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Quick, Simple Fun: High Society

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Play and Pass

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Play Matt: Old School Essentials Review

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19 Apr 2021 04:58 #322289 by Matt Thrower
Old School Essentials is a restatement of a much older...

My daughter’s 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons group contains all sorts of weird and wonderful characters: a dwarf druid, a demon-blooded rogue, a draconic sorcerer. She cannot understand why my group favours simpler archetypes like humans and elves, warriors and wizards. For her, like a lot of modern players, RPGs are a method to live out their wildest fantasies. So, by way of explanation, I got her playing Old School Essentials.

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19 Apr 2021 08:50 - 19 Apr 2021 10:07 #322290 by Sagrilarus
Excellent piece, and the same take-away as I am getting from my boys (and from the Three Black Halflings podcast). As best I can tell the 5th edition rules are more dense, more encompassing, and in some ways I think that takes you back to the rigid structure of a wargame like Chainmail, the ultra-origin of Dungeons & Dragons. Listening the Three Black Halflings at times is disheartening, as they discuss ways to create stainless steel characters through clever use of the large set of rules to choose from. (They more than make up for it with other content, the podcast is superb.)

Years ago a friend said, "good DMs know which rules to ignore" and frankly, in the original Advanced Dungeons & Dragons books there were rules aplenty that everyone set aside because everyone understood they added nothing to, more to the point distracted from, the core narrative experience. Nobody really gives a damn about weapon class adjustments when the water's rising and you need to release the jail room door.

And that's where I think all of this conversation comes down in the end. Novice players don't need the complexity because it makes it harder to learn. Journeyman players love the complexity because they can craft a killing machine that lets them take control of the plot. Expert players hate the complexity because they would rather get down to figuring out who killed Friar Grazie in the monastery and detailed rules just get in the way.
Last edit: 19 Apr 2021 10:07 by Sagrilarus.
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19 Apr 2021 10:05 #322296 by jason10mm
OSE still has THAC0 right? And 18/xx% strength? I forget which editions had those things and while they are crazy clunky, I will ALWAYS want -2 AC elfen chain and a 18/95 strength versus whatever the 5e equivalents of those things are :)

I definitely think there is a market for a simpler, more immediate gameplay rpg that narrows the player options and puts the focus on inventory management and problem solving versus spamming innate powers and ubiquitous overlapping skillsets that paradoxically eliminate character uniqueness and individuality.

Cleaning up a bit of 2e (making high rolls always good and saving throw modifiers/targets more intuitive, for example), dumping all the elaborate class modifications, and bringing in the advantage/disadvantage system from 5e would make for an awesome one off/tournament ruleset.

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19 Apr 2021 13:19 #322305 by Michael Barnes
This is a great breakdown of what makes OSE/BX so different and how it appeals to differing play styles and expectations. It’s funny because my kids have openly rebelled against OSE- they want 5E explicitly because they want the broader, more nuanced characters and more vibrant modern fantasy ideas. They don’t want counting turns, torches, and rations or the grittier, lowdown 1970s/80s fantasy.

After playing OSE, DCC, Whitehack, and a couple of other OSR rule sets for a long while and wincing at the things I don’t care for in 5E, I’ve come around to enjoying playing it again. I still don’t like the massive emphasis on bespoke characters to the point where every player of every class has completely different builds and concepts.

BUT............

That is exactly why more people are playing 5E today _than have ever played D&D since 1975 all years combined_. This is why the streaming is such a big thing and why actors and personalities are dug into it so hard. It really rewards a strongly character-focused style of play and I would argue that backstory, character concept, and selection of subclasses/paths/etc. is more important than skill lists or the other rules in the system. Which, as we all know, are pretty malleable and disposable anyway.

I also think this is why 5E had had such a huge uptake with young folks and especially in the LGBT+ community. This notion of creating an idealized self and giving it life and space is a powerful notion, and it’s one that does not always mesh with the grognardary of B/X play where your in game ego is ultimately disposable and replaceable.

5E is, excluding the books beyond the core 3, a far more accessible and approachable game than OSE/BX -if- you have no experience with Moldvay. If you come to OSE having played BX before, it feels like coming home and that can feel really great...but nostalgia can blind you to the value of modernity, accessibility, and availability.

I do chafe at the fact that all of this incredible indie stuff- like Hole in the Oak, which is one of my all-time favorite adventures- is second shelf to the corporate juggernaut that is 5E. But does WOTC really own D&D? I feel like they own the brand, but Gavin Norman owns the game D&D as much as Hasbro does. We all do.

I think OSE really hit like it did because it felt like a reclamation specifically for older players and the OSR scene. It’s a back to one step that cuts back the weeds to the core of what has always been great.

I dunno, anymore I don’t give a shit what system it is as long as everyone is having a good time and getting stuck in with a fun story, cool characters, good action, compelling puzzles and so forth.
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19 Apr 2021 14:19 #322308 by san il defanso
I've got only a toe dipped into the world of the OSR (I'm much more of a 5e person in general) but my read on the subculture is that OSE has essentially won the battle of the retroclones. There are lots of other games like Labyrinth Lord, OSRIC, etc., that seek to recreate old systems, but none of them have done it with such faithfulness, accessibility, and style quite the way Old School Essentials has. I actually had the physical rules tome waiting for me when I arrived back in the US, and it's a stunning piece of work.

The OSR subculture is to me a little try-hard. By that I mean that it sometimes feels like it's trying to recreate a version of the game based on nostalgia rather than on how people used to play in the 1980s. Not that a lot of people didn't play more challenging, roleplay heavy games in those days, but the thing with these rulesets is that just like with 5e all sorts of games were played with a single system. Often the OSR feels like something we would see in 40 years, when people are nostalgic for 5e, and they seek to recreate the game based entirely from what they read on /r/dndnext and see on Critical Role. OSE sidesteps that problem nicely by just being the old set, and then providing lots of ways to pull at the game to give you the options you want. I personally like to give players max HP at Lvl. 1, and then to let them use the stat generation method where they roll 4d6 and drop the lowest roll to come up with 6 numbers. Then I have them plug those into where they want so they can come up with a class they want. It totally works, and even though it's a little against what I've read from a lot of OSR types, I think it's very much in the spirit of D&D to play the way you want.

I do think that OSE works really well for classical dungeon crawling, in a way that still kind of eludes 5e.

I do need to play this with my kids now, I think they would enjoy
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19 Apr 2021 14:59 #322310 by Gary Sax
Did it beat out DCC? I liked what I saw of that one.

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19 Apr 2021 15:29 #322313 by Michael Barnes
DCC is sooooo good. I don’t know if I ultimately like it better than OSE or not...it’s somewhat cleaner and simpler (it’s based on 3.5), but it really lays into wild random magic effects, running troupes of low level ne’er-do-wells, and weird fantasy. Their adventures are some of the best in the business- fun to read, filled with great old school art, and really easy to run with minimal prep.

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19 Apr 2021 15:43 #322314 by san il defanso
I still haven't played DCC. I have the PDF Humble Bundle from several months ago, but I've not done much with it because RPGs are never as much fun to deal with in PDF form.

Maybe one of you might have to run a Roll20 game...

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19 Apr 2021 15:46 #322315 by Gary Sax
The weird fantasy was a big + for me on DCC.

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19 Apr 2021 17:21 #322321 by Michael Barnes
I maaaaaay have some availability for a DCC funnel coming up........
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19 Apr 2021 18:01 #322322 by dysjunct
Re: OSR subculture:

There’s an interesting taxonomy of various play cultures here:

retiredadventurer.blogspot.com/2021/04/s...ultures-of-play.html

I find myself most interested in the OSR style as described by the author, although I’ve played all of them.
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19 Apr 2021 18:34 #322324 by DukeofChutney
Good write up. I've read through Old School Essentials, and if you are in the market for a straight up clone this might be the best. It is the easiest to parse and most intuitive from a read.

On 5E, essentially the modern iterations are an attempt to make DnD classless. They keep the classes but make so many and allow you to mix them in so many different ways it is really a semi classless system. Older games are of course classed.

DCC is great, its kind of like a modern 8bit game in that its what you think you remember the old games being like, all of the awesome, but none of the janky controls that you actually had to deal with.

my two cents pick remains Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborea, though Whitehack looks interesting.

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19 Apr 2021 20:54 #322328 by san il defanso

dysjunct wrote: Re: OSR subculture:

There’s an interesting taxonomy of various play cultures here:

retiredadventurer.blogspot.com/2021/04/s...ultures-of-play.html

I find myself most interested in the OSR style as described by the author, although I’ve played all of them.


This is a great article, it made the rounds over on /r/rpg and /r/osr a couple weeks back.
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20 Apr 2021 13:47 #322344 by Shellhead
I've been role-playing since the late '70s, including some LARPing in the early '00s, and this is the first time I have ever heard of Nordic LARP. I just looked up their manifesto, and it seems like some very earnest b-s. The internet is really good for fostering nonsense, by offering gathering points for fanatics with similar ideas so they can reinforce and double down on those ideas.

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20 Apr 2021 15:27 #322353 by Matt Thrower

Michael Barnes wrote: I also think this is why 5E had had such a huge uptake with young folks and especially in the LGBT+ community. This notion of creating an idealized self and giving it life and space is a powerful notion, and it’s one that does not always mesh with the grognardary of B/X play where your in game ego is ultimately disposable and replaceable.


There's an entire feature in this alone. It's also the reason WotC gets so much flack for its lack of representation despite being no worse than many other RPG publishers.
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