Reader Lesink requested  that we review “A Quick Primer for Old School Gaming ”. The funny thing is that our own Matthew J. Neagley already did  back in October of last year. Matthew had a lot of praise for this work, and I agree that the fundamental concepts that it teaches are good ones.
And that is about all I can say that is good about this PDF. Why? Because it reeks of a zealotry that is unfounded, and it does a really poor job of explaining how the concepts that it teaches come from the “old school”.
Let’s talk about that term for a moment – old school is about as useful a term as “real American”. No one uses the term real American when they are talking about someone’s citizenship and loyalty to the United States. They use it as a sort of one-up when trying to persuade you to support the policies, views, or to vote for one United States citizen over another United States citizen. The term real American is bullshit. A real American is anyone who exists and is a citizen of any of the nations residing upon the continents of North and South America if you want to be technically correct about what the term means. Yet every election year I have to listen to two “real Americans” and their supporters explain how they are more of a “real American” than the other candidate. The term is bullshit. It means nothing.
That is exactly how I feel about the term “old school”. It is just a bullshit term that someone uses as if it validates their approach as being better than other, usually newer, approaches. And that is what this primer does. It takes some very good advice on how you can run an RPG game and then wraps it up in some whining nostalgia.
I shared this primer with my friends. Some liked it a lot, yet three of my friends found it to be a ridiculous fantasy of how old 1st edition D&D games were played. The funny thing is that all three of these people still have the original 1st edition D&D books that they purchased when there was no such thing as “old school gaming”. It was all new at that time, and they were very happy as the rules were expanded upon and the games improved.
Granted, a rules heavy game is not for everyone. I am not big fan of them myself, yet this document does not acknowledge something essential to why these rules heavy games came into being: Some players wanted them, and were willing to pay for them. Rules heavy games started appearing as soon as D&D came out. They might have been house rules, but it didn’t take long until publishers were printing larger and larger volumes of rules for their games. Long before there was a “modern” game movement.
By the way, look at your older rule books sometime. I am talking about games from the early eighties if not earlier. They usually do have less rules, but they also have less art and smaller print (at least all of the books that I flipped through did). Think about that the next time someone says “Modern rulebooks are huge! They are full of rules that you don’t need!” Maybe, but I’m willing to bet that the extra pages comes from the modern layout and not the rules.
Why I am so disgusted with this document? Because it is just bashing what others find to be fun. That’s it. My favorite game system is Fudge. It is by far one of the most rules light systems out there. It is very subjective and relies heavily upon the GM’s judgment. It was first released in 1995, and a lot of new games are built upon its system. These are modern games that capture and expand upon the style of game that this primer claims to be all about, and they do it without explaining how that approach is “better”.
Folks, do not fall for this kind of crap. There is some solid advice to be found in this primer, but you have to strip the obvious bias away that that good advice is wrapped in.
Don’t be an “old school”, “modern”, “indie”, or whatever type of gamer category is next to be made up. Just be a gamer, and run the style of game that your group enjoys despite what others may tell you. You want lots of rules and your group agrees? Go for it. Rules light with hardly any books? Fine.
In the end, if your group says “That was fun. Let’s play again some time soon!” then you have done your job. You don’t have to judge another person’s style to get that kind of experience. You just do it on your own.
That’s my opinion. What is yours? I’m sure some of you will agree and others will disagree, but whatever you feel leave your comments below and we’ll get this party started (that’s an “old school” saying I guess).