Showing posts with label osr. Show all posts
Showing posts with label osr. Show all posts

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Mail Call: Chromatic Dungeons and Candy Corn Witches

Quick one today.  I got some great pre-Halloween goodies in the mail today.

Up first, my Kickstarter package of Chromatic Dungeons from Roderic Waibel and Izegrim Creations

Chromatic Dungeons

Chromatic Dungeons Basic Rules

Chromatic Dungeons Advanced Rules

Chromatic Dungeons Basic and Advanced Rules

The game is split between a Basic rule set and an Advanced rule set.  Unlike the games these take their names from there is 100% compatibility between the two.  You can start out Basic and move to Advanced. Stay in Basic with bits of Advanced or move back and forth as you desire.

The game is rather fantastic and I can't wait to give it a full review. 

This is not all I got this past weekend.

I got some "Candy Corn Dice" from Ice Cream Dice and to go with them a "Candy Corn Witch" mini from Hero Forge

Candy Corn Dice and Witch

Candy Corn Dice and Witch

The witch was supposed to be a "Pumpkin Spice Witch" but her hat is very much candy corn!

Pumpkin Spice  Witch

Yes. That is a PSL in her hand and the cup has a bat on it.  

I am ready for my Halloween games!

Monday, July 12, 2021

Monstrous Mondays: Goblin, Mad Hatter

Goblins are ubiquitous in many game worlds.  In some, they are a constant threat, in others a nuisance. The goblins of Lord of the Rings are pretty far removed from the ones of Labyrinth, or even the fairy tales of Grimm.  But they are always a good foil for low-level parties.  In my games goblins tend to be more Chaotic Neutral. Not evil really, but maybe a little naughty time to time.

No one though will ever confuse the Mad Hatter Goblin for anything than what it is, pure evil.

goblin and victim
Goblin, Mad Hatter
Small Humanoid (Fey)

Frequency: Very Rare
Number Appearing: 1 (1)
Alignment: Chaotic Evil [Chaotic]
Movement: 90' (30') [9"]
Armor Class: 7 [12]
Hit Dice: 2d8+2* (11 hp)
  Small 2d6+2* (9 hp)
Attacks: 1 weapon
Damage: 1d6
Special: Cause Fear
Size: Small
Save: Monster 2 
Morale: 8 (NA)
Treasure Hoard Class: None
XP: 35 (OSE) 47 (LL)

Str: 9 (0) Dex: 17 (+2) Con: 14 (+1) Int: 10 (0) Wis: 8 (-1) Cha: 5 (-2)

The Mad Hatter Goblin gets its name from the gruesome way it displays the remains of its kills,  by stacking the severed heads of its victims on top of its own head.   These goblins appear as do other goblins, save for maybe slightly larger.  They have a look in their eyes that speaks of desperation and maybe no small amount of madness.

Each time a Mad Hatter Goblin makes a kill they remove the head from the body.  The goblin then takes the heads of previous victims and ties them to the top of the new head and then all of these are tied to the goblin's own head.  The oldest, and most decayed, heads are at the top.  The sight of a mad hatter is such that anyone under 4 HD/level must make a saving throw vs. paralysis or be stunned in fear, unable to move or react for 1d4+1 rounds.    The mad hatter will go after these targets first.  Creatures greater than 4 HD/level are immune to this effect.

Mad hatters are both reviled and respected in a goblin community.  The number of heads one has is their level of prestige. When one mad hatter encounters another there is usually a duel of some sort.  The loser gets to contribute their head to the victorious mad hatter's collection.

The only treasure kept by a mad hatter is their collection of heads.

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Review: Mutant Future (2010)

Mutant Future cover
I reviewed 1st Edition Gamma World which got me thinking about Mutant Future. I was surprised to discover I had not written a review for Mutant Future. Well, today seems like a good time to do that. This review will cover the PDF and the POD versions from DriveThruRPG.

Mutant Future (2010)

Not to start with, Mutant Future is not really a Retro-clone, near clone, or anything like that.  The closest game it is like is Gamma World.  Set in a post-apocalyptic world, Gamma World has its roots in the dawn of the RPG age and D&D in particular. Filled with mutant animals, plants, and humans of all sorts.

While Gamma World has its own near-D&D system it is not 100% compatible.  Maybe 95%.  Mutant Future doesn't have that issue. It is the exact same rules as its sister game Labyrinth Lord. Plus Mutant Future is not trying to emulate Gamma World exactly.  Mutant Future then is a new game that feels like an old game that never really existed.  Mutant Future does have some differences from Labyrinth Lord. The game is set in a post-apocalyptic Earth much like Gamma World. 

Section 1: Introduction

This covers the basics. What this game is and what to do with it.  A brief overview of dice and common abbreviations is covered.  This largely the same as what we see in many games and in Labyrinth Lord in particular.  Mind this is not a drawback to this game. There is a strong implication here that anything made or written for Labyrinth Lord is also good for Mutant Future. 

Section 2: Characters

Again, there is familiarity here, and that works to Mutant Future's advantage.  The ability scores are the same as Labyrinth Lord/D&D and are generated the same way. The various species or types you can play are also here. Characters can be an Android (basic, synthetic, or replicant), mutant animals, mutant plant, mutant human, or the rare pure human, also like Gamma World. Abilities can go as high as 21 and there are a different set of saving throws, but the basic rules are the same as Labyrinth Lord.  The types also list what HD each character has and how many mutations you have.  

This section also covers gear. It uses a coin system much like D&D and Labyrinth Lord as opposed to the barter system of Gamma World. Either works fine.

Section 3: Mutations

This covers all the mutations that all characters, NPCs, and creatures can have. In true old-school fashion, these are all random tables. 

Section 4: Adventuring Rules

This covers the rules of the game and what characters are likely to do.  Again these are replicated (but not cut and pasted) from Labyrinth Lord.  Mutant Future sticks with feet and Basic movement as opposed to Gamma World's metric and more AD&D-like movement. 

Section 5: Encounters and Combat

Combat and weapons of all sorts are covered. Also covered are damage from stun, paralysis,  diseases, radiation, poisons, and more.  This is one of the bigger departures from the Labyrinth Lord core, the saving throws are keyed for Mutant Future damage types. There is also a mental attack matrix here much like Gamma World.

Section 6: Monsters

This section covers all the sorts of creatures you can encounter. It is fairly expansive and since the format is the same as Labyrinth Lord creatures can be used in one or the other or both.  40+ pages of monsters is a good amount. There are also plenty of detailed encounter tables. 

Section 7: Technological Artifacts

This would be the "Treasure" section in a fantasy game, but this is highly appropriate since the world of Mutant Future is supposed to be littered with the technology of past ages.  This includes non-playable robot types, vehicles and things as mundane as protein bars.

Section 8: Mutant Lord Lore

This covers how to run a Mutant Future game. Not just how to run their own but how to build your world.  Unlike Gamma World which has a sort of baked-in setting, Mutant Future is more open. The Mutant Lord (and I think an opportunity was missed in not calling them Mutant Masters) gets to decide how the world is the way it is.   Advice is given on how to run adventures and a sample setting is provided. 

Section 9: Mutants & Mazes

While it might not really be needed, this section discusses using Mutant Future and Labyrinth Lord together.  The rules are remarkably similar, like 99%, so there are only minor pieces to consider. Though this section does expand mutations to the standard D&D tropes of race/class.

All in all this a fine game. It is not exactly like Gamma World, more was it trying to be. It does however give that Gamma World feel in an OSR ruleset.

Print on Demand

The PoD version of this book is a sturdy hardcover that compares well to my Labyrinth Lord books.



Wednesday, December 16, 2020

The Sea Witch Tradition

I have been playing around with a Sea Witch Tradition.   The Sea Witch is a powerful archetype and one that has featured in myths and legends since humankind looked out into the sea.  

Newes from Scotland. Witches brewing a storm in Scottland
Witches brewing a storm in Scottland

Among the media, mythological and literary examples are Circe from myth,  Calypso from The Odyssey, Sycorax in Shakespeare's The Tempest, the Sea Hag from Popeye, Ursula from The Little Mermaid (and from the original Hans Christian Andersen),  Tia Dalma in Pirates of the Caribbean, comics, and a story I recall reading as a kid that I have not been able to remember properly.

The Sea witch has power over wind, weather, waves, and various creatures of the sea and coast.  This would include the obvious fish and marine mammals, but also birds associated with the sea. 

Sea Witch Tradition

Witches of the Sea Witch Tradition are members of a very ancient tradition related to the Classical tradition but also the Pagan traditions and Chthonic traditions.  Witches of this tradition honor the sea in both it's capacity the cradle of life and in its capacity to destroy.

Role: Witches of this tradition often serve gods, goddesses, and other ancient powerful beings as their patrons.  Many will often refer to the Sea as a Goddess in and of herself and other Gods of the seas are merely Her extensions and proxies.

Joining this Tradition: Sea witches join this tradition typically very early in life. They will claim they have sea-water in their veins and the sea in their soul.  They feel drawn to the sea and will typically live near the sea if they are land-dwelling, or in it.  They will often grow up in families where many of the members are sailors or fisherfolk.  Some even are related by blood to creatures like selkies, mermaids, or even swanmays or nymphs. 

Unlike most Hags that are part of the Faerie tradition, Sea Hags are part of this Sea Witch tradition.

Leaving this Tradition: Witches rarely if ever leave this tradition. Even when they are physically distant from the sea they still "feel the call of the sea."

Occult Powers

Minor, 1st Level: Familiar. The Seas witch gains a familiar related to the sea. 

Lesser, 7th Level: Breathing. The sea witch gains the ability to breathe underwater if they normally breathe air, or the ability to breathe on land if they normally breathe water. This is a persistent power.

Medial, 13th Level: Shape Change. The Sean witch may shape change as per the Druid ability Wild Shape or Polymorph Self. This may be done once per day at the 13th level. The witch may only change shape to a natural sea animal that is within one size category of her normal size. So a Medium-sized witch may only change to a Small, Medium, or Large animal.

The number of times the witch may do this per day increases with every other level.  So 2 times per day at 15th, 3 times per day at 17th, and 4 times per day at 19th.  The witch may opt to sacrifice one of these times to go outside of her normal range of sizes.  So a 17th level Amazon witch could shift to Huge or Tiny once and her normal sizes the other two (total of 4 shapeshifts per day).

Greater, 19th Level: Raise Storm. Considered by many to be the ultimate form of the Sea Witch's power, the Sea Witch can affect the weather as per the magic-user and druids spells Control Weather and Control Winds.

Major, 25th Level: Longevity.  The witch stops aging.  Her appearance will continue to age but her body and mind will stay the same age she was when she reached this level.  She is also no longer affected by magical aging.  She can still be killed by normal means.

Superior, 31st Level: Apotheosis.  The witch becomes something else. This new form and powers are dependent on the Patron she serves.  For sea witches, her form becomes that of a sea creature.  She becomes something akin to a Triton, a Cecelia, or even odder combinations. 

Special Benefits and Restrictions: The sea witch will honor a god or goddess of the sea. The vow never to willing move further and a mile away from any body of water. Most prefer to be much closer.  Seas witches with a familiar can communicate with marine life and even other creatures that leave near the sea.

Equipment:  The tool of this tradition is the cauldron.  Like the sea, the cauldron holds all possibilities. 

Preferred/Barred Covens: Sea Witches are typically solitaries, but they will often meet up every few years with others. Sea witches also tend to be very territorial, so only one will typically be found in any one natural locale, such as a bay, cove, or other inlets. 

Relationship to the Goddess/Patron: The sea witch views the Goddess as the Sea itself.  "Human" manifestations of Her are but limited projections into the human understanding of what the Sea and the Goddess actually is.

This relationship with the sea also makes the Sea Witch a unique figure among sailors.  Many sailors are very superstitious and among those superstitions and fears are ones regarding having women on ships.  Many feel it is bad luck, others feel that a woman on a ship will cause the crew to mutiny. The witch is exempt from these notions. She is both a welcome and feared member of a crew.  

Male sea witches are a welcome addition to most crews even if they are just as feared and respected.

Source/Views of Magic: Like most witches, the Sea Witch views her magic as a manifestation of the Goddess who is the Sea.  The source of her magic is the endless ocean, the unfathomable depths, the irresistible urge of the sea.  

Archetypes: Most Faerie Witches see little use in the Good vs. Evil axis. The sea is both and neither, so why should they choose?  Most tend towards neutral if a little chaotic.

Other: Sea Witches tend not to hoard much wealth, but they do appreciate treasure. Especially treasure found in the sea or on it, such as a pirate's chest of gold, or something rare and beautiful from a faraway land. Pearls are valued over other gems and gold more so than silver or platinum. 

The Sea Witch
The Sea Witch

Other Traditions

Friday, September 4, 2020

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Which Warlock is Which? OSE Edition.

Doesn't quite roll off the tongue like "Which Witch is Which?" does it.

My new Warlock book is out for Old-School Essentials and it is natural to want to know what is in the book.  More to the point do you need this book if you already own my The Warlock for Swords & Wizardry OR The Craft of the Wise: The Pagan Witch Tradition for OSE.

Very valid questions.

Let's go over the Warlocks first.



The classes are the same XP, HP progression wise save for where B/X and S&W differ.
  • There are few overlapping spells, but I wanted to go with new spells for the book.
  • There are few overlapping Invocations, again plenty of new and a couple revised ones here.  For example, both books have an Arcane Blast, the bread-and-butter attack of all warlocks.
  • There are no overlapping Patrons or Pacts. If you play OSE and use this Warlock book, but want a demon pact you can import it from the S&W book with no changes needed.  Same if you play S&W and want a Dragon pact.
  • There are no overlapping lodges.  I wanted to include the Masters of the Invisible College warlocks from S&W for the OSE book, but space ran out.  Instead, I am going to the Masters here at a later date with the text that was going into the book on how you play them with OSE and these Pacts. The Masters also take Cosmic Warlocks.
I wanted both books to complement each other.  I am very keen on people not thinking "hey, I already bought this book two years ago!"

For the two Old-School Essentials books, the biggest potential overlap was the spells.


I mention in the Warlock book that witches can take warlock spells and the other way around.  That is depending on your Referee. There is the subtle notion that the witches of the Pagan Tradition are at odds with warlocks.  Granted this idea works best with the demonic pacts, but it is there for players to use.  This can limit access to spells the others might "steal".

In both books, I also add new spells for Clerics, Druids, Magic-users, and Illusionists.  How they get those spells is of course up to the Referees.

I have made all the spell names and levels available for you to see in this Google Sheet.
Spell names in Red are from the OSE Warlock.  Blue links take you the book the spells appear in.



You can also link to it here:  Old-School Essentials Spells.
This sheet has ALL the Old-School Essentials spells, not just mine.

I guess the question of "why is there any overlap at all?"  Well, some spells are so ubiquitous to witches that not including them would be strange. A good example is Bestow Curse, which interestingly enough is not in these two books.

So here is a break down of all 1,078 spells I have used and 229 monsters.  Again spell names in Red are brand new to the OSE Warlock book. This sheet helps you see the spell overlap.

Witch Books - Google Sheets



My goal is always to give you something new with each book while making it playable.
So any book can be your "first" witch book and it will work AND be 100% compatible with your "second" or "third" book.

I am currently drafting my next book which will be all monsters.  After that, the plan is to do what I am now calling my last witch book, the High Secret Order Tradition.

Thursday, April 30, 2020

New Release: The Warlock for Old-School Essentials

Once again evil witches gather to celebrate Walpurgis Night and good witches celebrate Beltane.

And once again the Warlocks join the festivities.

The Warlock for Old-School Essentials



Mine is the Power!

Power. Humans have always sought it.
Clerics pray for it. Wizards study for it.

Warlocks take it.

Introducing the Warlock class for your Old-School RPGs.

- Four new warlock pacts: Chaos, Cosmic, Death, and Dragon.
- 78 Warlock spells including Cantrips
- 13 new spells for clerics, druids, illusionists, and magic-users each.
- 55 Warlock Invocations, the ultimate expression of their power!
- Magic items and warlock patrons.

Fully compatible with Old-School Essentials and other Basic-Era Games.
Fully compatible with other witch and warlock books from The Other Side.

Requires Old-School Essential Core Rules.

Cover Art by Conner Meek.  Some interior art by Jeff Dee.

POD version on the way.

This book is 100% compatible with The Craft of the Wise: The Pagan Witch Tradition also for Old-School Essentials. In fact it is written so warlocks can use witch spells (up to 5th level) and witches can use warlock spells.   The two groups of classes are also natural antagonists for each other.

This book is also 95%(*) compatible with The Warlock for Swords & Wizardry
Both warlock books feature pacts, invocations, spells, and lodges.  There is some minor overlap (invocations like Arcane Blast, some spells) but otherwise, each book adds to the other.  Expand the warlocks spell list and invocations.






Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Reviews: Conversion Guides to Caldwen

I am still spending a Virtual Vacation in Calidar's beautiful Caldwen.  But you know what every tourist needs?  A tour guide.  Thankfully our thoughtful travel agent Bruce Heard has supplied us with not one, but two new "tour guides" for anyone traveling to Caldwen.

CAL2a Conversion Guide to Caldwen for Vintage Roleplaying and CAL2b Conversion Guide to Caldwen for the OSRIC System.

Both books follow the same format. The only differences are the systems they are being converted too.  The books cover both CAL2 Calidar On Wings of Darkness and CA2 How to Train Your Wizard.  Knowledge of PG2 A Players' Guide to Caldwen and Game Mechanics for the World of Calidar is helpful.  (links are to reviews, not the products themselves.)

The books are 30 pages with full-color covers and color with black & white interior art. Prices at $3.95, but currently $2.95.  You do not need both, but I find it nice for my own system analyses.
Unlike the main Caldwen/Calidar books the art here is sparse, but that is by design since the focus of this book is the stats.  Here Heard make explicit the conversions he discussed in the main books using the Calidar game stats.  Depending on the system book you grab, you get easily familiar stat blocks and guides on how to use the books.  Now obviously the "vintage roleplaying" can be used with any 70s and 80s circa version of the World's Greatest Role-Playing Game. Or as I have called here, any Basic-Era edition.  It is labeled for "Labyrinth Lord" but any game similar enough to Labyrinth Lord can be used (ie. only a Law-Chaos alignment axis, race-as-class), or adapted.  The OSIRC-labeled version can also be used with any Advanced-era version of the game.

One of the main features of these books is the Mage Knight class. I am quite fond of this class so I wanted to try it out.  Now I have choices, a "Basic" or an "Advanced" version.  Now the class has been converted faithfully, so don't expect them to look exactly the same between the Basic and Advanced versions.  There is no description of the powers the Mage Knight has, you still need the Caldwen book for that, but this is expected.

After the Mage Knight, we get into the How to Train Your Wizard material. 

Throughout the book, page references to the sourcebooks are given. 
So the great thing about these books is if you play a particular system then you only need one conversion book.  True, it does mean you need two books, but for me the flexibility more than outweighs this minor issue.  I am a system guy, so I like being able to have multiple versions of the same material to blend between my games.  So yeah for 3 bucks it is totally worth it for me, hell it is worth it for 6 bucks to have both versions. 

There is an obvious logical extension here. CAL2C for Pathfinder and CAL2D for D&D5.

Up next, I try out a Mage Knight.

Friday, March 13, 2020

Happy Friday the 13th! Slashers & Survivors - Slashcan Edition

It's Friday the 13th! You know that is like a holiday around here.

What better way to celebrate than a new game from my friend Justin Issac?

Slashers & Survivors - Slashcan Edition



From DriveThruRPG:

Slashers & Survivors: Slashcan Edition is an ashcan version of the our new slasher rpg. Based on The Blackest of Deaths by Bloat Games, the game allows you to create a nerd, jock, or other slasher staple and see if you can outwit and survive a homicidal maniac or deadly cult. This is not the final version of the game and the pdf will be updated periodically with feedback recieved. There will be a deluxe version of the game coming to Kickstarter later this year with more content.
I grabbed it and it is fun.

It is PayWhatYouWant, but do throw money at it. 



Monday, March 9, 2020

Monstrous Mondays: Acolytes to Initiates

I think if I was hard-pressed into it I could recall all of the monsters from the Moldavy Basic D&D book.  I read that section over and over.  In my pre-adolescent mind, I felt I had to memorize the monsters so I could properly run a D&D game.

"Acolyte, Ape (white), Bandit, Bat, ..."  I didn't try to memorize the order, but it came with the territory.  I would pour over the Monster Manual with the same enthusiasm and likewise the Cook/Marsh Expert book.   But they did not "attach" themselves to my psyche the same way that the Basic book did.  The Monster Manual did so in different ways and the Expert monsters provided me with some of my all-time favorites.

Largely due to something called "The Serial Position Effect" in psychology it was easiest to remember the endpoints; Acolytes and Zombies.  So my earliest games had a lot of these.  Sometimes, oftentimes, in the same encounters. 

I grew rather fond of acolytes to be honest.  Not only did they have more flexibility than veterans (the "monster" type for fighters) but they could be used in a variety of ways.  Devotees on pilgrimages, wandering friars or monks, cultists, and yes, these guys.

With the Craft of the Wise: The Pagan Witch Tradition on the way, why not do the same with witches?

Image by Enrique Meseguer from Pixabay
Initiates
Initiates are 1st level witches on personal quests.  They usually travel in small groups, but larger groups can have higher level witches.  Groups of 4 or more are led by a higher level witch (1d10: 1–4: 2nd level, 5–7: 3rd level, 8–9: 4th level, 10: 5th level).

These witches will typically all be from the same coven and tradition.  For example, a coven of Bandrui witches can be Pagan Witch and/or Green Witch Traditions.

Initiates
(Labyrinth Lord)
No. Enc.: 1d6+1  (2d6+1)
Alignment: Any
Movement: 60' (20')
Armor Class: 9 [10]
Hit Dice: 1* (3 hp)
Attacks: 1 (dagger)
Damage: 1d6
Special: Witch spells
Save: Witch 1
Morale: 8
Hoard Class: IV
XP: 10

Initiates
(Blueholme Journeymanne Rules)
AC: 9 [10]
HD: 1d4
Move: 60
Attacks: 1 (dagger, 1d6), Witch spell
Alignment: Any
Treasure: 0 (3)
XP: 10

Initiate 
(Old-School Essentials)
1st level witches on personal quests.

Armor Class 9 [10]
Hit Dice 1 (5 hp)
Attacks 1 × dagger (1d6) or spell
THAC0 19 [0]
Movement Rate 60’ (20’)
Saves D11 W12 P14 B16 S15 (W1)
Morale 8
Alignment Any
XP for Defeating 10
Number Appearing 1d6+1 (2d6+1)
Treasure Type U
  • Demi-Human witches. Elven NPC witches are known as “Kuruni,” and Dwarven NPC witches are called “Xothia.”
  • Leader. Groups of 4+ are led by a higher level witch (1d10: 1–4: 2nd level, 5–7: 3rd level, 8–9: 4th level, 10: 5th level). Choose or roll the leader’s spells.
  • Person. Considered a “person” for magical effects.
Initiate
(Iron Falcon)
Armor Class 9
Hit Dice 1
No. Attacks 1
Damage 1d6, by weapon
Move 6"
Alignment Any
No. Appearing 2d6+1
% in Lair None
Treasure C

Coming Soon!



The Craft of the Wise - The Pagan Witch Tradition for Old-School Essentials

Friday, March 6, 2020

Iron Falcon Handbook of Monsters

I have talked a lot about Basic Fantasy in the past.  It is one of my favorites of the Retro-Clone movement and it in many ways reflects how I played back in the early 80s with a mix of Basic D&D and Advanced D&D.   Something I think that a lot of people did and something that creator Chris Gonnerman was keenly aware of.

A while back I discovered he had done ANOTHER game called Iron Falcon.
Iron Falcon, like Basic Fantasy, is a Basic-era Retro Clone, though more on the side of OD&D than AD&D.  Gonnerman is more explicit about this being a game not of the rules "as they were written" but more "as we played them."

That appeals to me.

You can get Iron Falcon in lots of places.  In particular the dedicated website, Lulu, Amazon and of course DriveThruRPG.   I hope to play around with it some more to see what it is all about, but so far it feels like a nice mix of OD&D feel and Basic D&D play.

But today I want to talk about the Iron Falcon Handbook of Monsters.  Or rather, let's let Chris Gonnerman talk about it and his plans for it.



The Cafepress shop can be found here, https://www.cafepress.com/ironfalcon.

There is a lot of cool merchandise here and like Chris mentions, the difference here between this and a Kickstarter is you get something right away.   I think it is a great idea. I am going to have to grab a t-shirt or two.

So check it out and come back every month to see what is new and different.

I'll try to get some Iron Falcon reviews up soon.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Review: Old-School Essentials

One of the hottest Old School Clones to hit the market recently has been Gavin Norman's Old-School Essentials.  Simply the game is a restatement of the Moldvay Basic and Cook/Marsh Expert Ruleset for Dungeons & Dragons.  It has combined, cleaned up and modularized.

It has also been a HUGE success.  First, there was his already well-received B/X Essentials line, then the crazy-successful Kickstarter which brought in €160,390 (or $175,000).  Now you can find it in your FLGS or for the next week as part of the Bundle of Holding.

Boxed sets are cool.
It really has been a well-deserved success.

For this, I am going to review both the hardcovers and the PDF releases.  But first a word on the physical, hardcover books and boxed set.   Gavin has really set a new bar in the elegance of rule presentations.  The books are clean, crisp and the layout is fantastic.  The hardcovers are solid and the boxed set box is both attractive and sturdy.  My wife even picked it up and commented on how gorgeous it is.

This is the new mark for Old-School gaming. These books, while lighter on the art, are some of the best put together books from any other Old-School/OSR publisher.  This includes LotFP, S&W (so far) and it even edges out Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperboria.  Sorry guys, but this is the new gold standard.



Old-School Essentials
The Old-School Essentials (OSE) is a re-organization of the Basic/Expert rules from 1981.  Thus the Core Rules feature the basic four character classes of Cleric, Fighter, Magic-User, and Theif.  There are also the three "demi-human" classes of Dwarf, Elf, and Halfling.   The rules are divided up into different books both in the PDF and Hardcover versions as well as a combined Rules Tome.

Old-School Essentials: Basic Rules
PDF only, 56 pages.
This free 56-page book covers all the basics of the OSE line. Picking it up you can see the stylistic changes from B/XE to OSE. Also, this book covers just about everything you need to play right now. It includes the four human classes, some rules, some spells, some monsters, and treasure. Enough to give you a taste of what OSE will be like. It has the same modular design as B/XE so finding things is simple, leaving more time for play. There is no interior art in this free version, but that hardly detracts from it.

If you are on the fence about OSE then this is the place to start.  Grab it and you will be up and playing in no time.
My only disappointment about this product is there is no print option!

Old School Essentials: Core Rules
PDF and Hardcover, 80 pages
The Core Rules weighs in at 80 pages and gets to the very heart of the OSE line.  The essential Essentials as it were. It covers Ability scores in general, sequences of play and all the basic rules needed.  Combat is covered separately. Magic also gets a bit of coverage here in general terms and including how spells can be researched and magic items made.
The rules have been "cleaned up" from their obvious predecessors.   The focus is on readability and playability here.   like all of the OSE books every entry of a rule is presented on facing pages.  So you open up the book and everything you need on the subject is right there.  Only rarely will you need to turn the page.
In the original rules, it took a bit of digging to actually figure out how much a character moves.  This was vastly improved in later editions of the game, but here it is very succinctly spelled out. Other rules are equally made clear.
Since the "Basic" and "Expert" rules are combined here there is an economy of word usage here.  As much as I love my Basic and Expert games, sometimes you need to consult both books when a situation comes up.  This book though is more than a handy index, it takes that notion from the B/XE Core Rules and expands it into a much more playable game.
The philosophy of the Core Rules is just that, everything you need to play regardless of the genre.  Included in the boxed set (and an expected purchase) is the Classic Fantasy Genre Rules.  This is what takes the Core Rules and makes it into a "Basic-era Fantasy Game".  So in simpler language, this is Basic D&D.  You do need a set of Genre Rules to be able to use the Core Rules, but there is enough there if you are an aspiring game designer to make up your own. Say Roaring 20s, or Space or Horror.  Anything really.
The book has some really, really great old-school feeling art as well. Just fantastic stuff really.

Old-School Essentials Classic Fantasy: Genre Rules
PDF and Hardcover, 48 pages
These are the rules to allow you to play in any sort of "Basic Fantasy" style game.  Here get our character classes of Cleric, Fighter, Magic-User, and Theif and The three "demi-human" classes of Dwarf, Elf, and Halfling.  If you are familiar with the Basic/Expert games of 1981 then this is home territory for you.  Human classes are limited to 14th level and demi-humans vary.
In addition to the classes (half the book more or less) we go into Equipment, mounts, hirelings and building strongholds.  So yes, everything that concerns players from level 1 to level 14 or retirement.
This is one of the three required books by the players.  The others are the Core Rules and then also Cleric and Magic-User spells (if they are playing one of those classes).
Like all the books in this series the layout is crisp, clean and a model of efficient use of words. From a User Experience point of view it is an absolute gem.
The art is likewise fantastic with full color spreads throughout the book.



Old-School Essentials Classic Fantasy: Cleric and Magic-User Spells
PDF and Hardcover, 48 pages
Cleric and Magic-User Spells would have been my favorite book if OSE had come out in the 80s.  Right now it also has my favorite cover from the entire series. Seriously, I love it. It just oozes eldritch weirdness.
The book itself has 48 pages and covers all the Cleric and Magic-User/Elf spells in the game.
All the usual suspects are here.  Cleric spells go to level 5 and magic-user spells go to level 6, just as expected from the B/X sources. Again, when making my recent Cleric I used this book.
The modularity again is a huge boon for this book and game.  Adding a new class, like the Druid or Illusionists? Add a new book easy!  In fact, we see that is exactly what was done.  Expandability is the key here.

Old-School Essentials Classic Fantasy: Monsters
PDF and Hardcover, 80 pages
Ah, now this is a book I would have loved back in 81.  Also coming in at 80 pages this book is about monsters and nothing else.
Stat blocks are concise and there is none of the bloat in the descriptions that appear in later editions (ok to be fair that bloat was demanded by players).   The book is fantastic with my only reservation in I wish it had been illustrated more.  But even that is fine because the illustration we get are fantastic and very reminiscent of the old school monster books.
There are also NPC encounter tables and monsters listed by HD.  The utility of this book is top-notch.
I can easily see a "Monsters 2" and "Monsters 3" sometime in the future for this line.

Old-School Essentials Classic Fantasy: Treasures
PDF and Hardcover, 48 pages
Some games merge their Monsters and Treasures books and I can see the logic of that.  These are separate books and after using them for a while I like the separated.  Just like having a Monsters 2 or 3 books, more treasures can also be introduced.
This covers all the expected treasures and includes one of MY favorite things from early D&D, sentient swords.   The same clear and concise layout here as in all the books. Quite a treat really.
That cover might be my second favorite in all the series.

That covers the "Core Boxed Set."



You can pick them all up in PDF at DriveThru or from Necrotic Gnome's website. OR get a physical box from your FLGS or again Necrotic Gnome's website.



Old-School Essentials Classic Fantasy: Rules Tome
PDF and Hardcover, 296 pages
If you are a fan of the old "Rule Cyclopedia" version of the BECMI rules then this is going to be a treat for you.  The Rules Tome combines all of the "Core" and "Classic Fantasy" rules into one large and gorgeous tome.  There are three different cover versions.  I have the foil JShields version, the Andrew Walter is the standard version and in many ways, I like it better!  It is the same art on the Box Set, so I am happy to have both.  This book includes:

  • Core Rules: Rules for character creation and advancement, adventuring in dungeons, the wilderness, and at sea, magic and combat.
  • Classic Fantasy: Genre Rules: Seven classic classes (cleric, dwarf, elf, fighter, halfling, magic-user, thief), complete lists of weapons and adventuring gear, extensive lists of vehicles, mounts, and vessels, mercenaries and specialists for hire, rules for stronghold construction.
  • Classic Fantasy: Cleric and Magic-User Spells: The complete set of 34 cleric spells (from 1st to 5th level) and 72 magic-user spells (from 1st to 6th level), for use by players or cleric, elf, and magic-user characters.
  • Classic Fantasy: Monsters: A selection of over 200 classic monsters to challenge adventurers of all levels.
  • Classic Fantasy: Treasures: A hoard of over 150 wondrous magic items.

So everything you need for a full fantasy game.
Should you get this one or the individual books?  That is up to you.  The combined volume is obviously cheaper.   But all are enjoyable.
I have a Rules Tome for me, a set of books for the table and a couple extra players' books (Core Rules and Genre Rules).



Old-School Essentials Classic Fantasy Referee's Screen
PDF only, 10 pages.
The one thing that B/X lacked was a proper GM's screen.  Yes, BECMI had one, but not B/X.  Well OSE has you covered, or screened as it were.
This product has 10 pages (1 cover, 1 OGL page and 8 pages of screen) for standard 8-panel, landscape orientation screens.  Purchase the PDF and print them out.  Easy.
The cover art is Peter Mullen's core art. So there are ways to get all the cover art...covered I guess.

All of these combine into a fantastic Old-School experience for those of us that grew up on B/X and for those that didn't.  It is just a really fantastic game.



But what if your tastes run to the Advanced end of the 80s RPG experiences?
Well OSE has not forgotten about you! The modularity of this rule expression pays off here when you can easily add on new rules, classes, and spells.

Old-School Essentials Advanced Fantasy: Genre Rules
PDF and Hardcover, 56 pages
Like many in the early 80s, I moved from the B/X version of the World's Greatest Game to the Advanced version.  But also like many, I never forgot my "Basic" roots and thought for all it's "Advancements" there was still something special about the Basic game.
Well OSE hears you.  The modular design of OSE makes adding material that is considered "Advanced" to be quite easy.  Granted this is not the first Retro-Clone to do this, but this one does it in such an elegant fashion.
Advanced Fantasy: Genre Rules adds new classes and new races. For new races we get drow, duergar, gnome, half-elf, half-orc, and svirfneblin (yes deep gnomes!)  Also true to the advanced rules this book pulls race and class apart.  In truth this was one of the major benefits of the Advanced game and that is true here as well.  For new classes, we get acrobat, assassin, barbarian, bard, druid, illusionist, knight, paladin, and ranger. There is also rules for multi-classing, something I always want to add to my basic games.  Some additional rules on poison and magic are also included.

Old-School Essentials Advanced Fantasy: Druid and Illusionist Spells
PDF and Hardcover, 48 pages
Much like the Cleric and Magic-User Spells book this one covers Druids and Illusionist spells.  Again the modularity of the game pays off here.  You can play Advanced Genre Druids and Illusionists OR you can just use the Cleric and Magic-User classes respectively and this book to play a Basic Druid and Basic Illusionist and not even buy the Advanced Fantasy Genre Rules book.  It would be better to pick up that book, but the way everything is written you do not have too.
This covers the usual suspects of spells again.  The Basic style presentation is fun and it is like seeing these classes and spells through new eyes.  It really is a testament to the system and the authorship.



These two Advanced books will fit in your Black Box set very easily.
Sadly no room for dice.



I have nothing bad to say about this set or these rules.
If I had ONE wish, and maybe only one, it would be for a spiral or coil bound version to have at my game table to lay flat.  But I suppose I could always print it out and put it into a three-ring binder.
I might just have to do that.