While I don’t always love the Old School Renaissance players, OSE is a great game.
Old School Essentials Advanced Fantasy Player’s Tome by Necrotic Gnome/Exalted Funeral is a TTRPG well worth investing in if you like older style games under a new cover. Before I dive into the real meat of this rulebook, I want to talk about the physical copy of this book. While I have the PDF and Hardcover, I’ve been waiting to right a review until I’ve had time to really enjoy the physical book.
I really can’t say more good things about almost any TTRPG book on the market today in terms of print quality, binding, cloth bookmarks sewn in, and overall production value. Exalted Funeral really went out of their way to make sure players are getting their money’s worth out of these books. The only minor beef I had with these books was finding a physical retailer who carries them. But that’s trivial and well worth the effort. (They can be ordered online if you don’t mind paying some shipping. Link here.)
In terms of the actual graphics and layout, Old School Essentials delivers Black & White and Color art to deliver that old AD&D 1E feeling to the game. The art is somewhat primitive compared to the books Wizards of the Coast puts out now. On the other hand, OSE delivers a lot more value content for the game and not as much for the art. I’d rather pay $40 for an OSE hardcover than $90 for three 64 page books full of art and a little crunch. Honestly, I paid $90 and got both Advanced OSE books and they’re way better written and produced than anything a certain megacorp has put out in the last five years.
Layout and art aside, the real beauty of this game lies in its content.
Now, I promise I’m not going to go on a rant about how everything was better in the good old days and all this new stuff is terrible. Plenty of other reviewers have probably gone there when talking about OSE. What drew me (back) into this game and this style of play is the unbridled simplicity of those older games. OSE is so easily adaptable to almost any campaign style, world setting, even other genres.
OSE is based on the old Basic/Expert Dungeons & Dragons rules. The Advanced rules add in some of those beloved classes from AD&D such as the Acrobat, Barbarian, Knight (Cavalier,) Druid, and Ranger. Even the Illusionist and Assassin are in here. Unlike other iterations and retroclones of D&D, there are no subclasses, kits, or variations. Your character is whatever Race/Class combo you choose.
Because it’s based on the old B/X rules, the various races of Dwarf, Elf, Halfling, Gnome, etc are also considered classes if the Referee chooses to run it that way. I’ve always felt old school multiclassing in D&D was painful and I’m choosing the alternate rules in OSE for my players to just pick their race and go. Humans get enough other meta benefits, it’s not worth worrying about balance at that point.
There’s more than just those old classic classes.
Character generation, ability scores, etc should all look familiar to anyone who has played D&D or any other number of D20 games. It’s important to note that OSE characters might have Secondary Skills such as butcher, baker, or lorimer, they do not have skills and feats the same way other games do. If one wants to search a room, there’s no skill check. The player just says, “I’m looking around the room,” and the Referee tells them what they can observe. No roll needed. Old school style.
The old style Saving Throws are in effect in this game. D: Death / poison; W: Wands; P: Paralysis / petrify; B: Breath attacks; S: Spells / rods / staves. Just like we did in the olden days when gamers roamed tournaments.
Another old fashioned feature of OSE is THACO (To Hit Armor Class Zer0 for anyone who doesn’t remember it.) The rules also give the option to use ascending armor class as is done in most modern iterations of D&D. Personally, as much as I love the nostalgia of THACO, it’s just easier on my players to use ascending and keep it simple for the youngins.
Level progressions are interesting in OSE and much like in OD&D, one can attract hirelings and build a stronghold. The rules are in the book. I love the hireling rules and as I discussed here, a lot of fun can be had with various retainers. I also like that some of the key town/village NPCs are listed for their services as well. This Player’s Tome fills in a lot of blanks left empty by other games.
Spells are as one would expect from any D20 fantasy TTRPG. Every casting class has a list to prepare from. Spells are fire and forget until the next day. Magic is not remarkable in terms of new spells, but still earns points for clear definitions and concise lists. Players can feel free to adapt or borrow from the hundreds of B/X and AD&D spells out there.
The comprehensive ease of understanding and fun basic gameplay are inspiring to me. There are a lot of concepts at work here that I can borrow for my own TTRPG efforts. OSE also has its own form of Open Game License that I’m excited to explore.
My overall rating for this game is probably not a surprise.
I give it 4 out of 5 stars. OSE could easily go on my top 5 list of games to be stranded on a deserted island with. There are really only two books in the advanced set and the rest is easily filled in from new spells, items, and adventures. The Player’s Tome has all of the basics in it to run games for days on end.
I know one old school player on Twitter who said he got rid of the rest of his collection and just kept OSE. I think he had Basic and Advanced, but still. That’s a pretty big leap of faith for some of us. For me it’s like getting a tattoo. Do I really want just this one game for life? I dunno. But OSE is pretty nifty.
Thanks for stopping by. More on the OSE Advanced Referee’s Tome coming soon. I appreciate you being here. Enjoy whatever game your group is comfortable with. Have fun.