Friday, August 15, 2014

#RPGaDAY #5 Most Old School RPG Owned: Did you even have to ask?

The fifth topic of @autocratik's (aka +Autocratik ) #RPGaDAY list is the Most "Old School" RPG owned. Like most of the prompts in the #RPGaDAY list, this one got me thinking about what Dave Chapman meant by "old school." Did he mean Old School in the sense of the Old School Renaissance movement which used the OGL to create games that evoked play that echoed the way games used to be played, or did he mean the games themselves? It could mean either as sometimes when one refers to "old school" one is only talking about the metacognitve content that is referring to an older age and not to that older age itself. The material from that older age might be called "classic" while the modern material that evokes that feel might be called "old school."

I know that this may be a bit too pedantic, but since I am writing full blog posts rather than merely providing a one sentence reply, I reserve the ancient right of industrious pedantry. Michael J. Finch - author of Swords & Wizardry which happens to be an "old school" game for which I own the "white box" edition - writes in his "A Quick Primer for Old School Gaming" that for an old school game like Swords & Wizardry "just printing the rules an starting to play as you normally do will produce a completely pathetic gaming session -- you'll decide that 0e is just missing all kinds of important rules. What makes 0e different from other games isn't the rules themselves, it's how they're used."

To phrase it in a cruder and less flattering light, "Old School Games are games that are missing rules, but are cool enough to inspire you to make your own." That's not exactly what Michael is saying, but it's kind of what I think the Old School Games actually were. Original D&D was so vague in its mechanics that it lead to the creation of a host of other role playing games -- starting with Ken St. Andre's innovative Tunnels & Trolls (which I blogged about here). The game that best captures this "missing rules but great inspiration" is Superhero 2044. The game is incomplete as it is, but it influenced so many later games like Champions and Superworld as I discussed in this earlier post.

By this "missing rules but great inspiration" criterion, most of the successful OSR movement games qualify. Those that don't qualify lack the inspiration component of the equation, though there are a couple of OSR games that are more "Middle Age" School than Old  School and have more complete rules as the games of the 2nd age of RPGs tended to. Among the most successful of these OSR games - and these are all games I own - I'd list Swords & Wizardry, Adventurer Conqueror King, and Lamentations of the Flame Princess.

Having said that these games qualify as Old School Games, I'm going to revert to the easiest answer to the initial question and combine it with the new definition. I'll be answering what game from the 1st generation of RPGs I own is the "Most Old School" or best exemplifies the "missing rules, but great inspiration" mentality. I thought about Superhero 2044, but have decided against it.

I own a copy of the White Box Collector's Edition of Dungeons & Dragons - as well as all of the supplements - and I certainly think that it is in the competition. The core 3 "little brown books" do not contain enough clarification on the combat system to make a completely playable game, add to that a lack of mechanics for a host of other situations, and it falls firmly in the "missing rules camp." The supplements like Blackmoor, Greyhawk, and Eldritch Wizardry added a rich inspirational flare - as did Gygax's prose - all of which make it a strong contender for the title.

But Game Designer's Workshop's En Garde! is a strong competitor. It is filled with tidbits of background and inspiration and yet is lacking in a number of mechanical areas. I say lacking, but let's face it a part of the OSR movement happened due to the fact that a lot of rules may not actually be necessary. I love En Garde!'s dueling mechanic, and I love that it is "dedicated" to Danny Kaye - among others. 

Fletcher Pratt's Naval Game isn't a role playing game, but since his Harold Shea novels (co-written with Sprague De Camp) and this game influenced the creation of D&D, I thought I'd list it hear as in the running. The game requires you to own Jane's Fighting Ships or similar book to properly play. 

Then there's the Fantasy Heartbreaker entry. The Complete Warlock is a product of the Southern California gaming scene and is an attempt to fill in some of those areas that were missing in the D&D rules set. There is a lot to like in Warlock and it is clear that it influenced J. Eric Holmes' writing on the Basic Set of D&D. It has critical hit charts, percentile based combat charts (by weapon), a spell point system, level based abilities for Thieves akin to 4e, Elves as a class, and a cornucopia of alternate ways to "play D&D." I'm desperately tempted to call this glorious book the "most old school RPG" I own.

In the end though, Original D&D wins out. I'm still not sure how to play this game. Have you checked out that initiative system in Eldritch Wizardry? Do you use it?

Special Self-Promotion Section

As a reminder, I am in the middle of a Kickstarter for a second series of Cthulhu Claus Holiday Cards. You can back it by clicking the link in the side bar. A picture of the first series is below.

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