Why I left Modern Gaming for OSR Games
I feel that as a younger gamer who had his introduction into the hobby in the much maligned 4th edition of D&D, I can offer a unique perspective to the appeal of the OSR (Old School Renaissance) that old school gamers who have been playing since the 70s and 80s do not have.
I started my gaming experience in 4e and I'll be honest, I loved it. I had massive amounts of fun DMing for my friends and I didn't know any better. I didn't know about how this edition turned off a lot of long time hobbyists and caused the split and creation of Pathfinder as well as the creation of some of the first OSR games. I was just a guy in my mid 20s who was gifted the 4e books by his fiancé (she regrets that gift now that my obsession is in full bloom but she is supportive none the less) who was having fun with his friends. Honestly, I miss the kind of blissful ignorance I had then before the infiltration of bad actors into the hobby who cared more about making games a platform for social justice than as a vehicle for making good times.
I played 4e for a time because that was what modern D&D was and I wanted to get into this hobby. Then 5e came out and I was excited to "upgrade" to the latest and greatest version of the game. And I had fun in 5e too... At least at the start. I started to feel... unfulfilled by the hobby. It was like 5e was giving me something that I just didn't want and I don't think my table wanted it either. Combat was becoming a slog. Random encounters were tedious. Rules were becoming annoying. I think as I really started to own my Game Mastering, my tastes started to develop and become more refined. I found that 5e (and looking back to 4e) were games that lacked things I felt I really needed as a GM and I couldn't find the tools I needed from the 5e products (both official and 3rd party) to help me get what I wanted out of the game.
Then a friend and player in my game who was himself a longtime gamer (he had played since the 80s and got his start in B/X and AD&D) suggested I check out "OSRs." He showed me a few one day and explained what they were. I was instantly intrigued but I didn't really pursue anything with them right away. I ran an "Adventures in Middle-Earth" campaign which I felt system-wise overhauled 5e to an extent where I felt it was almost where it should be, but not perfect. Little did I know that AiME borrows a lot of old school ideas and the Mirkwood campaign I was running was obviously very influenced by the ideas put forth in "Pendragon."
"Alright," I thought, "let's check out these OSR games."
I went with Basic Fantasy because I had heard it was one of the first and best of the OSRs out there. It helped that the PDFs were free and the books were sold at cost. I downloaded the PDFs and read them. I instantly fell in love. The simple character creation that was fast instantly won me over. The idea that character info could fit on an index card blew my new school mind. Simple monster stat blocks meant GMing wouldn't be a hassle. Reaction tables solved the problem of "constant combat" that many modern 5e players complain about today (hence the rise of "narrative" games) and the view by many modern gamers that combat is a crutch for bad GMs. I loved the smaller hit point pools which made combat feel deadly and dangerous. 5e always felt like PCs and Monsters were hitting each other with giant foam swords because of how inflated hit points are in 5e. My new school mind was blown that all of the problems I had with 5e were not problems with old school game design. New school design MADE these problems and then attempted to make solutions that were inferior to what old school had.
Most of all I saw one simple mindset between old school and new school that made old school far superior. That mindset is that of the player versus the scenario or obstacle that is the core of old school play. This is in comparison to the character sheet versus the scenario or obstacle that is inherent in new school play. This difference is key. The fact that old school character sheets have only the barebones info players need means players have to get creative in their roleplaying and solutions to problems the GM throws at them. New school play, I feel, encourages players to be confined to the skills and feats listed on their character sheets. New school play is equivalent to controlling a videogame character who is limited by the confines of the game rather than the player's imaginations. And this design choice is what made modern games like 5e fall out flavor for me. Reading OSR rulebooks helped me to actually pin point what it was I was falling out of love with in regards to 5e.
At this point, I don't think I will ever run a 5e game ever again. I just don't care about it any more. It's an inferior and hollow doppelganger or what this kind of game should be. And I'm not even sad about it because I've found stuff that is so much better.