Publisher: Necrotic Gnome
Author: Gavin Norman
Artists: Mustafa Bekir, Michael Clarke, Mark Lyons, Thomas Novosel, Juan Ochoa, Stefan Poag, Matt Ray, Luka Rejec, Peter Saga, Del Teigeler, Andrew Walter
Pages: 54 pages
I'm not sure how to handle this. There is nothing better than those old rule D&D boxed sets. Nothing really compares to them. Until now. There are a lot of renaissance books out there but only handful really improve on the original.
Old-School Essentials does that, even in the basic (and free) form. This 54 page book covers all of the basics so that you can play D&D with a single book.
By now, I am sure you are aware that I love great artwork. In some places, I see this book as being offer as "no art". In other places I see it described as "player facing rules only". "Basic" doesn't refer to the original Basic/Expert dichotomy, but the traditional meaning of "basic" as "simple".
Those are lies. This "artless" book has no less than 11 artists with great stuff appearing on dozens and dozens of pages. Also, the "player facing rules" include attack tables a combat section, which means this is fully playable from the get-go. I am going to take off two stars for those misrepresentations. Conveniently, this allows me to write a review that does not break my 5 star scale and award it a mere five gold star ranking.
Nice how that worked out.
What is missing is the ideation process for new Dungeon Masters. Ok, "basic" it is. What it adds are dozens of revisions to those old boxed sets rules which streamlines and clarifies those rules.
Also missing are the non-human classes of Elf, Dwarf, and Halfling, however the rule book does not specifically say you can't have an Elven Fighter or a Dwarven cleric. Since the term used is "adventurer" and not "human", this could simply be ignored allowing the group to simply add a descriptor of choice. The players can role or roll as they wish. This doesn't change the game. It's not a terrible way to simplify a ruleset.
Initiative and surprise are simple and complete. Armor class is reduced to just 5 rankings for none, leather, chain and plate with or without a shield. The attack matrix is set up as per the original rules but then as an option T.H.A.C.0 is introduced. They even touch on how his changes the probability which is very nice.
Ability checks are clearly defined and branch from thieves abilities. For a simple or basic set of rules, this is a great improvement. Looking at Holmes and AD&D, the addition of professional skills into the game has always branched from thieves abilities and touched ability scores, but was never codified until later additions. In fact, it seemed to disappear from the B/X and other basic offerings. While this set does not go whole hog on these concepts, the tool is there for the creatively minded.
This is a rock solid offering for anyone interested in the old school type game and a great reason to purchase the complete, "non-basic" set on DriveThruRPG.