I prefer to play the game I'm playing. For me to enjoy the game, there has to be something at stake. I reject out of hand, suggestions that I should just "make something up on the spot" in these games because their rules or the systems in their rules are too complicated to remember - after all, I am choosing to play these games because they have these systems and rules. And I want to follow them fairly and consistently so that a thing can be at stake.When this is done well, it makes the DM very much like an engaging computer game.
After gaining some degree of mastery in the systems, I just found some of the complexities unparseable. Perception? I understand the complex debate of there being a mechanism for determining resolution (e.g.: Find / Remove Traps as a thief). With perception I don't even really have to be at the table. In fact, what I do is irrelevant, unless you consider 'where I spend my points on leveling' to be the whole of gameplay. Just roll my numbers, and let me know what happens. That is not the type of gameplay I'm looking for in a tabletop session.
There are many examples, but I choose to mention perception because I'm looking at old school tricks and traps to fill rooms for my players. And while reading them over I found some things that shocked me, and perhaps provided a little insight into the way our hobby developed.
Here is an example of an old school trick from an on-line resource, created by an actual DM before the creation of these modern systems.
One trap I like using is a secret door, which is rather obvious. The party triggers the door, and the area is filled with magical darkness. If they move close to the wall, they will all fall into a slide. However, this slide is very tight, and they can only go in single order.Once in the room, they can see a large monster, or if the DM is rather nasty, a trap may have been rigged in the slide, blowing it up if they try to get out. Or a large nasty monster comes sliding down the slide after them (Giant slug, Metalmaster, etc.)The only way to get out is via the slide but it cannot be climbed. Magic will not work. The only way to escape is to dig handholds or something with a weapon or something.
I'm sitting at the table minding my own business while the party thief is checking for traps and everything goes dark. If I move towards a wall I fall into a slide. At this point I'd be wary but still on board - I'm likely on this slide because it's where he wants us to be. Oh, we all have to go down one at a time? Ok, still on board. All right a monster, we fight it, and presumably win.
Now we're trapped in this room. Oh, this slide we came down can't be climbed. Oh, we can't use magic to escape. Why? Because you said so? I have to figure out that you want me to dig handholds?
This trap basically consists of "I remove player agency to put you in a box where you have to think of this one thing to get out."
Old school play is a negotiation, built on trust and fairness. The DM doesn't place things the party is unable to deal with in their way. I'll assume that you're coherent enough to understand that this doesn't mean that there aren't monsters that can't be killed by the party, or traps that are deadly, just that if there are the players have the opportunity to avoid them. The old school gestalt isn't based around poor communication, unclear and unrelated consequences, and lies. I have never had a player death that did not result from a player choice. I've not run a game where players sit "stuck" (as if they couldn't just go somewhere else!?) because they can't figure something out, punishing them because they couldn't pluck something from my mind - I have no 'story' I want to tell, just an environment, forces, powerful personalities, factions, all with their own plans that do things. The players are free to do and figure out what they wish.
An old school DM is permissive. An old school DM is fair in his dealings with people. An old school DM communicates clearly. An old school DM allows natural and logical consequences to follow from player actions, not applied ones. An old school DM allows people to make their own choices.
You know who else this describes?
Long ago, when we were kids, someone who was a kid, running a game, did something unfair because he was a kid. Now, thirty years later, everyone is seeking to make smaller and more rigid boxes to insure something like that never happens again.
Well, it will happen again, over and over, in the next generation. More rules and laws won't prevent it. Perhaps instead of trying to legalize the risk out gaming, people should take responsibility to be adults with each other.
This is a role-playing blog, right?