Old School and the New Old School

Old School mayhem

Last week I got the new 5e Monster Manual. Got it reasonably cheap from an online bookshop.

It’s an awesome book, just like the Player’s Handbook, and I will get the Dungeon Master’s Guide when it drops some in price.

Looking through these new, full colour books I find myself missing something that instantly emerges when reading the originals or newer iterations like Swords & Wizardry or Labyrinth Lord. Or evolved versions of the OSR (OSR+?) like Fantastic Heroes & Witchery or Blood & Treasure. I cannot put the finger on what it is, but somehow these new books miss something.

When I pick up the OSR books I get that inspiration, that urge to play or design stuff. In contrast, the new 5e books fail to evoke that feeling in me. I don’t know why, but that’s how it is. Maybe they’re too slick and designed?  I really want to like them like the OSR books, but I can’t.

Maybe it’s the “professional commercial product” vs the “labour of love” thing that shines through? On the other hand, Frog God’s products are very slick and professional and I just adore them.

Anyone else with these thoughts on the new edition? It’s probably just a mental threshold for me to pass, but at this point I think I will stick with the OSR.

Butt-kicked by the lich lord

LICH by Elder-of-the-earth

All that energy I’ve poured into finishing my Ph.D.

All those things I’ve postponed to “after the disputation”.

All those cool ideas I’ve jotted down in Evernote or in one of my many gaming notebooks.

And now, when I’m a bona fide Doctor of Odontology, I feel like I’ve been butt-kicked by some über-lich.

No inspiration or energy whatsoever.

I guess this is something akin to GM burnout.

So I hereby declare that I am taking some creative timeout and just reload my creative batteries while adjusting to my new less-stress life, new stressed-up job and game master/blogger duties :)

I will concentrate on my at the table OpenQuest/Ravenloft game and my online games (as a player).

Probably, I will break this resolution like tomorrow, but it felt good to write this!

Some personal thoughts on 5th edition D&D

Dark Ranger by Nero-tbs

When I finally gave 5th edition D&D a chance, I was quite pleasantly surprised. The distance from the old school games that I love wasn’t that abyssal and I could see us running our games using the 5e engine. I even invested in the Players Handbook. Now that I have some actual 5e playing mileage under the belt, I’d like to comment some things that I’ve discovered in play and when reading the rules.

This thursday we concluded our fifth 5e gaming session in Dave Valderhaug’s “Dire’s Maw” homebrew game set along the Sword Coast in Forgotten Realms. Awesome game with some even awesomer gamers. Each session have been about 1.5 to 2 hours, so we can say circa 10 hours of play.

Feel

There’s a really good D&D feel, playing 5e. No more “character builds” and focus on optimization. It can definitely be used for  old school games if you play it that way. Also, the backgrounds and other fluff options help fleshing out the character from start.

Power level

5e characters are definitely much more capable than their old school comrades. I’m a little on the fence about this. On one hand, I appreciate the higher capacity of 5e characters. At the same time, I wonder if the characters aren’t a tad too powerful. Especially my Wizard, who can cast really powerful spells quite early. Last session I cast three Burning Hands, toasting nearly an entire coven of Cultist scum. And after a short rest I got one spell back. That’s power. Unless the old school DM ups the opposition some, there’s an obvious risk of PC walkover.

Last session we broke 3rd level. Leveling up is really fast if you’re used to older editions. We have something like 1800 xp each so we’re really over the required limit as well. Again, nothing wrong, but I think I prefer a tad slower progression albeit not as slow as in the original rules.

Combat

Quite similar to the old game. No real game changers here. And that’s good in my book.

Skills/tasks

This is where 5e excel in my opinion. The skill/task system has worked very well and not gotten in the way of the game. Compared to Pathfinder, where there can be a lot of computation at times, this is a real step forward and I’ve already snagged some ideas for my old school games (see here and here).

Compatibility

My initial happiness with 5e was immediately lessened when I saw the monster stats. They’re not 3e/PF complicated, but definitely more elaborate than their old school monster buddies. 5th edition’s monster stats are quite simple but different enough to make your old gaming collection hard to use unless you do some serious conversion.  Mostly, this is a difference in power levels. 5e as a whole is up-powered a lot compared to older versions of the game. For me this is a huge bummer.

Concluding thoughts

I thoroughly enjoy playing 5th edition and I will probably get the rest of the core books as well. As a player, I’ll definitely play 5e. Love it!

Being behind the GM screen is another thing though. The differences between the old school games and 5e is large enough that I think that I will remain in the old school fold for my own games, at least most of the time. Maybe I’ll run a test game at some point.

Thing is, if it plays old school and feels old school for the players, why change systems and go through the hassle of re-learning rules? If I want something “more” than say Labyrinth Lord or Swords & Wizardry, Blood & Treasure or Fantastic Heroes & Witchery already do about the same things that 5th edition, but they are evolved neo-clones more closely related to the old school. And they are much more compatible with all my old and new OSR material than 5e ever will be.

Just my 2 gp…