If you haven’t been living under a rock for quite some time, you probably noticed a growing trend in the RPG hobby: OD&D is back with a vengeance.
Ok, in most cases it’s not really the D&D from 1974 that Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson created, but the various retro-clones that are enjoyed by gamers all over the world. A lot of those gamers are people who have been playing D&D since the 1970s and who are more or less affectionately called “grognards”. But a growing number of players enjoy the charm of OD&D (or its clones) without ever having played the game back in the day.
So, why should anyone play old-school D&D today, where there are hundreds of modern games available? If you are one of the “grognards” you probably just play the game you’ve enjoyed for decades. For others its nostalgia, because they first played D&D before moving to other games and for a few of us (like me) it’s actually a new and exciting thing!
My favorite retro-clone at the moment is Swords & Wizardry White Box and as far as I was told it’s pretty close to the original game from 1974 with a few improvements. One of these improvements is probably the option to use ascending Armor Classes (like in D&D 3rd Edition a lot of modern gamer have played). But if you wish you can of course play it with the classic descending Armor Classes.
So, what is the appeal of S&W? There are several reasons why old-school gaming can be fun and exciting even today. In a way, playing S&W White Box is like learning a new skill. The game is extremely rules light and the DM (or referee) has to make rulings on the fly very often during the course of a session. You don’t have rules for every situation that may arise, so thinking on one’s feet and improvising is necessary. Especially when you are used to rely on rules, this can be a new experience for any DM.
The players have to adjust, too. In most cases combat is much more dangerous, because a character usually starts with just 1d6 hit points. A good hit with a sword and your character is history. Picking fights carefully is very important if you want to survive. Another aspect of old-school gaming is that the players are often more challenged than the characters. If there’s a riddle to solve, the players will have to solve it. There’s no skill roll to solve that for you. Some people may not like this, but we enjoyed this a lot. And I have to admit that especially when social interactions and riddles etc. were concerned I always preferred player challenge over mere dice rolling. And if in doubt you always can combine the two methods (at least in modern games).
But the part that is the most fun (for the DM or referee at least) is the fact, that you can easily change rules you don’t like or add classes, items etc. at whim without the fear of breaking the game. In most more complicated games some small changes may have big consequences that are usually not easily foreseeable. In my opinion old-school D&D is a heaven for homebrewers.
If you try to play S&W White Box or any other old-school RPG like a modern RPG, you will probably not enjoy it. It just wasn’t meant to be played that way. But if you are willing to try out something different, you are in for a ride!
By the way, if you are interested in giving S&W a try, check out fellow RPG blogger Chgowiz’ Swords & Wizardry quickstart.