Saturday, April 18, 2009

Wresting with Old School

In recent days there appears to be a number of posts on minimalist techniques when refereeing Old School sessions. Here and here are examples.

My view is that, is that we should enjoy the wealth of options we have today. Everything from elaborate Dwarven Forge setups with detailed miniatures, Dungeon layouts projected from overhead onto the table, to session run with nothing more than pen, paper, and dice.

I feel the key thing to remember if you use elaborate setups that you should be able to still be proficient with the basics. Because not every situation is going to call for pulling out the box of dwarven forge miniatures. I know for me my games returns to a more basic setup anytime the players start running around City-State or the countryside. All that on the table is a poster size color player map and a counter (penny, a miniature, etc) to track their location. Sometimes I don't have that and just use one of my 8.5 by 11 black and white player maps with the players making note on their player map.

Things like Dwarven Forge products appeal to our inner geek, but they are also a powerful tool for communicating what in our minds.

That is key.

A successful and fun session demands that the referee and players are able to communicate with each other what the hell is happening in everybody's mind. Without that the game becomes an exercise in frustration. Frankly one of the difference between 1974 and now is that we know more techniques on how to drag what in our heads out to show the players.

Finally not everybody is competent at the verbal only approach of pen, paper, and dice. We all have different strengths and weaknesses. Miniatures, Dwarven Forges, overhead maps projectors allows referees to do things that that they would otherwise would be bad at.

So keep your skills up at using just paper,pen, and dice. If you are using overhead projectors, dwarven forge, etc; I hope you and your players are enjoying the hell out of it.


Zachary The First said...

Nicely put, Rob. Couldn't agree more.

Chgowiz said...

I seem to remember back when I was first playing that there were paper or cardstock dungeon/outdoor models available - and we were always displaying some sort of scenery. I think it's a valid part of the game if it enhances play, but isn't the focus of play.

James Maliszewski said...

I don't think anyone is saying that it's wrong or somehow "un-old school" to use whatever paraphernalia one likes while playing. I use dice, minis, and dungeon tiles while playing my Dwimmermount campaign. What is undeniably true, however, is that all those things, while good and useful in themselves, can become an impediment to the core activity of gaming -- entering a shared imaginary world with one's friends.

I don't think Dave was knocking anyone for using dice or miniatures; I know I wasn't. But I have seen all too many gamers who fetishize extraneous accountrements and make those things to the point where they become the game and that's not a good thing, at least if you enjoy roleplaying in its classical form.

Rob Conley said...


I apologize if the post came across like an attack it wasn't my intent.

I tried to phrase my post carefully because there were posts like yours as well as posts with much stronger opinions.

I also didn't want just to say "It OK, don't worry about using overhead projectors, minatures, etc"

Lord knows how many of us sat through a bad powerpoint presentation. The same with DM using any of these techniques.

Also I tried to stress it is important to keep up your skill at using just pen,paper, and dice because there are times when that all is needed and if you feel that if you have rely on your "props" then your game will stumble.

anarkeith said...

While I agree in principle that too much emphasis on miniatures and other "support" products can detract from the storytelling/roleplaying, there is an element of "play" that these things contribute to the game.

I played a lot with plastic army men growing up. This led to wargames, and ultimately RPGs. All of those pastimes involved elaborate backstories. My friends and I each had our own countries and their heroes. It was all based on plastic army men, Legos and the like.

Thus, I'd argue there is space for minis and such at "serious" game tables.

Spike Page said...

One of these days I want to get one of those Chessex battle mats. Mind you I really like the whole "mapping" aspect of exploration, but there are times my dyslexia totally mucks up what is obviously "right in front of me" and there's the ever-present question "Now, when you say 'ten squares' to the left, does that include the square at the intersection or just the ones in the left corridor?"

And don't get me started on those crazy wonky diagonal corridors and six-sided Stefan-Poguesque rooms.

And NOTHING gets a game bogged down quite like having to ask over and over "Can I shoot the bad guy from here?"

Ragnald DuBrow said...

Tilesets aren't that new. The first scenery tiles I remember were the "Dungeon Design Kit" center feature from Dragon #45 in 1981. I remember seeing ads for Kabel (I think), which was a more advanced printed tileset, but I never knew anyone that owned them.

I've had a Battlemat for over 20 years but I would rather draw the maps on paper, even if it's just taped together letter-sized. I can draw them all ahead of time and there's none of that messy wet erasing.