I came across a link to this today and have promptly lost track of where that was, so first, props to the unknown blogger or columnist who brought this to my attention.
Anyway, it’s a free e-book on Lulu called “A Quick Primer For Old School Gaming.” I’m not normally into the retro-gaming movement, but I think this is important because it focuses not on the specific “recapture exactly how old D&D felt in my youth” aspect of it, but instead very incisively points out four things – conceits, if you will – that distinguished gaming back in the day and that perhaps we are starting to miss more and more.
The author, Matthew Finch, calls them “Four Zen Moments.” They are:
- Rulings, Not Rules
- Player Skill, not Character Abilities
- Heroic, not Superhero
- Forget “Game Balance”
I agree with all of them, but the first is the most important. I really saw it when I ran some AD&D 2e recently. Without rules for micromanaging how many fricking inches you can jump, the game flowed faster and I as the DM had a lot more flexibility to make judgement calls – and to also use those to nudge the story. And we didn’t use a battlemat, which made combat alive again.
Some of these aren’t universal goods, like “Heroic, not Superhero.” Superhero games are fun too – Feng Shui was liberating to me because all the PCs start as ultra powerful badasses, so you are freed from the level grind mindset that too much D&D inculcates. But I do like some low level stuff in my D&D – heck, I remember fondly the “zero level PC” rules that came out from time to time (Greyhawk Adventures, IIRC, was my favorite). I do think that’s a weakness in D&D now. If you want to start as studs, then start at level 5 or whatever. But the approach of making level 1 superheroic denies an entire play style an opportunity.
Anyway, good stuff, and worth mulling over.