Thursday, January 12, 2012

Another Old-School Rant...

I just happened on a link to older Grognardia blog entry, where James M. talks about rhetoric used in describing the 'Old School' movement/renaissance/phenomena/whatever. In one of the comments, Carl talks about a more specific definition:

"Some of the suggested defining features of old school that have been mentioned above are:

- ease of character generation and a corresponding tendency towards higher character mortality rates,

- the absence of player entitlement (i.e. the DM decides what happens and the game itself does not lead the players to believe that they are entitled to specific rewards, etc.),

- a very rules light approach that leaves much if not most of the non-combat mechanics up to DM adjudication and

- a relatively uncomplicated combat system that allows for swift resolution of even large melees with multiple opponents.

These characteristics combine to give old school games a distinct character that is often lacking in new school games which have far more exhaustively written rule sets; namely, the rules of an old school game seldom if ever impinge upon the fun of the game, while many a new school game session is constantly interrupted by players and DM's alike referring to the rules to keep the game moving forward. While that may not be a definition that could be agreed upon by everyone, I think it is a good start..."

This is, I believe, the essence of what I have written about in earlier blogs. I note that at least one of the players in my current (non-old school) game has responded that Old School had much more to do with style than substance of the rules used. He may still hold the same opinion, but it is nice to know that some people out there do see what I see.

There is one possible argument against this approach that may have some merit: that this way of playing is more appealing to GM, than it ever would be to a player.

As a GM, I absolutely believe that it is my responsibility to provide an entertaining and occasionally thought-provoking experience to my players. Job #1 is providing an experience that makes them want to come back to the table. But this also has to be balanced with my fun, or I won’t want to come to the table in the first place.

So my answer to this argument from players is this: come to my table, try playing it in this manner. You might be surprised at the results.


  1. I find it strange that many people - even people who played back in the day and should remember better - often equate DM adjudication with confrontational *Killer DM* style games. They cite the thick rules as a way to protect players against capricious DMs. I just can't see this as I remember DMs (myself included) celebrating player successes as almost much as the players did. TPKs tended to spoil the stories. Its even stranger since its a false argument, as if any rule set could stop adversarial DMs with infinite in-game resources from being abusive anyway...

    1. Some of my hard-core players accuse me of being too easy during combat - which is a direct result of forgetting various rules and/or not understanding the consequences of complex rules sets. In contrast, when it comes to the narrative response of NPCs, or the devious plotting in my campaigns, those same players refer to me as a Rat-Bastard (stolen from Peggy and Kevin Kulp). The thing is, feats and apecced out characters really only seem to make combats more boring, from my perspective. And that doesn't protect one from trusting the wrong NPC, or ignoring the right prophecy. Having a good deal of protection from me seems self-defeating, in the end.

  2. Hi,

    Apologies for the off-topic comment, but I couldn't find a contact email for you.

    I've recently put out an ebook of my writing, called The New Death and others. It's mostly short stories, with some obvious gamer-interest material. For example I have a story inspired by OD&D elves, as well as poems which retell Robert E Howard's King Kull story The Mirrors of Tuzun Thune and HP Lovecraft's Under the Pyramids.

    I was wondering if you'd be interested in doing a review on your blog (either a normal book review, or a review of its suitability as gaming inspiration).

    If so, please let me know your email, and what file format is easiest for you, and I'll send you a free copy. You can email me ( or reply to this thread.

    You can download a sample from Smashwords:

    I'll also link to your review from my blog.