I’ve made no secret in the past about my love of B/X D&D. Other than 5th Edition I think it’s the best edition of the game. I’ve dabbled with games inspired by it like Basic Fantasy but ultimately I wanted B/X in it’s purest form. At the same time though, my original Moldvay Basic rules are already well thumbed and I certainly don’t want to cause any further deteriation to that classic tome.
With that in mind, I backed Necrotic Gnome’s “Old School Essentials” Kickstarter so that I had a new copy of the classic rules to use at the table and I have to say it’s an absolute winner. It’s probably the finest version of the B/X ruleset that I own.
For anyone who isn’t familiar with Old School Essentials, it’s important to stress that it’s not a B/X inspired system like Basic Fantasy or Labyrinth Lord. It’s an exact copy of the original B/X ruleset with clarifications and practical advice. There are no rules additions beyond an (optional) ascending armour class system (which is entirely what I want, even from an OSR game, as it’s just easier). There is also some extra content around running the game and adventure design which is very welcome but this doesn’t add any new rules.
Instead, Old School Essentials focuses all of its energy on streamlining and reorganising the original B/X ruleset into a much more user friendly product. It also clarifies some of the more ambiguous or poorly explained rules from B/X.
It is available in two formats, either as a set of 5 modular books (one for each subsection of the core rules like spells, monsters or treasure or as a single volume ‘Rules Tome’. I opted for the latter.
All books are hardback and A5 in size. I’m used to RPG rulebooks being of the bigger and chunkier variety so initially it was a bit of a shock to have a rulebook in a smaller size. However, after only a short time using it, I was totally convert to small form rulebooks. It’s such a nice size for carrying around and feels really great in the hand. You’ll wonder why you ever needed A4 sized rulebooks again.
Inside, the rules are presented in a clean, two column layout and rely on plain English, clearly explained rules, with supporting bullet points where required. Old School Essentials isn’t a word for word reproduction of B/X and it’s definitely better for not being so. The black, white and green styling of the core rulebook is reminiscent of 1991’s Rules Cyclopedia, another of my all-time favourite D&D products. The book is also chock full of amazing artwork, both colour and black and white.
Old School Essentials has breathed new life into B/X Dungeons & Dragons for me. Prior to 5th Edition, it was always my go to D&D edition and remains my first gaming love. Essentials has repackaged and improved on B/X without actually changing any of the core rules which is quite a feat. Buy it at Necrotic Gnome’s website as soon as is humanly possible.
I am a 40 something DM/GM located in Scotland. In 2016, I rediscovered the joys of tabletop role-playing games. This blog documents my journey back into the fold.