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OSR At What Level Is Survivability Possible?

Voadam

Adventurer
The question is at what level is a character survivable. The answer is "all levels, if you play smart." You can't go in there guns blazing like a D&D 5e character and expect to live.
Actually the original question was a little different.

What level do you think the game (or OSR in general) gives the characters a fair chance to survive a battle of even weak monsters?
Even if you play smart, being one shotted is a substantial risk in a battle against weak monsters in low level OSR.
 

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iserith

Magic Wordsmith
Actually the original question was a little different.
It is. I'm saying, effectively, that there's another way of looking at it. Rather than trying to come up with ways to make the character more survivable, what is more useful is looking at how the players should play, given how the game works. So this isn't really on the DM to make adjustments, but on the players. I suggest not doing for the players what they can do for themselves.

Even if you play smart, being one shotted is a substantial risk in a battle against weak monsters in low level OSR.
Then don't fight them, provided that XP is gained through the acquisition of treasure. Figure out a way to get the treasure with minimal or no combat. Again, that's on the players and is, in my opinion, a key component to OSR-style play.
 

Absolutely. Though there could be plenty of character death, characters made it to 2nd level back in the day. It's not like people played AD&D for years, character after character, hoping that one would finally make it to 2nd level one day, until 3e came along. Sure, you had to be more cautious, but I think a lot of OSR folks play up the death and no-mercy thing these days. A lot of that, I think, comes from their earliest experiences being with the game being run by an unskilled and inexperienced DM that thought fun is a TPK.

As much as I can remember those early adventures, I started off with the weaker opponents. Kobolds, giant rats, skeletons, etc. It still started off as nerve-wracking, but you slowly built up to greater things. And that first +1 sword that's only other feature was shedding light, getting that felt like getting Excalibur itself.

Not sure what Old-School Essentials take is on it, but the whole death at -10 HP was a thing in the 1e DMG. That gives even the weakest PC a chance to get healed before they die.

But is it possible to make it past 1st level without heavy house-ruling and a benevolent DM/fudging dice?
 

dnd4vr

The Smurfiest Wizard Ever!
5th level. That is the point IMO when you can survive most things--even if it means running away-- and can easily survive lower level monsters.
 

Retreater

Legend
OSE is death at 0 hp, roll 3d6 in order, no max HP, no magical healing at 1st level - all this is very different from what I remember of 2nd edition AD&D. And even then we were younger and didn't care as much about spending time starting over. So I guess some house rules are in order?
 

Libramarian

Adventurer
But is it possible to make it past 1st level without heavy house-ruling and a benevolent DM/fudging dice? I don't foresee a group surviving a single encounter, RAW. Unless you have like 8 PCs against 3 kobolds. Even then, a single kobold can one-shot about anyone in the party.
This encounter assumes that the PCs didn't avoid the fight by sneaking or talking their way out, because eventually everybody gets caught, and not fighting anything for months of sessions probably isn't fun (which realistically, that's what it takes to get to level 2 RAW).
Keep in mind that the kobold has only ~20% chance to hit the front-line fighter in plate. So the kobold might be able to 'one-shot' the fighter, but they're still expected to withstand a few attacks.
 

Retreater

Legend
Keep in mind that the kobold has only ~20% chance to hit the front-line fighter in plate. So the kobold might be able to 'one-shot' the fighter, but they're still expected to withstand a few attacks.
True. But it is difficult to afford plate at 1st level in the Basic system. Plus with the negative AC adjustment from a middling Dex score, sample fighter I rolled has a 15AC (I think).
 


Snarf Zagyg

Aleena died for your sins.
But is it possible to make it past 1st level without heavy house-ruling and a benevolent DM/fudging dice?
Well, by definition it must be possible, since it has occurred. :)

Yes, death was more frequent back then. Not just at low levels (low HP) but even when you get to higher levels (save or die etc.).

This tended to create a much more cautious style of play. There was a greater emphasis on "game mastery" and what people would call "meta knowledge" today (cautiously searching for traps, using poles, caltrops, fire, oil, etc.). As others have noted, you can hire henchmen too.

But yes, players survived.
 

Voadam

Adventurer
OSE is recreating B/X so that has lower HD than AD&D and later editions. I started with B/X and I am a fan.

Here are my issues with it though:

Thief skills are designed to fail until high levels, leaving thieves as MU's with no spells but leather armor and backstab. I'd prefer something like Necrotic Gnome's B/X Rogue as a variant to replace them.

1st level magic users have one spell. No casters have cantrips. Useful at will cantrips are great.

Healing is rare, clerics do not even get a spell slot until second level. I would want an unconscious condition at 0 HP and some healing mechanism like 5e HD or 3e reserve points.

Low level hp, being at risk of being one shotted or overwhelmed quickly in combat for more levels. I would want a boost to hp like +5 to everybody to start.

Save or die. The B/X rule book sample description of an adventure had a 2nd level thief Black Dougal check a chest for traps, finding none he opened it and found out he missed his find traps check. He got hit with a poisoned needle and missed his saving throw so instantly dead. He did everything right and died from a single missed save. Even though the save gets better with levels poison is a save or die single roll threat at every level. I'd prefer save or unconscious or save and something else.

Energy drain. Blech.

I remember a lot of whiffing at low levels. PC attacks are not that accurate.

It is a good rule set that is quick and will not require a ton of character sheet referencing.
 


Snarf Zagyg

Aleena died for your sins.
OSE is recreating B/X so that has lower HD than AD&D and later editions. I started with B/X and I am a fan.

Here are my issues with it though:

{snip}

It is a good rule set that is quick and will not require a ton of character sheet referencing.
You just listed most of the reasons people play B/X and clones thereof. :)

If you're stripping out most of the things that make it what it is, why not just play one of the many fantasy systems that are rules-light and are not trying to emulate B/X?
 

Ed_Laprade

Adventurer
Tour Guide: "And here, ladies and gentlemen, is the... ahem... famous Mural of Heroes. You'll note that the dozen various heroes are all dying from single spider bites. Most embarrassing for them."
Yeah, we actually found such a mural. And all of the adventurers were about half of the characters that I'd had who died at 1st level at that point. So it was a big deal to get to second level, and an even bigger one to get to 3rd!
As for the question at hand, I'd say start with full HP at 1st, with half, or rolled if higher, at subsequent levels. And start at second or third. That was when it seemed a lot less likely that we'd get one-shotted. Not that it couldn't happen, but it seemed a lot less likely!
 

Voadam

Adventurer
You just listed most of the reasons people play B/X and clones thereof. :)

If you're stripping out most of the things that make it what it is, why not just play one of the many fantasy systems that are rules-light and are not trying to emulate B/X?
I disagree :)

I played a lot of B/X and there is more to the experience than low level failure, lack of resources, and vulnerability. Half of the B/X formula is Expert Set after all where the hp situation and combat has changed dramatically, thieves have a decent shot at succeeding on thief skills, and spellcasters generally have options from multiple spells and magic items.

I tended to play Dwarves and Fighters with an occasional Elf and had a good time, even though the whiffing and low hp were less than optimal for my tastes. Even when we switched to AD&D it was pretty much a B/X chassis with AD&D add-ons.

I much prefer the stat modifiers from BX to AD&D also, it is nice to be able to roll stats and go and it be mechanically not such a big deal as AD&D's reverse bell curve.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
And whilst you can play smart, and avoid as much combat as possible, and ambush where you can't avoid and so on, it's still quite likely even a smart player, in a smart group, is going to have their PC killed in typical OSR rules, simply because of literally one unlucky (and not even crit) roll.

I mean, I'm surprised people are trying to argue around this. Anyone who played older editions or who has played OSR games know that it's basically true. Unless you manage to almost entirely avoid combat until around L3, the chances are quite high that some PCs will die (barring generous death rules).
I don't see any problem here at all. Of course some of 'em are gonna die. Don't sweat it.

Most OSR games, if they're doing it right, have very fast char-gen at low levels; which means death doesn't knock a player out of the game for too long. Also, with low-level characters being generally easier to play in OSR, there's nothing at all stopping you from allowing players to run more than one each in the party. That way, when one dies they've still got the other.
 


Lanefan

Victoria Rules
But is it possible to make it past 1st level without heavy house-ruling and a benevolent DM/fudging dice? I don't foresee a group surviving a single encounter, RAW. Unless you have like 8 PCs against 3 kobolds. Even then, a single kobold can one-shot about anyone in the party.
Yes, and anyone in the party can one-shot a kobold. Rough math tells me that's 5 PCs standing after that combat.

And if the MU has Sleep, she can one-shot the whole lot of 'em. :)

That said, maybe the first adventure doesn't need to be all about combat. Have their first mission be to go and map a dungeon that's already been cleaned out*, as practice on working together. Give xp for things other than combat, based on what they do and-or how they do it.

* - well, a few minor things might have moved in since... ;)

Oh, and use the death at -10 option from 1e, with 0 being unconscious.

This encounter assumes that the PCs didn't avoid the fight by sneaking or talking their way out, because eventually everybody gets caught, and not fighting anything for months of sessions probably isn't fun (which realistically, that's what it takes to get to level 2 RAW).
So let 'em fight, and let 'em die, as long as they're having fun doing it.

You'll be surprised by one thing, if your experience matches mine in the least: while individual characters may drop like flies, you'll be amazed just how resilient the party as a whole can be and at how hard it can be to get a TPK.
 


S'mon

Legend
I'm looking into the OSR movement to find something simple and quick to run for an online group with not a lot of time for long sessions. One player has complained that 5e requires too much looking at the sheet and it takes him out of the game. So I'm looking into Old School Essentials based on good reviews and testimonials on here.
Everyone in this group started with AD&D 2nd edition, so we're not completely spoiled by 5e character power levels. But I just cannot wrap my head around a single kobold being the statistic equal to a 1st level PC. And even "smart play" that requires a 10% hide in shadows to sneak up on them is almost a guaranteed fail.
I'm thinking that the only way B/X works is to start higher than 1st level. What level do you think the game (or OSR in general) gives the characters a fair chance to survive a battle of even weak monsters?
I use the OSRIC 1e clone with max hp at 1st level and death at -10. With the weapon spec rules for all warrior classes this is very survivable - my lot have reached levels 3-4 with 0 PC deaths.

It is important to use the weapon spec rules and RAW initiative because weapon spec gives multi attack in round 1 and RAW init rule is that warriors with multi attack always attack first. Makes an enormous difference.

Beyond that 1e gives Clerics 3 clw at 1st.

I often gives Thieves bonuses on their skill checks but not strictly necessary. Just remember a failed check does not mean trap springs or monster is alert, that still needs to be determined normally.
 

Orius

Adventurer
If you're playing a classic edition of the game, it's not the PC's levels that matter as much as the players' Int and Wis scores where survival is concerned. Stupid mistakes get punished. The DM's Wis matters too, when you come down to it, since he shouldn't be going into full blown killer mode either.

Of course, it involves different playstyles too. Pre-2e XP primarily came from treasure and smart players avoided unnecessary risks like combat. 2e toned that down by making XP for gp optional, and combined with a more heroic approach, the nature of the game subtly shifted.
 

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