Wednesday, July 22, 2020

B/X Boxing Match: OSE vs. BX RPG

One question I have been getting since I purchased both the Pacesetter BX RPG and Necrotic Gnome's Old-School Essentials is "which one is better?"

Truthfully I am not really interested in "better" but instead "which is best for me" and "which one satisfies it's design goals best?"

Well, lets have a look!


Before I start let's agree on some terms and shorthand.

B/X refers to the D&D Basic and D&D Expert Boxed Sets edited by Tom Moldvay (Basic) and David Cook and Steven Marsh (Expert). 

BECMI while it might not come up, refers to the Basic, Expert, Companion, Master, Immortal sets edited by Frank Mentzer.  Unless a distinction needs to be made I am always referring to the B/X versions of Basic and Expert rules.

OSE refers to the Old School Essentials set from Gavin Norman and Necrotic Gnome. In truth I also mean OSE and the Fantasy rules.
OSE-Advanced refers to OSE with the Advanced add-ons; classes and spells.

BX RPG refers to the BX RPG by Bill Barsh and Pacesetter Games and Simulations.

The "Gold Standard" for any comparison is the B/X set.

I want to state unequivocally that I am very, very fond of all four of the above-mentioned games and they all have a place on my table.  Each one is used in my games. Sometimes separately, sometimes all at once.

Match 1: How well does the game emulate B/X?
So our first match is how well does each game emulate the source material of B/X.  
If we are talking "Rules as Written" then clear winner here is OSE.  If we are talking "Rules as played" then it can be a toss-up between OSE-Advanced and BX.  Both offer different takes on B/X + Advanced.  
I can recall my first paladin character was made in a mix of Expert and Advanced rules.  Eventually, BECMI would give us a Paladin, but mine was pure B/X.  Both sets offer a paladin class (among others) and they are roughly equivalent. 



Match 2: Layout and Art
The OSE game is a marvel of layout efficiency, modular design, and artistic expression.  There is not a ton of art in OSE, but what there is packs a punch.  Both OSE and BX feature "old-school esthetic" in terms of black & white art.  This is not a detractor, but rather a feature for me.
My biggest issue with OSE's layout is that it is TOO efficient and sometimes that leaves it feeling a little bit sterile.  Efficiency and modularity are two of the set's design goals so it is hard to fault them here.
BX RPG needs another round of QA check, but otherwise, it also meets their stated design goals.
OSE edges out here. 

Match 3: Options
Out of the box BX offers more options than core OSE. More classes, races, levels, spells, and levels. Here OSE's strength of emulation works against it.  If you have B/X and can play it without looking things up then OSE Core has little more to offer you.  
Adding the OSE-Advanced options makes it more attractive to the current B/X player looking for more but not wanting to dive deep in the AD&D ocean.  Still, even with these options in place, BX RPG edges out OSE.
Both games are promising even more options in the future so this one could be close for some time to come.

Match 4: Playability
OSE is so well organized it not only edges out the original B/X in this regard but even the well organized BECMI.  OSE though works best for players already experienced in B/X or any flavor of D&D. The modularity of OSE rivals that of 4e.  That is not a slight, but rather a compliment. The layout and modularity of 4e was a design masterpiece. 
BX RPG is less organized, but there is so much explanatory material that it is perfect for newer players or someone with no experience with B/X and wants to give it a try.
Verdict? If you have B/X experience then OSE is best. If you are new to B/X then BX RPG.

Match 5: Price per Value
This is much harder.  Both games are priced well. 

The physical BX RPG boxed set comes with books, adventures, and dice for US$50.  Though it is hard to tell exactly what is in the box from Pacesetter's website.  So I am not sure what is exactly in the box other than the rule books. This is just the physical books, no PDFs.

The OSE Boxed set can be configured in a number of ways on the Necrotic Gnome website. The Classic set, closest to the B/X game, is available in a box with hardcover digest sized books and PDFs for €60,00 (presently about US$68.50).  You can add on the OSE-Advanced options. 

OSE has a sturdier box and hardcover books and comes in a single volume option.
BX RPG has good box with room for dice and adventures.

So lower price entry for the boxed sets for BX RPG.  More buying options for OSE.

Which one is for you?
I hate to dodge this one, but that is really up to you and the games you are going to run.

For me? I am happy to have both systems. I think there is a slight edge on BX RPG for players and a similar edge for Game Masters for OSE.  The options of BX RPG make it more attractive to the player and the OSE-Advanced books work fine with BX and B/X (even BECMI).  The organization of OSE makes it a dream to run and find things.

One thing for sure for me, if I were to run either game I would invest in about four or five extra player books for the players.

BX RPG Player books can be bought here, PDF and Print.
Old-School Essentials Classic Fantasy: Player's Rules Tome, PDF and Print/PDF.
(Note if you are outside of Europe you might want to go with this site for OSE products.)

4 comments:

'Evil' Jeff said...

For my money, OSE is the only way. I own both of them and just feel that the whole layout of OSE makes it much more usable for player of GM. Also, Gavin of Necrotic Gnome is adding more content to OSE that will expand upon the foundation he has put together.

The Pacesetter books have too many flaws that leaves a bad taste in my mouth. The info for the different classes are good and add in some things that one can find in other RPGs. The Necromancer class is interesting and would be something to playtest to see if it really can give something new to the table or not.

mbeacom said...

Having looked at both, I've settled on BX RPG. I love the form factor and just reading it. It feels like old school D&D to me. I love the rules options and the layout is perfectly fine. The OSE stuff is beautifully laid out but the product line is finicky and not useful. I don't need digest hardcovers, or add ons. I just want a thin, light, soft booklet like I"ve always had, in a box where I can throw some pencils, notebook and dice. That's D&D the way it was meant to be played.

Cross Planes said...

Thanks for doing this comparison. I truly love what Gavin has done but there is something about Pacesetter's product that I find just a little more charming.

Persimmon said...

Being primarily a DM and writing lots of my own stuff, I love the usability of OSE. The advanced options are great too. And I still have my RC if I need extra monsters or want to go above 14th level. Never heard of the other thing until this post, but I think the author is the father of the kid who does stuff for Frog God, right?

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