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OSR Differential Characteristics of OSR/TSR D&D versus WotC/Paizo D&D

DammitVictor

Druid of the Invisible Hand
I think you can differentiate races without class restrictions. You just have to not be worried about complete balance. IMO, a halfling or even a dwarf should never be able to get an 18 strength (max for humans in my games) without magic.

I don't feel like that's enough differentation for my tastes. Nonhuman PCs should still be relatable, and similar to Human PCs, but I feel like it should be different experience-- much the way that different classes offer very different play experiences, which is why I always find myself returning to race-as-class.

Which is a lot less restrictive if there's more than one racial class per race, and/or racial subclasses, and/or nonhumans are allowed to multiclass in some "human" classes.
 

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atanakar

Hero
I don't feel like that's enough differentation for my tastes. Nonhuman PCs should still be relatable, and similar to Human PCs, but I feel like it should be different experience-- much the way that different classes offer very different play experiences, which is why I always find myself returning to race-as-class.

Which is a lot less restrictive if there's more than one racial class per race, and/or racial subclasses, and/or nonhumans are allowed to multiclass in some "human" classes.

Fantasy AGE by Green Ronin uses tables for Races. At creation you roll twice on the Race Benefits table, on top of the standard racial abilities. I really like that. Makes every dwarf different. BTW their Basic book is free to download these days. You might want to give it a look. It is a short read.
 

TwoSix

Unserious gamer
Well, it certainly explains their antipathy toward Skills & Powers.
Well, that and the fact that S&P came out in the mid-90s, the time period that was the heart of the story-play/meta-narrative era. S&P is kind of a signifier of the excesses that both the OSR and Forge-type narrative games were explicit responses to.

That being said, I'd love a clone of S&P era 2E with some 21st century D&D mechanics included.
 

TwoSix

Unserious gamer
I don't feel like that's enough differentation for my tastes. Nonhuman PCs should still be relatable, and similar to Human PCs, but I feel like it should be different experience-- much the way that different classes offer very different play experiences, which is why I always find myself returning to race-as-class.

Which is a lot less restrictive if there's more than one racial class per race, and/or racial subclasses, and/or nonhumans are allowed to multiclass in some "human" classes.
Make some racial classes with some of the point-buy options from base classes plus some class-specific racially flavored options.
 

Prakriti

Hi, I'm a Mindflayer, but don't let that worry you
One of the defining characteristics of old-school D&D to me is sprawl. With each new edition or supplement, the game only got more bloated, more unwieldy, and more complex. As soon as TSR/WotC started to simplify and streamline the game (which they first started to do in 2E, but definitely took it to the next level with 3E), then a fundamental characteristic of the game had changed, and it was no longer "old-school."
 

dave2008

Legend
I don't feel like that's enough differentation for my tastes. Nonhuman PCs should still be relatable, and similar to Human PCs, but I feel like it should be different experience-- much the way that different classes offer very different play experiences, which is why I always find myself returning to race-as-class.

Which is a lot less restrictive if there's more than one racial class per race, and/or racial subclasses, and/or nonhumans are allowed to multiclass in some "human" classes.
Well, with my approach the difference can be as large or as small as you want. You clipped the part where I said: "Personally, unique traits and ability scores is enough differentiation for me."

The ability scores are a part, the other is the unique traits. The "unique traits" is were you make them more flavorful and interesting. You could even go the PF2e route and have racial feats that you can select from at certain levels. That seems like a better method to make unique races than having to make an elf, dwarf, halfling, orc, etc. version of each class. At least it does to me.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
D&D B/X(BECMI) and AD&D are two separate games to me despite the similarities.

AD&D is Gygax's continuation of OD&D, while Basic goes off on a tangent with Race-as-Class. BECMI introduced a lot more race-as-class character classes in other books. Elf-druids, etc. If the Rules Cyclopedia visual presentation wasn't so garish I would like to read it some day. But I just can't.

If you design an OSR game you have to choose either OD&D (AD&D) or Basic as reference.
I'm not sure it's quite as cut-and-dried as that.

People were happily mashing together Basic, B/X, and 1e back in 1980 without much concern. No reason one couldn't do this now, and use the result as a basis for an OSR system.
 

Honestly, to me old school and modern are much less about the mechanics, than about the way the game is ran/played. IMO, modern games focus heavily on mechanics and character ability, using dice to resolve most tasks, while old school games focus heavily on player choices and abilities, using dice only when necessary. I generally run an old school type game in 5E, having made some houserules to help bring about the feel. I've also played in a 2E game (after we quit 4E) which was ran in a very modern fashion. The edition didn't make the difference, it was the style of the DM and players that set the tone.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
I think you can differentiate races without class restrictions. You just have to not be worried about complete balance. IMO, a halfling or even a dwarf should never be able to get an 18 strength (max for humans in my games) without magic. And a goliath, minotaur and dragonkin can get to 20. Personally, unique traits and ability scores is enough differentiation for me.
We are moving away from increasing ability scores and ASIs in our 5e games. Using feats only (some feats include an ability bump)
I've slowly over the years got rid of most - but not all - race-class restrictions in my game; but there's still no arcane-casting Dwarves, Hobbit Rangers, or a few other things that just don't make sense.

Having seen a few rather broken race-class combinations arise in my current campaign, I think the next one is going to put a few more restrictions back in.

And I'll argue with you about Dwarf Strength: IMO they should be able to get to one notch better than Humans. Hobbits, on the other hand, cap out at 16.

Side note: one other aspect we tweaked is for Fighter exceptional strength (i.e. the 18.xx system for Humans) is that your race determines how far above your normal racial max you can go. We also split out the percent gradients into whole numbers this 18.41 = 19 up to 18.00 = 24, with normal Hill Giants now being 25 (this to make the Cavalier-style percentile increment system work properly). Yes this means Strength kinda works differently than the other five stats, but so be it. :)

So, a Hobbit normally caps out at 16 and exceptional strength can take it only to 18.41 (19 in our system). Dwarves normally cap out at 19 in our system, exceptional strength can take 'em to 25.
 

Aldarc

Legend
I probably prefer the new wave OSR that adopts the philosophy of old school games, but provides a far more modern experience, streamlined design, and less Gygaxian prose.

Honestly, to me old school and modern are much less about the mechanics, than about the way the game is ran/played. IMO, modern games focus heavily on mechanics and character ability, using dice to resolve most tasks, while old school games focus heavily on player choices and abilities, using dice only when necessary.
To use my favorite German expression: "Jein." It may be more accurate to say that a lot of modern mainstream "games focus heavily on mechanics and character ability, using dice to resolve most tasks." OSR does operate as you describe, but you also find this attitude in a lot of narrative-focused games. This comes from the influential Vincent Baker's "say yes or roll the dice" attitude that pops up in a lot of PbtA, Fate, and Cortex style games. Mainly the idea that the GM should say "yes" to what the players are doing unless their are stakes in play, then at which point dice should be rolled. In PbtA (and BitD) dice are rolled less about the resolution of action and more about the dramatic consequences of actions. Similarly the rules of Fate say that dice should only be rolled when there are interesting positive and negative consequences of an action.
 

dave2008

Legend
And I'll argue with you about Dwarf Strength: IMO they should be able to get to one notch better than Humans. Hobbits, on the other hand, cap out at 16.
Sure, you can argue it from a fantasy perspective (and that is what I do for some races), but all things being equal, smaller size does not make you stronger. I'm 5'10.5" and I could work-out for all my waking hours and never get close to as strong as the 6'6" man that competes in the strong-man competitions. There is to much structural difference for me to overcome.

I think of a dwarf as a shorter, squatter, human. They may be stronger then their height would lead you to believe, but they still follow basic human construction and physical ability, IMO. I generally think there range is narrower than humans too.
 

atanakar

Hero
Sure, you can argue it from a fantasy perspective (and that is what I do for some races), but all things being equal, smaller size does not make you stronger. I'm 5'10.5" and I could work-out for all my waking hours and never get close to as strong as the 6'6" man that competes in the strong-man competitions. There is to much structural difference for me to overcome.

I think of a dwarf as a shorter, squatter, human. They may be stronger then their height would lead you to believe, but they still follow basic human construction and physical ability, IMO. I generally think there range is narrower than humans too.

That is actually a question of physiology. The muscular mass and structure of the trapeze can generate more or less power. That is why chimpanzees are stronger than humans even though they are smaller (1,2m). One could argue that dwarves have stronger trapezes. Fantasy dwarves are not diminutive humans. They are a different species.
 
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the Jester

Legend
I really think people are misremembering if they think domain-level play was a thing in 2nd edition. 1st edition, maybe (but even then I question how many outside of Lake Geneva bothered with it). But 2nd edition? Fuggetaboutit. I'm sure it was referred to in the rulebooks (I haven't read mine for ages so I don't recall) but it never came up in games as far as I remembered.

We had some of it, but it wasn't tied to level (one evil group even took over a castle and imported a slave population at around 2nd or 3rd level), and I agree that it wasn't assumed in the base game. I don't remember 2e having rules for followers, for instance. That said, it's been a long time, and I imported enough 1e stuff into my 2e game that my recollection might be incorrect.
 

the Jester

Legend
I don't feel like that's enough differentation for my tastes. Nonhuman PCs should still be relatable, and similar to Human PCs, but I feel like it should be different experience-- much the way that different classes offer very different play experiences, which is why I always find myself returning to race-as-class.

Which is a lot less restrictive if there's more than one racial class per race, and/or racial subclasses, and/or nonhumans are allowed to multiclass in some "human" classes.

One of my 2e campaigns, each of the three available races had its own list of classes. Humans used PH classes, and each of the other races had something like four unique classes nobody else could play.
 

dave2008

Legend
That is actually a question of physiology. The muscular mass and structure of the trapeze can generate more or less power. That is why chimpanzees are stronger than humans even though they are smaller (1,2m). One could argue that dwarves have stronger trapezes. Fantasy dwarves are not diminutive humans. They are a different species.
That is not the whole story for chimps. Here is a recent article: The Secret to Chimpanzee Super Strength. It has to do with fiber ratios, basically humans are built for endurance and chimps are not. Also, they are not really that much stronger 1.35 - 1.5 times. I also read an older article that chimps have less control and end up using more muscles making them "stronger" because they are using more muscles than needed (found it: Why are Chimps Stronger than Humans). Regardless, that makes the average male chimp much weaker than the strongest human males, though the largest chimps would get much closer.

So you can think of dwarves as significantly different than humans and explain it that way. I just don't see them that way. In my mind, dwarves cannot get as strong as the strongest humans. That is ok, it doesn't affect your games. In fact, if I follow the chimp to human biological explanation I would make dwarves a further evolution and relatively weaker than humans, but with even greater endurance than humans. Though the different morphology (predominately endomorphs) would make up for the relatively "weaker" muscles.
 
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Lanefan

Victoria Rules
So you can think of dwarves as significantly different than humans and explain it that way. I just don't see them that way. In my mind, dwarves cannot get as strong as the strongest humans. That is ok, it doesn't affect your games. In fact, if I follow the chimp to human biological explanation I would make dwarves a further evolution and relatively weaker than humans, but with even greater endurance than humans. Though the different morphology (predominately endomorphs) would make up for the relatively "weaker" muscles.
Everything you're saying about Dwarves I apply to Hobbits: physiologically they're smaller Humans, with all that entails.

Dwarves and Gnomes are denser to the point where they rather rapidly sink in water rather than float, with more muscle mass (and thus more muscle) and stronger bone structures. Size-wise Gnomes are to Dwarves much as Hobbits are to Humans thus Gnomes are generally weaker than Dwarves; with the average Dwarf being noticeably stronger than the average Human.

Elves are, as usual, their own special kind of headache.
 

dave2008

Legend
...the average Dwarf being noticeably stronger than the average Human.
I could run with that, but I would still have the strongest humans stronger than the strongest dwarves (IMG). The strongest humans are much, much, stronger than the average.

Like I said somewhere up thread: I see dwarves as being in a narrow range. In fact, that is how I see most fantasy races. I also see sexual dimorphism being less as well.

One of the defining characteristics of humans is the great range that allows them to adapt to a multitude of environments & situations. That is what would make humans different if I were to re-write the races.
 

bmfrosty

Explorer
I haven't played extensively outside of 5e, but I'm fascinated by the TSR years and what the game was like before 3e. I think part of this is that I'm enamored with low level play and dungeon crawls which seem to be what the early part of the TSR years were about.

That said, in the reading that I've done, I'm appreciating the B/X style systems the most. Somehow peaking around Basic Fantasy for it's streamlined class progression, OSE for it's amazing layout and organization, and Dungeon Crawl Classics for it's feel and completeness.

I have things that I would change with them. I think OSE's layout with Basic Fantasy's class progression would be amazing. I think I could drop parts of DCC's spell system and be really happy with it.

I like that most characters will have at most a +2, and probably a +1 to any given attribute in all three of these systems. I like that I could play just about any TSR era adventure with these systems, and I would mostly just have to change monster AC to be ascending instead of descending - and adapt to using the three saves in the case of DCC instead of the normal 5.

I've also come to love the idea of unified race and class. It becomes easier to create new classes. The math becomes easier. Not having multiclassing makes it easier too. If someone really wants to multiclass, then it becomes a collaborative effort of designing a new class to meet some design goals.

I love what DCC has done with the Warrior as a fighting class. I think it helps even out that class balance a lot.

I also love level 0 play.

Just a bunch of thoughts about what I've come to like and dislike as I've discovered the nostalgia for something I didn't experience. I'm 45 this year. I should have been playing this in the 80s and 90s, but I just didn't have a friend group that supported such a thing at that time.
 

haakon1

Adventurer
IMHO:

Pre-AD&D and Basic: Fine, I guess, but I never played, except for running Basic modules in AD&D.

AD&D has the charm of being the fully realized vision of the founder (Gary), full of great stuff, but also disorganized. It was the game with most of the great modules, the “from actual play by the original author” setting in Greyhawk, and made D&D a household name. I learned to play & DM in AD&D, so it’s always the Real Thing to me. I played it for 21 years, DMing for 10.

2nd Edition was basically slightly reorganized AD&D plus stuff I ignored in splatbooks. It was a refinement, but it lost some of the charm of Gary’s game. Conceding to the haters by removing assassins, half-orcs, renaming demons & devils made me mad - as did the expulsion of Gary, rise of Forgotten Realms & uncountable other settings, the destruction of Greyhawk, and much of the art & modules in this era. The result of TSR shutting down sums it up - the meh edition, not terrible, but mismanagement ran it into the ground, and it’s not as lovable, I guess unless you started with it. Played it for 2 years, then moved back to DMing AD&D and other RPG’s.

3rd Edition (including 3.5e & PF) was the Renaissance, the last best version of AD&D. The game was saved from the oblivion of bankruptcy. The team wrote a game that was finally logical and organized, yet true to Gary’s vision in AD&D: default setting back to Greyhawk, original classes and races back, and Fireball and Magic Missile still work like in AD&D. The OGL was genius, saving the game against future bankruptcy and leading to the birth of hundreds of small publishers. The return of the players speaks for itself. It’s not perfect - complicated for beginners and tortured into badness some by power gamers - but it’s truly great. Still my favorite. I’ve DM’d it for 17 years.

4th Edition. I never understood the point. It’s just so different. Short rests? Powers that work lIke spells for Fighters? Fireball and Magic Missile not the same as AD&D? Star Wars cantina of races but no gnomes? I played it 5 years, but I never liked it - I liked hanging out with the group, but the rules were always just in the way of the fun for me. All that stacking of conditions - so not interested - I missed the old days when my paladin could just rush in and swing his sword with “roll a d20”, not play this card with that but only once until the next short rest - if I wanted that, I’d play MtG. A market failure, so I’m the only one who didn’t get it.

5th Edition. I have only played twice, with folks also learning it, so I don’t really know it at all. But it seems like 80% AD&D/2e/3e feel, 10% 4e, 10% new ideas, a great effort at reuniting the fan base after the edition wars. If market success proves whether it’s good or bad, it’s great! I think primarily because, like AD&D, it‘s easy to learn.
 

Ganders

Explorer
Going back to the original post: To me, one of the biggest differences in modern is Cantrips, and the philosophy behind them.

In the unique mechanics section, you could lump modern cantrips in with either "Class-specific At-Will attacks" -- as that's their first purpose, or "Ritual Magic" as they are a bit like rituals that cast quickly instead of taking ten minutes.

Or you could count them separately. Really, they're a combination of two things. First is the IC idea of unlimited magic, or magic-is-everywhere, or inherently-magical. Second but related is the OOC philosophy that a player of a magical character should never-ever have to rely on "I stab it with my dagger", that one should be able to use magic every single round/turn/action.
 

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