A while back (when I was looking into SYW wargaming) I wrote about my encounters with the notion of “old school wargaming,” what that meant, and how wargaming grognards tended to behave. I’ve amended that last notion based on some very positive interactions with some old school guys.
Lately, I’ve been browsing the websites of “old school (RPG) gamers,” guys who don’t even like the term “RPG” because it didn’t really come into vogue until the some of “old school games” had already gone the way of the dodo. What’s an “old school game”? As far as I can tell, the answer is (arguably) the early editions of D&D (possibly ending before 2nd Ed), Traveller, and Empire of the Petal Throne, with games like Champions out there as sort of auxiliary members. What makes an RPG “old school” aside from its early release date? As far as I can tell, a “toolbox” mentality meaning little pre-determined background, a light ruleset, and a low production value (okay, kidding on the last one).
Why am I mentioning this? Because I’m on vacation (hence the lack of updates) and I’ve been spending my vacation dithering around about D&D 4e. While I was bonking around the forums over at RPG.net, I began to see references to the old school gaming, and that took me to places that I’d heard mentioned over at the C&C forums at Troll Lord Games: dark, low production forums full of snarling, random creatures much like the dungeon crawl of old. In all seriousness, what I discovered was essentially three D&D 1e clones: OSRIC, Labyrinth Lords, and Basic Fantasy. If Castles & Crusades can be considered a 2e clone with some 3e tweaks, then Basic Fantasy is a 1e clone with some 3e tweaks (biggest one: AC goes up when it gets better and there’s some stat bonuses in there). OSRIC and LL are basically 1e published cheekily under the OGL.
What’s the appeal? First, they are all free. Two, they have sentimental value, something that is often ridiculed on RPG.net. Three, they are about as low-crunch as cream of wheat. Four, they are really not genre-linked (aside from the whole Tolkein thing, which isn’t insignificant). But it is the mentality that got me really thinking. Yesterday I was watching this stage production of African storytelling and there was this bug-themed shaman character. I thought to myself, “hey, that’d make an interesting NPC.” But how to do it? Why not just have her possess the normal range of spells, but instead have them all with an insect-related “special effect” (ala Champions). No real rules impact (although you might imagine certain counter-spells being very effective, like gust of wind).” That’s the “toolbox” mentality that I think old school gaming still possesses, that C&C tries to get into with its open SIEGE engine.
Anyways, I am still waiting on buying 4e, not the least of which because I got burned on the 3-3.X move. Also, because I am being reminded once more that a good imagination can make a game a lot better than a new rule.