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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

Explorer
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.
 


Voadam

Legend
Is this fully compatible with OSE?

And this is a great thread :)
Yes. It is designed to replace the B/X thief and be compatible with Labyrinth Lord. It was designed before OSE but since OSE is redoing B/X it should be just as compatible.

From its introduction:

"Instead of a fixed list of skills with percentage chance of success improving as the character advances, rogues have talents with which they are fully proficient but whose number increases as the character advances. This change is intended to address a very common complaint about the thief class: namely that very poor skill percentages at low levels cripple the class' ability to do the very things at which it should excel. Once a rogue learns a talent, he or she is able to perform it at full efficacy."

This does have an issue of picking your best concept ones first, then at higher level you just get your lesser choices as add ons and generally not higher level/better/more powerful powers. I think it could benefit a lot from having some tiered powers. I still like it a lot better than the standard getting a couple low percentage things as your special abilities.
 

Democratus

Explorer
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.
Well, I'm almost a year in and dozens of sessions, so I feel we have gotten into it.

All of those issues you list are features for us. The wilderness is not meant for civilized people and it hates you. Dungeons are the mythic underworld and it hates you.

The parties (I'm running about 20 players in a West Marches campaign) usually go out with a large entourage of hirelings, mercenaries, and followers. They spend gold building homes and fortifications. And each character is hoping to be able to retire as the lord of a small fiefdom (about 7 hexes) of their own.

Characters have to survive on wits and ingenuity. Often times we will complete a dungeon run with almost no expenditure of spells and only a few fights.

If things get out of hand there are rules for running away: dropping food/treasure to distract the creature chasing you. Rules for winning fiends and influencing monsters. Rules for exploration and delving.

In short, we are hooked. :)
 

TwoSix

Unserious gamer
Supporter
I'm waiting for Worlds without Number to come out (by OSR god Kevin Crawford), but I'm excited to run an actual dungeon crawl/hexcrawl for the first time.
 


kenada

Legend
Supporter
Good to hear, AD&D had some alignment issues that could be problematic particularly with paladins and true Neutral druids.
Well, there are alignment restrictions: assassins can’t be lawful; knights must be the same alignment as their liege; rangers can’t be chaotic; and druids and paladins must be neutral and lawful respectively. The closest thing that comes to a code that could cause party strife is the knight’s chivalric code, but that only governs the knight’s behavior. I feel like if you can manage a party with mixed alignments, then a party with a druid, a paladin, and a neutral assassin should work (albeit very interestingly).

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.
Yup, and I’m looking at it coming from the other direction. Given the kind of game I run, which tends to be more exploration-focused than story-driven, there’s some friction with newer systems. That’s not to say they can’t be made to do what I want, but they either don’t offer much support (5e) or have things I just don’t feel like dealing with anymore (PF2).

Some of those things you listed are features, but some I am aware could be problems. That’s why I had people start at max HP. I’m sticking with the death-at-0 rule for now because I want to see how it plays in practice. I do like that the PCs are afraid of the dungeon, and I’d hate to undermine that.

As for the skills and spells stuff, I’m fine with the thief class being better than its peers but still not very good at 1st level. If it turns out a problem in practice, I can look for remedies, but I want to see how things go before making changes. The same goes for spells. If the party is mostly engaging with the game outside of combat, then having a limited number of spells should be less of an issue.

Anyway, I appreciate the warning. Since we (as a group) have little to no experience with B/X, and I don’t want people’s experiences with AD&D to color that, I’m trying to be conservative in what I change. However, if we do go forward with OSE, then I definite know we won’t be doing 3d6 in order again. We gave it a try, and it felt bleh. We’ll be doing a variant of the card method (as described in the OP).
 
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Voadam

Legend
All of those issues you list are features for us. The wilderness is not meant for civilized people and it hates you. Dungeons are the mythic underworld and it hates you.

Sure, features for some instead of bugs. Since they are not universally considered features it is worth considering and being aware of though. :)
Characters have to survive on wits and ingenuity.

And luck. Which is also a feature for some and a bug for others.

Save or die comes down to a die roll, not wits or ingenuity. The literal example of play on page B59 of Moldvay Basic has the thief die from save or die after having done everything right.

Morgan: "Fred examines the block."
Fredrik: "For traps."
Morgan: "Sorry, Fred; for traps."
Dougal: "I'm looking for traps on the box, too."
DM (rolling for Fred, even though the block is not trapped; the DM also rolls for Dougal's "find traps" ability. The roll indicates that Dougal has failed to find the poisoned needle in the latch.) "Neither of you finds a trap."
Fredrik: "I'm pushing, pulling, and trying to twist the block."
DM: "When you push it, a secret door opens in the west section of the southwest wall. You see a 5' wide corridor that goes south for 30' and ends at a door."
Morgan: "Fred and Silverleaf will guard the secret door, and Black Dougal will open the box. I'll search through the rags. Anything that looks like a cloak or boots?"
DM: "Black Dougal, you find out that you missed a tiny discolored needle in the latch. Roll a saving throw vs. Poison, please!"
Dougal (rolling): "Missed it!"
DM: "Black Dougal gasps 'Poison!' and falls to the floor. He looks dead."
:)
 
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kenada

Legend
Supporter
Is this method draw two random cards? For a range of 6-18 but averages between 11 and 12?
Yep. We’ve used it in the past (with other distributions in PF1 and 5e). As far as random ability scores goes, my players really like drawing cards compared to rolling dice. Everyone has the same total amount of points (valued within a small spread of point buy equivalents), so it feels fair.
 
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Mannahnin

Adventurer
The other easy tweak to 3d6 in order I like is to give the players the option of flipping the set. Subtract every score from 21 to get an exactly "upside-down" mirror of their numbers. This allows just a little bit of customization and turns a bad set of mostly below-average numbers into a good set! But, for example, if you happened to roll a 15 Wisdom and some bad numbers in your first set and really wanted to be a Cleric, maybe you choose to keep that set.

The way I've been running my existing game I've just told my players to re-roll if their total modifiers are negative, but this does occasionally result in someone having to re-roll multiple times. The "flip" option ensures that no one has to be stuck with a bad set, but doesn't need any re-rolling.

I can definitely see the virtue of the card method though, in terms of giving the players a uniform/even set of total values. Definitely a selling point for players accustomed to point buy.
 
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