Wednesday, May 27, 2009

"Old-School" is dead, Jim.

Not to beat a dead horse too much, but I thought I'd chime in with just a brief comment on the recent debates raging in the "old-school" blogosphere regarding the term "old-school," what it means, or should mean, etc.

In a nutshell, that's all old news.

Walk with me on a little tour. Open another tab in your browser, and paste this link...

Now click on the link to the left for "Genre."

Now click "Fantasy."

Now click "Old-School/Classic."

Scroll around a bit then tell me which of those 500+ products you think are "old-school."

Yeah, that's what I thought.

Before RPGnow merged with Drivethrurpg, that category pretty much only held OSRIC products, with a few stragglers from other areas. After the merger, it is a full-fledged "genre." The OSRIC and Labyrinth Lord material would be completely drowned were it not for the fact that they gave them their own categories. I mentioned in my interview from Knockspell #2 that the term "old-school" will pretty much just become a commodity. I wasn't really correct in that, because it already is.

But that's all old news. It's been merely a commodity since the birth of 3.x. The term "old-school" was really burned into meaninglessness long before the old-school "movement" (does that make anyone else chuckle a little?)

Long before many 1e compatible products were being created commercially, the old branding was already being "hijacked" for "old-school" 3.x use. By the time we showed up on the scene it was already too late to make it mean anything. No one who cut their teeth on 3.x can really be expected to "get" where we're coming from. Our crusty 1e format looks just like the crusty 3.x Goodman Games module format. What's old-school?

To me, it's pointless to spend energy trying to wall off old-school. Just let it go. It is far more productive to talk about specific games and how we like to play them, rather than create a hypothetical category of game. Besides, we're spinning our wheels by trying. Many people, when it comes down to it, don't give a crap about what the system looks like so long as the cover art tickles the old-school funny bone and the ad text claims retro-heritage. It can be poorly written, have miles of errata, not be as advertised, etc. I can't count the number of posts I saw around on forums from people who were never interested in Hackmaster 5e* before they saw the Erol Otus cover art. But slap an Erol Otus cover on something and it becomes old-school. The point is, these things are all shallow anyway.

*Before I'm bombarded by comments about how HM 5e will be a great game, I'm not denying that it will be. Will it be old-school? Well if we could answer that this debate wouldn't be happening.


ancientvaults said...

I think that oldschool would sell much easier if it was just labeled "less complicated". Some of these people weren't even born when these games came out, and they are playing them. At this point it isn't about us old guys because there are 16 year-olds out there eschewing 4e for Labyrinth Lord (which I have seen in the flesh lately and was happy to run the game).

All in all, a poignant observation of the old school thing. Some say renaissance, I say revolution, the "r" is a bit up to interpretation in my book, just like the games themselves. The main point is that people are out there playing them and experiencing the fun of shared storytelling without a million Feats and Skills and in an environment in which your character may very well die.

Badelaire said...

Some good observations. I think there are a number of factors that muddy the waters, and ultimately, as ancientvaults says, the label may need to be changed to something like "casual fantasy" or "retro fantasy" or who knows what (Disco-Era Gaming?).

OSRIC is an emulation of AD&D1E, and LL is an emulation of BECMI D&D. But the BFRPG is a kinda-sorta emulation of BECMI, and Castles & Crusades is what some have called the perfect blend of new rules philosophy and Old School sentiments (I happen to be one of these). S&W goes back even further, but then someone had to make S&W White Box because S&W wasn't "true" enough to the original material. Then there's Spellcraft & Swordplay, and it sounds like James Mal is working towards some sort of "old school-sque" RPG. Then you've got the brand new stuff that people keep calling "old school", such as Barbarians of Lemuria, or Dungeonslayers, or Broadsword RPG, or Encounter Critical, or Mutant Future, or Mazes and Minotaurs - games that have nothing to do with older systems (with the possible excpetion of MF here), but are called Old School simply by virtue of being praised amongst Old School circles for their "retro feel" or somesuch ephemera.

So the more content people dump into the pool, the muddier it becomes. But the more you try to separate the wheat from the chaff, so to speak, the more you'll piss people off and drive them away, furthering what is already apparent factionalizing amongst the ranks.

So put me down in the "It's dead" category.