Old School Gaming ?


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Grand Lodge

Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Starfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
thejeff wrote:
LazarX wrote:
Skeld wrote:
2) A playstyle that emphasises roleplay over game mechanics and is characterized slower game progestin and higher lethality.
You're deadly wrong about Number 2, save where it came for lethality.
For the first part of Skeld's 2) - Character differentiation was done more through roleplay than through mechanics. The lack of the build game is an important distinction, for good or ill.

Edited for brevity. thejeff is correct with regard to what I meant.

-Skeld


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Pixie, the Leng Queen wrote:
thejeff wrote:
Pixie, the Leng Queen wrote:
And as I alluded to earlier, RP was there... so long as you followed the tropes established by Gygax. Want to play an Elf druid? WELL SCREW YOU NO! (Well in 2e).
Personally I see being able to play an elf druid as completely orthogonal to having roleplay in the game. Character design isn't roleplaying.
You want yo play a nature.worshipping and theme Elf (you know... like how the race was portryed in the first place... still never understood this...). I.e. you want to play a druid. But you cant... and no matter how hard you try, thr cleric is nothing like the druid in 2e. Their spell lists were VERY different. They had WAY differnt XP tracks, and they were just... very differrnt. And it was much harder to play a "nature themed cleric" since domains an such didnt exist yet, so most all clerics hadt he same spells.

Wanting to play some character that doesn't exists in the rule system might suck. It might lead you to not want to roleplay (or play at all), but it still doesn't have anything to do with actually roleplaying. It's character creation. It's an entirely different part of the game. Building a character, even a character with an elaborate backstory and all sorts of cool reasons for having all his mechanics choices, isn't roleplaying. Roleplaying happens when you actually play that character in the game.


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To toss out a random arbitrary example, when the table's not sure how a certain rule works, a modern GM is a lot more likely to check the books, while an Old School one would just make an on-the-spot ruling that seems reasonable to them.

In my experience, that's the biggest source of conflict between the two styles. The one time I played with an old school GM, there were quite a few bits of table drama over things like:

Old-School GM: Your rapier has no effect on the skeleton
Player: But I did seventeen damage. That beats the damage reduction by twelve points.
GM: But how would you even damage a skeleton with a rapier? They're made for poking through flesh, not chopping apart bones. It just wouldn't work. No damage.
Player 2: I hit it with my ax for twelve.
GM: Nice. I'll give you a little extra, 'cause an axe would be really good at splitting apart bones.

I'll note at this point that the Old School GM I played with probably wasn't a very good example of the type. We got slapped with a lot of rulings based on things like his very shaky understanding of real-world physics, biology, folklore, etc.


TriOmegaZero wrote:
Zombieneighbours wrote:
This pretty much sums up my feelings on old school
I feel the need to offer this counterpoint every time I see this linked.

Eh...I generally like that guy's takes and largely agree with his perspective here (ceteris paribus, rules are better than rulings - DM fiat too often renders player decisions meaningless), but I can't say I agree with all of the arguments he uses. Specifically, the fact that OD&D had lots of fiddly rules does not mean that it was essentially a rules-based system. It wasn't until 3rd edition that the game tried (and failed) to mathematically model everything an adventurer might do. Just because you needed to be able to calculate the volume of a sphere in order to estimate the AoE of your OD&D fireball did not make it a system which was primarily adjudicated by clear and consistent rules.

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Adventure, Rulebook Subscriber; Pathfinder Battles Case Subscriber

I don't think he's spot on either, but I think he highlights the flaws in the primer very well.


Pixie, the Leng Queen wrote:
thejeff wrote:
Pixie, the Leng Queen wrote:
And as I alluded to earlier, RP was there... so long as you followed the tropes established by Gygax. Want to play an Elf druid? WELL SCREW YOU NO! (Well in 2e).
Personally I see being able to play an elf druid as completely orthogonal to having roleplay in the game. Character design isn't roleplaying.
You want yo play a nature.worshipping and theme Elf (you know... like how the race was portryed in the first place... still never understood this...). I.e. you want to play a druid. But you cant... and no matter how hard you try, thr cleric is nothing like the druid in 2e. Their spell lists were VERY different. They had WAY differnt XP tracks, and they were just... very differrnt. And it was much harder to play a "nature themed cleric" since domains an such didnt exist yet, so most all clerics hadt he same spells.

If I recall correctly, a Druid had to be a human for a reason, and the druids actually had a hierarchy and order structure, and you were actually limited from advancing at a certain point unless you properly contested the higher-ranking Druid and won. Druids were much deeper back then.

Also, a Druid had to be True Neutral. Not Neutral Neutral, as is interpreted by a more modern alignment grid. True Neutral. They actively sought to pursue balance as opposed to being lackadaisical and nonchalant. Instead, today, they just need to have some part be neutral. Sure, that gives more options, but it also kills some of the unique and interesting aspects of the Druid, as well as some of the challenge.

Publisher, Frog God Games

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https://www.froggodgames.com/quick-primer-old-school-gaming

Read this--its free. My Book of Dirty Tricks provides a dissertation on the topic as well, as does my short module MCMLXXV (1975)


thejeff wrote:
Wanting to play some character that doesn't exists in the rule system might suck. It might lead you to not want to roleplay (or play at all), but it still doesn't have anything to do with actually roleplaying. It's character creation. It's an entirely different part of the game. Building a character, even a character with an elaborate backstory and all sorts of cool reasons for having all his mechanics choices, isn't roleplaying. Roleplaying happens when you actually play that character in the game.

While you're technically accurate about the difference between roleplay and character creation, I think you're overlooking the fact that most people lay the foundations of their future roleplaying during the character creation. After all, personality, skills, backstory, and motivation are all going to be major driving factors in how a character is roleplayed. I've always started the the internal process of roleplaying before I actually sit down at the table for the first session.


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Nigrescence wrote:
Pixie, the Leng Queen wrote:
thejeff wrote:
Pixie, the Leng Queen wrote:
And as I alluded to earlier, RP was there... so long as you followed the tropes established by Gygax. Want to play an Elf druid? WELL SCREW YOU NO! (Well in 2e).
Personally I see being able to play an elf druid as completely orthogonal to having roleplay in the game. Character design isn't roleplaying.
You want yo play a nature.worshipping and theme Elf (you know... like how the race was portryed in the first place... still never understood this...). I.e. you want to play a druid. But you cant... and no matter how hard you try, thr cleric is nothing like the druid in 2e. Their spell lists were VERY different. They had WAY differnt XP tracks, and they were just... very differrnt. And it was much harder to play a "nature themed cleric" since domains an such didnt exist yet, so most all clerics hadt he same spells.

If I recall correctly, a Druid had to be a human for a reason, and the druids actually had a hierarchy and order structure, and you were actually limited from advancing at a certain point unless you properly contested the higher-ranking Druid and won. Druids were much deeper back then.

Also, a Druid had to be True Neutral. Not Neutral Neutral, as is interpreted by a more modern alignment grid. True Neutral. They actively sought to pursue balance as opposed to being lackadaisical and nonchalant. Instead, today, they just need to have some part be neutral. Sure, that gives more options, but it also kills some of the unique and interesting aspects of the Druid, as well as some of the challenge.

More or less.

That reminds me of a thing that was prevalent in older editions that has fallen out of favor.

Fluff as a balancing mechanic.

You think Paladin is epugh now, older paladins were damn near impossible.

Druids were stated as being so "balance.orientated" they they would literalky shift side in a war if one side was too powerful.

Sure, it was flavorful, but it pretty much pigeoned holed classes into "you are playig like this kk?"

Oh there was a lot of alignment restrictions back then... thieves.had them, bards had them, barbarians had them, monks obviously, paladins, clerics, i mean, it was crazy.


Chengar Qordath wrote:
thejeff wrote:
Wanting to play some character that doesn't exists in the rule system might suck. It might lead you to not want to roleplay (or play at all), but it still doesn't have anything to do with actually roleplaying. It's character creation. It's an entirely different part of the game. Building a character, even a character with an elaborate backstory and all sorts of cool reasons for having all his mechanics choices, isn't roleplaying. Roleplaying happens when you actually play that character in the game.
While you're technically accurate about the difference between roleplay and character creation, I think you're overlooking the fact that most people lay the foundations of their future roleplaying during the character creation. After all, personality, skills, backstory, and motivation are all going to be major driving factors in how a character is roleplayed. I've always started the the internal process of roleplaying before I actually sit down at the table for the first session.

That and a lot of people are less likely to put in the work to make an intricate story and such for their character if they get pigeoned holed into it (i.e. hey bill! Awesome you showed up! We need you to roll up a.cleric, we have no.healer yet)


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the secret fire wrote:
TriOmegaZero wrote:
Zombieneighbours wrote:
This pretty much sums up my feelings on old school
I feel the need to offer this counterpoint every time I see this linked.
Eh...I generally like that guy's takes and largely agree with his perspective here (ceteris paribus, rules are better than rulings - DM fiat too often renders player decisions meaningless), but I can't say I agree with all of the arguments he uses. Specifically, the fact that OD&D had lots of fiddly rules does not mean that it was essentially a rules-based system. It wasn't until 3rd edition that the game tried (and failed) to mathematically model everything an adventurer might do. Just because you needed to be able to calculate the volume of a sphere in order to estimate the AoE of your OD&D fireball did not make it a system which was primarily adjudicated by clear and consistent rules.

D&D has always been a rules heavy system. AD&D was a rules-heavy system with gaping holes that weren't covered by rules, but it's still a rules-heavy system. Those rules weren't clear and consistent, but that's also not a requirements.

Actual rules-light systems actually tend to have clear and consistent rules that cover everything, just not to the level of detail that heavier systems have.


TriOmegaZero wrote:
Zombieneighbours wrote:
This pretty much sums up my feelings on old school
I feel the need to offer this counterpoint every time I see this linked.

I am not advocating the primere per say, and on almost everything, that isn't the subject of story games, the Justine Alexander is the man.

However, I do think that the primere is ver y useful in understanding the describes old school movement.


Snowblind wrote:
Nigrescence wrote:

A style of play, or a method of play.

Kids these days want their numbers as big as possible and don't care what they have to sacrifice to get it, and seem to get bored of anything other than combat.

I see the numbers as secondary to pretty much everything else about the character, but still recognize the importance of those numbers, and enjoy all aspects of the game, not just combat.

*shrug*

I thought that old school was the meat grinder sort of play, where PCs dropped every session from unspeakably horrific deaths, Wizards died from a stiff breeze and had to track their bat poop on stone tablets, traps had none of this silly "take X damage" frivolity but just "save or die, b****". The sort of game where you didn't bother naming your PC for their first three levels, because it is a bad idea to form attachments to dead characters walking. The sort of play where looking into a statue's mouth puts your head into a sphere of annihilation, no save, and where getting off the cart at the tavern results in several broken bones because you need to stop the cart first, dumb***. You know, the way Gyngax intended*. None of this nonsense about "choice" or "point buys" or "Role-Playing". That gets in the way of the players learning the meaning of suffering and loss and getting crushed in hilariously unfair ways.

I guess that just goes to show that "Old School" means whatever the hell the person saying it wants it to mean, either as a pejorative or as a badge of supposed superiority.

*Yes, I know exactly how factually valid this statement is. The question is though, how many of this particular flavor of "old school" think that competitive tomb of horrors play is the way Gyngax wanted DMs to run their games in general.

ROFL!!!

(And I'm not one of "those kids today." I started playing before Keep on the Borderlands was written.)


I think Kthulhu makes a good point in older systems there where less rule options so to make your character different you had to use good role playing to make them unique
Where as now you just go down a list of options in the rule books to get the character you want to play it requires less imagination as there are rules for almost everything.
Now I'm not totally against have plenty of choices for characters and I think that the feat system is one of the best parts of 3.x and PF
But they need to be used as an aid in role playing to develop your character not just a list of bonuses to add more math to the character
I'm sure we all know players who pick strange Feats and extra classes JUST for the mechanical bonuses they give and not because they make for a fun and unique character
This of course is all just my opinion

Silver Crusade

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

I think the multiple call outs to Tomb of Horrors is a bit of a false road. Tomb of Horrors was the exception and we specifically designed to be both hard and unfair.

I do think there is a market for difficult but fair adventures and adventure design. But I think 3rd edition onwards are better systems to express that, because while they might be more prescriptive than previous editions, they are also far more transparent than most systems.

To dip into the design well of videogames: the Dark Souls series is a pretty good example of old-school adventure design with modern design florishes. Once you know the system, you also know that everything in the world operates under the same system, so combat challenges are about enemy placement and player knowledge BUT resolved by reliable, transparent mechanics.

I don't want to dismiss the old school out of hand, there's lots to be learned from the difficult but fair style of gameplay. But fairness is only achievable if players can predict the difficulty of challenges by understanding the underlying systems.


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I think you can replace that predictability and transparency of the rulesystem with a DM you trust (or with a group of rotating DMs who make rulings collectively when things come up). It can still be fair, even if you don't know everything in the background - the degree of equity in such a system is directly related to how fair the DM is in their adjudications.

I prefer an old school approach (where the rules are little more than suggestions as to one way to do it). However, I'm lucky enough to have never experienced a DM out to "get" the PCs. Ultimately, I think one great weakness and also a great strength of the old school approach is the reliance on the DM.

Silver Crusade

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

Another good thing about moving the rules into shared territory is that it frees the GM to create interesting combat, exploration and roleplaying challenges. If the Mansion of Murder has Good locks, and is always locked at night. And one room has Superb locks and is always locked, it will intrigue your rogue and maybe push them to try taking 20 instead of rolling. Which then requires the other players keep a each for guards and keep the mansion's owner distracted for 20 minutes.

Good times.

Grand Lodge

Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Starfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

Part of the reason I like old school games is indeed because of nostalgia. That (1e) was my first game system and I still enjoy it because it's a simpler system, from an options standpoint.

On the other hand, I like the complexity and chewiness of 3.x/PF. With PF, I trade "there's a rule for that" for "no THAC0." Each game scratches different itches and I can move or convert between each with little effort.

Frankly, I think the whole "modern gamers are lazy" and "old schoolers are rule-haters" arguments are both pointlessly silly and insulting.

-Skeld

Shadow Lodge

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Steve Geddes wrote:
However, I'm lucky enough to have never experienced a DM out to "get" the PCs.

If the GM is out to "get" the PCs, no game system in the world will protect them, no matter how overly-codified it is.

I don't even really think that what we've been referring to as "new school" is new school. It's "middle school"...most publishers throughout the industry have been moving towards simpler, less codified system. Savage Worlds, Fate, Dungeon World...hell, even D&D itself has gone to a more fluid, less codified edition.


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Kthulhu wrote:
Steve Geddes wrote:
However, I'm lucky enough to have never experienced a DM out to "get" the PCs.

If the GM is out to "get" the PCs, no game system in the world will protect them, no matter how overly-codified it is.

Sure, but you know what I mean, right?

Often when people describe why they don't like oldschool games, they relate a story that I also wouldn't enjoy - and it nearly always boils down to the DM's judgement. I love it when the DM is entirely in control, without being bound by the rulebook (if they decide that ignoring the written rules is going to be better). However, I could imagine that feeling both pointless and dull if I had any capricious, inconsistent or otherwise poor DMs.

Although I've always preferred the oldschool approach, based on some of the stories I've seen online, I can understand why others dont.


Kthulhu wrote:
Steve Geddes wrote:
However, I'm lucky enough to have never experienced a DM out to "get" the PCs.

If the GM is out to "get" the PCs, no game system in the world will protect them, no matter how overly-codified it is.

I don't even really think that what we've been refering to as "new school" is new school. It's "middle school"...most publishers throughout the industry have been moving towards simpler, less codified system. Savage Worlds, Fate, Dungeon World...hell, even D&D itself has gone to a more fluid, less codified edition.

"middle school" may be an unfortunate choice of words. :)

It's true in a way, though I'd break things up more. If PF is "middle" and "Savage Worlds, Fate, Dungeon World" are new, where does stuff like Storyteller or Feng Shui or Amber fall?

This is one attempt at a classification. It's about a decade out of date, so there's definitely stuff not covered.


Steve Geddes wrote:
Kthulhu wrote:
Steve Geddes wrote:
However, I'm lucky enough to have never experienced a DM out to "get" the PCs.

If the GM is out to "get" the PCs, no game system in the world will protect them, no matter how overly-codified it is.

Sure, but you know what I mean, right?

Often when people describe why they don't like oldschool games, they relate a story that I also wouldn't enjoy - and it nearly always boils down to the DM's judgement. I love it when the DM is entirely in control, without being bound by the rulebook (if they decide that ignoring the written rules is going to be better). However, I could imagine that feeling both pointless and dull if I had any capricious, inconsistent or otherwise poor DMs.

Although I've always preferred the oldschool approach, based on some of the stories I've seen online, I can understand why others dont.

I know what you mean, but I think the "codify the rules" approach is the wrong solution to the problem. I don't think those "capricious, inconsistent or otherwise poor DMs" run any better under 3.x.


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Probably (we're way outside my personal experience now). But it might be easier to diagnose the problem and it might be easier to address - by agreeing as a group to play by RAW, the players are then empowered to point out when something is being adjudicated contrary to those openly available rules.

I can't think of a better way to address it, personally (presuming the 'talk about it' and 'play with someone else' solutions have been tried and failed).


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What does "Old School" mean in TTRPGs?

Based on the Grognards I know, Zombieneighbours and Bill Webb said it all with their link*.

Helpfully summed up here as:

1) Ruling, not Rules
2) Player Skill, not Character Abilities
3) Heroic, not Superhero
4) Forget "Game Balance"

And as for the repeated call out of Tomb of Horrors as "old school" bad-wrong-funness, I'd just like to say I thumbed through my free-to-me (because it was beat-to-c***) copy of The Village of Homlet yesterday (considering running it next in my 5E campaign) and, given the printing limitations of the day, it holds it's own with any 3.PF product I've seen.

* sorry TOZ but just compare rule books printed per unit time to see that "new school" does indeed emphasize rules over ruling

Shadow Lodge

thejeff wrote:
"middle school" may be an unfortunate choice of words. :)

or perhaps purposeful :D

The whole "I don't like it, so nobody else ACTUALLY likes it either" does seem rather pre-pubescent, wouldn't you agree?

Grand Lodge

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Steve Geddes wrote:
sorry TOZ but just compare rule books printed per unit time to see that "new school" does indeed emphasize rules over ruling

Then you misunderstand the relationship between rules and rulings. Rules are just formalized rulings. You want consistent rulings, regardless of if they are made at the table or before.


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Consistency doesn't bother me. I had a social-network focused character once who was able to learn lots of information via Charisma checks by asking around his extensive contacts. That was something the DM wanted to emphasize in that game but it hasn't become a standard rule in his other games.

Grand Lodge

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There is consistency between games, and consistency between sessions. You do not want the exact same thing your character did last session to be resolved differently in this session.

Sovereign Court

a uniform consistent experience has become more important with the rise in popularity of organized play. I can understand why those folks would like a mountain of formalized rulings.


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TriOmegaZero wrote:
There is consistency between games, and consistency between sessions. You do not want the exact same thing your character did last session to be resolved differently in this session.

Ah, I see. Yeah, I suppose. (Though I don't think it would actually bother me if a wall I climbed last session was impassable this session, or something - it's not desirable).


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TriOmegaZero wrote:
There is consistency between games, and consistency between sessions. You do not want the exact same thing your character did last session to be resolved differently in this session.

Rarely do you do the "exact same thing".

Some level of consistency is nice, but locking everything down to a strict mechanic for this particular case, where this particular case is determined by abstracting away a whole ton of detail anyway, isn't always the best approach.
And then the rules approach leads to exceptions for the corner cases and special abilities to negate them or turn them to your advantage and suddenly you can't do it at all effectively unless you've built your character to exploit it.


TriOmegaZero wrote:
Quark Blast Geddes wrote:
sorry TOZ but just compare rule books printed per unit time to see that "new school" does indeed emphasize rules over ruling
Then you misunderstand the relationship between rules and rulings. Rules are just formalized rulings. You want consistent rulings, regardless of if they are made at the table or before.

"Old School" put a distinct emphasis on Ruling over Rules* and the lack of official splat is a good measure of that difference.

Even the first 1E splat-book (the original Unearthed Arcana) had a "this is optional" undertone to it.

"New School" does all the ruling up front, putting an emphasis on rules lawyering and a crazy pile of rules and their consequences to sort through while making a PC (cause if you don't work out the consequences on start-up it will screw you in a few short levels). There's a reason E6 is a thing.

Power Gaming becomes a thing because, well, the rules virtually demand it, etc.

I've simply found it easier to go 5E than to gimp 3.PF or limit which splat/3PP products apply. It's also saved me significant coin to date and looks to save me a ####-ton of coin going forward.

*again I'm basing this more on the Grognards I know/have known but also my reading of a free-to-me beat-to-c*** copy of the 1E DMG

Grand Lodge

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Steve Geddes wrote:
TriOmegaZero wrote:
There is consistency between games, and consistency between sessions. You do not want the exact same thing your character did last session to be resolved differently in this session.
Ah, I see. Yeah, I suppose. (Though I don't think it would actually bother me if a wall I climbed last session was impassable this session, or something - it's not desirable).

But if it was simply impassable with no apparent change in the wall itself? No slippy grease applied or destroyed handholds? You'd be fine with that?


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TriOmegaZero wrote:
Steve Geddes wrote:
TriOmegaZero wrote:
There is consistency between games, and consistency between sessions. You do not want the exact same thing your character did last session to be resolved differently in this session.
Ah, I see. Yeah, I suppose. (Though I don't think it would actually bother me if a wall I climbed last session was impassable this session, or something - it's not desirable).
But if it was simply impassable with no apparent change in the wall itself? No slippy grease applied or destroyed handholds? You'd be fine with that?

Yeah (at least I think so - thought experiments are not always easy to adjudicate). I'd prefer it to be consistent, but things like that don't generally bug me. The mechanics of a roleplaying game are not terribly important to me.

Having said that, I intended that post to be conceding the point - I didn't really understand what you meant initially, but agree that consistency across sessions of the same campaign is desirable, even if it wouldn't bother me if it lapsed.

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