The response to post on Traveller’s Zero-G combat skill resulted in some fairly pointed feedback. I want to say though that it touched precisely the nerve that I intended it to.
This is an excellent summation of the New School mindset on this point. In fact, this is precisely what I was trying to convey in the original post. Thank you!
So is the fundamental divide between Old and New schools, the divide between those who want games to model something, and those who are happy with collections of mechanics, (abstract) games (including most Euros, that aren’t really about what they purport to be about)?
This certainly seems to be a running theme in this series of posts. For instance, with the Thief class I was bemoaning the transition from the distillation of a half dozen pulp fantasy characters to the space llama combat tap dancer of today. And you can see above how the keen someone is to dispense with the modelling in order to get something that is consistent and quick to play.
I will say that there is necessarily differing schools here. There are simply things that are, objectively, Old School and New School. And certainly, designers in the “Old School” scene (a.k.a. the OSR) routinely dispense with the things I am singling out as being old school.
James Cambias also has a question:
You do kind of palm a card here: what do you mean by “modeling reality?” the Zero-G rules are modeling combat in zero gravity. The game was published in 1977. No one has yet fought (with fists, guns, or blades) in zero gravity, with or without a space suit on. Therefore “realism” in this context simply means “one person’s wild-ass guess.” Given that, why NOT go with something easier to conceptualize and remember?
Okay, there’s a bunch here to unpack.
First, there is maybe a tacit assumption here that since Traveller departs from some flavor of realism that it is crude or broken or even a little silly. This mindset is right home with a lot of rpg design work of the eighties, a good portion of which was taken to impressive lengths during the nineties. And sure, people don’t have to get crazy with it. In fact, with something like GURPS Space, it’s a perfectly reasonable premise to construct a generic science fiction rpg from. But that mindset is largely foreign to the rpg designers of the seventies. And while “reality” might have had some bearing on a few of the design elements, it was not an overriding priority. It certainly wasn’t some kind of fetish.
Of course, while referees were expected to use Traveller to make their own settings, the system was far from being generic or universal. People that played the game were directed by the implied setting towards a very specific style of science fiction. That style was much more the norm at the time of the game’s publication. And as I’ve pointed out elsewhere, the authors whose works were looted to get the franchise off the ground have now more or less lapsed into obscurity.
Is it really fair to judge the game by today’s fashions in either rpg design or science fiction…? I don’t think it is. I can’t really change the fact that people are going to do it, so never mind that for now. Let’s instead look at what my actual gripe was: that people were changing rules and systems without regard to how they fit in to the overall flow of the game.
Given all the negative reactions to this gloriously Old School remnant of the past, I have to wonder how many people commenting have actually sat down and played the game that’s under discussion. I mean we’re not just talking about “guns in space” here. Going by the Book 1 combat rules, I think it’s closer to “Vietnam in space.”
- One hit in the combat system is enough to drop most characters most of the time.
- Ex-Military characters with any kind of Leader or Tactics skill in their party are liable to massacre civilian thugs due to the surprise rules– and they’re unlikely to be surprised in return. (Reading the rules, it’s hard not to imagine the forest scenes from the first Rambo movie.)
- The combat system doesn’t even feel like a separate mini-game. I mean… if guns are in play, it’s not only going to be over quickly, but people are going to be hurt badly. While it’s possible to get lucky, the better trained and better equipped players are generally going to mop the floor with people they outclass. (It’s the same sense of determinism and inevitability that is baked into the High Guard ship combat rules.)
In that context, the Zero-G skill is not adding any sort of tremendous burden on the referee by any stretch. The special modifiers only rarely come up. They’re probably only going to matter for two or three combat rounds. And I have to say, as spartan as this rule set is, it nevertheless conjures up scenes of wannabe space pirates spinning out into space after they fire their guns. Sounds like the sort of scrape Dumarest would land himself in. But those bonuses and penalties are by themselves sufficient to determine who is and who is not going to be rolling up new characters. If you’re ever going to pause the game for dramatic effect, this would be one of the situations where it’s appropriate!!
Seriously, this whole thing is just plain out there. I don’t even know if there are rules from major rpgs of today that even correspond to this. I don’t think there’s really anything wrong with it, personally. And my point is not that it is necessarily good or bad. My point isn’t that you’re not cool if you don’t get it. My point is that (a) the New School mindset pretty much recoils in horror at things that are genuinely old school, (b) the New School mindset is fairly well ubiquitous today, and (c) the impulse causes people to make changes without really considering the nature of the overall system they are tinkering with.
I think these discussions are evidence that that really is the case.