Thinking in the new school

So Ben wrote an article about old school gaming. It’s full of interesting ideas and poignant thoughts. You should make a point to read it. I went to the old school though, and I’m not going back. Let me tell you why.

There is this central theme that I see with most discussion about old school gaming that something has been lost. A general pining for a simple time where men were dwarves and rules were light. At some point we strayed too far from the path and our innocence was lost. Do I need to point out that the same luster that is applied to old school gaming is applied to many things from our youth? Nostalgia has a way of doing that.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t really care what rules system set in whichever fantastic universe you and your friends like to role play in. I have never been the type of person that thinks the way I do things is better than anyone else. This isn’t an article against OSR gaming, but reasons why I love the shiny luster of a fresh, new game.

What’s wrong with rolling dice?

I have seen a lot of grumbling about new school games being rules heavy and having too many rolls. This always struck me as odd coming from a demographic of people who wouldn’t think twice about buying polyhedral dice by the pound. I love sending dice clattering across the table, and using the result to color my description of events for my players. Failed your diplomacy roll? I get to describe the reaction of the court to your inept presentation. When your character rolls a critical on your athletics check I get to embellish my description of your actions turning your described action into a feat of acrobatics that blows your mind. I love having metrics to gauge things with that go beyond simple stats. My players happen to love rolling dice too. They still describe their actions to me, like in old school gaming, we just roll a dice and get a random result of them. It creates a nice bit of tension that resolved less by my whim (ruling) and more by the result of random chance (rules).

I hate ten foot poles

My players often talk about a DM they had that kept them in a dungeon for the better part of a year when they were running monthly sessions. They ended up usurping his position and installing a new puppet master in order to escape the endless dungeon crawling. This is another thing about new school gaming that I love. Inching along a corridor and feeling my way in the dark for the next trap is not my idea of a good time, but I do love the idea of weaving a larger story from encounters along the way. Don’t get me wrong, I still throw a good dungeon at my players, but it functions within the context of the over all story rather than having them explore it because they are heroes and heroes explore dungeons. They can leave the ten foot pole behind and just interact with the world. They know that there will be devious traps along the way, and when they encounter them it becomes a battle of wits between me and the players. The sense of accomplishment they get from besting my encounters and traps can’t be replicated in an environment where they can simply walk around the edge of a pit trap.

Balance? Yes please!

I love that modern games take great strides in creating balance and making all types of characters viable in the party. My players appreciate it too. Everyone contributes equally in a session and I don’t have to console players on the telephone between games, assuring them that they are a valuable member of our gaming group. My players love having tons of powers to choose from. Combat is much more epic for them when they can string together makeshift “combos” while trying to guess how I’m going to use my monster’s abilities. I enjoy combat more when I have to think about my moves in order to outwit my players. It becomes a battle of wits, more than the luck of the dice.

Blast from the past

I don’t have anything against systems of the past. I had some great times with those games. If you’re feeling nostalgic or don’t like the flavor of new school games, by all means kick is old school. There really is no wrong way to play if you are having a good time. For myself, I embrace change and I’m looking forward to how games will develop in the future. I can’t wait to look back on gaming now with the same affection I have for games of my youth.

2 thoughts on “Thinking in the new school

Add yours

  1. Dice-rolling is a function of system, not generational. What you’re talking about when you say “Old School Wasn’t Fun” was an explicit, antagonistic relationship between DM and players. This was based in a wargaming past, before White Wolf showed up and invented the idea of collaborative storytelling.

    “Mother-May-I” style gaming, where ‘the players’ actions aren’t limited, except by what they describe’ works great if everyone’s OK with one dude deciding who gets to have fun each time there’s a conflict, but ultimately (whether rules-light or -intensive) having a clear-cut, on-the-books conflict resolution system is superior to old-school’s “wing it” mentality.

    And while I have no doubt that BECMI gamers, who have been playing with the same lifelong groups of good friends, love the old-school experience, it is an objectively terrible way to introduce new players to the hobby.


  2. I have played in some terrible games where the GM restricted every move and followed the rules (early or modern) completely. Then there were the awful free form style games where the GM just said “roll a dice” for a lot of decisions or actions in the game. I don’t have any allegiance to old or new gaming systems, they can all be fun with the right people but bad groups are difficult whatever the game system and the mechanics, although important still deliver a fun result.

    Unfortunately there has been a lot of troll-like activity regarding old-skool / new-skool on the web and frankly I find it mostly takes the form of a poor excuse for people to cyber-bully or an effort show off their rock solid credentials about the first game they played whilst on tour with the East India Company in 1868. Your article is not cyber-bullying, although I do think there is a lot surrounding this topic though.

    The only thing that has been lost from the old days is the fading memory of nostalgic gamers that remember playing all night and how their best mate threw his dice at Tom at 3am after an argument about the death of a character, followed by an angry and inaffective repressed geek scuffle. Then they promised to never game with each other again. Now its 30 years on and you remember how drunk you used to get and the crappy pizza which tasted like heaven, plus those unreliable plonka’s that only turned up to a game if they felt like it. But there was spark! Yep there was, it was an amazing sensation of growing up with your mind running wild with the freedom of youth and just how cool it was to raise a sword against a god and journey to the 7th hell and back.

    Rambling now…

    So what I was going to say was… It is great to share thoughts on this topic because I never thought roleplaying would be an old hobby and it is also fair to take a neutral position and offer a clear opinion on the topic. However I simply don’t agree that anything is different at all. There are still youngsters coming into the game with fresh imaginative minds and yes the game systems ask for different paperwork and dice rolls but everything else is exactly the same as it was for me in 1980.


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