This time I return to a retro clone of the 1981 B/X Basic set from 1981 (I previously covered Blueholme, Labyrinth Lord, and the Rules Cyclopedia). Although my first introduction to D&D was the 1983 Mentzer red box, I find myself all these years later gravitating toward the early 1981 Moldvay Basic/Expert box sets. Although the game system I use is Castles and Crusades, regular readers of my blog know that I run two campaigns, one draws upon Barrowmaze (which uses the Labyrinth Lord system), and the other is drawing upon Basic Fantasy game material. So for the last couple of years my C&C games have been heavily involved with 1980’s style D&D material.
Old-School Essentials (OSE) is a damn good game! As you can see from the picture below, I got it when it was originally known as B/X Essentials and was available in small booklets. But when Gavin Norman re-branded it Old-School Essentials, he raised the bar. I think this is the best put together and organized presentation of the 1981 Basic D&D game. These are sturdy hardcovers, with amazing old school black and white artwork, as well as multiple full color two-page art spreads throughout. And the rule presentation is incredibly helpful and succinct (the books also have useful endpapers with all the essential charts, why don’t other companies do this?). I really love OSE! Gavin also makes the evocative Dolmenwood faerie tale setting (I have all the Wormskin zines – see the picture at the bottom – which lay out portions of this setting), and once he brings out a complete Dolmenwood setting in the style he’s done for OSE, then that will most likely be my next C&C campaign. But let me get to character creation!
As you probably gathered from the above discussion, I read his OSE and Wormskin books/zines and marvel at the creativity and organization, but I have yet to make a character in the system. So this is that chance!
I rolled some decent stats: 11, 12, 10, 14, 9, 12 (3d6 6 times and distributed as I desired). I chose to make a Thief, since I haven’t done so yet in the character creation challenge, and I wanted to see their OSE capabilities. The information regarding what an attribute score gives you is straightforward, made more so by the fact that Gavin puts all the essential material on one page – or on facing pages – so you always have everything you need to see right in front of you. All the thief material was on two facing pages and I recorded all my abilities. The saving throw charts were easy to read and record on my character sheet, and after rolling my starting coin (3d6x10) and getting 140gp, I proceeded to buy my basic equipment. Again, the ease of reading the charts and the descriptions of whatever you are seeking information on (i.e. attributes, class abilities, equipment) are succinct and aren’t burdened with excess verbiage. The book is small in size (A5), so there is a need to flip through the book more than you would find in a larger A4 book, but the organization of material easily makes up for that and I do like the compactness (if I can find someone who will run OSE at the GaryCon or GameHole conventions, then it will be easy to bring my books with me).
To be honest, that is all there is to it! If you choose to use older-style descending armor class and THACO, those charts and information are obviously shown, but if you prefer to use ascending armor class and hit bonuses (like I do), that is also listed. My personal game of choice may be Castles & Crusades (with C&C I can use D&D material from OD&D to 5E effortlessly), but I want to play OSE at conventions if I can, and I will be drawing upon Gavin’s game advice in the OSE books to guide my C&C games, and when Dolmenwood comes out, I will be using that material as a future campaign. So although my OSE books are currently not being used as much as they deserve, they are not collecting dust!