[OSR] A Yellow Bus With Flying Buttresses

Like Loquacious, I wonder about my interest in the Old School Renaissance. I wasn’t there for OD&D and my contact with AD&D was minimal at best.  I dislike the modern d20 system in general, and prefer it in computer-simulated form where I don’t have to deal with it, although I dabble in variants and conversions of the system as a player.  My roleplaying experience, as in actual around-the-table roleplaying, started with Hogshead’s WFRP, rapidly shifted to (old) Vampire, Call of Cthulhu and (new) Mage, and recently swung back into Fantasy Flight’s WFRP (not the big expensive box, the traditional book) and Dark Heresy.

But I do read a lot of old-school blogs.

For instance, that of C-, to which I’ve Read and Responded a fair bit recently.  There is a lot of Right in the linked post and its commentary, particularly concerning everyone’s seeming need to play a Special Snowflake (personally, I lean more toward the Oxhorn approach, although I watched Thor the other day and have a renewed interest in deific, archetypal figures adventuring across the universe as a direct result.  Can take or leave the bits on Earth, but the bits on Asgard and Jotunheim did genuinely interest me) and the overload of realism as counter to fun.  Good points.  That said, I feel that armchair-theatre is being denigrated slightly by bad examples: inconsistent characterisation, poorly distinguished in- and out-of-character personae, and people playing their role as an excuse to sabotage the collective play, for whatever reason.

Another blogger, toward whom I feel regret at not crediting him as the influence on What I’m Doing With Games right now that he’s been: Kent.  While abrasive as ever, he presents a more thespianic approach to the whole business which I have to confess is more my bag.  I’m not suggesting that this is the Right Way, that any of these approaches are the Right Way, or indeed that there even is such a thing.  I’m suggesting that it’s a way of playing which can yield a lot of enjoyment.  Remember Bastille Day?  It was fun, it was exciting, and it was immersive, reducing the distance between players and characters to generate a particular kind of fun that’s no better or worse than the kind of fun achieved when that distance is at its maximum and you’re almost wargaming with a one-man army.

I have been physically shaken after immersing myself in a psychotic NPC and playing his genteel bloodlust to the hilt, and that was fun, in a cathartic and scary kind of way.  I have also been distant from a player character I’d have struggled to consistently ‘perform’ but who fulfilled vital roles within the team and who, occasionally, clicked with other characters as their players temporarily immersed themselves for a quip or one-liner, and that was fun, more of the sort the Old School seems to be about.

Then there’s that Smith character with his notion of Distance. Crucial to understanding Distance, which I like as a concept, are the poles between which Distance exists:  the player as real person with real job and real ‘roid rage and real need for caffeine;  the player as agent within the mechanics of the game;  the character as means of agency within the mechanics of the game and the emergent story created by those mechanics;  and the character as fictional person within a fictional universe.  Eliminating one of those poles eliminates an aspect of Distance and, in Zak’s terms, an aspect of the Fun that develops with negotiating Distance.  I could never play without some sort of performable, developed character, because I’d be shutting off an opportunity to have fun; likewise, I could never go ultra-Method and totally sublimate myself in character because a) I’d be shutting off an opportunity to have fun; b) I’m not that competent an actor and like to look over my own shoulder to assess and guide a performance in progress; and c) it’s more or less impossible anyway in the context of an RPG.

All this has come together to illuminate something about my gaming past and present and, perhaps, future. I’ve often wondered why I, who cut my teeth on thick rules manuals, detailed settings and Immersion Uber Alles, have any interest in the Old School Renaissance – and I think I’ve just figured it out.

I was fortunate (or perhaps wise beyond my years) in introducing a group of drama geeks to the act of roleplaying rather than introducing armchair theatre to a group of gameplayers, and in that group going on-and-off after two years, which helped mitigate burnout. I’ve experienced thespianic gameplay at its best.

That group’s gone its separate ways, and I have a broader range of preferences to accommodate. The OSR blogs describe a more varied kind of play that’s more central in its distance between the poles of gaming, arguably swaying more toward the player and their agency within the game mechanics than the character as agent and persona. I started out in that space but rapidly drifted in one direction; my OSR isn’t so much about returning to the systems of my youth as it is about returning to that centre ground and being able to strike out in more directions.  I already have a perspective on System, which is “ignore everything outside the core book and much of what’s in it”; what the OSR gives me is a more informed perspective on Style and a foundation on which to rebuild my GMmin’.

This logo is (CC) Robertson Games.

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