Old School Essentials Advanced Fantasy Referee’s Tome.
Old School Essentials Advanced Fantasy Referee’s Tome by Necrotic Gnome/Exalted Funeral is the second half of the OSE Advanced Fantasy series. I had a little trouble finding these books in person at a FLGS, but it is possible. Otherwise, they can be ordered online if you don’t mind paying some shipping. Link here.
As one might well expect, the Referee’s Tome is aimed at the Game Master. It contains all of the information needed to run the game successfully. It has quick impromptu adventure location design tables, monsters, magic items of every kind, and other treasure tables. Honestly, this book is worth the investment even if one wants to run a generic D20 Fantasy adventure game.
I often say how art sells TTRPG books.
Much like the Advanced Fantasy Player’s Tome, this book has some nice full page art spreads sprinkled throughout. There are also more classic old school Dungeons & Dragons style artwork throughout the book. Many of the art pieces remind me of the old AD&D books or Dragon magazine.
I’ll also drop another shameless plug for the hardcover version of the OSE books. Two sewn in cloth bookmarks accent this hard bound, cloth binding book. I have had no concerns about pages falling out. The book is well laid out and easy to follow as well as find things. It’s even indexed properly. Truly top tier quality print work has gone into all of the OSE books.
While I wouldn’t recommend this book strictly for the art value, the illustrations really do add to the fun of the nostalgic Old School Renaissance style of the game. Old School Essentials is a game line primarily based upon D&D Basic/Expert sets in terms of layout and gameplay. It is perhaps less obvious when it comes to the Referee’s Tome only because it so strongly resembles other Open Game License D20 fantasy games. However, the art brings the reader back to the fabulous days of yesteryear when we barely had any idea what half the creatures in the game actually looked like.
Everything a certain Megacorp wished the Dungeon Master’s Guide was.
Starting right on Page 4, this book pulls the GM into his/her role as facilitator of fun, neutral judge, and arbiter of the rules. It talks about how to handle players, NPCs, monsters, locations and so forth. It talks about creating scenarios and designing dungeons. It’s literally everything an aspiring new Game Master/Referee would want to know.
Being a Referee is really no harder than being a player. It might require a little more time outside of the game, but this book makes it easy. I don’t think the OSR will ever suffer from any sort of GM shortage like D&D 5E allegedly has. The game rules are easy to learn, and the Referee’s Tome gets things going right away. The highly expandable, flexible, easy rules have facilitated hundreds of OSE adventures plus hundreds more that can be pulled in from Old D&D.
Found the “Monster Manual” for OSE cooked into this book.
All of the old school classic fantasy monsters are well represented in the Referee’s Tome. Some of the classic D&D monsters are here such as chromatic dragons, golems, and owl bears to name a few. I was surprised my favorite Caryatid Column was listed along with the Flail Snail and Peryton in this book. Even certain trademarked monsters such as the Eye Tyrant can still be found.
I’m pretty surprised at how many monsters they squeezed into the Referee’s Tome. Not a lot of space is wasted, and it covers about as much monster material as the B/X books would have and maybe a little more. It should be noted that many creatures do not have any artistic representation. Instead much of the monster descriptions are left to the imaginations of the Referee and Players to figure out on their own. This is one time I’m glad an RPG has less art and more crunch.
Magic Items and Intelligent Swords, as expected.
What’s a fantasy TTRPG GM’s manual without treasure? Everyone always wants to jump straight to the magic items. OSE does not disappoint. Many classic D&D magic items appear in the book. I was impressed to see the Figurines of Wondrous Power and the Feather Tokens, just to name two things I like to hand out.
There are also plenty of old school Rods, Staves, Wands, and scrolls. Potions are abundant as well even if the crafting rules have to be homebrewed in. Sentient swords are also a long time fan favorite presented in OSE. Of course, there are also good old cursed items listed as well.
My final score for OSE Advanced Fantasy Referee’s Tome is 5 out of 5 Stars.
I feel this book is a good value for the money. I really can’t ask for much more in a GM’s manual. It’s highly expandable and easy to build homebrew monsters and magic items. It takes the game from beer-n-pretzels Saturday night gaming to serious kitchen table dungeon fun.
If you’re looking for deep, meaningful, serious character roleplay, OSE can do that. However, it’s not the kind of fantasy TTPRG where I would expect to see everyone cosplaying their fancy anime-style characters around the table in an actual play podcast. It’s more of the Barbarian character kicks in the dungeon door and commences swinging on the first Orc he sees kind of action. While the more intense cinematic, thespian gaming is possible with OSE, I don’t think we’ll see Matt Mercer or anyone promoting the game, umm- ever? It’s just not their style.
I love this book. I urge everyone to at least check it out in PDF format if you can. It feels like a good reference if you’re running any D20 fantasy game from B/X D&D on up to Pathfinder 2E or Dungeon Crawl Classics.
Thanks for stopping by. This concludes my reviews of the OSE Advanced rules. I’ll review the Basic Fantasy set if I can ever get my hands on the set.