An Old Fart on Old School– Wherein I will pontificate upon the actual meaning of “Old School”.

I am 44 years old, and other than a brief two year break for a bad life decision, I’ve played RPGs since 1979. I don’t tell you this to boast, I tell you this and ask you to think about the first thing to pop into your head. Was it, “he must be an old school gamer”? If it was, think about what that means. Does the picture in you mind spring to life of a bunch of pimple faced kids, noses in thick books, rolling dice and moving miniatures around? That’s not the way it was.

When I hear about the “Old School Renaissance”, I hearken back to six or seven friends, gathered around a big table in Sean’s house, my friends cheering me on, as I grabbed the Paladin by the ankles, and hit the dragon in the side of the head with him. I was playing Zog, a half-ogre. A friend, Darren, was playing a Paladin, and was insistent that couldn’t attack the dragon because it hadn’t hurt him yet. This is also the origin of the phrase, “How much damage doers a Paladin do? Lots if you swing him correctly!” At least it was in our group. I didn’t have to roll a single die to grab the Paladin. It just made for a really good story, and the DM let it happen. I did have to roll to hit the dragon, but with a +6, how could I miss?

“Old School” doesn’t mean you have to memorize 27, inch thick books of esoteric rules. The rules back then were optional, just meant to get you started, to spur your imagination. We would crack open the 1st Edition AD&D Players’ Handbook to make characters, and very rarely open it after that unless we were shopping. We could play during lunch hour at school in the cafeteria, because all it really was, is a collaborative story we all made up as we went along. And that’s all it is today.

I’m not really sure in what edition the newer gamers became so rules dependant, for how to move, and what things their characters could do, but they seem to enjoy it, so you go guys! The older games were all about using your imagination, not restricting it with rules on spell casting, or five foot steps, or how many skill points does my Rogue get at 3rd level. Now before you get all red-faced, and start chicken-chesting, thinking I’m bashing on every RPG published after 1985, I’m not. I’m just telling you how we used to do things, in my circle of friends, way back in the distant past.

I play Pathfinder now. I have since it came out, and I’ll continue to play, until the new shiney catches my attention. What I would like you guys to take away from all of this, is the sense of wonder we all shared.

You don’t have to have a degree in creative writing (Lords of Kobol know I suck at writing stories). But if you have an imagination, and a group of willing friends, you can go out and conquer kingdoms, slay dragons, and rescue princesses.

I’ve noticed in quite a few of the games advertising themselves as Old school clones, they seem to think that means they need really complicated combat systems, or rules to govern every situation. That’s great if you’re a power gamer, or a rules lawyer. Not so great, for Eubeen Hadd, Halfling thief wearing a Girdle of Storm Giant strength and Gauntlets of Ogre power.

The language of gaming has changed over the years. Back in the day, we didn’t refer to it as “setting a scene”, we had “encounters”, essentially the same thing (we just didn’t get all snooty about it). Some of the indie games out now, will try to bring back that old school feel. You don’t need an indie game for that. You just have to be flexible in how you treat your current game. There’s also a lot of talk about the “yes, and’ improv style of gaming. We did that way back when, we just didn’t call it that.

What I’m trying to tell you, is that “Old School” is a mind set, not a Rules set. Sit down, tell a story, and have a good time. That’s all us old farts really ever did.

Happy gaming!


About the Contributor

Guest contributor Temmogen is an Ancient Great Wyrm of a DM. Who one day will realize his vision of world domination through the use of the trained rodents. You can find his sporadic game related musings at and follow his special brand of insanity on Twitter: @Temmogen.

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4 thoughts on “An Old Fart on Old School– Wherein I will pontificate upon the actual meaning of “Old School”.

  1. Loved the post. Your gaming experience sounded a lot like ours. My main group of gaming friends played D&D, Gamma World, Star Frontiers, MERP, etc solid through from early 80s to late 80s. All had played with the same philosophy and we came away with tons of stories what we enjoyed retelling of our fun exploits. I honestly didn’t realize that other people played differently until I started talking to people about their gaming in the early 2000’s.

    Tracy Hickman and others did a panel on “Old School D&D” in DragonCon last year that was the first place where I ever heard anyone try to describe the difference between “Modern Gaming” and “Old School”. It was an excellent panel, and I got the impression that some of the “Moderns” in the crowd left with a better understanding of what us old fogies keep nattering on about. The essence was summed up as “Story Comes First” or “Role Play, Not Roll Play.”

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