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OSE vs. 5E for newbs and kids

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18 Jan 2021 09:12 - 18 Jan 2021 15:44 #318130 by Josh Look
Even with what some would call modern conveniences like one universal system for rolls and ascending armor class, I'd still pick OSE. Here's why:

-Yeah, descending armor class is weird, but the THAC0 matrix kind of frontloads the work for you. Just write the matrix out on your character sheet and there really isn't adding modifiers while playing, just referencing the AC, making the roll and you're done. I know that simple addition isn't at all difficult, but the thing to remember about D&D is that at its best, it's a dungeon crawl. That means combat and lots of it. Every shortcut matters after awhile.

-Speaking of shortcuts, how about initiative? There is no system in D&D I want to see jettisoned more in 6E more than how it handles initiative. After 6 years, I am thoroughly over writing out the list of what order PC and NPCs will act in. There are variants out there but they're often more gamer centric options, more complicated than what I'm looking for. Adapting older or cleaner systems to 5E breaks the game since characters beyond level 1 are generally very competent, and higher levels are a straight up superhero game. B/X simply had you roll a d6 for each side, higher side goes first. Love it.

-The second system I want to see gone in 6E is how every magic class casts spells. For Crom's sake, just give a number of spells of each level determined by PC level. Screw this spell slot business, new players trip over this stuff so often in my experience. Same goes for short/long rests. OSE handles both of these things in a clean, easy to understand way.

-Alright, and the biggest reason is one that really snuck up on me back when I first played DCC, and that is that there are no skills. This is one of those things that you don't really realize is actually great until you observe different people with different experience levels in roleplaying and see that how it pans out is better than the alternative across the board. In many editions of D&D, you get a big, long list of skills. You look at it and say, "Cool, these are all the things I can do in the game." That information laid out seems good, but it really does come with a mentality that I think is a detriment. Yes, that list, along with spells, feats, etc.are what you can do, but you're not thinking about what you WANT to do. This hits players in many different ways. For some newer players, it develops a disconnect from this being about collaborative storytelling, they're too hung up on the options they have in front of them that they never learn to take that next level of immersion and recognition of their ability to take narrative reigns from time to time (trust me, as a GM, you're going to love the players taking the heavy lifting). For some players, this is what plants the seeds for "power gaming," which I have absolutely no tolerance for. And for some folks I've played with, they just look at the 5e character sheet and all they see is math. Skills/feats are obviously very playable, but for new players less to look at is generally good for developing good roleplaying habits and ever for experienced players, it's nothing short of liberating.

Also, the ease of finding information in the OSE book runs circles around anything WOTC puts out. The information you'll need the most are literally in the front and back cover sections, it's brilliant.
Last edit: 18 Jan 2021 15:44 by Josh Look.
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18 Jan 2021 11:06 #318133 by Shellhead
For four years, I ran a bi-weekly D&D 3.5 game for an average of six players. I knew upfront that it was going to be a demanding system to run, so I spent a year preparing for the campaign. My target group of players were all people who liked board games and wanted adventures that featured tactical puzzles. So I knew they would enjoy a crunchy and detailed system. Most of the group had prior rpg experience though not necessarily 3.5, but a couple of players were very new to role-playing.

I bought a load of wooden tokens and swiped online art to make tokens for all the monsters and npcs. I made my own custom 4-panel ref screen. I found free spell cards for all levels and classes, and printed them off and stapled them to index cards. And I bought two big index card boxes with alphabetical dividers just to store those spell cards. I created compacted stat blocks for every monster and combat npc in the game, and sleeved them with playing cards, then stored them in a ccg long box. I created another set of reference cards for various combat situations and conditions, like wielding a weapon off-handed or fighting while prone.

My most useful prep was creating an initiative tracking sheet. At the start of each combat, each character and monster would roll initiative and add their dex modifier, to get a number ranging from 0 to 30+, and I would put a token that matched their combat token on the appropriate numbered square on the initiative sheet. If a player held or delayed his action, I could easily move his token to a new spot on the tracking sheet when he finally acted. I had a similar sheet that I used to track spell durations, with little spell chits, though that one was divided into sections since some spells last hours while other last mere turns.

That sounds like a lot of work for initiative, but I believe that it really pays off compared to a loose system where all one side goes at once. When a player has their own specific initiative, they get to take the center stage for that moment and their action feels a little more important. When the whole group goes at the same time, alpha players tend to dominate the conversation and push to take their actions first, leaving less assertive players feeling more sidelined. A gamemaster can try to moderate those tendencies, but will always be working against the personalities involved.

I realize that this discussion is about comparing the merits of two different entry-level games that are intended to be highly accessible. But I think that people tend to overlook the capacity that kids have for learning, and even a complex combat system can be learned after just a few combats, like say in the very first session. A good gamemaster will take on the burden of handling the rules and let the players focus on playing within the boundaries of those rules. Really, I think that it's more important for a gamemaster to run a game that will entertain himself and his players, and that might mean either a minimal system or a crunchy system. I personally like a variety of approaches to role-playing, including diceless systems and larp.
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18 Jan 2021 11:41 #318134 by dysjunct
Re: Initiative. Individual initiative kind of sucks for a large group. Back when I was running 5e, I used an app called InitiativeBoard on my iPad that made it super simple. You enter in the PC's name and their initiative modifier. Then do the same for the monsters. (You can copy/duplicate so you don't have to do it for e.g. 15 different goblins; just say you have 15 goblins each with +1.) Then you hit "Roll initiative" and it rolls and sorts from first to last. You toggle when someone's taken their turn. It can also track hit points and statuses if you want. Easy peasy.

As far as the question for 5e vs. something old school, I think it is pretty much a secondary concern to be honest. They can both be fun; what matters more is your enthusiasm and the adventure. If the kids find the story compelling then they'll be into it regardless. System wonkery is for us nerds who have too much spare time.

If you go with 5e, I'd absolutely go pregens; asking new players to make a bunch of choices, when they don't understand the ramifications of those choices, is pointless and frustrating. I'd also leave out feats and backgrounds which are optional anyway. Keep it simple and straightforward.
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18 Jan 2021 12:22 - 18 Jan 2021 12:37 #318136 by Josh Look
Aside from ease of use, my other argument for group initiative is that is creates more teamwork based play. That's not to say it doesn't happen with individual initiative, but it definitely seems to to do a better job of encouraging players to come up with a game plan from round to round, plus the rewards for doing so are more immediate. Then on the GM side of things, you have a full side of time to throw unexpected turns in to keep them on their toes.

Individual initiative often results in, "Which monster am I closest to? Ok, I attack that one."

More overhead is like the least appropriate thing in combat. It should play out like it does in a Robert E Howard story. Fast and to the point, it still has more than enough room for individual "moments," none of this making a list or using an app stuff.
Last edit: 18 Jan 2021 12:37 by Josh Look.
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18 Jan 2021 13:58 - 18 Jan 2021 14:01 #318138 by Michael Barnes
OSE really casts into relief how much B/X got right and how wayward D&D’s core rules have gone. So much rules for rules sake. So much that doesn’t actually add any value to gameplay.

Group initiative is the only way to go. I can’t believe anyone does anything but that. That’s old simulation must thinking that devalues streamlined abstraction in favor of nitpicky crunch. There are all kinds of ways to work within group initiative to provide detail and tactical dynamism without having to write a fucking list based on DEX stats and mods.

5e magic is an absolute shitshow. A good example of pointless rules and variations that add nothing to gameplay. It’s just cruft to make the Tiefling Warlock feel like they are doing something different than the Druid. It blows my mind that all of that passed playtesting...it’s by far the most needless overcomplicated thing in 5e. But you love to DCC, OSE, or other systems and they get it RIGHT. And you are like “why am I playing 5e again?”

Skills are another pointless complication. More facile differentiation. I would rather a PC shoemaker make a case as to why they can make a lockpicking check with an advantage because that is at the table character and narrative. Not a check mark next to “Pick Locks”. I -LOVE- how Troika handles it...there is no skill list. But if a player does a skill thing, you can write it down and it’s an advantage if it comes up again. No need for lists for players to pick off of. My daughter’s magic bunny has “make chili” as a skill.

That said, some games do skills well. WHFRP and COC would be the gold standards. Stars Without Nukbers successfullly applied skills to a B/X chassis.

As for THAC0...OSE supports ascending and descending...new players tend to get ascending easier than descending. It does make more sense really.
Last edit: 18 Jan 2021 14:01 by Michael Barnes.
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18 Jan 2021 15:43 #318139 by Josh Look
Michael, I don't know if you picked up Necronautilus, but I just got my copy and I read it in one sitting. 4 days later and I am still shook by this thing. Just packed to the brim with fucking IDEAS, both in setting and mechanics. I'm re-reading it, I cannot wait to play it.
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18 Jan 2021 16:12 #318140 by Michael Barnes
YES. I read through it and put it aside because it felt DANGEROUS. I backed it thinking it looked neat but I did not expect a game about words and a game with such an incredible, vast scope...from deep personal memories to creating entire planets. Yet another book I look at and wonder why people are so stuck on D&D.
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18 Jan 2021 16:48 #318141 by Michael Barnes
BTW- Necronautilus is likely my review for next week.
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18 Jan 2021 19:17 - 18 Jan 2021 19:18 #318146 by Jexik
Replied by Jexik on topic OSE vs. 5E for newbs and kids

Michael Barnes wrote: Yet another book I look at and wonder why people are so stuck on D&D.


It's a known entity and something you can get a group for. I could go to any park in the US and either see or create a pickup soccer game. Cricket? Not so much.

(I confess I know little about Cricket, but I was thinking of millions of analogies... why are people watching the Mandalorian and not reading Gene Wolfe, etc.)
Last edit: 18 Jan 2021 19:18 by Jexik.
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18 Jan 2021 20:01 #318147 by san il defanso
Yeah, it's the lingua franca of the hobby right now, is easy to find a game for, and isn't a bad system at all. It's an extremely versatile system to. Most of the suggestions people have here (group initiative, etc.) are included in the DMG as variants. It's usually played a specific way in practice, but the system is perfectly fine overall.

I think dysjunct has the best of it here. The two games accomplish the same basic thing, and they aren't all THAT different. 5e is much closer to older editions that either 3.X or 4e, for all its modernity. In the end you can probably pick the one that you think has better art, or is cheaper, or whatever reason you like, and you'll do just fine.
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18 Jan 2021 22:54 #318151 by dysjunct
There are two viable alternatives to both group and individual initiative that are worth considering:

1. Story based initiative. This is what Dungeon World and other PBTA games use. There’s no strict order or rotation of actions, any more than there is in an adventure novel. The GM tells you when to take your turn, based on what makes sense narratively. Downside is that the GM needs to be on point and be aware of who hasn’t gotten spotlight time recently.

2. “Popcorn” initiative. This was used in the most recent Marvel RPG. After someone takes their turn, they choose who goes next. Has to be someone who hasn’t acted this round, but can be a PC, NPC, or anyone else. If an NPC acts then the GM chooses who goes next. This method introduces some fun tactical teamwork to the game. Do all the PCs gang up, but then let all the monsters do the same? Or do they try to save some actions in reserve to respond to threats?

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19 Jan 2021 09:21 #318154 by Josh Look
I'd not heard of that second one, that's neat.

I could be content to never touch 5E again, but I will still give it credit for being the best edition since I started playing in 2000. It's not a complicated game, but I still have come to disagree with so many design decisions that, as Michael said, don't actually add meaningful gameplay value. For what is essentially a conversation I'm having with my friends, it's more crunch than is necessary and what is happening in the hobby elsewhere is so exciting and fresh, to ignore it would be folly.

The problem with group initiative in 5E is that even at level 1 when the group is considerably more squishy, you're going to have one player with a very useful combat ability and once the group discovers which one it is, that person is just going to go first. That's how the PCs are designed, any other system you force upon them will result in some sort of breaking of the game. It's often the monk. If you have a monk and rogue in the group, forget it. Many of the other folks who have worked on 5E have expressed their disagreement with Crawford's choice to use the already tired initiative system it has. That the DMG essentially acknowledges that it sucks, the writing is on the wall. It's going away. Get used to it.

I do wonder how much/if 6E (which if the math on previous editions still holds true is just 3 years away) will react to the OSR movement. Do they think they have enough of a foothold in a new audience that doesn't know any better to ignore it completely or do they recognize that they could make peace with a very sizable audience if they just stripped out so much of the crap?

There was a rumor going on towards the end of 4E that WOTC was considering pulling the OGL. It's funny that back then I thought it would spell certain doom for almost all of their competition, but now, after reading stuff like Necronautilus, Troika, and even going back to Inspectres, if they were to do it, I think the overall design of RPGs would benefit.

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19 Jan 2021 10:17 - 19 Jan 2021 10:59 #318159 by dysjunct
5e was already at least a partial reaction to the OSR. The first OSR game was Castles & Crusades from 2004; 5e came along ten years later in 2014 (although development started earlier than that). You could argue that the OSR didn’t really hit its stride until Lamentations of the Flame Princess (2007) and the explosion of creativity it inspired — weird fantasy horror instead of slavishly recreating the dungeon crawls of yore. It’s not hard to draw a straight line from LOTFP to Mork Borg, DCC, Ultraviolet Grasslands, etc. Still enough time to influence 5e.

I’d argue that 5e is the most streamlined D&D since B/X. It’s simpler by far than 2e, 3e, and 4e (in different ways). Maybe about the same overhead as 1e AD&D, but better designed and more coherent.

I suspect (or maybe it’s wishful thinking) that the design trends will continue, and 6e will have an even simpler core, but with more optional modules for people who like the crunch. I’m not exactly the audience for 5e though, and the problem (for me) is that there’s a lot of people who really like optimizing character builds and the high fantasy aesthetics. Luckily there’s no shortage of other games to play.

Edit: Of course there were other market forces influencing 5e. 4e had very disappointing sales — turns out that people who want to play something that strongly resembles World of Warcraft just go play World of Warcraft — so doing more of that wasn’t an option. And Pathfinder already had the crunchy 3e side of the market tied up.
Last edit: 19 Jan 2021 10:59 by dysjunct.

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19 Jan 2021 13:49 #318167 by dragonstout
Some dumb questions:

1) Michael, you talk a lot about running adventures with your (two) kids. It seems like a lot of B/X-type stuff states that it assumes that you're dealing with at least SIX player characters! What types of things do you do to deal with only two players? Or is this a case of "guess it's a lot more dangerous for them, better not fight anything!"?

2) You've also talked a lot about running lots of modules with your kids that are for level 1 adventurers; are they just used to making brand-new characters all the time (I realize this isn't difficult), instead of sticking with one character over a prolonged period of time? Or do you do this kind of reset only when their characters die?

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19 Jan 2021 14:43 #318169 by Michael Barnes
I’ve had them run two characters each and/or take hirelings/retainers. It works out pretty well as they have learned to get the NPCs to all the dangerous/risky stuff. It is true that a lot of vintage B/X modules in particular call for an assload of characters (I think Saltmarsh is like 8-10)...it’s usually pretty easy to handle by just dialing back some of the encounters. I don’t worry too much about balance (I hate the “challenge rating” thing in 5e) and I do think there should be deadly/unwinnable challenges. But if we have half as many characters as suggested, it’s reasonable to half the difficulty.

We play a mix of campaign stuff and one shots. They have a couple of level 5 OSE characters for example, but we also have some lower level ones for Whitehack and other systems. If they have a friend over we usually do fresh random characters and do something like Stonehell- fast action, right into the dungeon, no “over world” stuff. Given how slow leveling tends to be in OSR systems if you play as written (gp=xp and all that), I’m not really ever that fussed about it.

I really like DCC’s XP system. Just simple point values at the DM’s descretion.
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