Thursday, February 21, 2013

So what's "New School?"

I confess:

D&D 4th Edition is weird and scary to me. 

Okay, maybe that's just a hyperbole.

Still, 4e was such a radical break from 3.5e. If it didn't represent the "new school" approach to gaming then why did the Old School Renaissance flourish in the wake of it?

I tried 4e, both as a player and a DM and I found it far too constraining for my tastes. I also felt like I was no longer part of WotC's target demographic. And you've probably heard the rest: It's just World of Warcraft on the tabletop, has too much concern about balance, encounters/combats take too long to play, etc...

(I've also developed similar ideas about Warhammer, but don't get me started on that again).

So what is "new school?" Is it the opposite of old school? Are they mutually exclusive? If they are opposites when compared to the definition established by Steve's Random Musings on Wargaming and my last post, then we have two different philosophies/mindsets on gaming.

I've checked out both Grognardia's and Lamentations of the Flame Princess's definitions of Old School. LotFP defined New School vs. Old School, but only to RPGs. I'm applying the definitions to both wargaming and roleplaying, because I do both and have noticed similar patterns between the two over the decades.

Below, I've compared the seven points of the Old School definition with what could be considered "New School," applying it both to wargaming and roleplaying. I've used the first person singular to help illustrate the possible differences.

1. Research
Old School: I do my own research for the genres/historical periods I game in.
New School: Research? Isn't that why I paid for the game in the first place. I want a complete game.

2. What is the game?
Old School: I understand that the game is a representation of what happens on the battlefield/ in the world. (Emphasis on abstraction)
New School: I understand that what happens on the battlefield/in the world represents what happens in the game. (Emphasis on realism)

3. Tournaments and Rules Lawyers
Old School: I don't play in tournaments often. The rules are there for my  convenience and can be changed.
New School: Tournaments are fun. The rules are there to ensure fairness and balance.

4. Winning
Old School: I don't mind taking the weaker character/army. I want to see what I can do relying on my own skill. Perhaps I can win. Perhaps not.
New School: I've built my character/army the best it can be, giving it the best attributes and powers so I can win.

5. Ethos
Old School: If the material ain't there, or if I don't like it, I make my own. Do it yourself.
New School: I can't wait until WotC/Games Workshop releases the new book/codex. Maybe they'll fix the rules then.

6. Behavior
Old School: Just roll a d6 and let's keep the game moving.
New School: No, you're wrong, see on pages 112-115 it says this. And on page 54 it says this...

7. Defining themselves and the games they play
Old School: I'm a wargamer/roleplayer. I used to play a lot of Napoleonics/D&D but I'm willing to try other things.
New School: Why would anybody play anything besides Warhammer/D&D (in whatever edition)?

I don't think I'm not too far off my assessment to what "New School" is. Though I suspect "New School" has been around for a long time. It seems that "New School" is more about dependence on the rules and winning. But I could be wrong.

How would you define "New School" gaming? More importantly, why does this matter?


  1. My only issue on the old school side is #7. Back in the day, my game group was very unusual to not play D&D at all. There was a huge part of the market that was "If it ain't D&D, it ain't roleplaying" or they would look down on others that didn't play D&D. Now those people are willing to play anything, but back then, not so much.

  2. I strongly disagree. This seems less "Old-School vs New-School", and more "Creative vs Uncreative", or "Open-Minded vs Closed-Minded". In Old-School games, the system exists to simulate the physics of the world and resolve conflict. In New-School games, the system exists to help tell the story. It is the framework for the whole game, rather than just a portion of it. Both approaches are equally valid.

  3. I wrote what I consider to be a response post.

  4. I think Josha has a point -- I see at least two strains of 'new school' out there.

    1) the new school D&D crowd (who are very rules dependent as described in your post; they want a rule for everything that happens in the game)
    2) other new school gamers (who are also rules dependent in the sense that they very strongly think a given set of rules will always or generally produce a set kind of game -- the Forge etc.)

    but there is another fracture line between the (generally old school) gamers who want stories to *emerge from play* and the gamers (often new school) who want the story to be "primary" and *the game to be about constructing story arcs* and drama with resolution etc. -- the ones we sometimes deride as frustrated actors and novelists.

  5. I think games are what we bring to it. I've had rules lawyers who were rules lawyers back in D&D X edition and love to tell me word for word what the rules were (when it benefits them), while I try to figure out how to make it work in 4e. I've had min-maxers trying to "win" who learned how to do it back in earlier editions, and I've had players who willingly took "bad" feats in order to stay true to their character idea.
    I just caught that last paragraph where you said "I suspect that New School has been around for a long time." Yeah, I agree. Different people have different approaches. As long as the group agrees with how things are going and everyone's having fun, I see no issues with either style.


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