I've been thinking about and reading an increased amount of OSR games and adventures over the last couple of months, I didn't really 'get' OSR content until about a year ago and when I got involved in the Next public test. I'll agree that Next isnt really an OSR game* but it certainly 'feels' oldschool or at least scratches an old school itch. Its only been the last 6 months that my appetite for OSR content has increased and i really started to dig into the different options available.
They've got me thinking about what exactly makes a game feel old-school, and is 13th Age ticking all those boxes? If not all of them, how can i hack it to make do so?
Really old d&d had very simple classes and even races as a class, I think 13A is ok in respect to complexity, still pretty new school feeling but the abstraction of positions and movement changes things dramatically - it has its own blend of vanican casting and its done away with the standard resource system (AEDU) of 4th ed. Even the skill system in 13A is constructed around character concepts and storytelling, so I feel no need to tamper here either. I certainly don't want to have to make new classes or hack every one individually. Im really looking for some large dials and switches I can turn to tune the whole game.
So what can a I change that will tune the whole system universally? Healing. A lot of the old school feeling comes from the threat barometer. Early d&d was notably ruthless for example and the general scale of player power has traditionally increased through editions to the point where 4e had high fantasy 'heroic' heroes. So how can we dial back that mechanic to make 13A feel more inline? One of the major reasons I think 4E felt vastly different to older editions was the inclusion of healing surges and martial healing, I don't mind those mechanics but they're definitely new additions to the core game**
Do we need the concept of recoveries in 13A? There are powers that use them and I categorically don't want to hack the classes individually - but i'm happy to make a blanket change. Here what I propose -
- You no-longer have recoveries to spend after fights and by rallying during a fight.
- When you are asked to 'spend a recovery' by a power or item, you heal the amount a recovery would have been for your level.
- A full rest will recover either all your HP, or sped the value of a recovery - depending on the GM's feelings.
By employing this system suddenly the threat level is ramped up, combine this with the focus on storytelling that 13A already brings and you've got much more of an OSR feel. The HP/Monster damage numbers are inflated in comparison to something like 0e - but its by a factory of 3 (a wizards starting HP is 6 x 3 + con, many OSR games have starting magic user at somewhere between 1d4 and 1d6 hp) i'm not going to change the numbers, I just see them as allowing me more granular modification of peoples HP through danger.
I'm sure there are lots of things that old schoolers will balk at (like damage on miss and more options in character creation) but most of it doesn't impact the game as much as that one simple change.
So what makes an OSR feeling game? Threat, and the limited tools to overcome it.
* or is it? I don't know anymore, since i've absorbed a high quantity of d20 games they all kinda blur into one - but i'm sure someone out there knows the answer for certain.
** I say core but I think they've all appeared in earlier editions in expansions and additions, just never the core system.