One of the big issues that faces GM's who want to bring new players into old school gaming is the simple question they are going to ask “Why should i play such a minimalist game?"
Thats a fair question especially coming from players who are used to be able to choose from menus full of options. When you look at a character that is little more than 6 stats, class and level it can be daunting to know how to play the game and to understand how you are going to have your fun too.
What it offers players are as follows
#1 You are assumed to be capable.
Old school games often forgo a skills /background /feat system because your character doesn't need one. When in doubt you know anything that a person of you background would know. Lets say you character is a Human Fighter L1 20 years old raised in the Kingdom on Noonah by a Guardsman and an herbwife. After as stint in the castle guard you were discharged and became an adventurer.
Thats a lot of background and in some systems would be a lot of skills and a lot of fiddly allocation. In old school you might write this much (or less, 16 year old farm boy no parents or siblings now an adventurer is a perfectly good background too) and instead you just toss dice against a stat and go .
The same idea applies to adventuring tasks you might undertake . No need for some Rolemaster-esque pitch tent skill or use rope or camping skills. Just roll some dice if needed and move on. Swing on a chandelier? Roll the dice and go and so on.
Essentially, you can try anything you can think off.
#2 You are encouraged to use your own brains and imagination. Yes older system do include rules for finding secret doors and such but the general best practice is “Iif they don't specify, roll.
If they do specify and they choose wisely, give it to them” this kind of think it through attitude rewards smarts in ways that “Roll a DC15 search check” or “Roll disable device DC 18” does not. This kind of thing is part and parcel why RPG's were regarded as a geek hobby. Brainy people or thinking people get more from the game.
Yes modern games do have sandboxing too but the idea of exploring the world, exploring the dungeon and simply adventuring is a strong component of early play styles . Its not so much driven by missions or by the commando style of play we see in modern games but by the players desire. Get tired of the borderlands? Hey. You are adventurers, pack it up and move on. And yes there may be consequences. Dealing with those consequences is part of the fun.
You are not assumed to find everything, do everything or get a certain amount of everything. You can come back, go forward and simply explore an imaginary world.
#4 More organic play development .
With the exception of limits of the archetypal classes (you can't learn to cast spells later) character development is far more free-form . You start lowly and build big and best of all, you chose the direction. Want to be a duelist ? No need to start counting feats and choosing classes levels in advance instead you do whatever things the DM thinks you should (typically some roleplaying and maybe some expenditure of for extra training) and start dueling people. Or if it fits, just do it.
And last #5 an End Game.
Players in older editions had a point in which they could “become somebody” usually around 9th level or so. They could get a tower, a base whatever and become a big man with his own followers and a lot of cool actually played war stories. This is actually an awesomely underrated part of the game.
Instead of the perpetual adventurer, you hack a kingdom out of the wilderness and move onto a more sophisticated game of prices and kings. In many ways this is more compelling than yet another feat or level.
Whats also great is that if this was not you cup of tea, it wasn't mandatory and there certainly were adventures for high level types such as my favorite, Queen of the Demon Web Pits and more.
Those "big 5" ought to be enough to convince some of the wobblers and if you do right by them as a DM they may just come back and we'll be gaming like it was 1981 only better ....
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