OSR Retrospective: Old School Essentials

This week, I figures I’d yack about Old School Essentials since they’ve got a Kickstarter going for a couple more Advanced books to add to the series. I started using/playing Old School Essentials when it was still BX Essentials. The name changed had nothing to do with the content of the game. It was to make the game more appealing to those who have no idea what BX means. And in case you are wondering it goes to the very old Basic/Expert sets of early D&D. Basic/Expert. BX. Get it?
Old School Essentials (OSE) is a clone of the old Basic/Expert sets like I said. Like most clones, it cleans up and organizes the material and fills in any gaping rules holes. The material is laid out clearly and easy to read and reference. As a bonus, it breaks down the material into separate books (Rules, Spells, Classes, Monsters, Treasure) for easy reference at the table. (Yes, it also consolidated into a Rules Tome as well.)

At first, I was really “meh” on it. Another BX clone? Yawn. I really don’t need this. I’ve got plenty of clones. Heck, I even have copies of my originals. So why in the world would I consider getting this? Well, I have to give credit where credit is due. One review changed my mind.

At that time, I was running Labyrinth Lord and decided to grab up a few of the books for reference at the table. Yes, I know there are many differences between the two. But I’m really laid back and just hand waved any differences in exchange for faster play at the table by having much of the material in an easy to reference format. I know I keep saying that but that’s real selling point on OSE, easily referenced material at the table.
If you’ve stopped by this blog more than once, you probably know that I really love house ruling and rules tweaking. Like most of the old school games, OSE isn’t any different. Any house rules that you may like or something cool from another clone, you can add to your game. Plus most of that old school material from around the web will easily work with little or no conversion. Last week, I said that Swords & Wizardry is my favorite of the old school games, OSE comes in as a close second. If you want to experience the game like it was back in the day and have it presented in clear and easily understood format and packed so it’s easy to reference at the table. Well, kids. OSE is there for you.

You can grab up Old School Essentials all over the web; DrivethruRPG, Necrotic Gnome’s site, and Exalted Funeral. Oh and I should mention that there’s an online SRD and generators available.

Cepheus Atom


Combine Gamma World, Mutant Crawl Classics and Mutant Future and marry it up with very streamlined version of original Traveler, you get Cepheus Atom. That pretty much sums it up. So yep. Cepheus Atom is a gonzo post apocalyptic game. You could leave out the mutations and such go for a more Mad Max style game if you wanted to.
This is a an extremely streamlined version of the 2d6 Traveler style rules. Characters have only two stats; Endurance and Lifeblood. And there are only six skills (Combat, Knowledge, Physical, Social, Survival, and Technical). There’s no Professions or Careers and you won’t die in character generation which will take only minutes to do. Equipment runs the full spectrum of technology. Characters start with some “common” equipment which covers the usual things and includes primitive as well as “modern” equipment like guns and vehicles.
As characters adventure through the wastelands, they gain Contamination which means they mutate. The more Mutations, they more bizarre they get. And get too contaminated, they character just dies. Mutations are broken into Beneficial and Detrimental and each of those has levels of Minor, Medium and Major. There’s a pretty well rounded range of mutations from psychic powers to physical changes like thick skin or claws or just cosmetic. Some of the mutations are purposefully left vague to allow the player to come up with specifically what happens to the character.
You can’t have a gonzo post apocalyptic game without “Ancient” relics. These are the high tech (almost “magical”) gadgets that the characters can find but have no actual idea how they work. This usually ends up being some fun and occasionally disastrous moments as the characters attempt to figure out what the device is and how to use it. The list of relics in the book are pretty standard things from healing items to power armor.

Monsters have pretty straight forward stat blocks. That’s one thing that I dislike in some of the other Cepheus Engine games is the more complex stat blocks (almost like a whole character write up). Since Cepheus Atom is so streamlined, it uses the same simple format for monsters as well as adding a some special abilities. There’s a pretty standard list of weird wasteland creatures but like the Relics, a GM is only limited by their imagination because it’d be darned right easy to make new and really weird monsters.
On the downside, there isn’t much artwork in the book. I can live with that. And there isn’t any sort of character advancement system. But you could easily port something in from another Cepheus Engine game. And there isn’t a character sheet but one again that isn’t much of problem since the game is so light and it would be easy to make one but it is something that would be nice to have.
Overall, I really like the game. The streamlined design lets game masters house rule and tweak to their desire and there’s plenty of options for them to build the kind of campaign they want to. For me personally, I have about half a dozen different ideas bouncing around inside my brain pan but more on those later.
Oh, yes. Did I also mention that it’s pretty darned cheap? You can grab Cepheus Atom over at DrivethruRPG

OSR Retrospective: Swords & Wizardry

Swords & Wizardry
I have to confess this is favorite and go to old school system. It hits all the right check boxes for ease of play, ease of house ruling, and ease of conversion. So you may take this as a little biased. Well, I do have to have a favorite and this is it.
I guess I should start with the “flavors” of Swords & Wizardry. Yes, it does come in flavors. Overall, Swords & Wizardry is based on the original little brown books and their supplements. Swords & Wizardry Complete is version that is actively being supported by Frog God Games. Like the title says, it’s the most “complete”. You get all the common classes: Assassin, Cleric, Druid, Fighter, Magic-Uesr, Monk, Paladin, Ranger, Thief. And the most common races: Humans, Dwarfs, Elves, Half-Elves, and Halflings. Then there’s Swords & Wizardry Core. It has the four basic classes and four basic races (no Half-Elves). Overall the game mechanics of Complete and Core are the same and most of the differences are minor. Then there’s White Box. It’s based specifically on the first three little brown books. So only three classes (No Thieves) and the four basic races. The other difference is that primarily uses only d20’s and d6’s.

All of the old-school games are largely compatible as I’ve said. Swords & Wizardry give the option of using Ascending or Descending AC. So that they way you want. One thing that it did add is the Single Saving Throw. Instead of 3, 5, or even 6 Saving Throws. Characters and monsters have a single Saving Throw. For characters, the base is determined by class/level and then there additional modifiers based on race and class. There is the option to use the good old five Saving Throws but I happen to like the Single Save.
Let me tell you why. First when characters are leveling up, the players only have to change one number. As a GM, there are some weird situations that it’s an quick and easy solution to just have the player make Saving Throw and not really worry about which one. Also as a GM, it really helps speed up combat. It makes the monster stat blocks so much quicker when I just have a number there and not something like “Saves as a 3rd Level Fighter”. Crap, let me look that chart up. As a matter of face, I’ve used Swords & Wizardry monster stat blocks while running other games. Yes, even 5th Edition.
Because of the clear and simple rules plus that Single Save, it makes house ruling and home brewing really a breeze. I put up a bunch of the stuff over on the Downloads page plus there posts all over this blog and many, many more with great and inspirational material. So there’s plenty of fan material out there as well as a lot of Third Party Publishers.
There’s lots of Third Party Publishers out there (myself included) and I know there’s probably some that I’m going to miss. I apologize for that. And with all this material being created, you don’t have to stick to just fantasy. The rules have been converted into all the major genres.
Barrel Rider Games has lots of stuff for Swords & Wizardry (and other games). White Star and their White Box line are awesome.
Check out Sine Nominee for
Want some WWII action? Well there’s Operation White Box. Spies? Got you covered with White Lies. You want a more Swords and Sorcery type game? Then there’s Crypts & Things. There’s more out there and I”m just scratching the surface here.
There a couple that deserve some special attention. Swords & Wizardry Light/Continual Light and Whit Box: Fantasit Medieval Adventure Game. Swords & Wizardry Light is the brain child of Erik Tenkar. It’s a fast play introductory game. It’s prefect to to teach beginners or for a quick pick up game. Swords & Wizardry Light is based on the White Box rules and covers Levels 1 to 3 and does it in just four pages for a complete game. Continual Light takes the game to higher levels and has also some 3rd Party Publishers offering material. Swords & Wizardry Light is free while Continual Light is dirt cheap.
White Box Fantastic Medieval Adventure Game Game by Seattle Hill Games is also dirt cheap for hard copies and free as a PDF. It’s almost identical to Swords & Wizardry White Box but it adds the Thief and a few other minor mechanics and works perfectly with other White Box materials.
And if you’re still with me, the PDF for Swords & Wizardry (and some of the others) is FREE! Legally that is. And you can’t beat that price. You can grab up all sorts of stuff on Drivethrurpg, Lulu, Frog God Games, and lots of other places around the net.

NPC’s: Grath High Priest of Mordiggian

The city of Malkuth is widely known as The City of Monsters which is a misnomer. The city isn’t evil but actually neutral to a fault. Any are welcome as long as they abide by the laws. Even the more civilized “evil” races need to trade and occasionally meet. The city is constructed in the caldera of a dormant volcano and extensive series of lava tubes provided a labyrinth passages beneath the city. The city is ruled by council consisting of the five most powerful clerics and the five most powerful magic-users in the city.

I’ve written about the Cult of Mordiggian before. Grath is the High Priest of Mordiggian in the city of Malkuth and the public face of the cult. The Cult of Mordiggian came to power in the city after the Temple of Tiamat was destroyed. Publicly, the cult deals with most of the funerary rites in the city and in secret will arrange for a body to permanently disappear. While not well liked, the cult is tolerated as long it doesn’t step too far out of bounds.
Grath is quiet and soft spoken. He is patient and an opportunist. While he is the leader of the cult, he uses it more for his own personal gain. He keeps the city’s udead population in check. He often acts as an agent for intelligent, free-willed undead who visit the city and counsel to necromancers. Despite the city’s tolerant attitude, Grath walks a fine line. His cousin, Sasha the Tolerant (High Priestess of The Church of 1,000 Saints), keeps him in check and tries to guide him in the right direction.

Game Notes:
Race: Half Elf
Class: Cleric (Chaos)

NPC Portraits created with ePic Character Generator.

OSR Retrospective: Castles & Crusades


This week it’s time for me to rant a little bit about Castles & Crusades by Troll Lord Games. It’s one of those retro-clones that isn’t a retro-clone. C&C doesn’t attempt to emulate any previous editions of D&D instead it goes of on it’s way but still basically remains largely compatible with other old school d20 games mechanically and keeps the feel of those games but slightly different mechanics.
The key mechanic for most non-combat actions in C&C is called the Siege Engine. At it’s most basic, it’s attribute checks modified by level and by class (prime attribute style stuff). That’s it. Plain and simple and totally friendly at the table. Monster stat blocks are what most folks are used and generally can be used with other games with very little conversion. The game does use ascending AC to take that into consideration. The system is also for other genres such as Amazing Adventures for pulp action and Victorious for some weird Steampunk. Of course, Troll Lord has also published a whole string of adventures and supplements for C&C as well. I personally like their whole A-Series of adventures (Blacktooth Ridge).
While you have the usual array of races, classes, spells, and monsters; there is one thing that really stands out in my mind. C&C has the best Illusionist class that I’ve seen. It’s just neat. They got their own spell list and not just a limited magic-user list. And here’s the kicker. They get healing spells to. Sort of. You see for them to work, the target has to fail their Save. Yes that’s right.
I really don’t have any complaints about the game. Sure there were some editing errors in the earlier printings but those should be all cleared up by now. Like the other games, I’ve ranted about C&C is a solid game that stands on its own and another option if you want some of that old school goodness and the monsters and adventures are pretty easy to convert into other games you may be playing.

Roll Dice. Kill Monsters. Take Their Stuff. And Have Fun!

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