Friday, May 31, 2013

Old School Dislikes

Elrad of Back to the Dungeon asks 3 questions about what we like and dislike about "Old School Games" (tm).  Avoiding the question of "what is an old school game?" and including Castles and Crusades and Dungeon Crawl Classics to Hackmaster even, I thought this was good for discussion.

Back in the day, each table had it's own house rules, the way that DM and group interpreted and molded the game to their campaign.  One of the cool things about the OSR (as opposed to most games of 4th and 3.x) is how we're returning to that.

We have an embarrassment of riches of old school game systems.  One of the advantages of so many variations, covers if you will, riffed off of the D&D base is that we can pretty much mix and match, cut and paste, and agglutinate a set of rules from our prolific diversity.

Here I've expanded some of my answers to Elrad's questions.

So what are some of the features of different Old School Games and their clones that you dislike and why?

I dislike to hit tables and THACO, so I use the d20 base to hit that's found in Castles and Crusades.  I use that because it removes more of the math.  The players usually have one number to add to their die-roll and their called out result compares directly to the armor class I have for the monster.  I have found it to be the fastest in play for me.

I hate non-weapon proficiencies (NWP) as the worst possible implementation of skills/talents/feats. By defining something as an ability you deprive others of it.  If you allow a character to choose "Mapping" as a proficiency do you allow others to map?  NWP systems typically allow only a few opportunities to choose them; a couple at first level and then not every level after that.  This would be fine if they were by definition all heroic level abilities.  But if they are mundane?  You're not letting players choose very simple courses of action that they could imagine normal characters performing.  I prefer free form stunts and try to encourage players with them.

I also confess to liking maps and miniatures. It's part habit from DMing too many years of 3.x and part reaction to an old school DM that couldn't keep player positions in his head and had very misleading sketches and descriptions and a tendency to "gotcha".  However, I must admit it can slow down the game both in my presentation and in players spending time choosing their precise square.

DO you have a house rule against the disliked feature?

With the variety of different old school rule sets, I've been able to choose one that more fits my style. I think that this is a great time for the OSR precisely because we have so many choices.  I've not even read them all.  In fact, if anyone thinks that system X (Blood and Treasure? Dark Dungeons?) would better fit my play style, by all means point me to it.

However, even after picking the base system I preferred, I do dislike some aspects of C&C: encumbrance and surprise/perception checks. I have houseruled in modifications of other systems (Lamentations-style encumbrance and 52-pages surprise.)

How many of you use a miss-mash of many rulebooks and systems? 

See above. I'd steal bits from DCC and Hackmaster too if I could get my co-DM to agree to it.

I'd also steal the different demihuman racial classes idea from ACKS.  However, I'd want to use it to emphasize how freakin' weird the demihumans should be.  

What is your final system or lack thereof like?

I'd really like to implement a tightly-bound armor class system and use 2d10 instead of 1d20.  I'd prefer a bell-curve over the flat resolution system.  I think it would be a better match for the slow leveling and generally gritty play that I prefer.  That would take some work and the result would be a bit outside the old school family; not in aesthetics but it would limit how easily pieces from other games could be mixed and matched with it.

I confess I love extreme fiddly detail in magic systems. That's part of my draw to DCC.  In fiction, your source of magic matters and there's great "play" (ie, choice and consequence) in it. 

My ideal system would also allow the DM to seamlessly dial detail in and out: from a mapless free form system all the way to a Hackmaster second by second combat resolution depending upon the nature and level of the challenge. If it's primarily an exploration or negotiation challenge, a grid is imagination-draining and time consuming without benefit. Same for a few goblins to a mid-level party - nothing dangerous or interesting in that combat. But a "boss" fight? A detailed combat system can be fun then. My ideal system would help the DM present different challenges in different ways (allowing the players to choose their method of course.)

What is an RPG game breaker that you cannot tolerate?

I dislike disassociated mechanics and intense character building.  But that's why I prefer old school games. However, a good DM and a good group could still draw me into playing 3.x or 4th edition.

Really, for all that I've talked about rules in this blog post, DM skill, DM and player style match, and group compatibility matter more for my table fun.