Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Old School, New School, and Middle School

If you're bothering to read this blog, you're probably already well aware of the "old school" revolution in rpgs. There have seemingly been so many arguments about what "old school" is, so I'm not going to bother defining it beyond the idea that it uses ancient systems, relies on player skill (vs. character stats), and involves deadly monster/trap/gm madness. I played in an old school session recently at a con, and it was a hell of a lot of fun.

I'm not sure what "new school" is, but it's probably either D&D 4e, indie games, or something else that's been coming out recently. For what it's worth, I find some indie games fun and groundbreaking, and I don't really like 4e.

For some reason, old school games and new school games seem to be getting all the press lately. I'd like to shift the discussion to "middle school" games:

I recently had the opportunity to GM an arc of D&D 2e for a bunch of my friends. It included some aspects of the old school - wandering monsters, rolling randomly for treasure, etc. And it included some aspects of the new school - it was a very character guided game. But it was definitely a 2e experience - THAC0 and just the organic chaos of it all. Lots of laughter, some genuinely tactical play that wasn't confined by the rigidities of a battle map, and wacky interactions of magical effects with pretty robust descriptions that I had to judge on the fly.

There's just something about 2e. I started with the red box, but 2e is the game that has bored into the recesses of my consciousness. Maybe it's the cover of the DM's guide, with that robed DM opening the doors. Maybe it's the random magic item charts that I completely absorbed in ... middle school. Maybe it's the way that, after all this time, I could still open the PHB or DMG and find what I needed way too fast.

Like other games built around the time, the system is far from perfect - it's really an organically grown mess. But the energy and the way the game bubbles with ideas is irreplaceable. While I look for many things in rpgs, one of the primary things I still look for is whether a game can bring out that sheer middle school fun. Perhaps more than any other game I've ever played, 2e still informs my gaming sensibilities today.

The time for the middle school revolution is here.


Current Version said...

I started out with 2e AD&D, myself, so that's always been D&D to me. Consequently, the old school revival doesn't really do much for me, as I generally find most of the games to be too simplistic. I've also found that most of the 'ad-libbed' rules generated nowadays in such games tend to be exactly what are found in newer editions. For instance, in 2e waaay back in the day, my group and I house ruled a Concentration skill, based on Constitution, which showed up in 3e years later.

I remember playing an OD&D game not too long ago, and as a thief, I wanted to flank an opponent. Alas, there were no rules for such an action. Personally, I'd prefer to have a specific benefit to a specific action rather than relying on the whims of the GM at any particular moment.

That being said, there's a fine line between too many rules and too few, and I, too, miss the middle school gaming. I think that a lot of people nowadays have forgotten the golden rule(s) of gaming: If your crew doesn't like a rule, don't use it. If mechanics are impeding game play, eschew 'em. More robust systems just give us more options, freeing up the GM to focus on more important stuff like the story or plain ol' fun, instead of constantly having to assign a particular effect to an action that's already been figured out.

rainswept said...
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Kevin Mac said...

I've used (and still used - ran a game last night) AD&D 1st ed. for around 30 years. But it wasn't until this "old school" revolution that I realized how much my game had evolved over the decades. I moved away from constant dungeons, and put more emphasis on character development and more high fantasy adventure. Although using the old school rules (heavily house ruled) I'd say my games are pretty much middle school.