There’s a forthcoming episode of the podcast about how uncomfortable I feel with my Old-School credentials, so I’ll not make too much mention of this here. That being said, I’ve been laid up all weekend in bed (having injured my foot) and been re-exploring Basic Fantasy only to re-discover the charm that the Old-School casts each time I revisit.
I think it begins with the sense that the original roleplaying game and all of its Old-School derivative works are first and foremost games. You get a strong sense that Arnesonian and Gygaxian fantasy is very much unconcerned with realism and far more interested in giving players a tough but enjoyable time.
On Saturday evening, I was enjoying rolling 3d6 six times in order and seeing what kind of characters I could make from those results. Interestingly, unlike with most games, with Basic Fantasy I got the sense that it wouldn’t particularly matter which racial or class choices I made just as long as one or more of my scores were over 9.
There’s a sense in which rolling up your character is more an act of play than one of design. Once you cast the 3d6, you’ve begun to play and I found myself chuckling under my breath as the scores emerged onto my index card – because, yes, Basic Fantasy characters can fit on an index card. I didn’t do at all badly – given that it’s purely the luck of the dice – and found myself intrigued to find out what might happen to Elias and Goriel once they entered a dungeon.
Moving on to read Morgansfort, having devoured the entire Basic Fantasy rulebook in a couple of hours, I was both giggling at the content and wrestling with the critical voice in my head that points out all the limitations of the product. But what do you want for free? You get a campaign sandbox you can run with for a minimal investment of time and effort. Never mind that the art is inconsistent and there are plenty of holes in the design.
To my mind, holes in the design are a feature of the Old-School approach rather than a bug. I remember the Expert Set‘s campaign map being presented with only minimal details and the implied invitation to go make it your own. It’s the same approach but with more content in Morgansfort – you get a map and some dungeons, a chunk of world outlined enough to get you started.
There’s a charm to this veteran game that belies the presentation. The more you read and play with it, the more you feel yourself drawn into the fascination of faux medieval fantasy and dungeoneering. This is why I keep coming back to the original spirit and style of play: it’s enjoyable and easy to grasp. Each time I play around with it, I am aged 10 again.