Old School Sucks

Well, kind of. I think many  of us are blinded by nostalgia and fail to recognise the advances that have been made in games. I’m not being subjective when I say ‘advances’ either. Things like unified mechanics, dramatic mechanics and systems that allow for players to ‘buy in’ to the narrative in a more formal fashion are improvements. Skills are an improvement, guidelines and examples on how to handle various ‘stunts’ and tricks are also an improvement.

A while back we tried a session of our favourite old school game, Dragon Warriors. Almost immediately we fell into problems and it’s not like we didn’t all play these older style games back in the day. Something was definitely off though.

  • Nobody felt heroic, or even competent.
  • The ‘whiff’ factor on attacks was huge.
  • The game – as written – had no way to cope with typical player actions such as disarms and so forth, without gaining enough levels to access them as special skills. This seemed to cut them off from being done earlier on without that ability.
  • Dragon warriors doesn’t have quite the same magic issues as early D&D or its clones, but there was a definite ‘holding back’ on the spell front.

I resisted the temptation to ‘fiddle’ with things for a long time. I wanted a true, old-school experience, I wanted the nostalgia but as it turns out, as written, and for our grown up selves, spoiled by FATE and Storyteller, the old school experience is a crock of shit.

I started bringing in flanking rules, allowed them to pull off stunts and tricks, adjusted the monster stats on the fly, interpreted the healing rules in a more generous way and so on. Basically, betraying everything I originally set out to do for the sake of a better game.

You know what? I think that’s what we actually used to do. I think that was the ‘old school’ game experience. Every individual group fixing things in their own way, playing their own game and that was what made for these formative experiences rather than the games themselves. We were all playing our own variations, our own ‘perfect’ games derived from games that were loose and incomplete and subject to interpretation.

Dragon Warriors’ background is always the thing that really appealed to me, much the same with Fighting Fantasy. If we play it again, I think we may use some different rules.

We’ve definitely changed.

3 responses to “Old School Sucks

  1. I’ve had similar experiences. Part of it, I think, is that the first time around we hadn’t yet developed those tricks to give us an advantage—e.g., flanking and disarming. It was a new experience for us, so we didn’t notice the gaps in the game because it didn’t yet occur to us that we could try other things. By the time it did occur to us, we were fiddling with the rules or moving on to new games. When we think back about how the game worked so well for our younger selves, we need to remember that we were less educated and less demanding then.

  2. I very clearly remember that we abandoned and adapted rules from the very ( Blue Box ) start. Of course at first it was just minor fudges, but as time went on it was soon clear that whatever rules system we used we tweaked it, so that became the way we played – house rules around a core book. I used to pretend to use AD&D rules and do everything on the fly – nobody seemed to mind, or indeed notice. The rigidity was what seemed to be the problem – the imposed limits on available action that seemed more about the rules balance than anything else. My first group grew out of the school Wargaming Society, so we were used to rigid rules to simulate conflict ( and arcane arguments about the interpretation of those rules ), so it seems that it was the mismatch between the styles of imaginative/immersive fantasy gaming and pedantic/distancing rules that caused the dissatisfaction. A couple of years ago I used old AD&D to run a game with a group of relatively new players ( two had played a couple of games before, one had not ) and found that they were frustrated by the straight-jacketing of their options. ( Particularly the poor mage – I had to give him an artefact ). I was back to house-rules within a session, and was essentially GM-ing on the fly within 3 sessions, using the stats and rule structure as a guideline only. I think that is the reason that the genre is so addictve to certain sorts of people – the whole thing appeals to our imagination and creativity, which prompts us to be dissatisfied with the way the game runs and see how we could make it better fit our own visions, so inevitably those who enjoy the gaming experience most are most likely to recreate it to suit their preferences. The whole thing stimulates, supports and channels our creative/imaginative energies, of course we will re-write it.

  3. I feel much the same way, although I am more firmly behind the ‘kind of’ than the ‘sucks aspect of the post.

    Not too long ago I praised an element of TAG’s All for One: Regime Diabolique as having Old School sensibilities, but few took the comment as I’d meant it – that is, few took it to mean that the rules as written provide a framework from which to build rulings depending on the scene and the overall mood of the campaign. The readers’ reaction to the comment was that Old School games were chock full of rigid rules meant to be adhered to.

    That wasn’t my experience of the classic games when that is all that there was to play, and it doesn’t sound like it was yours either. Nostalgia, however, can cause certain details to become lost, leaving different impressions to each of us. My memories do focus on certain limitations such as classes which had to be used as written or altered to suit a group’s purposes (and that is what got me to leave D&D behind ages ago) but other aspects of play, namely needing to invent resolution mechanics for situations not covered by the rules, have been invaluable to my ongoing enjoyment of gaming. Games have improved in presentation, and in clarification of expectation, but we still find holes in the mechanics, we still find odd leaps of logic, and there are still plenty of setting elements people will discard right out of the gate. Experience with the games of our youth make all of that easier~

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