Monday, May 2, 2011

Matt Finch's Four Zen Moments

Matt Finch's "A Quick Primer for Old School Gaming" is something I read a couple years ago, and it ultimately struck a cord and helped me remember why I played the game to begin with. They say that if you can't describe something in more than two ways, you really don't understand it. So I will paraphrase Matt's Four Zen Moments, and focus on what it means to me.

Rulings, not Rules: One of the principles of Old-School D&D is that it is fast and furious, and a lot of trust is given to DM and his decisions. Good DMs were always in demand because of the rulings that a good DM makes. Arguing the rules, whether they're written or not, official or not, just slows down the game and creates grief. Stumbling over specific rules slows things down and just isn't fun. I realised this playing home games of 3x, and it got worst with 4e that really got granualar with what you could or couldn't do. Trust in the DM used to be a given and unwritten rule. But with 3x/4e, things changed. It also bred or fed into min/max, powergaming, level-questing nature of computer games--not fun. Trust that the DM will make rulings based on common sense, a bit of logic and with the intent to keep the game fun.

Player Skill, not player abilities: I'm not completely convinced with this one. But I totally I agree the burden is on the players to ask the right question, say the right words, and look in the right places. This is a given, but not when playing 3x/4e. Although personally the game I want to play is somewhere between the modern and old-school style. I want my character to not be hindered by my lack of skill as a player, but I want players to play their characters as they were rolled up. So if they're low in intelligence, they should be played as they are. I do agree with the statement, "Know when to run." A good GM IS impartial, I want to be a good GM AND a good player. A good player should be able to play a crappy character successfully. The principles are the same.

Heroic, not Superhero: I'm with this all the way. The analogy Matt uses is Batman vs Superman. The characters, in old-school style play, can definitly reach the power levels of Batman. Superman was born like that, and there are games that cover it. This also falls into pit that some modern players have, the entitlement to be super. They're not special. Deeds and Actions make the characters special. Which goes with the fourth Zen moment.

Forget "Game Balance.": There would be no sense of fear, mystery or dread if every enounter was "balanced." Part of the challenge is to overcome overwhelming obstacles. One of the problems I had with "modern" D&D was the sense of entitlement some players had, and that some DMs had to accomodate. "That enounter was too hard" or "That encounter was too easy", were words that made me cringe as a DM. Challenge is part of the game. Game balance shouldn't be a concern. Mistakes happen and you deal with them accordingly. If the party decides to enter the dragon's cave, and they die... well, that's what is probably supposed to happen. The emphasis on balance is what broke most of the modern versions of classes that used to be special. I understand the philosophy behind certain game rule decisions. But I think those philosophies are misguided and are based on a sense of entitlement a lot of "modern" gamers have. For example, race/class level limits are a sticky subject. They seem arbitrary, but you can't deny that it makes for an effective way to restrict access to certain race/class combinations. The debate against them are reasonable on both sides, but they come from different points of view with different goals. Class balance is also a difference between Old and New. But it comes from the sense of entitlement that a wizard has the right to be toe to toe with a fighter at first level. I find it silly, but that's me and why I am personally bothered by the modern game.

Those are are the Zen Moments as I understand them. They clicked the moment I read them, and almost immediately rekindled the feelings and memories I had when I first started playing D&D, with a good DM. My first sessions were rough, that's for sure. I might touch on the Tao of the GM on another post if I have time. They're good, and they must be read by all DMs.


primer.pdf Download this file

Posted via email from Dak, D.M.

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