Thursday, December 15, 2016

It's A False Argument but Batman Running Through the Streets Should Make Up for It.

Last night I was catching up on some of the Black Gate archives I've missed when I ran across an article by Bob Byrne, Why I Went Old School - or Swords & Wizardry vs Pathfinder, that kind of got my attention. In the article Byrne discusses the reasons why he went with Swords & Wizardry over Pathfinder by trotting out many of the same arguments that you'll see time, and time again, whenever the discussion gets brought up online. But the one that got my attention was this one:
". . . I used this when explaining S&W to one of my new players. Now, in Baldur’s Gate, he would click on the ‘Find Traps’ skill and if a trap was nearby, it would be outlined on screen in a red box if detected. And he is aware that in a modern game (like Pathfinder), you would roll a 20-sided dice against your Find Trap skill. 
But I explained it won’t work that way in S&W. After I described the environment, he would have to tell me how he goes about looking for traps. Does he examine the ceiling? Does he roll a round stone across the floor? Does he put his fingers in the mouth of the idol (always a dangerous move!)?  
To try and bluff your way past the guard at the city gate, you don’t simply roll against your Bluff skill. You have to tell the same story to the Referee that your character is telling to the guard. With appropriate gestures . . .  
The Referee may simply determine whether it worked or not. Or if the try was plausible, they may roll a dice against the character’s Charisma score, with a bonus or penalty, depending on how good the story was. So, even though there is a version of a skill check involved, it’s driven by the player action, not the character sheet . . ." (Byrne)
Since I first became aware of the Old School movement I have always been bothered by the argument that rule heavy systems, like Dungeons & Dragons 3e and its kin, force the players to play the game through their die rolls and character sheets rather than to take control of the action through the use of their own creativity and narrative choices. At its core this argument is one that would have you believe that providing players who might not be as creative with a way to accomplish their goals and to participate in the game in a meaningful way, such as through the use of skill checks, eliminates the possibility for them to play in any other way - which is bullshit. 

Players did not suddenly cede their right to make a meaningful narrative choice, or use their creativity to deal with a problem in the game, simply because they elected to play a game that provided them with a skill check to accomplish the task without having to detail every action they might make in the attempt. Things like skill checks were not designed to eliminate the player's ability to think outside the box but rather to allow them the opportunity to accomplish actions which they might not have the natural skill or knowledge to otherwise attempt. They are an aide to play; not a hindrance binding play behind a massive block of rules. 

Now back to my book.

Works Cited
Byrne, Bob. "Why I Went Old School - or Swords & Wizardry vs Pathfinder" Black Gate. Accessed December 15, 2016


  1. Unfortunately that's how it often works in practice. The skills just replace RPing unless both DM and players are on the same page.

  2. this is a methodology divorced from (most) rule sets. In the 80's we'd roll against Charisma when in doubt. I always felt bad penalizing my friends with poor information skills so I'd give them a chance to see if their PCs knew what they could not. Same thing applies today, and I've seen groups where frankly none of them are all that good at this sort of thing, but they still want to play a game, and rolling to see if their character can figure out stuff they cant even adequately describe let alone work out narratively seems to be their only real option. Nope, I don't play with those table rocks it old school most of the time...but I definitely don't begrudge anyone who choose one method over the other.

  3. "but I definitely don't begrudge anyone who choose one method over the other."

    / \
    This....This right here!! This makes perfect sense to me.

  4. One thing that bugs me on this topic: I think every GM I’ve ever played with has judged things through the lens of the character. The idea that someone who is socially awkward cannot play a character who is not socially awkward without mechanics that take the player out of the equation is a misnomer.