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.
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.
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.
As I said before I’m not doing these in any particular order. I’m just looking at my bookshelf and grabbing the one that catches my interest at the time. So this week, I’m going to talk about Basic Fantasy.
Basic fantasy doesn’t try to emulate and specific older edition of D&D but the foundations of the game mechanics are strongly rooted in those older editions. The game does use Ascending AC and race is separate from class. The main book has the four basic classes (Fighter, Magic-User, Cleric and Thief) along with the four basic races (Human, Elf, Dwarf, and Halfling). It uses the 5 Saving Throws for the older editions and Thieves use the old percentile skill system. The core book (3rd Edition) clocks in at 166 pages and has all the material you need to run a game as well as some very good optional rules and guidance for DM’s and players. All in all, it’s great game for beginners and experienced players alike.
Yes, I know that first paragraph sounded really boring but here’s what’s really cool about Basic Fantasy, the price. Many old-school games have their core books as PDF’s for free. The entire Basic Fantasy line is available for free in PDF. That’s right the adventures and supplements are free. Plus there is an active community putting together even more material. But wait. There’s more. The hard copies of all that are for sale at cost. That’s right at cost. So on Amazon the core Basic Fantasy book is only $5. There are PDF’s out there of core books that cost way more than that. And since most of the old-school games are largely cross compatible with little or no work, all those supplements and adventures are useful no matter what game you happen to be running. Basic Fantasy is a solid game and a great choice if you want to dip your toe into the old school style without investing a lot of cash.
Check out the Basic Fantasy website for all those PDF’s. And here’s the link to the core book on Amazon and Lulu.
Ok, I was going to post this one much later but word has gone out that Lamentations is having some financial troubles. They may be on their way to making their goal to stay afloat but we’ll see for how long.
There’s a lot that can be said about Lamentations of the Flame Princess. Way more than I’m going to rant about here. But there are still some good points and bad points that I’m going to mention. For the TLDR version: A solid core game that’s been outweighed by its own controversies and shock just for shock value.
First off, the game itself is solid. Basically, your standard classes and races with a few tweaks here and there like the Fighter is the only class whose Attack Bonus improves and the Specialist (Thief replacement) is the only one who gets better at skills. And speaking of skills it uses a simple x in d6 system. There’s even a pretty easy encumbrance system. Plus some new spells and variations of ideas on existing spells. So that’s the good part. The core game is fully usable and takes a few of the tropes into new and interesting directions.
A lot of people are put off by the graphic art. I mean really graphic. I’m not but I can understand the “Ew!” reaction that many folks have. But there are some free art-free PDF’s legally available over on Drivethru here and here.
I thought some of the early adventures; A Single Small Cut, Scenic Dunnsmouth, and Weird New World; were pretty good. But as time wore on the adventures became more and more one-way death traps or shock just for shock value. You know sort of like Spinal Tap, “The shock goes to 11.”
Now, you can’t think about Lamentations of the Flame Princess without bringing up controversy. In hindsight, it seems that controversy and shock value were the marketing plan. There’s always been some sort drama surrounding the game. It was the art. It was personalities. Or something. Back in the days of G+, it seems like there was one every month or so. IMHO, all the drama and the “Shock Factor 11” adventures just wore out a lot of the fan base. I know it did me. So I pretty much stopped paying attention to it.
And there’s one more 800 pound gorilla out there. The now infamous Ref Book Indiegogo Campaign. Yes, I backed it. That was like 7 years ago. The last update on the campaign was in February and with the recent financial problems, it might be another 7 years if at all. Of course, a lot of folks are a bit pissed considering all the other stuff that’s been published. Crap, he had the money to make promotional buckets. Yes, buckets… You might be able still get one. No Ref Book but you can have bucket.