Thursday, 5 July 2012

Disconnects & Dragons

I am caught between two worlds, the OSR and the new school, and I frequently find myself at odds with both.

Recently I got in a rather polite conversation about Cosmic Patrol with a member of the OSR community. In their favour were many valid points (that isn't sarcasm -- they were right on the money on several criticisms), but I did get a bit of a bone caught in my throat over narrativism and railroading.

I have said, and I still believe, that when it comes to things like player agency there is a similarity, a congruence if you will, between a lot of "new school" RPGs and the OSR. One of the central features of both games is that the GM is not trying to tell a story. In many of the OSR games the style of play is a Sandbox. The GM puts things in play, but in the end it is the players' characters who decide where to go and what to do.  In some of the "new school" games the GM is expressly prevented from creating their own narrative.

This is not an absolute value. There are older games where many GMs tell stories. That style of play did not spring wholly formed from the heads of Weis and Hickman. And there are no doubt many games in the 'new school" where a rigid narrative traps the players by design or GM empowerment and limits their choices -- even if I can't actually think of any. Certainly the play-style can be emulated in some of them.

But one of the advantages of the "new school" is that people have really thought about gaming, about the hows and whys of the hobby, and applied this ideal to the very mechanics themselves. Some of the results are a bit baroque, some have implications I don't enjoy, but there are a number that really work for me.

As to his other criticism, that games in the new school (my phrasing, not his) often allow the players to step back from the characters and take the role of collaborative screen-writers instead? On any game that turns the narrative control over to the players, pretty much guilty as charged. If that's a deal-breaker for him, well, taste is subjective and there's nothing we can do about that. Except -- how is a game that turns narrative control over to each player in any way railroaded?

There's lots of room in the hobby for different tastes, but I think we all can learn a bit about "the other guys" here, and maybe learn a trick or two from them.

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