Tuesday, November 10, 2009

"New School" myths

The tabletop RPG blogosphere seems to be dominated by proponents of "old school" gaming. I have a theory about this. First of all, WotC and Paizo provide online forums for fans of 4e and 3.5/Pathfinder respectively, thus diminishing the need for fan sites to provide that sense of community. Secondly, the demographic of old-school fans is probably older than the average of the rpg community and in the age of Twitter and Facebook, weblogs are probably seen as a bit old-fashioned. Younger gamers probably prefer these more up-to-date social networking options.

Now, since I am a "new school" greybeard, I have a foot in both worlds. I like to read what the old-timers have to say (cuz I was there, man!), but the games themselves have limited appeal. I'm a bit of a power gamer. I freely admit it and I don't apologize for it. Old school gaming just doesn't offer the cornucopia of chargen options that I can get with 3.5/Pathfinder and there is nothing a power gamer loves more than character options. Now, I don't begrudge the old-school folks their preferences, but I have noticed some misconceptions circulating within their community that may be colouring their opinions. I don't seek to change anyone's mind, I'm just telling it like it is.

First off, not putting any ranks into a particular skill doesn't mean you can't use said skill. There are exceptions (mainly knowledge skills), but most skills, such as Swim, Climb, Stealth, Bluff, Intimidate and Diplomacy, can be used untrained. Of course, an untrained character will be less skilled than a trained one, but that is how it works in the real world, so why should it be any different in the game world? Also, being required to use a skill untrained encourages creativity on the part of the character because they will seek out ways to improve their chances of success. For example, someone untrained in Diplomacy might offer a gift or favour to an NPC in hopes that will improve his chance of success. Another character unskilled in Climb will make a habit of carrying around a knotted rope or a hammer and spikes.

Another criticism I read recently is that characters cannot be generated on the fly. Now it's true that guys like me spend a fair amount of time on character generation, but that's because it's fun and challenging, not because it's necessary. It is entirely possible for a veteran player to create a character in 5 or 10 minutes, after making a couple of decisions on your character concept. For example, I want to create a 5th level melee fighter. Okay, first is ability scores. In 3.5/Pathfinder, there are several options for generating ability scores, but your DM has already made that decision. If he makes you roll them, then roll. It's the same as older versions of D&D. On the other hand, if he wants a point buy system (which is what we use), chances are you've already got a favourite set of numbers. 20 point buy? I like 16,14,12,12,11,10. The 16 goes on Str, the 14 on Con, the 12s on Dex and Wis and the 10 and 11 on Int and Cha. Saves and attack bonuses take a few seconds to look up. Feats may seem daunting, but after playing the game for awhile, you learn which ones are worth it and which ones aren't. I give my fighter weapon focus, power attack, cleave, weapon specialization, iron will, toughness and blind-fight. Are these the feats I would select if I spent more time on the character? Not necessarily, but they are commonly known to be good choices for my character concept, so they can be chosen quickly. Skills are easy, since fighters have few skill points and few choices anyway. I'll take Climb, Swim and Intimidate, maximum ranks. All I have left to do is equip my character. Sure, this part takes a bit of time, but it takes time in every version of D&D I've ever played. Of course, spellcasters will need a bit more time, due to spell selection, but again, this is no different from older versions of D&D.



A Paladin In Citadel said...

There were no skill lists in old-D&D. You didn't roll to see if you intimidated someone: you simply acted it out. Want to swim across a raging river? Tell me why your character can swim (maybe he grew up near a swimming hole) and don't forget to take off your armor! Wanna climb that cliff-face? Better send the thief first.

It takes me as little as a minute to roll-up and equip an OD&D character. His name would probably be Bob the Fighter. He would have chainmail, a shield, backpack and a longsword. Maybe a tinderbox and a couple of torches.

Yes, the old and modern D&D players tend to part company on the whole idea of "gaming the game."

Rognar said...

Yes, I know. The problem I have with that is that it effectively means everyone can do everything. If I want to swim across a river, I just say I can and away I go. If I want to charm the pants of the Duke's daughter, I write her a poem, because I just made up some background on the spot about once being a member of a travelling minstrel troupe. You can start getting Mary Sues popping up all over the place. Of course, a good DM will want to put the brakes on that, but my obsessive-compulsive side demands a bit more than DM's fiat to suspend my disbelief.

Rognar said...

A Pathfinder character can be equipped in the manner you describe as well, if you are really in a hurry. In my experience, most of us already have backup characters ready to go anyway. For the guys in my group, making characters is almost as much fun as playing them, so there's never a shortage of "side projects". If I have one criticism of our game, it does tend to make us tire of our characters fairly quickly. After playing a character for a few levels, we're already chomping at the bit to try out the new guy we spent the weekend working on. It's all a matter of taste.

A Paladin In Citadel said...

No skill lists. No strength bonuses. And no gaming the game. I don't think the absence of those in OD&D, and the existance of those in later versions of D&D, are myths. Nor is the increasing complexity of the character generation process. I'm not trying to judge: as you say, for many players, designing an interesting character is an enjoyable part of their gaming experience.

I understand your point about players taking advantage of role-playing to be able to 'do everything'. But if you wanted to write a ode to the Duke's daughter to charm the pants off of her, I might make you write and perform the poem for us.

As for the swimming the river, as a DM I probably want you to cross the river, why would I make that difficult, other than making sure the party can justify how they go about it?

Not every in-game event must be governed by a dice roll. Good DM judgement is also important.

I'll have to arm-twist you into playing a couple of sessions of OD&D in early 2010. I'll happily reciprocate and try out PF.

Rognar said...

I think we may take the plunge into Labyrinth Lord soon as we're looking to run a PbP game in between our regular sessions and I don't think a highly-tactical game like Pathfinder lends itself well to the concept. True OD&D sounds a bit too frustrating and simplistic, though. Ability scores have to mean something, otherwise, why use them at all? And at that point, why use dice or combat matrices or saving throws? At some point, it stops being a game and turns into improvisational theatre.

A Paladin In Citadel said...

Improv theatre, yes it does turn into that on occasion!

I too want the stats to mean something.

I recently picked up Savage Worlds, which is rules-light, but uses a skill system, and have been picking my way through it.

I intent to blog my thoughts on SW at some point.