Friday, April 17, 2015

D&D 5e Does "Old School" Better Than Many OSR Games

So, there was a little bit of an debate started in the comments of +Stan Shinn's posts about 5e. He basically asks the question "Is D&D 5e old school?"

[Side Note: I'm working on a B/X-style variant of 5th Edition that fits this idea well.]

Of course, that started the typical "Yes, it is - No, it isn't - Just what is Old School?" debate.

In one of my comments I noted that I believe 5e is a better at the old school play style than many old school systems, but didn't have the time or space to elaborate on that thought. So, I wanted to follow that up with what will likely be a controversial post...
Ah, memories...

But before you get your nerd rage up in my grill and pull out the flamethrowers, listen for a moment an consider my hypothesis. Also, this is a bit of a long article, so bear with me and please read to the end before setting fire to the comments.

First, I need to define what "old school" means to me. It may not always fit everyone else's definition (and it appears there are dozens of them), but it is important for me to define so one can understand my hypothesis and I believe my definition generally conforms to the OSR community as a whole:

1) Rulings over rules - DM interpretation and application of common sense trumps Rules As Written.
2) Role playing is encouraged by emergent play, not explicit game mechanics.
3) Mechanics stay out of the way (as much as possible) of the story (closely related to #2).

For me, the "old school" play style is not tied to specific game mechanics (such as save-or-die, descending AC, THAC0, lack of defined skill list, etc).

Others believe it may also encompasses the following aspects (although this varies from game to game and I disagree that a game requires these to be considered "old school"):

4) Player skill over PC skill (this really requires a whole new blog post).
5) Emphasis on resource management (including but not limited to slow healing, spell slots, equipment, etc).

I still love them despite their flaws.
As a side note, if you enjoy an given OSR game, I want to make it clear I am NOT saying you are having BadWrongFun. This post is just to educate to people who have an incorrect assumption that 5th Edition doesn't do "old school". Continue to play whatever version you love; just don't tell me 5e isn't old school. It most definitely is.

So let me address why I think 5e addresses each of these of the above points, sometimes better than even some of the original D&D rule sets. While Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson were both incredible visionaries, it's clear from the rules that neither of them were outstanding game designers. AD&D was a hot mess of mismatched and inconsistent rules. Whether that was more due to Gary's influence than Dave's is a topic for another day. So let's get back to the philosophical points that make a game "old school".


#1 - Rulings over rules.


I'm not sure I need to go into detail on this one. It's pretty abundantly clear in the writing of the new system that the designers are emphasizing that the DM is the arbiter and that the rules are meant to provide a standard framework. However, each DM may implement them in slightly differing ways. I believe the 5e books communicate that pretty well, so I'm not sure I have much else to say on this point.

#2 - Role playing is encouraged by emergent play, not explicit game mechanics.


This one is a bit more tricky to define. There a very gray area where one must ask "How much mechanical detail is too much?"  AD&D appears to stomp all over this. AD&D has charts, tables, systems and subsystems for all kinds of minutia and appears to violate the OSR "rules light" philosophy, while at the same time is the model for many OSR games (alongside the Basic / Expert sets).

Deliciously terrible and
yet still oddly fun.
I also believe this philosophical goal of the OSR is more dependent upon the DM than the rule set. The DM has the ability to encourage role playing from his group by the way he runs the game regardless of the mechanics themselves.

From my perspective, 5th Edition appears to strike a good balance. The rules provide a good framework with a fair amount of detail, but tries not to get into minutia.

Some OSR advocates might say that the Inspiration mechanic is antithetical to the philosophy of point 2, but I would disagree. Encouraging role playing with a mechanic is the not same as replacing role playing with mechanics (I'll also get into this more in point #4).

D&D 5e also tries to emphasize the "3 pillars" of the game - exploration, social interaction and combat. By re-emphasizing the exploration and social interaction in the rule set, the design goals of the new edition appear to be in line with the emergent play philosophy.

#3 - Mechanics stay out of the way of the story.


I believe this is where D&D 5e shines. By simplifying mechanics and streamlining the rules, 5th Edition keeps the fiddly-ness of the rules at a minimum.

Side note: As I was writing this post, +Shane Harsch totally made much of this article superfluous with the following quotes:

"Creating specialized subsystems to handle a specific class of abilities seems unnecessarily inefficient and inconsistent."

And... "That doesn't make it wrong, but that has prevented me from enjoying much of the OSR movement because it seems grounded in replicating the past without consideration for the progress that has been made in game mechanics." (emphasis added by me)

Arg. I hate when people say something better than I have in a shorter, neater package!  :)

I know that not all OSR games ignore advances in game design, but many of them are hung up on replication mechanics that appear in AD&D or Holmes/Moldvay editions which seems antithetical to me given that part of the OSR philosophy is that mechanics should get out of the way of role playing. The best way to achieve that goal would appear to be streamlining and improving those mechanics... which is what many OSR games avoid in order to be considered "OSR" by the community... A bit of a Catch-22.

I think this is also why some people really like some OSR games like or Adventurer, Conqueror, King or Lamentation of the Flame Princess both of which build a very simple encumbrance system by throwing out the math. That, to me, is good OSR design. It ejects what was bad about the old and attempts to improve upon it with new mechanics.

I think 5th Edition also does this well. The designers looked at the whole span of D&D over its life and tried to keep what was best in terms of game mechanics, including adding new mechanics, while maintaining what was good about the way D&D was played in the past. While the mechanics may be considered "new school" design, the philosophy is definitely "old school" and I don't believe you can disqualify a game as "old school" simply because it does some things differently in the game mechanics.

#4 - Player Skill over PC Skill


A Quick Primer for Old School Gaming has a description about finding a pit trap "illustrating" (and I use that term loosely) the difference between old school and modern game design. The problem with the pit trap example is that is it all bullshit. Basic D&D and AD&D have always had skill checks for things like he describes. Thieves had the "Find/Remove Traps" skill. Elves had a 2 in 6 chance of detecting a secret door just by walking by it.

The inference in the Old School Primer is that if your game has character skills that give a chance toward success at a task, it's not "old school" because that's not role playing. I say again: Bullshit.

D&D has always had attribute or skill checks. Want to persuade a guard to let you in to see the Lord Mayor? That's a Charisma check in an old school game. Want to do it in 5e? That's a Persuasion (Cha) check. There's no difference.

The only difference lies in how the DM handles the scene. Yes, a good DM would make you talk in character to the guard to encourage role playing at the table. If he thinks you have a justification to see the Lord Mayor and you role-play that justification, then he doesn't need to make you roll the dice. You just get to go in based on the role-play at the table.

On the other hand, if you're just trying to bullshit your way in and your argument is not convincing? Well, then perhaps you'd better try to make a good Charisma check. This is always how the game has played out whether using old school or new school mechanics.

For as long as there has been a Dragon Magazine, there have been articles discussing this topic about role playing a scene out versus rolling against a skill check for these kinds of tasks. This is nothing new and the same debate occurred all the way back in 1st edition and Basic D&D... so to say that this is an artifact of "new school" game design is a bogus straw man.

Just because a game system has skill checks, doesn't mean it's not old school. How those skill checks are best used as adjunct to role playing at the table is very much part of the DM's skill and play style.

#5 - Resource Management (and Lethality)


I personally don't agree that resource management is one of the required pillars of old school play, but I will at least address the point for those that do. While 5th edition doesn't emphasize resource management, it's extremely easy to play a 5e game that does.

Don't like that casters have damage dealing cantrips? Get rid of 'em! (or limit their use to X times per day like other spell slots). Don't like 3 death saves? Make it one. Or none. Make death occur at 0 hit point. Don't like overnight HP recovery? Throw it out. Get rid of second wind or spending hit dice during short rests.

I don't know anyone who played Basic D&D or AD&D "by the book". That person doesn't exist. The fact of the matter is that we've always been house ruling D&D. That's also part of the DIY philosophy of the old school movement. So why is it that 5e isn't considered old school simply because one must house rule a few of the mechanics? That's a double standard. No OSR game is played 100% RAW. That's part in parcel of the nature of the DIY home brew game.

In Summary


In my opinion, D&D 5th Edition supports the "old school" play style even better than some of the original D&D rule sets and a number of OSR titles. It unshackles the players and DM from the inconsistent and inefficient rules of earlier editions while maintaining the feel and play style of the earliest incarnations of the game. Just because it uses improvements to game design that have come over the last 30 year does not disqualify it as "old school". By that definition, only retro-clones would truly qualify as "old school". On the contrary, those modern design improvements help put the focus back on exploration and role playing by getting out of the player's way.

And remember... This is my opinion. It doesn't invalidate yours. I just want you to take into consideration what I have presented with an open mind.


14 comments:

  1. Google+ comments:
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    Apr 17, 2015
    Axel Castilla

    This looks to me like a good entry, albeit I find a bit puzzling and unfair the underestimation of Gygax and Arneson's designing skills back in the day. I think it shouldn't be necessary to stress anything like that for saying that the rules are better nowadays.

    (If some people wants so much lethality as they expressed in earlier comments, then they just need to turn on the specific dial in the DMG for that –using an optional rule isn't exactly houseruling.)

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    Apr 17, 2015
    Axel Castilla

    +Kirwyn You're saying that "they did amazingly well for what they had available . . .", and that is why I said what I said about the underestimation.

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    Apr 17, 2015
    Kirt Dankmyer
    Yeah, someone else was commenting that Old School was about scenario design more than the rules used per se. To mention something even more controversial than the Old School capabilities of 5e, the Fourthcore crowd did a very good version of Old School play using 4e. D&D 4e may fail on #3 in the minds of many, but a lot of people found those mechanics easier, rather than harder, to deal with. Plus, I think the "out of the way" thing comes down to a fundamental misunderstanding as to what is a rule and what rules affect, but that's a separate and very long discussion all by itself.

    And you're certainly not alone in thinking 5e does Old School very well, or the "O5R" community wouldn't exist here on G+

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    Apr 17, 2015
    Marty Walser (Raging Owlbear)

    +Axel Castilla +Kirwyn Let me clear up the off-the-cuff remark. I don't deny that Gygax and Arneson had great vision when creating a new form of game from what had previously been miniature war games with French troops (as opposed to Tolkien Elves, Orcs and Hobbits).

    But they didn't know how to organize their thoughts into manuals that made clear how to play the game. If you truly read the white box D&D books and then the AD&D manuals, they were messy and inconsistent and really, really hard to comprehend without a tremendous amount of study.

    That's what I mean by "game designers". It's more than just making up the rules... It's also creating a presentation that others can easily follow, and those old books just aren't that good at that.

    They are still in the pantheon of gaming gods... but their thoughts could really have used a good editor who understood training manuals. :)

    +ASH LAW -- adding you because I saw your similar comment in another thread.

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    Apr 17, 2015
    Axel Castilla

    While I get what you mean +Marty Walser, I'm not sure, since an editor means money and perhaps they were unable to afford such a resource back then. For example, it took some years before publishing hardcovers.
    Anyway I'm about to start reading Playing at the World, (slowly, I'm afraid), a work by +Jon Peterson gathering a lot of info about the origins of Dungeons & Dragons and other related subjects.

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    Apr 18, 2015
    Marty Walser (Raging Owlbear)

    +Axel Castilla Playing at the World is a very good book if you are interested in the history of RPGs. You should enjoy it.

    I know what you mean about affording an editor -- I guess what I see as a key game designer skill is the ability to explain your mechanics in an orderly fashion, even without an editor... But I'm also a writer of software requirements and documentation, so I might set the expectation bar a little high when looking at the writing of others. :)

    BTW, some of the remark was also a result of my beginning to read Dangerous Journeys which was Gygax's short lived game after he was kicked out of TSR. It needed a fair bit of editorial / design work too. :)

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    Apr 18, 2015
    Axel Castilla

    I hear you +Marty Walser. Still thinking about such a remark –not a very hard one in your text nor the main point, on the other hand.

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    Apr 18, 2015
    Doug Justice
    I agree. Every time I pick up an older edition or one of the retro clones, I end up putting it aside for 5e. It does everything I love about the others - only better.

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  3. Apr 17, 2015
    Marty Walser (Raging Owlbear)

    Side note: I wrote this before I found out that Mearls had mined B/X gamers for ideas to include in 5e... which explains somewhat to me why 5e "feels" like the more classic systems.

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    Apr 17, 2015
    Kasimir Urbanski - RPGPundit

    Interesting argument! Certainly, I think this connects to the conflict between the part of the OSR that is all about Nostalgia and Purity, and the part that is about DIY and evoking a style.

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    Apr 17, 2015
    Steve Zieser

    Well put!

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    Apr 17, 2015
    Carl Pinder

    One of the aspects of old-style play that isn't reflected in 5e is the lethality of the gameplay. In "classic" D&D, there is a very good chance that your magic-user isn't going to make it through the first strike. Whether this a good or bad can be debated, but it was key component in the "olden days." Yes, you could play a 5e game that is deadly, but these rules as written do not support this. Then again, I prefer Mentzer to Moldvay which is more middle school than old school.

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    Apr 17, 2015
    Marty Walser (Raging Owlbear)

    +S Robertson While I get your jest, there are so many definitions put out there by OSR proponents, I tried to pick the ones that appear to best summarize the overall philosophy. No one appears to agree what OSR is, so it's not like I can "fit" the definition that does not appear to exist.

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    Apr 17, 2015
    Marty Walser (Raging Owlbear)

    +Carl Pinder Did you read the last part? Lethality is a trivial adjustment and to claim that a game is not "old school" because you have to house rule a little bit is a bogus argument because the entire OSR movement is about house ruling.

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    Apr 17, 2015
    Carl Pinder

    +Marty Walser That's house ruling away many of the core rules (and spirit) of 5e, not minor tweaks. Your thesis is that D&D 5e does "Old School" better. My supposition is that it does not. I would agree that 5e does many things better than OSR games and certainly is closer in feel than most editions of D&D.

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    Apr 17, 2015
    Gary Furash

    I have played a bunch of 5e and don't rally care for it.

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    Apr 17, 2015
    Andy “DrBargle” Bartlett

    Yes, but if 'old school' play does require resource management and PC lethality, then you need to house rule 5e in order to make it 'old school'. That's not the same as saying it is old school, only that it can be made so. Everyone might house rule an OSR game, but nobody has to house rule those games in order to make them old school.

    Please note, I like a lot of what I see in 5e. I own the core books, and have enjoyed reading them. For a number of reasons, mostly to do with my GM style coupled with my players' refusal to read rulebooks I'm not sure when or whether I'll get it on the table. The 'old schooliness' or otherwise of the rules is a much smaller factor.

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    Apr 17, 2015
    Brad Black

    An interesting post that brings up some good points. ????

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    Apr 17, 2015
    Joe Naylor

    +Carl Pinder Speaking of lethality, in my first 5e game I was killed in the first hit of the first round by a goblin. That's all I needed to know :P

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    Apr 17, 2015
    Michael S (chgowiz)

    While I have no particular axe to grind one way or the other, I must've missed you specific examples of where 5e gets it better than Od&d, as you had said you'd point out. Aside from the it's as good points, where do you think 5e exceeds the playability of 0e?

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    Apr 17, 2015
    Kasimir Urbanski - RPGPundit

    +Carl Pinder Dude, in the DMG there's RULES (optional) to make the game more lethal. So I can't see how making the game more lethal is against the "spirit of the rules".

    Take it from someone who worked on it: the spirit of the rules was that you be able to take these rules and make them your own. THAT is the spirit of 5e.

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  4. Apr 17, 2015
    Marty Walser (Raging Owlbear)

    +Carl Pinder +Andy Bartlett You guys are making it sound like it's some major change to adjust the danger level. It's not at all.

    The DMG on page 249 has a table that illustrates how deadly a monster's damage level is based on PC level, which can easily be used by a DM to modify up (or down) an monster's attacks on the fly.

    For instance "1d10" is considered a "Setback" for levels 1-4. 2d10 is considered "Dangerous". 4d10 is "Deadly" so you can quickly glance at the monster's stats and see how much of a challenge your adventure will be. The list all levels through level 20.

    Second, they also list several healing or resting variants one can change on DMG pages 266 and 267, which means out of the box 5th Edition already supports various levels of grittiness and lethality.

    As I mentioned in the article -- Don't want any non-magical healing during short or long rests? Cool. That works. The system won't break. Don't want second wind? Cool. That works. It won't break the system.

    The problem is that you are debating from your personal bias and not from experience using the system.

    As an example, I've played in several games, but have only GM'd a few one-shots during the playtest. For a planned "gritty" campaign, I will make the following modifications to healing based upon my experience with the system:

    1) No non-magical healing during short rests.
    2) Characters may spend Hit Dice (healing surges) during a long rest, but only get back 1 Hit Die per day (rather than all).
    3) Second winds for fighters cause 1 level of exhaustion like Barbarian rages do.

    See? I made three extremely minor rule variants and the lethality of my game is now notched up. Your supposition that 5e doesn't easily support these changes out of the box is based only on your opinion and seemingly not any actual experience trying these variants in play.

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    Apr 17, 2015
    Carl Pinder

    +Marty Walser For me, it's not a matter of the difficulty of modifying the rules; it's a matter of intent. 5e isn't designed with the intent of being lethal. It's not in the DNA of the rules and, therefore, attempts to make it so will fall short. I'm not arguing for or against the merit of lethality in a game, but it is an intrinsic part of the OSR that is not present in 5e.

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    Apr 17, 2015
    Carl Pinder

    +Kirwyn Up through 1st ed, a first level magic user has, on average, 2.5 hp, cannot wear armor, and can cast one spell per day. OSR is designed to be very lethal. Modern systems, and I would include 5e, are designed for class balance and long-term play.

    When 5e is discussed as a return to old-school play, I think what is really meant is that it is a return to simpler systems from the cumbersome and complex tactical rules that became the hallmark of 4e. The frequent reference to the "theatre of the mind" combat play is evidence of this. There is a reason why so many older D&D effects are specified in inches. Even when minis weren't used, maps were de rigeur.

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    Apr 17, 2015
    Kasimir Urbanski - RPGPundit

    Which again, suggests that there's really (at least) two different OSRs, who give a damn about really different things.

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  5. Apr 17, 2015
    Shelby Michlin

    OK, I hesitated to post at all, but I'll say this. I played in the 70s, started my 20-year-long campaign in 1980. You want to call something "old school," then it's how WE played. Part of that is using the games WE played. I guess "OSR" must be something different, a "revival" that might more accurately be called a "rewrite." Play what you want, but I don't see how a FIFTH edition, put out by HASBRO, can somehow do a better job at executing how WE played than the games we STILL play do.

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    Apr 17, 2015
    Brad Black

    I don't know if I love or hate the fact that no matter how nice the OP was, this seems to be degenerating into a spat.
    Do you call it passion an applaud it?
    Do you call it pettiness and frown upon it?

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    Apr 17, 2015
    Kasimir Urbanski - RPGPundit

    For the record, I DON'T think 5e D&D is an old-school game. But I do think it is a game that can be played in a very old-school way. And has its priorities on straight; for the first time in decades.

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    Apr 17, 2015
    Brad Black

    I think that's a very good way to put it. ??

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    Apr 17, 2015
    Marty Walser (Raging Owlbear)

    +Shelby Michlin For the record, you're not the only one around here that has been playing since the 70's. If you look at my other posts, you'll see that I've been playing the game since 1978... I know what old school is.

    http://ragingowlbear.blogspot.com/2014/06/dnd-first-adventures.html

    So don't start with the "my old school cred is better than yours" bull$#!t since this is not about who's been playing what versions the longest. I still have the original white box D&D my brother gave me on the game shelf, and my 1e books, and my 2e books and....

    The article is about the play style and how 5th Edition rules supports the old school play style and how improvements to game mechanics over the years does not disqualify its ability to play "old school". Your experience with old versions of the game is not relevant to the discussion.

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    Apr 17, 2015
    Shelby Michlin

    +Marty Walser??, you've only stated "for the record" that you are an ill-mannered lout. Your post to me is uncalled for. If you can't be civil, you have no place speaking to others. Apparently, you're old enough to know how to behave.?

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    Apr 17, 2015
    Marty Walser (Raging Owlbear)

    +Carl Pinder writes: " There is a reason why so many older D&D effects are specified in inches. Even when minis weren't used, maps were de rigeur."

    Well, not precisely. The reason why old spell effects were in inches is that D&D is descended from war games (and more specifically Chainmail) which were played on sand tables where people would measure with rulers and the like to know how far one could move a miniature or cast a spell. This is why page 4 of Men & Magic mentions Chainmail in its "Recomended Equipment". Without the Chainmail rules, a lot of the early 0D&D text is a bit hard to understand because it assumes you are already familiar with the miniatures game.

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    Apr 17, 2015
    Marty Walser (Raging Owlbear)

    +Shelby Michlin You came in swinging with the "I'm the expert on what is or is not old school" malarkey, so don't get all mad if I call you out on it. I didn't insult you, but I won't hesitate to call out when someone is shoveling poop when I see it.

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  6. Apr 17, 2015
    Marty Walser (Raging Owlbear)

    +Carl Pinder We probably won't agree on the lethality point, but I want to note that the very first encounter (with no modifications) in the Starter Set often results in a TPK for a party that is not coordinated in their defense.

    Those goblins can take down 1 to 2 characters in the first round and often get the surprise. I know my experience is anecdotal, but from the games I seen, played and DM'd so far, 5e is not a push-over super hero fest like other versions have been. I honestly have not experienced an "easy mode" game at all. YMMV.

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    Apr 18, 2015
    Shelby Michlin

    I didn't direct my post at you personally. You chose to confront me, and in an ill-mannered fashion to boot. I established my own bona fides, which again has nothing to do with you, but you chose to see it as an assault. You challenge my position's relevance; when you make the unlikely claim that an emulator written decades after the original can somehow be better at replicating how we played, and STILL play -- but I am one if those players, I still play the original games, and I've read this 5th edition wrritten by a toy company and none of the original authors. How my comment can have been irrelevant, I fail to see. But please, go on with your conversation, which you started (I assume) expecting controversy. I'm done here.

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    Apr 18, 2015
    Carl Pinder
    +1

    +Marty Walser From what I've seen, I would agree that there is an increased lethality in 5e over the last few editions. That it doesn't reach the levels of early D&D is not necessarily a bad thing.

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    Apr 18, 2015
    Marty Walser (Raging Owlbear)

    +Shelby Michlin writes: "emulator written decades after the original..." and "I've read this 5th edition written by a toy company and none of the original authors..."

    Ah... I see those stripes now. You are a "purist" because by your definition nothing other than AD&D 1st edition or the original Basic qualifies as OSR... Heck, by your definition, Holmes/Moldvay versions technically don't qualify (nor 2nd Edition or Rules Cyclopedia) because none of them were written by Gygax or Arneson either. Seriously, dude? You came to my blog to stir up trouble, not the other way around. Don't let the door... well, you know.

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    Apr 18, 2015
    Marty Walser (Raging Owlbear)

    +Carl Pinder I get where your coming from. At the root, I guess I disagree that a game system has to be lethal to qualify as "old school"... but I also think 5e can do it, and do it well. Hence, my hypothesis. Thanks for the comments.

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    Apr 18, 2015
    Marty Walser (Raging Owlbear)

    +S Robertson writes: "If what you like about OSR games is some of the things 5e doesn't do, you might not like it as much though."

    Yes, that is true. I think 5e does a good job of separating wheat from chaff metaphorically. But tastes differ and a lot of people like the chaff, just like some people chew on the shells of sunflower seeds (ick!).

    (To be clear, this is not a value statement that liking the chaff is bad). :)

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    Apr 18, 2015
    Donald Jones

    If having to use house rules means it isn't old school, then old school wasn't old school. Please tell me the 1e or 2e game you played in that had no house rules whatsoever. The first time we rollef characters in 1e, we did away with the race restrictions on class.

    I made 5e more lethal by doing away with their version of the long rest and making the short rest eight hours. That's hardly a major butchering of the RAW and it is much less of a change to the system than most groups did to 1e and 2e.?

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  7. Apr 18, 2015
    Martijn Vos

    I'm not specifically an OSR guy (though I'm always interested in different views on how to play RPGs, and OSR is a great source of that), and I admit I haven't played 5e yet, but there's one thing that does disappoint me a bit:

    It seems like it has the same circus of weird class abilities that Pathfinder has. During one of the playtest rounds, all fighters would get dice to use every round for maneuvers (of which they'd choose a few), so they might be able to use it for bonus damage, better to hit, or even reduce incoming damage. That mechanic is still there, but instead of the core mechanic for martial classes (who need something to offset the lack of magic), it's been toned down to a specific subsystem that the fighter can choose. It's less elegant, more complicated, and it's one of many abilities you can choose, each coming with its own subsystem. I think I prefer the playtest version (which I understand is similar to how DCC handles fighters).

    The big pile of class features that accumulates as you level up, is nice to customize your character in a 3.x way, but it doesn't strike me as particularly old school.

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    Apr 18, 2015
    Dave Sherohman

    On the article itself: You make a good case that 5e can do old school and do it well. But I don't see any real attempt to make good on the title's promise of showing it to be better at old school than OSR systems.

    On healing/lethality/resource management: Yes, it's all well and good that there are official optional rules in the books which can be used to add slow healing and resource management and increased lethality to the game for those who consider them to be core characteristics of "old school"-ness, but that doesn't change the fact that, out of the box, with all the default rules, it is not "old school" in those ways. " Is old school" and "can be easily made old school" are not the same thing.

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    Apr 18, 2015
    Marty Walser (Raging Owlbear)

    +Dave Sherohman That's what point #3 is about at its roots.

    Many (note that I didn't say all) OSR games are replicating the overly obtuse rules from prior editions instead of improving them by cleaning them up. If the rules are meant to get out of the way the role-playing, then you need to fix the mechanical design of the game.

    Descending AC attached to non-linear to-hit numbers, arbitrary saving throw numbers (why is rod/staff different from spell?), differing XP for level advancement... All of these bits and pieces that make the mechanics more obtuse and harder to learn for new players need to be ejected.

    I know there is a divide between people who want to old style rules and people who want more of a rules light approach... I prefer the more rules light approach.

    Lastly, people keep putting certain words in my mouth. I didn't say 5th Edition is old school, I said it can do old school better than some because the mechanics get out of the way of the story.

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    Apr 18, 2015
    Shawn Sanford

    For me, what makes 5e old school is the ability to be modified without breaking the game. It's the first D&D in a very long time that encourages you to customize it, and make it your own. In turn, the ability to customize opens the door to a DIY community - which is really the best part of "old school gaming."

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  8. Apr 18, 2015
    Eldritch Word

    Sure, you can play 5e like BD&D or 1e, but you can also play GURPS or 3.75/Pathfinder like the older systems. It's the creation of more RULES (skills, any race being any class, clerical domains, ability-based rolls, ect.) that lessens the old-school necessity for RULINGS.

    Don't forget the new-school concept of Challenge Ratings for monster encounters. Old-school didn't have that training-wheel mechanic & it forced players to be smart (and run away sometimes) instead of the new-school tendency to charge in. Game-balance is now ENFORCED, but that's a new-school safety net.

    Final point: Power Creep. The 5e Classes are considerably more-powerful/capable than 1e. Feats, improved spell-casting, clerical domains, any race for any class, ect. Old-school was "Heroes", whereas New-School is "Superheroes".

    But, interesting argument, Raging. It generated a good discussion here & hopefully folks will learn more about the differences between Old-School & New-School gaming. Thanks.

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    Apr 18, 2015
    Marty Walser (Raging Owlbear)

    +Eldritch Word writes: "Game-balance is now ENFORCED,"

    How is this enforced? If I decide to put an Ogre in my first level adventure, do the RPG police come to my house? This is a straw man.

    There's a huge difference between offering DMs tools (hammers, nails, etc) to help guide them in building their games versus building the house for them.

    Conflating the two confuses the issue for people who are less informed.

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    Apr 18, 2015
    Michael S (chgowiz)

    Hi +Marty Walser - "5th Edition is old school, I said it can do old school better than some because the mechanics get out of the way of the story."

    No offense, but I'm still trying to figure out from your article which mechanics get out of the way in 5e better than, say, OD&D. You talk in your article that this is so, but I don't see specifics? I'm curious, because in my game, I don't see an overabundance of mechanics. It was in 2e/3e/4e that I saw the overabundance of mechanics.

    And again, I have no particular edition axe to grind, I find cool shit in just about everything I read. But you had such a strong beginning, and I'm just not finding the nuggets I'm looking for here - in either specifics of mechanics or examples of how Gygax/Arneson got it wrong?

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    Apr 18, 2015
    Grand DM

    I enjoyed this article. Having played every edition of D&D I have found some more fun then others. That said, I still stand by my opinion that D&D did not peak as a game in 1979. To me 5E represents a currently published and supported version of the game that does it right. Not to much of the old and not to much of the new...just the sweet spot.?

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  9. Apr 18, 2015
    Marty Walser (Raging Owlbear)

    +Michael S See the note to Dave above...

    "Descending AC attached to non-linear to-hit numbers, arbitrary saving throw numbers (why is rod/staff different from spell?), differing XP for level advancement... All of these bits and pieces that make the mechanics more obtuse and harder to learn for new players need to be ejected."

    Essentially, all the classes had their own to-hit charts, save charts. differing proficiency systems, XP charts, charts, charts, charts... etc.

    I have the white box D&D books and they are terrible. It's almost impossible to learn how to play the game from them. Gygax assumes you have prior knowledge of Chainmail rules (Men & Magic). They are disorganized and do not explain the game well at all. As much as Gygax was an imaginative visionary, he did not know how to write down a rule system in a way that a new player could pick it up easily (which is why 0D&D OSR games are complete re-writes of the original system).

    But retro clones hold onto these outdated, obfuscated and confusing mechanics in order to be "old school". It's not necessary. The play style of the game does not depend on having a Rod/Wand/Staff saving throw, or any other specific mechanic for that matter... So why keep them when game design has progressed so far in the last 40 years? Why not use a single core mechanic instead of disparate sub-systems?

    Unnecessarily complex mechanics just get in the way of play at the table.

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    Apr 18, 2015
    Marty Walser (Raging Owlbear)

    +Michael S A bit of a tangent, (it's AD&D not 0D&D) but have you seen that RAW AD&D combat flowchart out on the net? It's pretty funny... I don't think any of us actually played the game that way ever... but it's an interesting study in the complexity of the system back then.
    http://www.mediafire.com/view/0i6e652sjvk0mcn/ADnD+BtB+Combat+Flowchart.pdf

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    Apr 18, 2015
    Michael S (chgowiz)

    +Marty Walser? I certainly understand that the original LBBs can be difficult to parse. Interestingly, I find that some retroclones, especially S&W Whitebox did away with much of the confusion surrounding OD&D play, if there was confusion. One saving throw, standard math approach to hit, for example. So, #notallclones :) at least in my experience.

    In addition, those games reflect the interests of the time, not necessarily "better." At the time, using disparate subsystems was acceptable and desirable, unlike the trend to to balance and unified core systems.

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  10. Apr 18, 2015
    Donald Jones

    +Martijn Vos they changed a lot from the playtest. Many of those 3e/PF style abilities were dropped, much to my relief.

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    Apr 18, 2015
    Martijn Vos

    +Donald Jones When were they dropped? They're still in my PHB, and I don't think they were in the playtest round I played (though I played only one).

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    Apr 19, 2015
    Eric Norred

    I'm not seeing it. OD&D is scattered but it isn't terribly difficult to grasp. B/X is impossible to not understand. A "divide" between those who want old-school and those who would rather have something rules-lite? Huh? One of the reasons many fans of OD&D like it is because it is rules-lite. I love both, which is why I dig S&W (and B/X and OD&D and Delving Deeper,etc.).

    Many feel that all those "outdated" and "obfuscated" (game mechanics don't become dated or obsolete by the way, but whatever) mechanics are part of the feel.
    I understood why they feel that way but I didn't myself... until I began using RISUS a whole lot for D&D-like stuff. There was missing the 'feel' of the save mechanics, the turn undead table/mechanic, the various scales and types of dice, etc. It's part of the game's atmosphere. I like S&W, which uses the single save, but I still grant bonuses that echo some of the "old" saves (like vs. turn to stone and so on) because of the "D&D feel" of it.
    I totally understand wishing to streamline some of this stuff (especially if one wishes for less of a reliance on a small handful of charts), but ejecting most or all can, and some would say will, delete much of the flavor of the game AS a game itself (as opposed to simply using D&D as an 'engine' for generic fantasy action/adventure gaming).

    You're pretending that descending AC or the five save categories are nearly impenetrable, which simply isn't so. Not even by absolute newbies.

    I know one thing: when I think old-school the last thing I think of is a game with very nearly a thousand pages of rules, which includes within itself many pages of rules for a single class alone.

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    Apr 19, 2015
    Eldritch Word

    He's defending his argument &that's cool but 5e IMO isn't close to old-school. Old-School is that. Old rules.

    5e is a new-school hybrid using as much of what's come before as possible, with the new rules. Doesn't make 5e bad, but definitely creates the distinctions between old & new.

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    Apr 19, 2015
    Marty Walser (Raging Owlbear)

    +Eric Norred There's a difference between old school as play style and old school as mechanics.

    I don't agree that you need the mechanics for the play style.

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  11. Apr 19, 2015
    Eric Norred

    I understand. What I'm saying is that most folks who prefer old-school do, in fact, believe that the mechanics are integral to the play style.

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    Apr 19, 2015
    Eric Norred

    But AD&D was only complete about five full years after OD&D was released. Also, while AD&D 1E was in print, so too was Holmes Basic, B/X and later the Mentzer box sets. None of those had "a rule for everything". The whole intent was that "solid guidance" was seen as unnecessary as the rules were intended to be solid framework and the rules even state to do whatever you want and that certain situations would arise wherein it would be necessary for the DM to make a ruling or simply come up with, say, a percentage chance something might occur and then to make a roll and see what happens. It's not a cop-out. It was right there in the rules from the start.

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    Apr 20, 2015
    Eric Norred

    Yes, that's right. Errm. I guess I didn't understand the thrust of your previous post. You're now admitting that the older rules did indeed come right out and say "rulings instead of rules (for everything)" but were before stating it was some sort of cop-out to argue that that is indeed what the older rules encouraged. Maybe it's too late and my brain is on uneven ground here.

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    Apr 20, 2015
    Eric Norred

    Ah. Heh heh. Okay. I think we were talking past each other.
    Point of order: In OD&D (and B/X & BECMI) there are also specific rules for wilderness, sea and aerial travel/encounters/combat as well as hirelings, specialists, stronghold construction (mass combat in Mentzer) and at least a handful of other things.
    I realize you're over-generalizing a bit, but it seems to sell the old games short to say that they're only combat and dungeon-crawling.
    Besides, even B/X and the Mentzer rules actually give an optional rule for (at least a good bit of) "everything else" in the form of ability score checks.

    This sort of conversation occurred a handful of years back when 4th ed was new as folks attempted to sell it to others as being 'old school'. That of course went on to be, essentially. "Well, if you take out this great swath of rules and ignore a whole lot of other things and so on and so on...then it can do old-school...". Very odd. Why not enjoy the game as-is if one likes it? I don't dislike more recent editions due to a lack of old-school-ness... but only because I'm a rules-lite guy and also lazy and can't be bothered to even read something more than a hundred pages or less. :)

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    Apr 20, 2015
    Donald Jones
    +Jonathan Lapitan You should actually look at the DM Guide for 1e AD&D. They had specific rules for everything from building keeps and castles to weather conditions. Overland adventure and exploration was encouraged and our first group spent about three to four times as much time outside of dungeons as in them.

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    Apr 20, 2015
    Marty Walser (Raging Owlbear)

    +Eric Norred writes: "game mechanics don't become dated or obsolete by the way, but whatever."

    Sure they do. There were a number of things that had never been done before in RPGs, so a lot of the early rules were adaptations from the war games that proceeded them. As designs were refined, there artifacts were replaced with better systems to do the same thing.

    As an example, To-Hit Charts (which were not linear based on AC, especially with regards to negative AC) were replaced by THAC0 (a linear to-hit mechanic) and then later ascending AC (to be rid of the reverse math). These three systems essentially do the same thing by abstracting the chance that one opponent does damage to another based on armor (with the same net result -- rolling high on d20 == good). The latter systems sped up combat and made the game easier to learn for new players. The old systems are outdated and obsolete.

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    Apr 20, 2015
    Marty Walser (Raging Owlbear)

    Interesting side note:
    http://beyondtheblackgate.blogspot.com/2015/04/the-old-school-roots-of-d-5e.html

    Mearls asked some B/X Basic D&D players to give him ideas on their house rules to make the Moldvay versions better. Many of those rule suggestions ended up in 5e.

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  13. Apr 20, 2015
    Eric Norred

    The newer systems being "better" (or even "faster") is subjective, so you can't really use that as a measure to consign the other(s) as obsolete.
    I like both descending and ascending AC pretty equally and have used both (on both sides of the screen). It's only anecdotal but I've never witnessed any change or ease or speed difference between the two with folks who've played for years or absolute newbies who have experienced both (which includes both newbies who started with one and newbies who started with the other).
    What I actually experienced was this:
    Descending AC
    GM: Roll to hit, add your bonus(s) and tell me the number.
    Ascending AC
    GM: Roll to hit, add your bonus(s) and tell me the number.
    >shrug<
    They both work. They both work well. They both work similarly in speed. They both work exactly the same on the player end.

    The short time we used THAC0 back in the early 90s was a pain for folks I played with new and old however. :)

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    Apr 20, 2015
    Marty Walser (Raging Owlbear)

    +Eric Norred
    Descending AC DM: Roll to hit and tell me the number.
    Player: 13.
    DM: You hit what AC with that?
    Player: That's not in the PHB.
    DM: Hrm. Ok, you're a level 4 Thief, right?
    Player: Yah.
    DM: << moves adventure module/notes off to side...
    ... opens DMG...
    ... looks at contents...
    ... flips to page 74...
    ... scans page for Thief table...
    ... cross references level vs monster AC... >> Ummm.... That's a hit.
    Player: Ok, I rolled a 6 for damage.
    DM: Oh wait. No that's a miss. I was looking at the wrong column. You need a 15 for AC 6. At level 5 you'd only need a 13.


    Ascending AC DM: Roll to hit and tell me the number.
    Player: 13 on the die +2 for my proficiency hits AC 15.
    DM: You hit.

    I assume you've all had the experience playing with players that don't bring their own books... but even in 1e AD&D, the "to-hit" information wasn't even in the Player's Handbook. It was in the DMG. Player's didn't know their attack bonus based on level (only the strength bonus).

    Why the heck should we have to look up attacks to hit numbers on a matrix table? It's unnecessary. Outmoded. Outdated. Ascending AC allows you to know everything you need on the character sheet.

    Perhaps we should still subtract hit points on an abacus also to get the "old school" feel. :) <<-- light hearted joke, not biting snark.

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    Apr 20, 2015
    Marty Walser (Raging Owlbear)

    +Eric Norred
    Even worse, it's not a linear progression. For example, the Theif to hit AC 8 is
    1-4: 16
    5-8: 14
    9-12: 11
    13-16: 9
    17-20: 7
    21+: 5

    It might appear at first glance to improve by 2 each tier... Except it doesn't. For whatever reason, it improves by 3 randomly in the middle. This is true for all of the classes which have a different bump in the middle. They all also have different level tiers -- some 1-4... some 1-5... some 1-3.... What a crap fest for a simple mechanic.

    How is it possible that this is better or not outdated? If you have a preference due to nostalgia, awesome! Have fun with it! But don't tell me it's not outdated or unnecessarily obfuscated.

    Eschew obfuscation! Espouse elucidation!

    ReplyDelete
  14. Apr 20, 2015
    Eric Norred

    From a DM side I already know that the orc has an AC of 7 and the one second glance (before or while the player is rolling) at one of three, small and clear character attack tables on my screen shows me the needed number. So it really still is "Roll to hit and add your bonuses and tell me the number."
    If I don't mind telling them the AC of the opponent then I don't even have to do the above. They can tell me if they hit since the number needed to hit almost every single AC is right there on the front on almost all old-school character sheets.

    I don't mind at all that the progressions aren't linear. I don't mind if they are. I do think it's a little bit more boring if it is linear but it doesn't bother me to any great extent.

    Not nostalgia. Enjoying it RIGHT NOW. Not looking back and thinking about how it was then while ignoring the downsides. Nope. Loving it for what it is right here and now. Not nostalgia.

    For my own self, the main reason I'd rather use descending AC and charts is actually because it's what I'm most used to. I'm able to have an immediate mental reaction to "AC 5". Even after many games successfully using ascending AC I still have to pause and think as to what "AC 14" is.
    I don't think either is objectively better because neither objectively is. I have a preference however. But I do like both.

    Though it does seem you're struggling to make an argument based on your own bias as you're coloring subjective things as though they are objective.
    If you think the old way sucks and is really hard then just say that, since that's what it sounds like anyway. It doesn't bother me if you think it blows. My Twinkies will still taste just as sweet tomorrow.

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    Apr 20, 2015
    Theodric Ælfwinesson

    Lethality? I'm running a party of four PCs (who had the support of two -- actually, in this particular fight, three! -- NPCs) through Hoard of the Dragon Queen. Third session sees the Wizard and the Warlock both dead at the Temple of Chauntea (that's still in episode 1 of the adventure). The response of these two players in their 20s who learned to play in 3.X and not in 1981 like I did? "Rolling up new characters is just a part of RPing. Thanks for a fun game."

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    Jun 2, 2015
    Matt Martinez

    I heard tell that the whole descending armor class system comes from war games in which, for example, the most durable battleship would be said to have 1st class armor. I am fairly late to the scene when it comes to RPGs, but it doesn't at all make sense to me why it took decades before that system was dumped. Consulting a to-hit table just seems to add an extra unnecessary step. For people who are used to it, sure, that only takes a second or less to calculate, but for me, it's counter-intuitive and no argument can allow me to understand how it could ever be superior.

    ReplyDelete

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