I've been reading a lot of Old School style roleplaying games lately, namely Swords & Wizardry as well as Labyrinth Lord, which I've mentioned here before. I've also been reading some fantastic Old School RPG blogs, most notably Grognardia and Jeff's Gameblog.
I am also a big fan of Chad Underkoffler and his PDQ game system. I've been a big supporter of "Truth & Justice" and "The Zorceror of Zo", and have ran them both numerous times at game clubs and conventions. I have had a lot of fun with this system. So, you'd think that when Chad puts out yet another tweaked version of PDQ (called PDQ Sharp or PDQ#) I would be all over that.
Oh, I downloaded the free supplement with glee. I happily adjusted my bifocals and started reading. Then I frowned. "Why does this game seem so complicated?" I thought. I was, just last year, calling this game system "rules-light" and "elegant". Now it just seemed cumbersome. How had this happened??
The answer, it seems, is the "Old School" becoming the "New School" for me. "Swords and Wizardry" has shown me that having a "universal resolution" rule set (One in which a single rule can be applied to nearly any endeavor a player's character may undertake to produce a clear result) can not only be undesirable, but also a hindrance to creative play. S&W really only has rules that govern combat. The rest is up to the players and the GM to work out in play. It is no longer a matter of "My character tries to make peace with the hobgoblins. What do I roll?", but more of "Okay, Rufus shows empty hands to the hobgoblins in a sign of friendship and then slowly reaches for his money purse. Maybe I can bribe these guys into going away. What do they do?"
See the difference? The first example has the player merely rolling dice and moving the pawn, much like Monopoly. The second, the player is engaged into thinking of what to do and how to do it. The player is solving the problem, not a dice roll. Plus the Gamemaster is also more engaged. Now instead of just setting target numbers, he is really having to think "Okay, would that work?" and "What could happen now?".
This all seems so simple, yet I have been caught up in rulesets for years, and for what? Only to discover that the first rules I learned to use were really the ones I liked the best. If that doesn't make a man feel old, nothing does.