Friday, May 02, 2008

This is Old School to Me

From Mr. Rients' recounting of their Gygax Memorial campaign:

The back half of the session was fabulous. The players figured out that brute force was not going to work against the evil cleric Lareth the Beautiful and his soldiers. So they started getting creative, like setting ambushes with flaming. I really dug it when removed a door from its hinges and then used it as a mantlet shield to force their way in, toppling several of Lareth's men. Finally it came down to just the PCs against Lareth and his nigh-impossible-to-hit Armor Class.

That's when Doug declared that they were going to attempt to overbear Lareth. Bless their miscreant hearts, that was the first time I've ever been in a AD&D game that actually used the overbearing rules. And it worked, too! Four PCs (two were down by this point) against a single man was just overwhelming. So congrats to them for making Beggar Mobs work in their favor.

Szilard, one of the players, adds this on his own web page:

I suspect that a lot of people who are enamored of old-school gaming (including, but far from limited to, Jeff) see older games as more conducive to this sort of play. For some of them, it probably is. If you are GMing a game and you aren't comfortable with the rules, you aren't likely to be comfortable making calls on the fly - or pitting the PCs against challenges they'll find near-impossible without ingenuity. Similarly, on the PC side, some of that cleverness in newer and more complex games can be internal to the character - whether it is a particularly neat build or a neat synergy between a couple of the PC's abilities. Some of this is going to replace the need for situational cleverness unless the GM forces the issue with challenging encounters that don't play directly to the strengths of the PCs.
Yeah, that's pretty much it for me. Tweaking my stat block or finessing an extra plus or two through feat selection just doesn't give me the sort of buzz that using the orc chieftain's throne for a bridge across the piranha-filled pit trap does. Different strokes for different folks, as they say, and I hope the group is able to work out their stylistic differences to not only keep the good times rolling, but maximize the fun for everyone by keeping things constantly fresh and new.


szilard said...

Tweaking my stat block or finessing an extra plus or two through feat selection just doesn't give me the sort of buzz that using the orc chieftain's throne for a bridge across the piranha-filled pit trap does.

The two, of course, are not mutually exclusive.

Personally, I enjoy games where I can have a mechanically-interesting character who pulls off crazy stunts.

trollsmyth said...

No, but they tend to be.

Part of it is the switch from "whatever is not forbidden is allowed" to "whatever is not expressly granted is forbidden" that comes with lists of skills and feats. That feeds into a mechanic-focused style of play. Playing 3.x D&D, we tend to lean forward when presented with an unfamiliar situation, as we scan our character sheet for the right feat or skill to provide a solution. Playing Moldvay/Cook, we lean back, away from the table, as we picture the situation in our minds and try to dream up a solution.

It's silly, I'll agree, and you should be able to combine the best of both worlds. But I've found that a sparer character sheet gets players to interact with the campaign world more directly, rather than relying on the "interface" of the game's mechanics.

If all you have is a hammer...

- Brian

szilard said...

I think that there are a lot of factors going into this. Personally, I feel straightjacketed these days if I don't have some mechanical skill and stuff defined on my sheet. It is an open question whether I can do things that I don't have explicit abilities for - even in a game like the Moldvay edition - because it is an open question whether or not the GM will allow it. This can sometimes stifle my creativity. If I have options on my sheet, I know I have things to fall back on.

...but, yeah, I'm going to do what I can to fight for the best of both worlds. Maybe some of the more mechanically complicated games need more explicit language stating that those mechanics are more tools than limits... or something.

trollsmyth said...

I understand exactly what you're talking about. The games I run with my wife are very loosey-goosey rules wise, even if they are based on 2e AD&D. I recently talked about doing away with set non-weapon proficiencies and she said she liked having a list of skills on her character sheet to spark ideas.

One thing I've been contemplating is a sorta life-path addition to character creation. It'd work something like this:

Birth - 7 years old: dictates your starting languages and your basic cultural background

7 years - 14 years: apprenticeship and defines a set of skills based on what you were working towards.

14 years - 21 years: journeyman and defines your more accomplished skills.

Obviously, these ages are set for human lifespans. Basically, you fill in each category with what your character was doing at that age. This dictates what skills your character ought to have. So if you spent your apprentice years as cabin boy on a pirate ship, you ought to know a thing or two about sailing, navigating, knots, and carousing. You know the usual pirate etiquette (or what passes for it), sailor's argot, and something of judging changes in the weather.

You can, if you wish, list a bunch of skills like this when you create the character. Later, as you adventure, you might decide you need another skill that's not listed. If you can convince your GM that you would have picked it up during your years as a pirate, then you get it.

Anyway, that's something I'm still chewing on, and it'll be more detailed in a post later this month sometime. I'm hoping that gives me, as we've been looking for, the best of both worlds. It does, clearly, require a reasonable GM, but if you don't have one of those, really, your problems are probably more complex and pressing than what skills your character has. :/

- Brian