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OSR Played It Review of Old-School Essentials Using D&D ‘s The Lost City

Old-School Essentials Classic Fantasy: Rules Tome is a complete in one rulebook combination of 1981’s Basic Dungeons & Dragons and Expert D&D by Tom Moldvay and David Cook. The rules have not changed but are combined using well rendered modern layout and amazing art. The possibilities for fantasy adventure are endless.

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I ran the D&D module The Lost City using my PDF copy of Old-School Essentials at Gen Con. I printed out the pre-gens from the modules, the two page class spreads from OSE, and the two and three page print outs of 1st level cleric and 1st level magic-user spells. This worked out because some of the nine players showed up expecting Basic D&D 5E the PDF. They were in for a pleasant surprise.

I also had both of the two page spreads of combat and combat tables from OSE. With these handouts my players had all of their abilities including attacks, saves, class abilities, and spells and I had everything I needed for the monsters including attacks and saving throws.

Basic D&D and OSE runs fast. The PCs found themselves lost in a sandstorm with only the top portion of the Lost City offering shelter. They went to investigate and within a couple of minutes the adventure was up and running.

Exploration and combat in OSE can be brutal. Most 1st level PCs have hit points in the single digits and many traps and monsters do a d4 or d6 of hit points in damage with poison requiring a save or die d20 roll. We cycled through a few characters and those that survived felt real accomplishment when they finally leveled up.

While combat and exploration were deadly dangerous, the PCs had a real chance to rest and find aid if they worked together and used a bit of diplomacy and careful thinking. The Lost City offers PCs the chance to form alliances with up to three factions. They had to weigh the odds of benefit versus complication each alliance might bring. And each faction favored certain classes and alignments over others.

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I ran two sessions of The Lost City with the first covering the first few levels and the next continuing right where the first session ended. I actually had two players from the first session show up to the second with generic tickets hoping and eager to continue playing their PCs. I ended up with eleven players at the table!

And it ran well and fast. The print outs of needed rules speeded play along. Fast paced exploration slowed down naturally when the PCs stopped to discuss options among themselves or roleplay with the various NPCs in the Lost City. They also took the time to test out a few magic items they found, which greatly enhanced their exploration and combat abilities.

In the end, most of the characters made it to second level at some point over the two four hour sessions. The sigh of relief when the clerics could finally cast cure light wounds was heartfelt. The extra hit points really mattered and the improved armor some of the PCs had claimed increased their chances of survival.

One thing I came away with as the GM was the power of holding all the rules for D&D in one tome (or PDF at the time). The players had more than enough options to entertain them. It wasn’t so much character abilities (although earning new hit points and new spells was always welcome) but it was more the thrill of delving into a deeper level of the Lost City, having a forged alliance help them survive a later encounter, the excitement of finding a magic item for the first time, and the joy of finding treasure hauls that if successfully recovered would net a large pool of highly desired experience points.

Old-School Essentials combines 1981’s Basic and Expert D&D into one solid book that can be used for a variety of campaigns. Old school modules can be run, Dungeon Crawl Classics adventures work with it, and many of the strange and wondrous new settings and adventures designed for older versions of D&D work easily with the rule set. I am planning future reviews of some of the more interesting options like Slumbering Ursine Dunes that will work with OSE and Basic D&D. Old-School Essentials Classic Fantasy: Rules Tome is my all-the-rules-in-one-book D&D rules of choice. Highly recommended.
 
Charles Dunwoody

Comments


Dragonblade

Adventurer
I grew up playing old school D&D. I would never go back to it for a long term campaign. Far too limiting and lethal. Its wizards with crossbows and 15 minute adventuring day turned up to 11. Your skill at surviving was based on how persuasive you could be with the DM in talking your way through situations, and cleverly avoiding both combat and any situation that required a die roll as randomness was your enemy. For a one shot or mini-campaign, it can be a lot of fun if all the players and the DM really "get" that old school style of play and recognize that your PC is just a shallow proxy for you the player to interact with the world, and you are prepared to quickly roll up another when needed. If you try to play old school with a modern story-oriented sensibility, you will only be frustrated when your handcrafted PC with the developed background inevitably perishes. It requires a very different mindset.
 


Nikosandros

Golden Procrastinator
Cool review, I enjoyed it. A couple of questions:

1) Did you use any house rules? OSE is highly hackable.

2) What kind of mechanism did you use to introduce replacement characters?
 

Monayuris

Adventurer
I've been running a B/X game for almost 10 years now. It is my favorite version of D&D.

It's the perfect game for long term campaign play. It has so much better support for things like strongholds, domains and high level play. It give the players tools to exert agency in the game world. I enjoy the risk and challenge of low level play, but it also really starts to shine when your characters start getting close to name level.

My players are 7th to 8th level now and have their own lands and militaries. They have become a force to be reckoned with and are becoming important individuals in the world and are getting into the political arena with nearby polities.

The simplicity of the rules makes it easier to focus on the world and the environment. You aren't drowning in feats and powers and features that just slow down play and distract from the game.

I'm super interested in checking out Old School Essentials I would love to have an easily available and readily obtainable reorganized execution of the classic game.
 

RogueRonin

Explorer
I've been running a B/X game for almost 10 years now. It is my favorite version of D&D.

It's the perfect game for long term campaign play. It has so much better support for things like strongholds, domains and high level play. It give the players tools to exert agency in the game world. I enjoy the risk and challenge of low level play, but it also really starts to shine when your characters start getting close to name level.

My players are 7th to 8th level now and have their own lands and militaries. They have become a force to be reckoned with and are becoming important individuals in the world and are getting into the political arena with nearby polities.

The simplicity of the rules makes it easier to focus on the world and the environment. You aren't drowning in feats and powers and features that just slow down play and distract from the game.

I'm super interested in checking out Old School Essentials I would love to have an easily available and readily obtainable reorganized execution of the classic game.

Here is the free sample - basic rules with no art. View the PDF as two-page spreads to get an idea of how awesome the layout is. It is really well organized and minimizes page flipping.
 

timbannock

Explorer
I wonder how this compares with the Rules Cyclopedia. Has anybody read both?
The Rules Cyclopedia was cool for its time -- really cool, IMHO -- but it still suffered from D&D's inability to organize information very well: certain rulings remain buried in a wall of text about exceptions, and there was often more words than necessary to describe something, leading to confusion. Worse, because certain wording wasn't standardized between spells and abilities, the "natural language" aspect could create confusion in interpretations. Last but not least: there was still some errata that never made it in.

Meanwhile, OSE cleans up all that. It is incredibly terse, and uses standardized language for abilities and spells to ensure there's a minimum of fuzzy interpretations. They've incorporated official errata and made a few judgment calls -- only when necessary! -- to make sure everything sings. The exceptional layout and terse text makes it a breeze to find what you need and grok it as quickly as possible.

Another important note: Rules Cyclopedia had additional levels and content borne out of BECMI that doesn't appear in OSE, which is by design only the B/X system (14 levels). OSE's add-on supplements like the "Advanced Fantasy Genre Rules" and "Druid & Illusionist Spells" are a completely different interpretation of those subjects to keep them 100% in line with OSE's B/X foundation. They don't ever "expand the game up and down," but rather do so "sideways" if that makes sense. It's about providing additions to the B/X ruleset, not expanding the B/X ruleset to do different stuff. (A very fine line, I know.)
 

Retreater

Legend
I guess I've just been spoiled with running games for characters with a little more abilities, which is the why OSR games don't appeal to me much. Low HP, low chances for success, low abilities (according to the Basic rules, fighters get nothing; clerics don't get magic until 2nd level; wizards get one spell). I wish there was a middle ground between the "superheroes" of 5e and the "dirt farmers" of OSR products (lumping OSE in there with Swords & Wizardry and Labyrinth Lord).
I feel like AD&D 1e and 2e struck a better balance. Maybe that's just nostalgia talking.
 

timbannock

Explorer
I guess I've just been spoiled with running games for characters with a little more abilities, which is the why OSR games don't appeal to me much. Low HP, low chances for success, low abilities (according to the Basic rules, fighters get nothing; clerics don't get magic until 2nd level; wizards get one spell). I wish there was a middle ground between the "superheroes" of 5e and the "dirt farmers" of OSR products (lumping OSE in there with Swords & Wizardry and Labyrinth Lord).
I feel like AD&D 1e and 2e struck a better balance. Maybe that's just nostalgia talking.
I found adding a more interesting selection of weapons and Dungeon Crawl Classics' Mighty Deeds of Arms rules (or at the very least, inspiration from them) really helped the fighty classes sing a little bit more. My two resources for this:

Steel and Fury (for DCC)
Arms and Armor (for Castles & Crusades)

I basically use Steel and Fury as-is, and for Arms and Armor, I simply added some simple house rules (attacks from higher ground target head/helmet AC; shields will splinter rule) and adjusted some damages in the book (as I recall, it was mostly axe weapons that were wonky to me).
 

atanakar

Hero
Looking at the PDF I have to say they did a a very good job on the presentation.

But rules like the following didn't appeal to me in the 80s and they still don't today: «A thief can only try this skill once per lock. If the roll fails, the thief may not try the same lock again before gaining an experience level.»
 

HarbingerX

Rob Of The North
I've run lots of OSR campaigns since leaving 4e and for me as a DM it has two major pluses for me:

1. It's incredibly fast at the table. I always get x2-x4 more done in a single session than with 3e-5e.
2. Without abilities, feats, etc, players focus much more on how they can get better in the world. Which makes the campaign world much richer.

Now there are also things that can go horrible wrong if you aren't familiar with ways things can break.
 
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SMHWorlds

Explorer
Another important note: Rules Cyclopedia had additional levels and content borne out of BECMI that doesn't appear in OSE, which is by design only the B/X system (14 levels). OSE's add-on supplements like the "Advanced Fantasy Genre Rules" and "Druid & Illusionist Spells" are a completely different interpretation of those subjects to keep them 100% in line with OSE's B/X foundation. They don't ever "expand the game up and down," but rather do so "sideways" if that makes sense. It's about providing additions to the B/X ruleset, not expanding the B/X ruleset to do different stuff. (A very fine line, I know.)
You can do a great deal with the 14 levels of B/X. I tend to prefer that over BECMI, for a number of reasons. It is easier to go 14 levels than it is 36. But, I have been of the mind to give that a try one day; to find some players and commit to the 36 level mission of BECM... and maybe not Immortal.

I think the fact that OSE focusing on the B/X is smart. Focusing on the shorter game, cleaning it up, making it coherent, breathes life back into the rules better than some other OSR stuff does.
 

paladinn

Explorer
I haven't had a chance to look into this as much as I'd like. Is it true that MU/Cleric spells and such are in a separate book?

I can see putting AD&D-ish stuff and other non-BX classes and adaptations into supplements; but putting spells for "basic" classes into separate books seems too much like a cash-grab.
 

Zimzerveran

President, Fraternal Order of Owlbears
I haven't had a chance to look into this as much as I'd like. Is it true that MU/Cleric spells and such are in a separate book?

I can see putting AD&D-ish stuff and other non-BX classes and adaptations into supplements; but putting spells for "basic" classes into separate books seems too much like a cash-grab.
If you buy the Rules Tome, everything from the core books is compiled together in one book. This doesn't include the "advanced classes" or druid & illusionist spells, though.

The separate books are nice as a table reference. You can't beat the organization.
 




reelo

Explorer
OSE, together with the optional Advanced books, is everything I'd ever want from an RPG, as it's hackable enough to create just the game you want.

People keep saying 5E is old-school, easy, elegant, etc... To me it's still bloated, complicated, and also not deadly enough.
 

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