Old School vs. Modern Gaming (Swords & Wizardry vs. Pathfinder)


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Drahliana Moonrunner wrote:
thejeff wrote:

In keeping with my usual "old vs new is too reductive", I suspect that 5E is actually a new thing of its own, not new or old school.

The only thing that's "old school" about 5E, is that it's called "Dungeons And Dragons".

For all the old gamers that glorify AD+D, there are those like me who remember the exodus when other role playing systems became an option.

That massive exodus in the late 70s and early 80s? I think I missed that. I'd picked up a few other games by the mid-80s, but AD&D was still the staple for pretty much everyone I knew.


Pathfinder Maps, Starfinder Maps Subscriber

That was my experience too. There were always options (and vehement advocates of other systems) but D&D had that momentum. It wasn't until Vampire that anything else here seemed to be even a competitor really (and still a smaller one).


Steve Geddes wrote:
That was my experience too. There were always options (and vehement advocates of other systems) but D&D had that momentum. It wasn't until Vampire really that anything else here seemed to be even a competitor really (and still a smaller one).

Vampire and AD&D 2E overextending and winding down, which IIRC were going on about the same time.

Even then, my impression was that Vampire brought in a lot of new players, not just cannibalizing D&D's fanbase.

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Digitalelf wrote:
Stormfriend wrote:
World maps impose limits on my imagination and that's a bad thing.

I was right there with you, up until this...

I can see not needing a world map as a player, but as a DM??

Without a world map, how does a DM determine what's over the next hill? Make it up? Okay, but what if the DM decides that over the next hill is a large metropolis? Yesterday it wasn't there, but poof... Today it all of a sudden is there!

I don't mind the GM having a world map, or at least a map of everything relevant to the campaign. A metropolis will obviously have an impact on its locale and should be signposted (literally) in advance, even if the characters never go that way. Adventuring in a small kingdom I would want to know and incorporate the royal family, the system of rule, the royal palaces, the market towns and villages, market days (if applicable) the farms, trade routes and merchants that impact on the kingdom. I would also need to know the adjoining kingdoms (if they exist) and any tension or strife that exists. Likewise any major threats, wars or other activities that bother the rulers and affect the peasants in terms of conscription or taxation are important. But that still leaves the lands far beyond the borders as mysterious, with nothing but rumour and myth defining them. Maybe the characters can speak to an old crusader who returned from those lands. He will only know what he saw and may not have understood why things were the way they were. Again, lots of gaps and places for the imagination to fill in.

World maps feel as though a wizard went off with a GPS unit and said 'that's all folks'. It's done, finished, closed. The world doesn't need to be infinite physically, but it needs to have infinite possibilities (so long as it all makes sense with what went before). You can't do that when every country has been defined and populated. Even as a GM I would find that limiting.


Drahliana Moonrunner wrote:
thejeff wrote:

In keeping with my usual "old vs new is too reductive", I suspect that 5E is actually a new thing of its own, not new or old school.

The only thing that's "old school" about 5E, is that it's called "Dungeons And Dragons".

For all the old gamers that glorify AD+D, there are those like me who remember the exodus when other role playing systems became an option.

You mean when Runequest was published, or other TSR systems like Gamma World and Boot Hill? :P


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T&T FTW!


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Stormfriend wrote:
World maps feel as though a wizard went off with a GPS unit and said 'that's all folks'. It's done, finished, closed. The world doesn't need to be infinite physically, but it needs to have infinite possibilities (so long as it all makes sense with what went before). You can't do that when every country has been defined and populated. Even as a GM I would find that limiting.

I'm constantly exhorting to my players and fellow GMs that, while we have a map, the map is not the territory.

The steppes of Barbaria may only take up a small portion of the map the players have, but guess what? In the game world, Barbaria is actually many times the size of their native Feudor. Its size on the map is a result of both politics and ignorance.

I have a framed copy of Pomponius Mela's Orbis Habitabilis that I show to my players. The linked image depicts Europe, Asia and Africa, 90 degrees counterclockwise from a modern map. The message is that maps can be wrong-- in fact, all maps are wrong-- but still useful.

To me, this sums up the Old School vs. New School quite well as a metaphor. The old school play demands that a certain intangible quality escapes the game rules. Players must rely on their own, imperfect vision of events. This necessarily creates a communication obstacle that can lead to disagreements, but it also grants a ton of flexibility and whimsy.

For all the right reasons, New School games try to create more and more accurate and efficient maps of the game space. Not just literal maps, but the "maps" of how given actions are executed, how you measure and interpret the entire game world. This reduces the communication problems, but sacrifices the whimsy.

People will have their individual preferences, but honestly these are just tools for getting the job done. As a poster said upthread, what you need at a convention with complete strangers is much different than what you need at the kitchen table with your closest friends. The GM's temperament is a "here be dragons". You would rather not have that on the map when you're just trying to get to the end of a session. That's why the new school has systematically treated this issue.

There is beauty and art in old maps, even though they may not serve as well in getting you where you're going. The lack of constraint and the emphasis on description and imagination in the old school definitely leads to communication problems -- like using an inaccurate map. But there's value in that process too.


Mythic Evil Lincoln wrote:


To me, this sums up the Old School vs. New School quite well as a metaphor. The old school play demands that a certain intangible quality escapes the game rules. Players must rely on their own, imperfect vision of events. This necessarily creates a communication obstacle that can lead to disagreements, but it also grants a ton of flexibility and whimsy.

For all the right reasons, New School games try to create more and more accurate and efficient maps of the game space. Not just literal maps, but the "maps" of how given actions are executed, how you measure and interpret the entire game world. This reduces the communication problems, but sacrifices the whimsy.

And where would a game that has expansive rules that don't require much adjudication, but has lots of empty/blank space in it's narrative map sit on your scale? Ie, a well defined mechanical game that does a good job of encouraging whimsy.


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Irontruth wrote:
And where would a game that has expansive rules that don't require much adjudication, but has lots of empty/blank space in it's narrative map sit on your scale? Ie, a well defined mechanical game that does a good job of encouraging whimsy.

I'm not sure it's a spectrum, really. Let's stop and consider that the concept of old-vs-new-school is super vague, which is probably why half this thread is just posts attempting to pin it down in pithy slogans.

What requires adjudication is pretty subjective. To a lot of people, you just described OD&D. Other people feel that those games need constant adjudication. Hell, I've held both views at various times.

Because we're talking about schools of GMing, not games, I don't think it's even possible to pin a system to a certain school. You can run Pathfinder old-school, or OD&D in a new school fashion (just call for ton of ability score checks and canonize your modifiers-- you'll be new school in no time, no houserule necessary).

But just because it's vague doesn't mean these things don't exist, or aren't worth talking about. I think being partisan about it is a waste of time, but I don't mind considering it as a part of my studies to be a better GM.

Now, I do think that there are games that are taking an informed view of play style out there. You and I both mentioned Torchbearer upthread-- that's a good example of a very serious attempt to capture some old-school elements that got iterated out of the hobby-- especially the "describe to live" concept. It's a great example of going back to something that got "fixed" and finding a different solution.

That game rewards the players mechanically for interacting with the environment even though they can still solve most problems with a die roll. That's an interesting mechanic that was definitely inspired by the old-new school conversation. It's not the One True Game by any means, but it's an example of how this kind of talk can create a cool design space instead of mere partisan bickering.

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Mythic Evil Lincoln wrote:

To me, this sums up the Old School vs. New School quite well as a metaphor. The old school play demands that a certain intangible quality escapes the game rules. Players must rely on their own, imperfect vision of events. This necessarily creates a communication obstacle that can lead to disagreements, but it also grants a ton of flexibility and whimsy.

For all the right reasons, New School games try to create more and more accurate and efficient maps of the game space. Not just literal maps, but the "maps" of how given actions are executed, how you measure and interpret the entire game world. This reduces the communication problems, but sacrifices the whimsy.

That's a good metaphor. I think (hope) the old school revival looks to fill in the obvious blanks (the metropolis over the hill) in the rules, whilst leaving what lies beyond open to possibilities.


Pathfinder Companion, Maps, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Maps, Starfinder Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Society Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber

I don't remember a big exodus from D&D, but I do remember many games starting out with other systems. I do remember, after playing my first few games of Advanced Melee and Wizard (predecessors to GURPS) being told that I should try out this other RPG called Dungeons and Dragons.

After I left college, I got into a supposed D&D game that used Arms Law (later a component of the Rolemaster system) in place of the D&D rules for melee combat. There were a lot of such mishmashes in the 1980s as I recall.


Mythic Evil Lincoln wrote:
Irontruth wrote:
And where would a game that has expansive rules that don't require much adjudication, but has lots of empty/blank space in it's narrative map sit on your scale? Ie, a well defined mechanical game that does a good job of encouraging whimsy.

I'm not sure it's a spectrum, really. Let's stop and consider that the concept of old-vs-new-school is super vague, which is probably why half this thread is just posts attempting to pin it down in pithy slogans.

What requires adjudication is pretty subjective. To a lot of people, you just described OD&D. Other people feel that those games need constant adjudication. Hell, I've held both views at various times.

Because we're talking about schools of GMing, not games, I don't think it's even possible to pin a system to a certain school. You can run Pathfinder old-school, or OD&D in a new school fashion (just call for ton of ability score checks and canonize your modifiers-- you'll be new school in no time, no houserule necessary).

But just because it's vague doesn't mean these things don't exist, or aren't worth talking about. I think being partisan about it is a waste of time, but I don't mind considering it as a part of my studies to be a better GM.

Now, I do think that there are games that are taking an informed view of play style out there. You and I both mentioned Torchbearer upthread-- that's a good example of a very serious attempt to capture some old-school elements that got iterated out of the hobby-- especially the "describe to live" concept. It's a great example of going back to something that got "fixed" and finding a different solution.

That game rewards the players mechanically for interacting with the environment even though they can still solve most problems with a die roll. That's an interesting mechanic that was definitely inspired by the old-new school conversation. It's not the One True Game by any means, but it's an example of how this kind of talk can create a cool design space instead of mere partisan...

Part of my issue is that super vagueness and typical definitions that people propose are no useful in talking about game design. Instead people use it as a framing of "what I like vs. what I don't like".

In addition, attempting to reduce roleplaying to two categories of games is overly simplistic.

Lady Blackbird is a game that sprung to mind. The rules are fairly well established, but short. You want to do a thing? Look at your sheet and tell me which skill (and tags) helps you do it. The setting and characters are extremely hard-coded. You don't create a character, you pick one to play. Their name, skills, and personality are already decided.

Yet, with all that restriction, comes a supreme amount of creativity and ingenuity in every game I've played. I've GMed it a half dozen times and played in 4 sessions. No two games have been even remotely close in the plot of what happened. The game sets up patterns of types of events that are triggered by character personalities, but how players interpret their character and react to other players is completely different every time.

The game runs on the theory that interesting characters in a dynamic situation will produce dramatic results, and so provides all of those things already. The only variable is the people playing the game, and that one variable creates a ton of variety.

There's an interesting aspect of creativity. The more narrowly you constrict it, the more creative the possibilities. For most people, if I hand them a white piece of paper and say "entertain me," they're going to sit there and not know what to do next. If I instead hand them paper, paint, brush and say "paint some flowers that you remember seeing as a child", I'm going to get a lot of quick responses and they'll all be different.

All games have blank spaces. The trick is identifying what the best blank spaces are and asking your players to fill them in. Typically the least satisfying gaming is when the GM leaves no blank space, or pretends like there is, but will only accept the thing they think perfectly fits that space (hence, not really blank). Different systems leave different spaces blank.

The other problem is what is "new school". There are "new" games that are nothing like pathfinder, but share little in common with "old school" games. Dungeon World being an example. It has much, much newer concepts of mechanics than Pathfinder, shares no mechanics with AD&D, but evokes feelings and reactions similar to those when I was 14 (over 20 years ago) playing AD&D. Other than superfluous elements though (it has things called fighters and wizards), the game has nothing in common with AD&D in it's mechanical structure.

Lastly, OD&D and Pathfinder really approach the game in the same way. Pathfinder's mechanics have a wider breadth to them, but the guiding principle in design is overall the same. Pathfinder just benefits from several decades more publishing history to draw upon in the designing of their game. Overall though, the basic approach to how a story is designed and interacted with is the same. The idea that they're somehow opposed to each other seems silly to me. They share far more in common with each other than they do with Dungeon World or Lady Blackbird.


While I generally agree with what you're saying, I'm going to cherry pick this part for the sake of conversation (emphasis mine):

Irontruth wrote:
All games have blank spaces. The trick is identifying what the best blank spaces are and asking your players to fill them in. Typically the least satisfying gaming is when the GM leaves no blank space, or pretends like there is, but will only accept the thing they think perfectly fits that space (hence, not really blank). Different systems leave different spaces blank.

It's important to realize that this is an opinion. It's an opinion I share actually, but there are people in my groups who don't. For some people, RPGs are very satisfying as an objective construction of a character who then gets put through some pretty standardized scenarios. These people enjoy watching how their mechanical choices interact with a somewhat known quantity. Adventure Paths are great for this style of play, and Pathfinder--with its strong emphasis on mechanistic character options-- is also very well-suited.

If a player desires this, they benefit hugely from the "new-school"-- knowing how far their average acrobatics check can jump, etc.

I'll reiterate though, while some games reinforce certain styles of play, both old-school and new-school are really more about GM style than rules.

I do think there's a huge problem of definitions in this topic. But I also think the concepts are real, and there's some good to be made of discussing them.

Grand Lodge

Pathfinder Adventure, Lost Omens, Pawns, Rulebook Subscriber

I'm actually okay with there being no blank space on the map, if that's what the GM wants. If he doesn't want the setting to be mutable, that's his call. I just would like some warning about it. A game does need at least some structure. How much is personal preference.

Grand Lodge

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Irontruth wrote:
attempting to reduce roleplaying to two categories of games is overly simplistic.

There are a few here, like yourself, that when others speak of "new school vs. old school" bring up games systems other than D&D.

I wonder however, if when people bring up new vs. old, if they aren't talking about D&D specifically... For myself, that is precisely what I mean whenever I speak of old school vs. new school. I mean, I am aware that other game systems are out there, and I even play a few of them.

But D&D has always been my go-to game, and I know this to be true for many others as well, so my thoughts about gaming, tend to reflect that.


Digitalelf wrote:
Irontruth wrote:
attempting to reduce roleplaying to two categories of games is overly simplistic.

There are a few here, like yourself, that when others speak of "new school vs. old school" bring up games systems other than D&D.

I wonder however, if when people bring up new vs. old, if they aren't talking about D&D specifically... For myself, that is precisely what I mean whenever I speak of old school vs. new school. I mean, I am aware that other game systems are out there, and I even play a few of them; but D&D has always been my go-to game, and I know this to be true for many others as well.

I think they are (well, D&D and it's more direct derivatives, like PF & much of the OSR).

Still, I think it's worth looking at the larger perspective. It might also be that even within D&D there's more than 2 schools. I'm not convinced that 5E fits nicely in either, for example.

I'm also not convinced that advocates of the OSR are really aiming for the same things that people playing AD&D back in the old days were aiming for - a subset maybe.

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TriOmegaZero wrote:
I'm actually okay with there being no blank space on the map, if that's what the GM wants. If he doesn't want the setting to be mutable, that's his call. I just would like some warning about it. A game does need at least some structure. How much is personal preference.

I don't need the setting to be mutable, as a player I just don't want to be told 'who done it' before I start reading the detective novel. That's what a complete and accurate map says to me.

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Irontruth wrote:
Lastly, OD&D and Pathfinder really approach the game in the same way. Pathfinder's mechanics have a wider breadth to them, but the guiding principle in design is overall the same. Pathfinder just benefits from several decades more publishing history to draw upon in the designing of their game. Overall though, the basic approach to how a story is designed and interacted with is the same. The idea that they're somehow opposed to each other seems silly to me. They share far more in common with each other than they do with Dungeon World or Lady Blackbird.

It's only D&D and its successors I'm talking about. It's not the basic principles that changed (they still work for me), it's the evolution of the mechanics and how those have changed the gameplay that's the heart of the old v new discussion - IMHO anyway. There's still a lot to learn from other game systems, but I wouldn't want D&D and its ilk to lose their essential character. I just want it to regain the mystery.


Stormfriend wrote:
TriOmegaZero wrote:
I'm actually okay with there being no blank space on the map, if that's what the GM wants. If he doesn't want the setting to be mutable, that's his call. I just would like some warning about it. A game does need at least some structure. How much is personal preference.
I don't need the setting to be mutable, as a player I just don't want to be told 'who done it' before I start reading the detective novel. That's what a complete and accurate map says to me.

I see.... so the only sort of games you participate in are exploratory ones?

Bear in mind that even The Lord of the Rings has a complete and accurate map on the inside of the cover (at least in my edition). Everyone who isn't Samwise knows where Mount Doom and Barad-dur are, and they even have opportunities to consult maps in character at Rivendell. And Aragorn, in particular, seems to know every rock, every tree, and every fallen leaf on the map.

The adventure of LotR is not finding blank spaces on a map, but getting to a known point against some very nasty opposition.

More metaphorically, just because you know the enemy's capacity doesn't mean you know his plans, and even if you knew his plans, that doesn't mean that you are automatically able to stop him. Think of the end of Star Wars. We know the enemy's capacity -- he has a Death Star, and it blows up planets. We know the enemy's plan -- he's going to blow up the good guy's planet. We even know how to destroy the Death Star. Everyone's been briefed on the mission; you need to get to a certain point and take a certain action. You know exactly how to get there, except that there are a million orcs -- excuse me, TIE fighters -- in between you and the place you need to be.

There's not much left to discover, if anything. But there's lots and lots of heroism that needs to be done.


Orfamay Quest wrote:
Stormfriend wrote:
TriOmegaZero wrote:
I'm actually okay with there being no blank space on the map, if that's what the GM wants. If he doesn't want the setting to be mutable, that's his call. I just would like some warning about it. A game does need at least some structure. How much is personal preference.
I don't need the setting to be mutable, as a player I just don't want to be told 'who done it' before I start reading the detective novel. That's what a complete and accurate map says to me.

I see.... so the only sort of games you participate in are exploratory ones?

Bear in mind that even The Lord of the Rings has a complete and accurate map on the inside of the cover (at least in my edition). Everyone who isn't Samwise knows where Mount Doom and Barad-dur are, and they even have opportunities to consult maps in character at Rivendell. And Aragorn, in particular, seems to know every rock, every tree, and every fallen leaf on the map.

The adventure of LotR is not finding blank spaces on a map, but getting to a known point against some very nasty opposition.

Just to forestall a counter argument - there are blank spots on the LotR map. It doesn't cover the whole world, barely even reaching places named like Harad, much less what ever lies beyond them.

It does however cover everywhere the characters venture and many places outside their immediate reach. Basically everything relevant to the story - or in RPG terms to the campaign.


Mythic Evil Lincoln wrote:

While I generally agree with what you're saying, I'm going to cherry pick this part for the sake of conversation (emphasis mine):

Irontruth wrote:
All games have blank spaces. The trick is identifying what the best blank spaces are and asking your players to fill them in. Typically the least satisfying gaming is when the GM leaves no blank space, or pretends like there is, but will only accept the thing they think perfectly fits that space (hence, not really blank). Different systems leave different spaces blank.

It's important to realize that this is an opinion. It's an opinion I share actually, but there are people in my groups who don't. For some people, RPGs are very satisfying as an objective construction of a character who then gets put through some pretty standardized scenarios. These people enjoy watching how their mechanical choices interact with a somewhat known quantity. Adventure Paths are great for this style of play, and Pathfinder--with its strong emphasis on mechanistic character options-- is also very well-suited.

If a player desires this, they benefit hugely from the "new-school"-- knowing how far their average acrobatics check can jump, etc.

I'll reiterate though, while some games reinforce certain styles of play, both old-school and new-school are really more about GM style than rules.

I do think there's a huge problem of definitions in this topic. But I also think the concepts are real, and there's some good to be made of discussing them.

I'd argue that the character themselves are the blank space. I know I've experience times where the GM has punished the party (specifically PUNISHED) for not bringing the right character builds to the game.


Digitalelf wrote:
Irontruth wrote:
attempting to reduce roleplaying to two categories of games is overly simplistic.

There are a few here, like yourself, that when others speak of "new school vs. old school" bring up games systems other than D&D.

I wonder however, if when people bring up new vs. old, if they aren't talking about D&D specifically... For myself, that is precisely what I mean whenever I speak of old school vs. new school. I mean, I am aware that other game systems are out there, and I even play a few of them.

But D&D has always been my go-to game, and I know this to be true for many others as well, so my thoughts about gaming, tend to reflect that.

In my mind, the only way to arrive at the conclusion that Pathfinder is significantly different from AD&D is to exclude all other games. Which to me, would be like talking about the difference between SweeTango and Honeycrisp apples. They're basically the same kind of apple, you use them the same way and share a lot of basic characteristics. The differences are very slight and subtle. In a blind test, you'd be hard pressed to tell them apart.

For gaming, if someone described their session with no references to game mechanics, you'd be hard pressed to tell the difference between Pathfinder and AD&D, unless there was an obvious tell (like a Catfolk wielding dual pistols... but even then, you couldn't be 100% sure).

I mean, heck, if I said I played a published adventure where we tracked the giants to their lair and found that some outside entity was controlling them... can you if I'm referring to something made by TSR or Paizo? (hint: it's both)

D&D is my go to game as well. I'm in a Curse of Strahd 5E game, I'm running a campaign in it's 3rd year using Pathfinder, another friend runs a 5E game but we rarely play... finally another friend is trying to get me to commit to another 5E game. About a month ago I spent an entire weekend (we played 4 hours Friday, 8 hours Saturday and 6 hours Sunday) playing Whitehack, an OSR clone, in the new Maze of the Blue Medusa (a very cool/creepy mega dungeon).

When I talk about other games, it's not to say to exclude D&D (and it's children), but rather to highlight that there are more than 2 ways to think about gaming. In fact, those additional ways of thinking about gaming impact how I play D&D, meaning there's more than two ways to play D&D.


Irontruth wrote:
Digitalelf wrote:
Irontruth wrote:
attempting to reduce roleplaying to two categories of games is overly simplistic.

There are a few here, like yourself, that when others speak of "new school vs. old school" bring up games systems other than D&D.

I wonder however, if when people bring up new vs. old, if they aren't talking about D&D specifically... For myself, that is precisely what I mean whenever I speak of old school vs. new school. I mean, I am aware that other game systems are out there, and I even play a few of them.

But D&D has always been my go-to game, and I know this to be true for many others as well, so my thoughts about gaming, tend to reflect that.

In my mind, the only way to arrive at the conclusion that Pathfinder is significantly different from AD&D is to exclude all other games. Which to me, would be like talking about the difference between SweeTango and Honeycrisp apples. They're basically the same kind of apple, you use them the same way and share a lot of basic characteristics. The differences are very slight and subtle. In a blind test, you'd be hard pressed to tell them apart.

For gaming, if someone described their session with no references to game mechanics, you'd be hard pressed to tell the difference between Pathfinder and AD&D, unless there was an obvious tell (like a Catfolk wielding dual pistols... but even then, you couldn't be 100% sure).

I mean, heck, if I said I played a published adventure where we tracked the giants to their lair and found that some outside entity was controlling them... can you if I'm referring to something made by TSR or Paizo? (hint: it's both)

True, but at least for that last, it could be for any fantasy game with sufficient published modules you couldn't rule them all out.

And those could be games with wildly different styles and rulesets.


Irontruth wrote:
For gaming, if someone described their session with no references to game mechanics, you'd be hard pressed to tell the difference between Pathfinder and AD&D, unless there was an obvious tell (like a Catfolk wielding dual pistols... but even then, you couldn't be 100% sure).

If you spend 2 hours resolving combat for every 20 minutes of everything else, it's more likely 3.X or later.


thejeff wrote:

True, but at least for that last, it could be for any fantasy game with sufficient published modules you couldn't rule them all out.

And those could be games with wildly different styles and rulesets.

Which is kind of my point why it's a poor distinction. Pathfinder can be run and played with an extremely similar style and feel to AD&D. In fact, I bet there are people on these boards who do that. I bet there are people who've played OD&D and had people at the table constantly argued over the minutiae of rules. I know I had a DM who had binders full of character options like races, classes, spells and strange add-ons in 1st ed AD&D. It was like Skills and Powers, but with even less play testing and years before Skills and Powers came out.

Grand Lodge

Irontruth wrote:
Pathfinder can be run and played with an extremely similar style and feel to AD&D.

I tend to lump PF in the 3.x category, so when I refer to D&D as a whole (i.e. all editions), I include PF in that... However, my "question" was really just me "thinking out loud" more than anything else. I just quoted your post as it was the most resent.

But I agree that one can play PF in a style similar to that of AD&D... Back when I was playing 3.x, I ran my games as I do (and did) AD&D (both 1e and 2e).


Mythic Evil Lincoln wrote:
I do think there's a huge problem of definitions in this topic. But I also think the concepts are real, and there's some good to be made of discussing them.

To reiterate, I love digging down into discussing the essence of what it means to roleplay, how it works and how we perceive it. I think there's a ton of room to discuss, debate and pontificate on these ideas. I don't think "old school v. new school" is a useful or helpful way to frame that discussion.


Pathfinder Maps, Starfinder Maps Subscriber
Irontruth wrote:
In my mind, the only way to arrive at the conclusion that Pathfinder is significantly different from AD&D is to exclude all other games. Which to me, would be like talking about the difference between SweeTango and Honeycrisp apples. They're basically the same kind of apple, you use them the same way and share a lot of basic characteristics. The differences are very slight and subtle. In a blind test, you'd be hard pressed to tell them apart.

You don't think that's because the differences aren't that significant to you? I think to those who value (to the point of loving or hating a game based solely on this criteria) Player Empowerment or Heavy Reliance on DM Fiat there is a big difference.

It's true that the difference between AD&D and PF are mechanical rather than thematic, but that doesn't make them minor. It's also true that there are a vast number of ways one can differ other than this very one-dimensional scale (however you define it) but that doesn't imply that things which differ on that scale are not really different.

Quote:

For gaming, if someone described their session with no references to game mechanics, you'd be hard pressed to tell the difference between Pathfinder and AD&D, unless there was an obvious tell (like a Catfolk wielding dual pistols... but even then, you couldn't be 100% sure).

I mean, heck, if I said I played a published adventure where we tracked the giants to their lair and found that some outside entity was controlling them... can you if I'm referring to something made by TSR or Paizo? (hint: it's both)

It could also have been (given no reference to mechanics and just to what happened) Dungeon World, GURPS, Rolemaster or anything else, really.

You can run a particular story using any game you want and with any "DMing Style" you favor (I've run Dungeon World, Rolemaster, GURPS, 1E, 4E and PF all pretty much the same - the only difference between any of them is mechanical as far as I can see).

I agree that Old School - New School is a subjective, D&Dcentric and pretty restrictive way of delineating games (especially as you observe when focussing on game design rather than playstyle preferences). I don't think it's true to say the opposite ends of that spectrum are close though.


Just curious, what do you consider a "player empowerment" rule in Pathfinder?

You can't just cite the number of options being different, because the "empowerment" is in making the choice, not the number of options present. Just because someone has a larger vocabulary doesn't mean they have more free speech than someone else. Plus any similar compatible options can be made available in other games.

In addition, the width and breadth of feats actually removes player power whenever a new feat comes out that we all look at and say "I just let my players do that without a feat before." When a new feat describes a "normal" that was previously not known to exist and puts what we used to consider normal in the "benefit" section it's removing player agency in the world if the character doesn't have the feat.

Of course, Pathfinder does codify GM fiat, by saying you can change whatever rule you want to make it suit your game... so there's that. From PFSRD:

Quote:
Game Designer: Even with the vast range of options available, only GMs know what threats their players might face or powers they might come to control. Just as GMs arbitrate the rules within their games, so can they manipulate, repurpose, and wholly invent new rules to improve their games.

A short while later it says:

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If revising the rules or reworking them to better suit a situation improves an adventure, the GM is within his rights to make any adjustments he sees fit.

This is all part of the rules.


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Pathfinder Maps, Starfinder Maps Subscriber
Irontruth wrote:
Just curious, what do you consider a "player empowerment" rule in Pathfinder?

The extreme codification and plethora of mechanics for resolving various scenarios as opposed to relying on DM fiat. Their existence (if used by the group) allows a player to guide the campaign's mood and direction more predictably than if it's left to the DM to adjudicate.

Quote:

You can't just cite the number of options being different, because the "empowerment" is in making the choice, not the number of options present. Just because someone has a larger vocabulary doesn't mean they have more free speech than someone else. Plus any similar compatible options can be made available in other games.

In addition, the width and breadth of feats actually removes player power whenever a new feat comes out that we all look at and say "I just let my players do that without a feat before." When a new feat describes a "normal" that was previously not known to exist and puts what we used to consider normal in the "benefit" section it's removing player agency in the world if the character doesn't have the feat.

Of course, Pathfinder does codify GM fiat, by saying you can change whatever rule you want to make it suit your game... so there's that. From PFSRD:

Quote:
Game Designer: Even with the vast range of options available, only GMs know what threats their players might face or powers they might come to control. Just as GMs arbitrate the rules within their games, so can they manipulate, repurpose, and wholly invent new rules to improve their games.

A short while later it says:

Quote:
If revising the rules or reworking them to better suit a situation improves an adventure, the GM is within his rights to make any adjustments he sees fit.
This is all part of the rules.

I think it's in the culture of how each system is played and interpreted.

Because OSRIC leaves rules out for diplomacy, it's expected the DM will adjudicate such scenarios. Because PF has rules for diplomacy and resolving such encounters, there's an expectation such rules will be followed.

Of course rules can be changed to suit (as I said, I've run many different systems pretty much the same - that often involves ignoring some bits or adding bits from other game systems). Nonetheless, there's an expectation when I announce "I'm running this like an old school game" that other RPGers understand to a greater or lesser degree, depending on how well we know one another. In my case (if it were PF) it means I will not be using many of the subsystems but will instead be making my own judgement as to whether different actions are successful and how they play out.


Well, something that came out in 2006 might call itself "old school", but I wouldn't consider it definitive on the subject, being roughly 30 years later.

AD&D Player's Handbook has "reaction adjustment" listing on the Charisma score table. The DMG then has a reaction table (p 63) and all sorts of things scattered throughout the book that provide adjustments to that table. Read through them, they're diplomacy rules.

Now, most DM's I played with never bothered to use that table, but that wasn't how the game was written or intended to be played. (And also why most people dumped Charisma, because the bonus never applied) But the table is part of the game and in the rules, so the same concept applies that if you're going to modify those rules, you'd want to tell people that you aren't using them.


I'm not saying the reaction adjustment or the NPC reaction table didn't exist, but calling those diplomacy rules is like saying AD&D included strength checks because there was a strength based bend bars/lift gates mechanic. They're both so limited in scope that equating them to d20 skill checks is nonsense.


There are strength checks, you just listed them.

But lets talk more about parley vs Diplomacy. How hard coded is Diplomacy in Pathfinder really. Looking over the rules, is someone going to argue that there is no judgement on the GMs part about things like... made up modifiers, DC, how the NPC will actually react (success or fail). GM fiat is present all over the place.

Looking over, it seems like about once every 1.5 paragraphs a line similar to "the GM can change this as needed" is present.

In fact, every usage of the Diplomacy skill ends with "GM discretion". The GM's power to override the rules or make determinations based solely on their own judgement is referenced 10 times in the rules of Diplomacy on the PFSRD. The rules are there basically as a suggestion, immediately followed by... unless the GM wants to do it differently.

Yeah, Pathfinder totally killed GM fiat.


Seeing as how it's written into the rules that diplomacy can't change PC attitudes, all the mentions of GM fiat in the world seem contradictory at best.


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Irontruth wrote:
Just curious, what do you consider a "player empowerment" rule in Pathfinder?

Take 10, interpreted strictly as written.

It also seems to be one of the more hotly disliked rules from the GM's side of the screen, precisely because it empowers the players, at their own discretion, to completely eliminate the risk of an amusing f*ckup that makes their "heroic" characters into bumbling fool.

Especially in conjunction with the fixed DCs for many ordinary skill tasks, I can do the math myself, determine what the target number is, and make sure that I can take 10 to accomplish what I want. For example, I need to make a cloak of elvenkind -- the craft DC is 8, +5 because I'm not an elf, +5 because I don't have the invisibility spell. With an intelligence of 16 and five ranks in Spellcraft, I can take 10 and need not risk either wasting materials or creating a cursed item, so the GM can't easily or fairly saddle me with an "interesting" item that causes more problems than it solves.

Compare that with this post from Kahel Stormbender: "If someone wants to make a magic item, I see no reason they should be exempt from the risks even if they could exactly match the DC with take 10. Other then costs in materials and down time spent, there are no real limiting factors beyond the risk of making cursed items to crafting."

... and apparently Stormbender is unwilling to allow crafters to use the rules as they were designed (and confirmed by FAQ) to avoid that risk.

In general, codified rules empower the player, because the player then knows how the universe works and it becomes obvious if/when the players are in range of the enemy's longbow fire, but are the enemy is out of range of their own fire with the same longbows. Codified rules tell me exactly how high I need to roll (DC 40)in order to jump over a 10' tall hedge, even though no actual human has ever been able to make a 10' high jump. If I have sufficient skill ranks or magical support, it might be not only feasible but trivial.


Hitdice wrote:

Seeing as how it's written into the rules that diplomacy can't change PC attitudes, all the mentions of GM fiat in the world seem contradictory at best.

Are you saying that in the rules of AD&D, GM's could change PC attitudes?


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I feel like we're drifting away from old/new school and into "Rule 0" territory.

The confusion is understandable, so let me attempt to pin down what *I* think defines the old and the new schools:

Old school values the decisions made in play over the decisions made in character creation. It values the player's ingenuity in interacting with the environment over the character's abilities interacting with the environment. It values GM and player judgement over covering the rules for every situation (although it never hesitates to supplement the rules in that case).

New school values character creation as a part of the game's decisions. New school grants a considerably greater field of options to certain character types, making character creation a very important decision-making step. New school values *characters* solving problems and interacting with the environment, and strives to downplay the character's reliance on their player's intellect to overcome challenges. As a direct result of this, the rules do make an attempt to cover a larger number of cases, and in such a way that new situations can be easily generalized in the existing rules.

When I say a school "values" something, it doesn't mean there's a perfect execution, mind. Both schools use some elements of logic from the other school at times. It's about "values", quite literally-- what do practitioners of a given school seem to want.

I really do enjoy both styles, so how do you like these definitions?


Orfamay Quest wrote:
Irontruth wrote:
Just curious, what do you consider a "player empowerment" rule in Pathfinder?
Take 10, interpreted strictly as written.

I'll buy that. It's a pretty limited scope rule in the grand scheme of things. In certain, specific situations, the player can decline to roll a die and take a (very slightly) below average roll.

Orfamay Quest wrote:


In general, codified rules empower the player, because the player then knows how the universe works and it becomes obvious if/when the players are in range of the enemy's longbow fire, but are the enemy is out of range of their own fire with the same longbows. Codified rules tell me exactly how high I need to roll (DC 40)in order to jump over a 10' tall hedge, even though no actual human has ever been able to make a 10' high jump. If I have sufficient skill ranks or magical support, it might be...

Except the rules consistently and repeatedly say the GM can change things as needed. In addition, AD&D still had codified rules, but because subsystems weren't unified and had no cohesive design philosophy, we tend to forget them after 20 years of not playing AD&D (or we just ignored them in the first place).

A lot of what games like OSRIC are built around is nostalgia and perception of what the game used to be like, not around how the game was actually written.


Mythic Evil Lincoln wrote:

I feel like we're drifting away from old/new school and into "Rule 0" territory.

The confusion is understandable, so let me attempt to pin down what *I* think defines the old and the new schools:

Old school values the decisions made in play over the decisions made in character creation. It values the player's ingenuity in interacting with the environment over the character's abilities interacting with the environment. It values GM and player judgement over covering the rules for every situation (although it never hesitates to supplement the rules in that case).

New school values character creation as a part of the game's decisions. New school grants a considerably greater field of options to certain character types, making character creation a very important decision-making step. New school values *characters* solving problems and interacting with the environment, and strives to downplay the character's reliance on their player's intellect to overcome challenges. As a direct result of this, the rules do make an attempt to cover a larger number of cases, and in such a way that new situations can be easily generalized in the existing rules.

When I say a school "values" something, it doesn't mean there's a perfect execution, mind. Both schools use some elements of logic from the other school at times. It's about "values", quite literally-- what do practitioners of a given school seem to want.

I really do enjoy both styles, so how do you like these definitions?

It's not just Rule 0. The text of the Diplomacy rules mention GM discretion (fiat) 10 times specifically within them. This isn't an inference of Rule 0 being applied, this is explicitly contained with the Diplomacy rules.


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Mythic Evil Lincoln wrote:
I feel like we're drifting away from old/new school and into "Rule 0" territory.

No, Rule 0 is a major part of the old/new school distinction in a nutshell. In your own words.

Quote:


Old school [...] values GM and player judgement over covering the rules for every situation (although it never hesitates to supplement the rules in that case).
Quote:


New school [rules] attempt to cover a larger number of cases, and in such a way that new situations can be easily generalized in the existing rules.

One of the hallmarks of "new school" is the expectation that Rule 0 will not need to be invoked very often, and when it is invoked, it's a deliberate change in the baseline assumption rather than an ad-hoc decision covering how the world is interacted with. New school, in particular, values consistency as one of the building-stones of verisimilitude much more than old school did.

Implicit in this is the idea too often present on this board that "my GM is wrong; I need a FAQ to wave in his face," because the expectation among the forum community is that the rules text is binding on the GM as well, despite the acknowledged existence of Rule 0. (And to some extent, I think that's a good thing, because Paizo has better game designers than most people have around their kitchen table.)


I'll note that my above definitions are pretty good at reconciling the Rule 0 issues you're encountering. Both schools have Rule 0. What we're really talking about is the value-driven priorities of the rules in both schools.

Old school isn't about a lack of rules, or less rules, or Rule 0. Old school is about having a different expectation about what the rules are for.

In the Old school, the rules are mainly an interface between the player and the world.

In the new school, the rules are an interface between the character and the world. A lot (though not all) of the most meaningful decisions are bound up in character options.

Not 100% mind you. Being a wizard or a fighter in 0e was still a huge choice -- although certain truly old school modes of play limited that choice severely. But all I'm saying is that the Old-School mindset seems to place the VALUE on the player's choices over the character's abilities.

What gets new school players excited is character options. You need only briefly scan these forums to see evidence of this. The "old-school" revival mentality is largely a response to that.


There always was Rule 0 folks.

I really don't think that's what delineates the schools.


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Irontruth wrote:


Orfamay Quest wrote:


In general, codified rules empower the player, because the player then knows how the universe works and it becomes obvious if/when the players are in range of the enemy's longbow fire, but are the enemy is out of range of their own fire with the same longbows. Codified rules tell me exactly how high I need to roll (DC 40)in order to jump over a 10' tall hedge, even though no actual human has ever been able to make a 10' high jump.
Except the rules consistently and repeatedly say the GM can change things as needed.

But it's not typically "needed" (your words) when there's a functional set of rules covering that subject already in place. There's no "need" for the game master to do anything other than look up the same DC 40 that I did when I wrote the previous paragraph.

Instead, we're in a position where any change the GM makes is obviously on the basis of the GM's wants, not the game's needs, and where, for the most part, the rules themselves cover most of the player's actions and the player already knows what those rules are, and can plan accordingly.

I wouldn't try to jump a 10' hedge in real life, because I know I can't do it. I might try to jump a 4' hedge in real life, because I know I can. In Pathfinder, I can do some math and have a pretty exact idea of how high my character can jump according to the rules, and I can choose her actions accordingly.

When the GM says "ah, but because I don't want you to jump that hedge, so it doesn't matter what you roll" (or, equivalently, "I'm adding in a negative-infinity penalty"), that's disempowering me, because I can't plan any more.

... which is to say, codified rules favor player empowerment.


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Codifying rules was a big part of old-school play as well -- again, it's just that the expectation of the rules was different, I think.

I really think that character vs. player emphasis is the delineator here, and that clears up a lot of the Rule 0 discussion.

Yes, codified rules favor player empowerment. And that was still true when the Cavalier Class galloped onto the scene. The evolution of rules, including player empowerment, has been a continuous process throughout the old and new schools.

It's the mindset of the players and the GM that makes the difference. I think there's no better example than Random Ability scores vs. Point buy being the default assumption. There's no question which method is more old-school, right?

And that's because the old school was about what the player could make of the hand they were dealt. Class selection was almost a part of the dungeon -- you have this Int, and this Str, what will you do with yourself?

Sovereign Court

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Mythic Evil Lincoln wrote:
The "old-school" revival mentality is largely a response to that.

That, and in most entertainment industries which have been around for 20-30+ years there is a niche market aimed at the older users who wish to relive their earlier experiences, partially due to nostalgia.

Arguably moreso in TTRPGs (as a % of the niche which is TTRPGs) since they OSRs tend to be a bit simpler, and as gamers get older they generally have less time to pour over minutia.


Charon's Little Helper wrote:
Mythic Evil Lincoln wrote:
The "old-school" revival mentality is largely a response to that.

That, and in most entertainment industries which have been around for 20-30+ years there is a niche market aimed at the older users who wish to relive their earlier experiences, partially due to nostalgia.

Arguably moreso in TTRPGs (as a % of the niche which is TTRPGs) since they OSRs tend to be a bit simpler, and as gamers get older they generally have less time to pour over minutia.

You're not wrong, but there's a surprising amount of young blood involved. Much more than one would expect.

For example, I was technically around for some kind of actual old school, but I was six years old at the time (still playing!) Everything I have to contribute is about the retro movement. I was not a conscious being during the original events.

Sovereign Court

Mythic Evil Lincoln wrote:


I think there's no better example than Random Ability scores vs. Point buy being the default assumption. There's no question which method is more old-school, right?

And that's because the old school was about what the player could make of the hand they were dealt. Class selection was almost a part of the dungeon -- you have this Int, and this Str, what will you do with yourself?

I will say though - part of that is just the ruleset being used. In 2e stats were generally a smaller % of a character's power level than it is in 3.x. Heck - I don't think there was a mechanical difference in STR between 8-15 for melee purposes, and 16 only got you +1 damage. (Also some armor issues?)

So, having your melee combatant with a starting STR of 8 instead of 16 wasn't detrimental, while in 3.x/Pathfinder your character would be pretty-much gimped. (unless going a Dex to DMG route)


Charon's Little Helper wrote:
So, having your melee combatant with a starting STR of 8 instead of 16 wasn't detrimental, while in 3.x/Pathfinder your character would be pretty-much gimped. (unless going a Dex to DMG route)

I feel this is actually in service to my point:

Quote:
In the new school, the rules are an interface between the character and the world. A lot (though not all) of the most meaningful decisions are bound up in character options.

Sovereign Court

Mythic Evil Lincoln wrote:
Charon's Little Helper wrote:
Mythic Evil Lincoln wrote:
The "old-school" revival mentality is largely a response to that.

That, and in most entertainment industries which have been around for 20-30+ years there is a niche market aimed at the older users who wish to relive their earlier experiences, partially due to nostalgia.

Arguably moreso in TTRPGs (as a % of the niche which is TTRPGs) since they OSRs tend to be a bit simpler, and as gamers get older they generally have less time to pour over minutia.

You're not wrong, but there's a surprising amount of young blood involved. Much more than one would expect.

Oh certainly - just as some younger people collect classic cars. But that certainly isn't the bulk of the collectors. (Though $ might be a bigger issue there.) Just as for OSRs, a disproportionate # of the customers are older gamers.

Plus - I'm assuming that at age 6 someone older was introducing you to it (I've introduced a niece & a couple nephews to RPGs, but I couldn't imagine my 8 yr old niece getting it yet) so it was still your first TTRPG experience.

Sovereign Court

Mythic Evil Lincoln wrote:
Charon's Little Helper wrote:
So, having your melee combatant with a starting STR of 8 instead of 16 wasn't detrimental, while in 3.x/Pathfinder your character would be pretty-much gimped. (unless going a Dex to DMG route)

I feel this is actually in service to my point:

Quote:
In the new school, the rules are an interface between the character and the world. A lot (though not all) of the most meaningful decisions are bound up in character options.

I just meant that the ruleset pushed people towards point-buy rather than necessarily a different gaming outlook.

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