Monday, September 26, 2022

The 5E OGL

I suppose when I think about it, I support the 5E OGL version of the rules more than I do the official D&D 5E or D&D One versions. I love the OGL; this is a license for creators to play, create their own games, build their own adventures, and play in this beautiful sandbox of creativity called the OSR.

A few 5E clones are already in the OSR, I love them, and these are my 5E systems of choice.

I want more games to go fully independent of the 5E core books and plant a million seeds of games and imagination worldwide as a common language for that game version.

I don't want to support a version of the game where an official OGL never gets released, the license forbids you from selling anywhere else than a company portal, or the game gets tied down by legal language that people cannot create new things.

I want the game to be free for everyone to use and imagine worlds with.

I don't want it to turn into Madden or Diablo Immortal, something that perpetually siphons money from its players. And you bet there are many executives looking at those "platforms" and drooling about how they could monetize D&D's massive player base.

So while I play Level Up Advanced 5E and Low Fantasy Gaming, I don't currently play One D&D or Original 5E. Not until I know more, and they have given us reassurances and released the final OGL of the game, and I know that is a long while off, but I support the OSR options today to help ensure they will be around tomorrow should the worst case come true.

And I hope it doesn't.

But this is the "game industry" and "big tech" platforms we are talking about, and Hasbro is a billion-dollar Wall Street company. To put blind trust in them - just off of hype and marketing videos - is foolish.

And a promise to release a without-strings OGL version of One D&D would be a massive step in the right direction for everyone supporting 3rd party publishers and creating books for the game we love. I know it is early, but for the publishers making books for 5E, this would be a massive help since much of their work is planned and created over months and years, not a few weeks. These publishers could afford to keep writers and artists employed during the transition.

But I can't go wrong supporting the OGL version of 5E since this will be around forever.

And if the worst happens, this will be the only 5E version of the rules in the open gaming space.

But I will still have my incredible 5E OSR clones to have fun with, support, and enjoy.

Sunday, September 25, 2022

Level Up A5E: Creating Characters

I have done two of these, my first two, which take about an hour each. My pro tips for getting through this process follow. It isn't bad; only the first time through is tricky.


Online Tools are a Must

Use the A5E Tools website instead of the book! This is also in the sidebar. You will save so much time flipping, and you can have multiple tabs open to reference everything.


Download the Pre-Gens

Download the pre-generated characters and use those as a guide! This site also has form-fillable character sheets that will save you a lot of time. Copy and paste as much as you can and type instead of writing; you will save a lot of time. Especially features & traits, copy and paste all of them.


Other Notes

Remember specialty skills! This tripped me up, especially when I saw the pre-gens having all these specialty skills, and I had no idea where they came from. This is a 2 + INT bonus (knowledge skill specialties only for the INT ones) total.

The supply max is STR, and 1 supply is food and water for 1 medium or small-sized creature per day. Give everyone 2 supplies to get going.

Use the pre-created equipment packages to start; this will also save you a lot of time shopping.


Compared to 5E Characters?

These characters are fantastic. This game sits between 5E and Pathfinder 2e in terms of complexity, so if you want more detail about your characters, you can have it all here. I created a wood elf druid who wanders the woods and is the new chief of a loosely organized tribe of wild elves. She had special abilities that helped her play that role, which was very cool. She is driven to help her tribe, and help them prosper and grow.

I also spun up a tiefling town guard (fighter) and focused her abilities on spotting hidden items, lie detection, and a combat style where she fights better alongside others and can take sudden advantage of opportunities. She is driven by excellence in her work and military achievements and someday hopes to lead armies to make the lands of the kingdom safe.

Both of them can get adventure and advancement opportunities from their backgrounds. The tribe could bring up a threat to my druid, and she would need to help them. The town could put together a raid to break up a thieves' guild and call on the help of my fighter to assist. If help is given and the mini-adventures work out, there could be assistance from both groups given to the characters for a while, such as aid, spells, supplies, information, or even soldiers to help in a special mission.

Advanced 5E is an excellent system if you want to build characters with mechanical benefits granted by their origins and backstories. I like that these characters play well with the world and do not feel apart from it, and the backgrounds matter and can pull in adventure opportunities, NPC interactions, and news of events in the world.


Replaces 5E Character Rules Entirely

This is the sticking point for a lot of 5E die-hard players. A5E does not really play well with traditional 5E character creation and is sort of its own 5E-based game. Inside this beautiful sandbox, you can do a lot of cool stuff. You just won't be pulling in 5E classes or third-party 5E classes all that well. You can fight 5E monsters, cast 5E spells, and have 5E adventures - just using the characters in A5E instead of the original 5E.

Me? This is cool; I like it. This is a fun system that ties characters to their backgrounds, origins, and the world tightly. With our 4E game, characters felt disconnected and like they "floated" into town with no connections. I have little original 5E experience, so I can't speak much to that. In A5E, I have this really cool character creation system that ties my characters to the sandbox I am playing in; the characters, as designed, have established connections to the world.

This is so cool. Since I dislike that floaty, disconnected, planar style 5E play and love set worlds and sandboxes, having a 5E system that ties characters to specific factions and places on the map feels really good. I have characters with mechanical ties to the world, with exciting sub-systems and widgets built into the classes that make them act cool and unique. My town guard fights differently than other fighters; she has unique combat techniques and fighting styles. She feels and plays differently from other fighters, the same for my druid.

Even Pathfinder 2e characters feel a little floaty by comparison. People who say this is an easier 5E version of Pathfinder 2e are missing the point. I designed characters that fit into the 4E Nerrath Nentir Vale sandbox, and they feel like they belong there. My Pathfinder 2e characters, by comparison, felt unique and mechanically excellent; but they still felt like generic, be-anywhere adventurers. They had that disconnected from the world feeling many OSR games have, like the random level one fighter who walks into a generic fantasy town.

Now I know why they completely replaced the 5E character creation system. You can't get this level of tight integration, world meshing, and mechanical backstory importance by just "modding" 5E. You might as well go the entire way, fix the broken parts, and overhaul the system so it is focused on characters and their place in the world equally.

There is something more to this game that many of the reviews and articles miss.

Pick a medium-sized sandbox and start creating characters for it, and you will realize there is something more here than a "fixed 5E" or a "5E version of Pathfinder 2e." Advanced 5E is going in a different direction than One D&D, and I like it.

If you want a grounded, sandbox-strong, background-oriented version of 5E, check out A5E.

Friday, September 23, 2022

5e Hardmode

This excellent rule supplement for 5E introduces many optional rules to make 5E a harrowing, gritty, Dark Souls-like experience. This is caused by the same folks who created Low Fantasy Gaming, so I love this company and the rules they put out.


Healing and Death

This is a needed set of rules to even approach 5E, as I can't stand the zero hit-point unconscious, healing word, zero hit point, healing word, rinse and repeat exploits of the base game.

This would not feel right if that was in a video game. Imagine playing a CRPG, and you could get away with the instant resurrection of seriously wounded characters by common heal spells. I come from the OSR, and zero hit points should mean something more than being knocked down by a non-lethal laser in a He-Man or GI Joe cartoon.

This set of rules is a small booklet introducing a few really great rules. Rule #3 is excellent; one death save at the end of the battle, fail and die. Healing magic or assistance gives an advantage. Combined with rule #4, that healing magic at 0 hit points takes 1d3 minutes to take effect, is another good rule.


Resting Rules

Combined with the resting rules (rule 5), they add the resource attrition game from Low Fantasy Gaming into 5E, which is beautiful. This set of rules doubles the class abilities and spells available, which seems like a massive boost in power, but these abilities are regained on a 2d6 roll with an average of "half expended" returned every long rest. Short rests do not return class abilities. Most of the results are "half" or "none" expended are returned.

It does seem like an odd rule, linking all spells and class abilities with long rests, but I can see the logic. Give the players a larger pool of resources, and make regaining them slower and harder, requiring a long rest. I am supposing doubling spells and class abilities and making them regain on long rests evens out with the ones regained with short rests and rapidly recharged over and over again.

Short rests are only good for regaining hit points with hit dice.


Retreat and Chase Rules

The book has rules for retreating from a fight and also chases. They mention the retreat rules are the most critical part of the 5e Hardmode rules since this allows the referee to throw any type of encounter at the party, balanced or unbalanced, and gives the party a heroic "escape" if things do not go well. This also makes refereeing the game much easier since you can play looser with balance and have more brutal monsters show up for a real challenge.

I sense OSR fans wrote this. And I really appreciate it.


Highly Recommended

Honestly, I can't see playing 5E without this. Level Up Advanced 5E or Original 5E would work great, with my preference being the former. This is a straightforward "mod" of the game that adds that wonderful and dangerous OSR flavor to 5E games, and it lets players stick with a 5E set of rules (what they are used to) and increase the difficulty of the game to epic proportions.

To me, this makes 5E a challenge, which interests me. I can't play a game that I know is too easy, or it is impossible to lose a character. I want that sense of danger. I like that thrill of overcoming impossible odds. I like that Dark Souls or Elden Ring level of challenge.

If a character goes down during a fight, that is a serious thing. No low-level spell or healer's kit will pop them back to their feet. They may suffer a severe long-term injury. This affects the balance of many written "boss encounters," but so what? Use the retreat rules. Or perhaps you will TPK. That should be a risk of adventuring.

I want resting to matter. I love that feeling of running out of resources, spells, abilities, and even healing hit dice for short rests. I also like resting to be a little unpredictable; maybe one character did not get a good night's sleep. All that factors into the adventure. Long journeys drain resources. Perhaps you need to rest a few days to prepare. Maybe that eats resources and increases the chances for encounters. Perhaps you need to use fewer encounters during a travel session and make spending those hard-to-recover spells and abilities a hard choice.

This is one of my "must-have" mods for playing 5E, and it hits all the right OSR notes for me and makes 5E exciting and tactically challenging again.


Thursday, September 22, 2022

Level Up Advanced 5E: Design

Does Level Up Advanced 5E exist in this strange space between 5E and Pathfinder 2e?

Yes and no.

Yes, the rethink of race and background is similar to Pathfinder 2e.

No, in that the game is still 5E-centric.

As a result, you get people in the 5E circles used to their builds and options who don't want to try anything new. And you get Pathfinder 2e fans who do not see the need for anything else. The game exists in a difficult place and is targeted at long-term 5E players who want a heavily rebalanced and deeper set of rules that offer depth and variety to combat.

Me? Hey, I played Aftermath and Rolemaster. I like the extra depth and options.

The more I read this game and get introduced to 5E concepts, the more I see the 5E design ethos. I see a lot of subconscious demands of the rules, where definite bonuses must be laid out for every option. For example, if you have a villager background, you are proficient with improvised weapons.

If I make a choice, then I get something for it.

This is a very modern look at rules, and this is not really the case in the OSR. In an OSR game, if you choose "elf" as your race and your character comes across elven runes - there is no rule that says you can read them, but the referee will make a decision, and the game will move on. You may be able to read them perfectly, they may be ancient or vague, or you may just not - it depends.

This is why a lot of modern games, such as Pathfinder 2e and D&D 5E, are huge - for every option they give you, a lot of rules need to be written. Pathfinder 2E, I could not deal with all the cross-linked hash-tagged powers and effects and the constant pachinko machine of reference that went on every time someone used anything larger than a basic attack in combat. My brain does not think like that, Pathfinder 2e; sorry, I had to box you up.

With 5E, we have a game of lists. A list of ability scores. Lists of saving throw modifiers. Lists of skills. Lists of proficiencies. Lists of special abilities. Lists of powers. Lists of tools. Lists of class features. Lists, lists, lists!

Your skill in playing the game relies on three things:

  • How organized and quickly you can reference lists
  • How you build your lists and rules knowledge
  • What list items apply to the current situation

Contrast that with Castles & Crusades, a game that mindfully throws lists in the bin and tells players, "We do not need all these lists to have fun!" D&D 5 has this design stuck in the mid-1990s that is a little retro, but more complicated than it needs to be. It does remind me of the Palladium RPG in a strange way, as that game had these huge skill lists to scan down whenever a situation came up and your first thought was, "Do I have the skill to handle this?"

So the real difference between D&D 5E and Level Up 5E is the latter has more list options and different rules for putting your lists together. It adds a new list, combat maneuvers, and a pool of exertion points used to activate them.

Again, if you understand the OSR, you can understand how lists of skills, class abilities, powers, and special features can handcuff your thinking. Modern games teach players to "scan lists for what applies," while OSR games teach players, "think first, lists later." I have had players immediately look at their character sheets when a situation came up, and then blankly stared at me when their sheets did not handle that situation.

I kid you not.

I would be kind of sitting there as the DM, giving them a silent nod, telling them non-verbally to, "do something, do anything!" Once they got into the style of play, they loosened up, but a few could never leave the confines of "the cave of the character sheet" mentality that some games put you in.

Honestly, I like the Level Up game better than the base 5E game. There is more to read, put together, and do. The box of Legos is bigger and more fun to build things with, but is also self-contained and focused. The cheese builds that people get angry about having taken away from them are gone. I can focus on the world and story again instead of "what builds to avoid."

A baselined game like this is fun because it puts the focus back on storytelling.

Then again, plenty of OSR games are focused on storytelling even more than this, and get out of the way a lot better so your story can be more important than the rules. It sounds like I am souring on Level Up, but I am not - if I want this tight, rules-based play, the game is perfect. This is my 5E game of choice since the game is self-contained, does not need expansions to make it interesting, and gives me more in a tighter package. It is a collection of the best concepts and advancements in 5E over the last 10 years without needing to buy and sort through a shelve of books and learn all of the "creeping rules advancements" of 5E circa 2014-2022.

The OSR is far better for stories since it stays out of the way and provides the bare minimum of rules to get the job done. The 5E style of game is the fun of playing, and for those who enjoy the play of rules and builds.

Level Up is all my 5E is in one place, in a core set of books, with all the best parts distilled into one tight game.

Wednesday, September 21, 2022

Low Fantasy Gaming: 5E or OSR?

I used the free pre-gen characters and ran a few battles between them, and wow, Low Fantasy Gaming is a great system. My first feelings were mixed, like what is the difference between this and Castles & Crusades?

Castles & Crusades:

  • Simpler character sheets (3x5 card)
  • B/X style combat
    • Simple AC vs. hit points
    • OSR stunting
  • Classic resource management (hit points, spells, torches, supplies)
  • Classic classes, magic, monsters, spells, and races
  • B/X compatible game
  • A pure OSR experience with modern gameplay improvements
  • It feels, sounds, and plays exactly like B/X

Low Fantasy Gaming:

  • Moderately complex character sheets (8.5x11 paper)
  • Pulp-action gritty B/X combat
    • AC vs. hit points
    • Minor, Major & Rescue Exploits
    • Class abilities matter
    • Rerolls & Luck saves
  • Enhanced resource management
    • Classic (hit points, spells, torches, supplies)
    • Character (luck, rests, rerolls, class abilities)
  • Reimagined classes, magic, monsters, spells, and races
  • 5E compatible game
  • A 5E implementation of the OSR
  • It feels like B/X, but plays like than 5E


Luck Saves to Dodge?

One of my biggest mistakes was allowing luck rolls to dodge blows. The rules are not clear on if this can be done, and seeing how this one change slowed the game down considerably, I would not allow it. Once I stopped doing this, the game flowed and played much better. These were my first few combats, and I was a little confused about how things work, so it is understandable.


Luck Saves to Avoid Killing Blows?

For non-boss monsters and random NPCs, I would never allow luck saves to avoid a killing blow. The example in the rules on page 6 where a PC throws a spear at an enemy NPC on a rooftop did not have any mention of the NPC making a luck roll to avoid a deathblow, and this is the only example I could find but sets a good example for me to follow.

For boss monsters, essential NPCs, or player characters, I would probably allow a luck roll to avoid a killing blow. For level one characters, the end of my fights would often end in this tense series of potential killing blows and luck rolls to dodge them, with luck decreasing all the time until one failed and the combat ended. The rules on page 12 for luck checks are a little vague:

A Luck check or save may be modified by an attribute bonus or penalty, depending on the nature of the attack or hazard. For example, an adventurer’s DEX modifier applies to dodging out of the way of a Lightning Bolt spell. In such a case, the notation would be a Luck (DEX) save. 

"Attack or hazard" cloud be interpreted as death blows by enemies, but I am guessing they mean monster attacks requiring saves. This will make your game less deadly and more pulp, but the more reasons to burn luck, the better, I suppose. It does lengthen combat, but we are talking just the end of a fight, and if player characters are heroic figures, then I would say yes, allow unmodified luck saves to avoid death.

I use unmodified luck saves for deathblow saves because once you link it to an ability score modifier, the bonus becomes too important. There is an argument for almost every ability score to modify this roll (dodge with DEX, survive with CON, see the blow coming with PER, continue living with WIL, etc.). And remember, each luck save reduces luck by a point, so every round you make a deathblow save, that luck goes down by a point until it recovers (which takes a while).

This rule adds a lot of tension to the end of fights and is admittedly more pulp-action than a straight OSR system. When I did this, the game felt very Savage Worlds, with lots of close luck rolls meaning the character could live another round to fight and turn things around. This gave low hit points and softer characters (rogue, magic users) a chance against the armored and high damage dealers (fighters, barbarians). My fights between a rogue and a fighter in plate felt much better once the thief had a chance to avoid a 12-damage deathblow, pull a major exploit, and turn the tide of battle.

But this rule does lengthen battles considerably.

But those ends to fights are fun as the characters made saves, and pulling off lucky turnarounds is incredibly satisfying.

What it sometimes avoids is the "sudden death" hit that comes in out of nowhere and kills a character with a full-luck pool, and that feels unfair in a more heroic game.


Deathblow Save, Barbarian Conflict

Note the above rule conflicts with the barbarian Rage ability, which allows a Luck (con) roll while raging to avoid a deathblow and be reduced to 1 hit point. So the "luck to avoid deathblow" rule I made is most likely an optional rule for more heroic-pulp games. It would require the barbarian ability to be changed to match the "complete avoidance" of the blow landing but give a con ability modifier bonus just for the barbarian class.

I would likely (just for the barbarian) add a free instant counterattack if the roll is made while raging. That would feel cool and fit my barbarian ideas.

Then again, the designers said, make up your own rulings, so this rule is actually in-line with how the game is designed, and the OSR plays. Go ahead, mod the game as it is yours.


Class Abilities Matter

All characters have special class abilities, and these matter a great deal. Some are always-on with no use limits (backstab), and others have uses per level, so make a note of this on your character sheet.

My rogue has a Tricks & Techniques ability, and this is a one-use per level ability. Within this pool of techniques is the "hidden blade" technique she can use, which allows her to reroll a failed melee attack. This gives her a second reroll that she can use whenever she expends a use. This ability got used frequently during my test combats once I knew what it did and how to use it, and it gave her the edge to turn a loss into a win.


The Difference: Pools & Mechanics

From 5E, LFG takes the class combat abilities that the classes give you every so often, putting many of them on a "use per adventure" pool that is recovered possibly during a short rest and entirely during a long rest (1d6 or 1d4 days of downtime).

This differs from D&D 5E, which has fewer "fun things to do" in combat, and your pools and rerolls matter greatly. Your resource management in LFG is more mechanical and rules-based than a regular OSR game. This makes it way different than either 5E or OSR and puts the game in a place of its own with a fun, almost euro-game, abstract pool of abilities to burn to use during your adventure. As a result (and with my accidental misinterpretation of the Luck/deathblow mechanics that made endgame fights incredible), the game took on this almost Savage Worlds style pulp-feeling with a nice layer of dark fantasy.


Exploits

Major and minor exploits are fantastic, giving the game that OSR feeling where you can say, "I swing on the chandelier and kick them off the table!" If you hit and do damage, you can try for an extra effect (once you fail an exploit against a target, you can't do another for the combat unless things change, such as an ally joining the fight or the target becoming staggered at half hit points.

This is a massive change from 5E and OSR combat and adds to that Savage Worlds feeling.

During my test combats, my rogue tried to disarm the fighter, kick dirt in the eyes, and do all sorts of nasty tricks just to avoid that colossal blow she knew was coming. She forced the fighter to fight with his dagger a few times. The fighter also used these to knock the rogue to the ground, stunning her, or otherwise set her up for that substantial d12+2 damage wallop to her 8 hit points.

The combats are a touch slower than B/X or C&C fights, but they have a lot of excellent mechanical depth and resource management that is even better than a 5E or C&C experience. It does come close to a Savage Worlds feeling, but instead of bennies, you are using pools in your character and class mechanics to pull off specific tricks and moves.

Combat in LFG is much more fun and interactive than either 5E or C&C but at the cost of complexity and resource tracking. For those players who like their character to have "a bag of tricks to pull from" and think on their feet with exploits and cool moves, this is a better game for them to play than either 5E, C&C, or B/X.


5E or OSR?

This game is honestly both 5E and OSR. But since the 5E OGL license requires significant changes to make a 5E-like game, the designers went all out and added a ton of "fun mechanics" to their system and did their own thing while keeping the numbers compatible with 5E material and abandoning the 13+ level out of control damage output game.

The result is a dark-fantasy game that plays a lot better than stock 5E, but it has the OSR feel. The resource management is tight, mechanically satisfying, and adds to the game's fun and creates tension.

I love C&C as my OSR game of choice, and it has all of the hallmarks and recognizable bits that I want from a B/X experience. You have the classic number range, the spells you know and love, and the experience that the OSR brings to the table.

With LFG, I can use 5E monsters and 3rd party books and play in this world without the overpowered and impossible-to-kill characters that 5E typically has and get my OSR feeling of danger. I also get better character mechanics than 5E, with some excellent resource management of character abilities. It is not as superpowered as the base 5E game, plus expansions where very few limits are placed on character power and stacking abilities ruin the game's balance.

LFG is a balanced, fun, great, and mechanically interesting 5E-like OSR-inspired game that does its own thing. You can play a 5E-style game without the official books and play in that classic OSR style without changing much of what you are used to.

Monday, September 19, 2022

Level Up Advanced 5E

Level Up Advanced 5th Edition (LUA5E, or Level Up) is nothing short of remarkable if you are a 5E player, and given the 5E game will be in flux for the next 2 years, this is the perfect time to dive in and try something new while keeping most of what is familiar to you.

In fact, this feels like the perfect 5E game for the next 20 years once you realize it is a community-patched version of 5E immune to external changes and interference.

Reading through this game, I get the feeling original 5E is more spartan yet broken in many ways D&D Basic set, while LUA5E is the AD&D of 5E with the added benefit that the game is not going away or majorly changing in 2 years. EN Publishing did an incredible job of creating "teams" around each class and part of the game and crowdsourcing the best of the best improvements to 5E in every area.


Community, not Committee

Level Up is the opposite of One D&D. It sticks with what people love, the original 5E system, and goes to town making the best community-focused changes to the game. The community of designers assembled to build the best game controls the game, and it only changes for the better. Some online reviews of this game remarked that some of the Level Up rules were taken from popular 5E house rules and improvements that everyone plays with anyways, so they rebalanced them and wrote them into the game.

With One D&D, you have a government-style rules committee that thinks they know better and dictates rules to the community from on high. We get limited playtest documents and nebulous feedback forms, and nobody knows if anyone is even being listened to. Few people know what changes are coming, and when they arrive, good or bad, we must accept and live with them.

"Oh well, if I want to keep playing the game I love, I must learn to live with it."

I can't see more of a clear difference between the future of Level Up and One D&D than that. With Level Up, I feel this game will only improve in the next 20 years, and it will not change too much from what we know and like about 5E. If I were just starting with 5E today, which I am, I would learn to play Level Up and skip base 5E from Wizards.


Like Classic Pathfinder

Level Up feels like the classic Pathfinder 1e vs. D&D 4E situation. The game everyone knows and loves, and is playing today, is being preserved and improved for generations in the future to enjoy. The improved game is compatible with old guides and adventures. Everything feels the same and is improved in many ways.

You can play without the core books from Wizards, which they use to control the game. You are not under the control of Wall Street and some digital distribution and mobile-game-inspired monetization effort. You can keep playing an improved and supported version of the game you already know.

I would not be so happy to see a version of 5E like this unless the design team took some serious effort to fix exploits and cheese moves, which it appears they did. The "one-level dips" into classes to steal abilities for DPS builds are gone, and the base classes were made to work and be fun. Resting and healing seem fixed. They support three pillars of play, combat, social, and exploration, with dedicated mechanics and class features.

This is the game you get when a community that knows how the exploits and cheats work, are asked to redesign a game and build it for maximum fun. They remove the cheese, and replace it with making the classes and systems in the game fun again. You do not need to exploit to keep up. This feels like a very good "balance mod" for a game like Skyrim that is tough to play without because it fixes the underlying game so completely - and it enhances what is already there to make those choices matter.


Depth and Changes

All that said, the game feels more in-depth and a level more complex than base 5E. I am glad I skipped most of 5E and have little to unlearn here. Some online are a bit sour that the base classes and options of 5E are not compatible, but in a redesign like this, I can see why they did it. If the goal is to create a solid foundation, the broken and cheese parts of 5E should be fixed; otherwise, why waste your time making a "class and option expansion" book for base 5E? What they did here was a good and intelligent design decision, rip the moldy wallpaper off the walls, chop out the rotten wood, and rebuild the parts of the game that needed serious attention.

The whole race/class/background thing is fixed, and they give some fantastic character creation options. The system they used feels like Pathfinder 2e and feels suitable for everybody's tastes.

And they included a 4E-style warlord sort of battlefield commander fighter-support class. What? People that loved 4E are loved here too? Are you kidding me? Do we have warlocks too? Dragonborn? Tieflings? Eladrin?

I feel I could replay our old 4E Nerrath campaign and absolutely have EVERYTHING.

This is not just an advanced 5E; this is everything I loved about 4E too. That is one thing beautiful about a community-run game, one company can't come in and change things on you, remove classes, tell you DMs can't roll critical hits, change how things work, and dictate to you. If the game is loved, plays fine for millions of people with a few accepted community-suggested fixes, then it stays that way.


Pillars of Play

Level Up feels like it pays serious attention to the exploration pillar of play, which is fantastic for an OSR player. I was reading this last night and asking myself, "How long has it been since a 5E game paid serious attention to exploration?" Class abilities are also integrated with all three pillars of play.

The ranger is not holding Charlie Brown's "I got a bag of rocks" anymore.

You can fail a mission or begin with a severe resource issue because your party's exploration talents and skills are not great. Are you serious? Someone has obviously been reading the OSR here.


Welcome 4E and 5E Players

Would I switch away from the OSR for this? To be honest, Castles & Crusades is my OSR game, and with all the Swords & Wizardry content I have, I have no reason to switch.

I never got into 5E; that would be the next game for me and my brother, but life happened, and we never got to play. We were huge into 4E; we walked to the bookstore together and collected every book they put out. Nerrath was our second home. The game was not perfect, but the tabletop figure combat at levels 1-10 was incredible.

The next question becomes if I were to revisit our Nerrath game, and since I am a little tired of nostalgia, it would be something I am more inclined to leave to the past at this time; what rules would I use? A hypothetical question, but a valid one.

If I were to use C&C, my life would be much easier. No new game to learn. The characters work great, and each one fits on a 4x6 card. The game would be an old-school tribute to the times we had there. A few things would be missing, such as some of the races and classes. Some of the powers would be missing. The feeling would be missing. The game would be OSR, which is fantastic, and it would likely do what I want it to do. More characters, a few things missing, and better rules that I know and love.

Even better, I have 25 years of Swords & Wizardry and OSR content I can toss into this campaign.

With Level Up A5E, I get it all. I have to learn a new game, a more in-depth version of 5E, but I would have it all. And I would have a game that isn't changing in 2 years and plays like a community-patched version of 5E - the best of hundreds of peoples' ideas and agreement on how the ultimate version of 5E should play (with some cool 4E stuff thrown in there). I would play fewer characters since each one is 2 double-sided letter-sized pages of paper. Fewer characters, nothing missing, and rules I would need to learn.

I am converting 4E modules and playing 5E adventures, which isn't bad, but it isn't the OSR's depth and variety of adventures and content.

This would still be a 5E game, however. If you are not inclined to like 5E, you will get very little for jumping in. This has a lot of differences from 5E and an expanded exploration game support with mechanics. That is one thing that intrigues me, and feels like it does a better job than the original 5E. The cheese and exploits I disliked about the original game are gone and patched. Level Up feels like that "ultimate edition" that comes out a few years after the game that you wait for that includes all the DLC, graphical improvements, gameplay improvements, and quality of life improvements that take an okay-but-annoying game to incredible-and-satisfying.

And the game is free of Wizards, just like Pathfinder 1e was free. And my Pathfinder 1e game still is highly playable (and supported in 2022, surprisingly).

But there is one question I would love to have answered.

Is Level Up A5E the game they promised us in 4E, but this time with a massively improved 5E engine under the hood? If so, then this is my game.

Sunday, September 18, 2022

Mail Room: Level Up Advanced 5E

I got the PDFs for this today, and wow, what a fantastic game. They went through complaints about 5E and created a standalone version of the game that improves on every aspect while still remaining compatible with the adventures and monsters of the base 5E game.

With is a Wizards-less version of 5E, created as a stand-alone game. Why is this important? If 5E will ever break free of Wizards and become an OSR-like force, we need games like this for indie creators and to inspire others to do the same. Some are upset this is a new game, and the characters are incompatible with 5E characters, but to start something new, they needed to make a break, and I saw this before in Low Fantasy Gaming. Not a big deal if you are just starting 5E, but it is for established games.

This feels like the Pathfinder 1e version of the D&D 3.5 situation, except this time, as D&D moves on to a new edition, there is a torchbearer here for those liking the old way of doing things. It feels strange to have skipped all of 5E and to start with this game, but that is also cool.

And at first glance, they do a heck of a lot of things I like in this edition, almost to the point where I feel that old 4E excitement coming back.