Is OSR combat deadlier than 5E?

I’ve been running my Rose of Westhaven LOTFP campaign for a little while now, we’re running every other week (schedules allowing) and have just wrapped up session 4 (as of the time of writing this blog).

Prior to running this campaign my experience of playing OSR style games was minimal and my experience with running it was non-existent, although I’ve been a fan of the idea of OSR for a while and have been steadily accumulating games such as White Star, ASSH 2E, LOTFP and the like, so I’m by no means an expert. Given that I’m still finding my way around the whole OSR deal–although my players seem to be enjoying it at the moment–and having come more from a background of highly cinematic games such as Fate, one thing that I have noticed is that the combat in OSR games seems to be extremely deadly.

Deadly compared to what?

I’ve recently been lucky enough to start playing in a couple of excellent D&D 5E campaign, that I’m very much enjoying, in 5E it seems to me that–given the amount of abilities and manoeuvres that a PC can pull off–that there are numerous ways to stack the odds in your favour or improve your chances of triumphing in combat, even at lower levels. Whereas in LOTFP beyond getting some better equipment, aiming or attacking an enemy from behind, there isn’t a great deal that you can do mechanically to influence your chances of triumphing in a combat.

(Disclaimer: This might change when you hit higher level, like I said, I’m fairly new to OSR.)

For example: In a recent Tomb of Annihilation 5E that we played, a small group of four first-level characters are exploring the treacherous jungles of Chuult, we’ve faced goblins, dinosaurs, basilisks and all manner of things. All these encounters were great fun but–aside from a couple of moments–we’ve been able to use our various powers and abilities to triumph over them without things getting too bad for the PCs.

Whereas, we’ve had a handful of combats in my Rose of Westhaven campaign (mostly against a humans with a couple of zombies thrown in for good measure), we’ve already had one PC death and a couple of others coming close. This isn’t to cast any aspersions on how either of the games are run, the 5E game has an excellent GM who runs a great game and I would hope that I’m running my LOTFP game okay, but it seems to me that the LOTFP characters have far less powers and things they can do to influence the mechanics of combat so the combat certainly feels deadlier.

So is this a bad thing?

I don’t actually think it is, I think both approaches are valid, while it’s cool having all the different powers and stuff you can do in 5E my players certainly seem to be enjoying the desperate nature of combats in LOTFP, knowing that each fight they get into could very easily be their last, courtesy of a stray pistol shot or rapier thrust. Combine this with the slower rate of advancement in LOTFP and it gives a more lethal (and dare I say dark and gritty) feeling to the game, I think that–as long as the GM keeps that in mind–it can result in a really fun game.

4 thoughts on “Is OSR combat deadlier than 5E?”

  1. Right on. ~ The different combat systems promote different feels. You will notice that as levels go up the fighter will turn into a cuisinart whilst everyone else remains relevant in combat, but not extraordinary. (Contrary to similar games, peers & opponents tend to remain static in ability, but the fighter becomes a force to be reckoned with).

    Keep in mind that LotFP rules draw their inspiration from a time when situational & tactical modifiers were not formalized. As Referee you are able to assign those in the moment. +/-1 to 4 covers most situations fairly well. ~ Players get the idea rapidly when you start assigning modifiers & tend to try to “get the high ground” when they can.

    1. It’s a good point, I’ve been considering adopting the advantage/disadvantage mechanic from 5E as a way of representing the upper/lower hand without having to assign scads of modifiers. I’m wary of what effect it might have on LOTFP combat overall though.

      1. As long as you’re aware of the curve it can work, but it is extraordinarily powerful (avg +/- 3.35)

        1. I have to admit that–whilst I understand the necessity of the maths involved for working out probability curves etc–I do struggle against sliding into a coma whenever discussions about them get too detailed 😉

          What I could really do with is a chart showing how powerful a +2, +4, +6, etc modifier is, then it would help me adjudicate how much of a modifier to aware.

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