Old School and New School: Foolish Consistencies
June 21, 2016
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I’ve looked at skills in the old Traveller rules previously, but when my son decided to get heavy into creating starships with the High Guard rules, I was struck by these rules for the Zero-G combat skill:
Throw 10+ on two dice to avoid losing control. Allow the following DMs: Firing a weapon, -4. Firing a low recoil weapon (snub pistol or laser weapon): -2. Using a handhold, +5. Striking with a blade weapon, fist, polearm, or similar: -6. Wearing vacc suit: +2 per level of vacc suit skill. For each level of zero-G combat expertise: +4. If dexterity 9+, +2. If dexterity of 11+, +4. Using a handhold reduces dexterity (for the purposes of weapon accuracy; not for wounding) by -4.
So, sure… you get different bonuses depending on the weapon and what all you’re doing with it. This is another skill like Forward Observer were you get +4 per skill level. And for one final curve ball, the attribute bonuses for Dexterity come in at both the +2 and the +4 level. I don’t think any other skill or subsystem works like that in Traveller.
Now… the New School mindset looks at this and immediately wants to come up with some kind of unified system. It will do so with the conviction that this necessarily improves the game. What’s lost in the translation? Well the old school approach had a priority of actually modeling something. It’s like playing a wargame and getting a result at the table that simply doesn’t make sense and then the entire table unanimously agreeing to play it differently because the dice results and so forth produced a grossly ahistorical result. That whole philosophy is baked right into these Traveller rules.
Now, the New School approach is not always bad. Cleaning up the big mess of old school gaming via Melee and Wizard produced a masterpiece of game design. Of course in that case, the original object of getting things right was still a prime objective there. The problem with the New School crops up when that is arbitrarily sacrificed, or worse when it is applied willy nilly without regard to how each subsystem is composed into a whole.
New School designers too often prioritize “clean design” and unified mechanics over and above more important factors. It’s symptomatic of thinking primarily in terms of the rules themselves rather than what they are meant to simulate and/or how they fit in to the overall flow of the game.