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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.
 

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Charles Dunwoody

Charles Dunwoody

Scrivener of Doom

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. (snipped some cool stuff)

Unfortunately, it's wizards with darts or daggers as ranged weapons (daggers only in Moldvay Basic). Crossbows weren't allowed. Verboten. And, of course, in true Gygaxian style, there was no underlying rationale for this choice.

I agreed with everything you typed, FWIW, but just wanted to remind you that you weren't using crossbows as written so it was even worse than what you described for the lowly magic-user....
 

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HarbingerX

Rob Of The North
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.

You can either get is as separate books (rules, classes, spells, treasure, monsters) or as one book. I've played some systems that have separate books and it makes it way easier to manage at the table.
 

atanakar

Hero
Unfortunately, it's wizards with darts or daggers as ranged weapons (daggers only in Moldvay Basic). Crossbows weren't allowed. Verboten. And, of course, in true Gygaxian style, there was no underlying rationale for this choice.

I agreed with everything you typed, FWIW, but just wanted to remind you that you weren't using crossbows as written so it was even worse than what you described for the lowly magic-user....

The reason stated is that metal interacts negatively with Arcane magic.
 

HarbingerX

Rob Of The North
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.

It's funny, I've played OSR games for about 5 years now and we've never found that 15 minute adventuring day or wizard weaknesses to be an actual issue at the table. I even played a wizard on several occasions and had a great time.

As a DM I love the de-emphasis on player-boosting mechanics as it makes the players focus so much more on their character development than on triggering their cool ability.
 

Zimzerveran

President, Fraternal Order of Owlbears
It's funny, I've played OSR games for about 5 years now and we've never found that 15 minute adventuring day or wizard weaknesses to be an actual issue at the table. I even played a wizard on several occasions and had a great time.

As a DM I love the de-emphasis on player-boosting mechanics as it makes the players focus so much more on their character development than on triggering their cool ability.
That's the fundamental reason the OSR speaks to me. In my gaming old-age, I don't care about constantly gaining new abilities. I care mostly about my character's evolution and progression in the campaign world. Who are his friends? What guild or religion is he a part of? What places are there to visit and explore? Sure, I want to get better at combat or cast more spells, but that secondary. This is probably why I prefer low-fantasy games like Beyond the Wall or the just-released The Hero's Journey 2e.
 

Unfortunately, it's wizards with darts or daggers as ranged weapons (daggers only in Moldvay Basic). Crossbows weren't allowed. Verboten. And, of course, in true Gygaxian style, there was no underlying rationale for this choice.

I agreed with everything you typed, FWIW, but just wanted to remind you that you weren't using crossbows as written so it was even worse than what you described for the lowly magic-user....
Flasks of oil.

Just have a bunch to light on fire and throw. Also despite having less hit points, low level Magic Users are as good at fighting as Fighters. So throwing a dagger or even getting up in melee, in the right circumstances, is an option.

If you have some coin, hire a Fighter retainer. You can get your fun in melee with your retainer, while your MU stands back.

I never felt bored or weak running a level 1 Magic User. Quite the opposite actually. Take sleep and know that you have the ability to completely save the party. Most B/X games I've ever played in involved a lot more time spent considering where to go or what to do, solving problems and puzzles, and things like searching and listening at doors than actual combat. These are all things,, as a level 1 Magic User, I can participate in as well as anyone else in the group.
 


Scrivener of Doom

Adventurer
Flasks of oil.

Just have a bunch to light on fire and throw. Also despite having less hit points, low level Magic Users are as good at fighting as Fighters. So throwing a dagger or even getting up in melee, in the right circumstances, is an option.

If you have some coin, hire a Fighter retainer. You can get your fun in melee with your retainer, while your MU stands back.

I never felt bored or weak running a level 1 Magic User. Quite the opposite actually. Take sleep and know that you have the ability to completely save the party. Most B/X games I've ever played in involved a lot more time spent considering where to go or what to do, solving problems and puzzles, and things like searching and listening at doors than actual combat. These are all things,, as a level 1 Magic User, I can participate in as well as anyone else in the group.

Yes, been there and done that - and decided I prefer The Four Yorkshiremen as a comedy sketch rather than as a tabletop RPG game design philosophy.

Now, about those flasks of oil. They cost 1 gp each. Where will you get the money? Oh, and if they work, you know what an adversarial old school DM will do? Yep, suddenly they're scarce or more expensive. Hire a fighter? Money again. Oh, and make sure your Charisma is good enough that he will hang around.

I do, however, agree that a magic-user is just as useful in old school metagaming as any other character because it is about the player and not the character. However, as your M-U is likely to have the highest Intelligence of any character in the group, you may be the only one who can actually justify your player-side metagaming as consistent with the nature of the character you are playing.

Don't get me wrong, I had a lot of fun with old school gaming nearly 40 years ago. And I am sure I could enjoy it again - although I would use a modern clone written by someone who can actually communicate clearly and coherently rather than return to the Gygaxian originals. I particularly like the look of OSRIC and various editions of Swords & Wizardry. And it would be so easy to run them again!
 


atanakar

Hero
I highly recommend Swords & Wizardry, the core rules is the leanest and fastest playing version of D&D I've tired. I find Labyrinth Lord (B/X) really clunky in comparison.

I would recommend BlueHolmes if you want to get close to the original game. Its well written, respectful and brings the game up to level 20. I bought it and it was very interesting to read.
 

Zardnaar

Legend
Looks good last Night/X clones I used were ACKs and Basic Fantasy.

I had to use modern players who were used to 3E. It took them a while to get used to it but they liked.

Fast combat

Copious amounts of treasure/magic items.

Powerful magic items turning up earlier than modern D&D.
 


Looks good last Night/X clones I used were ACKs and Basic Fantasy.

I had to use modern players who were used to 3E. It took them a while to get used to it but they liked.

Fast combat

Copious amounts of treasure/magic items.

Powerful magic items turning up earlier than modern D&D.
I run a regular Basic Fantasy game. Super fun.

I have a good mix of experienced players and new ones.

There is definitely a broad appeal for the classic editions. It's a play experience that you can't get with any other game.
 

Yes, been there and done that - and decided I prefer The Four Yorkshiremen as a comedy sketch rather than as a tabletop RPG game design philosophy.

Now, about those flasks of oil. They cost 1 gp each. Where will you get the money? Oh, and if they work, you know what an adversarial old school DM will do? Yep, suddenly they're scarce or more expensive. Hire a fighter? Money again. Oh, and make sure your Charisma is good enough that he will hang around.

I do, however, agree that a magic-user is just as useful in old school metagaming as any other character because it is about the player and not the character. However, as your M-U is likely to have the highest Intelligence of any character in the group, you may be the only one who can actually justify your player-side metagaming as consistent with the nature of the character you are playing.

Don't get me wrong, I had a lot of fun with old school gaming nearly 40 years ago. And I am sure I could enjoy it again - although I would use a modern clone written by someone who can actually communicate clearly and coherently rather than return to the Gygaxian originals. I particularly like the look of OSRIC and various editions of Swords & Wizardry. And it would be so easy to run them again!
Magic Users have cash to spare since they don't have to buy armor.

When I run a Magic User, I stock up on oil. I also get the 'luxury items' that you usually can't afford or don't think to buy at first level (mirrors, holy water, etc).

That sounds like some really bad DM'ing, which can happen in any game. I'm fortunate that my experiences playing the classic editions were much different.
 

Scrivener of Doom

Adventurer
Magic Users have cash to spare since they don't have to buy armor.

When I run a Magic User, I stock up on oil. I also get the 'luxury items' that you usually can't afford or don't think to buy at first level (mirrors, holy water, etc).

That sounds like some really bad DM'ing, which can happen in any game. I'm fortunate that my experiences playing the classic editions were much different.

Oh yeah, my first DM was crap with a capital K. I learnt the rules from him and then he was banished to the ranks of players. But my experience with old school grogs online is very much along the lines I described in my previous post; it really is like witnessing The Four Yorkshiremen sketch so that it covers D&D. I also ran the game very differently to him so M-Us in my games did have something to contribute from level 1.
 

Cantrip rules for old school games.

Pick a spell you have memorised. You siphon off some of its energy to make a magical ranged attack. The damage type is the same as the spell (it must be a damaging spell - I'd probably insist on some kind of element based spell). Monster saves against wands.

1: d4
2: d6
3: d8
4: d10
5: d12
(I would add the Int modifier to the damage)

Have the magic user roll a d10 (or which ever die they prefer) when they use the cantrip. If they roll a 1 they lose the spell.

(If you want more fun have them make a save against spells and if they fail roll on some kind of magical mishap table).
 

I'm curious (as a B/X fan): how did your 5e players enjoy this older style of game? Did their characters feel "flat" compared to the wealth of options for 5e characters (feats, archetypes, bonus actions, cantrips, etc)?
Or was the simplicity/ease/speed enough to make up for that?

All twenty players enjoyed it. The table was full.

I would say the wealth of options shifted from the Player's Handbook to the world itself. By which I mean the PCs could really change their options by choosing to join a faction for example. Alignment played a part here too, as different factions leaned toward Law or Chaos. And the PCs choose to talk to some monsters instead of fighting when possible. All of this interaction opened up access to needed gear, easier delving in some areas, and really increased the power of the PCs. Just in game instead of reading through a PHB and then bringing options to the game.
 

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.

I would disagree that the PC is a shallow proxy. I could see emerging personalties growing even in the short two games I ran. Some PCs were cautious and careful. Some rushed in. A dwarf started favoring the hammer he'd found. Some PCs wanted to join one faction and some another. The environment really drew out the developing PCs and the directions they could grew in, if they survived. Bascially, instead of writing up a backstory and giving it to the GM, the adventure became the backstory. We just played a roleplaying game to create the backstory instead of everyone going off and writing it up on their own.
 

Banesfinger

Explorer
All twenty players enjoyed it. The table was full.

I would say the wealth of options shifted from the Player's Handbook to the world itself. By which I mean the PCs could really change their options by choosing to join a faction for example. Alignment played a part here too, as different factions leaned toward Law or Chaos. And the PCs choose to talk to some monsters instead of fighting when possible. All of this interaction opened up access to needed gear, easier delving in some areas, and really increased the power of the PCs. Just in game instead of reading through a PHB and then bringing options to the game.

That sounds great. And I agree that the less 'stuff' you have on your character sheet, the more players have to look for other options (imagination, descriptions, interacting with the world, etc).
However, factions (and their alignments), talking to monsters, interaction for gear, etc isn't inherently part of the B/X nor 5e ruleset, but sounds like your DM'ing technique (campaign world). Was there anything within the ruleset (or lack of) that you contribute your success to?
 

That sounds great. And I agree that the less 'stuff' you have on your character sheet, the more players have to look for other options (imagination, descriptions, interacting with the world, etc).
However, factions (and their alignments), talking to monsters, interaction for gear, etc isn't inherently part of the B/X nor 5e ruleset, but sounds like your DM'ing technique (campaign world). Was there anything within the ruleset (or lack of) that you contribute your success to?

Talking to monsters is very much part of Basic D&D. Charisma has NPC reaction rolls built right in and the GMing section talks about roleplaying NPCs and monsters:

The same as player characters, intelligent
monsters and NPCs have their own interests
and motivations.
Role-playing: The referee should consider
the monster’s reaction to negotiations
with PCs, bearing in mind its alignment
and personality. Monsters should not
always cooperate with PCs’ wishes!
Allies: Monsters and NPCs may be
encountered with friends, minions, or
retainers. These will come to the aid of
the monster, or may avenge it, if it
is defeated.


The Lost City module reflects this design aethestic. Moldvay includes that information as part of the adventure because it is part of the rules he wrote to play D&D not as something new and unknown. Basic D&D has always been about the PCs interacting with the NPCs and monsters. Combat is just one option (and two pages) of a vast array of possible outcomes. You have to play to see what happens. Combat is by no means the default.
 

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