Old School Fifth Edition Ruleset

A while back, I spent a lot of time looking at how to run D&D Fifth Edition in an “old school” manner. Others have made the case for a long time that 5e already does this quite well with few to no changes. I feel like some of the options the game already presents can accentuate that type of game, so let’s dig into the specific ruleset I would use.

Players Handbook

Title Page of "Kirchen Ordnu[n]g, in meiner gnedigen Herrn der Marggrauen zu Brandenburg". The volume containing this image is part of the Pitts Theology Library at Emory University. This image, and many others, have been included in the Pitts Digital Image Archive
  • Chapter 1: 3d6 for ability scores, arrange to suit (“in order” is a bit much for my taste). If you have more negative modifiers than positives, reroll.
  • Chapter 2: No variant Human (see below).
  • Chapter 3: No Eldritch Knight (Fighter) or Arcane Trickster (Rogue). (This one is probably the least important and could be tossed with minimal impact.)
  • Chapter 4: Alignment is basically Order – Neutral – Chaos (but truly evil characters are not allowed).
  • Chapter 6: No multiclassing or feats.
  • Chapter 9: Side initiative (see DMG below);

Dungeon Masters Guide

  • Chapter 4: Loyalty (for hirelings of whatever sort).
  • Chapter 7: More difficult identification of magic items.
  • Chapter 9: Ability check skill proficiency (no specific skills); Healer’s kit dependency; Slow natural healing; Firearms and explosives (Renaissance era only); Side initiative (rerolled after each round); Cleaving through creatures; Morale.

I might do a few extra things in this situation as well, like impose a level of exhaustion every time someone recovers from unconsciousness due to having dropped to 0 hit points.

Very few, if any, changes would be required from Xanathar’s as those are already optional rules, and many of them would have very minimal impact on whether your game feels more like previous editions. I’d welcome discussion on whether that assessment matches yours, of course.

What do you think? Does this sound like a game that you’d be interested in, generally speaking? I don’t have any specific plans to use this yet… but it’s kicking around in my mind as a possibility at some point. I think it would work particularly well in a dungeon-centered campaign focused specifically on recreating that older play style.

3 thoughts on “Old School Fifth Edition Ruleset

  1. That’s more or less what I had in mind for my next campaign.

    I would keep the eldritch knight and arcane trickster, though, as an alternative to multi-classing. I would also remove a few classes (the monk comes to mind) and races (dragonborn are definitely not an option), and add a few restrictions to the race/class combinations (like, maybe only elves can be sorcerers, or only humans and dwarves can be wizards).

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  2. Personally… my main thought about OSR stylings for 5e have to do with all of those classes that don’t belong.

    Remove the Druid, Paladin, and Ranger; allow the Cleric to pick among Druid, Ranger, and Paladin spells. Adapt the Eldritch Knight into Fighter subclasses for the Paladin and Ranger.

    Remove the Barbarian, replace it with a Fighter subclass. Same with the Monk.

    Remove the Warlock and Sorcerer. Let the Wizard pick among their spells.

    Not sure if I would replace the Bard with an adaptation of the Arcane Trickster or not. But that basically brings us pretty close to the core 4: Cleric, Fighter, Rogue, Wizard (and maybe the Bard).

    All of that other stuff, while I recognize how important they are to some/many OSR gamers… are no where near as important as cutting down the number of core classes.

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