OSR Angles You Love the Least

Alrighty, with the other OSR thread still going strong six months in, I figure it’s time to look at another aspect of this (largely) beloved movement.

This might be the wrong crowd to ask this of, but what elements of the old school do you not like? What do you change when you run OSR games? What should have been left buried in the 1970s and 80s?

Among other things, up for discussion:

  • Descending armor class
  • Ridiculous saving throw tables
  • Ten-foot pole dungeoneering
  • Coin-counting
  • Alignment
  • XP from gold
  • Encumbrance

Yeah. I have my own likes and dislikes. Suspect others do too.


That’s a good list, right there! :slight_smile:

Maybe, but I suspect others will have different opinions. Those who love, say, Hackmaster, Aschtonishing Schwordsmen and Schorcerers of Hyperborea, Rolemaster (aie!), etc…

Okay, I love Rolemaster for its design principles. But these days I’m finding it more useful for inspiring house rules for Swords & Wizardry, rather than a game on its own merits (kind of how it was first conceived as modular accessories to 1e). I was posting in this group blog articles on my home innovations until I exceeded my allowed posts in a row. I’ll relink the first in that series, in case there is any interest.


I’m fine with it, though I find myself switching to ascending as I start a new game online. Ironically, I have two old schoolers in my group, and they sometimes are more puzzled by ascending rather than descending.

I’m not sure what these look like. Of course, I use Swords & Wizardry, which uses a single saving throw. And I use them as just one more tool—they specifically are reactive—for resolving certain situations.

This is dependent on DM style, I think. My game isn’t full of senseless, murderous traps, and my players know this, so seldom do they believe they have to tap along with a 10’ pole.

I’m actually a fan of Gold as XP. It’s the easiest way to incentivize an adventure. But I don’t bother with random treasure amounts. What’s in its pockets? Well, it just happens to be as much Gold as the creature’s XP value—now the players count it, not me. Random treasures? How about dungeon level 1–1d6 x 100. Big treasure x 1000. Throw in a few potions, scrolls, items, maybe. My players seldom find caches that contain coins other than Gold.

Looks like I’m agreeing with you, so far.

Yep. I use Good, Bad and Indifferent, largely for spell purposes, not (much) for roleplaying.

Love it! But not the other coins.

Yep. I use something I found on the Smoldering Wizard’s page. Players carry a reasonable amount of items (which could become a problem) and what you do measure is Gold. Most characters can carry 1200 gp before suffering a penalty. A Large Sack can hold 1200 (a small sack 600).

So here’s my addition.

Level Advancement

I’m frustrated how characters escalate in build and ability from 1 to (potentially) infinity. Lately I’ve been running Conan 2d20 and know I much prefer a game in which individual little features are improved, and for those the cost for advancement increases by factors. I like everything to be in the realm of believability. A dragon, for example, should be always dangerous and lethal, not a minor irritation for a 20-level Knight!

How about single saving throw is some (whitebox style) games? I’ve actually grown to like the simplicity of that kind of gaming though I lean toward ascending AC because I’m lazy!

I never really like in some games race equals/classes unless human. The those were oftentimes caped at a low level. It never seemed balanced to me.

So for “Ridiculous Saving Throw Tables,” I’m specifically talking about AD&D 1e, and all the derivations of that. I’m totally cool with White Box’s single saving throw, per class – love it, in fact, especially in stuff like Operation White Box. I also don’t mind the simplified Fortitude / Reflexes / Will saves that come from 3e and are now used in stuff like DCC. I just chortle when I see different saves for death magic, for poison, for dragon breath, for rods… I mean c’mon:


I really like race as class for some reason, but was never a fan of stat requirements to become a certain class, of limitations of race for class or level, etc. I don’t see a ton of that reflected in anything other than retroclones these days, though.


Definitely race-based level limits and stat requirements. Didn’t like it then, don’t like it now. There seems to be a fair amount of other baked-in adversarial stuff that I’m not too fond of. I’m over the GM-as-god thing that permeates the older games.
Sometimes enjoy the crappy-ass life of a first level M-U or cleric, but not too often. Not a huge fan of the coarseness of the d6 (secret doors, surprise, etc.) and how it makes it kind of a big deal to modify it one way or the other. Although I do like the simplicity.
Fun topic to think about, actually. What do we keep and what do we jettison?

  • Tracking minor equipment and encumbrance. Don’t get me wrong, I want a mechanic for running out and carrying too much. But something simple like slots by CON (or STR) and a usage die for arrows.
  • XP bonuses for having good stats. It’s double-dipping. Good stats will help you EARN XP naturally, you don’t need to get buttered in front of characters with lower stats.

How about the core six attributes? How do peeps feel about those? I’m a pretty big fan of simplifying them down to four, but I know they are in many ways untouchable for many OSRphiles.

The six are fine for me. What four would you have? You didn’t say.

I use the six. Anytime you “simplify” them it causes arguments and is just as abstract if not moreso than the six. Even if they make more sense to you, others might not agree. It often seems like needless fiddling to me. And – for whatever reason – if they get simplified I like three (because it feels like there might be a direct correlation of pairs to single stats).

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I don’t have a favorite set, I just find the opposite of what @rayotus mentions – six sometimes causes a bit of confusion in the Str vs Con, Int vs Wis, and Wis vs Cha realms, and having four can make those conversations a little easier. Personal preference and groups and all that, right?

I’ve had great luck with the four attributes used in Shadow of the Demon Lord (Strength, Agility, Intellect, Will), Sharp Swords & Sinister Spells (Physique, Agility, Intellect, Willpower), and Barbarians of Lemuria (Strength, Agility, Mind, Appeal).

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I’m a big fan of Race as Class in fantasy rpgs. The reason is given in my article for Rolemaster Blog (linked below). By extension, I’m a fan of racial limitations when there is no race as class (as in my Swords & Wizardry game)—level caps and multi classing options.

As others, I am not a fan of stat requirements for certain Classes and Races (not in S&W).

As far as stats, I’d like a different organizing principle. (I wrote about this also on Rolemaster Blog.) I see three parts to a Person: Mind, Body, and Soul. If these are too reductive, I can see parsing them into three groups of two—say, Memory and Reasoning, Strength and Agility, and Wisdom and Awareness—better yet, three groups of three (for Nine, speaking to the Northman in me) as is done in the Yggdrasill and Keltia rpgs.



In a D&D context, I kind of like Body, Grace, Mind, and Spirit for stats, because then you have a clear on/off for approaches, i.e. are you a finesse fighter or a power fighter, or are you logical or intuitive. It would also make Dexterity less of a power stat, because Body would dual purpose for health and power attacks, and Charisma would be less of a dump stat for non-face characters, because Spirit would probably be a good stat to chain resisting magical mental affects to. But I’m in no way ambitious enough to try to codify this as a houserule. :wink:

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It’s probably semi-heretical in an OSR discussion, but there are things in OSR play that I think would be fine, if the rules weren’t as clunky or granular for no good reason. For example:

Wealth: Instead of tracking individual coins, why not track wealth as a general spendable pool, and if you want it to be more granular, you can attach tags like Negligible, Standard, or Bulky to wealth, to show how hard it is to carry. I’d also have a general note that if you have any wealth points, you don’t have to worry about buy X, Y, or Z, and that only comes up if you have 0 wealth.

Encumbrance: I think encumbrance makes sense for a lot of games, especially if you are trying to play into D&D’s tropes of getting rich and famous. The problem is when you have to reference charts or multiply stats and apply multiple levels. I with more encumbrance worked more like FFG’s Genesys, where you can carry X amount equal to your strength measurement stat, and whatever you are wearing doesn’t count against your encumbrance. I know this may not be 100% representative, but honestly, neither is D&D’s complicated encumbrance model in most editions.

XP for Gold: Instead of having thousands and thousands of XP between levels, I think XP would be more of a workable thing if it stayed in the single or double digits, and getting XP was more a matter of answering questions at the end of a session (like in a lot of PBTA games). Were we in danger? Check. Did we find treasure? Check. Did we explore a new place? Check. That’s 3 XP, and finding gold is part of the equation. (Yes, you could make the question more detailed, I just wanted to throw out some examples)

Alignment: Alignment is a pain in the ass, but I think a lot of the problem is that somehow instead of being an inspirational code of behavior, it became a label for what your character absolutely IS. I think if alignment were a non-binding idea of what the character WANTS to do, rather than what they automatically always do, it would work great, and looking at the XP trigger thing I mentioned above, instead of a punishment thing for not living up to your alignment, it could become another XP trigger if you do follow your own creed.

Saves: Between Swords and Wizardry’s single save, or Dungeon Crawl Classics 3e port of Fort/Will/Reflex, I think both of those are better options than the really arbitrary classifications of saves from earlier D&D editions. The single save model also gives you a nice way to model random luck as well, if you have someone just roll the save instead of adding any stat bonuses to it.

Consequences for Actions: One of the things that I think might make “10-foot pole” adventuring more exciting would be if there was a consequence for failure, even of there isn’t a preset danger. For example, if you are searching a room with nothing in it, but you still don’t notice anything in the room, maybe you were so intent on your search that wandering monsters show up. Additionally, I think having more “non-initiative” encounters would be nice for this as well, like bugs infesting your food supplies, or sneaking things stealing gear, instead of straight up fights.

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The upcoming Against the Darkmaster (a forthcoming MERP clone) adopts most of what you suggest here. But one of these—abstracted Wealth—provided surprising difficulty for my group while we were playtesting the QuickStart. One of the PCs, who was pretty much independently wealthy, decided he could just buy anything for anyone.

The designers told us that obviously we were “playing this wrong,” but the “fix” still felt fairly arbitrary. I think we were supposed to remember that Wealthy people weren’t traveling around with their pockets stuffed with gold, so… Well, how much did they have, then, anyway?

I love the Conan 2d20 approach to First, finding an Item and Second, spending Gold on an item, largely during downtime.

I think when it comes to wealth points and automatically being able to afford things, I would be thinking more of saying in an inn, buying rations for a short trip, etc., but not getting anything physically more permanent, like weapons, armor, mounts, etc.

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Yeah, totally. You don’t buy beer or lodging in Conan. That’s just the Scene.

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