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2017-12-07

Thoughts on "Old School" vs "Modern" RPG Design (Part 2)

...continuing on from last post.

Going back to my first D&D session, after creating my Elf (because elves could have swords and spells), the party spotted some smoke in the distance. I had an elven cloak, so I scouted ahead and saw some bandits burning down a cottage, and a woman tied to chair. The rest of the session was me and the other players discussing what to do. My character had Ventriloquism and my cloak, so I wanted to sneak up, throw my voice and try to convince the bandits I was a ghost in order to scare them off.
 
This ended up taking so long that I had to leave and didn't get to finish out the adventure. Later I learned that the GM had planned that encounter to just be a simple fight. We were "suppose" to go kill the bandits. At the time I laughed about how silly all my advanced planning was, but now I realize something about that game.
 
Again, I did grow up on video games. And most of the times in a video game, you are "suppose" to kill the enemies. But then, there aren't really any other options. But to me table top RPGs weren't "a way to play video games without electricity". They were something MORE. A video game only let you do what it was coded to allow. But an RPG let you do (or at least try) anything. In this way RPGs were always more "real" to me. And I tried to have my PCs act in a way that I thought I would act if I were in this sort of fantastic world. So, I tried to avoid a fight instead of risking injury or death. To do otherwise would have been too... video game-y.
 
This is how I feel about so many modern games and the modern editions of D&D (to be fair, I'd say this had been the trend since AD&D 2nd edition with XP being mainly from killing monsters). Games that balance every encounter so the PCs don't need to think, but can just kill mindlessly. Games where everything scales to PCs capabilities. RPGs that are little more than video games.
 
I use to think that the OSR, was just a bunch of old grognards that were nostalgic for the first set of rules they used. And while that might be part of it, I think there is also some that just reject how the modern game is suppose to be played. (I haven't the foggiest why you need old rules to have an old play style, though.)
 
Anyway, I want to bring this all back to GURPS, because that is the game I love to run. For a LONG time my GMing philosophy for GURPS was, "I don't balance encounters". That is, I would make a Dragon as powerful as... a Dragon! I'd make the King's Elite Guard, well "elite". But then I also didn't really run games that were expecting the players to kill everyone and everything they came across. I use to warn new players how deadly GURPS is, how any fight could be deadly, and that "a fair fight is one you can loose". I wanted players to play smart and only fight if they couldn't find another way. When a fight broke out, I really didn't know who was going to walk away alive.

I'm not really sure where I was going with all this. Just pondering and putting down my thoughts on the subject. If anything it makes me think that I've been GMing "old school" even though I didn't really think of it that way. And while I don't want to beat up on other people's fun, I needed to voice my dislike of games and ways of playing that feel artificial and "gamey" or especially when they are trying to emulate video games, which I still love, but see as a more limited version of the table top experience.