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OSE vs. 5E for newbs and kids

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16 Jan 2021 15:09 #318081 by dragonstout
OK, I've been wanting to start a D&D game with my two kids, ages 7 and 10, ever since quarantine started. I had originally planned on doing 5E, but I know there are a lot of OSR proponents here.

Here's my situation:
- As I said, my kids are 7 and 10. They've played games, of course, but they're not the "I played Feast for Odin at age 5!" wunderkinds that seem to be all over BGG: the 10-year-old can handle most game rules I throw at him, but the 7-year-old definitely leans towards the lower family-weight games. Stuff that lots of folks assume is "lower family-weight", like Pandemic, would be a little more than he wants to deal with. Can't Stop is more his speed, with Quacks of Quedlinburg being at the upper edge of complexity of what he's enjoyed. But he DOES want to play D&D.

- I've never DMed before. Hell, I've BARELY ever even PLAYED an RPG before, outside of isolated instances here and there. I take Barnes' "OSR is the best!!!!" attitude with a grain of salt, since he's played RPGs for decades.

- The three options that I'm considering are: 1) 5E starting with Lost Mines of Phandelver 2) OSE starting with The Hole in the Oak and 3) OSE starting with Keep on the Borderlands.

- My older son's best friend has been playing Phandelver with folks over Zoom during the pandemic, so I strongly lean towards doing that so that when they can all meet up in person again, they'll be able to play together using a shared ruleset.

- On the other hand, I look at the ridiculous number of spells (I have the spell cards) that, say, the prebuilt level 1 Cleric for Phandelver has, and it looks overwhelming.

- They're both VERY outside the box thinkers (honestly, this aspect has scared me off of doing D&D with them for years, as I've been afraid they'll just start going off in directions so insane I can't handle it), but they really dislike the process of coming up with a character, so we'd definitely be going with pregens. I know that "less time spent doing character creation!" is often listed as a benefit of OSR stuff, but with Phandelver there are already a handful of pregens so it seems like that would work fine for 5E as well.

- My wife would also be playing, so there'd be three in the party.

Any advice from folks who've DMed for kids, or been first-time DMs, etc. etc., especially if you've tried both the OSE and the 5E approaches?

Thanks a ton in advance!

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16 Jan 2021 16:08 #318084 by Michael Barnes
Hole in the Oak is -excellent-. It’s one of the better OSR adventures I’ve done. It’s quite open and out of the box players (and DMs) can take it all kinds of places. I ran it for kids 8-10 and it was -perfect-. I would absolutely run it over Phandelver, which I have also run for kids. It’s really good, but it is long and it is written for 5e.
Hole in the Oak you could run it in a couple of sessions or expand it for a full campaign.

System wise, 5e is the done thing and it’s the most commonly played. But it is also bloated and it promotes a kind of play that I don’t care for. If you think the kids are going to really dig into all the character options and variations, maybe it’s best. But if not...OSE all the way. It’s so much more flexible and adaptable.

You might also consider Knave- it’s like 6 pages and it is totally compatible with just about anything. It’s great for kids. The rules are very simple and direct without a bunch of fluff to support several varieties of Tiefling Warlocks and a bunch of Druid stuff that just gives people more reason to write 25 page backstories.

Keep on the Borderlands is great but it is SUPER old timey. I did it for a while last spring. The whole “monster condominium” thing in the Caves of Chaos is stupid as hell but fun. With the factions and all it can be really fun to see how PCs manage everything and the keep is a great hub for action. There are also some wilderness adventures you can work into it. There is a new take on B2 out there, Beyond the Borderlands, and it’s really well done...only the first issue is out however and it’s 4 zines.

Another one you might look at is Tomb of the Serpent Kings...it’s kind of an OZsR starter dungeon. It’s very direct. Easy to run. Super deadly. Works great with Knave or OSE.
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16 Jan 2021 16:37 #318085 by dragonstout
In the preview on DTRPG for Hole in the Oak, I ADORED the formatting/layout. When I'm reading the sentences of description for everything in Phandelver I get overwhelmed and it seems like it'd be harder to put in my own words without just reading it, but the handful of bold words feels so much easier to just describe in my own words. Honestly that's what got me most excited about the idea of OSE, just seeing these basic brief descriptions of simple rooms with weird stuff in it, and I loved the whimsy and lightness of said weird stuff.

I'm also kind of considering starting with OSE/Hole in the Oak, and then after we complete an adventure of that, trying out Phandelver/5E, and seeing what they like better. I figure that would be the better order, if we did end up trying both? But Barnes, your kids went the other direction. I dunno. I've had Phandelver and the 5E books for a while, but I'm picking up OSE regardless and will see what I think after reading it.

I bought Knave (I mean, it's $3), and I LOVE the idea of random garbage equipment, but I kinda like going with something more D&D trope-y (with classes and whatnot) and more survivability.

What I'm very wary of, though, is forcing the kids into doing something old-school and weird the way DADDY would like it rather than the way THEY would like it.

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16 Jan 2021 16:43 #318086 by dragonstout
I love that Tomb of the Serpent Kings explains what lessons each room in the dungeon teaches. I'm wary of the fact that it explicitly states in the intro "this is NOT a good adventure for new DMs".

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16 Jan 2021 17:18 #318088 by Michael Barnes
You’ll find that in OSR content like Hole in the Oak that the emphasis is on leaner descriptions and far less specificity. I love this. I’d rather have a bullet list of three key features than a paragraph of narrative description. I want notes to play off of and improvise with, not story. 5e is all about overloading the DM with specifics under the assumption that the DM wants to tell the Big story of their $50 module.

Discovering OSR and indie RPG content was a revelation over the WOTC style. The layouts and leaner presentation makes all of this stuff a hundred times easier to run. You could come to my house in 30 minutes from now and I could run Hole in the Oak for you.

Hole in the Oak is very whimsical, but it does get dark. If you want it to! There’s so much fun stuff to play off in there- the sheep people, the lizards, the weird cult, the mutant...

My kids did like the more robust chargen in 5e, but they also barely scratched the surface of it. The key is that if you want to play with characters that have detailed backstories and really intricate special rules and cases, it’s the better system. I have realized that I hate all of that. I ask my players to give no more backstory than 3-5 single sentence bullet points. The character, personality, and identity is revealed in play, not in notebooks. And I actively dissuade superheroes- the better gaming comes from playing losers, deadbeats, ne’er-do-wells, and failures that grow into heroes. Or become monsters themselves.

The random equipment in Knave is GREAT. Send a kid into a dungeon with a bucket and a length of chain and see what they come up with. They’ll work with it, and you’ll probably be surprised at the ingenuity random gear inspires. It’s much more fun than adventurers armed to the teeth and with all the right equipment.

Remember that as the DM you are the DJ. So if the kids are enjoying what you are doing, keep spinning. If they are bored or uninterested, change tracks. OSR makes this kind of on the fly, ad hoc play easy.

I think Serpent Kings is fine for a new DM- just be aware that the very first trap can be a TPK and every encounter is potentially lethal. You can spin this to taste of course, or you can teach them a valuable lesson early on. I think Skerples put that in there because it is do different than the 5e approach. But I think you’d be fine. I love that dungeon, I’ve run it three times and every time it plays out differently. The fungus goblins are really fun and the basilisk is a neat encounter for first time players.
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16 Jan 2021 17:55 #318089 by Michael Barnes
You know another thing you might want to look at is The Vanilla Adventure from Windhammer Games. It’s more of a campaign-ish thing but still fairly compact. It is pretty much the platonic idea of a D&D adventure. Nothing weird or gonzo at all. I’ve not run it, but I love the book and it’s really quite charming with hand drawn maps and endearingly terrible dad joke caliber homages (halflings named Bilbeaux and Merry Pippins”.

Very compatible with OSE.
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16 Jan 2021 19:43 #318090 by DarthJoJo
It’s a little different from what you’re looking at, but I’d like to give Ben Robbins’ Microscope a shout. It’s very rules lite and wide open, though designed for one shots rather than campaigns. Ben calls it fractal storytelling where you jump around in a timeline and scenes are short, lasting just long enough to answer an inciting question.

You can use it to build the history of the city or country for your campaign, so it can take a load off you as GM as your players will already know about castles and important people or whatever.

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16 Jan 2021 21:39 - 16 Jan 2021 22:24 #318091 by san il defanso
I've not DM'd OSE for kids, but I have for adults. I have tried to sell my own son on trying out OSE someday, but he's actually really in love with all the character options in 5e. In general I had a positive experience running 5e for kids 14 and under, but the spellcasting does get quite complex. Just keep it moving, and don't worry about glossing over the more finnicky rules. Lost Mines of Phandelver, which I ran for college students several years ago, is really good.

OSE is definitely the more streamlined system in terms of character creation, but I feel like 5e is the easier system to play in practice. This is partially because 5e has kind of a squishy mechanical core. There aren't dungeon turns, and hexcrawling has never been done super well so far, but the system is extremely versatile, so you totally COULD do that sort of game. It's a much less...optimize-y style of game than any of the other editions from WotC.

I am also not a fan of the "git gud" style of a lot of OSR games. Broadly speaking I think that whole aesthetic finds character death way more interesting than it actually is. I also find the attitude more than a little condescending from some people, where the players must earn the right to have a character who can take more than a single hit. I like OSE a lot, but when I run it I like to give 1st level characters a somewhat strong start (max hit points, usually), or just start at 2nd level. I try to find ways to get around what I feel like is bookkeeping too, i.e. mapping, which is the opposite of fun. Like 5e, it's a pretty versatile system so you can do that pretty easily.

But for sure my least favorite part of 5e is that character-building takes a LONG time. It's definitely an all-things-to-all-people sort of game, and part of that is that it's trying to please optimized character builders from the 3.X days, while not actually holding up at that level all that well. Not only that, but they keep on adding more and more potential decision points to the process, making each individual one less meaningful on its own. OSE has a big advantage here.

So in the end I prefer the somewhat more narrative approach of 5e to the simulationist approach favored by OSE and other OSR systems. But OSE is a more usable, well-presented product, is simpler, and has a better sense of what it wants to do. 5e is sort of the lingua franca of the hobby, and it's good in that role. But from what I've learned about your tastes over the year I think that you might actually prefer OSE.
Last edit: 16 Jan 2021 22:24 by san il defanso.
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16 Jan 2021 22:14 - 16 Jan 2021 22:15 #318092 by san il defanso
Oh, I should also say that the progression in OSE is very slow, I think in a way that reflects a design from the early 1980s. I often read complaints over how powerful 5e's characters get, and how quickly it happens, but for my purposes it means I can run an 8-week adventure and give my characters the opportunity to do some fun stuff by the end of it. Of course, one of the problems with 5e is that its XP system is total trash. Almost no one I know uses it as written in the PHB. When I run 5e I use a combination of milestone levelling and just levelling every few sessions.

Other OSE games (like Knave, which Barnes mentioned) have a more sensible progression system.
Last edit: 16 Jan 2021 22:15 by san il defanso.

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17 Jan 2021 10:21 #318096 by DukeofChutney
One option is 5e basic; dnd.wizards.com/articles/features/basicrules . This strips down 5e a little bit and has some comonality of the older DnD basic editions whilst giving your characters 5e hit points. It is still bloated for my tastes though.

Dungeon Crawl Classics might be worth a look too. It has a little more on the bone but the classes are simple and it is not as hard core with time and resource tracking as some other OSR titles and the characters start a little stronger.

When it comes to levelling up characters and how seriously to track the passage of time in the dungeon etc you can DM that stuff as you go and just award XP for achieving goals etc. I've never ran a game for kids but all they really need to understand is how to create a character, with some guidance, and then how combat works. Most of the rest can be done through conversation at the table.

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17 Jan 2021 13:27 #318105 by dragonstout
Hey Nate,

Thanks for your input; I also read your 13-part tweet about OSE too (and I posted about JumpStart largely thinking about you and your understandable lack of interest in building decks!).

I'm also not super-enamored of the "everyone dies!" aspect of OSR, and stuff like counting dungeon turns just seems like a pain in the ass. I'm pretty skeptical that there's not going to be a bunch of old-timey clunky stuff.

What I really AM enamored with is the emphasis on NOT needing to come up with or juggle in my head an elaborate story, but using random tables, and a SETTING rather than a story, letting the players/kids generate the story by how they react to things. I'm also enamored with a system that's more about creative problem-solving instead of saying "I'll use this skill to roll".

But just a reminder...this is for YOUNG KIDS. This is NOT about MY tastes, but about what a 7 and 10 year old would like.

(Also, another reminder: no matter what, we're NOT doing character creation, we're just going to use pregens.)

I was reflecting on this and Magic's JumpStart at the same time...on the one hand, there's no doubt in my mind that JumpStart is the best introductory product they've ever made. On the other hand, if it were remotely affordable to do so, I wish I could introduce Magic to my boys using the classic Alpha/Beta cards, because there's something mysterious and primally appealing about those cards and their connection to classic fantasy tropes; they come alive in your imagination. I think this is not an atypical dichotomy: often more recent editions of games will seem by "objective" standards to be "better", but will be missing a lot of the X-factor or *heart* that made the game catch on so big in the first place.
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17 Jan 2021 15:22 - 17 Jan 2021 15:29 #318106 by Michael Barnes
You’ve got to understand that the lethality, simulation elements, and all that are...kind of unnecessary. You can play OSE or any other OSR system and just throw that out. We tried metered turns, tracking torches and all that and it kind of sucks. Nobody really wants to do that junk regardless of how much “cred” you get for saying that you do. OSE includes those rules simply because they were in Moldvay/Cook. The clunk is pretty easy to just ignore if you don’t like it.

As for lethality...that is something that needs to be handled on a case by case basis, I think. When we ran Mork Borg last week, it was a TPK. And it was narratively exactly what needed to happen and nobody was sad or angry that they died. We also weren’t arbitrarily killing off 10th level characters in development for years. With kids, cut them a TON of slack. Fudge the death saves or whip up a narrative reason they avert death. It’s a good idea with kids to run some NPCs with them and allow them to die to at least give the illusion of lethality.

OSR is all about setting, improvisation, and organic narrative...as a DM, you’ve got a lot more freedom and agency when you aren’t beholden to spending a year playing through Storm King’s Thunder or whatever.

There are some really good OSE pregens available on DTRPG, pretty sure they are free.
Last edit: 17 Jan 2021 15:29 by Michael Barnes.
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17 Jan 2021 15:28 #318107 by Michael Barnes
Something else to point out...the systems I like the best- Mork Borg, Knave, Whitehack, etc.- rarely have rules for detailed things like climbing, swimming, chases, and so forth. Stay Frosty says it best- “just make something up!” That is what WOTC is terrified that you will learn...that you can make up rules on the fly for almost anything in even the simplest systems.
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17 Jan 2021 17:46 #318108 by Jexik
Replied by Jexik on topic OSE vs. 5E for newbs and kids
I don't know anything about OSE, but I played Phandelver/5e starter's kit with a group ranging from 5 years old and no experience (he got the melee fighter), and his 50 some odd grandma who had played briefly like 30 years ago. I had previously played 2e and 3e a little bit, but I was DMing and they were slaying goblins and having a good time like an hour after I cracked open the box.
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17 Jan 2021 19:07 #318109 by san il defanso
If you are doing pre-gens, then both systems can run quite smooth in practice. For kids ages 7-10 (not far from my own kids' ages) I think OSE is still your best bet.

One nice thing about 5e is that it has a unified d20 mechanic. There's precisely one kind of roll, and rolling high is always good. In OSE, combat rolls, ability checks, and saving throws all work a little differently. It's not difficult exactly, but you do need to remember which ones want high rolls and which one want low ones. Also, by default OSE uses descending armor class, which I think is stubborn nostalgia, but it also provides for an ascending AC as a variant.

But the spellcasting is definitely much less complex for OSE, and the lack of specified skills and proficiencies simplifies things too, so it might be a wash for you.

The truth is that in both systems you will end up winging it quite a bit, and both systems allow for that very easily. I disagree with Barnes that WotC doesn't WANT you to know that, but their adventures definitely are made with the improvisation-phobic DM in mind, much to their detriment.
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