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.