I’ve been reading a lot of Old School blogs recently, as I do, and I’ve noticed a lot of them talking about ‘Player Skill’ as compared to ‘Character Skill’.
There is a debate in the gaming community about which is preferable, a player interacting with the game environment primarily through their own wits and problem solving ability versus a character interacting with the world through their abilities or stats on the paper.
Among the old school community, most argue strongly that player skill is always preferable and more meaningful, because the victory and defeats that a player experiences are almost entirely due to their own cleverness, forethought, and planning. Others argue that that style of play ignores the differences in character capability, that a character and its player should be separate and differently capable.
In my own Old School campaign, I’ve noticed a mix of this sort of play style. For a very long time, I’ve been into more Storygames, or games where immersion in the setting and character are far more important than ‘winning’. However, playing ACKS, I’ve noticed an acceptance on my part of ignoring character’s knowing things they have no real way of learning, because it is so much a trope of the D&D experience it seems odd to forbid it.
I’ll give a salient example. The first time Gary threw trolls at his players, if they’d not read Three Swords and Three Lions, I bet they shit themselves when the damn things wouldn’t die. How the hell were they supposed to know to use fire on them? But even if they died, the next characters who came along would spontaneously know that fire was what you needed. Or that you shouldn’t touch this stone. Or that this kind of necklace will strangle you. And that sort of ‘training by PC death’ is lauded in many corners of the Old School community.
I find it strangely dissonant to call that role playing, while accusing more modern games and later editions of being too much like board games or video games. The new character has no way of knowing what the now dead one may have learned, yet no one bats an eye at the player using that ‘out of character’ knowledge. That to me seems to violate the whole concept of role playing.
I’ve often struggled with trying to figure out how much of the ‘common lore’ about monsters of myth in our world is equally common lore in the fantasy game world. Does every peasant know that garlic will ward away a vampire? Does every peasant know that silver will kill a lycanthrope? Arguments can be made either way, but the game rules and the settings themselves are silent on the matter. In a game with a skill system, at least there are knowledge skills governing the reasonable use of such knowledge.
I don’t know. I don’t have a problem with ‘player skill’ type play. I’ve been playing rpgs for so long that I have a mountain of stuff in the back of my head and it’s hard to turn it off no matter what I play (which is why I rarely like playing games that start at 1st level any more, I just can’t turn that stuff off). And though I love Old School gaming, and greatly prefer it to games like Pathfinder, some of the assertions of the more vehement Grognards rankle me. I guess that’s all I’m saying.
Oh, in other news, it’s Swords and Wizardry appreciation day! While ACKS is my go to system, I do love the S&W material…especially their awesome modules and monster books. So check them out!