OSR = Less is More. In your opinion, is that true or preferred?

A bunch of experiences on this on this OSR forum, a subreddit or two, watching many Youtube videos and running many games these last few years made me think that the above statement, for myself at least, very much holds true. But I see that for some people, it does not. I even perceive a sort-off anti - less is more vibe in a small part of the OSR posts or sphere.

I am ok with all that. After all, if what you prefer and do, makes it more fun for you and everyone at the table, you are winning/doing the right thing! OSR encompasses a lot, and as the creators of the game said you should always make house rulings and rules, that included more rules or higher level/power play as well! :slight_smile:

But I am still curious to know how many of you agree or disagree that the stuff below is essential to (your!) OSR experience/what you prefer (and I am comparing OSR preferences to say later editions, 3rd, 4th, especially 5th and maybe even AD&D 2):

  1. Lower (total/max) HP values across the board

  2. Lower Dmg Values across the board

  3. (Using) less rules, than in the current Hasbro products (bit or a lot more rulings).

  4. Lower/less bonuses to attacks etc. across the board

  5. Simpler character record sheet, than in the current Hasbro products

  6. Less complexity and time required to create or build a character, sometimes far less.

  7. Less GP, loot and (powerful) magic items

  8. Less character classes, subclasses etc, 4 to 12 rather than 20 to 40+.

  9. Faster combat, both in time it takes to resolve each action, but also in IRL time that it takes at the table. This implies less combat period, only 20% to 60% per session on average.

  10. Less high magic and also less powerful magic/spells, than in the current Hasbro products

Seven through ten are (even) more controversial perhaps.

Of course I could easily make a list of how all the above results in “more” for myself or what kind of “more” / positive OSR implies just inherently, but I think you are all likely familiar with that/it is implied.

I would love to hear if for you/how you engage in OSR, all 10 of those statements are true or not true. :slight_smile:

Or, perhaps what you personally consider crucial/inherent to OSR and which is missing from my list.

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I think your suggestions are generally true, many of them are true of my own WHITEFRANK, for example, and I know back when I wrote an addon book for Dark Dungeons there was some static from some people suggesting that anything much beyond the Holmes book let alone BECMI was far too complex, restrictive and unnecessary.

The overproduction and oversupply of rules in AD&D and the failure to reconcile “game balance at all costs!!!” with “here’s the more or less random firing of neurons new character class in this month’s Dragon!!!” definitely contributed to the OSR rejection of 800 pages of rules. The nostalgia for the simpler system was married to the desire to have more vanilla starting points from which one could then go forward on new paths.

The fork where OSR stopped automatically meaning retroclone and came to define a game design ethos certainly was a watershed because it seems around the same time that OSR games in some cases released the rules for free and only sold adventures, or had a one page version and so on. A kind of punk rock / indie approach indicating that it was about a style of play and community rather than pure commercial motiviation. To the extent that is true then it would feed into a philosophical desire for low rules volume vs high storytelling and maps volume.

We see it here in the OSR Pit in fact.

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I agree with all 10 of your statements, and they are all integral to my enjoyment of the OSR genre. That’s not to say that I don’t like playing games where these ten rules aren’t followed, for example I recently ran a Masks campaign which is WAY different from anything I’ve ever run before. But if I’m in the mood for some old-school style play, I think these 10 rules are definitely essential.

The only one I might contest a little bit is #7. In my experience, when I run osr games I give out more gold and loot than in something like 5e because I like to do gold-for-xp and interesting magic items (that aren’t just a +2 axe or whatever) help keep my players on their feet and adapting their ways of dealing with obstacles.

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Cheers for reply Kingroy23, interesting that you agree with most. When I asked on another site about a third of people disagreed with 1 to 3 of those ideas, a few even vehemently hehe.

Tbf, I also! do XP for gold for at least half of the XP. What I have found works well for me is to make (especially stat changing items are really rare and expensive, same goes for most magical things) and to be super stingy at the very beginning. I give all my players literally 6cp, 1 weapon and not much more. xd Interestingly, they find that fun/motivating too, especially as that state of affairs tends to last short. Fairly soon they all have some GP can buy some armor etc.

Furthermore I tell them often and clearly that up to half of the XP I give is based on good roleplaying (in the most OSR sense, and I explain what that entails). Because as much as I want them to dungeon delve plenty, also want them to just Roleplay, to talk in character to each other, as well as to a bunch of NPCs, solve problems and puzzles in creative ways, even when GP or treasure is not guaranteed, or at least not right away.

I also found that if I make all stuff in my world too cheap and give out too much loot/GP, it can quickly a reason to “not bother”. Like: “Nope! We already have 4000GP as a group and bought a small home base, why would we even go into places that we hear or notice are very dangerous?! We could live comfortably on this for year(s)!” This is more pronounced since I play a somewhat dangerous and certainly a bit more lethal than 5E playstyle/world.

Another thing I do is that I set my own XP/Leveling treshholds and usually really quite high, especially after 3rd level progression is slow, 6th level is more or less my cap. More or less because it takes so long for them to reach that, that by definition it will mean they are players that have been with me long, played many sessions and as such are familiar with my OSR play style. Which would mean that I think playing 7th or even 9th level + characters with them could be really fun, rather than a OP as hell, hack and slash, Mary sue snorefest with rivers of GP and loot.

I like what you say about magical items, I defo will start giving out more mundane/interesting but not too game affecting magical items, I think it adds a ton of flavour. :slight_smile:

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You allude to this in the original post, but I think there’s sort of a bifurcation between the “Basic” D&D-inspired OSR (I’m lumping several things into that term but you all probably know what I mean) vs. “Advanced” / 2e, where the former is “less is more” and the latter is… something else.

When looking at OSR / retroclones, probably because they’re arguably more true to the original texts, I think that line is blurrier- like LotFP has a lot of fiddly jank in it imo, whereas more recent OSR (or more so NSR) style-games or design patterns seem to be decidedly “less is more”.

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Yes, I actually really agree with you. I sortoff accidentally messed up my post, what I should have written and meant to write is that at least in B/X and everything before that, the Less is More thing really held. And for a lot of the OSR, they really harken back to those products. Some of the OSR does not.

Even for AD&D 1e and especially AD&D 2e Less is More does not apply anymore (I mean it is in the name) or at least not across the board/for only some things. AD&D 1st edition at least has the disctinction that Gygax wrote the rather quirky and super inspirational DMG, which gave a ton of (new) options. But those options were, well, very optional and the spirit and legacy of former editions (also primarily written by Gygax with help from Anderson and others) was still very much there, not really in 2nd, much less any editions that followed.

I actually like that OSR takes inspiration from every edition. Many OSR products use advantange/disadvantage or a near identical mechanic, inspiration, same thing. I think it would be to the detriment of OSR if the entire scene actually had ever adopted an attitude of “Well if it is a rule or thing in AD&D 1e and 2e or in 3e, 4e or 5e, it must! be OP, or complicated or inferior so we can not use it in OSR products in and shape or form!”, so I am very glad there is many ways to ROME / OSR, nobody seems to be too regimented.

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It seems that my preference for OSR D&D over WotC/Paizo D&D is narrower than yours, driven by different factors, and in some cases the exact opposite of your reasons.

For me, the biggest difference and the most compelling reason to prefer the OSR is about character power, specifically the fact that “high” (6-7+) level OSR characters gain power and high (15+) level WotC characters don’t-- WotC D&D characters gain more cool powers to… fight bigger monsters in the same dark and grimy holes in the ground while TSR D&D PCs started building castles and fielding armies and changing the world.

I love cool powers, man. I never understood why that was a pejorative when I was playing Player’s Option and 3.X. But real power is more important, and real power is leaving the world better (or worse) than it was when you found it.

Mechanically, I specifically hate how the 3.X multiclassing system deformed the entire rest of the class system around it, still didn’t work, and got four years of bandaids before they scrapped it in Fourth and then… just… put in back in Fifth, with all of its glariing flaws and none of its fixes still intact.

I also hate how in every. single. edition. of WotC D&D, the saving throw math is backwards. In every edition of TSR D&D, characters get better at making saving throws as they go up in levels. In every edition of WotC D&D, characters are less likely to make saving throws against level-appropriate opponents with every level they gain.

I hate hit point bloat, because it makes combat take forever. I don’t plan for a single setpiece combat every session-- my players and their characters have other things to do. I really hate the way 4e and 5e characters fall down in combat, mortally wounded, and then a 1st level spell (or at-will power) puts them back on their feet and fighting again.

But having more cool powers, more character options, weird races? I love that stuff, and one of my biggest complaints about 3.X-- looking back-- was how much of that they removed from AD&D and never replaced. Prestige Classes weren’t kits. Feat Trees and (later) Alternate Class Features weren’t the Class Customization I wanted. 3.X never really delivered on the promise of being better than Player’s Option.

And what I want… is basically just Player’s Option without all that AD&D in the way.

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I never bother getting up to high-level characters in any game, so I can’t comment about progression too much; but that said, the things I like in OSR are 4/5/6/8/9. Less complexity, more time role-playing. However there’s a limit for me beyond which less is most definitely less.

I’ve not had much luck running games like Maze Rats or Hypertellurians which feels (to me, at least) much more “rulings over rules” and I’m unsure how to proceed. HT for instance isn’t a short book, and has many class options! But actual combat and monster examples are left to the imagination. Maybe I don’t have one? :grimacing:

I agree to all 10, mostly. Same as Kingroy, gold for xp kinda forces me to place more treasure, whereas in a 5e style adventure the payoff would be story, plus a bunch of xp for finishing the quest.

I wish I could manage player wealth better. When they bring in some gold goblets worth 200 gp, suddenly they never have to count their money at the tavern or the shop. But for me, 200 xp is not much - i rarely get to run games, so i want them to level quite fast. Maybe i could have some other currency that keeps them quite poor but gives xp. So finding gold would be a rare treat, finding xp-worthy loot would not make them rich, but would give levels.

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I use both approaches to wealth in WHITEFRANK, both the more abstract “you got what was needed for the quest” and the “you are now the functional equivalent of a millionaire after one dungeon crawl”. Because I added “Problems” and knowing how players in a campaign, as opposed to a more one-off game, can use their ingenuity, I added credit to the game as well. First World Problems as a disadvantage (for Princesses, Gamblers, Dandies, and others) regularly wipes out all their cash and even may result in goods and buildings being seized. Also, I built in the feudal system where character classes arose from it, so being wealthy or poor does not map exactly to Social Status or influence, and it leaves the real-life problem of storing the wealth. Vaults, banks, big leather bags - and bandits, slavers, Merchants conniving at grabbing it etc.

But maybe the most OSR solution is just to “unrealistically” ramp up the costs of some items and services.If people are scoring 200 gold, then some stuff has to cost in the 1000s or 10s of 1000s or even more absurd costs. Plus the insanely high costs look cool to younger players. It’s something they relate to from the fiction in the public media - millions and billions and thrillions etc.

I think part of this gets back to the Gygaxian hostility towards players and trying to stop them from “winning”. I take the story telling approach - if someone ends up fabulously wealthy, the next story will have to include some small amount of “how do you keep your Loot?” not so much in terms of book keeping as in terms of possible adventures.

To use Tintin as an example, the “adventuring group” actually “won” - they got Red Rackham’s treasure and with it apparently went Name Level - they got a stronghold a permanent wealth boost, a hireling or two and so on. Let it happen!

XP for Gold I always thought was al ludicriously bad idea for anyone other than Merchants.

I suppose another question is how super-heroic are the player characters. In Marvel Superheroes RPG there is little real character change and Resources is totally abstract. So if your OSR game is extremely “low powered” or “high powered” at either extreme with little real character change wealth becomes very abstract - it can’t buy character advancement of any real meaning, maybe just improve items, and it becomes an Attribute like Strength or Charisma, to be used and abused in play. Tony Stark or Bruce Wayne. In WHITEFRANK, Wealth is a statistic on which you can roll and Loot is the physical treasure that you have. So Wealth is credit rating - ability to borrow, obtain a needed item from family or friends etc.

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I have been really thinking along these lines/about these challenges myself, especially since I keep working on my OSR ruleset and actually testing it in play with my group. What increasingly strikes me, is that you are the DM, you know your playstyle, your players and their preferences the best, so you get to decide/tweak things any way you like, providing everyone at table is happy. I will write about the specifics pertaining to all (XP, levelling, Gold/wealth for XP) that in a seperate post.