Why Did Everyone Oversell 5e’s Old School Appeal?

I don’t actually answer this question, but if someone wants to speculate below, go ahead!  I mean, it stood to benefit Wizards to try to bring in the OSR community and convince those folks to drop coin on yet another D&D edition, but I don’t really see why anyone else would make this claim.  What am I missing here?

Saturday was Free RPG day. The actual free RPG offerings were somewhat scant in terms of things that grabbed my interest. Or anyone else’s, for that matter, given just how much stuff was left unclaimed by days end despite the crowd. I ended up picking up a Dungeon Crawl Classics screen and something called Hellas. The former will probably be cut up and stuffed into my binders if my friend who actually has some DCC stuff doesn’t want it. The latter I grabbed because it looked pretty and had nice art, but I doubt I’ll play it.

There was some Pathfinder stuff, Shadowrun, a 3rd party 5e adventure for absurdly high level characters and a bunch of other stuff that didn’t really interest me.

Having just read PMS’s rather scathing assessment of Apocalypse World, I politely declined the opportunity to join a session of that, but I did get a chance to try out Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition, which I’ll admit, I have been curious about.

My curiosity has been sated.

A lot of people have written about 5e has somehow brought OSR into the fold, there’s a lot there for fans of the oldschool and it’s going to bring everyone back together. I have no idea what those people are talking about. 5e is 3.5 with the 4e skill list and an incredibly wonky XP scale. It played exactly like 3/3.5 and nothing like 1eAD&D/B/X.

I was loaned a “guest” character (a 4th level Half-Orc fighter) and was joined by a thief, a ranger and a monk. The 3+ hour session consisted of 2 encounters on the way to some place in a shared Greyhawk(?) setting they had a few games in. The first was against a Stonemelder and the second was against a druid, his body guard and some mephits he summoned.

A few things I observed:
-Despite the DM’s remarks about the simplicity of low-level play, everyone had pretty substantial combat packages at level 4.
-5e is such a high HP game that combat is kind of cartoonish. At 37 HP, my orc was tougher than most B/X dragons. He survived a combination of being punched by a mephit, stepping on a stone rose, getting burned up by a wall of fire, parched, and even then, because of some feat, he was able to stand back up and bash the hell out of the evil druid with his warhammer. The druid, on the other hand, had several arrows and a javelin sticking out of him and got brained several times for full damage with the orc’s warhammer before finally going down; he had to have had somewhere in the neighborhood of 80 HP.
-The mechanics of the Thief’s combat package struck me as fiddly and annoying. Move attack move roll for hide and cover, move attack move roll for hide and cover. All the tedium of a cover-based shooter, but with dice!
-I don’t think I like the save vs. death mechanic. While I’m admittedly not a fan of death at 0, I think AD&D’s negative HP is a fair compromise. I almost think it was wrong that my orc was magically desiccate by an amount that should’ve put me at -17 and then, because of a feat, I was able to stand back up at 1HP, attack the druid, get an AoO when the druid ran away, and then stand back up after a potion is poured down my throat after I’m knocked down again and make my saves vs. death. If bad guys get the same opportunity, it would be a wonder if anyone could die in 5e.

The XP curve for low level characters seems to exist to shove characters to mid-level as quickly as possible; then again, 5e is not a GP for XP system. Not having played in an extended game, I can’t really assess how well or poorly this works out. The notion of characters having such high HP doesn’t sit well with me, especially when weapon damage is kept relatively close to the same except for crits. Quadrupling HP averages but only increasing weapon damage by about 50% results in some really long combats with some strangely resilient opponents. And very long encounters. I think the only time I’ve had encounters as long as these were the boss-fight against the corrupted elf and that absolutely nutso encounter at the zombie farm.

I can’t remember who said it about which edition (it was either 3.5 or 4), but someone had once joked about “Dungeons & Dragons: My Precious Encounter” in reference to how the later editions are so heavily focused on players using their combat packages as a means of encounter-related problem solving (of course with a note of snark in regards to the twee-ness of a lot of high powered systems). That was very much the impression I got of 5e. While there was some fun roleplaying stuff we did among ourselves, the game itself seems more of a case where a group of variously powered individuals are thrown against a puzzle in the form of an elaborate encounter drawn from the monster manual. Players must figure out how to use their powers effectively against the monster to solve the puzzle of beating it (the riddle of steel? Nah) before time(HP) runs out. It feels like a supers game dressed up as a heroic fantasy. It is maybe the right system for the wrong genre, but it doesn’t feel like the Dungeons & Dragons I enjoy.

This is not a criticism of the group or the guy running things. They were great, and I would enjoy playing with them again. Hell, I’d even play 5e with them again. I’m just saying that if the pacing and simplicity of Old School D&D are things about OSR that appeals to you, 5e isn’t what you’re looking for. If someone tells you that if you like Old School D&D you’ll love 5e, you don’t have to take my word for it; check it out for yourself and see why they’re wrong.