'm talking about products, not playstyles, and sometimes playstyle followed the products and other times products followed the playstyles.
 

Doug McCrae

Legend
I'd also say that the flow of D&D's style would sometimes go with that of the greater rpg world and be completely at odds with the greater rpg world at others. Which makes it hard to track D&D's "schools" with other games.
OD&D is clearly ahead of the curve, as the first rpg. 2e is trying to do much the same as Vampire and other games of the period - rely on the GM to get something resembling fiction out of a completely inappropriate rules-set. 3e falls behind the curve, resembling early to mid 80s games such as RuneQuest, HERO, RoleMaster and GURPS. As far as I'm aware 4e, with its emphasis on battlegrid gamism and downplaying of simulationism is something quite new.
 

Celebrim

Legend
"Since we used the "Good Hits, Bad Misses" article for crits and fumbles from Dragon #39, there was a chance of weapon breakage on a nat 1."

This is one of the most common house rules ever, and it is IME typical of 1e AD&D in two ways.

a) First, it was an optional table rule from Dragon that was assumed to be in force at a large number of otherwise disparate tables.
b) Secondly, the above is a widespread house ruling based on the optional table rule from Dragon which is interesting to me in that most people using this rule both arrived at it independently and weren't and aren't aware that this is not the way the rule worked as written.

The 'Good Hits, Bad Misses' article actually had little to do with natural 1's and natural 20's, and instead described the chance of a critical hit (or fumble) in what amounted to a variation of the 3e confirmation roll. Namely, the chance of a fumble was 1% per 1 you missed the to hit roll by (frex, if you needed a 6 to hit, and rolled a 3, there was a 3% chance of a fumble). Many people using the charts however, never read the article. I can remember talking with another DM with 10 years about the rules for something, and him admitting he'd never read that part of the DMG. I would say most groups didn't throughly read the rules, and instead, relied on truncated versions of the rules that seemed to them to be intuitive and easy in play.

I say 'most' though. You could try to say that the 'old school' style was ignoring rules and creating the game you wanted, but there were also old school DM's that liked to adhere pretty closely to the rules as written. I would say that if you wanted to call something 'old school', it would be Bill Cavalier's take on things: "Does this game have Dragons? Does this game have Dungeons? Then I want to play this game." I remember having arguments about single rulings that got really heated. I don't remember anyone ever saying thinking that there was one right way to play. People could like Chocolate and Strawberry. Now people are a bit more 'set in their ways'. I'd say 'comes with age', except that you see it from the younger generation as well.
 
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Libramarian

Adventurer
First, humans are very bad at describing things in terms of quantities. They tend to be rather digital in their thinking and in their language. Things are either 'yes' or 'no'. In reality of course, many things differ by degree more than by kind, and reality is analog and this is true even when there aren't obvious physical characteristics that you can measure. When humans argue or debate, there is a strong tendency to want to assign everything to two easily differentiatable camps, so there is a tendency to always describe everything according to extremes so as to highlight how different the thing that you don't like is from the think that you favor. Of course, in reality, even if the two debaters are as extreme as they make themselves, which is unlikely, the majority of people probably are not and the difference between them - while real - isn't as easily described or labeled.

OK, but do people do this to be rhetorical dicks, or because this makes thinking and discussing complex topics a lot easier?

I am readily capable of distinguishing individual gamers and games, and ways to play games, and the fuzzy boundaries of ways to play games in practice.

At the same time, I appreciate the term Old School as a catalyst for playstyle theory talk.

I feel like some people want to blow up the whole OSR discourse just because they personally find some terms and simplifications offensive.

I have the same respect for them as I do for those who want to blow up the whole Forge discourse for similar reasons. Not a lot!

Anybody who wishes to destroy knowledge because they find confusion more comfortable should be mocked for this predilection.
 

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