Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Feel of the Old Fear

The term "old school" and its variations are being thrown around the gaming hobby world a lot. It seems this inherently applies to gaming developed in the mid seventies to mid eighties and their accouterments, at least in general. Wizards' website has an article talking about the Ever-Elusive Feel of the game they are trying to develop with the implication is to catch that old school feel of original Dungeons and Dragons. I could go on and on about this article, the Oldenhammer movement, the OSRPG movement, and all that jazz. But instead of rehashing what you can read i'm going to give you my take. I can sum this up in just two words...


...then use many more to expand on that simplicity.

I think what the old rules sets had that in general aren't present in new rules sets are the complete and utter lack of both seat belts and seat belt laws. When I was a little kid I rode in my parents brown the "luggage rack" that was the shelf behind the back seat. One good collision and I probably would have been thrown through the front windshield to my death. I didn't think of this as a kid and I can't help but believe my parents didn't either. Cars were inherently less safe. No air bags, no anti-lock breaks, steel bodies, you get the idea.

Well the older games were about like that car ride but my parents followed the traffic laws improving my survival odds. The typical fantasy game from that time did not follow traffic laws and instead drove the car as fast as it could over train tracks in the snow and in a rally race with other cars who were doing the same. All with from two to five kids in the luggage rack.

What i'm trying to say with such a terrible metaphor is that the old Dungeons and Dragons and Warhammer were fraught with extreme and unforgiving danger. This brings to mind a game I discovered last year and fell in love with...
...yeah this game again. It's unforgiving game play with giddy pay off is a direct descendant of those first dungeon crawlers and I think some people yearn for this. Modern games are safe, very safe, and it is only through particularly poor decision making or terribly foul luck can you really find yourself on the receiving end of death. The old games though, not so much. You could maximize your odds, equipment, and walk very carefully and still end up on the scythe. Those games actively stalked you with violence on the mind and all the skills and natural abilities needed to hunt you down and kill you in the most terrible or efficient way possible. The environment was also stocked with improbable fauna designed to weaken you before something ate you (such as the Disenchanter and the Rust Monster).

This is what makes them great. You can even see it in the old Warhammer where wizards wielded unit obliterating spells, magic items could turn you into spawn with one hit, and dragons rampaged across the battlefield. I think players want this kind of danger. What value is a conquering army that disposes a passel of foot men? One that throws down the foot men, dashes aside the knights, and bears the dragon to the ground to cut out his steaming heart is worthy of telling tales about.

The same goes for characters too. We don't take the time to generate something (ideally) unique to have it waltz through danger. What story do we have to share then? No one tells how their character successfully walked through a room to open a door. Few tell the tale of defeating a monster without being hurt. Many are the tales that are shared across a soda that detail how they nearly died, but didn't. And even some are about how their character died and was lost forever.
Not everyone likes that kind of danger of loss. They may invest too much in the army list or character or they may just disdain the act of creating anew and prefer to keep what they started with. But there are those of us who define adventure gaming and fantasy gaming through the possibility of our efforts being stolen by the Grim Reaper.

You pick up a crown off the floor your king.

You pull it off the corpse of a smoldering dragon your a Hero.


  1. Agreed. Value of reward is directly proportional to risk.


    1. That is the adventure I was raised on. I can still remember some of how my characters died and I certainly remember the great battles that were nail biting at the end.

  2. Just dropped by to say hello…your blog has a great look to it

    1. Thanks Captain! From a man with such skill that is quite the compliment :D