Flavors of the OSR part 8: Old School Essentials


Old School Essentials by Gavin Norman (Necrotic Gnome)

Type: Clone of B/X Dungeons & Dragons (Moldway/Cook)

Availability: Free basic version. Full art PDF and print versions (box with separate hardbacks and collected hardback) from the publisher’s website. PDFs also at DTRPG. I would also add that the pricing is very reasonable, considering the high quality of the printed materials. There is also an online SRD for those who prefer that.

Form factor: The game is published in two variants. Variant 1 is as separate books (base rules, magic, treasure etc) and variant 2 is a rules tome that collects all the books in a hefty tome. The separate books can be purchased as a complete box set but is also sold separately.

All print variants are of very high-quality, with sewn bindings and thick paper, and from a bona fide “real” printer, i.e. no print-on-demand. The print is two-tone (b/w with light green accents, reminiscient of TSR:s old Rules Cyclopedia) and also containing some full colour art pages and covers. In my opinion, the art itself is definitely old school and of varying quality, but generally very cool and fitting the old school theme and aesthetics. Also, the format is A5, providing a smaller form factor at the table as well as increasing portability for traveling GM:s and players.

The author have furthermore gone to lengths to ensure that the game is friendly at the gaming table, with super clear and modern page design, aiming at minimizing page flipping. Most topics have been laid out so that all pertinent information is available in a single page spread.

Community: Support for OSE is mainly from the publisher’s web site. There are also very active OSE groups on social media such as Facebook, MeWe and Discord.

Product support: As for now mainly through the publisher. However, there is licensed support for 3rd party products, of which there is a also a listing at the Necrotic Gnome web site. These 3rd party products are then hosted on DTRPG. Currently, the publisher is developing two different product lines, one of which are various additions to the OSE rules themselves and the other is Dolmenwood which is a setting that explicitly uses OSE. The publisher is also behind the fanzine Wormzine, which primarily supports Dolmenwood, but also OSE.

Tinkerability: Very good. As an old school rule set, it is very easy to insert stuff ad libitum from other old school games, without disturbing the game mechanics.

Compatibility: The game is 100 % compatible with D&D b/x (Moldway/Cook) and very close to OSR clones like Labyrinth Lord and Basic Fantasy RPG. So, conversion between all pre-third edition versions of TSR D&D or clones thereof are easy.

Flavor: OSE is basically an updated version of D&D b/x, which should cater for fans of both b/x and the other b/x clone – Labyrinth Lord. If you like old school basic D&D – this will surely be your jam.


AC: Descending (unarmored man is AC 9), with optional rules for using Ascending AC instead

Combat: Attack matrices (or THAC0), with optional rules for using Attack Bonus instead

Saves: 5 (old school style – Death or Poison/Wands/Paralysis or Petrification/Breath Attacks/Spells, Rods or Staves)

Level range: 1-14 (with optional rules reaching level 36)

Race & Class*: Combined (Race-As-Class)

Classes included*: Cleric, Fighter, Magic-user, Thief, Dwarf, Elf and Halfling.

Hit Dice: Varying according to class

Monster Hit Dice: Static, d8

XP Charts: Variable, each class has its own xp chart

Multi-class*: No

Dual-class: No

Demi-human class and level restrictions: Demi-humans have level restrictions as opposed to humans

Class requirements: Yes (for example, to play an Elf you have to have minimum Intelligence 9).

*The additional book OSE Advanced Fantasy genre  has rules for a range of new classes such as: Acrobat, Assassin, Barbarian, Bard, Drow, Druid, Duergar, Gnome, Half-elf, Half-orc, Illusionist, Knight, Paladin, Ranger, and Svirfneblin. It also covers optional rules for separate race and class as well as multi classing.


D&D b/x (or as we called it back then, “Basic D&D” was my introduction to role-playing games, and because of that it will always hold a special place in my heart. That said, I must also be honest with the fact that I prefer AD&D these days.

I would say that the main strengths of this game lies in compatibility, simplicity, modularity, quality and support.

As a very close clone of b/x, all materials for that game as well as for BECMI/Rules Cyclopedia D&D, Labyrinth Lord and Basic Fantasy RPG can be used as is, which is great if you have old modules lying around waiting to be played. A little conversion is needed for AD&D (1e and 2e) but conversion is pretty simple and can mostly be managed on the spot. This also goes for those popular OSR clones. This means that you have a vast library of modules and settings that easily can be run with OSE even if you’re not an old GM that was there when b/x was new.

The major strength of this game is it’s simplicity. The rules are easy to grasp and pretty short, so for ideal for those minimal prep pickup games or convention games. Earlier this year I had signed up to GM my first con game and for that I chose OSE. Sadly, that never came to pass, because of the corona virus. Also, the small footprint of the books makes them ideal for the travelling GM – no more hauling of 1 ton of books to the playing spot.

The fact that OSE is designed in a modular way is a great feature. We have a simple set of base rules, with additional books covering plug-in rules and settings. For example, for me the Advanced Fantasy plug-in is the best. As an AD&D fan, I like my druids, rangers and paladins. And now I can have them work with this lighter rule set. That’s a huge selling point for me at last. The author has announced that the next modular book in the works is a monster book that brings in many of the traditional monsters from AD&D in OSE format. (And you can never ever have too many monster books, right?)

The physical quality of the books are outstanding, as they’re “real” offset printed books with sewn spines and sturdy covers, which means that they promise to last a long time. They are also pretty to look at and they do induce that sense of wonder that I experienced when I first started playing RPGs. The author has also gone to great lengths to ensure that the books are easy to use. All topics take up one page or a page spread, which means that flipping back and forth at the game table is a thing of the past. The text is also worded in a most economical way, meaning that great care has been taken to keep things short and to the point. So no more sludging through walls of text to extract the bits of information you look for. In these days, when most RPGs increase their wording to the maximum, this kind of deliberate minimalist design is a bliss.

OSE is published by Necrotic Gnome which is synonymous with Gavin Norman, a UK guy based in Germany. This far, most OSE publications are by them, but there is a third party license (OGL) for those that want to write and publish their own OSE compatible materials and so far there is a handful of them out there. Of particular interest is that Necrotic Gnome has made the SRD available online, along with a bunch of cool random generators for treasure, NPCs and so on. This is very handy and a huge plus for OSE, increasing the usability of the game immensely.

The only real bummer for me is the same as always when it comes to the slimmed down OSR variants – short lists of stuff such as equipment, weapons, monsters, magic items and spells. I like lots of choice in those departments and it is what usually bothers me with this type of game. Of course, I can import stuff from other games (and I do), but it’s much more convenient to have it all in one place. Hopefully, Necrotic Gnome will publish works that expand the lists some in that department.

This is a game that basically has rekindled my interest in the OSR genre. The last few years I’ve been focussing on other games, but now I’m back in OSR land. It has also rekindled my interest in writing and creating OSR stuff and I have already started work on a new OSE compatible dungeon adventure called “Tomb of the War-Pig”. I don’t think that this game will replace my all-time OSR favorite “Blood & Treasure” for my own games, but I will definitely use it for one-shots and convention games, and also for publishing my own content on DTRPG. Gorgeous books with high usability and online support as well. Love it!

Publisher: Necrotic Gnome

Old School Essentials SRD

Other posts in this series: Flavors of the OSR

20|20 – Year of the double crit


Symbaroum – battle outside the entrance to the Tomb of Dead Dreams

Last year was an all-time RPG low for me since our re-boot of playing RPGs back in 2010.

I can see several reasons for it.

One part is adult life – just not for me but for the players. Last year one of the players got divorced for the second time, resulting in him prioritizing dating and carousing instead of gaming. Another player lost his father, and several of us have had various problems with our teenage kids. Yet another player met the new woman of his life, so spending time playing games isn’t his main objective at this point. On top of that, there’s the ever-growing work thing as well as several of us either have changed to more demanding job positions of new jobs altogether.

And one player has stated that he will henceforth only play in our Call of Cthulhu games, while another won’t play Cthulhu at all.

Also, I have a rekindled interest in physical activity, so I’ve spent a lot of the time I previously used for game prep outdoors, trail running and road cycling.

In conclusion, many factors have resulted in less time and less interest in gaming during 2019. Which in turn has contributed to what I would describe as a GM burnout on my part. I have been GM:ing constantly for the last 9 years and now I feel I need a break and the developments of the last year have only reinforced this feeling, especially since I have felt that most of my “GM energy” has been spent trying to keep the group together and to actually manage to book some game sessions.

Thusly, I plan to take a GM timeout for at least 6 months, maybe the whole year. One of the other players is going to run a D&D 5e game instead, in which I will be a player for a welcome change. Also, I have started reaching out to other RPG groups and will, in fact, participate in a new Forbidden Lands campaign starting soon in a nearby game club. I will also try to go to various old school game conventions (one – KryptCon III – coming up this very weekend actually). I’ll also try to play more online games if possible.

And maybe, if the drive comes back, I’ll try to write and publish one or two adventures as well.

Hopefully, this will help to get both me and my table gaming group back on track…



Dark fantasy worldbuilding


DIY workshop…

I have had the ingredients of a new homebrew setting simmering away for a few years now, but never got the time or 100% urge to finish it enough to play. The contents are scattered among several notebooks and hidden away on my hard drive in OneNote.

It began as I was working on a new adventure module – Fiery the Angel Fell, where I had to do some background for the area around the adventure location. This got me thinking about the larger world and as one thing leads to another, soon the bare bones of a setting popped up in my head.


It is a fantasy setting, but of the grimmer and darker kind. Literary inspiration could be Andrzej Sapkowski’s The Witcher books or Joe Abercrombie’s First Law books, maybe with a dash of Michael Moorcock here and there. And naturally interspersed with a (un)healthy dose of Lovecraftian horror. Game wise I’d say like a mix of Warhammer’s Old World, elements of Ravenloft, bits and bobs of Jack Shear’s World Between, and ideas from Mongoose’s excellent but strangely forgotten Deus Vult setting (for RuneQuest II/Legend).

The original plan was to write it for Blood & Treasure or Labyrinth Lord, but then I thought that Fantastic Heroes & Witchery would fit much better, with it’s darker themes. Then, as my interest in D&D-ish games waned and the goodness that is Zweihänder emerged, I decided to switch to that instead. Now, Zweihänder sounded super during the Kickstarter, being basically a clone of WFRP 2e but with the serial numbers filed off. However, I must admit that despite being a gorgeous book, with very cool concepts and art, the system left me a bit cold as it’s quite different from WFRP 2e (which I love). The book is also extremely wordy in comparison and I frankly have had a hard time grasping the rules when forced to read a ton of text with little snippets of useful info being hidden in the text.


Thickness comparison of WFRP 2e and Zweihänder*

* OK, not totally fair comparison since Zweihänder contains a lot of stuff that WFRP added in separate sourcebooks, but still…

I’m sure that we will try out Zweihänder further up the road, but for the time being, I will stay in the Old World using WFRP 2e when I get that Warhammer urge. I did also consider using OpenQuest 2, which is my go-to d100 fantasy system, but again it felt too RuneQuest-y in flavor, especially the magic systems, which I’m really not a huge fan of outside of Glorantha style settings.


Basic Roleplaying – The Big Gold Book

Then, a few days ago, as a result of a conversation over at Google Plus, I dug out my trusty Big Gold Basic Roleplaying book and started reading and it dawned on me that I had all the tools I could ever want for my homebrew setting right under my nose. Better yet, d100/BRP gaming has been my favorite system-wise ever since we played RuneQuest 2 in the 1980’s, so it all makes very good sense.


Generic d100/BRP game system Magic World!

As a result, I have managed to track down a copy of Magic World and it’s companion Advanced Sorcery, which I will use as a rule base. Magic World is basically Stormbringer/Elric with the serial numbers filed off. Simpler rules than RuneQuest and more appropriate to my ideas about this new game world.

This time my world will start small and grow over time. When I last made a homebrew setting back in the late 1980’s and early 1990s, I tried to create an almost complete world, with easily foreseeable results… (it became overwhelming and slowly petered out…)

Last, a short comment about the adventure that started it all. As I said earlier, Fiery the Angel Fell was planned as an adventure module for release on Lulu and DriveThru RPG. I haven’t dropped that idea yet, but if I release it, I will have to use an OGL compliant game system such as MRQ I or Mongoose Legend, or even Revolution D100 (by Alephtar Games), as they have SRDs that could allow such an enterprise.  Also, the module will be for free – my little contribution to the RPG community (see earlier post about this here).

However, it’s a great difference between creating stuff for your own games and creating stuff for publication. Publishing stuff is great fun and rewarding in many ways, but it’s also a huge time sink and free time is something I don’t have very much of at the moment.

So we’ll see about that.

But being back in the d100 fold again feels  great!




Game plan for 2018


Pretty awesome fantasy art IMHO

For me, 2017 was a pretty good year for playing RPGs. I’ve gotten to play in two different campaigns online (Cthulhu & Chivalry and Call of Cthulhu). And I’ve gotten to GM many Call of Cthulhu adventures in my main 1920s Masks of Nyarlahotep campaign, but also some shorter adventures (Castles & Crusades and Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 2e).

What I haven’t managed to set aside time for is (i) managing my blogs properly and (ii) writing and publishing new adventures under the Lazy Sod Press imprint.

And that’s a bit sad I think, as I have two half-finished adventures (one short, one long) just sitting on my hard drive waiting to be completed.

As for my current Call of Cthulhu game, the plan was to run one or two chapters as “seasons”, TV-series style, and then switch to another game, but both me and the players are enjoying this game immensely, so we have just kept on going, soon moving into chapter 3 “Cairo”.

For 2018, I plan to run the Cairo chapter and then switch to another game for a while. The three games currently on my wishlist are:

  1. Delta Green (Arc Dream version) – the brand new adventure “Viscid” looks just awesome – precisely my style! I also have a homebrew game planned – an adaptation and evolution of the fan-made adventure “Longpig” for KULT, which would be cool to run but would also take some serious work to prep for.
  2. I would also like to run some fantasy game of the darker kind. Currently, I’m pondering whether to run Symbaroum or Zweihänder. To be honest, Zweihänder is more my bag rules-mechanics wise, but then Symbaroum has this wonderful setting and these awesome adventures that would lift a great deal of GM prep work off my back. And that’s worth a lot, as the coming year promises to be pretty chock full of work for me. On the other hand, I have this semi-finished adventure that I wrote for Blood & Treasure that I think would fit Zweihänder perfectly…

On the publishing side, my new concept of publishing everything for free or PWYW feels right. That way I can write and publish whatever I want and not feel constrained by considerations of “what would sell”.

Also, games like Castles & Crusades, Call of Cthulhu, Delta Green, and Zweihänder have licenses that allows publication of fan-made stuff, provided that they are offered for free. This way, I can feel free to write for whatever system I like, without economical considerations.

And that’s artistic freedom.

I’ve set a mental target to publish at least one adventure during 2018, as that’s what I think my free time will allow at this point.

Anyway, that’s some plans for the coming game year…



Tech for tabletop roleplaying and publishing – from Apple to Windows and Android


My old rig – MacBook Pro (15-inch w/ 5th gen 4 core i7 processor) and iPhone 6 Plus


During 2017, I have moved from using Apple gear only, to Windows and Android instead. Why?

Well, there are several reasons for that. On the phone front, it was time to get a new phone as my old carrier contract was nearing its end. I considered a few new phones, among them an iPhone 7 or a OnePlus 5, but then my favorite electronics market (the Swedish version of Best Buy) had a short time offer where you got a very good plan, including a brand new Samsung S8 for about 300 Euros. It was a no-brainer price-wise, really. The S8 is an awesome phone though, and I especially appreciate the format, as it’s narrower but a bit higher than most large screen phones. However, it fits neatly in a pocket so those extra shaved off millimeters really does a world of difference from “awkward to carry with you” to easy-peasy. I used to detest Android, as it felt like a bad copy of iOS and don’t start on the bad graphic design and the bazillion options everywhere, but with the latest versions of Android, the ugly duckling has become a pretty and slick mobile OS. Samsungs own TouchWiz Android iteration has also gotten a much-deserved overhaul and I must say that I prefer it over, for example, OnePlus’s OxygenOS.


New rig – Lenovo Yoga 720 (13-inch w/ 8th gen 4 core i5 processor) and Samsung S8

On the computer side, I wanted something to replace my aging iPad Air (with 16 GB of RAM) as it never was enough to keep my gaming PDFs and stuff. And since 2010 I haven’t owned a private laptop, but used my work machine (the MBP 15-inch) as it up to now has been perfectly allowed by my employer. However, the last few years, the IT department has been issuing new rules about this and that and it ended up with me feeling that I wanted to get my private stuff (mainly photos and game stuff) off the Macbook.

Due to ridiculous pricing, weak specs, and no touch screen, a new MacBook was ruled out directly. I decided to return to Windoze, which I left last time when XP was hot…

At first, I thought that I wanted a tablet that could function as a laptop at times and had almost decided for a Surface Pro i5. However, that machine is expensive when you add all the peripheral gear you need for it to function fully (keyboard, pen etc). Even with my 10% university teacher’s discount with Microsoft, the price is still high for what you get. I also started to think about what and how I usually use my computers and realized that I rather needed a laptop that could function as a tablet at times. After reading a lot of reviews and articles on 2-in-1s, I found the Lenovo Yoga 720 13-inch to be exactly what I wanted and after some saving up I decided to buy it, but then on Black Friday I saw that my favourite electronics chain had the Yoga 720 with the new 8th gen processors and with the Lenovo Active Pen included in the box. And the price was down 300 Euros for the Black Friday thingy. I picked up the computer at 0700 hours when they opened the store!

Since I keep most files in the cloud (I use DropBox, Google Drive, OneDrive, and Box), the move between OS’s has been very easy. Most of the software I use is available on most platforms, so very little has been problematic that way. And contrary to most Windoze-aficionados, I think that Windows 10 is great. It’s the first ever version of Windows that I truly like, tiles and all. And it has been very easy to get a grip on how it works after having been in Mac-land for so long. And with some research on the internets, I have been able to find suitable Windows apps for those few Mac-only apps that I use.

The Yoga is truly an awesome little machine. Full aluminium body (total weight 1.3 kg), great backlit keyboard, full HD touchscreen, USB-C (firewire) as well as an USB3 port, awesome Windows precision trackpad, tablet mode, ultra-fast PCIe hard drive etc etc. The only things I regret some is not getting the i7 model, mainly because it has 16GB of RAM and a 512 GB HD, but it wasn’t available at Black Friday pricing so I saved like 600 Euros by opting for the smaller model. The screen is also quite reflective (covered by Gorilla Glass) and not the brightest I’ve seen, which means that it can be hard to see on the screen when we play, depending on where we are (we usually play daytime).

I will come back with a follow-up post about doing game related stuff on the Yoga 720 next year. Above all, I’m curious about drawing dungeon and other maps on the computer. Also, all forthcoming adventures and other game stuff will be created on the Yoga. Which means that I have to abandon Adobe (which I have on my work Mac for free) and move to other software platforms for desktop publishing/layout and PDF preparation.

We’ll see how that works out 🙂

And also – don’t forget – all my game stuff (PDFs) is now free or Pay-What-You-Want over at DTRPG. If you want printed matter, there’s still a cost attached to that, naturally.