Posted on December 18, 2019
Late last month the Old-School Essentials Kickstarter came through and I received my goodies. I backed for both the Rules Tome and the boxed set, along with the Advanced Fantasy expansion books, and I am really pleased I did. These are really gorgeous physical books:
Obviously, I was already familiar with Gavin Norman’s outstanding work with B/X Essentials and so in many ways this was a “sure bet” Kickstarter. B/X Essentials was already a really nicely done retroclone, with a modular design which makes it unique among “Basic D&D” retroclones. I knew Old-School Essentials would be at least that good – really I backed the Kickstarter to see how much of an improvement an offset print-run could be as compared to the B/X Essentials print-on-demand books.
The answer is: a huge improvement. These books are physically beautiful. They’re sturdy and attractive, and are so well-presented that they could be placed on the same shelf as the latest books from WotC and Paizo and look as if they deserved to be there, despite the fact that their presentation is of an entirely different style to the “big colour hardback book”. This is an OSR product which is truly worthy of mainstream distribution, and if we are honest, there are only a few OSR games which we can say that about, in terms of their physical presentation.
I hope Old-School Essentials finds that mainstream distribution and enjoys mainstream success as a result, beyond the usual OSR audience which is familiar with the online distribution channels. It’s modular nature also lends itself to a line of supplements – genre rules for different fantasy genres, alternate classes and races, and so on. While I think experienced players don’t mind tinkering with the rules from an all-in-one book like the Rules Tome, the smaller, modular books in the boxed set invite newer players to see the system as consisting of pieces which can be swapped in and swapped out. I don’t think I appreciated how clever this was when Gavin first did it with B/X Essentials but I certainly see it now.
As fond as I am of Labyrinth Lord, with this printing I think Old-School Essentials has superseded it and now stands as the superior “reference retroclone” for Basic D&D. I think its succinct, modern presentation makes it an easier sell to younger players familiar with 5e or Pathfinder, as well as a superior reference text for Grognards.
Thinking about pulling the trigger on these. I have Labyrinth Lord Advanced, which is good in the sense of being all in one volume. But the quality, organization and production values aren’t great. Reading an extended review of how they b/xed the advanced options also has me intrigued. Basically I like the underlying simplicity of B/X, but I also want the extra classes,monsters, etc. of AD&D. I’d even like a few new classes & spells. Sounds like that might happen with the expansions.
The physical books are extremely well-presented and compare favourably to mainstream games without being at all derivative of their presentation.