This started out as a comment on a Casting Shadows post. I always enjoy Casting Shadows and I find that much of what he writes there resonates closely with my own feelings on gaming (though to be honest, I feel as if he often articulates that thinking better than I can myself). This particular post stood out to me because it was a thought I’m very connected to but also wanted to take in another direction as well.
Runeslinger writes about the speed of games and the way that games with certain rolling mechanics seem s.l.o.w… and I get that. For me, the resonance there is not so much a concern with the speed of play but with the flow of play. Games are great when the game bit gets out of the way of playing it. I’ve said this before – but – Runeslinger’s second point is one I consider really important. He focuses in on how what we do at the game table shapes expectation and how gamers have different expectations based on system interaction. I see this when I read D&D-focused writing (blogs, forums, etc.) and I’m always frustrated when “D&D problems” are discussed like they are “gaming problems.” They are not gaming problems. Until 3e/4e we never sat around and had discussions about Action economy and such. (By we, I mean the groups I played with.) I say this because even though I was an early D&D gamer and played the heck out of OD&D and 2E, 3E, and 4E — I also spent a lot of time playing other games with very different mechanical structures. Games ranging from D6 Star Wars to Amber Diceless with a ridiculous range in between (Dragon Storm, WoD, Marvel Saga, and Teenagers from Outer Space, Mechwarrior 2E, GURPS, Hero, 7th Sea, and tons of others). We didn’t really indulge in much “theory gaming” during those times. We took each system on its own merits, played, and if it didn’t do enough of what we liked we moved on. 7th Sea is a perfect example of this. 7th Sea is an amazing world and a great read — but I have zero desire to play that system because of its expectations.
But I’m digressing.
What matters then, for me, in that older style of play — a style reliant on trust in the player/GM interaction to be at its most enjoyable — is the freedom and the flow. Rules don’t make sense? Move on, just play, roll a die and keep the game moving. Revisit the rulebook later IF it matters enough, if not, keep doing what you’re doing. I remember reading an old adventure (Trouble Below) from the early 90s Thunder Rift days of OD&D and thinking that in 3E/4E you just wouldn’t see that kind of adventure anymore. Basically, there is this one room you wander into where potions have mixed all over the floor and weird stuff happens every round in the room and goblins are fighting a gargoyle (or something along those lines) and the PCs kinda stumble in on this craziness. But the rigidity of balancing encounters and expectations of victory and “rules-fairness” would just suck the life out of such an encounter. A gargoyle is clearly too much for low-level PCs, how do you balance the goblins when the gargoyle is killing them too, and what kind of hazard is a pool of gook on the floor that’s about as random as a wand of wonder? (My answer is really, who cares, but I know someone does).
I gravitate toward diceless play – not out of a desire to lord over my gaming group as a GM – but because I find that I can engage them so much more deeply when I get a bunch of the “stuff” out of the way. I have seen gamers come alive in those circumstances in ways that they’ve never flourished when sitting at a table with a battlemap and power cards. And my experience may differ from yours, but we didn’t argue about things when we played that way – we were much more willing to just roll with the flow. But get a group of gamers together and throw encyclopedic and often ambiguously written rules into the mix and the flow disappears. Rulings vs. rules doesn’t go away it’s just a case where the rulings become less about keeping the game moving (interpretation/integration) and become more about enforcing a paradigm of the RAW (translational/enforcing). And the GM is left feeling more like a dictator than a conspirator. And maybe that rocks your boat or gets your rocks off — but I’ll take a pass.
So, like Runeslinger, I’ve found that I have very little desire to actually play old school D&D again. There are systems and stories that I prefer in almost every instance. But when it comes to the play style. Well, that’s a fashion I hope to wear until I head off into the great convention in the sky. So, Mr. Runeslinger, can I be an OGRe too?