An essay on “Old School Gaming”

Posted in Uncategorized by Michael "Chgowiz" on February 15, 2010

(reprinted with permission by finarvyn and dubeers – original discussion thread can be found on the OD&D Board here.)

Thoughts on Old School – by finarvyn

There was a thread on Dragonsfoot talking about the “problem” with Old School gaming. I created a lengthy reply there, and thought I’d post it here as well to see if it generates any discussion here.

A few semi-random thoughts on this:

1. Classic games are classics for a couple of reasons. One is that they are great games. A second is that they get printed and reprinted. If the 1974 OD&D boxed set was continually being reprinted, it’s possible that it would have become a classic like RISK or Monopoly and might be for sale in every Toys R Us in the country. Sadly, we’ll never know for sure since the publishers took a different direction and tried to evolve the game instead of keep it the same.

2. Imagination isn’t dead, it’s just different. Kids nowadays have access to movies with better CGI and video games so realistic you’d freak. This means that their imaginations tend to be more visual. When I listen to my kids and their friends talk they are still very imaginitive, but it’s different than what I did when I was younger. I used to play cops with toy pistols or solider with toy machine guns, and they play jedi with light sabres that light up and make noise. Not really that different to me, and I would have played with the light sabre had it been around back then. In the same way, I love old B&W movies but don’t think I’d want all of my movies to be redone in B&W.

3. Games versus books. This is an interesting topic, as I do think we need more introductory games that have a rulebook, a map or so, dice, and a pad of character sheets. (Heck, I helped create one; the S&W Whitebox rules were actually for sale in a white box.) But then some would argue that “old school” was make-your-own maps and notecard character sheets, not those fancy pre-printed things. You can’t win either way.

4. Game evolution, and D&D in particular, is a touchy subject here and on most OS boards. The problem with most games is that as they evolve they tend to become more complex, and the more complex a game the harder it is for a newcomer to gain entry without extensive prepping. Star Fleet Battles was a simple game in 1980, insanely complex by 2010 as it has undergone multiple changes to the rulebooks, different packaging of the game, and so many alterations to the quantity of things you need to know in order to play the game. Almost all games go through this process, and D&D is worse becasue it does encourage creativity and begs you to tinker with it. (At least, the early versions did.) That’s why Dragon magazine was so popular, but if you didn’t read Dragon you were out “of the loop” and didn’t know about the newest advancements. If a person moved from AD&D to 3E to 3E to 4E at roughly the same pace as they were developed it wouldn’t be that hard to keep up, but if you try to just hop onboard it’s a rough ride.

So I’m not sure that Old School is dying or anything like that, but it takes a certain kind of person to enjoy it. You tend to strip away the glitz and super powers and settle for something more streamlined and pulpy. It’s the NBA with tight shorts. It’s the NFL with leather helmets. It’s something different than the modern game. I’d hate to say it’s better or worse, but different.

There are a number of products trying to modern-up the OS movement, and in general I think they are doing an excellent job. Labyrinth Lords has newfangled rules for Original, B/X, and Advanced, only without the eye-popping artwork. S&W does much the same thing, only with Original only. C&C is a neat blend of 3E with AD&D. There is also OSRIC and others. They could package those rules with super art but choose to keep an older philosophy because most of the current OS players like it better that way.

Maybe this is the error in our ways, that if we could take OS rules and package them with full-color art on sterroids, maybe we’d bring in more of the younger croud. Take Warhammer and 4E as examples on how it should look, then provide simple and smooth OS mechanics behind the scenes to make the games run faster and smoother.

Just me thinking out loud.  🙂

Comment by dubeers:

Another problem with the so-called “old school” gaming movement is its own fan-base. We’re often so busy bayoneting our own wounded that we don’t have much free time to spend growing the hobby.



5 Responses

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  1. Norman Harman said, on February 15, 2010 at 5:01 am

    > It’s the NBA with tight shorts. It’s the NFL with leather helmets.

    That is a great analogy (at least for a certain segment of audience). I was wondering over good analogy for younger folks. I’m not sure one’s needed. “Kids” explore, they gravitate towards new and different. OSR style play is probably very different to what they’ve been exposed to. OSR style also tends to simple enough for the very young. It’s a natural fit. I bet children and teenagers are the OSR’s killer demographic. An introductory LL box set in Walmart/Toys’R’Us would own. But, from the outside it seems the OSR has had an image of old-fartery and being kid hostile.

    If we quit sterotyping “kids these days” and encouraged them to join our games the R in OSR would become more than just a word. Actually, I hope this is already underway. I see it online in How to start a Revolution in 21 days or less and at local D&D meetup with new to RPGs and teenage players joining the AD&D table as much as they do the 4ed.

    • Robert Fisher said, on February 15, 2010 at 5:37 pm

      I agree with Norman Harman. My experience has shown me that the way to grow the hobby is not to worry about presentation or otherwise tweak the games to make them somehow more “acceptable”. Rather it is simply to introduce people to the hobby. Invite them to a session or send them a copy of an introductory game.

      We did have a problem a few years ago that there wasn’t really a suitable introductory game to send to those we couldn’t mentor directly. With Labyrinth Lord and some other efforts, that is no longer true.

      My experience has also shown that younger players understand the trade-offs between computer games and tabletop games. When introduced to a tabletop game, they want simpler rule systems and more GM judgement calls.

  2. Stuart said, on February 15, 2010 at 12:04 pm

    I was in a toy store a couple of days ago. D&D was there next to Clue and Risk.

    Whatever you think about “new” D&D — it is back in the toy stores.

  3. oldgamergeek said, on February 17, 2010 at 9:59 pm

    I think the best way to promote old school is to run old school game sessions to new players those who like it will stay those who don’t will move on.

  4. Explosive Runes! « Lord Kilgore said, on February 19, 2010 at 1:40 pm

    […] An essay on “Old School Gaming” A good write-up. […]

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