Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

Backtalk: Old School and New School Are Not Just In Your Mind

Okay, got a lot of feedback this week that deserves a response. Here’s a hot take from Trever Bierschbach over on Twitter:

“I think all the limitations people see in old and new school gaming is of their own making and within their own group. So many people seem to forget the most basic rule in TTRPGs…the rules are guidelines, change, adapt, eliminate as your group sees fit.”

This is a good example of a very common position you see in rpg discussions whose only purpose is to stop constructive analysis altogether. Its invocations of banal truisms make its position seem far more plausible than it actually is.

You hear this sort of thing a lot because it is easy to express and it sounds smart. The truth takes rather more effort to elucidate:

  1. Rpgs do indeed require referees who will make rulings and also adapt, extend, and modify the rules of whatever system is in play. Some systems will require a modest amount of this primarily in their application (ie, Moldvay Basic), some will force you to do a great deal of this (ie, AD&D), and still others will (through the table experience of the game designer) seem to anticipate the vast majority of rulings and interpretations you will be required to make well before you realize the designer has already sorted the hard stuff out for you. (For the latter sort of game, see the Adventurer Conqueror King System.)
  2. The fact that these games require this sort of modification does not make all changes to the rules equally expedient. Some changes are in the spirit of the game and enhance play. Others are more akin to placing money on Free Parking: they violate the intent of the rules and transform the system into a sort of non-game.
  3. The fact that people played D&D according to “new school” style anti-principles very early on in the history of the game in no way legitimizes the grossness and tediousness of this type of play.
  4. A great many people think they are particularly creative and intelligent for taking a least common denominator approach to the old games. They are in fact following the path of least resistance, pretending to play a game rather than exploring the potential within one. This is not smart and it is not special. It is in fact painfully common.
  5. Most of the rest think they can simulate the salient qualities of what the old school has to offer by incorporating elements of what they think that entails into games that were designed from the ground up specifically to repudiate those qualities. They are of course mistaken.

I hope this clears things up!

Games are real. Rules are real. And playing them produces consistent, repeatable, and observable situations and dynamics at the table. Don’t let a spurious pose of rpg ecumenicism seduce you away from the best that tabletop gaming has to offer!

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