5e vs OSR Retro Roundup

I wanted to do a roundup of a few things that I’ve seen in the past or that I could at least find again that would’ve put the notion in my head that 5e was somehow old school (or that people were saying that it was). And I found a few. Some of my impression was probably because at that time I was reading Pundit  regularly a bit during the whole ConsultancyGate thing, and that’s a mess I don’t really want to get into.  But here are a few examples from the 5e/OSR discussion:

Geek Native: Was OSR just a scarecrow?

“Geek Native ran a survey on OSR and what it means to gamers. The polls still live and you can answer here and affect the study.

The issue of being pretentious was examined again. As I write this blog post today some 32 out of 36 gamers said OSR was about making RPGs less pretentious. D&D 5e does not feel pretentious. The game, however, does encourage gender and sexual equality and moves away from chainmail bikinis. Does that make 5e pretentious?

At the time of writing 35 out of 41 said OSR is about making gamers simpler. D&D 5e certainly feels simple. Is it simpler than D&D 4e? It’s about the same… before you add in any extra books.”

Comment on WotC forum

…here are the OSR influences I have seen in 5E.

1. The game is simpler. Well simpler than 3E and 4E. This does come at the price of options (uber feats for example).

2. Options. No splats as such yet but the core rules do have things such as feats being optional and optional rules in the DMG. Not all of the optional rules are good (advantage for flanking is a bit nuts I use +2 to hit) but they are there a’la 2E core books.

3. Bounded accuracy. Good concept not sure if they got the numbers right or that they could have done it better. Numbers were a lot smaller in TSR era D&D as for example level 20 fighter in BECMI got +13 to hit.

4. No magic weapons or expectations as a default rule. Magic item creation and aquisition is very much in the DMs control. Magic items are cheap and easy to make in 3E, 4E and Pathfinder by comparison. Magic items are kind of interesting again instead of being an accounting exercise.

5. Magic item +’s top out at +3. This was from OD&D/BECMI. AD&D weapons generally topped out at +5, +6 in certain circumstances such as artefacts and frost brands.

6. Subclasses. These are very similar to kits from 2E or archetypes from Pathfinder. In effect they have added plat book options to the 5E core rules.

7. Some classes are heavily influenced by AD&D expectations. The Druid would be the most obvious one as the land Druid seems very heavily based on the AD&D Druid (2E had the best balanced ones IMHO). Even the land druids land options seems based on the Druid types from the 2E Druids book. The Wildmage Sorcerer would be another one coming from the 2E Tome of Magic.

8. A starter boxed set and Basic D&D options. This is based on the old red boxed set and the B part of BECMI. 4 races and 4 classes isn’t that many more options than the BECMI rules Cyclopedia which had 7 classes with 2 optional classes. I would not mind a feat less basic game at some point just to try out with 4 subclasses and 4 races allowed.

9. Nice throwbacks to previous editions past. Dragonlance and Greyhawk pantheons in the PHB. The Elemental Evil players handbook had a lot of 2E spells from the Tome of Magic in it. Abi Dalzims Horrid Wilting for example or Ice Knife fomr the Complete Wizards Handbook in 2E.

10. A change in tone of the art work and a focus on realistic looking weapons. No more dungeonpunk and Wayne Reynolds cartoon looking art work. TSR art was often whimsical or non combat related.

Too Much Johnson: 5e Powered by OSR

Someone at WOTC said that this edition was shooting to be the game closet D&D, something to play with the family on Game Nights, like Monopoly or Scrabble. A perennial. I think they may have done it.

5e is simpler than 4e. A case can be made for that. I don’t think that makes it Old School or OSR.

There are influences, sure, but they’re very mild and feel like a scaling down of 3e rather than the creation of something that someone who likes basic or AD&D would enjoy. The Feat bloat of 3e was pretty bad, but OSR would be an elimination of these rather than a pruning of them. The real test, I suppose, would be to see how 5e held up if you told the characters they didn’t get their healing surges and free actions. The grandfathering in of 2e into OSR to justify calling Subclasses oldschool is a bit iffy, if you ask me. In fact, a lot of the specific stuff this guy cites is 2e. Number 10 on the list the one forum commenter wrote is kind of irksome; the art I’ve seen has all been very dull post-genre fantasy stuff. Just imagine how much everyone would’ve crapped their pants if 5e was full of Erol Otis style stuff!

I agree with this commenter:

The RPG Site (commenter)

I think there are a couple of ways in which this seeming compatibility [with an OSR campaign] could unravel. First, I need to see more examples of what the HP recover mechanic really means for the feel of adventures. If players quickly figure out how to game this system to make death a rare and easily avoided event then the system, whatever its other merits, is ill suited to OSR campaigns. D&D without character death inevitably drifts to high-fantasy and ‘story gaming’ with hit points and armor class. Second, the game could easily bloat with feats and class powers and other goo-gahs if the developers are undisciplined. That would bring it out of the range of system complexities I think are compatible with OSR style gaming.

The RPG Pundit’s claim that “Both the OSR, and D&D 5e, are a forceful rejection of all the core storygaming values” may be true insofar as whatever D&D vs. WhiteWolf culture warring has been going on for 20 years, but the problem of deviants roleplaying as little girls vs. too damn many combat mechanics bogging down “pulp adventure: the game” is apples and oranges. Creepy creepers will creep in whatever the hell system they want to play in, even Dungeons & Dragons, so I think I’d’ve rather seen a rejection of Feats and Daily Powers over a rejection of the ST community. 5e could’ve implemented DPS rules, become a server-based game with no physical or digital books, and the statement “Both the OSR, and D&D 5e, are a forceful yada yada” would still hold true.
Raging Owlbear: D&D 5e Does “Old School” Better Than Many OSR Games

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.

The biggest thing that Old School suffers from is game developers’ poor to middling technical writing skills. The system was rarely the problem: it was the presentation of the rules. Even in B/X, which is a damn fine system, things like “To Hit” tables and Saving Throws would’ve made sense to have included in the Character Creation chapter. Or, in AD&D’s case, the same goddamn book, at least.

I think a lot of the problems within Dungeons & Dragons can be traced back to the same issue that’s reflected by the inclusion of Drizzt and Dragonlance in Appendix E: D&D has become painfully self-referential. D&D exists to capture the experience of D&D rather than to capture the experience of high adventure through the mechanics of D&D. Take a tour through the sterile worlds with their thousands of years of carefully crafted history so that you too can experience the thrill of being a multi-weapon-wielding war-god riding atop the back of a dragon.   You want to play a Tiefling?  Hey, it’s cool, we’re all Tieflings here!  Don’t worry, you won’t mess anything up while you’re there, cleanup services are included in the price of admission. It’s like in that movie A Distant Sound of Thunder, where millionaires pay big bucks to travel back in time to shoot a dinosaur: it’s always the same dinosaur, right after they shoot it, the same volcano always erupts, always would’ve killed the dinosaur anyway, and no one is ever in any real danger. Encounters exist to push you up to enough XP for the next encounter. Fight your way, one level appropriate encounter at a time, through the monster manual. Potions are cheap, HP is high, and you can heal for free. It just doesn’t feel like you’re earning your adventure.  Despite all of the bluster, it feels like Wizards gave us D&D 3.75, a final attempt to fix the broken cluttered mess of 3rd Edition while still making every effort to deliver the highly branded, “Buy all of our play-sets and toys”, 3e experience.

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2 responses to “5e vs OSR Retro Roundup

  1. Excellent points. I feel people are so easily duped but then, who am I to know the inner workings of other people. It is just disheartening to see, in writing, so many people go on and on about how 5E is getting back to its roots, when, to my eyes, it is just a d20 system that was written to correct their losing of market share.

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