Showing posts with label Old School Essentials. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Old School Essentials. Show all posts

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Review - Necrotic Gnome's Old School Essentials Advanced Fantasy

Allelujah! I found a great title to start with, Necrotic Gnome's Old-School Essentials Advanced Fantasy. 

I lost my 1e books and wanted a replacement. I know Necrotic Gnome has been threatening me with a Kickstarter of physical books, but I couldn't wait for a printed copy. I ordered both the Player's Tome and Referee's Tome from DriveThruRPG. Previously, I had been making do with the short free edition which is pretty fine. 

Title: Advanced Fantasy Player's Tome
Rule Set: Old-School Essentials
Year: 2021
Author: Gavin Norman
Publisher: Necrotic Gnome
Pages: 257 pages
Rating: 5 of 5 Gold Stars

Advanced Fantasy
Player's Tome

SM06 The Warren
Advanced Fantasy
Player's Tome

Title: Advanced Fantasy Referee's Tome
Rule Set: Old-School Essentials
Year: 2021
Author: Gavin Norman
Publisher: Necrotic Gnome
Pages: 257 pages
Rating: 5 of 5 Gold Stars

Advanced Fantasy
Referee's Tome

Advanced Fantasy<br />Referee's Tome
Advanced Fantasy
Referee's Tome


What I was expecting was an updated rendition of the 1e D&D books. I was wrong. 

These books have more in common with the B/X sets or perhaps the Rules Cyclopedia. But wait! That's not all. The author, Gavin Norman set out to refine B/X by remove some warts and flaws. Not only was he successful, but he also went on to fix all of the Unearthed Arcana classes and the accursed Bard class of e1. Somehow, he has three different editions fused in one. Impressive. 

What fascinates me the most is how there is a basic and advanced method of character generation. The basic method uses race as a class while the advanced method allows all races to engage in a class. With a tiny modification, this is exactly how I play. The rules do not say is if you can mix basic and advanced methods of characters, but why the hell not. I allow for Basic Elves and AD&D Elven Clerics. 

The books are well-paced for teaching new players from a single set of books, which is right in line with what the original B/X books did. Timely information is presented when it's needed and not before. Mr. Norman has also rolled in some welcome updates, such as THAC0 and ascending AC. I hate them both because they are too user-friendly, but this set competently explains all three methods to suit the taste of all three player bases. 

Both books are 257 pages long a-piece. The Player's Tome is really the shining star of the set as it contains the most varied information. The Referee's Tome approximates the DMG and Monster Manual of e1 all in one book. B/X didn't have a DMG until the Red Box if I remember correctly and this format avoids getting all murky like the e1 DMG. 

So, where are the flaws? Well, there aren't any or many that I could find. More like chatter from the peanut gallery. 

The one thing that amused me was the author named a spell "Pass-Wall". Back in the Moldvay version of B/X, it was spelled "Passwall" and was completely omitted from the books except for the Staff of Wizardry description, which doesn't explain the spell. See, real peanut gallery stuff. 

I am not a fan of the short monster stat blocks like a module synopsis but have to admit it allows for the presentation of far more critters than a full quarter page stat block of the e1 Monster Manual. I always got warm fuzzies when I found a module that included an appendix with full stat blocks for new monsters. If Necrotic Gnome changed its mind and created a Monster Manual with full stat blocks, I'd totally buy that. 

The last item, I don't even know how to quantify. There is too much art. WTF? Did I say that? I love all of the art, but the format is meant for the beautiful full-color, hardback version of the book. I have a printable pdf. If I print this thing, it's going to have qualities similar to a '79 era xerox. That makes me sad and I can't wait to purchase a hard copy. 

There you have it, I found three flaws and two of them make me want to purchase a physical copy of something I already have. 

So, I guess this is another 5 gold star review. But you don't have to take my word for it, check out what some other reviewers said about this set: 

RPG.net Review: "The bullet-point presentation hits the sweet spot when it comes to saving space (and thus cramming more material between the books' pages) as well as creating concise texts with zero ambiguity."

Reviews from R'lyeh: "What is notable with all of these Classes is that the designer has tried to keep them unique, to keep their abilities from encroaching on those of Classes, and to keep them from being too powerful."

Mr. Tim Brannan gives the physical set a glorious, jealously inducing review on The Other Side Blog.  I can't wait for these to become available again. 

Again, if you haven't followed these bloggers, now is the time. Or you could cut to the chase and follow Campaign Wiki's OSR feed. It is amazing. 

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Fifth Edition Dungeons and Dragons

Boxed sets are my gateway drug


I generally don't do 5th Edition reviews because I don't play 5th Edition much. There is a lot to like or dislike about 5th Edition. 

If you are just starting out, there are a ton of good reasons to jump into 5e. The main reason is rather simple. It's approachable and readily available to the new player. The artwork and mechanics are great and they are nice set of rules for this day and age. My son loves it and has started his gaming collection with new set of rules, which I purchased for him. 

One of my reasons for not using it is, I have collection of books going back to the Red Box set and beyond. My interest started with the Chainmail rules and expanded from there. I've filled bookshelves with games I will never play. I have an intuitive understanding of what all the major rules are in these sets. Yet another edition of games really doesn't add to what I have. 

E5, Labyrinth Lord and BECMI?
Your not kidding, eh.
The fact is, if you started at point x, you probably already an inkling of what rules x+1 would do to your gameplay. Way back in AD&D, I already had the concept of Feats and Skills as a house rule. I am not some sort of illuminary predicting the changes of the rules. Nearly everyone who played an older edition of D&D foresaw the power of the mechanics and started making changes to their gameplay as house rules. Many of these changes became standard features of the new editions. And many house rules didn't pass muster and were left behind. Here is a list of my house rules, most of which are dubious. 

As of this post, I am at 1030 post on fun and games. Lately, I've been exploring 5th Edition wondering which of any of these things will become the next generation's Red Box, Keep on the Borderlands or Isle of Dread. 

I have no idea, but I'd like to explore. And I hope you will join me. In the next series of posts, I'll be reviewing some of the 5th Edition rules. I figure this will run its course in less than 10 posts or less than 1% of everything else I've written. Because, I am that numbers guy.  

Sunday, May 2, 2021

Review - Old-School Essentials: Basic Rules

Title: Old-School Essentials: Basic Rules
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
Year: 2017? 
Pages: 54 pages
Rating: ★★★★★

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

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Filling in the Blanks by

Todd Leback
Filing in the Blanks Filling in the Blanks

Title: Filling in the Blanks
Publisher: Old-School Essentials
Author: Todd Leback
Cover Artist: Jenna Drummond (jendart.com),
Interior Artists: Chad Dickhaut, Adrian Barber, and Dan Smith
Year: 2020
Pages: 79 pages
Rating: 5 of 5 stars

This particular book comes in two forms, the preview edition and the regular edition. I have both. The preview edition is a text only copy of the main concepts of the full book, which is more than enough to let you know if you would want or need this title. 

Starting at the beginning, let me tell you about the author. Todd Leback is the author of a series of books on Hexcrawling. He has also written on topics such as domain building, authored a one page dungeon and had two successful Kickstarters. The most recent, as mentioned before, is the book Into the Wild. This should be out in about a month or so. He started playing with the Red Box D&D set and enjoys the OSR style of play with family. He runs a great Patreon page which provides 5-8 pages of Hex based content to his patrons every 3-4 weeks. As I mentioned in my review of Hexcrawl Basics, the link to both his Patreon and Jenna Drumman's sites are too small so I have reproduced them here. 

Filling in the Blanks is all about generating hexes. He covers geologic features, habitation of a variety of sizes, resources, hazards, lairs, etc. Of course there is a bit about magic and weather. This product is totally table driven with the text providing guidance and examples for usage. Those three together are great for demonstration of how the game is supposed to work. It's also a great way to allow for adaption to specific campaigns and thematic settings. 

My personal favorite part is on graveyards, but I think most people will like the section on Inns. That one seems to be the most useful for any campaign. Maps are in color, while the art is black and white. Somehow, I suffered a printer mishap and all of the black and white art came out blue tinted. I actually like that, but is probably my own problem. 

All in all, this is a great book on the someone who is well versed in hexcrawling. The only slight weakness is the lack of links back to Hexcrawl Basics. That title makes a good primer for what this book covers. While this title is only 79 pages, it is can feel like drinking from a firehose. There is a lot of information packed into this book. 

It would make a great addition and edition for anyone desiring a full featured exploration of the concept of Hex Crawling. While written for Old School Essentials, it can be easily adapted to any rule set. I might even be using this for a continuing Star Wars campaign. 

Monday, January 18, 2021

Review - Hexcrawl Basics by Todd Leback

Publisher: Old-School Essentials
Author: Todd Leback (Link to Patreon)
Artists, Interior: Bruno Balixa, Dean Spencer, Rick Hershey of Fat Goblin Games, Jack Holliday, Matt Forsyth, Matthew Richmond
Cover Art: Jen Drummond
Year: 2019
Pages: 24 pages
Rating: 5 of 5 stars


My first 3 reviews were on a single series of novels. I most recently reviewed How to Hexcrawl. I like the idea of series reviews or fits, but for awhile I'll be limiting myself to pairs of related titles. These are not comparisons, but singular reviews. 

Here is my usual warning, this book is written for OSE but it is easily adaptable and applicable to other systems with little to no modification. If you had a dungeon and you moved the characters outside, this book would be of use to you. 

This title starts with a definition of a hexcrawl, which is a very economical start. This is one of many books on the subject by the author, every concept is very tight owing to Mr. Leback's great experience on the subject. The first section covers the hex and the player's purpose in these hexes and the process to be followed. Artwork is used not only as mere art, but Worldographer maps exemplify what the author spells out. Todd Leback's use of art is excellent. 

Chapter two and three cover features and lairs found in hexes and subhexes plus random encounters. The next two sections cover procedural events, weather and getting lost, which are big part of the hexcrawl experience. 

The final chapter is an extended example of the hexcrawl process in action. It nicely loops back to the beginning of the book and marches the reader all the way to the end without missing a beat. I suppose that the book could have been written without this extended section, but would be a lesser work. The example perfects this book. 

Three caveats about this book. The artwork is very nice but does not print well on plain paper. The only way to get a nice copy of this book is to print on extreme quality on great paper. It is totally worth it, take the effort and time to do it right.  

Second, there is a small link to Mr. Leback's Patreon. Blink and you'll miss it, so I have placed it here. I normally don't do that, but the link to Populated Hex was almost too unobtrusive. (EDIT - There is also a Kickstarter coming soon. I've never gone in on a Kickstarter, but this might be the one to start with.)

I was tempted to make this a 4.5 of 5 starts but the example and the excellent artwork kicks it up one more level. Especially if you print it nicely. I was drawn to this title and series by the cover art, which I love.