I have never played the early editions of D&D. Not even one of the retro-clones that are now freely available all over the internet. The oldest game I’ve ever played was the original Traveller and that was in the 90s, when I already had some experience with games like Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, Shadowrun and a few others.
But I started to get interested in this side of our hobby, shortly after I joined the RPG Bloggers Network. The Old School revolution may not be a as big as some proponents think, but it’s big enough so that you almost can’t avoid reading about it. While I was on my quest to find out what makes a game “Old School”, fellow RPG blogger Chgowiz recommended Matthew J. Finch’s “Quick Primer for Old School Gaming”.
What I liked about the book (aside from the fact that it’s free) is that it doesn’t tell you that Old School is the correct way to play RPGs. But it explains how things were done back in the way and what the real difference between old and modern gaming is.
And I have to admit that I very much liked what I read. Matthew describes several “Zen Moments”, where he thinks a “modern gaming concept is completely turned on its head” by an older gaming style:
- Ruling, not Rules
- Player skill, not Character Abilities
- Heroic, not Superhero
- Forget “Game Balance”
I believe every player, gamemaster and especially every RPG blogger should have read this book, because it’s a great primer on Old School gaming and will probably help to understand the other perspective better.
It's my opinion that the shift from player skills to character abilities was one of the best shifts along the evolution of game design. I was never comfortable with the charming player playing the 6 cha dwarf being the party "face" or the clever guy with the 6 Int barbarian solving all the puzzles. Whether or not a character can convince a Duke to lend him the Sword of Ubery should come down to what the character is capable of, not the player. The player doesn't have to physically overcome the DM to win a fight against an ogre, and he shouldn't have to actually bluff the DM either. It's Rugar the warrior who is negotiating, not Roger the player. The scene should be roleplayed to the player's ability, the DM can award bonuses or penalties, but it should come down to the character's capabilities.
And game balance was part of the design in old school games as well, it just often failed. It was still the stated design intent. Defending it now as "the way it should be" is a bit odd. Typically, the only people I really see defending imbalance are the ones playing the broken characters. You rarely see a player of fighters defending the caster-melee gulf in 3e, but a lot of wizards do. Early on, there were a lot of variables to balance that even the designers didn't understand. Things look good until players get ahold of them.
@Stargazer – I try to remember those Zen moments in everything I write now.
@Thasmodious – My opinion is that players are just as important, if not more important than the numbers on the paper. If a good roleplayer can take a flawed character and make something of him/herself, that's fantastic! That's why there are many games for many different styles of play.
.-= Chgowiz´s last blog ..Ultima Swords & Wizardry RPG – Magic Items sampler =-.