Saturday, April 30, 2011

Old School Alternate History

I’m in a strong Old School mood since moving out of my parent’s home in January (and finding it increasingly annoying the fact that I can’t find local players with the same interest).

It’s curious now to see how it all started. I can say that the initial responsible was Castles & Crusades, for showing me I way to play D&D that I had nearly forgotten. The first RPG I bought and run (at ‘94 I guess) was the brazilian translation of the D&D Basic Set (15th printing, the Black Box). But I spent the entire 90’s running AD&D 2nd campaigns. With the coming of the 3rd Edition, with its comprehensive (and very detailed) rules system, designed along different principles, I forgot how the old approach resulted in a very different style of gaming. With less powers and abilities, characters with more traditional concepts (I could also say “character that looked more like Ulysses or Conan rather than Kratos or Cloud”) and rules that most of time took a back seat to the action and role-playing, these old games inspired my group to act more by improvisation and collaboration than in recent editions. A strange side effect was that our sessions tended to be less dramatic (or epic in scope), but a lot more fun. In other words: we played closer to Jack Vance than Tolkien.

After Castles & Crusades, I was totally hooked by Swords & Wizardry. From it, I started reading retro-clones, but no one really provoked the same reaction. So I took the only logical step left: I started reading the Original Edition, then Chainmail. Each of those games showed fascinating aspects of my favorite RPG, and some pleasant surprises (like Chainmail’s different combat systems, a feature that I believe would help most of the today fantasy games). From the LBBs and Chainmail, I “turned around” and begin to read the Supplements, Holme’s, AD&D 1st… and I’m still busy with it, always learning some cool forgotten rule or new perspective.

Recently I was totally enthralled by Lars Dangly’s excellent Platemail – a RPG based on Chainmail. Now, my last Old School delving revealed two other precious jewels. Both are, in a way, “Alternate History” versions of D&D.

The first one I already knew for some time, but only came to proper appreciate it now, after reading about Gygax’s ideas for a new AD&D edition. I’m talking about Joseph Bloch’s Adventures Dark & Deep, a great “what if” game, showing a different evolution and design philosophy after AD&D 1st Edition. The game has a stronger medieval flavor, and I was especially attracted by new classes, like the Jester and the Mountebank.
My second “discovery” is Daniel Hugh Boggs’s amazing reconstruction of the Dave Arnerson’s “First Campaign Setting” mechanics. I’m talking about Dragons at Dawn, probably the most Old School game I’ve read until now and it reveals a different path that D&D might have took – a direction that, I believe, would better reflect Sword & Sorcery than High Fantasy.