The game continued to stay with me over the last couple of days, so I did a quick search on the internet and found Barbarians of Lemuria has a loyal following among many old-school bloggers. Indeed, Steffan O'Sullivan, one of the bright lights of the rules-light approach to game design (his fingerprints are all over such games as FUDGE and GURPS Bunnies & Burrows) posted a rather glowing review of Barbarians of Lemuria on the Geekdo website. I intend to make a trip down to the Sentry Box today, to pick up a copy (for my wife to wrap for me and put under the tree). This RPG got me thinking about two things.
1. Since I had not suggested the Barbarians of Lemuria RPG to The Sentry Box staff, either they have started paying attention to the alternatives to 'commercial' products, or someone else suggested that they carry this. In either case, the appearance of this RPG on their shelves is a positive development. That is -- in part -- why I intend to purchase this RPG. I'm voting with my dollars, at it were.
2. Does this RPG "qualify" as an old-school product? I know the question itself is a minefield, since it re-opens the debate as to whether there is -- or should be -- some sort of litmus-test for inclusion in the old-school movement. My gut reaction to that would be to say that there should be no litmus test. If someone wants to self-identify with the old-school movement, or wants to brand their product in that way, they should be free to do so. Of course, one of the risks with an 'open' approach to the old-school movement is that it could encourage fuzzy-thinking, which may ultimately be detrimental to the promotion of an old-school style of design, and play. But the rewards of a more fullsome, vibrant community outweigh any dilution of the central principles of the old-school movement (if it, and they, even exist).
Still, for my own RPG-filtering process, I am wondering how others differentiate between old-school and modern RPG products? Undoubtedly someone in the blogosphere has already posted their thoughts on the matter. Here are a couple of points upon which I might build some sort of comparison model.
hobbyist vs. professional
class-based vs. skill-based
minimalist rules vs completist rules
random abilities vs. character-building
role-playing vs. roll-playing
homage setting vs. speculative setting
player skill vs. character skill
abstraction vs. realismsandbox vs. adventure path
I know there is a Primer To Old-School Gaming, that discusses the differences in gaming. Is there a similar document that discusses the differences in game-design?