This might seem like a topic that's been talked to death, but I find that there is relevance to comparisons in the Old School vs. Storytelling RPG debate that apply to my work as a game designer. A lot of the discussion concerning the OS revolves around the combat / wargame aspects of the hobby. Then there is discussion of the power level of characters in the OS and the threat of character fatality. All manner of things are brought to light as strengths and or weaknesses of the OS or of the more modern Storytelling approach to table-top role-playing. I am not interested in debating the merits or faults of either method. Instead I am merely interested in recognizing what they are, what they do for the players that enjoy them, and what that means for Five by Five.
First, I want to define: "Old School" as it relates to me as a designer. I see OS as a game that incorporates the strengths of the gameplay of the Original RPG: Dungeons and Dragons. Interestingly, I don't think that all versions of Dungeons and Dragons accomplish this. I think that knowing where Dungeons and Dragons itself varies from its own formula teaches us something about its successes and failures.
OS D&D as a game (emphasis on game here) is a game about treasure. You kill monsters to gain loot. Your loot is dangled from your character like the ornaments on a Christmas Tree and although, there might be three 5th level human fighters in the party, none of them are the same because they all have their own bit of stuff and a collection of memories that goes with the earning of that stuff. The "memory" aspect is an important thing to acknowledge, because it relates back to the importance of "treasure." D&D isn't about casting fireballs and lightning bolts or fighting dragons ... any old tactical wargame could do that ... it's the "history" the "memories" that make D&D different, that make it an RPG. Because you play the same character from game to game and from week to week ... and more than anything it's his "stuff" that helps prove his tangible connection to his history and the evolving game world.
D&D evolved to incorporate treasure as a reward and it's a defining aspect of OLD SCHOOL Role-Play. D&D players (and other OS RPG gamers) love treasure. When Blizzard Entertainment created the computer RPG, "Diablo" they recognized this and their ability to capitalize on this made the Diablo franchise one of the most popular electronic OS simulations ever. I believe that D&D 4E's efforts to "de-emphasize" the importance of treasures is one of the key factors that contributed to its poor reception among established D&D fans. And I think that any RPG that entertains a "fantasy" backdrop will find itself burdened by this same legacy.
For me it's also important to recognize that not all RPG's are either "Storytelling" or "OS" games ... there are many variations. I do think that many combat intensive RPG's are thrown into the OS soup for their focus on the wargamer roots of the hobby, but for my purposes, these don't belong there. I am going to borrow a term from the computer games arena: Strategy RPG. I want to lump a whole family of RPG games that have a combat emphasis into the SRPG category that are neither OS games or Storytelling games.
Storytelling games are a whole other animal ... or at least they pretend to be. At first I thought that Storytelling games should be defined as those games that put the power into the creative hands of the players and that emphasize and encourage social interaction between the players over the use of strategy and conflict mechanisms. The thing is, many Storytelling games have every bit as much strategy and conflict mechanisms built into them as an OS or SRPG game, it's simply that the focus of the game mechanic has shifted from resolving a physical battle to resolving a story goal.
Players who are deeply entrenched in the OS camp will argue that they never needed any rules to tell them how to tell a story, or how to play their character, that such things are more hindrance then help. Storytelling players will argue that if such tools had been available to them, that they would have been able to tell complex interactive tales that focused on the characters rather then the combat.
Five by Five isn't an OS game. It doesn't try to recreate game play reminiscent of D&D in any form. It isn't a Storytelling game either. It doesn't contain any mechanisms for crafting a story or resolving story goals. It could be considered a Strategy RPG, if you look at all the combat options ... there is something there. But, it's not really enough ... it's just a tease of an SRPG.
I think that Five by Five is a Spontaneous RPG. That being a game that wants to tell an exciting story, but do so in a natural and unencumbered way. It uses minimal rules so that form doesn't interfere with function. The simple resolution mechanic is meant to resolve all manner of conflict swiftly and without slowing the narrative. The narrative is not given specific structure within the rules, because I, like many who grew-up playing in the OS like for my Roleplay to happen naturally as a result of the social context around my game table ... Spontaneous Role-Playing.
The thing is ... if I want Five by Five to remain spontaneous at the table, then I need to stop trying to make it into something that it's not. I have posted about this before, but I think it's important enough to my creative effort and to Five by Five's future evolution to revisit again and again.
I'm not an OS game, play will never focus on treasure or trappings.
I'm not a Strategy RPG, play will never focus on strategies for combat effectiveness.
I'm not a Storytelling game, play will never focus on defining the flow or pace of a role-play or story.
I'm a Spotaneous RPG, play will focus on fast improvisational cooperative social interaction.
That's what I want.