Too Cruel For School

One of our engineers recently professed to being “old school”. What he meant by that was an old-school work ethic, as in you stay until the job’s done, never mind the hours.

But that’s not what Old School usually means around engineers. It has quite a sinister meaning; learning through pain and adversity, being left to try and fail on your own until you finally learn all the tricks that aren’t written down — tricks and that all the older engineers know but won’t tell the newbie, because that’s just the way it was for them back in the day.

Is this what we mean by Old School gaming? I’m not sure it’s anything to be proud of. I know there are some gamers with exactly this macho attitude, that the dungeon is something to be conquered, that deaths are inevitable and that the DM exists to punish. If that’s true the most old-school products I own are probably LotFP modules such as The God That Crawls that take a pretty punitive approach to dungeoneering. The funny thing is the punitive nature of such games is not advertised, it’s just a piece of collective wisdom about D&D and specifically OSR-style D&D that we’ve collectively picked up. OSR games are meant to be hard, stop whining.

Compare this to Call of Cthulhu, which is punitive by design. Punishing the characters is baked into the system yet the Keeper is rarely such an adversarial figure.

I don’t care for the worst attributes of “the Old School” such as being a gatekeeper to a hobby or profession. I’ve seen it in martial arts schools where to be accepted, you need to be punched in the head. I’ve seen it when crossing over from the world of chemistry to chemical engineering. Adversity teaches experience but since we have choice (at least in a hobby) it’s not necessary.

But as Silver says, “our ancesters were wise, yet our age accounts them foolish”. So respect your elders, respect the Old School, learn about it, and then make a choice. Just don’t appropriate the Old School and make it a meaningless phrase.