Saturday, August 27, 2011

Old Ways vs. New Ways

Keeping with my continuing examination of the Old School Renaissance, here's a bit of philosophy.

The Old School has a lot in common with the priests of old.  In the old days, you didn't pray to the gods to help you, you prayed to the gods so that they would ignore you.  Worship was only noticed when it stopped, and the gods' attention was typically pretty violent.  This is why, in ancient Rome, you could keep your cultural identity, but you had to add the Roman gods to your pantheon — Rome doesn't want the hassle of an apocalypse because you didn't want to pray to the Jupiter.  You are not special because the gods are negligent and petty.

Similarly, the Old School is ruthless.  This dungeon is designed to murder you if you're careless, and it will do so because that's its raison d'ĂȘtre.  If you do not evade the dungeon's notice, it will deal with you.  Messily.

The New School has more in common with the newer religions.  You pray for mercy from loving deities who are interested in your well-being.  They actively want you to succeed out of some undefined interest — perhaps the gods see you a child to their parental role, or perhaps there is some spiritual fulfillment involved.  You are special because God made you.

Similarly, the New School is merciful.  The story is more important than navigating some deathtrap, and the Game Master wants you to succeed so that you can finish the story.  Death is a risk, certainly, but it's not as pervasive — and it might be an empty risk or wholly symbolic.

Curiously, though, there's the structure of Yin and Yang here, to just throw everything into a mishmash of world cultures.  Free will is a decidedly new idea — the old gods determined your fate utterly, while the new gods gave you free will so you can succeed or fail on your own merit — but it is one which the Old School prizes.  That dungeon might be a death trap, but you decided that you wanted to explore it, you decided that you wanted to go down the left hallway, you decided that you didn't need to buy a ten-foot-pole, and you decided to walk at a normal pace so that you fell right into that pit of acid.  If something attacked, you decided not to run when it ate your dogs and hirelings.

Contrary to what you read, the New School similarly dislikes railroading, but it tends to be a little more abstract.  You are free to do anything, but you're probably going to find yourself in this story again.  That's a decidedly ancient idea — yeah, sure, maybe you had free will in deciding what breakfast cereal you ate this morning (probably not), but your major decisions are certainly scripted.

That's simplified, of course, but I like the metaphor, so I share it with you.

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