Worlds of Design: “Old School” in RPGs and other Games – Part 2 and 3 Rules, Pacing, Non-RPGs, and G

Worlds of Design: “Old School” in RPGs and other Games – Part 2 Rules, Pacing, and Non-RPGs

For me, the difference between Old School and anything else is not in the rules, but in attitude, as described last time. Yet the rules, and the pacing, can make a big difference; parts 2 and 3.


“Old School Games have a lot of failure, more mediocre outcomes... and the brilliant stroke that suddenly feels astonishing because there is something there to contrast it with. New School Games are grey goo.” Jeffro

Last time I talked about some differences between “Old School” and newer approaches to RPGs, especially related to story. Here are some more.

Rules

The difference in “schools” is not about rules. Rules are not sacred, nor do they fit for every person. I think about rules in terms of game design. Occasionally choices designers make in games are arbitrary, one is as good as another. Some of these choices, the game designer(s) might want to change after publication, if they could. And over time, a game designer might make different choices for rules simply because tastes/trends change. For these reasons it makes no sense, to me, to adhere strictly to every rule in an RPG set.

Jeffro Johnson goes back to rules before AD&D (first edition as we tend to call it), or rules intended to substitute, such as Moldvay-B/X-Basic rules. So Jeffro says thieves must have d4 for hit points, because the rules he loves specify that.

I’m much more willing to vary from the original rules in order to make the game better (from my point of view, of course), so my thieves/rogues have d6s, can use bows (Robin Hood), and vary in other ways from the original rules. My 1e clerics can choose one of three types of sharp weapons (two-handers, one-handed swords, bow and arrow) and use those weapons as well as the blunt ones - because it’s better for the game. They can memorize twice as many spells as they can cast. And so on.

But a GM can make his game Old or New regardless of the actual rules. Some rules make it easier to tell stories (e.g. FATE). Simpler rulesets in general give the GM more freedom to tell stories, as there are fewer rules to get in the way of the story, and likely less “rules lawyering”.

GM Role

In terms of the two major conceptions of the GM’s role, the GM as rules arbiter and the GM as a sort of god, which works better for the storytelling that’s part of New School? I think rules arbiter is much less effective, as the rules can get in the way of the story. GM as rules arbiter tends to go with long rulesets (which more likely need an arbiter), and rules-heavy games get in the way of story-telling. Rules-light games ought to be better for GM storytelling. Players who don’t want the GM to control the story may prefer rules-heavy RPGs. These are tendencies, of course, not certainties, and likely there are counterexamples.

Pacing

Pacing is a big part of the difference between the two extremes. Good pacing (in novel and film terms) calls for alternating lows and highs, to make the highs that much more effective.

Old School recognizes that there will be not-very-exciting or even unpleasant/horrific adventures, to go with super-exciting and terrifically rewarding adventures. New School “evens it out”, ensuring that nothing will be unpleasant but also effectively ensuring that nothing will be terrific – because you can’t fail. “Loot drops” are boring when every monster has a loot drop. Boatloads of treasure become boring when you always get boatloads of treasure. “No one ever gets in serious trouble” is boring. In other words, the New abandons good pacing in favor of enabling “no negative consequences” or just “no losses”. You can certainly do that, but it sounds tedious to me.

Non-RPGs, too

This Old/New dichotomy can be seen clearly in board and card games as well. Such games have moved away from the traditional direct competition, and from high levels of player interaction, to parallel competitions that are usually puzzles (i.e., have always-correct solutions) rather than games (which do not have such solutions). Each player pursues his own puzzle down one of the "Multiple Paths to Victory," that is, following one of several always-correct solutions provided by the designer.

"As an Action RPG, the best thing about Torchlight II is the way loot, skill choices, and chance bubble over into a fountain of light and treasure at the whiff of a right-click, every single time, for as long as you can keep going." PC Gamer magazine, 2012

We see the difference in video games, too, but for commercial reasons those games have gone far into the New. To begin with, computers lend themselves to avatar-based "experiences" (forms of story) rather than games. Also, computer games of all types are far into reward (or at least, lack of negative consequences), having left consequence (Old School) behind some time ago. In other words, you’re rewarded for playing while not having to worry/take responsibility for the consequences of your own actions. (There are exceptions of course.) In the extreme, players will blame the game if they don’t succeed. If you make a free to play video game (a very common type now), practically speaking you MUST make it easy and positive so that players will stick around long enough to decide to provide you with some revenue via in-game micro-transactions.

(Editor's Note: We decided to add in Lew's third article, below, so it puts all of his points in context; please see my comment below).

Here are some Old/New School differences in actual gameplay.

Strategy Over Tactics

Military strategy (what you do before battle is joined) is de-emphasized in opposite-of-old-school games. Why?

  • Good strategy requires planning; tactics can become standardized, rule of thumb, easier
  • If the GM is telling a story, he or she wants players to follow the script, not devise their own ways of doing things overall (which is what strategy is all about)
Tactical games, on the other hand, are all about immediate fighting, what 4th edition D&D was built for, what many computer RPGs are built for because computers are at their best in tactics and worst in strategy.

Hand-Holding

Old School games are often about exploration, about finding/identifying the objectives. And recognizing when something about a location/opponent makes it too dangerous to take on right now.

Something like a secret door becomes a “dirty GM trick” instead of a challenge for the dungeon-delving skills of the party. “New” games are about being guided by the game (GM) to where the fight is, then fighting, then getting the loot. (You recognize the description of typical computer RPGs, especially MMO RPGs?)

In other words, the GM “holds the hands” of the players, guiding them rather than leaving them to their own devices. Every GM does this on occasion, but it’s the norm in the extreme of New School.

What’s Important in Play?

In Old School, it’s the success of the party that counts, much more than the success of the individual. This is a “wartime” attitude now quite uncommon in the USA, but common amongst the Baby Boomer wargamers who originated RPGs. In the extremes of the newer school, it’s the individual that counts (e.g. as expressed in “All About Me” RPGs), not the group. This makes a huge difference in how people play the game.

Sport or War?

I talked about this in an earlier column (RPG Combat: Sport or War?). To summarize, in war everything is fair, and stratagems – “a plan or scheme, especially one used to outwit an opponent” - are the ideal. If you get in a fair fight, you’ve screwed up: fair fights are for suckers. That style puts a premium on intelligence-gathering and on strategy. Combat as sport looks for a fair fight that the players will just barely manage to win, often as managed by the GM. Combat as War is less heroic, but it’s a lot more practical from the adventurer’s point of view. And for me, a lot more believable. If a fight is truly fair, you’re going to lose 50% of the time, in the long run. That’s not survivable.

Nuance

There are lots of “in-betweens”, of course:

  • What about a campaign where the party can suffer a total or near wipeout, but someone has left a wish with a reliable soul who can wish away the disaster. They can fail (lose), but most or all of them will survive.
  • What about the “All About Me” style I wrote about recently? Usually, there is no possibility of failure, but a GM could put a little failure into the equation if they wished.
  • What about the campaign where everyone knows their character is doomed to die, likely before reaching (in AD&D terms) 10th or 11th level? Then glory (and a glorious death) often becomes the objective.
  • What about the campaign where characters normally survive, but when someone does something egregiously stupid or foolish, the character can die?
  • You can hand-hold players to the point of combat, and still make that combat deadly.
RPGs can accommodate all kinds of tastes. But we don’t have to like every kind, do we?

This article was contributed by Lewis Pulsipher (lewpuls) as part of EN World's Columnist (ENWC) program. You can follow Lew on his web site and his Udemy course landing page. If you enjoy the daily news and articles from EN World, please consider contributing to our Patreon!
 
Lewis Pulsipher

Comments

Bedrockgames

Adventurer
1) The author's approach has a significant impact on how the readers will react. We can take the piece apart in that vein, if you like, to show how he set himself up (intentionally or not) for such a reaction.

2) The essence of what he is saying seems to be emotional - it is how *he feels* about the games, not about objective facts, or statistical trends, or even the considered opinions or theories of significant people in the field today.
1) Sure, but it is an initial presentation of the topic. And it is a topic that lends itself to subjective claims. I wouldn't have written it the way he did, and I wouldn't have made all the same claims he did. I don't think leading with a critique of new school was helpful to his aim. I also don't think reacting defensively is helpful to the discussion.

But there are things in there that many old school and OSR gamers would recognize as reasons they like to play in that style. The biggest issue people seem to have with it is how it presents new school play. I'd be very interested in people offering more clarification on this since, as I've said, all most people have to go on are their perceptions of a given style based on what they see online, what they see in real life groups beyond their own, etc. Usually that leads to a pretty narrow perception. I see all kinds of narrow views regarding the OSR for instance. And I've also seen narrow views within the OSR. That is what happens when people don't venture beyond their own play style or get information from the horse's mouth. I think this topic is a good opportunity for people to explain what they think new school play is.

2) I don't know. We are talking about games and play styles. There is going to be a lot of subjectivity in that. I think we can deal with our subjective perceptions of these things, without being led by our emotions. I'd certainly welcome an article with data. But if he expresses an opinion about new school play, and it is factually wrong, people can point that out and clarify. These kinds of discussions where people generalize about play styles do tend to leave out a lot.
 

hawkeyefan

Explorer
Agreed in all respects.

As for the article itself, there's a few bits I found quite relevant. One is this:
What’s relevant about it? How is pacing different in OS games conpared to NS games? His insistence that there’s no danger and everyhing’s a success is flat out wrong, so his insistence that this reaulta in no peaks and valleys of rising and falling action is also wrong.

Then you said (broken up to include my replies):

We've already seen in other threads that at least in D&D the level and degree of 'unpleasant' has clearly declined over the editions, so while saying 'nothing unpleasant happens' goes too far it's certainly fair to say 'there's much less potential for unpleasant to happen, leading to it happening much less often'.
Not exactly. Just as 1E could be played a variety of ways, so can 5E. Yes, I agree that generally in D&D, the older the edition the deadlier it is. But that does not mean that nothing bad happens. To take a difference like that and then insist that they are polar opposites is quite the leap.

Plus, he’s not limiting this to comparisons of editions of D&D. Thia is part of the problem. The category of games he’s attempting to compare to Old School D&D is so broad that some may be less deadly and others may be more so.

Well, not quite: in fact 4e and 5e, at least in the published adventures, are combat-designed so that terrific happens all the time - which is just as bad! Most of the set-piece combats (particularly in 4e adventures, which did these really well) are set up such that the enemy gets the jump on the party for the first round or two, then the party roars back to victory. Problem is, when everything's special then nothing is...meaing it can all tend to end up looking the same if the DM isn't careful.
My familiarity with 4E is limited, but as for 5E, I don’t agree at all. Many encounters are meant to be pretty bog standard.

Again taken too far, but the concept of "treasure parcels" (4e) and "wealth by level" (3e) do smack of a degree of prepackaged-ness not really present in earlier versions.
Dude....Treasure Type was a monster stat in 1E. Every monster entry in the monster manual told you the standard treasure found on the monster or in its lair.

I changed the list order so as to batch these three together, as they're all variants on the same theme along with 'nothing unpleasant happens' above. In some games built around fail-forward a true flat-no failure is quite difficult to achieve, be it on something basic (climb a wall) or something grand (an entire mission) in part because the game - for lack of a better term - wants you to succeed. This to me is a real difference from what we'd call old school games that didn't give a hoot whether you succeeded or not and just went on their way regardless.

As for the rest, see my comments re 'nothing unpleasant happens', they all apply here too.
I don’t think you’re right. I think some games want the story to move forward, but that doesn’t mean they want you to succeed. So they do have mechanics in place that instead of allowing the game to come to a geinding halt, change things ul and allow them to proceed.

You’re mistaking this for “always succeed”, but that’s not really the point.

This is what I mean by a flat-no failure, and it's intended to be frustrating - that's the point! If you were frustrated, that means it worked as intended. :)

So it's a mission fail - so what? Go back to town, recruit a better thief or find a device of secret door detection, and try again. Or find a different mission. :)

The frustration and aggravation in trying to find the way forward makes it that much sweeter if and when you finally succeed. I think this is often overlooked.
It’s boring and it’s a waste of time and it was often arbitrary.

I do acknowledge this is the one valid point that Lew made...this is a difference in OS games and many NS games. I don’t think that it means what he says it does ir that you say it does.

Failure is fine. I don't mind when I have my character try something and it doesn’t work out. That’s part of the game. But when the game...something we’re doing for fun...grinds to a halt becausethe thief didn’t roll a success to find the secret door, and now we’re all just wandering the dungeon to see if we missed anything....yeah, that sucks. My time to play is limited and I prefer a game that doesn’t waste time with long stretches of boring play.

I much prefer the NS approach to this type of game element. And that doesn’t mean you simply allow the PCs to succeed at finding the door, it means you don’t rely on arbitrary crap like that to challenge the players.

It is, and is also another form of railroading. As a player I don't like it when a DM does this, and I try not to do it as DM.
So it seems like you would agree this is more about GM ability than about the system?

From these statements no. But I think CaW v CaS is one distinction, albeit a bit fuzzy, that can be made between old and new at least within the D&D realm; not just in design but in player/DM preference. Look at the discussions in here for example, whenever this topic comes up: the CaW supporters are generally those who started with (and maybe never left) 0e-1e-2e while the CaS supporters are generally those who either started more recently or whose main focus of play has become 4e-5e.
Sure, people tend to stick to what they were introduced to. I think that’s one thing that Lew makes abundantly clear. But that doesn’t mean that’s necessarily what’s best. I think it depends on what the desired goal is in the game. For instance, Tales From the Loop would be very strange with combat as war...orat least significantly different in tone.

Again, looking beyond D&D and there actually are reasons for different approaches.
 

Shasarak

Villager
Hi All,

In the interest of helping Lew make his entire point, I've added in his third installment to this article just so that it's presented together as a whole.

I realize not every article is for everyone and appreciate the constructive criticism. We'll keep that in mind for future articles.

Thanks for your feedback!
Are these articles being written to a certain word count? It just seems that they could be a lot better if they had a bit of extra fleshing out.
 

Bedrockgames

Adventurer
I think there is a loaded tone to both (all three) articles. But while that's what is mostly being reacted to in this thread, the initial installment has seen most of its strong reaction against the terms employed by Lew: they seem confused about actual trends in game design over the last decade or more and attempts by some theoretically-inclined gamers to create terminology that can be used with precision in discussions and analysis of such. In these articles, Lew's terms seem to ignore (be unaware of?) the ongoing discussion of how certain game elements or design philosophies have shaped how a general audience thinks of the terms he employs. And that makes it very hard to engage his ideas on a practical, functional level, tone aside.
Which terms and theoretical models would you like him to be using?
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
What’s relevant about it? How is pacing different in OS games conpared to NS games? His insistence that there’s no danger and everyhing’s a success is flat out wrong, so his insistence that this reaulta in no peaks and valleys of rising and falling action is also wrong.
I think he hits a correct conclusion (that the peaks and valleys are flatter) despite a somewhat faulty premise.

Not exactly. Just as 1E could be played a variety of ways, so can 5E. Yes, I agree that generally in D&D, the older the edition the deadlier it is. But that does not mean that nothing bad happens. To take a difference like that and then insist that they are polar opposites is quite the leap.
I'm not saying they're polar opposites, but I am saying it's a relevant difference - with which you appear to agree. :)

Plus, he’s not limiting this to comparisons of editions of D&D. Thia is part of the problem. The category of games he’s attempting to compare to Old School D&D is so broad that some may be less deadly and others may be more so.
Which sets him up to be flayed a bit here: the broader the brush the more opposing examples are liable to slip through the cracks.

If he'd just stuck to D&D he'd be on much firmer ground.

My familiarity with 4E is limited, but as for 5E, I don’t agree at all. Many encounters are meant to be pretty bog standard.
In such little 5e as I've played the combats followed the down-then-up pattern quite closely; and the 4e adventures I've converted and run were filled with them.

Dude....Treasure Type was a monster stat in 1E. Every monster entry in the monster manual told you the standard treasure found on the monster or in its lair.
If pretty much every publsihed adventure of the era hadn't blown this concept to hell I'd agree with you. But they did, and let's face it: when designing their own adventures most DMs are going to look at the published ones for guidelines and how-to ideas rather than at the core rulebooks. The 3e-4e-5e modules I've seen tend to hew much closer to the written design.

I don’t think you’re right. I think some games want the story to move forward, but that doesn’t mean they want you to succeed. So they do have mechanics in place that instead of allowing the game to come to a geinding halt, change things ul and allow them to proceed.
Which by design takes away the challenge of the hard fail...see below...

It’s boring and it’s a waste of time and it was often arbitrary.

I do acknowledge this is the one valid point that Lew made...this is a difference in OS games and many NS games. I don’t think that it means what he says it does ir that you say it does.

Failure is fine. I don't mind when I have my character try something and it doesn’t work out. That’s part of the game. But when the game...something we’re doing for fun...grinds to a halt becausethe thief didn’t roll a success to find the secret door, and now we’re all just wandering the dungeon to see if we missed anything....yeah, that sucks. My time to play is limited and I prefer a game that doesn’t waste time with long stretches of boring play.
And this is where it presents a challenge to the players both in and out of character: find a way to make it not boring. The easiest thing here is to simply go and do something else in the game - a different mission or adventure. But there's other ways: in my game once the party for various reasons knew there had to be a secret door somewhere in the place but couldn't find it. It was a wooden building. Out came the Dwarf's axe...

They found the secret room. I'm not sure they ever actually found the door.

I much prefer the NS approach to this type of game element. And that doesn’t mean you simply allow the PCs to succeed at finding the door, it means you don’t rely on arbitrary crap like that to challenge the players.
Which both severely limits adventure design (from the metagame-DM perspective) and verges into non-realistic (from the in-fiction perspective). If I'm a big evil wizard with a pile of treasure in my home I'm going to hide it as best I can so that it won't be found. If I'm burying the dead's treasure with them and am concerned that grave-robbers might later come along and loot the place, that stuff's getting hidden by whatever means I have available.

And from a purely DM-side view, if the party missing something vital means they later have to go back and finish that's great: I get two adventures out of one!

So it seems like you would agree this is more about GM ability than about the system?
Yes, to a point. The question is whether the system frowns on a GM doing this or encourages it. If the system frowns on it and it happens anyway, that's on the GM. But if the system encourages it then when it happens the blame falls on the system.
 
I

Immortal Sun

Guest
And this is where it presents a challenge to the players both in and out of character: find a way to make it not boring. The easiest thing here is to simply go and do something else in the game - a different mission or adventure.
This is the same fallacy as the "go find work somewhere else if you don't like your job". It assumes much, as follows:
1: That other work is available.
-There may be other dungeons, or there may not be.
2: That other work is accessible.
-There is no guarantee that any other dungeon that exists is accessible at this time.
3: That you can simply "quit" what you're doing.
-The party may be trapped in the dungeon (this is not an uncommon element of dungeons).
4: That "quitting" won't have worse consequences.
-There's a reason the party is in this dungeon and not that one to begin with, and it probably has to do with *something something* evil lich *something something* darkside.
5: That the players are capable of doing the other dungeons.
-Just because there's another dungeon, doesn't mean it's populated by at-level challenges.

So, that's at least five assumptions that are being made about not just the dungeon, but the party, and the game-world as a whole. Any number of which, or even all of them may not be true.

Which is precisely while "fail-forward" was invented. Because someone stopped and said "What if failing this check means GAME OVER?" and everyone sort of universally replied: "That's dumb."

If you run a game too much like your bad-guy is the guy from CinemaSins the reality is: that's just not much fun.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
I think he hits a correct conclusion (that the peaks and valleys are flatter) despite a somewhat faulty premise.
He does not have a correct premise, as this is a false statement. Come on, Lan, you've been down these discussion paths before. We both know you have almost zero experience with these kinds of games, so please stop making these unfounded, and incorrect, assumptions.
 

Jay Verkuilen

Dogsbody Waghalter
There are, of course, differences in play between approaching adventures as, usually, massive dungeons which need to be solved or survived, and games that are closer to emulating an adventure story. This could be used as a difference between old and new school, but since the divide is as old as the game, perhaps the labels are inaccurate?
Yes, and I think you can have what I consider my favorite campaign style, which is a hybrid of the two: The game takes place in a framework created by the DM in which the PCs can make meaningful choices. It's got the character-based story aspects of "New School" but lots of meaningful player choice and potential stakes of "Old School."

For example, I revived an old campaign of mine from many years ago in 2013 and started running it regularly in 2016. The players had remembered an old villain from the first time the campaign ran and were sweating bullets about him making a reappearance at some point. Evidently he'd left quite a mark! He'd been killed way back when, but like any good villain in a fairly Moorcock-influenced setting, his masters brought him out of Limbo. He's just way too useful to the Powers of Chaos that he has sworn to serve. I'd not really planned on having him return but the PCs were worried about him, and they still are, even though he only made one appearance where he tried to broker a deal between the PCs and some yuan-ti they were fighting at the time.

A campaign I'm a player in (with the same folks) had us take actions that led us to blowing the Horn of Change. This prompted us to leave our home plane due to the fact that the various powers that be were really angry at us having upset the applecart so much. It also led to a major, character-defining moment for my PC, who'd been steadfastly neutral but had, by participating in the events that led to blowing the Horn of Change had fallen off that particular road. I ended up doing a substantial character rebuild after a visit to Celestia, not because I was unhappy with the way the character played but because it just felt right that being around the Horn of Change was something that had to leave its mark. None of this was planned out in advance by the DM. My deciding to go visit Moradin and then to lay down neutrality actually took the DM and other players by surprise.

This is closer to the way improv or sketch comedy works. It's not written out and can go in various directions depending on how the players react in the framework. Obviously the DM can react, sometimes throwing in things that the players bring up. This works best with an ensemble cast of PCs.


My biggest problem with the article is the claim that in recent years, players prefer to have no risk, and lots of reward. The idea that there is no failure in new school games is absolutely ludricous. Of course, this playstyle seems boring to lewpuls, if that's what he honestly thinks is going on. It would bore anyone.
100%, it's a total straw man. He keeps beating the absolute crap out of it over and over, too.
 

Jay Verkuilen

Dogsbody Waghalter
Every monster entry in the monster manual told you the standard treasure found on the monster or in its lair.
Indeed it did. "Treasure drops" are very old. Murder hobo play is also very old. In many respects, this is exactly what Ye Olde Claffick Dungeonne was. It's not even weird: A lot of the source material of the more low fantasy variety, such as Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser and Conan is often greed-motivated. Why do Fafhrd and the Mouser scale Stardock? Rumors of fantastic wealth.

In fact, I think one of the big distinctions that's being blown off by the "New" versus "Old" is that NS tends to be a bit more high fantasy whereas OS of 1E variety is decidedly low fantasy.


Failure is fine. I don't mind when I have my character try something and it doesn’t work out. That’s part of the game. But when the game...something we’re doing for fun...grinds to a halt becausethe thief didn’t roll a success to find the secret door, and now we’re all just wandering the dungeon to see if we missed anything....yeah, that sucks. My time to play is limited and I prefer a game that doesn’t waste time with long stretches of boring play.
Yeah, I agree. One reason why various "fail forward" type mechanics got introduced into RPGs was precisely this issue. People have been attempting to get the feel of more action stories from RPGs for a LONG time and the narrative structure of action stories involves a whole lot of "fail forward."
 

Shiroiken

Adventurer

Non-RPGs, too

This Old/New dichotomy can be seen clearly in board and card games as well. Such games have moved away from the traditional direct competition, and from high levels of player interaction, to parallel competitions that are usually puzzles (i.e., have always-correct solutions) rather than games (which do not have such solutions). Each player pursues his own puzzle down one of the "Multiple Paths to Victory," that is, following one of several always-correct solutions provided by the designer.
While others have taken to task the RPG aspects of the article, as an avid boardgamer, I'm going to focus on this section.

Boardgaming is generally divided into 2 types: Euro and Ameritrash (technically co-op is it's own type as well, but we'll ignore it for this discussion). Euro games generally lack direct attacks upon each other, relying instead upon competition for resources or actions. Ameritrash is primarly consisting of direct attacks, usually leading to player elimination. Despite the author's description, Ameritrash games are still VERY popular, even in the newer style of boardgames.

In addition, while there are several Euro games that have minimal interaction and lots of paths to victory (often derogatorily referred to as "point salads"), those are NOT the best of the new Euro style of games. With most good Euro games, if you ignore your opponents to focus on just your own solitary play, you will generally lose to any skilled player. These games may not have direct interaction, but moves to disrupt your opponent's plan while benefiting your own is how you win those games.
 

Lylandra

Explorer
While most crtiticism has already been brought up, I especially disagree in terms of pacing.

"Good pacing (in novel and film terms) calls for alternating lows and highs, to make the highs that much more effective."

I wholeheartedly agree to this statement, but as Lew already pointed out that New School RPGs tend to try emulate fiction or movies and give both GM and players tools for doing so, New Schools seem far more fit to create good pacing. "Fail forward" is an extremely effective method to create "lows" (that do exist in fiction all the time) while still keeping everyone onboard and offering them ways out of their misery. But it only works if GM and players are ultimately cooperative and trust each other. For example, if one of my characters were to be captured and tortured, that'd be okay (and, depending on the setting, a pretty fine "low" or "fail") as long as I can trust my GM that it will contribute to a greater storyline and isn't just inserted there as means to cruelly slap me (the player) on the butt for failing that saving throw or because the GM likes to torture PCs.

Compare this to Old School RPGs which are far more RNG dependant and can create streaks of extreme luck or extreme unluck, leading to situations where the party (or one player) finds himself in a situation where the story isn't fun or well-paced anymore.

What the article also completely misses are the good amount of RPG systems (both Old School and New School) that don't resolve around combat. Or where combat isn't the only meaningful way of dealing with problems. I've got my hands on two RPG books recently of which one is centered heavily around logistics, exploration and travel and the other is a system that tries to emulate Jane Austen novels, doesn't even need a GM and where a big fail can be being disowned and disgraced by your family.
 

Bedrockgames

Adventurer
While most crtiticism has already been brought up, I especially disagree in terms of pacing.

"Good pacing (in novel and film terms) calls for alternating lows and highs, to make the highs that much more effective."

I wholeheartedly agree to this statement, but as Lew already pointed out that New School RPGs tend to try emulate fiction or movies and give both GM and players tools for doing so, New Schools seem far more fit to create good pacing. "Fail forward" is an extremely effective method to create "lows" (that do exist in fiction all the time) while still keeping everyone onboard and offering them ways out of their misery. But it only works if GM and players are ultimately cooperative and trust each other. For example, if one of my characters were to be captured and tortured, that'd be okay (and, depending on the setting, a pretty fine "low" or "fail") as long as I can trust my GM that it will contribute to a greater storyline and isn't just inserted there as means to cruelly slap me (the player) on the butt for failing that saving throw or because the GM likes to torture PCs.

Compare this to Old School RPGs which are far more RNG dependant and can create streaks of extreme luck or extreme unluck, leading to situations where the party (or one player) finds himself in a situation where the story isn't fun or well-paced anymore.

What the article also completely misses are the good amount of RPG systems (both Old School and New School) that don't resolve around combat. Or where combat isn't the only meaningful way of dealing with problems. I've got my hands on two RPG books recently of which one is centered heavily around logistics, exploration and travel and the other is a system that tries to emulate Jane Austen novels, doesn't even need a GM and where a big fail can be being disowned and disgraced by your family.
I do think new school and narrative styles both tend to be more concerned about pacing than old school. This is actually one of things I vastly prefer in old school play. I don't like when GMs try to manipulate the pacing in order to emulate the sense of movement in a story*. To me that feels a bit artificial in a game. When I sit down to play a game, I am not thinking in terms I would think of when watching a movie or reading a book, just like if I am participating in a sporting event or a board game, I am not thinking in terms of pacing. But this does seem to be a big style divide issue. It is one of the first things you can see emerge as an issue when players come to the table with different expectations (and one of the hardest to cater to if the group has mixed preferences).

*Edit: Or when the system is designed to capture that kind of pacing.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
I think he hits a correct conclusion (that the peaks and valleys are flatter) despite a somewhat faulty premise.
And, you know, it is fine for you to believe that. But, as presented, that is purely a personal opinion, with no significant support.

Which, again, is fine. You want to believe something as true, though there's no evidence beyond your own experience, that's your lookout. "I don't care how he got there, I agree with his conclusion," is, in terms of reasonable thinking, not what anyone could call a strong position, but if you don't want to apply critical thinking to it, that's on you.

But anyone on EN World can write such stuff. And lots of folks do, every day. It takes no particular skill or effort to do so. So, the thing that takes no particular effort or skill is... a featured article? Really? Why not just have an editor go through the place, find a thread that starts with an unsupported opinion piece, and promote it to the front page? It'd be cheaper.

As a featured article, it should be better. It should not have faulty premises. If the author makes assertions, they should be supported. Those are very, very basic concepts of composition.
 
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Jay Verkuilen

Dogsbody Waghalter
I do think new school and narrative styles both tend to be more concerned about pacing than old school. This is actually one of things I vastly prefer in old school play. I don't like when GMs try to manipulate the pacing in order to emulate the sense of movement in a story*. To me that feels a bit artificial in a game. When I sit down to play a game, I am not thinking in terms I would think of when watching a movie or reading a book, just like if I am participating in a sporting event or a board game, I am not thinking in terms of pacing. But this does seem to be a big style divide issue. It is one of the first things you can see emerge as an issue when players come to the table with different expectations (and one of the hardest to cater to if the group has mixed preferences).

*Edit: Or when the system is designed to capture that kind of pacing.
Both types can be really fun, especially when the game is built with mechanics that support that particular kind of play.

For example, Star Trek Adventures (STA) by Modiphius is definitely a "new school" game in that it's really oriented around story. There's minimal PC advancement and it's also very team oriented---PCs are in Starfleet and under military orders! PCs can certainly die. It's not oriented around loot drops. A lot of the adventures end with the PCs having a partial or ambiguous success, just like the shows. I'm not sure I'd want to run an entire campaign of it, but it really does a good job of getting the feel of a Star Trek episode and it's a fantastic two or three session game. One reason it's so good at this is because it's got tools built in that enable the GM to control the pace in the form of the Threat mechanic, which reads weirdly but works well in play. (The quickstart to STA is free and gives you a very good idea of how the game runs.)

D&D doesn't really have anything like that so if you want to run a game with the episodic and dramatic feel, you'd have to either (a) have a really good DM capable of making that happen or (b) run the risk of things feeling very railroaded.

You're right, though, a table with markedly mixed preferences is very hard to GM for.

The original post that lead to this entire thread is just full of empirically unhinged generalizations based on "impressions" not actual play, and it clearly shows.
 
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Jay Verkuilen

Dogsbody Waghalter
While others have taken to task the RPG aspects of the article, as an avid boardgamer, I'm going to focus on this section.

Boardgaming is generally divided into 2 types: Euro and Ameritrash (technically co-op is it's own type as well, but we'll ignore it for this discussion).
I don't think Lewpuls would consider co-op as a "game" due to it lacking a versus component. That would be, in his terminology as I recall it a "puzzle." I'm still not sure how he squares the circle of "military squad" style play and "group success" for "versus" in a game like D&D unless the versus is DM to players.


Ameritrash is primarly consisting of direct attacks, usually leading to player elimination. Despite the author's description, Ameritrash games are still VERY popular, even in the newer style of boardgames.
Heh.

In addition, while there are several Euro games that have minimal interaction and lots of paths to victory (often derogatorily referred to as "point salads"), those are NOT the best of the new Euro style of games. With most good Euro games, if you ignore your opponents to focus on just your own solitary play, you will generally lose to any skilled player. These games may not have direct interaction, but moves to disrupt your opponent's plan while benefiting your own is how you win those games.
Yeah, definitely. I haven't recently but used to play a good bit of Carcassone and the first thing we noticed when playing it was that there were a lot of blocking moves. One of the best ones was to force another player to make a road we called "New Jersey"---a pointless circle that went nowhere.

Many others have said this before, but the OP is full of unhinged from reality generalizations. It's a cri de coeur of "You darned kids, Get Off My Lawn!"
 

Jay Verkuilen

Dogsbody Waghalter
As a featured article, it should be better. It should not have faulty premises. If the author makes assertions, they should be supported. Those are very, very basic concepts of composition.
As much as I tend to disagree with them, those articles drive traffic every time they go up.
 

Bedrockgames

Adventurer
D&D doesn't really have anything like that so if you want to run a game with the episodic and dramatic feel, you'd have to either (a) have a really good DM capable of making that happen or (b) run the risk of things feeling very railroaded.
I don't know that you need mechanics through. Again, my view is, it works fine without manipulating the pacing and feels right in play for me (whether it is D&D or any game that takes the route of not baking pacing into the system---I'd quibble here though and say when it comes to combat, there is a natural sense of pacing baked into many editions of D&D because of the nature of things like Vancian casting). But a lot of people seem perfectly content to have the GM take a stronger hand in pacing and they mostly seem to be having fun.
 

hawkeyefan

Explorer
I think he hits a correct conclusion (that the peaks and valleys are flatter) despite a somewhat faulty premise.
Okay....why do you think his conclusion is correct? Is it simply because it sounds reasonable? Or have you played some specific games where this has been an observable result?


I'm not saying they're polar opposites, but I am saying it's a relevant difference - with which you appear to agree. :)
Not really. I don’t think that the difference is all that relevant. Sure, 1e is deadlier than 5e. But 5e can still be plenty deadly, and the play experience is significantly similar.

And then if we consider other games, I flat out disagree.

Which sets him up to be flayed a bit here: the broader the brush the more opposing examples are liable to slip through the cracks.

If he'd just stuck to D&D he'd be on much firmer ground.
If he hadn’t mentioned FATE, I’d assume he’s unaware that games other than D&D even exist.

If pretty much every publsihed adventure of the era hadn't blown this concept to hell I'd agree with you. But they did, and let's face it: when designing their own adventures most DMs are going to look at the published ones for guidelines and how-to ideas rather than at the core rulebooks. The 3e-4e-5e modules I've seen tend to hew much closer to the written design.
Don’t you feel at this point like you’re starting with the conclusion and you’re doing everything you can to prove that conclusion?

Old School D&D is basically “kick down the door, kill the monster, take it’s stuff”. Are you really trying to say that OD&D wasn’t about the accumulation of treasure?

How’d you level up again?

Which by design takes away the challenge of the hard fail...see below...

And this is where it presents a challenge to the players both in and out of character: find a way to make it not boring. The easiest thing here is to simply go and do something else in the game - a different mission or adventure. But there's other ways: in my game once the party for various reasons knew there had to be a secret door somewhere in the place but couldn't find it. It was a wooden building. Out came the Dwarf's axe...

They found the secret room. I'm not sure they ever actually found the door.
Alternate paths to success is exactly what New School is working toward. The idea is that no single failure will stop progress. You’re now switching from “what’s wrong with giving up and finding something else to do?” to “you should just find another way to succeed.”

Which both severely limits adventure design (from the metagame-DM perspective) and verges into non-realistic (from the in-fiction perspective). If I'm a big evil wizard with a pile of treasure in my home I'm going to hide it as best I can so that it won't be found. If I'm burying the dead's treasure with them and am concerned that grave-robbers might later come along and loot the place, that stuff's getting hidden by whatever means I have available.

And from a purely DM-side view, if the party missing something vital means they later have to go back and finish that's great: I get two adventures out of one!
It doesn’t limit adventure design. There’s no reason you can’t have secret doors in an adventure. And even if you couldn’t, is that really such a hamper on design? If the only interesting thing about your dungeon is that it has a secret door, then it’s really not all that interesting.

As for needing two adventures out of one, considering you said the PC’s could simply go find other adventures, this doesn’t seem necessary.

Yes, to a point. The question is whether the system frowns on a GM doing this or encourages it. If the system frowns on it and it happens anyway, that's on the GM. But if the system encourages it then when it happens the blame falls on the system.
Okay....so do you have an example of a rule system that encourages GM railroading? My example was from 1e, but I’d say it could happen in just about any game because it was a case of the DM gating the later part of an adventure behind one skill check that could fail. This is a poor decision on the DM’s (or designer’s) part.

So what system specific example can you offer?
 

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