D&D 5E How Old-School is 5th Edition? Can it even do Old-School?


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The DMG even acknowledges the game can be low or high, but neither are the standard (which is in between) by the table for Starting Equipment on page 38.

So, I don't consider the default high magic as you suggest. I know the default certainly isn't low magic! It is determined by the DM/table and how the world is presented to the players.

I would add that it is also determined by the tiers IMO for most groups. Most games never make it to tier 3, let along tier 4, so casters don't really have to be limited to make your world "low magic".

5E can certainly be high magic IF you are engaged in the higher levels at some point, give out tons of magic items, narrate your world is high magic because it is super common (streets lit by continual flame spells in any significant established community), etc.

I very much consider my game low magic, mostly because magic is rare. Casters are rare, you don't have a priest in every town to raise dead (as EGG suggested at one point IIRC...), and finding magic items, especially permanent ones are a true treasure!
Magic doesn't feel rare if all the PCs are running around casting spells all the time.
 

Which is why I also mention the idea of relative to tiers of play and the narrative of the world Either way, what is "high magic" is subjective.

As to other fantasy games, I couldn't really say, D&D is pretty much the only fantasy game I've played. For other fiction, most of the fiction I've read is D&D-based, with only a couple exceptions--some less magical, some more.
Funny thing. The recent release Legend of Vox Machina on Amazon is based on a long-running streaming D&D campaign, but the show itself feels lower magic than most D&D campaigns i know (including the one it was based on).
 

That seems like a weird and twisted bit of logic. If the 5E warlock is supposed to be "average population", then by that standard the B/X magic-user should be too.

Even the 1E DMG points out the fact that player characters are not average individuals and atypical from the "common man", right in the section on bell curves, stats and the like.
I guess the question becomes,"How atypical are the PCs"? The gap seems to be getting wider and wider every time WotC opens their mouths lately.
 


Ok, given the concepts you include below, how would you (anyone, not just @Voadam) use them to "improve 5th edition"?
How would you implement them?

I know how I might, but I am curious what others would do.


  • Use in-depth descriptions from both the DM and player to increase character immersion.
  • Handle interactions more free-form and less with dice rolling mechanics.
  • Focus more on player decisions than mechanics.
  • Go with the player presented concept of their character more than the stats written on their sheet.


  • sandboxing and random encounters
  • higher lethality in tone
  • more of a gold acquisition orientation
  • resource management importance
  • mega-dungeoneering
I think given all the ideas/ suggestions, it would be interesting to create a document with ways to incorporate ideas for giving 5E and old school feel, offering dozens of variants (like those in the DMG for a grittier feel) which would bring these concepts into the game.
Replace the entire exploration system (and likely the ranger) with the journey rules in Level Up, for starters.
 

DND_Reborn

Legend
Magic doesn't feel rare if all the PCs are running around casting spells all the time.
So, don't do that. ;)

Funny thing. The recent release Legend of Vox Machina on Amazon is based on a long-running streaming D&D campaign, but the show itself feels lower magic than most D&D campaigns i know (including the one it was based on).
No idea. I don't watch it because I think it is offensive garbage. YMMV, of course.

Replace the entire exploration system (and likely the ranger) with the journey rules in Level Up, for starters.
If someone buys me a copy, I might, but I will have to wait to see just how they did it.
 

So, don't do that. ;)


No idea. I don't watch it because I think it is offensive garbage. YMMV, of course.


If someone buys me a copy, I might, but I will have to wait to see just how they did it.
One issue I've found is that, since most changes to 5e to make it more Old School involve limiting the player's abilities or otherwise adding restrictions, it can be difficult to get player buy-in. The modern player really hates having their toys taken away.
 


overgeeked

B/X Known World
One issue I've found is that, since most changes to 5e to make it more Old School involve limiting the player's abilities or otherwise adding restrictions, it can be difficult to get player buy-in. The modern player really hates having their toys taken away.
It’s infinitely easier to add toys than remove them. Then you’re Santa doling out presents instead of Scrooge taking them away.
 


I guess this question is primarily directed at people who consider 5th edition to be a system that works reasonably well enough for a more old-school style campaign. What exactly is it about the mechanics that has a certain old-school ring to it, or makes it suitable to be used for such a purpose?
I feel that if you just stuck to the core three books you could do old school pretty well. It has a similar flow, similar language, and the rule constructs are closely equivalent. Where it doesn't match (at least from my memory) is the healing and cantrips.
 


Voadam

Legend
Funny thing. The recent release Legend of Vox Machina on Amazon is based on a long-running streaming D&D campaign, but the show itself feels lower magic than most D&D campaigns i know (including the one it was based on).
Because the only PC casters are a cleric, a druid, and a bard and the cleric is MIA for a lot of it? Barbarian, rogue, gunslinger (Pathinder class), and ranger round out the party.

IMO it seems normal D&D levels of magic. The NPC bad guy is a caster using a lot of magic that shows up a lot. The rogue's dagger keeps popping up as a neat flashy non mundane weapon. The druid seems to be throwing spells every combat or turning into a tiger. The bard is constantly using flashy magic. There is a whole plot point about lots of residuum and ritual stuff.

For a while I forgot it was pathfinder based and thought the gunslinger was a reskinned warlock with his eldritch blast being portrayed as a magic gun. The magic of the gun, the smoking plague mask, and being inspired by a hidden dark power to make the gun after swearing vengeance all seemed to fit.

I have never seen Critical Role so I can't say how accurate it is to the campaign, but it felt like a D&D world to me. Probably more 4e/Pathfinder/5e than B/X or AD&D in tone, but comfortably D&D in its level of magic.
 

teitan

Legend
I would personally love to see a publisher put out a pseudo-DMG 2 that has all of these ideas incorporated, as well as optional initiative rules and resting rules and things like that. That was the kind of modular 5e I originally thought they were going for. Plug and play D&D.
I think we still got it with 5e if you take into account the DMG but no one ever talks about the DMG and youtube "influencers" always say, going all the way back, that you don't need it. I find it very useful, especially for new players, and the optional rules in there are very modular and some are easy to turn off and on even at the table. The only optional rules that once turned on that don't have an off switch are races and feats.
 

havard

Adventurer
I started out with the BECMI edition and when I have run 2nd Ed, 3E or 5E, I tend to try to DM in the same style that I developed all those years ago. That doesn't mean my style confirms to what other people accept as Old School though. Most notably, I am not overly concerned with the game being about dungeon survival.

I enjoy 5E, but I find the following to be most contrary to my own style:
  • Resource management (spells, HP etc) is gone. I find this frustrating as a DM. Most encounters will have the PCs at their full HP and spells. I don't mind this so much from a lethality standpoint, but to me its mostly about lack of consequences. The battle fought yesterday is irrelevant to 5E PCs.
  • Equipment and Magic Items play a small role. For me the most disappointing thing about this is that the players don't really care about treasure anymore. Exceptions are the huge and incredibly powerful magic items. Mundane items are irrelevant. Noone needs torches since the light spell cantrip is available and most races will have Darkvsion anyway.
  • Everyone has magic. With a few exceptions, most characters will have access to spells.

The biggest issue I have is that the characters have very little motivation to interact with the world. They don't need to talk to the guy in the store since they don't need to buy equipment. They don't need to built a shelter to survive the night because a short rest will have them back at close to full fighting capacity.

I think dungeon crawls probably work better in 5E than Wilderness adventures. The focus is also very much on immediate events rather than adventures that involve weeks of travel etc.

-Havard
 

AnotherGuy

Adventurer
I started out with the BECMI edition and when I have run 2nd Ed, 3E or 5E, I tend to try to DM in the same style that I developed all those years ago. That doesn't mean my style confirms to what other people accept as Old School though. Most notably, I am not overly concerned with the game being about dungeon survival.

I enjoy 5E, but I find the following to be most contrary to my own style:
  • Resource management (spells, HP etc) is gone. I find this frustrating as a DM. Most encounters will have the PCs at their full HP and spells. I don't mind this so much from a lethality standpoint, but to me its mostly about lack of consequences. The battle fought yesterday is irrelevant to 5E PCs.
  • Equipment and Magic Items play a small role. For me the most disappointing thing about this is that the players don't really care about treasure anymore. Exceptions are the huge and incredibly powerful magic items. Mundane items are irrelevant. Noone needs torches since the light spell cantrip is available and most races will have Darkvsion anyway.
  • Everyone has magic. With a few exceptions, most characters will have access to spells.

The biggest issue I have is that the characters have very little motivation to interact with the world. They don't need to talk to the guy in the store since they don't need to buy equipment. They don't need to built a shelter to survive the night because a short rest will have them back at close to full fighting capacity.

I think dungeon crawls probably work better in 5E than Wilderness adventures. The focus is also very much on immediate events rather than adventures that involve weeks of travel etc.

-Havard
I agree with you wholeheartedly. 5e as is doesn't work as well for those who want to capture the old-school style of play. The redeeming feature of 5e is that the chassis is easy to manipulate.

I had to
(1) change the rest system
(2) tie the expending of resources to HD and the exhaustion mechanic (no longer are characters always at full power)
(3) bring back the touch attack for ethereal-like creatures (usually undead)
(4) magical items can be destroyed using DMG rules for item breakage with bonuses for enchantment
and a few other things.
 

dave2008

Legend
I think I could make this game work as something that is appealing to me, by creating my own custom XP award system to roughly double the time to level up, using the slow rest variant that requires a week of rest to regain spells, enforcing food and water mechanics, overhauling Encumbrance, hard-capping the game at 10th level, porting in the wandering monster mechanics and monster reaction rules from older games, and so on. But would that even still be running 5th edition or rather some custom homebrew abomination?

I guess this question is primarily directed at people who consider 5th edition to be a system that works reasonably well enough for a more old-school style campaign. What exactly is it about the mechanics that has a certain old-school ring to it, or makes it suitable to be used for such a purpose?
@Yora It all depends what you are looking for in that "Old School" feel. Old school means different things to different people. Also, some people don't play OSR type games, because they don't like or want some of the Old Schools things. We started out playing D&D in the 80s with a mashup of AD&D 1e and BECMI, so we have a bit of that Old School mentality. We have several house rules that give us an Old School feeling (and some that do not). They don't break our game and it is very much still 5e (as in you can use the monsters in the MM and official adventures to some extent). From what I hear from you, here are my suggestions for you:

Leveling: It took my group 6 years to reach lvl 15 playing 1 or 2/month for 4-8hrs. How did we achieve this, we ditched XP completely. Now we did this back in the 80s too, so it was an Old School feel for us. But e simply level when we feel it is appropriate. Alternately, if you still want to track XP, just make the requirements for each level higher as you suggest. However, I might triple the requirement, not double. One leveling house-rule we have that you might like is that we can only level up during Downtime as you need to research, train, etc.

Ability Scores: We cap scores at 18; however, if you want a really Old School feel cap them at 16. 5e still works very well (I say even better) with lower ability scores.

Hit Points: Instead of capping level (because you want those features down the line), soft cap hit points at level 10. Then, starting a 11th level you get fixed hit points based on your HD only: 1 for d6, 2 for d8, 3 for d10, and 4 for d12.

Rest and Recovery: Keep short and long rest as is (for spells and abilities), but add Extended Rest. An extended rest is one week and must occur in a safe place. You can send 1 HD to recover hit points after each extended rest or 2 HD if you use a healers kit.

Death and Dying: Option 1, death at 0 (this is what we do, but we have other non-old school rules the affect this). Option 2, every time you make a death save you suffer a level of exhaustion. Option 3: no death saves and your dead at negative hit points equal to your CON modifier.

Food and Water: We didn't use rules for this in 1e and we don't now. However, I have heard good things about how Level Up (Advanced 5th Edition) has tools to enforce this. You might check out this thread: Reflections on Exploration rules in play for how they give that type of Old School feel. It seems right up your alley.

Encumbrance: We never used it 1e and we don't now. I don't really have any suggestions on this one.

Magic:
  • Limit cantrips. Option 1: They require a spell slot to cast. Option 2: you can cast them prof. bonus /long rest.
  • Spell disruption: If a caster takes damage during a round, before casting a spell, it can't cast that round.

All of these can help give the Old School feel and work very well with 5e. In fact, I think the default game actually works better with revised ability score caps and hit point rules. It makes Monsters more threaten, but not out of reach, at higher level which is a problem some groups have.

The big issue you will have is official adventures if you use them. You will need to add a lot more content to level up your characters to the expected levels of the adventure.
 
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S'mon

Legend
But you really can't do that and accomplish the goal. Successive editions keep adding more stuff. To emulate the older way, PCs have to have less raw power.
No, you give the Fighters awesome Fighting Styles, better armour, better Feats. You increase mook hit points damage & saves, start everyone at 3rd or 5th. Actually feels way lower fantasy.
 


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