Rod Thompson suggested a different rule: “Characters die.” I have a much stronger opinion about that.
I think people make way too big a deal about character death in old school games. I’ve only had one TPK in almost 40 years, and I haven’t had that many individual character deaths. It’s not really that old school RPGs are deadly. It’s just that old school RPGs usually don’t protect characters from death. Characters are just as fragile as monsters, and hit points are typically low to begin with.
There is a certain sentiment in OSR games, though, that Rod might be thinking of… In old-school thinking, it’s best to just move on when a character dies, rather than fret about it. New school games do a lot more character prep than old school games, and I’m not just talking in terms of time needed or math required.
New school games are more about imagining as much as you can about your character before play even begins, becoming invested in your character. So much so that new school players think a game is broken if it doesn’t support their character concept out of the box. “Why can’t I be a first level Master of Time, Space and Dimension? This game is unplayable!”
Old school games are more about growing into your character as you play and accepting what happens as part of your character’s story. Death has to be possible so that you work to avoid it, but if it happens, it happens… and it’s OK, because some of the best moments come when you are first figuring out a character, not after the character has achieved all their major goals.
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