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OSR OSR Gripes

lowkey13

Exterminate all rational thought
you whole post amounts to nothing more than, "Oh yeah. Well shut up."
I mean, in fairness, it's more of a, "Woah, you just don't get it."

But sure, that works too.

Of course, I think what you're missing is that I wasn't trying to contradict you. It's this surprisingly simple-to-grasp point that multiple people have expressed to you, but you keep missing. Here, let me show you:

A: Chocolate ice cream is the best. Everyone eats chocolate ice cream. Chocolate ice cream is the only ice cream anyone could have eaten. In fact, while I wasn't around during the 1970s, I had a cousin who was, and he said that everyone ate chocolate ice cream then, too.

B: I like butter pecan.

A: Stop oppressing me! And you haven't contradicted me; where are your FACTS??????

Anyway, bye.
 

Monayuris

Explorer
Well, the debate definitely preexisted the evolution of the idea of skillfulness in D&D.

In general, it was mostly climb/find traps/remove traps that I think presented the biggest ideological problems. I've never heard anyone suggest for example that characters were assumed to have skill in picking pockets or picking locks. I think people easily accepted that picking pockets or climbing locks were skills most people didn't have.

Remember, you have to look at this through the lens of the Braunstein inspired ruleless open ended game versus the modern notion of a universal fortune system. How did people check for traps before 'check for traps'? Well, they proposed the character carefully inspecting and looking at the object, and if they looked at the right thing carefully enough they maybe convinced the GM that they found the trap. I don't think this process usually involved a fortune test, because when I've witnessed this debate in the past the grognard side normally hates the whole idea of a fortune test. There idea is that by careful play by the player you find the trap and that is how it was done back in the day.

Similarly, I wasn't just pulling out of the air the whole take off your boots and armor thing. That's how I've been told stealthy movement was done back in the day. Again, I don't think the system was, "If you take off your boots and armor and you roll under Dexterity then I'll let you move silently." The judge simply decided whether or not the plan was good enough work and if it did it didn't and if it wasn't it wasn't. If the fortune system preexisted the Thief and was in any way widely known and accepted, my expectation is that the thief would have referenced it instead of having its own table of skills by level and we would have gotten the idea of a NWP way before we did. Nor have I heard anyone, Jordan Peterson included, describe such a nascent skills system.

The problem of course that you always ran into as a DM is that you know had this system for adjudicating extraordinary actions but it only applied to thieves. You had no system for adjudicating extraordinary actions for non thieves and more importantly you had no system for adjudicating ordinary actions. For rather ordinary actions, you still basically had the old Braunstein system of deciding for yourself if something was climbable. Climb a ladder? Yes. (No check.) Climb a dressed stone wall? No. (No check.) Climb a tree? Err.... Yes? Maybe? Not this tree?

And that's where the system started failing. Yes and No were easy answers but the thief skill system still really didn't address the in between cases well. Remember, we wouldn't have a notion of difficulty built into the system until 3e. So how much easier was it to climb a tree than the nearly sheer wall the thief was climbing? How much harder was it to climb a nearly sheer wall of ice? Rules smiths and module writers and other DMs started having to try to work with the system as it was, and as you might expect - just with other attempts to jury rig a skill system - the suggestions that they made were all over the place.

The thief, as I read it (at least from Greyhawk) had abilities that were borderline supernatural. The thief had Climb Sheer Surfaces, Move Silently (not stealthily), Hide In Shadows, etc.

None of these conflict with the manner of adjudication as you describe because they aren't mundane abilities. Even without the existence of the thief, I would be ok with a player taking a grappling hook and rope out and casting it over a wall and proceeding to climb it. There would be no need for any kind of roll, the player is successful. But if the same player attempts to scuttle up the wall with their bare hands, I'd rule it would be impossible. The thief Climb Sheer Surfaces ability gives them a chance to do something a normal character can't.

My approach is with the correct tools if it can be done, it is within a typical characters actions.

Thief skills aren't replacements for typical character activities. They represent actions that are beyond what typical characters are capable of.
 
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lowkey13

Exterminate all rational thought
Now, for the thief, it was, since the beginning, meant to have skills and do things other characters couldn't do (like picking magical locks). Not that it replaced other PCs trying to hide, but to give the thief superhuman abilities to attempt what no one else could. (the 1e PHB infers this as well, as I pointed out earlier) And at higher levels, automatically succeeded. Reference the original thief class as it appears in Gen Con 1974:
To me, the more interesting thing about the Thief class (and we just had this conversation when I did the origin of classes thread a few weeks ago, not to mention this has popped up every three-four months) is that the original Aero Hobbies thief didn't use tables, but rather used the abilities as if they were spells (MU). There is a source for it (Daniel Wagner) that I am too lazy to come up with.

So EGG made the fateful decision to change the skills to his system, which gradually got worse over time. I think the class would probably have been better if it had stuck to a more Wagner-ian approach.
 

lowkey13

Exterminate all rational thought
There is just /so/ much of that...
*shrug* It's not like I spam a thread for pages telling you about how 4e was really played, because my cousin once told me, and therefore it now exists as an immutable law that cannot be reasonably questioned.

....and that's a ruleset that was more uniformly applied than OD&D / 1e / B/X.

But hey, maybe I should. It sounds like fun!
 
Had the most skills is a world of difference from the only one with special abilities, that were either the only way to accomplish that range of tasks - or the only way to accomplish 'impossible' examples of those tasks.

It's the latter I'm curious about.
Well, first of all - and this was still a problem - you weren't the only one. A M-U could after all just cast Invisibility to hide.

And secondly, you are looking at this very differently than I ever looked at it.

From this other point of view I'm hearing about, now, it was a sole example of things staying the same: that, before, everyone could perform every Thief special ability, to a mundane level, though no mechanics were generally forthcoming, but the Thief's facility was truly special in every case, "now" (in 3e) only Trapfinding was special.

So, were you on the original-Thief Special Abilities were nigh-supernatural, do-the-impossible things, or just considering it as one way of looking at it? Because 3e would seem quite the let-down if you were committed to that viewpoint at the time.
You're looking at this in a rather binary way, of either the thief could do nigh-supernatural things or else he was just ordinary. It's a false contrast I never really had in my thinking. All I thought is, "The thief should be good at climbing walls.", or "The thief should be good at stealth.", or what have you.

And the 1e way of looking at being good at something was equally binary. Either you could do something or you couldn't do something. It had no consistent idea of difficulty, no idea of default values. Something was either easy or it was impossible. The thief skills were the first attempt to deal with "hard but not impossible" and it was a step forward however stumbling that step was. So in 1e everyone could do things that were easy, like climb a climbable wall. And no one could (without magic) do things that were impossible, like climb a wall made of glass. And the thief who was good at climbing could climb things that were 'nearly sheer' (and even with some difficulty things that were actually sheer).

So no system. So of course no consistency between tables.

By no means was 3e a 'let down' in the respect you are talking about. Being valuable to the party doesn't mean jealously hording what you can do. I did make some tweaks in things but here we had a strong commitment to making the thief good at things. And I would say the class has been very successful both in my 3e RAW play and in my homebrew version of 3.X play. It's popular with the players and has a lot of roles it can fulfill.

When I said 'niche protection' remained a problem, I meant exactly things like 'Trap Finding' meant that no matter how good a non-thief was at noticing things it was impossible to notice a trap. That was locked back in the binary thinking of 1e. It was a less advanced way of looking at things. I had no problem with the rogue being especially good at noticing traps, but the fact that they niche protected that meant problems. It isn't the way I would prefer to have done things (which is closer to how Pathfinder has dealt with the issue). Likewise, when spells granted skills, it bothered me how cheaply they valued skills relative to a spell. So if you were to see my versions of Knock and Spider climb, you'd see how much I elevate acquisition of skill in order to balance spellcasting and skill use so that spellcasters no longer can cheaply acquire skill by minimal expenditure of spell resources.
 

Tony Vargas

Adventurer
You're looking at this in a rather binary way, of either the thief could do nigh-supernatural things or else he was just ordinary. It's a false contrast I never really had in my thinking. All I thought is, "The thief should be good at climbing walls.", or "The thief should be good at stealth.", or what have you.
OK, so you're not coming from the perspective I was wondering about.

Everything you said makes sense, then. ;)
 

Ratskinner

Adventurer
But so much of the OSR seems not devoted to fixing it but celebrating its brokenness.
QFT

You'll either find a method with less randomness or your group will tacitly accept cheating:"Yes I did roll two 18's for my character (on the 18th character that I rolled up)", "Yes I did roll two 18's for my character (after I rerolled the 7 that was ruining the character it luckily was an 18).", "Yes I did roll two 18's for my character (it was a 2 sixes and 2 threes, but I figured close enough)."
Absolutely matches my experience. I know players that always seem to roll up an 18% STR Dwarf Fighter...every....single...time. The baffling thing to me is when I hear some of these same guys talk about how "stat-dependent" the later editions are. It's like: "Are you lying to me, or yourself?"

Really, I tried running a 1e AD&D game a few years back and it was really shocking just how badly it played compared to a modern rules set or that I put up with it for more than 10 years.
Yup. Our group did, too. Same result. Supposedly, we're playing OSRIC right now, but even then we've modified so many rules that I hardly recognize the game.

I mean there are things I do love about it and I know how to improvise, it's just that I hate having to improvise every freaking thing. That's way too much heavy lifting that distracts from playing the game.
I am often struck by the thought that random tables and generators are really the heart of some people's love of old-school. I've run enough Fate to know that using something like Inspiration Pad Pro to generate lists of names, monsters, sites, heck even plots and schemes can really help get the improvisation juices flowing. It also can really help in any game when the player's ask "What's his name?"
 
I am often struck by the thought that random tables and generators are really the heart of some people's love of old-school.
Don't get me wrong, I do love me my random tables and generators.

But you certainly don't need old school mechanics to use random tables and generators.

What strikes me more is that many OSRIC fans don't seem to understand what makes a random table or generator actually good. They don't seem to realize that a penny for your thoughts is an inflated rate, and that 100 thoughts is in and of itself not even worth a dollar. They are like that poor guy that Dream curses with imagination and all he does is spew out an endless stream of unrealized and unrealizable ideas.

Like I've been saying all along, I get the nostalgia. What I don't get is the implementation.
 

Sacrosanct

Slayer of Keraptis
No, not true, because the point both of you appear to be missing is that those things you consider broken, the OSR crowd considers features. OSR folks (like myself) aren't celebrating the brokenness. We celebrate the awesomeness and how those things were great and provided an awesome gaming experience.

Absolutely matches my experience. I know players that always seem to roll up an 18% STR Dwarf Fighter...every....single...time. The baffling thing to me is when I hear some of these same guys talk about how "stat-dependent" the later editions are. It's like: "Are you lying to me, or yourself?"
We've been using 4d6 drop lowest in every edition we played from 1981 to today. So no, people didn't drop it right away. That's outright false. And while I've seen a few people who cheated, that's hardly the norm. I think you (both you and Celebrim) making that observation speaks more about the people you game with than the game itself. Rules are rules, and that method didn't suddenly make everyone a cheater who didn't cheat at other things. Those kinds of people (cheaters) will always try to cheat, regardless of edition.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
But so much of the OSR seems not devoted to fixing it but celebrating its brokenness.
"My uncle used to say that we like people for their qualities, but we love them for their defects." - B.P.R.D. Agent John Myers, Hellboy, 2004
 

Garthanos

Arcadian Knight
I never got that impression that the Thief's special abilities were to perform tasks that fit the description, but were otherwise impossible. Quite the opposite, it seemed like the existence of the Thief made those other tasks impossible for everyone else (or what was the point). Especially given that there weren't a lot of systems for performing those tasks. The closest thing I can think of was the ability of certain characters to surprise more often under certain circumstances, which /implied/ moving silently/hiding, and used entirely different mechanics.
Yeh its a theory and practice issue I think the places are on different sides of the universe at times. I have met those who interpreted the abilities this way it wasn't my personal impression mine was that DMs used it as a reason to "just say NO" to others trying to sneak and things of that sort.

The problem I see with the Thief, in retrospect, is that it started a trend of hyper-specializing non-casters, in a game where casters rapidly expanded both the power & versatility of their abilities. That is, the Thief, along with Vance, indirectly, was responsible for casters growing into the Tier 1 campaign-stomping-Kaiju of 3e.
4e spell numbers were a closer match to Vances writing than any edition yet. Just saying.

And no edition has every pulled completely free of that. 4e, as much flack as it gets for daring to be somewhat balanced, left Rogues & Rangers as exploration specialists relative to the incompetent-out-of-combat Fighter, while giving Clerics & especially, Wizards, more & more versatile out-of-combat options - both more skills /and/ free rituals. 5e restored LFQW, and largely reduced skill-based contributions to 'warm body' anyone-might-randomly-succeed BA - with the traditional exception of the Rogue, this time specialized via Expertise.
5e with truly free rituals has my brain throbbing. (They didnt even try IMHO)
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
I played a thief pretty much at every opportunity. And no, they aren't viable. This wasn't something that was immediately obvious to me at first, and I certainly had lots of enjoyment playing a thief. When you first start playing, especially as a kid, this is all so new and wonderful that literally anything we did was fun, including monotonous hack and slash.
...

But the longer I played, and the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I was playing a character that couldn't pull their weight.
...



Well, I'm not sure I can put them into words succinctly, but I think I just did a very good job of explaining why the thief in particular wasn't viable.
I think we get a sense of it, at least.

So, here's the difference - you define viability in terms of "pulling weight", doing damage, and such. And I can accept that as something that can be important enough to a player to be a deal-breaker. Most of the time, I figure even-handedness in spreading around effectiveness is a useful thing for a game's design. But, my personal definition of "viable" isn't directly about that. Broadly speaking, a character is viable for me when I expect I will have fun with it, and not keep others from having their fun. Sometimes that means mechanical effectiveness, sometimes it doesn't.

I mean, I like a run of Paranoia from time to time. That's not a game i which "pulling weight" is a concern, since the group is probably not really all focused on the team achieving a goal. A weak, unassuming character is less of a threat in that game, and may well live longer... and that's if I even consider living longer to be the point in Paranoia. :)

If my character is intended to be a heavy-hitter in melee, or a major blasting spell-slinger, yeah, mechanical effectiveness is important. But, otherwise, maybe other things are where I'll find the fun.
 
"My uncle used to say that we like people for their qualities, but we love them for their defects." - B.P.R.D. Agent John Myers, Hellboy, 2004
Can't say that I agree with either the agent or his uncle. And to the extent that I'll charitably try to imagine that as a deep observation on the nature of love, then I don't think the quote means what you seem to think it means by using it in this context.
 

Ratskinner

Adventurer
We've been using 4d6 drop lowest in every edition we played from 1981 to today. So no, people didn't drop it right away. That's outright false. And while I've seen a few people who cheated, that's hardly the norm. I think you (both you and Celebrim) making that observation speaks more about the people you game with than the game itself. Rules are rules, and that method didn't suddenly make everyone a cheater who didn't cheat at other things. Those kinds of people (cheaters) will always try to cheat, regardless of edition.
Over the years, I have run and played in....jeez, I've honestly lost count, probably like 10 or more different groups, and that's if you don't count the various incarnations of parties/campaigns in college gaming club. I don't even know how many different people that is. (Not all of those were OSR, either, but I started playing in '80/'81.) In all frankness and honesty NOBODY knows what the norm was or is for Old-School games, and I often suspect that there really isn't a norm for old school play. Maybe one of us is an outlier in our experience, maybe we both are. That's why I said it absolutely matches my experience.
 

Tony Vargas

Adventurer
"My uncle used to say that we like people for their qualities, but we love them for their defects." - B.P.R.D. Agent John Myers, Hellboy, 2004
There's certainly both people who love the classic game in spite of it's flaws, and those who love it /for/ it's flaws.

There's also the more conflicted set who hate it when those flaws are addressed elsewhere, as if it somehow diminishes or invalidates their appreciation of the still-flawed original.
 

the Jester

Legend
Which gets to the idea of how you managed to get a melee fighter to high level without a CON bonus to speak of, and apparently not a lot of clerics. You mentioned early DM fudging, but I'm wondering even more about the mix of challenges involved. You're clearly not trying to face anything like the G series with its loads of giants trying to squish you flat, or anything like DL with its save or die dragon breath weapons.
IIRC that particular character played through (on top of many homebrewed adventures) T1, the Slaver series, S3, S4 and WG4, and the GDQ series, probably not in that specific order. The massive giants encounter routed us, but we (mostly) survived and came back for more with better planning, though I can't remember what we did exactly.


The real sort of fudging that I think is going on here is more like what I talked about with making a character useful through campaign and encounter design.
Maybe- but this was back in the day when you'd play the same pc under multiple DMs, one adventure at a time. Less of a campaign and more of a series of adventures, with loose bits of continuity here and there.

Then again, this is apparently a game where despite not throwing a lot of difficult combat challenges at the party - few 16HD hydras or yagnodaemons for example - the DMs feel perfectly free to hit the whole party with regular save or die gas traps...
The gas trap was an example; mass save or die effects were pretty common in early D&D, even if not that particular version. See also: gaze attacks from petrifying monsters or death gaze creatures (bodaks, boalisks, catoblepas, etc), the rooms full of radiation that force a save or die from everyone in S3, things like gas spores or yellow mold, etc.

I think you're presuming a lot about the kinds of challenges we faced.


We had tons of henchmen. In fact, it was possible on a game night where most of the group wasn't showing up, to do ensemble or troupe play where one or two PC's went off on their own and any player that showed up who didn't have a main PC available could play one of the henchmen. Henchmen were essential for providing valuable skills like healing, magic, tanking when key PC's weren't around or were down or out of resources or whatever.
We would just add more pcs, including potentially multiple pcs per player if needed.


Anyway, we're still stuck on my assertion of 'viable', despite my lengthy attempt to explain it and despite the fact that you don't dispute my analysis of the rules.

What I'm not sure of from my end of the conversation is why you think a statement like "There is more to D&D than your ability scores" or "I had fun playing a thief and saw others have fun playing a thief." is a refutation.
I think the refutation is aimed at your perception of what was viable. Were I to accept the premise that your character has to hit some or all of your bullet points from earlier, I'd be with you, but that simply wasn't my experience. I found all kinds of characters with relatively low arrays of stats to be viable. In fact, my first couple of years, we played 3d6 in order with 2-for-1 swaps (or 3-for-1, for certain stats) as outlined in... Mentzer(?) Basic, I believe. Characters were still fun to play and the game was still awesome. To me, that says that those characters were viable.

I don't have a problem with the assertion that a character with high stats is better, on the whole, than one with low stats. But I don't always think that means that character is more fun. And to me, what makes a character viable is a combination of two things: 1. Is it fun to play? and 2. Is it fun to play alongside?

A character who straight up can't contribute to the group's fun is not viable. A character who is not fun to play is not viable. But those characters could have high stats. I agree that it's more likely, for most players, that a low-stat pc will be less fun; but that needn't always be true, and it certainly doesn't make a low stat pc not fun.

There may be more to D&D than ability scores, but the structure of AD&D and to a lesser but still large extent BECMI weighted all the viability of a character to having one or more scores of 16 or higher because it was only at that point that you got advantages in play and those advantages while they seem small were in fact enormous when you start doing the math.
That's not true, though- or at least, it's only true for Strength. A 15 Con gave you +1 to your hit points; a 15 Dex gave you +1 AC. And you are noticeably better as a spellcaster with a 13 Int or Wis than a 9. Then there are things like carrying capacity, system shock, reaction adjustment... You got, maybe not bonuses, but a better chance of many things going your way long before you hit 16.

Also, I may be mis-remembering, but I think in the Basic version I had, you got a 5% xp bonus for having a prime requisite of about 14.

My numbers don't go away just because we both agree you could have fun despite them, nor do they go away just because we both agree that skillful play (by the player) and the attitude of the group could overcome bad design. My point is, even so, "despite" and "bad design".

This is in contrast to say 3e which had advantages start at 12 and linearly increase and had well defined advantages for all ability scores that applied to all classes, so that while pure optimization still might go for Jack One Big Hammer, a broad range of comparatively low scores (12's and 14's) was still plenty viable.

In the context of the "OSR Gripes" what I'm essentially asking is, "Why would you try to have fidelity to older editions exponential and very top loaded ability scores and not utilize the obvious improvements of 3e's ability score bonuses"? I mean, yes I can agree we all had fun in the '80s, but do we not all agree that there were bad design elements? Why are we building games that sell themselves as faithfully recreating the bad design elements?
Speaking of different play experiences, I found that not having a high stat in 3e was far harder to deal with than in earlier editions.

I do agree that early editions have some design elements that the years have improved. And I do agree that stat bonuses and the way they work are one of them. But they throw a lot of other stuff out of whack in an early edition game, most especially the flavor of the game. In 1e, you really don't expect a to hit bonus of +4 or +5 until you're pretty high level. It's just a different feel when a monster hits you for 1d4 points of damage and it's significant and meaningful.
 
Yep, and there are still tons of people like that out there. Drives me up a wall.

Not that we didn’t have our share of high stats we “rolled” back then (we were kids, after all), but there were also a ton of ways to bump up your stats through play. 5e codified it as part of progression, but back then there were all sorts of manuals, magic fountains, and the casting of wish/limited wish with the less, shall we say predatory, DMs. And heck, I remember a PC in my game that, without his gauntlets of ogre power, could not even move in his armor.

Absolutely matches my experience. I know players that always seem to roll up an 18% STR Dwarf Fighter...every....single...time. The baffling thing to me is when I hear some of these same guys talk about how "stat-dependent" the later editions are. It's like: "Are you lying to me, or yourself?"
 

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