Tuesday, September 8, 2015
I experienced a bit of the "Old School Revival" this weekend at Pacificon Game Expo last weekend. The first was "Swords & Wizardry", which was pretty much a retro-clone of original D&D. The second was "Dungeon Crawl Classics", which took certain aspects of original D&D and embraced the hardcore dungeon-crawling aspects of it.
In both cases, they lovingly embraced the old-school role-playing game art. Both are filled with black-and-white fantasy line drawings of hapless adventurers taking on horrible monsters. I appreciated that, if only for its camp/nostalgia value.
From there, the experiences diverged. As I said, Swords & Wizardry was retro-clone of original D&D, to the point where all of the original ability scores, classes, abilities, etc. were duplicated here. And as much respect as I have for the grand-pappy of RPGs, I've got to say: role-playing games have evolved for a reason. Casting one spell as a low-level magic-user before being effectively being rendered useless, having only one effective available action in combat ("I hit it with my weapon!"), XP book-keeping from monsters and treasure after every encounter - all of these factors do not point towards a fun gaming experience. The saving grace of it was at least the world has some slightly interesting twists to (example: hobgoblins are invaders from a parallel world and are anchored through portals) it that made it more than your typical European fantasy setting. Most of the time I was thinking: "This would be ten times more enjoyable using Savage Worlds..."
Dungeon Crawl Classics (DCC) was a bit more interesting, mainly because it embraced some of the more aggravating aspects of old school RPGS and turned them on their ear. Case in point: survivability of low-level characters. In typical old-school D&D, surviving past first level was a bit of a trial by fire, and often that was accomplished through a combination of luck and sometimes cowardice. DCC actually makes you create FOUR ZERO-level characters who have only a few hit points, little equipment, and no appreciable adventuring skills. Combined with the other players' characters, you have an adventuring mob who attempts to wear down the opposition through sheer numbers. While this does encourage "death by numbers" tactics against enemies, there are times where you realize body count isn't enough and need to come up with clever plans in order to distract dangerous monsters and reach your goals. There is also a bit of cheering for the underdog, and those characters who emerged through that crucible of death had great war stories to tell! DCC introduces some more modern rules innovations that get rid of annoying old-school conventions: spells require skill rolls instead of one-time fire-and-forget, and skill rolls are based on your attributes and what's reasonable for your character's background. In the end, I'd still rather play a Savage Worlds game with gritty setting rules for something like this, but I wouldn't say no to my zero-level tax collector returning as a mighty first-level warrior either!