[OSR] Old School Mechanics

edited April 2012 in Story Games
In this thread:[OSR] What do we like about Old School? people talked about different things they liked about Old School and Old School Revival games. How about we go a little deeper?

So first a couple of lists. (if you want me to add or reword something whisper me and I'll add it to the OP.)

Things people like about OSR

Rules:
High lethality promoting smart play, Mechanical Transparency, Failure, Simple and Focused Rules, Gaps in Rules leading to creative solutions, Sandboxy / No Railroading, Description matters, Surreal/Creative Solutions
The GM:
Defined Asymmetrical GM/Player Roles, GM Trust, Concrete Preparation
Characters:
Quick Character Generation, Characters build for 1 or 100 sessions, Backstory Created through Play, Ease of Play, Tradition, Exploration
New OSR Techniques
Non-tactical combat, Maps not grids, Open Gaming Content,

and...

Some hallmark OS/OSR mechanics:
Hit Points, The 6 stats, 3d6 Stats that translate into modifiers, Armor Class, Initiative Rolls, Attack and Damage Rolls, d20 Success/ Failure checks, Skills, Purchasing Equipment, Experience Points, Leveling, Adding skills + equipment + fictional positioning to calculate the odds of success, GM Arbitration,

and here is a question:

What mechanics are essential to the experience you are looking for in OSR? How do they create/shape play?

Comments

  • edited April 2012
    For me, the OSR is more about the methods and approach than specific rules, though the rulesets are often very closely related.

    For example, things you don't mention above:
    - mapping and calling (which could be a whole thread by itself)
    - moving through the dungeon with a speed partially determined by how good your light sources are (and other factors)
    - playing to find out if your character survives long enough to be important (in Eero's game: if they're important enough to have a name)
    - (related) making multiple characters before you begin, so you have backups
    - putting exploration (and not combat, so much, which is more a necessary evil) at the core of play
    - etc.
  • The individual mechanics are mostly not essential to old school D&D as I practice it. I have, in fact, changed many things that might be considered mechanically fundamental.

    If I had to strip old school D&D to an absolute mechanical minimum after which I would no longer recognize it, while also retaining the non-mechanical parts that make it D&D (the premise, party structure, GM and player roles, etc.), I'd say that I'd have to preserve neutral refereeing (including randomization of various encounter properties), random outcomes and strict fiction-based evaluation of consequences. I think I would not find the game essentially different even if the mechanical parts were reduced to a single d6 the GM rolls at the right times to resolve things. Combats, for example - you could strip all the combat-related rules away and just resolve with a d6 roll or several, and it wouldn't cause massive disruption to the purpose of play.

    I imagine that my position is in the minority, most people would surely find the classes and levels essential, for example.
  • GM neutrality is the bedrock on which old school play is founded. The GM is objective arbitrator, referee, judge. He is neither against the players nor for them. He presents them with the world they interact with, and he provides the consequences for their actions.
  • I would be interested to see the principles that govern GM neutrality unpacked.

    I have also read somewhere how sandboxing is somewhat of a myth. How can the GM be really neutral? Is he neutral by having every area of the dungeon planned in advance? What happens if the characters leave it? If he generates adventure hooks for them, is he really neutral or is he doing illusionism?

    i.
  • P.S. I have been thinking about making a little OSR hack about spelunking or cave diving (maybe called Down in a Hole), in which there would be no classes, levels, monsters, or treasure, no D&D stats, etc. Should totally still work, I suspect. (cf. The Descent, Sanctum).
  • Posted By: ivanI would be interested to see the principles that govern GM neutrality unpacked.

    I have also read somewhere how sandboxing is somewhat of a myth. How can the GM be really neutral? Is he neutral by having every area of the dungeon planned in advance? What happens if the characters leave it? If he generates adventure hooks for them, is he really neutral or is he doing illusionism?

    i.
    No human being can be totally neutral, but he can try. That's really what it's about.

    There will always be some level of illusionism, because in giving the players freedom they'll go where you don't expect, so you have to just make shit up (NPCs, locations, etc.). You try to do this as "neutrally" as possible by thinking to yourself, "Okay, in this game world, what would happen? What would be here?" Not what would be "fun", not what would be a challenge, not what would kill your players, not what would make a good story... but what would happen.

    Random generators help a lot to keep you honest. Roll the dice and go with the results, and don't ever fudge.
  • Posted By: J. WaltonFor me, the OSR is more about the methods and approach than specific rules, though the rulesets are often very closely related.

    For example, things you don't mention above:
    - mapping and calling (which could be a whole thread by itself)
    - moving through the dungeon with a speed partially determined by how good your light sources are (and other factors)
    - playing to find out if your character survives long enough to be important (in Eero's game: if they're important enough to have a name)
    - (related) making multiple characters before you begin, so you have backups
    - putting exploration (and not combat, so much, which is more a necessary evil) at the core of play
    - etc.
    Ditto on this. For me, OSR is more about the play than the cubes of plastic.
  • @noisms

    reading your principles I seem to remember a post by Eero about his 'gamemastering hygiene' principles.

    Eero, what do you think about sandbox gaming? Does it exist? Do you enforce it by limiting the context (eg only pre-written dungeons and no fully open games) ?
  • Posted By: ivanI would be interested to see the principles that govern GM neutrality unpacked.

    I have also read somewhere how sandboxing is somewhat of a myth. How can the GM be really neutral? Is he neutral by having every area of the dungeon planned in advance? What happens if the characters leave it? If he generates adventure hooks for them, is he really neutral or is he doing illusionism?
    Jean's explanation accords with my own experiences. The GM neutrality is maintained by personal hygiene of thought: you need to feel the neutrality. It's easy to recognize whether you're being neutral yourself when you are; it's sort of like the part of your brain that commits planning is shut down. This is why I might seem even a bit obsessive about dicing procedure while playing, I'm intentionally ignoring my capability for merely deciding things. Is the moon out tonight? How many bandits there are? Does the chief bandit speak French? Will they fall for bluster? All things are determined either effortlessly by querying the fiction (that is, what I see in my mind) or by the dice, with external concerns about play experience never intruding. I decide nothing, and in this zen-like state of non-decision it is really easy for me to recognize any spark of decision-making that would break my calm, and I can thus move to correct. This would be much more difficult if I had to make partially illusionistic decisions, as then I'd have to both recognize the stillness of mind and break it at the same time.

    That was clear as mud, I'm sure, but I think it describes the feeling of neutrality well. It's a state of mind you achieve by letting go of responsibility. This is why I don't think that "GM is responsible for fun" and "GM is a neutral arbiter" are truly compatible atttitudes: you can have one of those, but trying for both at the same time is impossible because you lose the calm ability to query the fiction without prejudice if you feel responsibility for the outcomes.

    Of course, the responsibility for content is the big, fat challenge here. This responsibility is the responsibility of constructive imagination: it is not sufficient for you to imagine the game world, but you need to also imagine it as a content-ful place, all without also imagining meanings and outcomes. Striving for content without constructing meaning in advance is a challenge, and probably why I'm endlessly fascinated by random encounter tables, ready-made encounters and everything else that ensures that when the time comes to provide content, my content will be neutral. (Interestingly the content is neutral in this psychological hygiene sense as long as you introduce it randomly or without intent or because it logically follows; somebody might have pre-designed the material you run with intent, but you'll be able to work it intent-less yourself if you commit to the content in a neutral time and place.)

    Most of play time is spent after content is committed to, though, so most of the time it is easy to be neutral and calm. I could only imagine that this would be difficult if a GM had discordant thoughts about his responsibilities: believe in your non-responsibility, and the inner calm will follow.
  • edited April 2012
    Posted By: ivanEero, what do you think about sandbox gaming? Does it exist? Do you enforce it by limiting the context (eg only pre-written dungeons and no fully open games) ?
    Ha ha, crossposted and pre-emptied.

    I think that "sandbox" exists in the sense that the GM can hamper his natural human inclination towards constructing meaning. It's not necessary to preplan everything, you just need to introduce enough random error that your mind breaks free from structure. For example, if it occurs to me that a e.g. dragon might well live among the peaks of this specific mountain hex, because I remember some rumour to that effect from earlier, I do not immediately conclude that this must be so. Instead, I roll 50/50 for permission to myself to introduce the dragon. (Otherwise I would conclude that the rumour was false, simply enough.) I train myself to take content commitments through these types of hurdles so that whatever I ultimately end up introducing is effectively randomly selected, even if the selection is out of a set of self-invented ideas.

    The sandbox is, of course, not true simulation of the world. Specifically, the GM will and should allow real-world pacing to influence himself. The game is simply more enjoyable if you e.g. decide to skip the random encounters at the end of a session so you'll still have 15 minutes to divide the treasure and do maintenance before the session ends. This type of real-world pacing means that you introduce and commit to content at the beginning of sessions, and close issues and ignore opportunities to introduce content towards the end. It's a natural cycle of play, and a clear example of how the sandbox is not "perfect" even if it does exist.
  • edited April 2012
    Thanks Eero, I always enjoy reading your posts.

    I believe this is the first time I see the GM internal state of equanimity being explicitly reified to a compass for correct gaming procedures. This is very interesting.

    In terms of content.. you can't of course know everything in advance. If a random encounter generates a band of adventurers, how do you know their intent and attitude towards the characters? Do you make up plausible outcomes and roll? Do you focus on what you 'see' and check carefully that the vision is coming from your deep creative self without being tainted with 'intent' ? Would you consider such a vision hygienically correct or would you leave it to the dice?

    UPDATE: yeah, we x-posted again :-) I believe you should collect your principles of play in some written form. Really cool stuff.
  • It sounds like most of the people talking here don't think that any of those mechanics are essential.

    I have, I think, a related question. What in Apocalypse World makes it not part of the OSR?
  • Posted By: Christopher WeeksI have, I think, a related question. What in Apocalypse World makes it not part of the OSR?
    I'd say that the big thing is that "OSR" is a social phenomenon, and Vincent doesn't hang around in those circles. That's the big one.

    As for why it's not "old school", that probably depends on what you think that term means. As I said in the other thread, I don't use that term because I don't quite understand it. If I had to use it, I'd use it to reference the '70s rpg scene in general. In this sense Apocalypse World is not old school because it was published thirty years too late.
  • edited April 2012
    Posted By: Christopher WeeksWhat in Apocalypse World makes it not part of the OSR?
    Oh man, that's a whole 'nother conversation.

    Short version: in my mind, AW and its kin are heavily inspired by "Second Wave" sandbox games like Shadowrun, Vampire, Ars Magicka, etc. They have exception-based designs where the characters start out as minor badasses and all have unique and different powers. The group does "play to find out what happens" but the GM is explicitly supposed to be a fan of the characters and make moves that allows them to show off who they are. Relationship maps are super important, as the character are closely connected with other factions and NPC personalities.

    In comparison, the OSR is heavily inspired by pre-1985 RPG texts that are much more closely descended from the wargaming roots of RPGs. The PCs do not start out as important or potent at all. Indeed, they die like flies until you find some that manage to survive. The rules are not exception-based, but treat everyone more or less the same, varying based on your stats and gear more than individual class-based powers. Wizards are a bit different I guess, but even then spells are more like things they have than things that they are. The GM is supposed to govern the game impartially, not being a fan of anyone (PCs, NPCs, or monsters). Relationships between characters and NPCs are purely fluff, for the most part, and are not at all the main driver of play. The "play to find out what happens" isn't to find out what type of people the characters are and what choices they make or where the story will go, but much more literally "when we go down this corridor, what happens?"
  • Posted By: J. WaltonThe "play to find out what happens" isn't to find out what type of people the characters are and what choices they make or where the story will go, but much more literally "when we go down this corridor, what happens?"
    These aren't so different, when it comes down to it. Dungeon World tends to hit the mid-point between "corridor vs. character" interest, which sort of addresses the point I was making earlier about stories being told with DW vs. D&D though at this point that post may have been made in a whole different thread?

    Story Games is all OSR crazy these days! (I kind of love it shhh don't tell anyone)
  • Wow, thank you dr. walton, that really strikes a chord with me.
  • Yup. I can only speak for DW but we straddle that line somewhere. Your characters are competent and cool, but the world is dangerous. We lost two characters last session, we almost lost some this session. The difference being that these weren't just shmucks where you roll up another, they were shmucks who were connected to the other characters in interesting ways, so now we're trying to get at least one of them raised.
  • Posted By: J. WaltonFor me, the OSR is more about the methods and approach than specific rules, though the rulesets are often very closely related.
    Posted By: Eero TuovinenThe individual mechanics are mostly not essential to old school D&D as I practice it. I have, in fact, changed many things that might be considered mechanically fundamental.
    Aside: I'd put forth the question of whether there is at least a certain rules philosophy that is central to OSR RPGs. For example, I'm not sure I would qualify Rolemaster as an OSR game, if only because it's a paragon of the latter-'80s/early-'90s style of really complex and hyper-detailed "reality simulator" design that OSR luminaries like James Maliszewski seem to consider outside the bounds of the "classic" OSR style. That, and it specifically creates pretty powerful PCs that will likely survive and kick ass no matter what.

    All this despite being a class/level-based game that is otherwise very D&D-like.
  • Yeah, my sense is that DW and AD&D and Palladium Fantasy (?) and probably a bunch of others all attempt to straddle and combine those approaches to play (in addition to having other goals), with varying approaches and varying degrees of success. My sense is also that AD&D2 and 3E/Pathfinder and Warhammer Fantasy 2nd are closer to "Second Wave" in their approach to sandbox play (hard to imagine mapping and calling there, though you could do it in DW/AD&D/Palladium, probably), while 4E is this crazy thing where you're badasses but confined to a flowchart or railroad of pre-planned and perfectly balanced encounters (without either the merciless neutrality of the OSR or the open-ended, character-based play of Second Wave stuff). It would be really interesting to talk about how 4E is situated in relation to OSR-style play and the Second Wave, actually, but that's probably another thread.
  • Apropos of nothing: I wonder how it is that "mechanic" snuck into the gamer lexicon where "mechanism" is actually the correct word?

    /crotchety
  • edited April 2012
    P.S. I wanted to clarify that published adventures for many potentially "sandbox-y" games are often very tightly railroaded, so it's not as if these game lines are really consistent about how you're supposed to play them, considering that there are dozens of authors and play styles expressed in their volumes of supplements and other materials. That's partially what makes this really hard to talk about. Most of the AD&D2 adventures I've read are not sandbox-y in the least, though it seems like the people who have the most success with those games run them more like AW than like Moldvay.
  • edited April 2012
    Posted By: buzzRolemasteras an OSR game, if only because it's a paragon of the latter-'80s/early-'90s style of really complex and hyper-detailed "reality simulator" design that OSR luminaries like James Maliszewski seem to consider outside the bounds of the "classic" OSR style. That, and it specifically creates pretty powerful PCs that will likely survive and kick ass no matter what.
    Well, leaving aside the question of whether Rolemaster characters actually "will likely survive" -- I think the nature of damage in RM, especially criticals, tends to militate against this -- I actually don't consider games like this to be necessarily outside the bounds of the old school. There was, from the beginning of the hobby, a strong minority of gamers, many of them involved in medieval reenactment, who wanted to "realistic" takes on combat and other actions. The "Perrin Conventions," which were house rules to OD&D and would evolve into RuneQuest, date from March 1976 and Chevalier, the predecessor to Chivalry & Sorcery (which also began as house rules to OD&D), date from 1977. "Reality simulation" was there very early on and, while it's not my preferred way to play, I certainly wouldn't argue that it's not "old school."
  • I had no idea you were on SG, James. Cool! And thanks for the insight.

    What would you consider outside the bounds?
    Posted By: James MaliszewskiI think the nature of damage in RM, especially criticals, tends to militate against this
    Good point. I totally forgot about the reams of crit tables.
  • Games that might be "old school", but which do not have all the hallmarks mentioned in the OP:

    RuneQuest (esp. 2nd ed.)
    Tunnels & Trolls
    The Fantasy Trip
    DragonQuest
    SwordBearer
  • Boot Hill. But you gotta be seriously old school to play that.
  • I almost bought a complete copy of Boot Hill at Gamestorm for $35. Still kicking myself about it, actually. I really want to get a better sense of what old school play is like once you leave the familiar confines and structures of the dungeon.
  • Posted By: buzzIWhat would you consider outside the bounds?
    The thing is, the more I've thought about this and delved into it, the more nebulous it's all become. I hate to pull a Potter Stewart and say "I know it when I see it," but there's some truth in that nonetheless. I will say, though, that I think the trend toward emulating other media rather than merely taking inspiration from them is at least a baby-step away from what I consider the hallmarks of old school play.
  • Posted By: James MaliszewskiI will say, though, that I think the trend towardemulatingother media rather than merely taking inspiration from them is at least a baby-step away from what I consider the hallmarks of old school play.
    I think I understand this, but would you provide an example?
  • Hey, this is a fabulous thread! I hadn't even though about GM neutrality as essential to old-school play.

    In my own return to old-school over the last three years I've found one element to be most essential to what I aim at in an old-school experience, and it has surprised me a great deal. When I DM I rely heavily on old, color-laden texts that may or may not have a direct connection to the rule set we're currently using. This arose naturally out of using our first set of Apocalypse World-style basic moves in conjunction with AD&D texts. At the time we used the old rules for absolutely everything not covered by the "when you" clauses of the basic moves. What I found was that there was an incredibly rich vein of productive detail packed into the monster descriptions, spell descriptions, and mechanical sub-systems of the old games (random tables are part of this, but they are only a sub-set). I think that for me this fulfills a role very similar to the state of mind that Eero mentions above. The old rules are a rich, layered source of bits and pieces that came from different places and were put in for different reasons, many of which may not be relevant anymore. This sounds like a weakness, but I find it’s really a strength for a couple of reasons:
    - It’s a source of ideas, content, and fiction that would not otherwise have been incorporated
    - It frees me up from concerns of game balance, my expectations of the fiction, and mechanical homogenization which I’m otherwise prone to
    - It gives me free reign to experiment with old game texts and see what nuggets of awesome I can unearth

    So when I run an old-school game, I run a bricollage of old-school texts supported by whatever mechanics are easiest. For example, for dungeon crawl I use Dungeon World basic moves and playbooks supplemented with the AD&D Monster Manual and DMG, Michael Curtis’ Dungeon Alphabet, and material Zak Smith's and Jeff Reients' blogs. I use and old megadungeon by Jeff Poag (Mines of Khunmar) that has maps and notes but isn’t fully detailed. Lately I've been running Metamorphosis Alpha. I use a super stripped down Apocalypse World hack with just one core move (because it provides a familiar framework for the players) and then the old MA rules for everything they don't cover.

    So I guess what I think is essential to the OSR is a heavily layered set of texts that encompass a broad swath of gamer culture organized according to multiple principles and priorities with no single unitary point of view dominating.
  • Posted By: buzzPosted By: James MaliszewskiI will say, though, that I think the trend towardemulatingother media rather than merely taking inspiration from them is at least a baby-step away from what I consider the hallmarks of old school play.
    I think I understand this, but would you provide an example?
    Dungeons & Dragons took a lot of inspiration from (among other things) Howard's Conan yarns, but the rules of D&D don't include rules specifically designed to replicate, say, Conan's fighting moves. The inspiration isn't "hardcoded" into the rules so that every combat feels like something ripped from the pages of Weird Tales. By contrast, Champions, with its segments and phases, is explicitly trying to mimic the way slugfests play out in comics (whether it succeeds or fails is irrelevant). Now, I'm not saying that Champions or any other game that tries to emulate its inspiration via rules is necessarily off the old school reservation, but it's a step in that direction, at least to my mind. As RPGs become more tightly focused thematically and then create rules structures to support that focus, we see a shift away from "old school" design.

    Did that make any sense?
  • Posted By: James MaliszewskiDid that make any sense?
    Sounds right to me, and a good insight too.
  • Posted By: James MaliszewskiDid that make any sense?
    I think so.

    Even the D&D rules are trying to mimic something, though, aren't they? Say, the cleric as Van Helsing, maybe? Is just about how obvious the inspiration is?
  • In Dungeon World, you have different combat moves based on intent: "Hack and Slash" for general combat, but "Defend" when you're standing in defense of something, and they're mechanically very different (one generates hold that you spend for effects, the other doesn't). That difference seems very non-old-schoolish to me, and the mechanism of handing players a choice of outcomes via metagame currency also seems very non-OSR.

  • edited April 2012
    Posted By: buzz
    Even the D&D rules are trying to mimic something, though, aren't they? Say, the cleric as Van Helsing, maybe? Is just about how obvious the inspiration is?
    The cleric is partly inspired by Van Helsing from the Hammer horror movies Dave Arneson loved, no question, but there's nothing in the cleric class that mechanically encourages you to make your cleric character anything like Peter Cushing. You could play your cleric like that, but it's not the only way and the rules are completely agnostic on this point.
  • Posted By: James Maliszewski

    Did that make any sense?
    It sure does. And it's great to have you here, James :)

    Posted By: buzzPosted By: James MaliszewskiDid that make any sense?
    I think so.

    Even the D&D rules are trying to mimic something, though, aren't they? Say, the cleric as Van Helsing, maybe? Is just about how obvious the inspiration is?

    I always felt the DnD cleric was based on Aethelwulf of Wessex. He was a religious warrior, wore chainmail, used a mace, etc.
  • Posted By: Troy_CostisickI always felt the DnD cleric was based on Aethelwulf of Wessex. He was a religious warrior, wore chainmail, used a mace, etc.
    The only historical figure I've ever heard the cleric compared to is Odo of Bayeux -- at least that's the guy Gygax most often cited as a real world inspiration. But we know that Dave Arneson was the one who created the proto-cleric class as a monster hunter patterned on Van Helsing, so to counter the power of a vampire PC in his Blackmoor campaign named Sir Fang. No I'm not making this up :)
  • Wow! Didn't know that. Awesome :)

    I never would have guessed it.
  • I want to add that just because something's not in the rules of an Old School game, doesn't mean it can't emerge from play.

    Distinguishing moves and personalities, meaningful relationships between PCs and NPCs, intrigues, power centers: in my experience, with suitably engaged DM and players, these things are added to the play without needing a "relationship map" or "personality scores" or "social abilities".

    What those games desperately needed back in the day, and still need now, is some kind of purely informal and verbal guidance on how to facilitate these elements without mechanizing or proceduralizing them.
  • Interesting that nobody's yet mentioned alignment. No suprise since its probably the most consistently ignored part of old school D&D. But in my recent experience, its a key aspect of play.

    Alignment is interesting because its such an exception. Its the one char-gen decision the player makes that isn't shaded by resource management considerations (well, besides choosing a name I suppose). Being so nebulously defined, broadly applicable and mechanicaly soft, it ends up raising a lot of questions the participants have to think about and answer for themselves subjectively (rather than adjucating hard-and-fast like, say, a question on how to resolve combat). What does alignment mean? How is it relevant? Is it a shade of moral persuasion (something that changes) or a stamp of cosmic fate (something inviolate)? How important should what it means be to the game we play? If my character is Lawful and yours is Chaotic, how should that affect us?

    Its a sort of gentle but persistent nudge to make play about more than efficient gold-piece recovery, but it leaves it up to each group how to respond to it or even if they want to acknowledge it all.
  • Posted By: Roger GSI want to add that just because something's not in the rules of an Old School game, doesn't mean it can't emerge from play.

    Distinguishing moves and personalities, meaningful relationships between PCs and NPCs, intrigues, power centers: in my experience, with suitably engaged DM and players, these things are added to the play without needing a "relationship map" or "personality scores" or "social abilities".

    What those games desperately needed back in the day, and still need now, is some kind of purely informal and verbal guidance on how to facilitate these elements without mechanizing or proceduralizing them.
    I absolutely agree with that. Gary Gygax did an awful, awful job on this front.
  • edited April 2012
    Posted By: noismsI absolutely agree with that. Gary Gygax did an awful, awful job on this front.
    Agreed! What bugs me about the OSR is the tendency to take this lacuna as a feature, and simply say, "For some sufficiently high value of 'good,' a good GM can solve this problem." That ain't very helpful; the fact that this problem persists across 35 years of play suggests that, perhaps, the "good" GM is significantly less common than one might wish.

    But what form would this advice take, if you're not turning it into procedure? Other than something like,

    "Major NPC's should have their own agendas. Figure out what this NPC wants in a very local, immediate sense, and what resources he or she can bear on that problem. Resources might include physical force, magic, social influence, or any kind of reward; it might include anything else you can imagine. If your players are furthering the NPC's goals, he or she is likely to help; if the players are hindering those goals, the NPC is likely to oppose them. Remember that in the real world, wise people tend to avoid risks or confrontations unless necessary or they have an overwhelming advantage."

    "Keep your NPC's motivations super-simple! Your players need to be able to understand the NPC's motivations, and that's hard if each NPC is Dmitri Karamazov. Also, convoluted NPC motivations will increasingly cause the game to center around the NPC's rather than the players."
  • Posted By: E.T.SmithInteresting that nobody's yet mentioned alignment. No suprise since its probably the most consistently ignored part of old school D&D. But in my recent experience, its a key aspect of play.

    Alignment is interesting because its such an exception. Its the one char-gen decision the player makes that isn't shaded by resource management considerations (well, besides choosing a name I suppose). Being so nebulously defined, broadly applicable and mechanicaly soft
    Actually, alignment is rather strictly defined mechanically. For example, consider the spell protection from evil. If you don't play with alignments, there are quite a few areas of the rules that you need to adjust in order for the game to make sense.

    Really, I think alignment is a contested notion. The modern (that is, AD&D 1E and later) idea of alignment is more about behavior and morals, whereas the earlier conception is more about cosmic forces. You are not "chaotic" if you murder someone, but you might further the cause of chaos if you help goblins destroy a village.

    I wrote more about this here:

    http://untimately.blogspot.com/2012/02/alignment-musings.html
  • edited April 2012
    Posted By: Roger GSI want to add that just because something's not in the rules of an Old School game, doesn't mean it can't emerge from play.
    To add to that in the other direction, just because something is in the rules (or even dominates the rules) does not necessarily mean it is what the game is about.

    See here:

    http://revolution21days.blogspot.com/2012/01/why-d-has-lots-of-rules-for-combat.html

    In Odyssey's words:
    D&D, in all editions, has a lot of rules for combat. That's generally what the majority of the game's rules are for, even when it's got fairly detailed rules for non-combatty type things. That doesn't mean that D&D is "about" combat, though, at least in all editions. Sometimes, in fact, it means that it's very much not about combat.

    ...

    The main function of the combat rules, instead, is to make combat deadly, in a way that's fairly adjudication agnostic. If the DM is doing her job right, she's going to kill your character sometimes, and you're going to know that you deserved it. It needs fairly detailed combat rules because it's relatively difficult to adjudicate combat compared to most of what you do in D&D, and relatively important compared to most of what you do in D&D that it be adjudicated "correctly," or at least in a fairly neutral way.
  • I still think alignment is easier from a wargames/team shirt perspective. It's juts that one of those teams happens to be relatively morally upstanding, one is relatively unreliable and a bit shifty but doesn't seek out things to hurt, and one is a bunch of selfish hurty bastards.

    The exact names of each are up to you, of course.

    I'm sure Cold War Era propaganda has nothing, I say nothing, to do with this understanding.
  • edited April 2012
    Posted By: komradebobI still think alignment is easier from a wargames/team shirt perspective. It's juts that one of those teams happens to be relatively morally upstanding, one is relatively unreliable and a bit shifty but doesn't seek out things to hurt, and one is a bunch of selfish hurty bastards.
    The wargames background to OD&D definitely provides some insight into understanding alignment. The relationship between morality/ethics and alignment is implied rather than outright stated and is thus open to some interpretation. Consider, too, that alignment is present in both Moorcock and Anderson (from whom Moorcock got the idea) and, in both cases, it's more of an "us vs. them" kind of thing.
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