Static vs. dynamic: how old is your game?

One thing I notice again and again is the huge difference between old school and “ancient school” rpgs. As readers of this blog you probably know that I use the later categorization for roleplaying games that were played before Gary’s version was published. Gary’s game itself would be “old school”.

Even if you
 take extremely simplified and boiled-down versions of Gary’s game, probably all of them (at least all I know of) keep one rule mechanic: You have to roll under or over a certain number to hit an opponent in battle. This is what I call “dynamic vs. static”, in the sense of one person having to roll against a non-random number. Even the earliest known variant of Gary’s game, Craig vanGrasstek’s Rules to the Game of Dungeon, use this mechanic. So, bottom line, in most games (Classic Traveller being one of the exceptions), we get this flow of actions:

  • determine initiative
  • winner of initiative rolls against target number and does damage or not
  • loser of initiative rolls against target number and does damage or not
  • repeat

And then there is the ancient school of roleplaying. All the games that came before Gary’s version. All the games that the Twin City gamers played. In contrast to Gary’s game (or at least, what he played in public; there are a few credible people saying he played ancient rpg style when he played with his friends), ancient school games don’t work like that. All games I’ve witnessed are using opposed rolls. You attack me? Roll dice, but I roll mine – and if I roll higher than you, I counter-attack successfully. This is what I call “dynamic vs. dynamic”. The bottom-line of ancient school rpg melee, then, is:

  • roll dice against each other (maybe you get to add a bonus because of some advantage), higher roll hits, a tie means both side hit simultaneously
  • repeat
In play, it’s a remarkable difference. In dynamic-vs-static games, you have the occasional whiff factor, characters might miss their attacks. In dynamic-vs-dynamic, there’ll always be at least one hit. Both variants deserve attention. I usually go for dynamic-vs-dynamic, but sometimes, misses in combat really do increase the tension of combat. 

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