A Really New School Definition of Old School?

There are a lot of discussions and some arguments on what exactly is and isn’t “old school” but most of these discussions and arguments at least have people in the same chapter even if they aren’t on the same page. However, a post I saw on Observations of the Fox uses the terms in ways that probably aren’t even in the same series of books. “Old School”, to the author of this post apparently means something like “all those games not designed according to modern GNS/Forge design standards”.

From the post Old School vs New:

There are a lot of people getting on fine without new-fangled design principles. They are still playing the hit-and-miss game of offering the public things that they think are cool…still using the traditional GM-Player model, because that’s what they’ve been doing for years and that’s what they think roleplaying is all about.

Some are still going the old route of the kitchen sink (How do you tell someone who’s never flicked through a RIFTS book that they are basically just creating a RIFTS heartbreaker?), some are tagging along with the old Fighter/Thief/Mage/Cleric party split (even if they are calling things by different names and trying to show a bit of originality in their flavour text and basic mechanisms).

But it seems that the old school is still firmly entrenched in the majority of the roleplaying field. People simply expect there to be a GM who will guide them through a story, it’s almost like they expect their character concepts to be ignored in the face of the GMs plot. They think this is all a part of the game, and since they don’t know about the developments in RPG theory, they neither know of better ways tp play, nor do they want to…it’s worked relatively well for a over a generation (40 years), why change now?

If this doesn’t make it clear that his definition of “old school” really is something like “not designed according to modern GNS/Forge design standards”, this paragraph from later in the post should make it crystal clear.

The old school games like Pathfinder, D&D 4th Edition, and the numerous other products with a supplement treadmill are getting exposure in retail stores because the retailers see the opportunity for add on sales…it’s good business sense. They look at a short indie game and wonder if it’s worth the effort of filling up shelf space with a product that might move one or two units per financial quarter (if it’s lucky), when the big guns might sell one or two core-books per week (and at least as many supplements).

I’m not knocking the author, I’ve just never seen “old school” in tabletop RPGspeak used this way before. I will admit that I don’t follow The Forge as I think the GNS theory has major problems (especially the part that well-designed games will only be one of the three) and find most of the games produced under this design theory not at all to my tastes, so could someone tell me if this use of the term “old school” is common in Forge/Indie game circles?

Randall Stukey

Randall is the author and publisher of a number of old school games (Microlite74, Microlite81, BX Advanced, etc) through RetroRoleplaying.com. Randall's main job, however, is being caregiver for his MS-afflicted cancer survivor wife. You can support Randall with a donation to the RetroRoleplaying Cancer Fund.

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Randall is the author and publisher of a number of old school games (Microlite74, Microlite81, BX Advanced, etc) through RetroRoleplaying.com. Randall's main job, however, is being caregiver for his MS-afflicted cancer survivor wife. You can support Randall with a donation to the RetroRoleplaying Cancer Fund. Gates & Glamours RSS Feed

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Zak SRobert FisherEdE.G.PalmerAnonymous Recent comment authors
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I don't think it is, no. Most forge folks I'm aware of are familiar with the Old School Renaissance (hell, many have contributed to Fight On! magazine) and wouldn't use "Old School" in any other sense.

Ironically, by that standard — a GM who leads characters through a pre-made story without really accepting their input — Old School Renaissance gaming wouldn't actually qualify as Old School!


There are just so many assumptions here concerning the nature and purpose of rpgs that are so far removed from my own definitions that the pieces you've quoted here are completely unconnected with what I think of as a role playing game.

This is like saying a horse is an inferior surfboard.


That is pretty frickin' hilarious to read. I just love FORGEy deconstructionism. "It's like these people don't WANT to open their eyes to the glorious indie master race and prostrate themselves before their true overlords!"

Rick Marshall

Half the work done in the world is to make things appear other than they are. This definition of "old school" is designed to do violence to the conversation. It is a widespread ad hominem attack disguised as a semantic clarification, like proving the inferiority of another religion.

And, as spiritsofeden wrote, that makes it frickin' hilarious. It's always extra special when the monkeys throw poo at each other while pretending to be sophisticated adults.

Rob L

As soon as you say 'design principles' you've lost my interest in the game or the discussion.

Zak S

@Rob L

Ah, but as soon as you say:

"I'm a Gemini Wooden Rabbit, which basically means I'm hard to pin down on most things and a lot of people find that frustrating…"

I wake up and laugh my ass off.

Andreas Davour

I have not been a Forge regular in a long time, but this doesn't sound like anything at all in tune with the thinking that goes on there these days.

It sounds like somebody all high on last year's fad. Heck, GNS isn't even talked about at the Forge any more!

Nick Crayon

I lurk on the Forge forums, and I've never heard *anybody* call those games old-school. It's hard to think of a game as old school when it came out in the past handful of years. It'd be like saying that "Avatar" is an old-school movie. Really? Is it now?


Thanks everyone! I'm glad to hear that this post's use of the term "old school" isn't common usage among Forge/Indie gamers. The term can be confusing enough as it is. Thinking about this today gave me another question, but I think I'll save it for another post.

Robert Fisher

Personally, I think this usage actually makes a lot sense. I might not be big on the Robin Laws or indie directions, but they certainly seem closer to innovative than D&D 3e and closer to a role-playing game than D&D 4e. To me.

Well, I guess I still wouldn’t call D&D 3e or 4e “old school”. Just that I wouldn’t call them “new school” either.

Although—from another point-of-view—it is kind of ironic because 4e did the “pick one of GNS and do mainly that” thing. (Which I think explains a big part of why I haven’t been too keen on it.)