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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


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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?

1) No hacks. I wanted to play it by the rules. I do have Old School Advanced rules (AD&D converted to Basic) which is really good. Not needed though, Basic is complete.

2) We were using pregens. I had several printouts and just let the player choose a new character. Old School Essentials has all the class info on a two page spread so I gave them that and the pregen and they jumped back in as survivors who had just made it into the Lost City. Seamless.
 

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.»

If there is no chance of failure there would be no point in the skill check. A lock that stops an adventure shouldn't be locked. A GM can come up with another challenge and save locks for bonus treasure or difficult to reach areas. A reward for being overcome. Or the lock might be only one option to try to overcome a challenge. PCs can find other options.

Also, one thing I've come to realize with thief skills is they might apply only after a failed ability score check. For example, any PC might be able to sneak by rolling Dex. A thief can try to sneak across surfaces no one else can, like rice paper or caltrops. A GM might also allow a thief a Dex roll andif that fails another try with Move Silently.

In other words, thief skills should be on top of and enhancing ability checks not replacing them or making them worse. In the case of picking locks I'd say only a thief can try and only at the percentage chance since picking locks isn't something anyone can do, it takes training.
 


atanakar

Hero
If there is no chance of failure there would be no point in the skill check. A lock that stops an adventure shouldn't be locked. A GM can come up with another challenge and save locks for bonus treasure or difficult to reach areas. A reward for being overcome. Or the lock might be only one option to try to overcome a challenge. PCs can find other options.

Also, one thing I've come to realize with thief skills is they might apply only after a failed ability score check. For example, any PC might be able to sneak by rolling Dex. A thief can try to sneak across surfaces no one else can, like rice paper or caltrops. A GM might also allow a thief a Dex roll andif that fails another try with Move Silently.

In other words, thief skills should be on top of and enhancing ability checks not replacing them or making them worse. In the case of picking locks I'd say only a thief can try and only at the percentage chance since picking locks isn't something anyone can do, it takes training.

I'm talking about not behind able to «try again» until the character gains another level. Didn't make sense to me in the 80s when we played BX, and still doesn't makes sense to me today.
 

I'm talking about not behind able to «try again» until the character gains another level. Didn't make sense to me in the 80s when we played BX, and still doesn't makes sense to me today.

How do you think it should work? If you can just keep rolling then the percentage chance doesn't represent a chance of faliure. No need to roll, just allow an auto success with a random time to do so.

Also, the lock is beyond the thief's ability to open. They have to learn something new (level up) to try again. If I can't do play a difficult song on a piano I have to practice. I'll fail again and again but hopefully I'll eventutally learn enough and be able to play the song (level up).
 

atanakar

Hero
How do you think it should work? If you can just keep rolling then the percentage chance doesn't represent a chance of faliure. No need to roll, just allow an auto success with a random time to do so.

Also, the lock is beyond the thief's ability to open. They have to learn something new (level up) to try again. If I can't do play a difficult song on a piano I have to practice. I'll fail again and again but hopefully I'll eventutally learn enough and be able to play the song (level up).

If the situation is not stressful, yes it will be an auto-success after x number of rounds, turns, hours even days dependant on the difficulty level of the lock. No need to roll to begin with.

For stressful situations (during combat, chase, infiltration) then there is a roll. If the character fails she is allowed to rolled again the next round. Use the same odds to begin with. Penalties or bonuses may apply dependant on the actual situation. If the first failed roll is within 5% of a success I give +5% on the next roll. The character learned something «in situ».

Nothing new what I just wrote. It's pretty much how all RPGs do it.
 

Lord Rasputin

Explorer
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.
I can see the wizard weaknesses being an issue but the 15-minute adventuring day? That never happens in OSR games because of wandering monsters. Those are a sure-fire way to get rid of the 15-minute adventuring day since there's always something preventing you from resting up without being bothered.
 

HarbingerX

Rob Of The North
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?

This freeing from the tyranny of the character sheet is why I love B/X rules so much. With so much less emphasis on character abilities, I find my players focus so much more on the world and interacting with it. Instead of trying to figure out which of their skill or abilities will help them overcome the situation they are currently facing.

So the rules don't actually have to have rules for interaction, other than monster and npc reaction rolls, because it aways emerges from the play. At least that's been my experience whenever I've run B/X games.
 

Guennrr

Villager
If the situation is not stressful, yes it will be an auto-success after x number of rounds, turns, hours even days dependant on the difficulty level of the lock. No need to roll to begin with.

For stressful situations (during combat, chase, infiltration) then there is a roll. If the character fails she is allowed to rolled again the next round. Use the same odds to begin with. Penalties or bonuses may apply dependant on the actual situation. If the first failed roll is within 5% of a success I give +5% on the next roll. The character learned something «in situ».

Nothing new what I just wrote. It's pretty much how all RPGs do it.

With all due respect: Then you either didn‘t grasp the „classic“ concept or you reject the concept. That‘s ok. But you can‘t reproach a rule set that it adheres to different concepts than your preferred ones.

OSE/ Classic D&D <> 5e.
It‘s that simple. 5e was drastically decluttered compared to other modern D&D versions like 3e. But it still adheres to different design principles than those classic rules versions.

My OD&D playing experience was limited, but in comparison to later AD&D campaigns there was already considerably less rules bloat and players had to immerse themselves deeper into the adventure because their PC abilities were so limited. It‘s sometimes a scary experience for „modern“ players, but I will certainly peruse OSE and hopefully play one of the classic modules in the near future. :)
 

atanakar

Hero
With all due respect: Then you either didn‘t grasp the „classic“ concept or you reject the concept. That‘s ok. But you can‘t reproach a rule set that it adheres to different concepts than your preferred ones.

OSE/ Classic D&D <> 5e.
It‘s that simple. 5e was drastically decluttered compared to other modern D&D versions like 3e. But it still adheres to different design principles than those classic rules versions.

My OD&D playing experience was limited, but in comparison to later AD&D campaigns there was already considerably less rules bloat and players had to immerse themselves deeper into the adventure because their PC abilities were so limited. It‘s sometimes a scary experience for „modern“ players, but I will certainly peruse OSE and hopefully play one of the classic modules in the near future. :)

I did not «reproach» anything. I stated that many parts of D&D Basic rules were not palatable to me at the time (80s) and still are today. We had to heavily housed ruled Basic. That is what every one did back then. It is how the game was played. It was encouraged by TSR. We each made D&D our own version of the game as Gygax and Arneson encouraged us to do.

Also, we did not experience «deeper immersion in the adventures» during Basic because of the extreme lethality, random death by failed saves, energy drain deaths, deadly traps and numerous TPKs often triggered by the side A side B initiative system. We were constantly rerolling new characters. It was not a good environment to foster immersion, role playing and long term character development. Characters were unidimensional and we didn't get attached to them because they could die any moment.

Having said that, I wish you well on your (re)discovery of Old School D&D. Hope you find what you are looking for and have fun.
 
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Dragonblade

Adventurer
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....

You are right, my bad. Its been a while. :)
 

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