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

Their roots go deep my lord…




New old books!


After a number of years searching for The Riddle of the OSR Clones, I’ve decided to scrap all that and go back to my original D&D infatuation – Advanced Dungeons & Dragons.

It all began a while back when I sat down and started reading in my old DMG, and I realized that I have all I need as far as D&D goes right here.

I still have my old books from back in the day and a bunch of adventures on top of that. And new OSR style stuff can easily be ported over if I should want.

At this point, I’m kinda burned out on D&D-ish games and I currently run Call of Cthulhu. After that, I plan to run some Symbaroum. After that, I reckon it’s time for some true old school AD&D, warts, high Gygaxian, and all! However, I plan to start some good old world building right now! Back in the day, I didn’t have money to buy setting stuff so I put my meager wealth on rulebooks and a few adventures, which I placed in my homebrew world along with homebrew adventures. For the new world, I will start small and then expand as we go. Back then I had this world map that I tried to fill with content, which turned out to be a killer job.


RQ first map

The first part of my old world, heavily influenced by the RQ2 maps by William Church. This world eventually grew much bigger and as a side note I used the same setting for b/x, AD&D and RuneQuest 2.


Even if we began with Moldway/Cook b/x, AD&D is the game I ran the longest during those early formative years and one that I remember fondly. I worked extra selling newspapers on the weekends to afford the PH and DMG and I got the MM from my grandparents one Christmas in Gothenburg. As the books came out I got them all and over time we added UA, OA and the Survival Guides as well. And I think that all those complicated extra rules were the beginning of the end for me. The game had gotten very complicated with all those extra rule mechanics and when AD&D 2nd edition was announced I redirected my interest towards RuneQuest 3 and other games instead.


2014-12-22 - 1

Reading my brand new MM, somewhere in the 80’s…

To commemorate this historic return to AD&D after 28 years (sic!), this week I treated myself with the limited edition AD&D Premium Reprints, which arrived yesterday. These are among the last new copies in Sweden and I even had to order the Monster Manual from Germany as it is sold out over here (I believe it will arrive next week). The reprints are of awesome quality and I honestly can’t understand the critique that some people have directed towards the illustration quality – I think the illos are perfectly fine. Much crisper than the old books and fully functional in all their old-school ugliness/coolness. And definitely cheaper than the D&D 5e books. I also got myself a battered REF1 GM screen for a very reasonable price. Never had one of those as I used a home made one back in the day.

Drawing of the adventuring party by one of my players (Johan Emanuelson), just before we stopped playing AD&D. From left to right: Emir – Fighter (w/ an unhealthy interest in pretty rocks); Sven – Fighter (badass); Daag – Assassin; Jean d’Arc – Paladin (of course); Zeb – Ranger (stinky and dirty); Casmir – Thief (sneaky and always ready to betray the other PCs. After getting caught red-handed stealing from the party, he was placed in a dinghy far out at sea and haven’t been heard from since).

I plan to run the game as written, using stuff like to-hit modifications vs. differents AC:s and segments – things we didn’t use back in the day. After reading the books with adult eyes, I see that we let a lot of b/x-isms flow over to our AD&D games. The only thing I will add is some kind of simple task resolution system, preferably based on attributes.

I also like the fact that nothing new will be added to the game – no new splatbooks or whatever. This means that I can concentrate on what I have and build my own stuff from that. As for future publications from the Lazy Sod, I might switch focus from Blood & Treasure to OSRIC instead. Haven’t decided on that yet.

Final note: For those who might have noticed that my online presence has diminished greatly compared to before, I am still here. However, an increased workload and other personal issues have eaten up a lot of my spare time. I still run (and occasionally play) games. I still write gaming stuff. It’s only that I don’t post that much or publish stuff anymore. And besides the personal stuff, my interest in sharing and discussing online has petered out in direct relation to the increasingly combative, opinionated and aggressive online climate and I simply don’t have the time or the interest to argue over non-game related issues with strangers online. I have enough of struggles in real life, and I don’t need it in my escapist feed as well. It’s as simple as that.




Short GM & publishing report


Nice pic!

I have kept away from blogging about RPGs and even Google+ for a while now.

The combination of long gaming hiatus due to vacations and then an intra-player conflict as we were preparing to start up the fall season of gaming has left me a wee bit tired of it all.

Add to that an extremely pressed work situation with lots of extra hours and mental energy poured into work related things… Well, let us just say that it does not get you into a mega-creative game groove.

However, I haven’t given up, and I’m still around 🙂

Two weekends ago we finished “Season 1” of our year-long Blood & Treasure game in the Lost Lands by Frog God Games. It has been a very good OSR/D&D-style experience and I will write a separate post on running OSR with B&T later, when I get the time and my spirits are up more. Some of the players have said that this is the most fun D&D-style game they have ever played.

And next weekend we will start with a character generation session for Masks of Nyarlahotep! I will use the 6th ed Call of Cthulhu rules for this one. If there is enough time after chargen I will throw them right into the action as well, starting their descent into mayhem and madness in the wintery New York cityscape of 1925.

Most of the Call of Cthulhu stuff will end up on my dedicated CoC blog (Sanity Zer∅) since I figured many of you OSR/D&D fellows might not be that interested in CoC or d100 gaming.

On the Lazy Sod Press publishing front there has sadly been little progress. I have two OSR style adventures brewing:

  • Fiery the Angel Fell is a quite long Terra Innominata (my home brew setting) fantasy horror ride to madness and destruction. I was initially planning this for Fantastic Heroes & Witchery, but will instead publish it for Blood & Treasure and D&D 5e. Maybe there will be a Swords & Wizardry edition as well. This one is half done. Just some more writing, cleaning up of the maps and then layout. I’m also waiting for a piece of illustration that I’ve paid for but never seem to receive…
  • Tomb of the War-Pig is a shorter dungeon romp adventure, also set in Terra Innominata. It pits the players against the horrors of an ancient sorcerer’s tomb and… Well, no more spoilers here… Let’s just say there will be surprises. Nasty ones. This one will be published for Labyrinth Lord and Swords & Wizardry. Maps and some writing is done. Art is to be commissioned.
  • I’m also contemplating doing a free OSR Conversion book. Basically a short and simple little book with conversion advice between the various OSR games. That way I don’t have to do OSR-game specific versions of my publications, unless they differ a lot.

If I could just find that precious time along with the energy to do it… As it is now, the little time I have to spare goes to my own game prep and to play games online. And that’s the main thing, right?



Lazy Sod Press | Player handouts for “Come to Daddy” available

Torgils Journal DTPRG

I made these player handouts for my own current Come to Daddy game and decided to share them.

There is on containing a summary of the Ritual of Banishment and one summary of what can be gleaned from Torgil’s Journal.


Available for free from DriveTHRU RPG or from here.

Don’t know what “Come to Daddy” is? Check here.


Lazy Sod Press | On Grognardism and skill checks


Coolest Swords & Wizardry cover evar…

I have gotten some feedback that my inclusion of “skill checks” (albeit clearly labeled as optional) in my self-published S&W adventures might not be in the vein of old school gaming.

I do realize that inclusion of skill checks in old school games is a bit controversial in some circuits, but it is how I play when using the S&W rules, and I wanted to include my own system as a variant rules option for those so inclined.

However, I hear you and in the future I will exclude skill checks in the S&W versions of my adventures, keeping it cleaner and more in line with the aesthetics of the old school crowd. I will also release an “Olde Grognard” PDF version of the already published modules, with the skill checks removed and instead publish a free PDF with optional skill check rules for S&W for those who enjoy such things.

Old Schoolers – dawnrazor has your grognard a**es covered 🙂

And with that I wish you all a nice weekend!