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Variety of "Old Schools"

Iosue

Adventurer
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.

Let me just clarify: I by no means belabor under such a misconception. The attempted continuum expressed (and in hindsight, I could have been clearer) was between totally freeform play and having a character oriented prepared story. The use of hack-and-slash was not to pigeonhole sandbox play (that's why I used the word "sandboxy", instead of "sandbox"), but just to indicate that higher narrative goals were not a consideration in some of our games, other than "go to a place, kill evil monsters, and take their stuff". It just happens that generally, the hack-and-slash stuff was sandboxy, generally because we were playing without anyone having prepared anything.

If I haven't yet made it clear, I'm not interested in pigeonholing any kind of playstyle into one thing. What I like, what I'm interested in, is the variety. Hack and slash in a sandbox. Hack and slash in a railroady dungeon delve. Character oriented narrative goals in a sandbox. Character oriented goals in an adventure path. Please read the OP in that light -- any definitions or associations are just thrown out there purely as rough examples. What I'm interested in hearing about is just how varied "the old days" were.
 

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Celebrim

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

Ok, but remember you asked for it.

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

Both. But generally it serves as a means of obfuscating understanding of complex topics regardless of why it is done. It's basically just giving up and saying, "Well, this is hard to understand or describe as it really is, so I won't even try."

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

Remember how you felt that people who prefered confusion to knowledge should be mocked? Well, personally I believe simplifications lead to confusion. That's why I'm so verbose when describing things; reality is complicated. If I thought I could get away with a simplier description, then I would use one. People who prefer simplifications because they make discussions easier, aren't really choosing to have greater knowledge of reality. They are inventing elaborate fantasies in their heads and going around insulting other people and belittling them because those people don't buy into their fantasies.

One of these days you may realize that loose metaphors, false categorizations, sterotypes, and gross simplifications don't actually constitute knowledge.
 


The Shaman

First Post
Couple o' thoughts.

For me, the most basic dividing line in tabletop roleplaying game design is pre-Dragonlance and post-Dragonlance. It's the difference between, "Hey kids, let's pretend to be elves!" and, "Hey kids, let's tell an epic story about elves!" Hate is too strong a word to use for something as trivial as roleplaying games, but if there's a word that describes a dislike just a fingernail's width from hate, that's the word I'd use for Dragonlance.

I roll the dice in the open and let the results stand. Half the fun of the game is making sense out of randomness, plus I like to be surprised. In our campaign, the adventurers have been asked to help capture a chateau. One of the npcs involved in the plan may be on their side, or he may setting them up to betray them. At this point, no one knows for sure, including me, and I won't roll to find out until the opportune moment. Either outcome could prove epic, and I want to be just as surprised as the players when it happens.

My advice to players is, think like your character, first and foremost. Tell me what you want to do, and we'll figure out what we need to roll. Toward this end, I like rules that provide a physics engine for resolving what the players want to do.

All of the games I like come incomplete. They require the referee to personalize the game through house rules. Campaigns should be specific to the gamers playing them. Portability is overrated.

So there's that.
 

Libramarian

Adventurer
Remember how you felt that people who prefered confusion to knowledge should be mocked? Well, personally I believe simplifications lead to confusion. That's why I'm so verbose when describing things; reality is complicated. If I thought I could get away with a simplier description, then I would use one. People who prefer simplifications because they make discussions easier, aren't really choosing to have greater knowledge of reality. They are inventing elaborate fantasies in their heads and going around insulting other people and belittling them because those people don't buy into their fantasies.

One of these days you may realize that loose metaphors, false categorizations, sterotypes, and gross simplifications don't actually constitute knowledge.

We're getting pretty deeply philosophical here, but I think all distinctions are necessarily simplifications. Knowledge of reality is itself built upon a problematic distinction between your mind and the rest of reality.

So I don't bother evaluating knowledge on whether it is "true" (passive, reflective, mirroring) so much as whether it is fecund (interesting, active, constructive). The concept "Old School" has been very fecund. Therefore it is good knowledge and shouldn't just be thrown in the trash.

Of course, the fact that I evaluate knowledge on its fecundity means that I support any attempt to problematize "Old School" from inside the conversation.

Join the conversation, and explain what you find problematic. Don't just try to nuke it from outside the conversation.

I support more subtle distinctions. I don't support a preference for no distinctions.
 

Celebrim

Legend
So I don't bother evaluating knowledge on whether it is "true" ...

Well, there is your problem: a lie can get halfway around the world while the truth is still getting its boots on. Just because a meme is popular and easily and widely spread doesn't make it either true or valuable. Racial sterotypes are really easily learned and spread about, but that fecundity doesn't make them defensible or constructive. Sterotyping our fellow gamers is perhaps a less damnable offense against intelligence, but its no less wrong. Popularity and ease of acceptance aren't good measures of whether knowledge is good. Indeed, one of the reasons Mark Twain's observation seems to hold true is that falsehoods often are simply easier to understand than the truth. Most fights, either on the boards or out in the larger world, are typically between two vast over simplifications.

Knowledge of reality is itself built upon a problematic distinction between your mind and the rest of reality.

Do you think you can come in and dazzle people with big words and claims that you are being really philosophical, and then they won't think at all about what you say or its implications?

I do not have to accept your assumptions in order to engage the conversation. It is completely valid to attack the premise of an argument rather than merely the details, and for that matter, I believe that the original poster was (also) attacking the premise that there existed a simplistic easily describable contrast between 'old school' and 'new school' games.

I support more subtle distinctions. I don't support a preference for no distinctions.

False dilemma. I've never claimed a preference for no distinctions. As I said to start, I claim a preference for differences by degree rather than kind. And even that is something of a simplification, because I don't deny that there are at times differences of kind as well and at times differences of degree are large enough that they are effectively differences of kind. Indeed, if you wanted to some up my outlook on things it is, "The truth is never simple. It follows that no simple statement is ever completely true, including this one."

But claiming that all distinctions require simplifications is nonsense and an excuse for sloppy thinking. The usual problem is that human language lacks the necessary precision to address the complexity, and that human understanding is insufficient to properly measure and quantify the differences. But none of that excuses ignorance or the defense of ignorance.

In any event, this conversation is becoming way too meta, which is increasing my sympathy for Iosue by a large measure. What's your experience of old school and new school anyway?
 

Desdichado

Adventurer
My experience, with any version of D&D from 1980 or from over thirty years later, or with any other system either, for that matter, is largely the same, and my tastes—at least in a broad sense—have not changed either.

I don’t much care for system. I prefer a game that’s fairly fast, loose, handwavey and definitely in the GM fiat (not an automotive joint venture, despite appearances) camp. If there are a lot of rules, I expect that the GM will utilize them fairly fast and loose. The old 3e motto “Tools, not rules” was how I had always played RPGs of any brand or era, and it still is. In fact, I remember being somewhat surprised that it needed to be stated in the first place.

No rule system really ever works for me exactly as is, at the same time. There’s always some significant element of the rules that just doesn’t “work” for me. Tinkering with the rules is an old tradition that goes back to the very beginning. I don’t believe in playing anything exactly as written—or at least I haven’t yet found a game that I liked exactly as written.

I was interested in fantasy gaming because I was interested in fantasy novels, stories, movies and TV shows (although at the time, the latter two were relatively rare. Still are, actually.) The very gamist, dungeoncrawling, killing things and taking their stuff, “pixel-bitching” or whatever you want to call it approach was never interesting to me, even in the late 70s. Swashbuckling action, intrigue, interesting characters, and a session that had as a product an interesting story was always preferable. Story has become a bit of a dirty word among some gamers, but to me, it was always what I was most interested in, and it was never about railroading or the GM’s would-be lame B-movie screenplay. It was a natural product of scenarios and situations that were more interesting than “here’s a hole in the ground. There’s probably monsters and treasure in there. Go.” and characters that were more than simply meant to be disposable and lacking in any characteristics that would involve them being a character rather than just a game piece.

I never really did very many games where death count was high. If anything, the games with the highest death counts were always one-shot Cthulhu games. Anything that was meant to be an ongoing game made at least some unconscious effort to preserve player continuity whenever reasonable. But we never outright avoided death either if that’s how the dice came up and player action made character death a possibility.

When I started playing, EVERYONE homebrewed. We hadn’t even coined the word homebrew yet, because that’s just what we called “DMing.” Products comparable to campaign settings of today hadn’t really been invented yet, really—Greyhawk was out there, but it was more a collection of houserules and a few notes rather than what we’d call a campaign setting today.

There wasn’t any such thing as manifestos. Matt Finch’s manifesto seems, in some ways, like an evolution of same concept that Clark Peterson’s Necromancer Games manifesto was also trying to accomplish. Ironically, I think it had a strange effect; people liked what they read, associated with it, and a movement started. In some cases, that ended up getting to dogmatism and “this is the RIGHT way to play D&D—everything else should just get a different name already because that’s NOT D&D.” To me, this is the antithesis of “old school.” When I read Matt Finch’s manifesto, I see a lot of the things that I HATED back in the day, and still studiously avoid even now. That’s not old school. That’s not how I played. To me, old school is do-it-yourself and make-it-your own. Games were eclectic, eccentric, and esoteric. Everyone made the game their own. Chris’s game would be sweeping and heroic, feeling vaguely like it was inspired by Tolkien and Lloyd Alexander. Trey’s game was notable for it’s interesting NPCs and chance to interact with them in situations other than combat—although he also was famous for his god-like “duel games” where armies of pit fiends clashed with hordes of angels. Tracy’s game started right at the dungeon without any context, and he yukked it up when you couldn’t get past the goblin guards at the door without having to run away. The Other Chris had sweeping overland travel and intrigue and plots. Etc. EVERYONE made the game their own, and nobody’s game really resembled anyone else’s game all that much. And we expected that, and embraced that.

To me, that’s what old school really is. This dogmatic approach to “this is old school” ironically is a very new, recent, and antithetical idea. My tastes and preferences were crystalized in the “old school era”—heck, I came to gaming with them already, I’d say. But I don’t really self-identify with the OSR because to me, the OSR is only one rather narrow facet of how games used to be during the old school era. Well, that and I don't really like old school rules anymore either, but that's another thing altogether. I still feel like many of my playstyle preferences have very long roots, though. Even thought they clearly are at odds with what is today associated with old school play.
 


The Shaman

First Post
I don’t much care for system. I prefer a game that’s fairly fast, loose, handwavey and definitely in the GM fiat (not an automotive joint venture, despite appearances) camp. If there are a lot of rules, I expect that the GM will utilize them fairly fast and loose. The old 3e motto “Tools, not rules” was how I had always played RPGs of any brand or era, and it still is. In fact, I remember being somewhat surprised that it needed to be stated in the first place.
I like systems that provide a robust framework which facilitates judgement calls.

No rule system really ever works for me exactly as is, at the same time. There’s always some significant element of the rules that just doesn’t “work” for me. Tinkering with the rules is an old tradition that goes back to the very beginning. I don’t believe in playing anything exactly as written—or at least I haven’t yet found a game that I liked exactly as written.
Same here.

I was interested in fantasy gaming because I was interested in fantasy novels, stories, movies and TV shows (although at the time, the latter two were relatively rare. Still are, actually.) The very gamist, dungeoncrawling, killing things and taking their stuff, “pixel-bitching” or whatever you want to call it approach was never interesting to me, even in the late 70s. Swashbuckling action, intrigue, interesting characters, and a session that had as a product an interesting story was always preferable. Story has become a bit of a dirty word among some gamers, but to me, it was always what I was most interested in, and it was never about railroading or the GM’s would-be lame B-movie screenplay. It was a natural product of scenarios and situations that were more interesting than “here’s a hole in the ground. There’s probably monsters and treasure in there. Go.” and characters that were more than simply meant to be disposable and lacking in any characteristics that would involve them being a character rather than just a game piece.
In my experience, "swashbuckling action, intrigue, [and] interesting characters" are not the opposite of, or opposed to, "dungeoncrawling." There's no reason at all you can't have both in that hole in the ground.

That's one of the reason the adventure The Lost Abbey of Calthonwey was so formative for me.

When I started playing, EVERYONE homebrewed. We hadn’t even coined the word homebrew yet, because that’s just what we called “DMing.” . . . To me, old school is do-it-yourself and make-it-your own. Games were eclectic, eccentric, and esoteric. Everyone made the game their own. . . . EVERYONE made the game their own, and nobody’s game really resembled anyone else’s game all that much. And we expected that, and embraced that.
It's a shame more people aren't familiar with the original Empire of the Petal Throne or The Arduin Grimoire, or Group One's Traveller modules. To me those are some of the best published examples of taking a set of rules as 'guidelines' and using them to build a campaign.
 

Time for a trip down memory lane, I guess.

I first played D&D at a games club in the local library, aged 9, in about 1980. There was lots of stuff going on - Car Wars, Boot Hill, D&D, Runequest, minis wargames with anti-grav tanks, OGRE, Traveller. I was a kid in a sweet shop with all this cool stuff going on and something new to see and play all the time.

The first game I remember was Bone Hill and my ranger was dead after about 2 encounters. That meant writing out a new character sheet by hand, which was a pain. Character death was pretty frequent from what I recall, mainly due to overzealousness - but also because in those early games no-one knew what the monsters were capable of. There was nothing careful, planned or meticulous about our play. As players we explored haunted castles, caves and dungeons with enthusiasm and imagination, and almost zero rules knowledge.

By the time I started roleplaying with friends away from the club, I had the Monster Manual and we had a few character sheets to go on. So we'd draw up a few caves and populate them and the 'rules' were a mash up of whatever mechanics each of us had scratched together from play and a feeling of what seemed reasonable or entertaining.

Then I bought the PHB and my mate Tom bought the DMG and we had the printed rules for the first time...he ran the Slavers and Giants series for about eight or nine players...
...but that said, a lot of 'how' we played and what we did was still based on local custom or what we 'knew' from experience. It was a 'word of mouth' approach, with the DMG like a backstop for when our inherited knowledge couldn't fill in the blanks.

I think D&D was fairly unique in that respect - other systems I played over the next couple of years (Traveller and RQ) were learned from the rulebooks and the rules got used more fastidiously, even though I would describe both as 'old school' as well.

These days I have no great desire to run AD&D, RQ or Traveller - or Paranoia, Jorune, Twilight 2000, Call of Cthulhu or any of a couple of dozen other systems I played, ran and enjoyed in that early to mid-80s era.

But I guess that leads to as accurate a definition of 'old school' as I need - stuff I used to play a long time ago but don't anymore.
 

Libramarian

Adventurer
In any event, this conversation is becoming way too meta, which is increasing my sympathy for Iosue by a large measure. What's your experience of old school and new school anyway?

This is all I am advocating -- take the premise seriously at least for the moment, and ask questions to see what people mean by old school and new school.

It's a difference in attitude. What's worse, a false positive or a false negative? Being wrong, or being ignorant?

I want to say it's worse to be ignorant than wrong, at least when we're talking about styles of playing a role-playing game, which is more analogous to styles of art (e.g. impressionism vs. expressionism) than science. You don't go up to an expressionist and ceaselessly interrogate them on whether or not their style is valid or just a made up distinction. A style is not a scientific theory. It's a narrative that makes the activity richer with meaning. It's a lens you look at things through. The proper attitude is to try it on and see if you like it.

Anyway.

I think there are two strains of "old school". One is the Old School Primer approach of making the game up as you go along, the value of preserved ambiguity. Game design with open ends and rough edges that snag into the imaginary space during play. For ex, in Basic D&D the spell "Charm Person" causes the victim to behave as if the spellcaster were their "best friend". That's pretty vague. It means what it means in the real world; it's not jargon that links to a precise mechanical definition elsewhere. You have to use realworld logic and common sense to decide what it means in the game. You generally do more of this in pre-3e D&D. (I'm sure you will appreciate how this is a tendency, and not a binary distinction). The philosophy of old school gaming here (by which I mean the OSR, not the original game texts, which do not explicitly outline this philosophy, but have been interpreted to assume it) is that this is a feature, not a bug. It's good for the game to be "incomplete" in some aspects. (And not just because of simple handling time issues.)

The other is the aspect inherited from hardcore rules-heavy wargaming of having the patience to use non-unified subsystems and follow them through to completion, even when their value to the game is only in the long term and they may not appear to be immediately useful. For ex, having the patience to track time in turns, and to use random encounter tables and actually roll on them instead of just picking the coolest one, and roll for encounter reactions ("Hi I'm Gary Gygax, it's *rolls dice*...a pleasure to meet you!"). The patience to pore over a 240pg book (1e DMG) until you've memorized the idiosyncratic layout, so its organization or lack thereof is not such a big deal.

These two strains of old school are not completely at odds, but there are areas of tension. You'll have an AD&D DM who is an absolute stickler for following the rules, to the chagrin of a loosey-goosey Swords & Wizardry or Basic D&D DM. But, try as he might to play absolutely by-the-book, there will be cases where there are simply no rules to follow, so in practice the AD&D DM is also well-versed in the skills of DM judgement.

My personal experience with the first aspect is that it is a different experience to play D&D by just saying what you do in natural language, and have the DM interpret that into the game, rather than playing in a character ability-first fashion. We have the trust, chemistry, whatever you need, for me as DM to present the party with a complex problem (you've been stripped of all your gear and chained to the oars of a slave galley, what do you do?...you have reason to suspect the attic is full of stirges, what do you do?)without always shunting the dynamic into a setpiece battle or a skill challenge (whether explicit or hidden). The players do tons of "role playing" but very little just for the purpose of fancy description. They roleplay for game effect, which is more natural and more fun.

I am experiencing the second now as I migrate my game from very rules light Basic D&D to by-the-book 1e AD&D. It's quite a big difference in terms of rules-effort. There a lot of :):):):)ing rules in AD&D and they use different dice and you have look them up and use tables and charts. Although it's kind of binary--either you lay around on couches with index cards for charsheets and the DM has the rules in their head, or you're willing to sit at a table where the DM has a screen filled with charts. Once you make that basic effort, it opens the door to using much more complex rules. I am making my own DM screen atm, which is kinda fun.
 

Tav_Behemoth

First Post
At Anonycon, I played a 3.5 game using Dwarven Forge terrain and minis with a DM who had converted their longstanding campaign over from AD&D. It was old school in that they had been doing basically the same thing since the old days, 3.5 was just a souped-up version of their AD&D houserules, and in that it was fantasy f***ing Vietnam - everything was trapped and brutally lethal, EL was a guideline to be ignored and not the holy writ other groups made it out to be. It was new school in that they updated rulesets without looking back (4e was still a bridge too far), and in that there was no exploration - I was like "I'll be mapper, I brought graph paper and everything" and four hours later we had advanced like 30 feet against relentless opposition!

Recently I've played a couple of times with Michael Mornard, who was an original player in both Arneson and Gygax's groups. His game is old-school in every way, but the big difference from the OSR is lethality. It's really easy to die, but almost as easy to be raised. As I wrote about here the first time a PC died all us OSR types were like "let's see if your new character does better with 3d6 in order" but a new guy wouldn't rest until his companion was raised, and I was amazed that there really was a church in town who would bring back a first level magic-user at the cost of simply putting an as-yet-unspecified geas on all the rest of us.

Playing the DCC RPG with Joseph Goodman was a lot like playing Metamorphosis Alpha with Jim Ward: a linear room-by-room meatgrinder run as a gleeful gameshow where most of the prizes were horrible death. This is clearly the way lots of tournaments were run back in the day, but it's not the exploration-based, combat as war old-school style the OSR mostly celebrates.
 


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