I wonder: What is an old school RPG?
What makes an old school roleplaying game? I mean, the term gets thrown around a lot now. It’s a marketing term, but it’s one a lot of people seem interested in. I recently wrote about two games (Dungeon World and Hackmaster Basic) that make claims to taking old school philosophy and marrying it to current design and I actually agree both games do that, even though they do it in extremely different ways. And that’s the thing, I think: Old school RPGs were a lot of different things to a lot of different people. I got into roleplaying with AD&D 2nd Edition and I would thoroughly submit that it is old school, but if I consider Dungeon World to have old school sensibilities (I would suggest that Dungeon World, perhaps, is meant to re-create the old school experience of dungeon crawling), then it is certainly not the complexity of the rule system we are talking about here. In fact, I would argue – to me – the thing the makes an old school RPG is the very hand-waviness that many people seem to find off-putting in other games. It was the idea that the game was just a giant book of suggestions that you used when they were convenient and ignored when they weren’t. Early on, my group – young as we were – tried to use every rule in the various AD&D handbooks. Every one of them. Needless to say, that didn’t last long and – in fact – the game eventually went the other way – to a mess of house rules and ad hoc justifications that existed to fit the moment. No one really worried about what the rule books said. We knew the skeleton of the system, but – beyond that – no one was terribly interested in balance or what it said we could or couldn’t do (races and classes were frequently made up whole-cloth and left to the approval of the Dungeon Master). I guess, to me, that is what old school roleplaying game philosophy is: the idea that the rules are not only to be bent when it is convenient, they should be viewed as little more than suggestions.
So what makes an old school roleplaying game to you? Hobble down to the comments and talk about it.