Saturday, June 27, 2009

Saturday Morning Philosophy

Well, I had a large post planned out for this morning, but after picking up coffees I realized I forgot all about the Greenwood Car Show...I may have to cut this one short.  It's a beautiful, sunny Seattle day, and the beagles smell something in the air.  That's 'classic car,' fur balls.  Yes, you guys get to go for a walk.

Anyway, after reading over my half-baked level post of yesterday afternoon, I really believe there's something to it, but it needs to be fleshed out a bit, with a little research.  I'm not nearly the RPG historian Mr. Maliszewski is...all I've got is the copyright dates on my own games.

Sooo I am going to draw a line in the sand...a line between the end of the Age of Old School RPG creation and the beginning of the "New School."  That line is 1983, and it sees the birth of the first honest to goodness New School game:

James Bond 007

The James Bond RPG represents quite a few things that will become staples of New School game design.  Certainly some of this stuff was showing up (briefly) in the transitioning games that are published between 1979 and 1982 (as RPGs pushed away from their wargaming roots), but these things culminate in James Bond.  I remember being, frankly, blown away when my DM introduced this game to me...and not just because I was a huge James Bond fan at the time.  Let me see if I can list all the points:

  • Licensed intellectual property.  Yes, other, earlier games borrowed heavily from outside IP (Stormbringer  and CoC were both published in 1981), however no prior game had used an IP type that was so popular and recognizable to the mainstream to draw in fans of the IP, not just role-players (another friend of mine had this game and all its supplements because his non-gamer father collected James Bond memorabilia).  It also put out adventure modules and such based directly on the films. Note: not all New School games take this approach (referred to as "high concept simulation"at the Forge) but NO Old School game does.
  • Point buy character creation.  Players have more ownership of their character (and thus more investment and attachment) than games where characters are created randomly.  Randomly created characters MAY grow to be loved by a player or gaming group, depending on actions that happen or occur in actual play.  Characters that are tailor-made by a player carry with them an expectation of "specialness" that can be disruptive to actual play depending on how the play works out.  Except in retro-clone games, all games published these days have some sort of "character customization" present in the generation process.  Old School games, players were lucky if they could choose their Class AND Alignment.
  • Skills, Skills, Skills.  I don't think I've posted on this particular topic yet, but I've grown to loathe skills in most (if not all RPGs).  All they do is define and pigeon-hole what your character can do, instead of allowing the referee to make judgments based on circumstances and common sense appropriate to the game world/type.  Older games had skills (even AD&D's "secondary skills" and Top Secret's "areas of knowledge"), but were never as integral to game play.  Rune Quest in 1978 had skill use that moved to a "unified game mechanic" but if it's anything like Chaosium's Stormbringer (I've never run or owned RuneQuest) the selection of skills is NOT as readily handed over to the player.  "Pigeon Hole yourself," says James Bond.  This feeds into character ownership listed above.
  • Fewer Resources To Manage. Just what it says. You could still be counting bullets, depending on how cinematic your GM, but other things are starting to go away...hit points for example.  New School gaming moves away from the board game/war game aspects of the Old School...that's just how it is.
  • Presence of Metagame Rules and Resources. Hero Points aren't a new concept (see Fortune in Top Secret) but they are moving away from Old School gaming where "you die, you make a new character."  In Top Secret, these "extra lives" feel like an Old School resource concept that allows a mission to continue.  In James Bond, they feel like a resource that allows a player to keep a beloved, investment-laded character alive.  Also, unlike TS Fame and Fortune which have finite limits, Hero Points are awarded by the GM.
  • Subjective Experience Points awarded based on Game Play.  The method of character advancement is determined subjectively by the GM based on how players "perform." This is a huge move away from Old School gaming where bonuses or penalties might be assessed, but you would still advance if you performed the specified tasks (finding treasure in D&D, turning in artifacts in Gamma World, using skills in Stormbringer, training in Dragon Quest). 1982's Star Frontiers, a transition game, is the first place I see this mechanic, and it was always a downer.  It specifically sets the groundwork for the use of "force" (or "railroading") in RPGs.  Which lastly leads us to...
  • Emphasis on Plot Over Play.  Old School games do not mandate the fate of the free world hinges on whether or not your players succeed...certainly you can write that into the game, but it's not necessary.  Most Old School games allow players to wander about, handling (or failing to handle) missions/adventures as they please.  Even the introduction to Top Secret (Operation: Sprechenhaltestelle) is a spy's sandbox town. New School play does not have this freedom of play.  Characters, after all, have to mean something in New School play...they have to MATTER.  To my mind, this is where the idea of "it's just a game" starts to break down.
Old School gaming can be defined...and maybe I'll try listing that in my next post.  But now the wife AND the beagles are anxious to go for a walk, so I'm signing off!

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