D&D 5E Making 5E Feel Old School


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Azer Paladin
Genuine question here: why not just play the older editions instead of trying to make 5E feel like them???
It's a fair question, and I take it as a genuine one. Here's what I think.

I've played all sorts of games.

D&D, AD&D, D&D 2E, Gurps, Fantasy Hero, Call of Cthulu, Paranoia, Harnmaster, D&D 3E, D&D 3.5E, Pathfinder, DCC, D&D 5E ... lots of other ones too. Each game has a different flavour ... it's not just one rule, it's like the lens through which you watch a story, kind of like the way a director can make a movie feel.

Sam Raimi has zooming cameras, lightning fast dialogue, first person perspectives ... doesn't matter if it's Evil Dead 2 or Spider-Man.

Now, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters feels like Sam Raimi ... but it isn't. Tommy Wirkola did a 'love letter to Sam Raimi' and took a couple of his elements that he liked and integrated it into his film. So people who like Sam Raimi films would recognize it and enjoy it.

Old school D&D has a feel to it ... it's not just about one rule. DCC is a perfect example of this. It's a modern gaming system built on the 3E OGL but it captures that 1974 vibe.

So maybe old school doesn't have to be specific rule sets in sum total, like To Hit tables on page 132 of the AD&D DMG plus weapon hit modifiers based on AC from the PHB. It doesn't have to be descending AC or maximum class levels. Nothing wrong with those, I have those old rule books, and I treasure them, and steel stuff from them all the time -- the writing about campaign management and the backstories of the artifacts talking about the Wind Dukes of Aaqa and Vecna, and purported properties of gems from the AD&D DMG are pure gold I've used for years.

To me, old school is high threat of death, very little forgiveness for PC decisions for survival, gritty NPCs, low-value treasure where a sp is still valuable, every hp and xp point matters, and you have to shake a wand and try random chanting rather than just zip of an identify spell. It's non-intrusive rule system and slow levelling.

Some times I play DCC for the 1974 Gonzo heavy metal soundtrack Fafhrd & The Grey Mouser vibe, sometimes I play 5E for a more modern streamlined game that feels a little bit like 2E Grey Box Forgotten Realms game, but with a slight nudge is more solidly that milieu.

Rule systems are just a spectrum -- all of them have well written sub-systems and clunkers that bog down play, so lifting and tweaking here and there brings me happiness. I think 5E is very well written ... but there are one or two things that are really jarring to how the game feels to me, so I tweak the focus on the lens of my personal game.

Fair question though! And lots of cred to those who pull out their AD&D holy trinity of rulebooks and play a game -- if I were a player rather than a DM, I would totally join that game, descending AC and all ...
 

A suggestion on healing, which I've yet to implement, which makes constant activity reduce efectiveness. Short rests are unchanged. Long Rests require being in a "sanctuary" (generally considered safe location, usually town), but restored all HD.

Medium Rest created to replace the standard Long Rest, where characters recover half HD and half HP. You get back half (rounded down; minimum 1) of your "recover on a long rest" abilities (not including spellcasting), but may choose to gain only half the number of uses (rounded down) to not be counted toward this total (hard to explain, and unlike to be common). You only recover half your spell slots per spell level (rounded down). Basically you get half your stuff, rather than all of it.

Interesting idea ... I looked at the Wight and it's level drain is pretty kind compared to AD&D days, but the old school permanent loss of XP is definitely too punitive. Maybe change it to a restoration of 1 hp per day? Or a level of exhaustion that requires a potent cure spell to remove?
Something I did is change the "after a long rest" to "after taking the rest downtime." Makes the effects really debilitating for the entirety of the adventure.

Genuine question here: why not just play the older editions instead of trying to make 5E feel like them???
Because the overall chassis of 5E is by far better than the nonsense rules of yesteryear. If you've ever played either edition of AD&D you'd understand. In addition, it's versatile enough to be modified in this way without mechanically messing up the entire game.
 

toucanbuzz

No rule is inviolate
Ah man, I moved states for a job last year and found some new friends, but only 1 has ever played AD&D. From time-to-time I make an old school reference and explain it was a badge of honor to get a character to epic levels given all the instant-kill, drain 2 level, cursed-type events out there. I also believe that what made that edition so nostalgic was that there wasn't a rule for everything, and absent a rule for everything, many DMs went with "whatever makes the game more fun."

1. Slow down leveling. Not really an old school thing. Just better to enjoy the ride rather than rush past those early levels. Get used to your character. Get to know the world a bit. Roleplay. So totally, do this in any edition.

2. Slow down healing. Old school healing was an illogical pain in the ass that encouraged bringing along a cleric, or cleric hireling, to mass memorize healing spells. No desire to return to that. Instead, I propose simply adjusting your HP mechanics, aka what it means to you. I've previously posted about a homebrew fix to healing (replacing death saves with "vitality," a limited pool of points that comes into play when you hit 0, like the AD&D -10 rule, representing the actual damage your body can take, and difficult to heal). Because HP are an abstract of avoiding actual damage (I don't care what your HP are or your level...if you have a human body and a giant actually makes contact with its club, you're likely dead), I don't have a problem with treating them like the exhaustion and fatigue of battle. So I'll chalk this one up to what mechanic you use.

3. Keep magic mysterious. As it should be. The roll idea is interesting, though for old school purposes, there was less rolling and more DM discretion. If it meant more fun, then players should experiment with the item. Identify is for those who don't want to play 20 questions with the DM over the magic bowl.

4. Knowledge checks. Yeah, it shouldn't be a damn game of idiot savant Jeopardy. My barbarian should have absolutely no reason to know anything about planar portals, but I do today because I rolled a 19? I prefer players justify any knowledge roll with a background tie-in. Why in the world would your character know this is a medusa? Ah, your PC is a wizard whose master made him learn about petrification spells. It's possible he studied the medusa. If you can't, or I feel you're simply trying to naughty word, then no, you don't get to roll.

The creative genius of D&D 5E is that probably 50% of the rules I routinely use are actually "optional." If you want that old school feel, then take most of those away and empower your DM to make rulings that make the game more fun. Rather than look up the rules for "tumbling" to get through another's space, ask the player what they're trying. If it makes sense, let it happen. If not, say they fail. As to classes, in AD&D each class generally had something no one else could do: the cleric was your best healer, only the rogue could disarm traps, and only the fighter could equip those super-heavy armors to get that absurd armor class for the day they ran into the illithid vampire with 4 tentacle attacks that drained 2 levels apiece. So, you could remove feats that allow one class to duplicate another, and you could impose little fixes so that each class has something big that only they can do (e.g. non-rogues can't attempt to disarm traps over DC15).
 

DND_Reborn

Legend
Because the overall chassis of 5E is by far better than the nonsense rules of yesteryear. If you've ever played either edition of AD&D you'd understand. In addition, it's versatile enough to be modified in this way without mechanically messing up the entire game.
LOL I played B/X, BECMI, 1E, 2E, and 3/3.5E. Personally, I like many of the rules of AD&D (1E/2E) better than 5E--which is why I asked for people who want that feeling, why not play the game? Some people like the uniformity and simplicity of 5E, while others appreciate the complexity and nuance of "the nonsense rules of yesteryear". ;)
 


I would suggest anyone slowing down healing first consider exactly what they're trying to achieve.

Do you want the PCs to spend more time recovering? - not really going to happen too much - they'll just be healing with healing magic - and trying to rest earlier so they have the slots left to do it - then they'll regain those slots overnight - unless you do something to prevent that. (Remember in AD&D memorising spells took time in addition to a rest - so you might want to consider some way to implement that). At least 5E reduces the bookkeeping.

Something like the "Gritty Realism" rest variant will do a better job of making recovery actually take time (without the bookkeeping).

If you want just want mundane healing to feel slow and realistic and magical healing to be completely different, then I guess that works - but to be honest in older editions I never felt that magical feeling felt like anything much at all.
 


Bupp

Adventurer
Genuine question here: why not just play the older editions instead of trying to make 5E feel like them???
Because while the DM may have played those older editions, many newer players have not. It's easier to get players to play 5e with some house rules than it is to get them to play a different edition.
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
My personal favorite OSR treatment of 5E is 5 Torches Deep. There are some sweet bespoke mechanics in there that I've started to use in normal 5E (mostly the encumbrance and SUP rules, but also some other bits and bobs).
 

DND_Reborn

Legend
Because while the DM may have played those older editions, many newer players have not. It's easier to get players to play 5e with some house rules than it is to get them to play a different edition.
When I introduced two of our 5E players to AD&D 1E, they loved it because it had lot of different rules for how things were done.

I think showing them 1E/2E or B/X or whatever will give them a good feel for it, and then they can decide if they want to morph 5E over. For myself and our group, I am finding it easier to just show them the older editions. shrug YMMV. :)
 

Dungeon Delver's Guide

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