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Friday, October 3, 2014

Does "Old School" Mean "Rules Light?"

Obviously, the answer is no. Chivalry & Sorcery, RoleMaster, Bushido and even AD&D are not rules light systems. So, why is it that, in general at least, we think of the OSR as a "rules light movement?

I think the answer to that lies in the ages of those writing the clones and their derivatives. They try to capture (with much success) the feeling and magic of old school gaming while making the rules more digestible and presented in an easier to follow format. The charm of the original rules was not in their presentation, but in the style of play those rules encouraged.

That, and as we get older, KISS (keep it simple, stupid!) makes gaming easier, especially on the aging eyes ;)

AD&D wasn't necessarily as complicated as it now seems in retrospect, but the horrible organization of the rules spread over two books made it difficult to master. Even early editions of Tunnels & Trolls suffer from horrible organization of the rules, making what should be a simple system difficult to learn by the book.

Some thoughts that came to me while listening to the latest Save or Die Podcast (with special guest Jon Peterson)

21 comments:

  1. Less rules light and more rules optional or rules restrictive. To paraphrase Gygax, the (OSR) rules are guidelines for the GM.

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  2. "That, and as we get older, KISS (keep it simple, stupid!) makes gaming easier, especially on the aging eyes ;)" And we have kids and jobs etc. that we didn't have when we could play all weekend. At least for me, rules-light games are important because I'd like the game to move quickly, or at least as quickly as we want it to.

    But I also think that a general presumption that the OSR is rules-light aids cross-compatibility. When the only crunch you need to write in an adventure are a few universals such as HD, AC, Save, etc., it doesn't really matter if one DM is using S&W White Box with d6 damage across the board and another is using a hit location system, separate wound and fatigue points, spell failure percentages, height modifiers to initiative etc.

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    1. And we have kids and jobs etc. that we didn't have when we could play all weekend.

      I hear this but Gary et al were in the 30s and had families and played multiple days a week.

      More than adulthood has lead to changes.

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  3. To the bulk of humanity there are few if any "Rules. Lite" RPGs as somewhere between 2 and 8 pages most folks are done reading and moving to another game. I must wonder in all honesty how many RPG players actually read more than a few pages a year. I know the vast majority reading this will of course be an exception but I'm pretty sure 5 or 6 of the people I game with haven't read a full rulebook in the past decade (or longer).
    IIn light of this how importnat is a lite ruleset ?

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    1. have they played any new rulesets in the last decade or so?

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    2. The players I game with don't read the rules. That wasn't the case back in the late 80s and 90s when I was playing with school and uni friends. Now I'm gaming with adults without a background in gaming, and that is a further reason for me to choose 'rules-lite' games - NOT so that players can grasp the system (though it does make it easier), but so that I, as the GM, can run it without anyone else pulling their weight in terms of the mechanics.

      When someone is saying, "so what do I roll to attack again?", you can't have a crunchy system unless the GM has all encompassing rules mastery.

      Plus, there is at least a part of the OSR that is leery of railroaded, plotted adventures. If the players have real, wide-open choices, the GM needs to be able to generate new content quickly. This is also easier in a rule-lite system, not just because something like Basic D&D has simple 'stat blocks' but because with simple resolution mechanics (for combat, spells, saves etc.) it is easy to estimate the expected outcome. The more moving parts a system has, the harder this is.

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    3. I think this is a valid point. It seems like most of the internet crowd, be that via blogs, G+ or forums, are DMs more than players. So, to US, the rules-light, or at least rules-optional nature of OSR games is of some importance. Players don't care much once they've created their character. They want more options as a general rule, but it's the DM who has to do the heavy lifting when building/running the adventures.

      I run one game, essentially B/X_LL, and no, my players haven't read any rulebooks. They used them during character creation, and now mostly just to reference spells. Then, I play in a game that's a simplified 3E. Again, none of us players have really read a rulebook in any detail - just for reference.

      In my mind, this is very much a factor in the seeming popularity of 5E in the OSR crowd. Lots of player options, but at the core it really runs simply enough that us old guys can grok the rules.

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    4. @Tenkar, sure have played new rulesets but we've been mostly in d20 and oldschool D&D land for years. Also played wod and BRP games and Im sure most of the players (including one of the GMs) never read much of the rules.
      In my experience most players read the classes section and reference the equipmet and spells section as needed while ignoring most of the rest of the rules. If they have ever read a whole game procedures or combat chapter I would be surprised.

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  4. Rules lite because we jettisoned so much of the core to make it lite.

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  5. You're right, Erik... I need a better way of expressing the idea than using the terms "rules light" because that doesn't encapsulate the full idea. The idea is more "rulings over rules" and plenty of the historical old school games were crunchy as hell (as Jon Peterson pointed out in the episode). I'll get to work on a more apt metaphor. : )

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  6. Does D&D 5e count as rules lite? I'd say so, especially when compared to some of the other editions.

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  7. Maybe not rules light, perhaps "against rules bloat?"

    (Of course, if you throw in Rolemaster, GURPS, etc. into "Old School" even that argument gets tossed out the window.)

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  8. "Even early editions of Tunnels & Trolls suffer from horrible organization of the rules, making what should be a simple system difficult to learn by the book."

    IMO, ALL editions (save for maybe 7/7.5) suffer from horrible organization. I think Liz did her best to dompile it but it still seemed like Ken's rambling (no offense, Ken - I love the system and admire you).

    I'm hoping Deluxe will be more cohesive.

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  9. Great synopsis, Erik.

    I always wonder why people so strongly associate the "old school" phrase with "rules lite" when most old school games were not light at all.

    When you think about it 3.x was "rules lite" in comparison with AD&D because it got rid of all the different rule subsystems and unified them into a single d20 mechanic... but I doubt anyone would argue that 3.x is an "old school" system.

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  10. Alternate question: If the opposite of "Old School" is "New School" (only for the sake of making a point), does "New School" mean "Rules Heavy?" Hmmm.. Not necessarily. And, as some others have posited, "Old School" does not necessarily mean "Rules Lite," either, if you include Rolemaster, GURPS, and some others. Bloating the rules (the most extreme example of "rules heavy") is not necessarily new, but it did seem to hit D&D hard with the advent of 3.x. It seems to be rather arbitrary where one draws the line between rules-lite and rules-heavy. If the game has enough rules to allow for reasonably paced and enjoyable play, then I would tend to call it "rules-moderate," or somewhere in between. Rules are best when they add something to the game, not bog it down in RAW arguments. Individual players may prefer one extreme or the other, lite vs. heavy, which is why there are so many opinions among the RPG community on this point. And remember that no matter what version of the rules is being used, they all can be tweaked into a form acceptable to all (or most) of those who are playing it. The sheer volume of alternate rules is a testament to this, and is likely something that WotC tried to appeal to in their 5e version.

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  11. Keep it Simple. Promotes access. Let the user/gamer decide how much he wants to learn.

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  12. For me, personally, 'old school' means rules-lite. I see games like Rolemaster and GURPS as being proto-'new school' games. I know AD&D could be very crunchy indeed, but it was easy to ditch most of the crap and just enjoy the core experience that is D&D.

    And I see 5th Edition as being a refreshing step back, though there are aspects of it I find a touch too rules-crunchy. Still, easy enough to run and fun to play.

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  13. I remember feeling like the 1e DMG and older versions of CoC obfuscated the rules in a way that emulated an arcane tome that the PCs might find and in that way emphasized the role of the DM, because then as now, the DM was the guy who read and grokked the book. If the players have intimate knowledge of and opinions regarding the rules that leads to rules lawyers. "New school" if there is such a thing might be systems like 4e which were designed for rules lawyering in that the whole point is that the Players know how to get that extra +2 from the system. The story games I've messed with feel more new school because when you make the narrative crunchy the Players have to know how to move those game pieces in order to effect the story which is the point of those games. There are probably a lot of reasons new "old school" games are rules light: we are older and have other time commitments has been mentioned. I think a lot of clone creators want to recreate that feeling we had when we opened our first red or wood-grained box, as well as to simplify and clarify the presentation for new and old gamers. It's not as simple as old school=rules light though, because DCC is like the 1e DMG in its resemblance to an arcane tome and it's nothing if not old school.

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  14. I wonder how much of this is influenced by the fact that there are perfectly good rules-heavy systems available, widely-played and heavily-supported (a la Pathfinder). I'm guessing the number of people who love OSR games for their rules-lightness as an alternative to when they want to play something crunchier or more tactical might be a larger slice of the gamer population pie than some suspect.

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