In the same vein as the Old School Primer available for free over on Lulu, here are, as I see them, some of the principles behind Middle School gaming (i.e., those of us stuck somewhere between grognard and newbie status). This isn't definitive or anything like that as I make no pretenses to know what the hell I'm talking about: this is, after all, only opinion.
1)Rulings, Not Rules: There is no difference here between Old and Middle schools. It is vital that what a player/character can do is not pre-defined for them. Extensive and expansive rule sets only give the illusion of more variety of action; instead, they tend to limit action by constraining it into a set of pre-programmed options.
2)Challenge the Player AND the Character: Intelligent and skilled play are crucial to the game and character survival. Players must do much more than merely roll dice to survive. However, certain challenges are designed for the character and not the player. A character with an 18 intelligence played by a player with a 13 intelligence has to be taken into account in some way. The same goes for instances where a character would have knowledge that a player does not (for instance, a cultural oddity that the player is unaware of) that has an effect on game play. One should never expect, though, to simply dice their way through anything. This leads me into point #3 . . .
3)Playing as Character: This is not an advocation of method acting, or support of role playing as amateur theater hour. This is the acknowledgement that each player assumes the part of the character that they create and run. Players should make some effort to "play the part" rather than treating the character as nothing more than a construct of numbers and a game piece. They should be speaking as their character rather than saying "my character says . . ." and they should have the character act appropriately. A character who is a physical coward should be played as such.
4)Story, Not Plot: We all of us like a good, tight plot in a book or movie. It's essential there. But an RPG adventure or, even worse, an entire campaign should not belabour under any kind of plot. The substance of an adventure or campaign should never depend upon the PC's going directly from point A to B to C with no deviation. However, creating an adventure or campaign around a story, or potential story is fine. For example, the story of how the characters confronted the evil wizard lord of the tower might make a great adventure, but the minute that "scripted events" start appearing, something has gone wrong.
These are just preliminary items. There are more that are lurking about that just haven't been explicated yet.
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