Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Entire Old School Renaissance Explained

So my friend is writing a game. It's interesting and good, but it still has some rules kinks to work out. We sat around and playtested the prototype for a few hours last Sunday, then, because we're us, sat around for a few more hours talking about things that could be done with it, as well as, incidentally and also because we're us, every other game ever written.

Sam: "...and that's the reason I hate 40k and I haven't played Warhammer 40k in years."

Zak: "You have played Warhammer 40k, we played it last summer, we had a good time, you kept coming back."

S: "That wasn't Warhammer 40k!"

Z: "Yes it was, I mean, aside from the psychology rules, that was pretty much straight-up Rogue Trader first edition 40k."

S: "It was a bunch of pieces of paper scribbled with what you remembered from playing Warhammer 40k 15 years ago. And, actually, it was a way better game than the original. It had all the bits that didn't work filed off."

Z: "So maybe that's what you should do with your game: play it with a twelve-year-old, then take away the rules, wait a decade, then ask him to write down all the rules he remembers from scratch. Then you'll have an awesome game."

S: "I'm sold."


Arkhein said...

I like that. I think it's very true.

My ten year-old son loves 4e. Hmm. Perhaps I should lock all of the 4e stuff in a box for a decade. You know - for research. Yeah. That's the ticket.

- Ark

x said...


That's awesome :)

Longest play test in history :)

Spawn of Endra said...

Right on. You've nailed what's cool about what's going on right now, without having to mention anything about any editions, publishers, etc., and not having to pay a Joesky tribute. In less than 4000 words. Jolly good.

velaran said...

@Zak S:
Using selective memory for Good? :-)
Some kidding aside, I think it'd be fun to revisit past games like Duel(the RPG) or Heroquest(the boardgame) off the top of my friend's younger cousin and his buddies' heads at this point.(Or even my old homebrew for that matter...) 17 years on, what awesomeness(or awfulness, perhaps, one never knows...) can be recalled from the depths of memory, I wonder? Huh, just maybe next time I see him....

'Longest play test in history':
Nope. Still Duke Nukem4Ever. :-)

Profound. Amusing. Useful. I love it!

Anonymous said...


By your reckoning I am now ready to play Floaties and Sinkies (noe "Pirates!") with my son. It will rule.

Chris said...

Sorry to be a contrarian SOB, but my experience of the OSR was almost exactly the opposite. For me it's been almost a rediscovery of half-forgotten (or entirely overlooked) old cool stuff that was there all along and got overlooked first time around.

Not so much "play what you remember"; more "play what was really there".

For example: if I was to have written down the rules for Basic D&D as I remembered them from our old games, I'd have lost easily half the game to transcription error. Everything from 'loot as XP' to 'retainers' and 'monster reaction rolls' right down to 'halfling size modifiers to AC vs. giants' would have gone by the board, and my game would have been the poorer for it.

Sometimes - as Sham's OD&D Cover to Cover shows - it pays to re-read the original text.

Zak Sabbath said...


depends how good your memory is,

mordicai said...

So who has a spare 12 year old? Anybody?

Adam Dickstein said...

Seriously that's the best game design idea I've heard of in a long time.

Anonymous said...

What an epiphany! :)

I'm writing that one down in my battered copy of Sun Tzu's Art of War...

SirAllen said...

@Chris: agree completely.

I also think it pays dividends to read the 1E DMG cover to cover at least every few years.

Growing up we played (as did most people I know that played) a mix of Basic and AD&D, mostly adding race and class and using the monsters and magic items.

Coming back into it, we found all the fiddly bits to be delightful. We also found that now we could legally purchase beer, wine, and whiskey.

Was it the fiddly bits, or the alcohol? Good question...

Catherine Meyers said...

That is very true, the innocence we had when we were kids, pays no attention to many limitations when creating rules. Limitations that we can't ignore when you grow up, but still make a game great.

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Unknown said...

The nostalgia part might work for some players but I got started with 2e and went forward till 3.5 and then went the opposite way, back towards the earlier older editions. To each their own I guess

Tom said...

@SirAllen Read the 1st Ed DMG cover to cover every few years? I carry that thing around with me all the time!

Unknown said...

If its not nostalgia then what is playing a game as you remembered it? Maybe Im missing what you mean

Zak Sabbath said...


it's remembering and using the remembered information to abet human activity.

it is not a "yearning for the past". I would waaay rather be me now playing the game with the people I play with the way we play now than be me in high school.

Adam Thornton said...

Yeah, what Zak said.

The AWESOME thing about GaryCon is that you're playing D&D, with all the enthusiasm your thirteen-year-old self brought to the table, with a bunch of other people in their thirties and forties who have also learned how not to be douches, but who--and this is critical--are playing as hard as you are.

My life now is way better than in high school, and in most ways it's better than college: I don't get as much random sex, and I'm fatter and my knees hurt, but on the other hand, I can afford most of the things I want to buy and I don't have to worry nearly so much about pleasing other people.

Tetsubo said...

I started in 1978 with 1E. I moved to 2E and used it for years. But I jumped onto the 3E bandwagon with both feat. Since the abandonment of 3.5 I have migrated over to Pathfinder.

What I remember from the earlier eras is the lack of the rule I wanted. Of endless arguments over what we should do in any given situation. With the inconsistent calls made by GMs because there was no official rule. I have no nostalgia for that. I want a system that has the rules I want, readily at hand. For me 3.P hits that sweet spot of complexity. Enough to keep me happy, not enough to make me feel like I am playing a chemistry text book.

I have great 'old school' memories of those sessions. There is no way to capture that lightning in a bottle. Better to move forward with what I see as better rules systems.

Chris said...

@Zak Just wondering: are you saying that you didn't enjoy the game as much back in the day when you played it as a teenager? (And if so, why?) Or are you saying you just wouldn't want to be a teenager again? (Which is totally understandable.)

Zak Sabbath said...

I probably didn't enjoy it as much mostly because there were fewer pornstars in the room