Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Varieties of Old School

Just in time for Halloween, Goblinoid Games released the electronic version of its new zombie RPG, Rotworld (the print version comes out next month). I have a copy of the game and have been reading it on and off since last night. There's a lot to like about Rotworld, including its delightfully old school brevity -- a complete game in only 64 pages! -- but what I think most grabbed my attention about the game was its use of the Action Table rules found in Pacesetter's old RPGs, like Chill and Timemaster, the latter of which Goblinoid Games now not coincidentally publishes.

I can't say I was ever a huge fan of the Action Table rules or of any of the myriad of other similar rulesets that were everywhere during the mid-1980s. But, even so, I'm glad to see it revived for much the same reason that I'm glad to see Basic Roleplaying and other non-D&D-derived systems revived. As Dan Proctor rightly says in his foreword to Rotworld:
"old-school" occupies a lot of breadth, and other genres and systems should also be embraced. One of the great things about the 1980's was the proliferation of so many game systems and genres attached to them. Some of the games were more generic in genre, some were idiosyncratic and quirky. But all of them offered us a menu of options we could turn to when we were looking for something a little different. That's part of my mission as a publisher. I want to provide a menu of options.
I think that's both true and extremely well-said. Unlike some commentators, I think it's not only natural but healthy to see lots of new old school RPGs appear, each one a reflection of the unique vision -- and quirks -- of its creator. Mind you, I'm also not a big fan of either "universal" systems or the unmodified re-use of the same game system again and again, so clearly I'm weird. Regardless, take a look at Rotworld or some other RPG that has its own unique system and revel in its uniqueness. For a lot of us, that's a big part of what "old school" is all about.


  1. May the centrality of D&D come to an end as soon as possible.

    Old school renaissance was about D&D and nothing more- frankly, that has lasted for too long.

    The future of OSR now lies in the other rpg's of the past, so i am happy to see these systems revived as well.

  2. Last night I was watching Walking Dead (On Demand) and wondered if my group would be into a little zombie survival campaign. Nice shopping mall or office building HQ kind of thing. Even though I already plan on some old school Runequest and Call of Cthulhu for the group in 2012. I don't need another rule system in my life though, so I would probably do some zombie-gaming using basic roleplaying from Call, or maybe even some simplified version of the Hero system.

    With zombie love currently hitting mid-80's Ninja fanboy levels in pop culture, this would be a great time to do a campaign. I think after the WWZ movie comes out, I'm going to go into big time zombie burn out.

  3. Oh, and Catacomb, you're damn right.

  4. Hmmm...does this mean Goblinoid may release Chill? I know there was a company trying to come up with a new release, but it seems that it's dead now.

  5. Thanks for the mention, James. I have to confess that at one time I also wasn't a big fan of the Action Table system. Mainly because when my group in high school played CHILL it was the 2e Mayfair version, which isn't the same system really. So when I say I "wasn't a big fan" it was mainly out of ignorance. When I went back and studied the rules prior to buying the Timemaster line I was really blown away by it. It takes a little while to wrap your mind around the system. I had various realizations about it too long to go into here (I should write a blog post about it) but one thing about the system is IMO they succeeded in writing a "universal system" that is "modern" in the sense that all resolution in centralized, but at the same time they were able to do it without the sacrifice of granularity like a lot of other universal systems. One of the reasons I'm a big fan of old-school D&D is because I like the subsystems. I think that sometimes a separate subsystem can handle a situation better than trying to wrap everything into the same mechanic.

    This is where the Action Table has succeeded, I think, where other systems don't quite nail it. Once you wrap your mind around it the system can do a heck of a lot. I'm really digging it right now.

  6. May the centrality of D&D come to an end as soon as possible.

    The odds of that's happening are slim to none. D&D of whatever variety has always been the 800-lb. gorilla of the hobby and is likely to forever remain so. Certainly I can imagine D&D become less the focus of the OSR than it currently is, but, even then, it'll still be its central focus, just like the rest of the hobby.

  7. Hmmm...does this mean Goblinoid may release Chill?

    It seems unlikely, unless GG buys the rights to Chill. Last I heard, the current owner of the rights was asking a rather large sum of money for it, so I'd be amazed if Dan decided to snag it. On the other hand, he keeps snapping up lots of great but forgotten RPG properties that I wouldn't be surprised to hear he'd gotten hold of Chill.

  8. Once you wrap your mind around it the system can do a heck of a lot. I'm really digging it right now.

    From what I've read in Rotworld so far, I can certainly believe it. I'll have to delve into it more deeply and give it a whirl sometime to see if my opinion of it has changed from my youth. Mind you, I never hated it; I just didn't think it was the one-size-fits-all solution that a lot designers back in the '80s seemed to think it was.

  9. I really dig that picture. Only a zombie invasion could get a cop and a punk rocker to fight together. lol

  10. @James: No, I think by now we all understand that there can be no such thing as a one-size fits all system. Too many different tastes, plus we can be in the mood for one thing at one time and something else another. In the 80s the hobby was still pretty new, and maybe some people thought something like that was possible.

  11. In the 80s the hobby was still pretty new, and maybe some people thought something like that was possible.

    Well, I think it is possible, but there are lots of obstacles to be overcome before we see a flowering of old school gaming the way we saw in the '80s. One of the biggest ones, in my opinion, is finding a healthy-sized audience for non-D&D games. Outside of Stars Without Number, I can't think of a neo-old school game that's managed to catch on, though I might well be forgetting something obvious.

  12. Oh, no, I meant not possible to release a one-size fits all game. I do have hopes that old-school interest can branch beyond D&D-like games.


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