Being in the Main the Mouth of Olde House Rules

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Old-School Gaming As Punk...

Nothing too big this week.  The real world, with its myriad stresses and delights, has occupied a disproportionate (albeit appropriate) chunk of my time.  Nevertheless, I've had time to reflect upon the hobby and its place in my life.  Call it a bit of mental accounting, spiritual reflection, or whatever.  The fact is, I've always preferred a certain approach to our hobby, and whenever I deviate too far from that center I lose interest.  That's not to say alternative approaches are bad, mind you, only that my love of gaming is securely bound to my personal experiences and preferences - as it should be for everyone... 

The gaming I love recalls what it's like to be an eleven year old in the late 1970s who discovered this new thing called D&D.  It wasn't some slick, mass-market thing at the time, understand, but something positively garish and amateur to behold.  

There were no home computers (well, not enough to make any real impression) and no internet or social media.  If you knew someone who had a typewriter or early word processor it was a big deal, and the whole thing felt accessible because none of it was beyond the capabilities of the people actually playing the games.  It was homemade fun...

Even when you were playing D&D it was homemade fun because you were free to add or change anything through the social contract.  Anyone remember that?  

Some modern games seem bent on taking all the decision-making power away from the participants, mechanizing any and all possible choices and offering them back to the player as part of some optimal character build.  No social contract.  No negotiations.  Face the monsters and hope you achieved the optimal build.  Fine.  But it seems like all the effort is on the wrong side of the equation.  Most of the work should be done during play.

I call this Champions Syndrome.  You spend a week achieving the perfect build only to get bored shitless after a single session because the best work is behind you. 

While class and race were ostensibly central to the games I played, it was really the players, with their strategies and problem-solving, that ruled the day.  Whether you were a fragile magician with a single spell or a stout fighter with the intelligence of a clam, everyone was an actual person capable of making decisions and offering up a winning solution.

In one game our party distracted a hungry reptilian horror by catapulting the corpses of slain orcs (it's a long story) into the courtyard of an old castle, sneaking safely across while the monster enjoyed its unexpected feast.  Not one rule was invoked.  Not one.  Sure, the referee could have been an asshole.  But everyone understood that we were there to have fun and that the solution was a clever and reasonable one.  That's the good stuff...  

Your class?  Your spells?  That's just a foundation.  Your choices and clever strategies are what makes the game happen.  And you'll get none of this from any rulebook.

I'm not telling anyone to get off my lawn.  It's a big neighborhood and people can prune their bushes how they like.  But it seems to me that at least some so-called "modern" gaming externalizes the experience of play, and that's just not entertaining to me.

So give me clever small-press rules with no aspirations beyond being just a guide for the referee to follow.  Homemade fun with a homemade look and feel I can match with additions and changes of my own making.  And give me systems that put player choice and strategy ahead of mechanical solutions to everything.  Why bother playing if all you're gonna do is roll spot checks?  At that rate just skip the adventure, roll to see who died, and work up riches enough for the survivors to bicker over.  Me?  I'll be in my basement making my own fun the old-fashioned way.  Call me a relic (guilty as charged), but it's kind of subversive...   

It's that punk thing: This is a rule.  This is another.  This is a third.  Now make a game! 


  1. Absoufuckingletly! I ran into trying to be a "publisher" and creating what people wanted. Not a good route. It's like playing in a band only playing what people want to hear. I totally agree with spot checks, optimal b olds, bunch of non sense honestly. My problem now is running into people who want to play my game, not that game.

  2. Hell, yes--I remember having to write my own rules for the game because I didn't have any rulebook. In the nineties in my case! And the first rulebook I finally got my hands on was the 2e Monstrous Manual--and my friends and I used it as the only handbook for a long while before I finally got a Player's Handbook ...

  3. If old-school gaming is the punk of gaming, what is the prog of gaming? GURPS and friends?