Thoughts on Rules and Customization

Hey hall! No direct info about Goan today. Just some thoughts and ramblings on rules and customization.

Customization is great! It’s fun to make your unique character in video games, and especially in TTRPGs. Your character, a lot of times, involves how you wish yourself to be, or maybe just what you think is cool or would be interesting. All of this is ok! However, after playing more modern DnD like 3.5 and 5w, and then some OSR games… there are some distinct differences… and I think the OSR might have figured it out.

You see, with OSR are, you don’t have nearly as many customization options. In most systems, you roll your stats (sometimes you dont even pick where they go), your class, and then if your lucky… starting equipment (sometimes this is randomized as well). Most OSR games are human centric, so you are assumed to be human. Others use “race-as-class”. So you cant, be an elvish wizard, just an elf.

As you level up, there are no additional abilities or feats after level 1. No Ability score increases either. You are who you are, and it is your job to make the best of your situation. Now of course, you do gain more HP, so survivability goes up…. but that’s it!

And its great!

I feel that this bare bones approach is something many modern players are not used to. In the modern world, most players come to DnD/TTRPGs from video games. In video games, especially ones like Skyrim or Fallout, you get little perks along the way that make you better and very specific things. Also, due to the limits of video games, you are only able to handle situations in very specific ways… most of the time it hacking something with your sword. I was one of these players, and it took a moment for me to adjust… but you have to look at the world of TTRPGs in a different light… Something that I think modern RPGs may not help that much with.

And this leads me to the two things that I feel modern RPG’s nurture that OSR games try to get rid of: Choice Paralysis and Over Complication

Choice Paralysis

A few years back, before I knew about the OSR or even got into 5e, my cousin wanted to run a campaign. It was using 3.5 and all books were open. My cousin didn’t want to stifle anyone’s creativity. I sat down with the PHB to figure out what I wanted to do, while he rambled and rambled about how I could make a guy that was really good at throwing things or the ultimate grappler. I mentioned I liked Castlevania, to which he responded by findthingntheb5 or 6 different books that had the specific feats to do exactly that, plus multiclassing in these two or three specific classes for so many levels and yadda yadda yadda.

I ended up making the most vanilla fighter I could.

Listen, choices are a great thing. I have several different races and archetypes worked up for Goan. But too many choices start making people second guess themselves, especially if there is some kind of mechanical benifit/penalty to those choices. From a video game mindset, you always wonder if you are serring yourself up for failure. In 5, 10, or 15 levels down the line, are you just going to be a big ball of suck? No one wants to be a big ball of suck.

Now, the OSR has less “fiddly bits” when it comes to this. Generally, ability scores, class, and equipment. That’s it. That is way less stuff tonsuck at. You almost can’t make a wrong choice when creating or leveling up your character (except for rolling ducky ability scores). Now will you be Dumak the ultimate thrower or Me-Nash the wrestling aficionado? No, but you will be on the same basic playing field as all the other PC’s, and that’s perfectly fine.

How do you customize your character in OSR games?

Experiences.

Jo-John the thief climbed into the weird tower at the edge of town where he saw some sort of tiny alien elephant, barely escaped with his life, and now has a jewel that can read the mind of one person, once a day. That is what sets Jo-John apart from all the other thiefs.

Kronarch the fighter stumbled into a big, where he came across an old hag. She agreed to show him the way out if he could answer three riddles. He failed, and had to fend the hag off with his sword. On her corpses he found a compass that always points towards your goal. That’s what sets Kronarch apart from other fighters.

Over Complication

Roll initiative! Ok it’s your turn you could attack, but you have an ability that allows you to push your comrades ahead of you in the initiative order, but you also can use the rule on page 139 of the PHB to slide between the legs of the giant, or there is the mechanics that allows you to this one thing this one certain way but only in this one specific circumstance.

Its mind numbing.

Rules like these lead to the, “I hit it with my axe” syndrome more than less rules, in my opinion. You give players so many options, but each one is more specific and complicated than the last, that no one ever does it.

THIS IS WHY NO ONE GRAPPLES!!!!

I recently went through the Pathfinder 2e book to get some ideas for combat for Goan… and laughed when I saw all the different type of actions you could do on your turn. For the big Combat post, I lumped a lot of them together in “Interact”.

It seems to me that an over abundance of rules actually leads to less creativity. I dont know how many times I’ve heard in 3.5 and 5e games and posts online about how, “you cant do that, it’s not in the rules.” TTRPGs are amazing be cause you don’t -have- to follow the rules. House rules are a thing!

The OSR tries to keep rules to a minimum in a lot of situations. Some even co sider themselves “rules-lite” and only take up maybe 20 pages for the entire game. I have not played one of these games, so I cant really comment on it, but I am intrugued.

Less rules means more instances of creativity by GMs and players. No there isnt a rule that gives you a +2 bonus to twirl a sword I your hand to deflect an arrow, and that’s ok. Try it anyway if you want.

Anyway… thank you for listening to this rant while I sit at my part time job. This was all written in my phone, so I will apologize for any weird typos or formatting issues. The gist of it is this:

Let your players know that just because it isn’t in the rules, doesnt mean you can’t do the thing, or at least try it.

If you are designing a game, only have a rule in the book if it is absolutely necessary.

Don’t make a player read through 3 books to figure out what kind of character they want to be.

Get to the action! Get to playing! That’s what this game is about!!!

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