I must create a system, or be enslaved by another man's. I will not reason and compare: my business is to create.

- William Blake

Friday, August 31, 2018

O5R in actual play: playing 5e the old school way

As I've mentioned a few times before, OSR has different definitions for many people. You won't find any of them in this post: just a small anecdote from this week's game, that I've shared over G+. It may be relevant to the old school versus new school... but then again, it's just one session.

I was starting a new campaign and had to choose between 5e and Dark Fantasy Basic (DFB), my BX clone.

I had one new player in my group, to whom I had never GMed to, and everybody was more familiar with "official" D&D. Another player wanted to make a gnoll PC, which unfortunately isn't a thing that exists in DFB (yet). So I thought 5e would be a better fit for everybody.

In practice...

We spent most of the session choosing features and spells for the new characters (the warlock was a hassle). Having options is nice, but going though a dozen classes and more than a dozen races (had Volo's on the table... sigh) didn't improve the enjoyment of the game.

Luckily we rolled stats randomly (with 5e quick characters) skipped feats, flaws, etc. In the end, we manage to play a bit less than two hours (we had four to begin with).

During the game, I went full "YES, you can" and "NO,  we don't need to check the rules" on the players.

Player: Which weapons can my warlock use?
GM: You have 10 Dex and 10 Str... Just pick any weapon you want.

Player: Can my 1st level spell identify if this plant is poisonous?"
GM: I don't remember... but you're a druid spending a spell slot, of course it can.

Player: Can my barbarian pick the snake-demon and thrown it across the room in one turn? How does grappling work in 5e again?
GM: Just make an athletics check and we'll see.

I do not pull punches against the PCs when running adventures, but it seems I cannot be bothered to check the books during play anymore, and I err on the side of "of course you can". Like I've said in the latest post, the NPCs play by the same rules (or lack of thereof)!

I also (half-jokingly) went through the whole "the dice do nothing" exchange during the game:

Player: Can I roll Arcana?
GM: Sure.
Player: 17. 
GM: Good for you. Now, describe what you're trying to do instead.

BTW, the fact that the character was a gnoll didn't come up even once in the session. Nor did any of the other races (aasimar and tiefling... yeah). Except for the goliath, who had disadvantage fighting witg a greataxe in a narrow corridor... which was fun, but I'm pretty sure is not in the actual rules of the game.

In short, WotC D&D has many different options, but that doesn't necessarily means more enjoyment - even though I REALLY LIKE having options.

And RAW has almost no place at my table nowadays. Which is fine.

It was an awesome session nonetheless, once we started playing. Didn't finish the module (Frozen in Time, for DCC) but seemed like a good adventure (although it requires PCs to be a bit foolhardy at times).

In the end, I had something very positive to say about 5e: I ignored spells, some combat rules, and weapon proficiencies while running a DCC adventure for 5e with no previous adaptation... and it went very smoothly. After we started playing the game, everyone had a blast.

In conclusion, 5e might be a bit fiddly for my tastes, but it is a solid game and works well under this kind of OSR pressure!

Friday, August 24, 2018

Nobody wants your house rules!

Says the guy who writes a blog with hundreds of house rules...

Anyway, I realized about half my players don't appreciate house rules or share my desire to "fix" all RPGs I play. They want to play the game as written.

Of course, maybe all your players love YOUR house rules! I hope they do! However, it has been a common experience for me both as a player and as a GM to see resistance to house rules.

This is what many people think about house rules... (source here)
I, personally, have a hard time using the rules as written (or "RAW") when I GM. I love to mess with mechanics and, in some cases, find RAW to be completely absurd (see how having proficiency in Constitution saves will avoid starvation in 5e, but not dehydration, or how falling damage works).

As a player, I like SOME house rules... while others irritate me. I have also heard of GMs changing the rules so thoroughly as to make a number of character concepts impossible.

For me, house rules are not only a way to make the game better or more balanced but... more interesting! Why not have a Str monk or Int sorcerer?

And, of course, more fun - which is why many of my house rules are meant to make the game simpler.

Finally, house rules are COOL! See the PrinceCon 1978 D&D variant rules. They were creating an improved version of D&D (with three saving throws!) a couple of years after the game was created - to use for a single weekend!

Anyway, I like house rules, but half my players don't.

My solution so far has been this: (most) house rules are OPTIONAL for PCs. So, I create new weapons and feats, but the PCs can use the ones in the books if they prefer.  Something like "carrots, not sticks".

I allow people to stay conscious after the first failed death save - they can continue fighting (its their funeral!) or they can choose to drop unconscious as the game dictates.

I give a couple of classes that I find lackluster a small boost (PCs can pick it or leave it), but do not "fix" classes or spells that I find overpowered. I'm not really a fan of feats like Lucky or Sharpshooter, but use what you like! I haven't seem a 5e build that would really ruin games.

If you have a character concept that is a bad fit for 5e, I probably want to give you a boost. If you want optimization, OTOH, I'd say RAW has plenty of options for that already.

I offer critical hits to PCs, but would NEVER impose fumbles (which I find silly anyway).

Rules that mess with damage are generally mandatory (and rare), so don't expect to survive a 100-foot fall too easily in my games. However, I WILL warn you if you attempt to jump from the tower of the castle believing you will fall softly BEFORE you make this decision...

NPCs don't have to play by the same rules, of course. And I'm certainly not restricted by random treasure tables!

RAW is optional for GMs, after all! ;)

Saturday, August 11, 2018

D&D, OSR and "anticlericarism"

Although I understand the reasons to have a certain "anti-cleric" feel (i.e., the intent of removing the cleric class from the game or making it less important somehow - as seen on Delta-s blog, as mentioned below, or Seven Voyages of Zylarthen) in D&D, I feel that some of the criticism is unwarranted.

At a first glance, the cleric can look like an "odd duck"* in D&D. You have fighters/mages/thieves that can use combat/spell/skills to defeat their enemies. Thieves are somewhere between fighters and magic-users, with access to some combat capabilities and some spell-casting.

(*BTW, we will disregard the fact that fighters/mages/clerics were the original classes, that the elf is the original fighter/mage, or that the thief class is as old as the paladin - we are looking at this from a mechanical, not historical, perspective, which is also why we're calling the magi-users "mages" etc)

However, the cleric fits perfectly among the other three. Let's see:

- The fighter has the BEST access to weapon, armor, BAB, and HP, and the WORST access to spells.
- The mage has the WORST access to weapon, armor, BAB, and HP, and the BEST access to spells.

These two classes, by themselves, would be enough to play the game. People who like the fighter/mage/thief combination often see the thieves as middle ground... But see, they have VERY LIMITED access to armor, spells. and HP. Of course, they thieves have their own abilities, which make them good attackers (sneak, back-stab) and explorers (climb, find traps, etc).

The cleric, then, fulfills a different role: with more access to armor and HP, and also lots of spells, but mostly focused on DEFENSE rather than offense.

Then you'd have:

- The fighter has the BEST access to combat offense AND defense, and the WORST access to spells.
- The mage has the WORST  access to combat offense AND defense, and the BEST access to spells.
- The thief has BAD access to combat defense and spells, but GOOD access to combat offense.
- The cleric has GOOD access to combat defense and spells, but BAD access to combat offense.

Of course, you can also say that the mage is more focused on offense than the fighter (great firepower, less protection), then you have something like this:

Quite elegant IMO!

This is why my retroclone, Dark Fantasy Basic, uses the four "classic" classes rather than OD&D's original three, or fighter/mage/thief.

You can also turn the dials to create infinite combinations - good offense and magic for the elf, great defense and magic resistance for dwarves, etc. Or you can mess with range (clerics have fewer ranged options since they cannot use bows, for example), alignment (clerics tend towards Lawful), XP, etc. In all instances, there seems to be a place for the cleric.

Of course, there are DIFFERENT reasons to dislike the cleric. Delta's D&D Hotspot makes a great case against the class... This is a particular strong point:

As I've said on numerous occasions, it is the cleric class which makes the least overall sense in the context of pulp fantasy, and is the most fundamentally troubling class to be included in Original D&D. Among other multifarious reasons, the armored, adventuring, miraculous man-of-Catholic-faith is simply not a type you see very much in the roots of the genre, if at all. The inclusion really sticks out like a sore thumb in OD&D.

I agree - thematically, the cleric makes little sense.

However, there seems to be a mechanical space for the "defender" type, maybe some type of knight, paladin or war leader, focused on protection/support and strong defenses. Someone like King Arthur, Aragorn, etc. Not exactly "pulp" but within what I expects D&D to be nowadays.