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OSR A Pathfinder Group Tries Old-School Essentials

kenada

Legend
Supporter
Let’s start with a bit of background. My group has (more or less) played Pathfinder since 2010. We started with (and finished) Kingmaker then moved on to other APs and adventures. We did take a break for a while to try out Fate, and after one last PF1 campaign, we did Open Legend and 5e. I’ve been running a sandbox hexcrawl Pathfinder 2e game for the last year or so (since release). Those who frequent the Pathfinder forum here and have seen my posts know I’m burnt out on it. My style is already heavily informed by e.g., the Alexandria and Grognardia, so I wanted to pitch my group on switching over to OSE. We’d done a conversion of Winter’s Daughter to PF2, and this week we finally gave OSE proper a try.

I wasn’t sure how my group would react to it. Most of them have played AD&D, though only a few seem to really recall it. Those who do still remembered getting ganked due to not having many HP or rolling bad at HP, or just didn’t have a positive impression of the pre-3e D&D. I wasn’t sure how people would feel about the customization or tactics (or lack thereof). I’m pretty pleased to say that the response was very positive. Character creation took a while, but that’s because we’re using a VTT (Foundry), and that just slows people down (especially when only a few had downloaded the basic rules, and only I had the advanced fantasy genre rules).

I wanted to keep things mostly by the book, so we could see how OSE worked for us. The only house rules I used were max HP at 1st level, and rolling 3d6 seven times in order (dropping the lowest). If we go forward with switching, I think we’ll use the card method (334455677899) in order instead of rolling. No one got really great characters, but there were a few rerolls due to “sub-par” characters. The card method is already popular with the group, and it gives characters with rough parity. Other than that, the only other changes I made was to incorporate some stuff from the advanced fantasy genre book: advanced classes, separate rates, and some of the advanced rules. Of the advanced rules, I avoided anything that added more work or limitations just to be more like AD&D (so no limits on turning undead, learning spells from scrolls, or weapon proficiency). Edit: And we used AAC.

Overall, I think it went pretty well. As a GM, I was very happy with it. I was already pulling things from OSE into my PF2 game, but not having the system get in my way was a welcome change. For example, when I was working on the adventure, I could add a trap and not have to worry about needing a bunch of stats for it. Converting the otyugh over was trivial. I loved it. There were a few things I wasn’t sure about or missed at first, but when I wasn’t sure, having players roll a d6 with a 1-in-6 chance usually seemed like the right thing. As we went along, it got even smoother. (I had hoped to put together a cheat sheet, but I ran out of time before the session.) My players said they had fun, and one of the skeptics said his impression was positive (which I felt was notable).

One of my favorite parts was the players were actually worried about being careful. When I converted Winter’s Daughter to PF2, I similarly didn’t tune it to the PCs. The cultists in the beginning were level 5 while all the PCs were level 1. Even though we were using the Proficiency Without Level variant in PF2, that’s still a rough fight (particularly for my group, which is bad at tactics). My players immediately expected they would be starting a fight as soon as they encountered the situation. Fortunately, the bard was able to trick the cultists into leaving, so we avoided a probable death (or even TPK). In OSE, they were always careful because they were so afraid of dying (even starting with max HP). I’d said things up so that it wasn’t too difficult for them to sneak around (I figured the ghouls were used to people with torches due to some of the guests they had), and the one encounter we did have ended in parley rather than fighting.

Before concluding, I will say there was one complaint about not having much to do at 1st level. My response is that seemed like it wouldn’t matter as much if the adventures weren’t just about fighting all the time. I got some agreement, but I’m not sure it was agreement. I think this is something we’ll need to discuss further. I’m really hesitant to consider adding anything that provides more options just for the sake of having more options. We’re switching away from a system that has tons of options, and my players don’t take advantage of them. There is very little tactical play, and no one is the group is really a character builder. One of my reasons for switching is that I don’t want to put up with more complexity when it’s more of an aesthetic thing than something that contributes something to the game. 😩

Due to the nature of time and how one-shots never stay confined to a single session, we’re going to be finishing up the adventure next session. After that, we’ll have a post mortem and talk about what our plans are next. I’ve already indicated that PF2 isn’t on the table, so if it’s not OSE, then it’s likely with a heavy OSE influence or something else. I hope it’s OSE though. The system is lovely to interact with and run. Even without my cheat sheets, I was able to run with the OSE book open to the right pages, and everything was laid out nicely for me. Even if that’s good enough for running, I may still make a cheat sheet just as a way to further familiarize with the system.
 
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Retreater

Legend
So I showed OSE to my group of veteran PF1 players. One player scoffed at it and said he would never go back to a Basic D&D. After a few weeks looking through it, he said it reinvigorated his love of the hobby and he instantly wanted to run it (which is saying something because I'm the "forever DM".)
Other players are wanting to ditch their PF games for OSE (or other OSR compatible system). Myself, I'm playtesting a mega-adventure I originally wrote in the 3.x, converted to Swords and Wizardry.
If anyone is looking for an OSR type game, I'd love to one day start running another group through it on Roll20, so hit me up.
 

Democratus

Adventurer
My D&D 5e group has converted to OSE and are loving it.

I think the change in venue was enough to shake them out of the rut of looking for combat encounters with everything. The "XP for Gold" reward system combined with the incredible fragility of low level characters demanded that they start using their brains more than their swords.

Even with the increased caution, I've averaged about one PC death every session. And the group seems to love it. They have embraced the lethality as a part of the world and a vindication for when they survive an excursion into the unknown.
 

I just picked up OSE and am going to try to sell my 5e group on a short campaign of it after the current one finishes.

The art in the book is just awesome, too. I love this piece by Pauliina Hannuniemi:

1612198427611.png
 

Voadam

Legend
Sounds like it is working well and you are having a good time with it so great. :)

I would expect some issues with the system that 3e-PF-4e-5e started to address regarding older D&D. Magic-users having one spell. Save or Die. Energy Drain. Healing. Low Level Thief skills. Death at 0 HP.

I have not looked into OSE's specific advanced options but alignment rules for a lot of AD&D classes (paladin, ranger, monk, druid) can be issues.

Just be aware these are common issues with older editions and might come up as they and you get into it.
 

kenada

Legend
Supporter
I would expect some issues with the system that 3e-PF-4e-5e started to address regarding older D&D. Magic-users having one spell. Save or Die. Energy Drain. Healing. Low Level Thief skills. Death at 0 HP.
I view the lethality as a feature. The PCs shouldn’t be defaulting to combat. OSE provides tools for controlling your engagement with encounters, and I intend to let PCs make full use of them.

Still, I’m not certain how people will respond to character death once one does happen. We did have a TPK in PF2 (and one before that in 5e), but that was different. If the PCs avoid combat completely in this adventure, we may have to do a mock combat or two to get a feel for what it’s like.

I don’t see the thief skills as a problem (they’re still better than their peers), but the amount of spells could be. One player did mention that after the session. I noted that there were more ways to engage with the game than just casting spells, and he seemed mollified, but I expect we’ll discuss it in our post mortem.

I have not looked into OSE's specific advanced options but alignment rules for a lot of AD&D classes (paladin, ranger, monk, druid) can be issues.
Unlike the classic fantasy genre rules, which aim to be an accurate restatement of B/X, the advanced fantasy genre rules are only inspired by AD&D. The classes are designed with B/X-levels for power and complexity, and they avoid being outright better than the classic ones. There are some alignment requirements, but none of them struck me as unreasonable (no one has to be chaotic).

Some of the advanced rules are a little fiddly or take the game in a direction that feels against the spirit of the core rules and classic fantasy genre rules, but I just don’t use those.

Just be aware these are common issues with older editions and might come up as they and you get into it.
My first D&D was 3e, so a lot of this is new to me (in a practical sense rather than just theoretical). My biggest worry is that even though everyone understands the game is pretty lethal (and acts accordingly), it’ll be a different thing once combat happens, and a PC dies. PC death isn’t new for us, but managing and dealing with expectations is still important.
 

kenada

Legend
Supporter
I think the change in venue was enough to shake them out of the rut of looking for combat encounters with everything. The "XP for Gold" reward system combined with the incredible fragility of low level characters demanded that they start using their brains more than their swords.

Even with the increased caution, I've averaged about one PC death every session. And the group seems to love it. They have embraced the lethality as a part of the world and a vindication for when they survive an excursion into the unknown.
I’ve noticed that too. My PF2 game had similar framing to the OSE game I am running now, but the PCs just assume they can fight all the things. Even when the thing is trivially avoidable and obviously a bad idea. So far, that’s not been the case here (but we’ve only had one session).

Actually, this adventure was originally written for the PF2 game. I expect if I had run it in PF2, there would have been a lot more fighting. 😒
 

Voadam

Legend
I don’t see the thief skills as a problem (they’re still better than their peers), but the amount of spells could be. One player did mention that after the session. I noted that there were more ways to engage with the game than just casting spells, and he seemed mollified, but I expect we’ll discuss it in our post mortem.

I am a fan of The B/X Rogue, also by Necrotic Gnome (the OSE publisher) for a conceptually different way to do rogue skills.

Unlike the classic fantasy genre rules, which aim to be an accurate restatement of B/X, the advanced fantasy genre rules are only inspired by AD&D. The classes are designed with B/X-levels for power and complexity, and they avoid being outright better than the classic ones.
Right, I picked up the OSE bundle at bundleofholding.com when it was on there and I am aware of the ruleset design goals, I just haven't delved into the specifics of the advanced stuff. :)
There are some alignment requirements, but none of them struck me as unreasonable (no one has to be chaotic).
Good to hear, AD&D had some alignment issues that could be problematic particularly with paladins and true Neutral druids.
Some of the advanced rules are a little fiddly or take the game in a direction that feels against the spirit of the core rules and classic fantasy genre rules, but I just don’t use those.


My first D&D was 3e, so a lot of this is new to me (in a practical sense rather than just theoretical). My biggest worry is that even though everyone understands the game is pretty lethal (and acts accordingly), it’ll be a different thing once combat happens, and a PC dies. PC death isn’t new for us, but managing and dealing with expectations is still important.
I started with B/X which OSE is based on and felt it was a fantastic intro to D&D and a well designed D&D in many ways. I have a lot of experience playing and DMing long AD&D campaigns and I like a lot of the OSR stuff, but there are still some issues that jump out to me as potentially problematic.
 

Alzrius

The EN World kitten
I view the lethality as a feature. The PCs shouldn’t be defaulting to combat.
Amen to this. I still remember the days when hitting 0 hit points meant that you were dead, rather than being "disabled" and remaining conscious.

I attended a seminar a few Gen Cons back which was specifically presented for Pathfinder players who wanted a more old-school game. It turned out to be an introduction to the Hârn RPG (which I would have known if I'd read the event description more closely). I almost left, but decided to stick around on a whim, and I'm glad I did. As it turns out Hârn separates its mechanics from its lore (i.e. HârnWorld Essentials), which meant that things like HârnManor (affiliate link) were near-totally system-agnostic supplements about how (for instance) a medieval manor is run. I've since bought a lot of those supplements, and get a great deal of use out of them when fleshing out the background when I run a game.
 

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