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General The Renewing Charm of the Old School Play Experience

pogre

Legend
I am a fifth edition fan, but recently my 16-year-old son started an old school D&D campaign. My son is a grognard at heart and was excited to be back in the DM chair and so, I went along. We recruited a couple of more players via Zoom and my youngest boy jumped in to play as well. The short story is it has been a lot of fun and made me realize a lot of the charms of earlier editions.
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You had better not get attached to that character you are playing. Like a Quentin Tarantino movie, the minute you love that character - it’s gone. When your PC goes down you better believe the rest of your party is swarming over that gear. Even worse, if your fighter goes down and you have to skedaddle - you may want to avoid that room on the next delve, because that nasty goblin boss is going to be wearing that splint mail and carrying that shiny longsword!


Sure, we have dreams of that Nirvana of second level, and occasionally, a thief or cleric hits second level. And if a character hits the rarefied air of third level, and the player starts to gain confidence, the blade comes down on old Ned Stark’s neck.

My son is not an adversarial DM at all. He pulls no punches though. Rolls in the open for combat and there are death saves. It strikes me a lot of the things I hated about old school D&D are the things I love about old school D&D.

The constant threat of your character’s demise keeps you in the moment and makes the routine an adventure. The players have jumped into their characters' personas - even with their limited expected life spans. Negotiation is a necessary tactic and sometimes you even have to give up some of your hard won gold. Standoffs are more tense - you know you probably can take this group of gnolls, but you also know a character is probably going to fall.


Hirelings report to each other how they were treated and note who returns when delving with the party, and more importantly, who does not!

There is something freeing about bringing a back-up character to the game. Not because you are careless - quite the opposite - but, because you focus on the events.

Fifth edition can capture some of this playstyle, but to me, that’s not its design goal. This flavor is best experienced with old school rules

My years-long 5th edition campaign will not take a back seat to the old school rules. As I said, fifth edition is still my favorite. Even so, I would encourage you to give some old school gaming a new run. It’s true - I am fairly old, but it is not just nostalgia. There is something invigorating about the old school style of play!
 

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Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
I've been reading Five Torches Deep lately and it's given me a real jones for some OSR action. I like 5TD because it's 5E compatible so I can use all the same resources I have but porting over an old school module (which is very much the plan) is also pretty trivial matter.

I think I may take 5TD and use it for a Midgard campaign.
 


HJFudge

Explorer
Ah I do have fond memories of playing some really old school, high lethality dungeon delves in middle school with my friends.

The issue, of course, being that at the age and maturity level we all were, it invariably caused issues and we'd use whoever was GMing to try and 'cheat'.

I participated as an adult in a Old School 1st Edition style dungeon crawl last year, but I just couldn't get into it. I guess I'm just not into that style anymore! But I do enjoy reading about those who like it and their adventures :)
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Fifth edition can capture some of this playstyle, but to me, that’s not its design goal. This flavor is best experienced with old school rules

With respect, it doesn't take, "old school rules" to play a game with high lethality, which is most of what you speak of here. Just build every encounter in the "deadly" range, and you'll hit it just fine.
 


Parmandur

Legend
I am a fifth edition fan, but recently my 16-year-old son started an old school D&D campaign. My son is a grognard at heart and was excited to be back in the DM chair and so, I went along. We recruited a couple of more players via Zoom and my youngest boy jumped in to play as well. The short story is it has been a lot of fun and made me realize a lot of the charms of earlier editions.
You had better not get attached to that character you are playing. Like a Quentin Tarantino movie, the minute you love that character - it’s gone. When your PC goes down you better believe the rest of your party is swarming over that gear. Even worse, if your fighter goes down and you have to skedaddle - you may want to avoid that room on the next delve, because that nasty goblin boss is going to be wearing that splint mail and carrying that shiny longsword!


Sure, we have dreams of that Nirvana of second level, and occasionally, a thief or cleric hits second level. And if a character hits the rarefied air of third level, and the player starts to gain confidence, the blade comes down on old Ned Stark’s neck.

My son is not an adversarial DM at all. He pulls no punches though. Rolls in the open for combat and there are death saves. It strikes me a lot of the things I hated about old school D&D are the things I love about old school D&D.

The constant threat of your character’s demise keeps you in the moment and makes the routine an adventure. The players have jumped into their characters' personas - even with their limited expected life spans. Negotiation is a necessary tactic and sometimes you even have to give up some of your hard won gold. Standoffs are more tense - you know you probably can take this group of gnolls, but you also know a character is probably going to fall.


Hirelings report to each other how they were treated and note who returns when delving with the party, and more importantly, who does not!

There is something freeing about bringing a back-up character to the game. Not because you are careless - quite the opposite - but, because you focus on the events.

Fifth edition can capture some of this playstyle, but to me, that’s not its design goal. This flavor is best experienced with old school rules

My years-long 5th edition campaign will not take a back seat to the old school rules. As I said, fifth edition is still my favorite. Even so, I would encourage you to give some old school gaming a new run. It’s true - I am fairly old, but it is not just nostalgia. There is something invigorating about the old school style of play!

Introduce your son to Dungeon Crawl Classics: he'd have fun with it, methinks.
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
My enjoyment of OSR play has a lot more components than higher lethality. There's something about the streamlined character builds, the dungeons, the slightly gonzo everything. It's not just 5e on hardcore mode, at least not for me anyway. I find I approach the whole game differently. Not better or worse, just different. What I like about D&D now isn't the same stuff I'd look for in an OSR game at all.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
There's something about the streamlined character builds

So, the Basic 5e rules don't give you a bunch of extra choices in build. Exact same mechanics, but with fewer choices available. Consider what happens if you trim down 5e classes - Paladins only have one Oath. There's only one fighter subclass available. Sorcerers, warlocks, and barbarians are removed. And so on.

the dungeons, the slightly gonzo everything.

What has this got to do with the rules of the game? That's adventure design, dude.

I find I approach the whole game differently.

You can blame that on the ruleset, if you like, but it may have much more to do with your past experience setting your expectations - this may be less about the actual game, and more about preconceived notions of what the game is "supposed to be".

And, to first approximation, it doesn't matter how and why you have the experience - what matters is that you get the experience you want. But, once you start talking about why, and trying to understand the experience, it pays to be thoughtful about where you assign responsibility for aspects of it.
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
So, the Basic 5e rules don't give you a bunch of extra choices in build. Exact same mechanics, but with fewer choices available. Consider what happens if you trim down 5e classes - Paladins only have one Oath. There's only one fighter subclass available. Sorcerers, warlocks, and barbarians are removed. And so on.
Compared to the characters in, say, Five Torches Deep, they aren't streamlined in the way I meant.

What has this got to do with the rules of the game? That's adventure design, dude.
Sure, I could design gonzo dungeon crawls for 5E, but I don't. With the level of detail in 5E I tend to design adventures that use all the moving parts. Also, I feel like you're being a little aggressive here about suggesting that I don't understand basic stuff about the game.

You can blame that on the ruleset, if you like, but it may have much more to do with your past experience setting your expectations - this may be less about the actual game, and more about preconceived notions of what the game is "supposed to be".
Who's blaming anything on a rules set? I love 5E. I also love OSR play. They're different. It also has zero to do with "what the game is supposed to be", that's nonsense. The game isn't supposed to be anything but what we make of it at our individual tables, whatever that is. The fact that I enjoy stripped down OSR play isn't a critique of 5E, or any other style of play.

And, to first approximation, it doesn't matter how and why you have the experience - what matters is that you get the experience you want. But, once you start talking about why, and trying to understand the experience, it pays to be thoughtful about where you assign responsibility for aspects of it.
It feels like you're upset about something here, and I don't get why. I enjoy OSR style play. Why is it a bad thing that I try to put my finger on why? I'm not really sure what you're getting at, but what it feels like is that you're telling me I shouldn't enjoy something I obviously enjoy. That doesn't seem like you at all, so I'm going to guess that we have our wires crossed somewhere and you think I meant something somewhere above that I really don't. What is it about my 'assigning responsibility' that rubs your rhubarb the wrong way?
 

It ain't what you play - it's how you play it. However...

Edition X surely doesn't lend itself to playstyle Y as much as edition Z does. Can 5E be made as deadly as 0E? Sure. But 0E doesn't have to TRY to do that. It is that. Can 0E be LESS deadly like 5E is? Sure. But 5E doesn't have to TRY to do that - it already is.

Simply choosing to play a different version and attempting to deliberately explore how THAT version was played differently does not invalidate 5E nor say anything bad about 5E. The RPG world does NOT begin and end with 5E. No RPG in general, and no version of D&D rules in particular has an expiration date. Choosing to play a NON-5E game and discovering that there are different ways to play D&D and enjoy it without D&D being ALL 5E ALL THE TIME will threaten 5E not at all.
 

I too approach a game in 1ed quite differently than in 5ed. Both editions have their styles and I like both. Lethality in 1ed is way higher by default and design than in 5ed. Yes, a DM is responsible for the level of difficulty in any game and can make 5ed as deadly as 1ed in a pinch. But this requires a bit more work than just putting monsters in a room.

By design, character HPs constantly raise in 5ed with corresponding HD and Con bonuses. Not in 1ed. The difference between a 9th level fighter with 18 constitution and a 20th level fighter with 18 constitution hit point wise is only 33 hp. In fifth edition this is a difference of 110 hp! This is 3 times as much! And the same goes for the other classes that had a limited number of HD.

Casters have a lot less spell slots and versatility than in 1ed. On the other hand, the at will cantrips give them the possibility to be useful even when their allotted spell slots were spent.

I could go on and on and on but the point is, both editions are very different and offer a different feel to each participants.
 



Yeah, I can old-school with the best of them, but I don't feel the need as a DM/GM to make my games hyper-deadly. Even when I was running 1e originally, that was the case.

Now, a good OSR game should feel like death waits around every turn. But, I find the threat to be more effective than the deed. If all your PCs die quickly and repeatedly, eventually you stop caring about them and that's when you start getting people making Ulfo VI, the human fighter, yet again. And that leads to a poorer game.

But I've been feeling a want to get back to some old-school play. After my current campaign concludes, I'm thinking about running DCC RPG, Labyrinth Lord, or some other OSR game. If my group agrees, that is.

My enjoyment of OSR play has a lot more components than higher lethality. There's something about the streamlined character builds, the dungeons, the slightly gonzo everything. It's not just 5e on hardcore mode, at least not for me anyway. I find I approach the whole game differently. Not better or worse, just different. What I like about D&D now isn't the same stuff I'd look for in an OSR game at all.
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
But I've been feeling a want to get back to some old-school play. After my current campaign concludes, I'm thinking about running DCC RPG, Labyrinth Lord, or some other OSR game. If my group agrees, that is.
Five Torches Deep is awesome. It's compatible with both most OSR treatments and 5E material, in both cases with a very minimal amount of adjustment. I like being able to use my reams of 5E source material.

I think the hyper-deadly thing can be overplayed. I prefer to think of it as a higher index to clever play and a a removal of combat as options 1,2, and 3 for a given encounter. The threat of death certainly does make players approach things differently, that's for sure. How the DM uses that is probably the key.
 

werecorpse

Adventurer
I played some crazy monty haul 1st edition stuff back in the day. Girdle of storm giant strength & Hammer of Thunderbolts, a ring of multiple (not just 3 how passe) wishes, battling hundreds of ogre magi, a flying throne of the gods, killed Vecna, Kas, I think I even killed Satan who was hiding in the bottom of a storm giants cloud castle One time. We went to hell and back (killed tiamat) I got a ring that allowed me 6 actions a round and a staff that fired white fire (Thomas Covenant rip off). But I never got as crazy as some others I heard of. The ring of +200hp and the stone of taking 1/5th Damage? The gauntlets of annihilation (like a sphere but you could wear them). Wack a doo!
We also played a more low power game that went for about 15 years including multiple times during high school where we spent a whole week at a holiday house just us kids playing 18+ hours a day. The characters averaged about 2 levels a year and ended in the high teens (we slowed down at University) and we played many campaigns that never made it past 5th
But that wasn’t OSR. That was playing it the first time around.

now Im running 2 5e games one is 5years in and they are just 8th level, one is about 1 year in and they are 15th. Im very much in the game is what you make of it Camp.
 


I've been hearing some good things about Five Torches Deep. Should probably pick it up at some point. I dug how they handled the classes (even if it doesn't have race-as class).

Five Torches Deep is awesome. It's compatible with both most OSR treatments and 5E material, in both cases with a very minimal amount of adjustment. I like being able to use my reams of 5E source material.

Same, definitely. I ran a few of them, to be honest. But when I look at old NPC item payloads, they can get pretty crazy by modern standards, too. A big part of advancement back then was getting all those fancy magic items. Maybe not The Sword of Atomic Annihilation, but really, back then we all had all sorts of homebrew magic items in varying levels of insanity.

I played some crazy monty haul 1st edition stuff back in the day. Girdle of storm giant strength & Hammer of Thunderbolts, a ring of multiple (not just 3 how passe) wishes, battling hundreds of ogre magi, a flying throne of the gods, killed Vecna, Kas, I think I even killed Satan who was hiding in the bottom of a storm giants cloud castle One time.
 

Magic Items were a lot more prevalent in 1ed (and OD&D) than in 5ed (but less so than 3.xed and 4ed). They were more or less required depending on the type of campaign but it is safe to assume that most high level characters could have between 5 to 10 each (depending on the quality of said items too).

I kinda like how 5ed handles magic items. Not too rare, but not way too common. It is in the middle ground between what players want and game balance. I do think they nailed it much better in 5ed than in any other edition.
 

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