Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Giving a Presentation About Old School

So I've been thinking more and more about scheduling a presentation at Ropecon about the whole Old School thing, D&D in particular.

If I were to do it, I'd certainly wouldn't want to waste everyone's time or just badger the audience. I'd want it to be informative and entertaining. I'd need enough material for 45 minutes.

But if I am going to do this, there is no two ways around it... I'm going to have to put my foot down and say "This is old school" before talking about the Renaissance.

Critique this outline that I spent 15 minutes on:

  • What is an Old School Game?
    • Random Character Generation
    • Character Backstory Optional, Perhaps Wasteful
    • Focus on Player Skill, Not Character Stats
    • Slow Leveling
    • “Eternal” Campaign – No Predetermined End
    • Rules and Expansions are for GM, Not Players
    • GM as God of the Game

  • Dungeons and Dragons
    • OD&D
    • “Basic”
    • AD&D1
    • Dragonlance and Unearthed Arcana
    • AD&D 2
      • Splats
      • Settings

    • The Collapse
    • WotC D&D

  • The Old School Renaissance
    • Dragonsfoot
    • OGL
    • Castles & Crusades
    • The Clones
    • The Blogs
    • Self Publishing

I of course would be spending so much time on D&D because, well, I really am not the guy to talk about Traveller or Tunnels and Trolls or Call of Cthulhu.

So rip it apart. :D


  1. How about an entry/statement about simplicity?

    I realize that AD&D isn't as simple as Yahtzee or somesuch, but I was always put off by what seemed to be very intricate rules and clauses in 3rd edition D&D.

    If you look at all of the things a player and DM have to calculate for a combat done according to OD&D or AD&D (v.1.0,2.0) versus 3rd edition D&D and beyond, it seems that the earlier rules were much simpler.

    You can, and I have, played a game of D&D with nothing but some dice and 3x5 cards. Could you do the same with the more recent iterations?

  2. At first I thought it odd to break out the DL and UA, but after giving it some further thought it makes sense. This could have been seen as a version 1.5 for AD&D. I think the outline looks fine.

  3. How about: Story emerges from play, rather than being imposed on it.

  4. I like the GM as God. I suspect many of us remember getting into screaming fights with/as the GM because something completely unfair just happened. It was like we were working out our intoxicating anger with our parents--who were REAL God(s) as kids.

    Also: Dice as Ultimate Destiny. In other words, Roll Playing vs. Role Playing

  5. I would argue the 'character backstory optional' thing—unless you were referring to a concept at initial character creation. Beginning characters are fragile. So making an elaborate backstory right away may very well be stupid if your character is gonna die in the first session.

    But as a character matures (and gets a bit more survivable), I don't see why you couldn't explore a 'backstory' for them. This seems to be the case with some of the PCs in the original Greyhawk campaign, for instance. Another good example would be James M's Dwimmermount game (from Grognardia for the 1 or 2 people in the community who don't know the blog). Seems his players are coming up with backgrounds for their surviving characters. Yes, a lot of the 'backstory' comes from actually playing a character, but I've always found it more fun to at least give a rudimentary background and maybe embellish it as the character grows.

  6. I like character backstory if it helps flesh out the setting. In other words, I'll give up some control over the milieu, if the player is making a meaningful contribution. It's the sort of thing that best, arises during play.

  7. You'll be talking to the converted (it is a gaming con) so I think section 2 can be run thru fairly quickly... how long a presentation will you be making and will you be allowing questions from the peanut gallery? ;)

  8. You may want to mention some of the points you raised in your earlier Guide to Adventure Writing (your post of November 14, 2008). I actually found many of the points you raised there to be very true to old school gaming. Good luck in your presentation.

  9. It's interesting to see different people's idea of what "old school" is. :)

    I would have said something about DIY vs Official Content.

  10. Some thoughts on comments:

    I don't think supremacy of the dice is a new or old school concept. I'm sure there were plenty of fudgers in 1975, and I can't imagine a game of Sorcerer or Dogs in the Vineyard working correctly if people are fudging rolls...

    As for simplicity, something like Risus or Over the Edge isn't exactly complicated.

    Location-based adventures... hmmm... do we consider Warhammer's Enemy Within campaign, with Death on the Reik and Power Behind the Throne, as "old school"? What about the latter half of the Slaver series? How does D1-2-3 measure up to "location-based adventure?"

    DIY vs Official Content, I'm sure there are people going from Keep on the Borderlands to Death Frost Doom (;)) to Isle of Dread to whatever else. I don't know that this is an important distinction either.


  11. I'm shocked, shocked I say, at the hostility to character backgrounds I've seen around the OSR. Also, I don't think "simplicity" or "rules-lite" is essential to old school. AD&D. Rolemaster. DragonQuest. Hardly simple or rules-lite. Your own guide to Adventure writing and Matt Finch's occasionally overheated guide pretty much cover it, IMO. old school to me is starting weak, possibly gaining power/prestige over time, with a focus on exploration, survival, and treasure in a world unique to the DM/players. New school to me is plot-centric, starting as heroes, and usually playing a store-bought campaign world/adventure path. But YMMV.

  12. I always have copious amounts of wandering monsters in my games. I also tend to include a lot of places requiring serious trial and error, which leads to intense use of random charts and tables.

  13. mikemonaco:

    I think hostile is way too strong a word to describe the attitude a lot of old school players and game masters have regarding character background. Rather it is a case of the character background being something belonging solely to the player, whereas the game world (e.g. everything else) is 100% the GM's responsibility.

    Were the GM to involve PC backgrounds into the game world, he'd have to either relinquish control of that particular area of game world to the players (who'd essentially be writing world building material, albeit with a rather limited focus; their character), OR he'd take charge of the PC's backgrounds in a way that would infringe on an area traditionally considered the players' property (e.g. their characters).

    I'm sure there are OSR game master who involve their players character backgrounds into the game world, but I'd imagine the above described "property rights" have something to do with why this trend to exclude PC backgrounds is so prevalent in the first place.

  14. I'd love to see this speech. Can you try to get someone to video tape it and post it online?


  15. The honest answer to that is, "It depends if I lose this weight I seem to have gained lately." Never Mr. Universe to begin with, I'm looking rather rough lately even by my standards.

    No way I want to look at 45 minutes of my fat ass in front of a room. :P