Old School Fantasy: A Personal Perspective
On our Facebook page, one fan, Andrew McColl asked this particular question:
“What exactly do the fine folks at RB define as ‘old school’ when it comes to fantasy? Adventures that start invariably in an inn? Very basic racial package? Attacking the darkness with Magic Missiles?”
I asked for a topic to talk about earlier today, and got a few humorous questions, but this one made me pause. Interesting. I was in the midst of writing up the next Old School Fantasy adventure, but set that aside to articulate what I considered old school.
I posted an exceedingly lengthy response, and was asked to put it in the Notes section, but paused again. I needed to write up something for The Razorwise Report, so thought it was a good place to put it, so here ya go.
While Old School can contain senseless violence, that was never the gaming style that we (here I’m referring to my gaming group “back in the day”) preferred to play. There were monsters aplenty, there were magic items, and gold pieces around every corner, but more than anything there was mystery, excitement, and adventure. So, while I’m not trying to evoke a feeling of nostalgia, one may certainly exist…. See More
I recall the rules not getting in the way of the game- at least not for us- and it was a realm where we could let our imaginations soar. Old School was not strictly D&D, but whatever fantastical systems allowed us to tell the stories we wanted to tell best. Old School was sometimes over the top, but that was sometimes necessary to get the stories out. Old School, for us, evolved.
Old School contains dungeons. Old School contains ancient wizards in lofty towers, and hippogriff mounts, and armies of kobolds attacking you in the night. For us, however, Old School is about continuity. The best GMs didn’t award the most treasure or have you hack about killing the most monsters. The best GMs gave you the opportunity to share a story; they allowed you to shape your destiny; they gave you a world to escape into; they provided flexibility to situations that were unmapped, that went beyond the rules, and they manifested the common sense to bend, and not break those rules.
We (that’s you and I now) are fortunate, however, to be living in a modern world that has some very evolved game systems, and revolutions in design take place all the time, but the core essence of the experience, from my perspective is not tied to a particular system. There are some companies and friends of ours out there that are having wonderful successes with their product lines that hearken back to those systems, but I felt there was a space for us to combine the modern design sensibilities of systems, such as Savage Worlds and Fantasy Craft, and couple them with those experiences that existed in the primordial ooze of our industry’s roots. By taking these experiences into different systems from the original, there is a subtle change to them, an evolution of them, caused by the contextual shift which is very interesting and, ultimately, very liberating. These two systems- Savage Worlds and Fantasy Craft- are able to deftly handle things within their respective systems in ways that make the GMs job easier and allows everyone to collectively have a thoroughly enjoyable experience.
This is the reason that I wanted to move forward with the Old School Fantasy line. This was conceptualized late last summer, and was crystallized in my mind after being approached by Pat and Alex of Crafty Games about the possibility of us doing some development for their system. What can I say? I read the book out loud on the way from Gen Con (ultimately losing what little I had left of my voice for a week), while Stacy drove us back to Memphis. We were both thrilled about the possibilities, and this game wanted us to get into fantasy, something that Reality Blurs had steered clear of for quite awhile, as we worked on our own twisted visions of things.
So Old School Fantasy is certainly going to herald back to some of the traditional tropes, but I want you folks to remember who you’re dealing with, and rest assured we’ll manage to sneak some sort of twistiness or our style within the pages of anything we release.