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OSR OSR Gripes

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
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.
We're talking about how we pretend to be elves, Celebrim. Expect depth to match the topic.

Consider it less an observation of the nature of love, and more an observation of the nature of people, and it will probably be more functional for you.
 
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.
Ok, that gives me a frame of reference.

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.
Leaving aside passive hazards like yellow mold, which we were rightly paranoid about and used all sorts of techniques to avoid exposure... these happened all the time in your games? Because I can give a rant about how badly designed Bodaks are as monsters.

I think you're presuming a lot about the kinds of challenges we faced.
Possibly. Mostly I'm really interested in the kinds of challenges you faced.

We would just add more pcs, including potentially multiple pcs per player if needed.
Leveled up henchmen and other NPC associates were a convenient source of PC's should you unfortunately lose a main, and were often converted to PC's once your main got to the point you had invested so much you were sacred to risk them. This gradually developed an aesthetic of a living world we didn't have at first, when if a character died well you just rolled up a replacement and introduced him the next session as "Bob, Jr." or "Bob's younger brother" or whatever.

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?
What I noticed was an experience of fun decay where if you had a good character or if another player had a good character, then playing a substandard character - one that would never be capable like your good character - was increasingly less satisfying. When we were kids and first starting out, playing anything seemed pretty cool. We didn't question the rules much. It was how it was. If you had a bad character, well that was just the luck. Maybe you'd get lucky next time. However waiting for next time tends to become a bit of a drag.

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.
+1 hit points for a M-U is like a 40% boost in h.p. +2 hit points is an 80%. The difference between 2 hit points and 3 hit points at 1st level isn't much - you are still in that 1d4 can kill you range. But the difference between 25 and 35 hit points at 3rd level is enormous. There is a 'squish point' defined by the average damage you'd expect to take if attacked by a monster you were likely to encounter that M-U's had a hard time getting beyond, which is one of the many reasons in 1e AD&D M-U's were never as godly as they were in 3e (when they got the same CON bonuses as a fighter and so had proportionately closer hit points). It's a lot easier to get beyond that squish point with 35 hit points than it is with 25. If you could get past that 1 round squish point, then by a combination of your own and party actions you were hard as a M-U to kill. So +1 or +2 turns out to be a very big deal in the long run. If you didn't have it, you were always going to be squishy.

The same sort of thing turns out to be true about DEX, though counter-intuitively not as much for the M-U as for other classes. You can't think about AD&D play like 3e play. In 3e play monsters have explicit strength scores and large bonuses to hit which means most things you'll encounter have chances to hit which are at least in the middle of the fortune range. So in 3e, a +1 to hit might mean you take ~5% less damage - 1 chance in 20 fails to hit you now. It's not a big deal. But in AD&D play, most things you encounter do not have explicit bonuses to hit. So it's relatively easy to bump your AC up into a range where the only hits you suffer are on the high end of the fortune range. And on the high end of the fortune range, that one extra bonus to AC becomes enormous. Instead of taking like 5% less damage, you are taking 25% or 33% or 50% less damage. Once you had the treasure to 'suit up' in plate mail (or later full plate), any character that could now was forcing those high ends of the range. And then at that point every AC bonus was gold, and every DEX bonus made you that much more survivable.

The reason it didn't matter as much for the M-U is that AC 9 versus AC 10 isn't as big of a deal as AC -1 versus AC 0. Again, middle of the fortune range or less plays very differently than top of the fortune range.

The same sort of thing is true about those system shock survival checks. Yes, it does matter that they are getting slowly better well before the top of the table. But a 99% SSS check isn't 1% better than 98%, but twice as good as 98% (1 in 50 chance) and 15 times as good as 85% (roughly 1 in 6 chance).

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.
We've been using point buy. I've had a few people go with stat arrays like 18, 18, 8, 8, 8, 8 but its much more typical to take a lot of 14's and such because there is a lot more MAD.
 

Tony Vargas

Adventurer
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
Yep, lots of ways for stats to go up (or down), or straight to 18, 18/00 or 24 back in the day. Many of the most significant were magic items, almost all, like items, were things the DM would 'drop,' rarely something a player could acquire as a matter of course.

3e, not 5e, codified stat increases as part of progression, both through giving stat increases with level, and by setting out expected wealth/level which, along with make/buy of magic items, gave predictable access to all those stat-boosting items (all of which added to stats rather than replacing them as in the olden days).
4e did away with stat-boosting items (though it still had wealth/level & make/buy), and just had stat bumps as you level.

5e still gives stat bumps, but optionally, they can be sacrificed for feats. Stat-boosting and stat-replacing items are back, but also back under the DM's control, with wealth/level & make/buy expectations quashed. Closer to the classic game than anything else WotC's done, IMHO.

And heck, I remember a PC in my game that, without his gauntlets of ogre power, could not even move in his armor.
IIRC, the classic Gauntlets of Ogre Power only strengthened your arms & grip, so you were 18/00 for most critical purposes, like attack & damage, or bending bars or the like, but DMs might very well rule they didn't help much with encumbrance.
 

Lanefan

Hero
However, your favorite character would totally outclassed by one with two 17s or an 18 strength. I'm guessing that didn't happen (or you did actually have another score of 16 or higher). Your 11th level fighter only would have had about 47 hit points,
Er...only if it had a penalty due to a very low Con score.

An 11th level Fighter in 1e as written would have 9d10+6 h.p. The average on a d10 roll is 5.5; 9 of those gives 49 (rounding down) + 6 for a total of 55 h.p.

and that's not really viable for a front line character when you are facing off against level X monsters. If that same fighter had say a 16 Strength and also a 17 Constitution, so that they have say about 74 hit points, now we are talking.
And just how many Fighters made it all the way to 11th without dying once or twice? Remember, in 1e every revival ocst you a Con point...
 
Er...only if it had a penalty due to a very low Con score.

An 11th level Fighter in 1e as written would have 9d10+6 h.p. The average on a d10 roll is 5.5; 9 of those gives 49 (rounding down) + 6 for a total of 55 h.p.
Sorry, did math quickly in my head. Your math is correct. Point still stands however.

And just how many Fighters made it all the way to 11th without dying once or twice? Remember, in 1e every revival ocst you a Con point...
Many? I mean, you'd probably have to make it to 9th before you even had the option of a raise dead, and by the time you made it to 9th as a fighter you were fairly survivable. But, in so much as they did need a raise dead, then you're making a resurrection survival check in each case so how many times do you expect to survive getting raised if you start with low CON?
 

Lanefan

Hero
Absolutely matches my experience. I know players that always seem to roll up an 18% STR Dwarf Fighter...every....single...time.
Rolled on the table in full view of everyone else?

I'll guess not.

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?"
It goes beyond that - in old school much more so than new, there's always the underlying threat (or promise?) that some effect from some random table or randomly-generated device somewhere might completely change your character: alignment change, stat change, race or class change, etc.

Put another way, there's an overall greater level of unpredictability. Many of us find this a good thing.
 

Lanefan

Hero
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.
Over the years I've had many wishes cast in my games and of those I can only remember one that was specifically cast to improve a stat...and even then only after a fashion: the character wished he was psionic.

But I've never had a problem with devices, tomes, etc. showing up that increase stats. It feels much more like an in-fiction reward for adventuring than any sort of auto-increment system ever does.

And heck, I remember a PC in my game that, without his gauntlets of ogre power, could not even move in his armor.
And with the Gauntlets, he could only move his arms? ;)
 

Lanefan

Hero
Sorry, did math quickly in my head. Your math is correct. Point still stands however.



Many? I mean, you'd probably have to make it to 9th before you even had the option of a raise dead,
Not necessarily - I've had parties take their dead back to some major temple in town and pay for a raise way way WAY before they were anywhere near 9th level. :)

That said, getting access to raise in the field is very much a tipping point for long-term character survivability.

and by the time you made it to 9th as a fighter you were fairly survivable. But, in so much as they did need a raise dead, then you're making a resurrection survival check in each case so how many times do you expect to survive getting raised if you start with low CON?
Yes, but your example was of someone with Con 17, which is a high-90's resurrection chance.
 

Tony Vargas

Adventurer
It goes beyond that - in old school much more so than new, there's always the underlying threat (or promise?) that some effect from some random table or randomly-generated device somewhere might completely change your character: alignment change, stat change, race or class change, etc
Nod. Like landing on "Go to Jail" or "Loose a Turn" in a board game. Just, arbitrarily, stuff happens. (I'm kinda surprised there aren't more funny stories about Reincarnated old-school D&D characters.)

Characters weren't sacrosanct, they didn't /start/ with concepts, but they might come to embody one for part of their career, depending on what the DM had dropped on them.
 

the Jester

Legend
Leaving aside passive hazards like yellow mold, which we were rightly paranoid about and used all sorts of techniques to avoid exposure... these happened all the time in your games? Because I can give a rant about how badly designed Bodaks are as monsters.
Fairly often. Most adventures had an instance of something like this in it somewhere, much like early modules did. It wasn't an every session thing, but was far from uncommon.

Leveled up henchmen and other NPC associates were a convenient source of PC's should you unfortunately lose a main, and were often converted to PC's once your main got to the point you had invested so much you were sacred to risk them. This gradually developed an aesthetic of a living world we didn't have at first, when if a character died well you just rolled up a replacement and introduced him the next session as "Bob, Jr." or "Bob's younger brother" or whatever.
We typically had many different games running concurrently, and would swap pcs in to different groups when it fit the narrative, such as when one group finished a given adventure. All pcs started at first level for us except for in the strangest, least usual of circumstances, so we always had more low level pcs available than higher level (we would start new pc groups all the time).

What I noticed was an experience of fun decay where if you had a good character or if another player had a good character, then playing a substandard character - one that would never be capable like your good character - was increasingly less satisfying.
I'm sure I had dissatisfying characters, but the only one I especially remember was a ranger who... he just come off as a wanker when I started playing him. To me, I mean. I was actually glad when he died early on. Generally, though, I find every character I play enjoyable.

My first 5e pc is a wizard who started with a high score of 14... in Con. His starting Int was 13. (This is because I usually roll my stats in order and see what I can make, a very old habit.) He was amazingly fun, and was a great asset to his party- just an atypical one. He's a self-described mediocre mage, but he is really fun to play with and the others in his party really like him too.
 

Garthanos

Arcadian Knight
But I've never had a problem with devices, tomes, etc. showing up that increase stats. It feels much more like an in-fiction reward for adventuring than any sort of auto-increment system ever does.
Hmmmm I made up something called martial techniques effectively they were learnable if you could find a teacher and had the karma (sort of money in a different guise your teacher might send you on quest or task like Herakles was sent on to earn or prove your worth and gain the karma - insert more story beyond finding the teacher) for it, but under the hood they were pretty much the effects of magic items *with slightly different limits and advantages.
 

Lanefan

Hero
We typically had many different games running concurrently, and would swap pcs in to different groups when it fit the narrative, such as when one group finished a given adventure. All pcs started at first level for us except for in the strangest, least usual of circumstances, so we always had more low level pcs available than higher level (we would start new pc groups all the time).
We don't start brand new groups very often but we're always reshuffling the lineups within the parties that are out there.

I'm sure I had dissatisfying characters, but the only one I especially remember was a ranger who... he just come off as a wanker when I started playing him. To me, I mean. I was actually glad when he died early on. Generally, though, I find every character I play enjoyable.
Yeah, sometimes a character visualizes better than it plays - I've had several of these over time, and I either retire them or get them killed off once I realize that whatever I had in mind just ain't gonna work.

The flip side, though, is when a character that really looks like it is going to work out gets snuffed early. Had some of those too. :)
 

Lanefan

Hero
Select your spells right low intelligence doesn't matter. Do buffing or use spells that have no saves.
This assumes one can select the spells that end up in one's book.

In 1e you could pick a few spells (or have them rolled random) when starting out at 1st level, but after that it was all based on what you could find (via loot) or buy or swap with other PC MUs...and you had to roll to learn each one, with low intelligence making this roll more difficult.
 

Ratskinner

Adventurer
Rolled on the table in full view of everyone else?

I'll guess not.
Totally irrelevant. Most of the OS players/GMS/tables I know don't even seem to care or object. Which, I think, is part of what Celebrim and I find so confusing about the OSR movement. At least IME, the "hard core" character-funnel type play seems to be completely abandoned except for a small fraction of the community.

It goes beyond that - in old school much more so than new, there's always the underlying threat (or promise?) that some effect from some random table or randomly-generated device somewhere might completely change your character: alignment change, stat change, race or class change, etc.

Put another way, there's an overall greater level of unpredictability. Many of us find this a good thing.
That's fine by me. I wasn't negatively critiquing the idea of tables and that kind of randomness. I just think that there is something to the mental burden/cost of constant improvisation (or even authoring) that is alleviated by providing or utilizing such tables. I think its also part of the reason that list-free or list-light games like Fate, which is perfectly serviceable out-of-the-box are not as popular as games like D&D which come with pre-packaged lists of feats, spells, classes/abilities, etc. Developing your setting and world as you play isn't for everyone, and that's fine.
 

Zardnaar

Explorer
This assumes one can select the spells that end up in one's book.

In 1e you could pick a few spells (or have them rolled random) when starting out at 1st level, but after that it was all based on what you could find (via loot) or buy or swap with other PC MUs...and you had to roll to learn each one, with low intelligence making this roll more difficult.
I was talking about 5E. Not clear in my post.

Basic things like finding spells, and xp for gp buff exploration pillar.
 

Lanefan

Hero
Totally irrelevant.
No, sadly, it's highly relevant: someone who cheats at char-gen is much more likely to cheat at other times. Best to nip it in the bud right from square one and have done with it.

Most of the OS players/GMS/tables I know don't even seem to care or object. Which, I think, is part of what Celebrim and I find so confusing about the OSR movement. At least IME, the "hard core" character-funnel type play seems to be completely abandoned except for a small fraction of the community.
Hardly the first time I've been in the minority... :)
 
Which, I think, is part of what Celebrim and I find so confusing about the OSR movement.
Let me clarify exactly why I find the OSR/OSRIC etc. movement so confusing.

1) It's a movement to recreate a specific set of rules yet the fans of the movement when discussing why they are fond of the game almost never reference actual rules, but instead reference ideas about play, encounter design, campaign design, and so forth that are not aspects of the rules - for example challenge, skillful play, randomness, using propositions highly specific to and interactive with the fiction, etc. And I'm on board with most of that but don't understand why you'd need those rules to do it. My 3e campaign, the players unwisely interacted with some radioactive ooze, and now one player has a talon for a hand and other player's hippogriff steeds has a mutated foot with an alien mouth on it. I didn't and don't need 1e rules to have 1e feel. It feels like the same effect could be achieved by producing supplements for modern editions on old school play style, encounter design, campaign design and so forth.

2) Some of the most successful and prominent OSR games don't actually have that 1e feel either. Instead, they are more like what TSR games might have felt like if instead of Tracy Hickman advocating for the comic book code in future TSR products, Anton LaVey had been an employee and recommended doubling down on the occult scare for the publicity. Now I get there are people who hear something like that and go 'cewwwl', but I don't see why you need a 1e rule set for that either. Why is grimdark such a thing in the OSR community?

3) To the extent that OSR champions will talk about rules at all and advocate for rules, typically what you'll hear from them is that what they like about the rules is that they don't use them. That is to say they'll say that the great thing about the old rules is that there are no rules and they can just make things up. And ok, that may be a preference thing, but at the same time it's not a rules thing either. No rules set is comprehensive and regardless of which edition you are playing, if you are doing your job as a DM and if the players are doing theirs, then you'll find yourself outside the rules needing to make rulings. In my 3e game I found myself running a combat where the players were racing mounts down a city street next to a runaway carriage that was being attacked by wights, where like an old western movie I had heroes jumping off horses to get on the carriage and try to stop it. This is not a situation which is explicitly covered by the rules as written in 3e or 1e, and so regardless of which system I was using there would have been a lot of rulings involved. However, I certainly know which system has more support for this sort of free form play, and it's not 1e AD&D, and that is so obviously true that I really wonder whether the old school fans of free form play do really in fact have as game as free form as my 3e based game, or whether it's more like the play I remember of 30 years ago where we pretty much stayed in our lanes and delved in dungeons. I mean staying in the lanes and delving the dungeons seems to be what the OSR games are selling as a selling point...

As far as actual rules go, there are a few things I miss from the 1e era:

a) XP for g.p.: This is the biggest surprise to me of all because back as a DM in the AD&D era I hated XP for g.p. because of the constraints it put on campaign design. The rules strongly encouraged leveling by getting rich, which meant that the PC's coffers tended to be overflowing or the PC's tended to die from the grind. To me it was like the training rules. I got why they worked that way, but that didn't stop me from tossing them out the window at the first opportunity because they got in the way of a fun story. But, now that they are gone and after some years of reflection I do miss them at times. Or rather, what I really miss is players being excited about finding loot. By and large, players in my game don't care about gold. They care about magic items, but gold because it isn't readily fungible to magic items (unlike some 3e games I presume) isn't something that they care much about. And that feels like a bit of a loss both in realism, game play, and fun.

b) Weapon vs. AC modifiers: The rule that I missed almost immediately in 3e play is one which I doubt any OSR games actually implement and which few tables at the time used. But if it wouldn't make the game more complex than it is, I'd bring it back in a heart beat.

c) Exponential XP progression: Of the things I miss this is the one which I'm most likely to actually incorporate in my rules set in the future. I'm convinced that it is superior to linear XP progression to level having played with both. However, changing the rules so that exponential will work well (especially in absence of the fudge factor of treasure for XP) will be a huge undertaking and so far I haven't attempted it. I miss the way exponential XP supported henchmen, supported starting new characters from 1st level if you wanted to go that route, and the way it created natural demographics if you made assumptions about NPC's gaining XP over time.

But that is literally it. Everything else that I've got now is the same 1e underlying 6 attribute class based chargen with the strong D20 fortune engine, only the chasis that has been built around that classic engine is so much better in every respect to what was built around it back in the day. It's clearer. It's fairer. It's more balanced. It handles difficulty cleanly. It supports more open play better. It's more complete. It supports more diverse character concepts. And perhaps most of all, it's got 10 years of house rules built around it to make it play the way I want it to play.

One of the few AD&D DM's I encountered that I thought I understood was one like me that I had built up a body of house rules and porting away from that and what he was comfortable with he said was too much work. But then, at the time he wasn't part of OSR. He was just a DM that had been running games the same way for decades. Only since then, he's taken up LotFP, and I'm like, "What?!?!? Why? I thought you were completely comfortable with your house rules and couldn't change."

At some level I think I do get it: "How you think about a game and how you prepare to play is at least as important as the rules." And I think for most people they have to have a rules change in order to change how they think about the game and the habits that they bring to the table. And that sort of makes sense that your habits would get attached to a particular context. But then I get in a discussion with OSR people about the rules, and they are all like, "If you don't like the rules, it's because you aren't a capable enough DM/player. Using the old rules requires skill and imagination, you see." and it's all so totally not self-aware.
 

Jer

Explorer
Let me clarify exactly why I find the OSR/OSRIC etc. movement so confusing.

3) To the extent that OSR champions will talk about rules at all and advocate for rules, typically what you'll hear from them is that what they like about the rules is that they don't use them. That is to say they'll say that the great thing about the old rules is that there are no rules and they can just make things up. And ok, that may be a preference thing, but at the same time it's not a rules thing either. No rules set is comprehensive and regardless of which edition you are playing, if you are doing your job as a DM and if the players are doing theirs, then you'll find yourself outside the rules needing to make rulings.
I don't know how prevalent this is, but...

I know a DM who is a big OSR booster. When I asked him a question much like this his response was basically that "modern" game engines had rules for everything baked in in one of two ways - either there is an explict rule for it that the players know because it's in the player-facing rulebook, or because the game uses a "core mechanic" for task resolution that the players expect you to use to resolve tasks. So the DM cannot feel as free to make stuff up because the players are expecting you to play by the rules for everything.

In contrast, AD&D has no single core mechanic for task resolution, so players should have no expectation of consistency in that way - consistent for how the DM is doing things from session to session, sure, but if the DM decides to make you roll a d6 to find secret doors you aren't going to get a player saying "hey, you're supposed to be letting me make a Perception check". Also AD&D hides rules from the players - the players aren't supposed to be going into the DMG and objecting because the DM isn't using the right rules for something - the DM gets to decide which systems they are using and which ones they aren't and the players are supposed to keep in their own lane.

As far as my friend is concerned D&D is supposed to give you rules for combat that he will scrupulously follow and that's it. Any rules for outside of combat are supposed to be "suggestions" that the DM can incorporate and ignore on their own judement. The more information the game gives to the players - via rules, skills, etc. - the more it ties his hands and the less he likes it. (This is also part of why we don't game with each other - we have diametrically opposing views on player collaboration at the table and neither of us enjoys the others' preferred style of play. He also likes everyone to start out as a level-0 dirtfarmer and earn their fun through dozens of character deaths before you finally get the right kind of luck to get someone to survive to a level where you have enough hit points to get through a fight, which is a style of play I literally no longer have time for.)
 

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