Yeah, We Played That Way, Too
June 16, 2016
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Guy Fullerton posted the PrinceCon 1978 D&D variant rules up Google+ the other day and I have to say, it is completely fascinating. Really, go read it. It’s awesome!
Just a few quick observations:
- Alternate attribute rolling systems are ubiquitous, sure… but custom experience charts? That’s pretty wild, especially for a convention game. (Wait a second. They’re doing this the way I run classic D&D at conventions– where I lay down the ground rules and then have people come and go from my table for the whole weekend and then people can possibly level up and all. Yeah, they would have had several Dungeon Masters that the people could run their characters with, but it’s the same basic attitude.)
- Note the percentile combat system. That one’s funny because Twilight 2000 started out that way… and then in a later edition dropped back to the d20. If you haven’t designed a completely new combat system because you knew you could do it better, then you’re not old school. (I’m not old school, y’all. Douglas Cole is!)
- Note also that he lays out an initiative system and combat sequence of play that is extremely detailed. It’s also really easy to understand. Digging this sort of thing out of AD&D was the first order of business for me when I first began looking at running Oriental Adventures a couple weeks ago. It’s funny, but this guy’s rules are perfectly clear. I have no question of how to run them like I do with most “real” D&D rules. (Also… his system does not include the now-iconic phrase, “roll for initiative!” Inconceivable!)
The business of replacing a component of the game with a new system that is named for the guy that did it is my favorite part of this. It is the same thing that is done in Tunnels & Trolls, which has had a “Peters-Mcallister Chart for Creating Manlike Characters and Monsters” from the first edition on! And I have to say… we played Car Wars like this in the last decade. If someone came into our game, we would explain– pretty well like this conbook does– that we ran Compendium Second Edition with the Earlburt-Johnson Speed/Range Chart, pocket box caracter generation, 5th Edition fire rules, and the “you have to do something to earn a skill point” house rule.
So a good chunk of this stuff that that’s referred to as “Old School” nowadays… it never stopped. It’s just how gamers do even if they come into it independently of any given scene. The overall thrust of the attitude is pretty well indistinguishable from, say, the complete run of Autoduel Quarterly. And anyone that comes back to that game decades later will crank up the exact same mentality because that it’s inseparable from it once you get into setting up a campaign of any degree of earnestness.
So the thing about the D&D scene…? The thing that’s weird about it…? This “Old School” approach is exotic in that context for some reason. People playing D&D the way we played Car Wars kicked off a decade long internet flame war. I’m not sure why that is exactly, but I wonder if it might have to do with the ownership of the overall game design and composition being (for all practical purposes) removed from the local referee and transferred to the people that sell books. I can’t imagine someone actually pulling that off with a role-playing game, but something like that must have happened.