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


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Voadam

Legend
(bold added)

Such as?
That would depend on the aspects of OSR that you like.

For me it would be to 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.

For others it might be sandboxing and random encounters, higher lethality in tone, more of a gold acquisition orientation, resource management importance, or mega-dungeoneering.
 

DND_Reborn

Legend
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.

That would depend on the aspects of OSR that you like.

For me it would be to...
  • 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.

For others it might be...
  • 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.
 

Handle interactions more free-form and less with dice rolling mechanics.
It's been a while since I read the 5E PHB or DMG, other than for reference. I don't recall what it says regarding rolling ability and skill checks. Is it implied throughout that ability and skill checks should be the primary resolution system outside of combat? To get the full picture is it safe to say I'd have to re-read both books cover to cover to put it all together?
 

Yora

Legend
I think XP for treasure would be a big one. Though if putting treasure hunting into the center is an improvement is subjective.
But I think it's the key to make a campaign actually play like the hypothetical ideal of Dungeons & Dragons. A game of exploring dungeons and facing off against dragons.

Once you have XP for treasure in place, you can bring back wandering monsters. Because when fighting wandering monsters offers no meaningful reward for the danger they pose, they become something that players want to avoid. And that fundamentally changes what a dungeon is and how it works as a game structure.
You also have an incentive to be stealthy and smart. Not simply to get a combat advantage whe you find a monster, but to bypass it entirely if practical. This opens up a big world of creative approaches to obstacles other than rolling initiative.

Using reaction rolls to randomize the initial disposition of encountered creatures is another great element. It creates uncertainy for the players if they should suprise attack creatures they sneaked up on, and it also generates a great range of unexpected interactions with monsters, that have a good chance to be memorable. And again, with XP coming from treasure, there is more incentive to negotiate for nonviolent outcomes of encounters.

In such a campaign, encumbrance starts serving a purpose, as retreats become a viable option without getting The Story stuck in a dead end. Exploring a dungeon swiftly and being able to make a fast retreat become a priority, which conflicts with being prepared with the tools and supplies for a wide range of situations.
If you can't do multiple short rests in a day, you have further incentives to explore smarter, and not harder. I think people's complaints about exploration not being well developed comes from the complete absence of such a structure for movement through a dungeons with constraints and conflicting priorities.

Though if you want to play the game to follow an elaborate story with cool action scenes, that probably won't add anything to the experience.
 

My own personal takes:

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.
Talk more, be more descriptive. Dm's need to fill spaces with stuff - empty rooms are not good for creative play.
  • Handle interactions more free-form and less with dice rolling mechanics.
This is on the dm: be stingy with rolls. If it's likely to work because the plan is good - it just works.
  • Focus more on player decisions than mechanics.
This follows from the above point: if the players are rewarded for engaging with the fiction more deeply, they will do so. Good plans (and I know 'good' is doing a lot of work here) should allow players to skip the rolls. Using a class feature directly should be a fallback option.
  • Go with the player presented concept of their character more than the stats written on their sheet.
Here's a tougher one. I would say limit mechanical options (no feats) but let features they do have be used more broadly. Inspiring Leader should be the sort of thing anyone can do if they can give a decent speech.

I'd also lean into "you have proficiency, so you can do it" as much as possible.
  • sandboxing and random encounters
This is totally doable with the game as written. I might add an option for fleeing: if all the players agree to flee, initiative ends and the pc's try to run away via chase mechanics (or not, if the enemy lets them leave.)
  • higher lethality in tone
Nix boring resurrection spells. Maybe reduce or eliminate death saves.
  • more of a gold acquisition orientation
XP for gold is a quick answer here.
  • resource management importance
Track everything. Don't allow too many rests.
  • mega-dungeoneering
No rules changes needed, just make megadungeons. If anything I'd say 5e works better in those kinds of settings, especially if they're built to require a lot of small encounters between rests.
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.
 

Reynard

Legend
No rules changes needed, just make megadungeons. If anything I'd say 5e works better in those kinds of settings, especially if they're built to require a lot of small encounters between rests.
I would say that a megadungeon requires an overhaul of the XP chart. 5E PCs blast through levels, and if you want them to explore they need to spend some time on each level of the megadungeon. If they gain levels too quickly they'll just head "downstairs" at the first opportunity.
 

S'mon

Legend
I would say that a megadungeon requires an overhaul of the XP chart. 5E PCs blast through levels, and if you want them to explore they need to spend some time on each level of the megadungeon. If they gain levels too quickly they'll just head "downstairs" at the first opportunity.

Definitely not my experience running megadungeons in 5e. In fact IME the PCs if anything tend to stall out on upper levels, being afraid of going too deep. 5e PCs in the level 4-10 range in a megadungeon or other sandbox environment generally do not advance quickly IME. If anything the game feels a bit slow & grindy due to combat taking longer than in 0e-2e.
 

S'mon

Legend
Once you have XP for treasure in place, you can bring back wandering monsters. Because when fighting wandering monsters offers no meaningful reward for the danger they pose, they become something that players want to avoid. And that fundamentally changes what a dungeon is and how it works as a game structure.
You also have an incentive to be stealthy and smart. Not simply to get a combat advantage whe you find a monster, but to bypass it entirely if practical. This opens up a big world of creative approaches to obstacles other than rolling initiative.

I don't strictly use GP = XP, but I definitely find that the PCs seek to avoid unnecessary combat. The biggest factor is that I use 1 week long rests, so there tends to be a 'mission' focus on getting the job done before LR resources run out.

I definitely agree with variable monster reactions, not necessarily always by a reaction roll, but many creatures should not auto-attack.
 

S'mon

Legend
I might add an option for fleeing: if all the players agree to flee, initiative ends and the pc's try to run away via chase mechanics (or not, if the enemy lets them leave.)

Nix boring resurrection spells. Maybe reduce or eliminate death saves.

I use death saves as normal, I generally ban raise dead & resurrection, but allow revivify. Still get a lot of dead PCs typically.

Re fleeing, in a tabletop game generally I require the PCs to escape the battlemat in order to go out of combat. On VTT where the battlemat might be much bigger usually it's when no PC is in line of sight of the enemy. Many enemies will not pursue far, but some will.
 

S'mon

Legend
That would depend on the aspects of OSR that you like.

For me it would be to 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.

For others it might be sandboxing and random encounters, higher lethality in tone, more of a gold acquisition orientation, resource management importance, or mega-dungeoneering.

My game is definitely more the second paragraph, in particular emphasis on sandboxing, status quo encounters, PCs can die, gold is useful (lots of crafting IMC), and there are two megadungeons in the campaign area - Stonehell & Barrowmaze.

I think the biggest thing is that the game is primarily player-directed; there are threats, but the biggest focus is on PCs setting goals and trying to achieve them. This often means establishing bases/strongholds. Whenever a likely dungeon, castle or tower is cleared, the PCs will often evaluate it as a new base. The campaign map changes significantly over time as some dungeons/lairs become 'points of light', and other areas fall into darkness. Currently one group holds formerly-ruined Fort Skulnar as the capital of a domain they are building, Ironwolf Manor. Another group rules from D'Ashe Festhall after killing Gurzun Half-Orc, the former festhall boss (corporate takeover with extreme prejudice) :D and have begun expanding further - the dwarf PC Fraener has taken the ruined dwarf hold of Khundrakar as his fortress, while last session the elf prince Strohm retook the ancient elven tower of Solanna Bael.

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S'mon

Legend
Crafting is a big focus IMC, I use the Xanathar's rules with the DMG level limits. A recent influx of dragons due to events in the north has resulted in an explosion of dragon-related item crafting :D - eg Fraener (PC) dwarf lord of Khundrakar recently sent white dragon hide to Nathia (PC) the Goliath leathersmith of Ironwolf Manor with an order for Boots of the Winterlands. Over the last 17 months of play the PCs have accumulated a lot of found and crafted magic items, this somewhat replaces Feats as a PC build element, and can help with PC survivability. More importantly perhaps, hunting dragons and other monsters for their hide & other components is a nice PC-directed activity/goal.

The current Ironwolf/Skulnar group:
Greeba of Soravia (Jelena) Half-Orc female Barbarian-6 (Berserker) XP 17,280/23,000 AC 20 (half plate, shield +1, DEX+2) HP 59 (14+9/level) P-PER 10 P-INV 9 P-INS 13 +1 warhammer; flametongue longsword (a), shield +1
Gorlock the Warlock (Tony) Half-Elf male Celestial Warlock-6 XP 17,280/23,000 AC 15 HP 51 (11+8/level) P-PER 11 P-INV 11 P-INS 11. MI: Rod of the Pact Keeper +1 (a), Cloak of Protection (a), periapt of wound closure (a)
Eamon of the Yellow Rose (Bill) Human male Monk-6 (Kensai) XP 16,826/23,000 AC 16/18 HP 39 (9+6/lvl) P-PER 12 P-INV 10 P-INS 15 MI: +1 longsword, gloves of thievery
Wisteria of Skullspire (Jelly) Moon Elf female Grave Cleric-6 XP 15,838/23,000 AC 19 HP 45 (10+7/lvl) P-PER 16 P-INV 12 P-INS 16. MI: +1 longbow, +1 dagger
Nathia Truefist (Kim) Goliath female Fighter-5 (Champion) XP 12,454/14,000 AC 20 (plate, defence style, cloak) HP 49 (13+9/lvl) P-PER 13 P-INV 9 P-INS 10 MI: +1 Shadowfey Guardian Pike (2d8), +1 war pick, Driftglobe, cloak of protection (a), +2 goliath greatsword
Joell Elderberry (Max) Aasimar male Companion of the Noble Heart Paladin-5 (Oath of Conquest) XP 10,054/14,000 AC 23 (plate & +1 shield, cl (a)oak, defence style) HP 39 (11+7/lvl) P-PER 11 P-INV 9 P-INS 11 MI: +1 longsword, +1 shield, cloak of protection (a)
Blurb (Phil) Firbolg male Shepherd Druid-5 XP 7,805/14,000 AC 20 (ankheg half plate) HP 38 (10+7/lvl) P-PER 16 P-INV 10 P-INS 14 MI: shield +1, brooch of shielding
Mac (Matt) Half Elf male Companion of the Noble Heart Paladin-4 (Oath of Vengeance) XP 6,803/6,500 AC 21 HP 36 (12+8/lvl) P-PER 13 P-INV 10 P-INS 11. MI: 'Metallica' +1 longsword of poison resistance (a), 'Hammer of justice' +1 warhammer, adamantine plate armour, boots of striding & springing (a)

The current D'Ashe Manor/Norrin's Band group:

Prince Strohm of Leth, Lord of Solanna Bael (Muiz) Sun Elf male Fighter-7 (Eldritch Knight) XP 33,726/34,000 AC 21 (orog plate, shield, defence style) HP 67 (13+9/lvl) P-PER 12 P-INV 12 P-INS 9. MI: +2 Scimitar of Speed (A), +2 Greatsword - Excruciator, the Sword of Amaul, aka the Sword of the Sorcerer (sheds light as per spell on command)
Sir Norrin, Son of Thorin (Geoff) Human male Fighter-7 (Champion) PB+3 XP 31,895/34,000 AC 23 (plate +1 & shield +2) HP 67 (13+9/level) P-PER 15 P-INV 12 P-INS 15 MI: +1 Nar 'hero sword' longsword, +1 plate armour, +2 shield
Malied Edicast (James) Half-Elf male Wizard-7 XP 28,377/34,000 AC 16 (elven chain) HP 30 (6+4/lvl) P-PER 14 P-INV 18 P-INS 11. Blessing: +2 INT from Gina the Gynosphinx. Helm of Comprehending Languages, Ring of Spell Storing (a), hat of wizardry (a), JAODAR’S TOME OF ENCHANTMENT (a), +1 elven chain shirt
Fraener
ap Durgeddin, Lord of Khundrakar (Chris) Mountain Dwarf male Forge Cleric-7 XP 26,006/34,000 AC 24 (AC 19 plate armour +1, +4 for +2 shield, +1 soul of the forge) HP 66 (12+9/lvl), fire resistance P-PER 12 P-INV 10 P-INS 15. MI
: Boots of Striding & Springing spd 30' (a); Durgeddin's own +1 full plate armour (+0/+1 at 5th level), +2 Durgeddin shield, the Hammer of Cirdan Man-friend +3 dwarven thrower (a). MI with his Huscarls: +1 Duergar warhammer, +1 battle axe, +1 hand axe
Queale (Keelia) Half-Elf female Horizon Walker Ranger-6 XP 20,255/23,000 AC 17 (mithril half plate) HP 58 (13+9/level) P-PER 16 P-INV 13 P-INS 16 MI: cute rabbit fur slippers of elvenkind, +1 arrows, ethereal diadem (in pack, a), +1 longbow, Oathbow (a), +1 Durgeddin Rapier
Ted of Goblin Town (Matt) Half-Orc male Assassin Rogue-6 XP 18,895/23,000 AC 17 (+1 studded) HP 45 (10+7/lvl) P-PER 17 P-INV 9 P-INS 11 MI: Ostrikka's/Jack's gauntlets of ogre power STR 19 (a), Barbara's Rope of Climbing, wand of magic missiles, cloak of elvenkind (a), 2 +1 shortswords, +1 studded leather

Meryem Bloodletter of Reghed (Roxy) Human female Berserker Barbarian-5 XP 11,151/14,000 AC 20 (15 half plate +2 DEX +3 shield +1) HP 55 (15+10/level) P-PER 10 P-INV 10 P-INS 10. MI: +1 Duergar greatsword, +3 battleaxe of Durgeddin, +1 shield

The latter group have mostly been around somewhat longer, and have been more successful - with fewer defeats and lost PCs. They've been able to complete more challenging adventures, hence their greater magic items tally.
 
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Re fleeing, in a tabletop game generally I require the PCs to escape the battlemat in order to go out of combat. On VTT where the battlemat might be much bigger usually it's when no PC is in line of sight of the enemy. Many enemies will not pursue far, but some will.
Re: Fleeing, I like importing the B/X fleeing & pursuit rules more or less directly. I ask the players to declare retreat as a group, as opposed to dealing with them moving one at a time, which seems to inevitably result in a long, drawn-out process of people straggling and not wanting to fully run and leave anyone behind to be focused on by the monsters.
 
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Voadam

Legend
It's been a while since I read the 5E PHB or DMG, other than for reference. I don't recall what it says regarding rolling ability and skill checks. Is it implied throughout that ability and skill checks should be the primary resolution system outside of combat? To get the full picture is it safe to say I'd have to re-read both books cover to cover to put it all together?
The sections in the PH and DMG on ability checks are pretty discrete so I would not say a cover to cover read is necessary.

5e leaves open a lot of options and puts a lot of power in the DM's hands.

The normal operation play loop is the player says what they want to do, the DM can call for a check to resolve success or failure or just adjudicate without a check. RAW this is fully a DM call. 5e can go a whole campaign with no ability checks ever, or have them happen all the time and be really important.

So if you want a more 3e feel with an emphasis on character mechanics you go with checks more. For me adjudicating free form seems more OSR and is more my preferred style.

5e in general gives you a lot of room RAW to run lots of different things as a DM in different styles with different foci to match your gaming playstyle preferences.
 

Voadam

Legend
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.
5e can be run RAW a lot of different ways with a lot of different places you can put your gaming emphasis which will translate into different playstyle tones and feel.

The ones I listed for me are the areas I focus on as a DM to achieve my preferred playstyle preference, which was shaped heavily by B/X D&D.

Different people came out of a B/X background and prefer different aspects of the game from then.

For me thinking from the perspective of monsters when running interactions, going for immersive descriptions and roleplay, having the challenges be more player oriented than character mechanics are the big ones. I don't really care about xp for gold or high lethality or limited one shot spells for starting magic-users or intense resource management tracking.

For others those can be the big draws.
 

the Jester

Legend
You know, one thing I miss to the point that I've inserted my own system into 5e is monsters having different treasure types. Faerie dragons like gems- such and such a creature is prone to collect cheap coins and only has a few- dragons get treasure type H. Outside of Fizban's section on dragon hoards, treasure in 5e (and 4e, and to a lesser extent 3e) has been made one-size-fits-all. That (one-size-fits-all) philosophy is something that is creeping deeper and deeper into 5e design, and I don't like it.
 

The sections in the PH and DMG on ability checks are pretty discrete so I would not say a cover to cover read is necessary.
Thanks. I kind of figured this but I know how the books are set up that skimming or skipping a section you think is irrelevant to a topic you can miss some important information.
The normal operation play loop is the player says what they want to do, the DM can call for a check to resolve success or failure or just adjudicate without a check. RAW this is fully a DM call. 5e can go a whole campaign with no ability checks ever, or have them happen all the time and be really important.
Im looking to run a game where skill checks are less frequent but more meaningful and based on the DMs request rather than players trying to resolve things by a skill check. If its something simple like picking a pocket in a bar, I'll go with a skill or ability if theres a chance of failure. Most times I just say yes if theres no chance of failure, but maybe a skill challenge when the outcome really matters. Only problem I have is when I call for a skill check from say the Ranger because their tracking and then 3 other players want to try which is just a waste at that point. I need to read and address this. I've been following this thread because theres alot of responses helping me define what Im looking to revisit in my game to get it to where I want. Stinking a balance between the players using their characters abilities but tome down the dice rolls is where Im leaning.
 

Voadam

Legend
Thanks. I kind of figured this but I know how the books are set up that skimming or skipping a section you think is irrelevant to a topic you can miss some important information.
This came up recently for me so luckily it is fairly top of mind.

The 5e books are pretty terrible in layout design and finding information in general but I suggest checking out ability checks starting on page 174 of the PH, and DMG 236 using dice, and DMG 237 ability checks. Pages 185 of the PH and 244 DMG for social interactions. There are some other references but those are the big ones.

There is a lot of conditional guidelines so there is a lot of explicit DM discretion. 5e also has an explicit big DM rulings not rules philosophy in its core and this actually comes across in a lot of the rules (or lack thereof).
 

This came up recently for me so luckily it is fairly top of mind.

The 5e books are pretty terrible in layout design and finding information in general but I suggest checking out ability checks starting on page 174 of the PH, and DMG 236 using dice, and DMG 237 ability checks. Pages 185 of the PH and 244 DMG for social interactions. There are some other references but those are the big ones.

There is a lot of conditional guidelines so there is a lot of explicit DM discretion. 5e also has an explicit big DM rulings not rules philosophy in its core and this actually comes across in a lot of the rules (or lack thereof).
Thx that helps narrows things down. The layouts and indexes are pretty much unusable. Fortunately, there are wiki websites that hyperlink sections and rules so those help. I play in a game where the campaign is DMed by myself and another player. Even though 5E promotes rulings over rules I think if we're going to add/mod standard and optional rules we should come to an agreement on them so the players at least have some idea of what to expect. If I do one thing and him another, I think that will lead to lots of confusion in play. Obviously, we'll both have leeway to deviate a bit for our different DM styles.
 

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