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OSR OSR ... Feel the Love! Why People Like The Old School

lowkey13

Exterminate all rational thought
So ...

based on another thread, I had to ask myself, "Self, why do people go back and play OSR, retroclones, B/X, and 1e? I mean, given the sheer number of posts stating that these rules are objectively trash, people would have to be crazy AND stupid to play them, right?"

Well, unfortunately, I am both crazy and stupid, loving both 1e and B/X, and having recently started a 1e campaign for teens and beginning to dabble in a B/X campaign. So I thought I'd start a new thread and explore some of the reasons why I love the old school rules and movement, and perhaps get some feedback from others hopefully without ... well, extraneous clutter. :)

So let's start with my non-exhaustive, non-ordered list of why I went back to playing these rules (I still play 5e as well):

1. Chargen. I understand that there are many people who enjoy chargen as its own mini-game. That love to plot out their characters and their choices from level 1 to 20. That enjoy the session 0 / day of creating the characters as much, if not more, than the adventuring. That can't wait for every new ability you get with each level.

I am not that person. I mean, sure, it was fun for a little while. But you know what's even more fun? Creating a character in under 3 minutes. Not worrying about leveling a character. That's fun- more time playing, less time working on the character.

2. Magic Items.
So I'm using this as a synecdoche for the idea that the character changes through play more than design (which touches into (1), above). The character isn't defined by creation, or by abilities, really, but by what happens to them through play. Another way of putting this is that I enjoy the serendipity; of discovering the character through play, of changing course as I get what might be a character-defining magic item (as magic items are very much defining in the early editions).

I also really, really like the magic items, and the sheer variety and use of them.

3. Rules, lack thereof. 1e might not be the best example of this in terms of RAW, but B/X and 1e in terms of RAI (very much a DIY ethos) are. The way I look at 1e, in fact, is that the hodgepodge of rules presented outside of the most basic rules is Gygax basically saying, "Hey, I encountered this, and this is how I houseruled it. See if it works for you." Of course, I'm basically running 1e classes in an almost B/X framework, so there's that ...

4. Class Niche Protection. This seems like a small thing, but it isn't to me. 5e tries to straddle the line between having classes (like traditional D&D) and having the classes not really matter (by having archetypes that bleed into each other, easy MC'ing, and feats), so you can end up with multiple ways to "build" the same concept. Now, I admit that the class concept in the old days could get pretty ridiculous (you want a new concept? well, you better hope Dragon Magazine has a class for that!), but I appreciate having strict lines of demarcation between my classes, not a bunch of adventurers that kinda sorta fight and kinda sorta cast spells, which leads me to ...

5. Spells. Ugh. This is my single ... biggest ... pet peeve with 5e. TOO. MUCH. MAGIC. It's takes a lot of work to design a character that DOESN'T somehow stumble into spellcasting ability. Not to mention, with at-will cantrips for attacks, I can't remember the last time there was a combat round without spellcasting.

No thank you. I like spells to be less common, and more spectacular. Don't give me pew pew pew. Give me the occasional BOOM.

6. Big Bad / Combats / Whack-a-mole. As a general rule, I like combats to be quick and dangerous. I hate (HATE) big bags of hit points; this is supposed to be fun, not slowly working an actuarial table. I want adventurers to worry about their fates (and thus avoid combats), not keep getting knocked down to zero and pop back up. I want a single monster to be a concern for the party- not just a quick casualty to the Avengers.

7. Leveling, Man.
This might be an idiosyncratic one, but I really like how when you level up, you just generally get better (attacks, saving throws). I do not like needing to be proficient, or increasing your stats. A great fighter doesn't need to be either Hercules or have the Dexterity of a Cirque du Soleil performer to get much better with experience.

8. Stats. Hey- you know what? I don't much like ASIs, either. I don't want to do the whole tired realism/game debate, because who cares? But I prefer having stats be relatively fixed, as they tend to be in real life, with possible increases due to magic. It also allows for less importance to be placed on stats, which means ...
9. Roll for stats, not point buy. Yeah, I know you can roll for stats in 5e. But with ASIs and the much stronger importance of stats to the character's advancement (saves, to hit, etc.) I use point buy.

10. Monsters and modules. A little esoteric, here, but I love to be able to see a monster with, like, one line. No need to know what the monster's abilities are- just their HD, AC, HP, attacks.


That's a quick run down. I was thinking about this, but basically, I appreciate having a quick, stripped-down style of play. I still really like 5e- I mostly run it in an OSR fashion, using 1e modules, but there are a few things I just can't replicate.

So, what do y'all think?
 

Tony Vargas

Adventurer
*ahem* mimimimimimi /ME/… let's do this...

TRIGGER WARNING: I'm going to use the dreaded N(ostalgia) word. I'm only using it because it applies to me, and how I feel about revisiting the classic games I played decades ago. And, since I am applying it to myself, I hope it's clear I'm using it in a positive sense (yes, there are some).

So ...

based on another thread, I had to ask myself, "Self, why do people go back and play OSR, retroclones, B/X, and 1e?
(still funny, btw)

[sblock="Contains Nostalgia"]For /my/self, I have to admit that when I'm in the mood to paleo-game, as I like call it, retroclones aren't what immediately call to me. I just pull out my faded 1st Edition Gamma World rulebook and run a crazy game of random mutants mucking about with random artifacts. Of course, when that urge first hit me it was c2000, the d20 phenom set me itching to play the classic games, and there weren't a lot of re-boots yet. OSR wasn't a thing, the re-boot of Gamma World they eventual came up with was horribly disappointing. So I dug up this crumbling old boxed set, figured out how to efficiently build characters /super fast/ at a con, and off I went. I must've run it 4 or 5 years in a row, sometimes at two cons each year. It was that awesome.

So it was nostalgia, pure and simple, for me - with a leavening of that specific flavor of nostalgia, that didn't-get-to-play-this-particular-game-as-much-as-I'd've-liked-back-in-the-day, and a bit of lampshading of Murphy's Rules and other archaisms - because I immediately loved Gamma World when I first read the book, but got to run & play it only a little back in the day. Enough to go 'wow' this is crazy-broken-awesome, not nearly enough to get bored with it. Then it was continuous frustration with new editions that didn't really hit the same notes, or had whacked alternative systems - 4th & 7th & Omega World were bright spots.[/sblock]

I mean, given the sheer number of posts stating that these rules are objectively trash, people would have to be crazy AND stupid to play them, right?"
The same could be said of many a brand-new TTRPG (and has been, often very mean-spiritedly). I think it just comes with the territory. RPGs are complex, in any given RPG, old or new, there'll be sub-systems that work well, others indifferently, and some that are a little borked. And there'll be those who are just looking for something to take a hatchet too.

But, old or new, whatever the borked rules may be, if I fix 'em up just the way I like 'em, they're justfinethankyou, for me. And if, decades later a new version comes out and fixes 'em up a different way, well, that's not the same, is it? It's a different experience, a different feel from what I got back then, and may be looking to re-experience and/or share now. For that matter, I can evoke some of the feel of a classic game specifically /by/ lampshading it's old "Murphy's Rules," it gives me that sense of "this is how it was, this is the real deal" - and, if I'm sharing it with someone who wasn't there for that, it gives them a version of that experience, too, because it's like, this is history, this is part of how we got to modern RPGs, was playing this early stuff, and figuring it out, and having a blast with it.

Well, unfortunately, I am both crazy and stupid
Fixed that for you. ;)
Never Change. :)
 
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lowkey13

Exterminate all rational thought
(still funny, btw)

For /my/self, I have to admit that when I'm in the mood to paleo-game, as I call it, retroclones don't cut it. I want the real thing. I pull out my faded 1st Edition Gamma World rulebook and run a crazy game of random mutants mucking about with random artifacts.

It's nostalgia, pure and simple - maybe with a leavening of that specific flavor of nostalgia of didn't-get-to-play-this-particular-game-as-much-as-I'd've-liked-back-in-the-day, and more than a bit of lampshading of Murphy's Rules and other archaisms.

The same could be said of many a brand-new TTRPG. I think it just comes with the territory.

Fixed that for you.
Heh.

So, I don't think it's JUST nostalgia. I listed the reasons I enjoy it, above, but I'd add two things-

1. Familiarity. Yes, it breeds contempt! But if you're going to be running or playing a system, it helps to play something that has worn a groove into you (in a good way?). Kind of like a pair of jeans that you've worn a long time, if you've played these systems, they just fit. It's not nostalgia, it's that you can easily navigate the systems, because you know them so well. The fancy term for that is path dependency.

2. Awesomeness. Look, I know it's not JUST me. I might be one of the olds, but I'm running a 1e campaign on demand for the youngs. They really, really like it, and have no nostalgia value.

So ... I don't know. I think there is definitely a nostalgia component for some (and that is what 5e deftly tapped into), but I think it's also error to assign love for something as being purely nostalgia.

There are, for example, many old cars I love that I have NO nostalgia for, given that they pre-date me, or that I never saw growing up. I just really, really like them. :)
 

lowkey13

Exterminate all rational thought
Smash the control images, smash the control machines.
 
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Sacrosanct

Slayer of Keraptis
You pretty much nailed my big reasons as well. Especially things like:

Chargen: not only fast and easy, but you didn't spend all this time making your PC awesome before you even played a minute of the game. The gameplay is what makes your player awesome, not chargen. It's the whole zero to hero preference.

Niche protection, as you mentioned

Random magic item tables: What's that? you found a magical battle axe, but your PC uses a sword? Well, that's what was there, because the last person to use it used a battle axe. I prefer more living world than one where you change and cater to PC wants. I almost never change found magic items just because it's what a PC wants instead.

Streamlined rules: again, as you mention. It allows the game to flow faster and more smoothly IME

And no, it's not nostalgia. We've given cold hard objective rules that lend to a style we prefer. Anyone saying it's just nostalgia is either unaware of what that word means, or is being intentionally dismissive.
 

Xaelvaen

Explorer
Look, I think that actual nostalgia (from the old pejorative definition) requires you to have experienced it. It doesn't mean it's right- in fact, it usually isn't. Because nostalgia is by definition wrong, since you are selectively remembering the good parts, and forgetting the bad parts.
Just devil's advocate here - Nostalgia's definition does involve personal experience, but there's a great deal of work in the psychology field on this very topic, and there's no definitive answer - too many contradictory inputs. Wistfulness and Yearning are often related - and there's a Portuguese word (Saudade) which is basically pseudo-nostalgia, and C.S. Lewis used sehnsucht of course. So, many people feel 'nostalgia' for things that aren't their personal memories, and in English, for lack of a better word, it just has to fit.

There's one study relating it to music, in fact - pretty interesting stuff.

Myself, I use nostalgia for that feeling as well, though I know full well the classic definition isn't accurate for the sensation, but the emotions behind feeling real nostalgia, and this pseudo-nostalgia, are either identical, or so close that I cannot separate them. I'm assuming this is a huge phenomenon to have so many studies going on about it.

I'm rather nostalgic for 2E - never played the older editions, in that I started in 89. I find the systems similar enough, if you remove the splat books and options, that I've never been bothered to try anything older. Would it be recommended to give it a try despite this? All your bullet points resonate with me the same way 2E did, so I'm curious -
 
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Stormonu

Hero
In my opinion, 5E itself is a retroclone (as is Pathfinder, another game I like) - it takes the components I like from previous versions and mixes them in with some modern elements to make a version I have been quite enjoying.

At the same time, I have pulled out my old 2E books recently to play a game of Ravenloft for Halloween - and it took my players a bit aback, as they hadn’t encountered anything prior to 3E prior to that. They enjoyed it for those few sessions, but as we played we were in agreement that we’d stick primarily with 5E. But an occasional one-shot (or three) into something like BECM or Castles & Crusade wouldn’t be opposed.

I can’t put my finger on anything specific beyond it being “familiar”. Perhaps lower levels in these older games feel a little bit less superheroic (I prefer a world a bit on the gritty side, more Conan and less Harry Potter), but it’s basically just “different”.

(As an aside, I can’t stand 1E, so I generally only look at retro clones/editions that emulate BECM or 2E+).
 

Monayuris

Explorer
Yeah, let's not let the nostalgia comment derail this thread.

I agree 100%. I run old school editions regularly (equal frequency as 5E). I run Basic Fantasy RPG, which is a modern day retro clone of B/X (with some minor differences... not a pure clone).

I mostly DM, so some of my favorite parts of old school are more slanted in that direction (I'll have more to follow).

1. Focus on Exploration

I prefer the focus of old school games on exploration as opposed to combat. I prefer this focus... exploring a dungeon, deciding which way to go, dealing with traps, secret doors, puzzles, are all the core experiences to me. Combat is a part of the game, but it is just another obstacle. Its not the end all of the experience. I like that combat is fast and resolved quickly so we can get back to the action.

2. Resource Management

Everything is a resource in old school games, and you don't have enough. You don't have enough hit points to survive every fight . You don't have enough light to freely explore, you don't have enough strength to carry everything needed, you don't have enough time to carefully search, you don't have enough spells... etc.

This is the game, to me. You have to make choices to utilize your limited resources as efficiently as possible. This is what I find most fun as a player. Everything you do costs a resource and you have limited resources. It makes every choice have meaning and tension. You have to think carefully about whether an endeavor is worth any of the above.

3. Easy prep.

Monsters are much easier to understand and design. If I need a cool monster for a dungeon, I can just figure out how many hit dice it should have and any special powers it has and I'm done. There's no formula needed to build a monster against CR or build points or so on.

B/X provides dungeon generation rules. If I'm in a bind, I can whip up something very quickly using that guidance.

4. Hit Dice.

The one to one ration between hit dice and combat ability that is shared between PCs and monsters. A HD is a tangible measure of capability and is easier to use than CR or encounter budgets. I also like how one hit die is 1-8 hit points and a typical weapon die is also 1-6 or 1-8. I like how hit dice are a direct how many hits a monster can likely take.


5. Morale and Reactions.

These are vital to the old school experience. I think most of the stories frequently promoted about osr games being slaughterhouses are probably stories of games that have ignored these rules. If you use these rules, the game is MUCH less deadly than its reputation. For example (in B/X), only a reaction roll result of 2 on a roll of 2d6 results in a Monsters Automatically Attack result.

Every other result of the reaction roll is some level of hostility but not immediate attack. This means that players have the ability to avoid encounters by interacting with monsters. The worse results may mean they may need to give up treasure or food, but better results may allow for an exchange of information or out-right friendly encounters. It just adds so much more variance to an encounter than just hack and slash play.

Morale plays a similar role... a party may be outnumbered but if they break morale they may end up victorious.

A side benefit of both of these rules is that as a DM you don't need to worry as much about encounter balance. The reaction roll normally puts the players in the position to pick their fights and morale allows for a way for them to potentially win against a superior force.
 

Monayuris

Explorer
You pretty much nailed my big reasons as well. Especially things like:

Chargen: not only fast and easy, but you didn't spend all this time making your PC awesome before you even played a minute of the game. The gameplay is what makes your player awesome, not chargen. It's the whole zero to hero preference.
Yup. In the long running B/X game I've been running (about 6-7 years now)... the fighter in the group (level 6 now) was just wrecking house... I commented that his character is pretty bad-ass and asked what his strength was... the player responded 13 (respectable, sure but surprising to me).

His character was a bad-ass because the player played him like a bad-ass... took chances, went all in when warranted. It wasn't the numbers on the sheet it was the way it was played.

Random magic item tables: What's that? you found a magical battle axe, but your PC uses a sword? Well, that's what was there, because the last person to use it used a battle axe. I prefer more living world than one where you change and cater to PC wants. I almost never change found magic items just because it's what a PC wants instead.
The other side to this is there isn't as much specialization, so your PC can probably just pick up the battle axe and go. The character didn't have to invest 5 feats into being good with the sword.
 

Sacrosanct

Slayer of Keraptis
The other side to this is there isn't as much specialization, so your PC can probably just pick up the battle axe and go. The character didn't have to invest 5 feats into being good with the sword.

Exactly. Fighters were proficient in just about every magic item. So it was no big deal to switch from a sword to an axe, to a polearm to a mace. Then specialization came around, and suddenly you heard players bemoan "But I wanted a magic sword, not an axe."
 

Yardiff

Explorer
I think your forgetting weapon proficiency. WP was very limited in 1e not sure how it worked in B/X. In 1e a fighter only had 4 weapon proficienies at first level, then gain another every 4 levels so 7th, 10th etc.
 

Sacrosanct

Slayer of Keraptis
Here's the first dictionary definition to pop up on google:

"a sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations."

I don't see the conflict with how I'm using it.
.
People are giving mechanical reasons of game design philosophy as to why they prefer OSR. That's not "longing or wistful affection", but how a game is designed. The fact you keep ignoring this no matter how many times it's pointed out makes me question your integrity with your intent on this topic.

I played 1e up until 2012 when the playtest came out. That wasn't because of nostalgia. That was because how the game was designed fit my preferences better than any edition afterward. And I'm not going to great lengths to rationalize my desire for OSR over 3e or 4e. That's you being dismissive again. I wish you'd stop telling other people that you know better why they prefer something than they do themselves.
 
Have to say, increasingly I’m of a similar mind. I’m more inclined to just play the original games these days instead of the retroclones. The exception is DCC RPG, which, while a retroclone, has enough new rules and style to make it its own thing.

Now, as for why I enjoy OSR play…

The ease of character generation and levelling up is definitely a nice change of pace.

There is something delightful to the fear-ridden exploration part of the game. Going into the dungeon is a lot like being dared by your friends to run up and touch the door of Old Man Mordenkainen’s house. One thing I’m not as much a fan of is that direction choices frequently boiled down to random selection – it wasn’t until you came to a room or chamber that things got exciting, generally.

As much as I was amazed when 3e blew them away, I did love the niche protection of race-as-class and class restrictions. It meant that you played a dwarf because you thought dwarves were cool, not because they were the optimal choice for a class.

And, sorry [MENTION=6799753]lowkey13[/MENTION], but one thing I dearly love about the old days is that all paladins had to be Lawful Good.

For /my/self, I have to admit that when I'm in the mood to paleo-game, as I call it, retroclones don't cut it. I want the real thing. I pull out my faded 1st Edition Gamma World rulebook and run a crazy game of random mutants mucking about with random artifacts.
 

Monayuris

Explorer
I think your forgetting weapon proficiency. WP was very limited in 1e not sure how it worked in B/X. In 1e a fighter only had 4 weapon proficienies at first level, then gain another every 4 levels so 7th, 10th etc.
B/X didn't have weapon proficiency. Although BECMI and AD&D I believe did.

I like my fighters to be good at all weapons. I generally follow a rule put in place by another retro-clone, where I just give fighters a damage bonus (to melee and missile) that scales by level. It's simple tweak and it doesn't shoehorn a character into a specific weapon.
 

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