Let's read: Old-School Essentials - Advanced Fantasy Genre Rules

Edgewise

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Part One: Overview

Hey everyone, welcome to my little read-through and explication of this upcoming publication from Necrotic Gnome. Old-School Essentials - Advanced Fantasy Genre Rules was added to the general Old-School Essentials highly-successful Kickstarter as a stretch goal. So you could say it's an afterthought included with an as-yet unreleased product - so why the Let's Read?


I'll only be covering the one on the left in this thread, but isn't that an awesome cover on the spell listing?

Well, as a backer, I've received early access to this tome, and at this point, it's clearly very close to being ready. So there's little danger of being grossly inaccurate about the upcoming release - and you'll be able to get your hands on this very soon.

Also, I'm very excited about this book! It may have been a stretch afterthought, but it's my favorite part of this whole project. There's a lot to enjoy about this book, and I'd love to share it with you. If you like what you hear, perhaps you'll join me in adopting this system as my go-to B/X mechanics.

Anyway, without further ado...

History
Gavin Norman published B/X Essentials through his Necrotic Gnome imprint, starting in 2017. Five volumes were released over a span of about a year: Core Rules, Classes and Equipment, Cleric and Magic-User Spells, Monsters and Adventures and Treasures. This multi-volume release sort-of parallels how OD&D was released. B/XE is a very faithful and attractive re-organization of the original Basic and Expert set rules from D&D, and I get the impression that a lot of people liked it. I certainly did, although I'm not sure it seemed entire "essential."

In short order, though, Norman decided he wanted to take another swing. He'd jettison the insular "B/X" label for the broader "Old-School," tighten up a few rulings, re-organize the volumes, resolve long-standing ambiguities and even improve upon the already lovely throwback-style art. In April, the Kickstarter went live, and it blew past the funding goals so quickly that Norman was scrambling to come up with new stretch goals.

I'm not sure whether Advanced Fantasy was in the first round of stretch offerings, but a lot of people were instantly curious. Everything else in OSE is all about being faithful to the original material, but this was going to be an act of interpretation and creativity: rendering AD&D 1e mechanics and content in a B/X context. It's not like Necrotic Gnome hasn't produced a lot of original content (e.g. Dolemwood), so anticipation was in full effect.

The book
Since it is yet to be released, I can only talk about the PDF and not the physical book. Fortunately, my most recent scan spotted only a single space pending the addition of artwork, so we can speak pretty confidently about the look and presentation.

Before I do that, though, I want to briefly discuss the very first point of contact: the title. What are "genre rules"? I have to say that I don't understand what this exactly means. The "classic" volumes also have a "genre rules" volume in addition to "core rules." Of those, the genre rules contain classes and the core rules contain mechanics for dungeoneering. I sort-of get it, but it's still not entirely clear, and I suspect it will make even less sense to someone new to the old-school scene. Minor shortcoming.

Regardless, the title "Advanced Fantasy Genre Rules" is a bit easier to understand since there isn't a corresponding advanced fantasy core rules. It might still confuse the newbie, though.

On to the presentation...

The text is blissfully clean and easy on the eyes. Tons of whitespace, largish fonts and distinct headings are all very welcome. The tables are likewise easy to read - especially when compared to the 1e material that this is based on.

The art is universally lovely. The cover by Stephan Poag (see above) is prosaic and colorful, evoking a childhood idle - it sort of reminds me of the art from Dixit. The pieces inside, by an array of artists, are very old-school grungy. I could flip through these pages all day.

The text is very direct and terse. It definitely follows an old-school spirit by leaving many things up to GM rulings. Mechanics and ideas are simple, simple, simple.

Let's go!
Let's now step through the material chapter-by-chapter (though not corresponding to post-by-post). I'll make comparisons to the original 1e materials in places - this will involve the original PHB, DMG and UE. I have those old hardcovers sitting right here.

God, there are some amazing bindings on these old books! That's one areas I fully expect these new books to fall short of the originals, but we'll give them the benefit of the doubt for now.

Coming next: Introduction and a couple Character Classes.
 
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Vargold

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Having read the book, I will say that it is OSE's killer app. But that's all I'll say for now so as to not steal Edgewise's thunder.
 

Baulderstone

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I'm looking forward to your observations on this.

B/X is my favorite version of D&D. It's clear, boiled to its essence, and easy to house rule. The original B/X rules are a model of clarity that holds up today.

I'll admit, while I was already a fan of Gavin's work, I was skeptical that he could improve on the original sets. As I still own my original boxed sets, I mainly ordered the B/X essentials core book so that I had a copy that I could let other people handle without worry. I was also motivated by the fact that I wanted to support a book that was true to the original. I appreciate Labyrinth Lord for the support it has given to B/X, but I disliked every change that it made to B/X. On top of that, I am fan of Necrotic Gnome, the books were cheap, and I have had nothing but good interactions with Gavin. I was happy to throw him a few bucks.

Shortly after I got my B/X books, I ran a game of B/X, and the B/X Essential books were my main reference. They really are an improvement in presentation over the original, and the OSE books are even better.

I was most excited about the Advanced Fantasy books as they are the first "new" thing being put out for this line. LIke @Vargold, I am going to wait for @Edgewise to lay out his thoughts before adding my own.
 

Edgewise

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Part Two: Introduction and Classes

It sounds like we all have some fun stuff to discuss, so I'll try to keep the pace brisk. I think it's fair to say that the classes are the meat of this, and we'll be getting to them...in this post.

Let's start with the introduction.

Advanced TOC.png
There's not too much art in these pages so this is the only shot for this post

Introduction
At three pages, this is the second shortest chapter; the chapter on poison is only two pages. Perhaps poison will eventually be folded into the Advanced Rules chapter; I'm not sure why it got its own chapter.

Anyway, the introduction lays out the goal of this book, its contents, what you need to use it, and what considerations went into the adaptations that were made. I've already mentioned the goal: adapting concepts and content from AD&D 1e into the B/X framework. As such, it covers a lot of ground. There are nine new human classes and six new demi-human classes. Plus there are rules for poison, optional rules for decoupling race from class, optional rules for multi-classing, and a bunch of mechanics for various special situations. To use this new material, this book expects you to have the Core Rules, Classic Fantasy: Genre Rules, Classic Fantasy: Cleric and Magic-User Spells and Advanced Fantasy: Druid and Illusionist Spells.

Whew! One thing you'll notice perusing the new races is that half of them are "deep" races i.e. the drow, the duergar and svirfneblin. The "genre" of Advanced Fantasy is apparently underdark adventuring, or "Underworld adventures" as stated here. I'm a bit surprised by this emphasis because, other than these new races, none of these rules are specific to underdark adventures. Dungeoneer's Survival Guide this is not. Is that because the Classic Fantasy: Genre Rules mechanics for wilderness adventuring are enough? I'm not so sure; there could be some guidance for GM's running these sorts of campaigns. The Classic Fantasy: Genre Rules certainly had a number of mechanics for dungeon-delving and hexcrawling.

The inclusion about adaptation considerations here is very nice; whereas many books would save this for the end, it's helpful going into this with some understanding of why certain decisions were made. This material is all pretty much related to the new character classes. We learn here that the biggest changes from the AD&D classes were level limits, B/X scale progression (hit dice, etc.) and updates to the abilities of each class. In the latter case, the priorities were to keep things simple (i.e. The B/X Way) and niche protection.

Interestingly enough, we learn that monks were left out of this supplement with the intent of including them in a later volume, probably Asian Adventures: Genre Rules. I'd love to see that; there's so much room for improvement over the original Oriental Adventures.

Classes
Advanced Adventures: Genre Rules wastes little time getting to the fireworks factory. Boom! I'm going to run through these alphabetically, which is how they are laid out. I'm not sure how many I'll get through in this post; let's find out together.

Acrobat
This is obviously a reference to the thief-acrobat from Unearthed Arcana. Let's review that guy...

OK, so this was one of those 1e "prestige classes" where you had to rise to a certain level in another class before switching to this one. You start as a thief and switch sometimes after fifth level. At that point, you stop progressing in picking pockets, opening locks and fiddling with traps. Bummer, so what do you get for that? Pole-vaulting, tightrope walking, tumbling and jumping. Tumbling can be used to enhance unarmed attacks (oh boy...), improve defense and reduce falling damage. It sounded like a cool class to me when I was a kid, but reading it now, it seems lame as hell.

Well, the Old-School Essentials acrobat isn't much different, but he's a lot simpler. First of all, they don't have to start as thieves. Second, they have the same basic skillset: climbing, hiding in shadows, moving silently, tightrope walking, jumping, falling and tumbling attacks. Poles help with jumping, so there's your pole-vaulting.

But the mechanics are a lot smoother. Evasion gives acrobats a defensive bonus when withdrawing from melee, which is both nice and simple. Tumbling attacks are activated by either jumping or falling to an attack, giving a bonus to hit and double-damage on surprise. You can already see how acrobats specialize towards hit-and-run attacks.

They advance very quickly, like thieves. The class doesn't seem that useful, but they are well-defined and the mechanics are very clean.

Assassin
This one was in the Player's Handbook, a sub-class of the thief (whatever that meant, exactly). There are a couple differences between them and thieves: they progress a little slower, they have all the thief abilities at two levels lower, they know how to handle poison, they know the art of disguise as well as the art of assassination.

In the case of the latter, if they attack with surprise, they have a chance (based on the levels of the assassin and the target) of instantly killing the target. The table for that, unfortunately, is in the DMG, but we are informed that there is a roughly 50/50 chance of success.

Oh wait, one more thing: they have to be evil.

The OSE assassin is similar, but alterations have been made. First of all, you can't be Lawful, but you don't have to be Chaotic. That makes the class a lot more approachable, so that's great. Secondly, they don't have all the same skills as thieves; instead, the only thief skills they possess are climbing, hearing noises, hiding and sneaking. The first two progress at the same rate as thieves, but stealth progression falls off after fifth level for some reason.

The adapted assassin still has disguise abilities, but they are a lot simpler than in the 1e rules. The rules for assassination are far more elegant than the source material; the target must make a Death save to survive, but a penalty is applied based on the assassin's level. I really prefer that.

Barbarian
Here's where we start to see some of the more liberal adaptations. Advanced D&D officially released the barbarian subclass of the fighter class in Unearthed Arcana, so let's start there.

Hmm, the 1e barbarian is...interesting. A few things stand out. First of all, it has, along with the UA cavalier class, a 1d12 hit die. None of the other classes had such a large hit die; the fighter's is "only" 1d10.

The second thing that stands out in the steep experience requirement. 1e barbarians require 6K XP to get to second level - no other class comes close. That's insane! A thief reaches 4th level a little earlier than that, which means he's working with 4d6 HP at the same point. That 1d12 hit die doesn't seem so big anymore, does it? What does the barbarian get in return for this?

Well, first of all, barbarians get increased AC bonuses for high Dexterity if lightly armored, and greater HP bonuses for high constitution. That's great if you're above average but really pointless if you're not. Obviously.

What else? Well, they hate magic. This is both a boon and a curse. A curse because they can't benefit much from magical equipment, but a boon in that barbarians can hit creatures that can only be hit by magic. Well, that's not really much of a boon so much as a mitigation for a massive drawback.

OK, but there's still quite a bit more, here. Barbarians move faster than most characters and they get juicy saving throw bonuses. They also have skills for climbing, hiding in nature, avoiding and causing surprise, jumping, detecting magic and illusions, and a bunch of wilderness skills (survival, first-aid and tracking) for familiar environments. Plus they get a grab-bag of proficiencies that the DM deems appropriate for a given barbarian based on his or her tribe; e.g. animal handling, long distance running, etc.

That's a lot! But 6000 XP is also a lot! To me, this class looks reasonable if you rolled high Dexterity and Constitution; such a character would be a true tank at all levels. But otherwise, forget it.

I vaguely remember the 1e barbarian having the ability to berserk, but I don't see this in the text. I must have been thinking of Dragon Warriors. That's a good thing IMO; I prefer my barbarians to be somewhat historically authentic.

Now let's look at the OSE barbarian.

The extremes of the 1e barbarian have been thankfully sanded down. The hit die is the fighter-appropriate 1d8, and 2nd level is reached at 2500 XP. That's high but not insane. Defensive bonuses are modest AC modifiers, and they are based on level instead of Dexterity. Barbarians get skill in climbing, hiding and sneaking. So far, so good. Saving throws are good by not as massively enhanced as in 1e

Wilderness skills are still present, and they aren't limited to a native environment. Although the barbarian lacks the ability to restore HP via first aid, the ability to cure poison doesn't require that the toxin was natural; overall, this skill is probably more useful than 1e first aid.

The drawbacks are pretty similar. One nice touch is that barbarians are automatically illiterate, which is pretty realistic. Their distaste for magic is fully intact, and they still gain the ability to hit magical creatures as they increase in level. Divine magic from their native pantheon is fully acceptable, which is a nice touch.

Bard
This is where this book really started to catch my attention. I've always regarded the bard in D&D as a bit of a mess that blends together many disparate ideas of what a bard can be. It feels like a watered-down jack-of-all-trades, which has never lit my imagination on fire. The OSE version has a much tighter version.

Let's start with the 1e bard.

Hmm, this guy really is a bit of a mess. One area where my old memories failed me: this guy doesn't sing his spells. I guess I naturally assumed that as a kid, although it always grated me later on. A good reminder that sometimes it's a good idea to return to the source.

Anyway, the 1e bard has this incredibly onerous requirement to spend several levels as a fighter, and then a thief, before switching to the bard class. This character will then have fighting and thieving abilities frozen at those levels going forward. What a massive pain! The rules for dual classing mean that this new bard will arrive with a shortage of HP for his XP, and he's never going to get better at any of his old stuff. I guess this was due to the reluctance to allow what is essentially a multi-class character (fighter/thief/magic-guy). It definitely doesn't seem worth it, and I bet a lot of campaigns never lasted long enough for any PCs to become bards.

Otherwise, the abilities of the bard are pretty simple. It has druid spells, additional languages, lore knowledge and the ability to charm with music. This charm ability seems usable in combat, so that's actually super-powerful. Also, they provide morale bonuses for their side in a fight, which is nice (but I suppose it precludes charming the enemy; I don't 'see that mentioned but I'd enforce it). That's' pretty much it.

The OSE bard, by comparison, is a breath of fresh air. He's not a weird multi-class monstrosity; you can start as a level one bard. He's got the lore and the languages, as well as a modest progression of druid spells. No thieving to speak of, thankfully. I vaguely recall from a Dragon article that the whole thieving thing was based on the notion of Welsh minstrels, who had an unsavory reputation. But minstrels aren't bards and prejudice against the Welsh is kind of stupid, so good riddance.

The ability to fascinate or charm an audience has been restricted to non-combat situations, which seems exceedingly reasonable to me. I mean, that's still very useful without becoming a spammable charm monster spell.

The class progression is pretty normal; 2nd level at 2000 XP. That seems right to me; these guys are useful but they're no longer Swiss army knives. They are considered semi-martial for THAC0 progression, which puts them on the same tier as thieves and clerics. All of this is reasonable. All-in-all, the OSE bard is a vast improvement on the 1e bard, who showed up in the Appendices for a reason.

Tune in next time...
We'll cover six classes: Drow, Druid, Duergar, Gnome, Half-Elf and Half-Orc. Yeah, we're getting into these new racial classes.
 
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Edgewise

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I did a bit of thinking about the assassin, and I think the reason that stealth skills are curtailed at later levels is to keep the assassination ability from becoming too powerful. As of now, a target has three chances to avoid instant death: the assassin fails the sneak roll, the assassin fails the attack or the target succeeds on the saving throw. For high-level assassins, I think the attack roll from stealth is a pretty sure thing, and the save against death is heavily penalized, so if stealth is too reliable, this ability might become unstoppable and even game-breaking.
 

Brock Savage

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Thank you for taking the time to review this in such detail. B/X happens to be my favorite edition of D&D and I am looking forward to your next post.
 

Edgewise

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Thank you for taking the time to review this in such detail. B/X happens to be my favorite edition of D&D and I am looking forward to your next post.
My pleasure! It's interesting to re-visit the 1e mechanics and discover how much I mis-remembered. I'm also a B/X fan and this supplement is just awesome - I believe that OSE will completely replace the Rules Cyclopedia at many tables, not to mention many of its clones. I also believe that this volume will have an outsize impact considering that it was conceived as a stretch goal. It's just too good.
 

Baulderstone

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I'm not sure whether Advanced Fantasy was in the first round of stretch offerings, but a lot of people were instantly curious.
Gavin was talking about the Advanced Fantasy book for OSE long before the kickstarter went live, and it was clearly positioned to be reached easily.

Before I do that, though, I want to briefly discuss the very first point of contact: the title. What are "genre rules"? I have to say that I don't understand what this exactly means. The "classic" volumes also have a "genre rules" volume in addition to "core rules." Of those, the genre rules contain classes and the core rules contain mechanics for dungeoneering. I sort-of get it, but it's still not entirely clear, and I suspect it will make even less sense to someone new to the old-school scene. Minor shortcoming.
That's a good question, and I think I can help. There is only ever going to be one Core Rules book for OSE. All OSE books will be written with the assumption you own the Core Rules. Other books will build from there.

The other types of books in the OSE line will mainly fall into the categories of genre rules, spell books, monster books and treasure books. The purpose is to try and keep things as modular as possible. The next genre book from Necrotic Gnome will be Post Apocalyptic: Genre Rules. Presumably, it will get its own monster book and treasure book. Maybe it will get a "spell" book in the form or mutant or psychic powers, but I don't know.

Maybe you don't have any interest in the post-apocalyptic genre, but you can still pick up the monster book. It's doubtful that it would be hard to reskin mutant monsters into a typical D&D campaign. Maybe you could pick up the treasure book and reskin the salvages artifacts in it as magic item, or you could scatter them around the site of a crashed alien spaceship in your campaign world.

That aside, when I was running B/X with the Essentials books, I found picking up and flipping through these smaller books was easier and quicker to handle than the typical RPG tome.

Anyway, I still haven't actually answered what genre books include. The standard set up for a genre book is the following:

  • Classes
  • Equipment
  • Vehicles, Mounts, Vessels
  • Hirelings
  • Strongholds
  • Additional rules for the genre
Obviously, not all genre books include all of these. The Classic Fantasy book does, but as the Advanced Fantasy book is built off of that, it only needs to cover a few of these topics (Classes, equipment in the form of poison, and additional rules).

Gavin has a work in progress google doc where he is laying out guidelines for people making supplements for OSE, which goes into all of this in more detail. Here is a link.

One thing you'll notice perusing the new races is that half of them are "deep" races i.e. the drow, the duergar and svirfneblin. The "genre" of Advanced Fantasy is apparently underdark adventuring, or "Underworld adventures" as stated here. I'm a bit surprised by this emphasis because, other than these new races, none of these rules are specific to underdark adventures. Dungeoneer's Survival Guide this is not. Is that because the Classic Fantasy: Genre Rules mechanics for wilderness adventuring are enough? I'm not so sure; there could be some guidance for GM's running these sorts of campaigns. The Classic Fantasy: Genre Rules certainly had a number of mechanics for dungeon-delving and hexcrawling.
I believe it the race selection is simply a matter of adding the races that became available in AD&D. The higher number of underdark races is just what AD&D presented.

The OSE assassin is similar, but alterations have been made. First of all, you can't be Lawful, but you don't have to be Chaotic. That makes the class a lot more approachable, so that's great.
This works well for me. I prefer to view alignment as actual allegiance to a cosmic force rather then some kind of personality profile. You can be a despicable murdering bastard, but if there is no supernatural component to your villainy, then you are neutral. However, a mild-mannered clerk in the Imperial Bureaucracy who sold his soul to a Lord of Chaos in a desperate moment is Chaotic.

I vaguely remember the 1e barbarian having the ability to berserk, but I don't see this in the text. I must have been thinking of Dragon Warriors.
I mis-remembered that as well. I wonder when the berserking barbarian class first showed up?

Although the barbarian lacks the ability to restore HP via first aid, the ability to cure poison doesn't require that the toxin was natural; overall, this skill is probably more useful than 1e first aid.
Reading it myself, it says, "In the wilderness, a barbarian can gather herbs to concoct an antidote to natural
poisons."

That aside, really enjoying your insights, and I like that you taking the time to contrast with the originals.
 
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Vargold

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I still don't get the point of the Acrobat, but I think Gavin has at least given us a viable class that can go out in search of a point.
 

Edgewise

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There is only ever going to be one Core Rules book for OSE. All OSE books will be written with the assumption you own the Core Rules. Other books will build from there.
That's some good information and I see how it serves the organization. I still think "genre" is a confusing word...it might have been better to go with "style" or "setting."
I believe it the race selection is simply a matter of adding the races that became available in AD&D. The higher number of underdark races is just what AD&D presented.
Not entirely. Page four has a one-column sub-section entitled "The Underworld" under the "Advanced Play" section, where it seems to suggest that underdark play is the "genre" it's targeting here. I'm partly interpreting this by placement.
Reading it myself, it says, "In the wilderness, a barbarian can gather herbs to concoct an antidote to natural poisons."
Grr, I missed the word "natural." I'd probably construe that to mean anything non-magical and non-technological. But I have to say it's a little bit disappointing.
That aside, really enjoying your insights, and I like that you taking the time to contrast with the originals.
Glad to hear...I'm enjoying this, too.
I still don't get the point of the Acrobat, but I think Gavin has at least given us a viable class that can go out in search of a point.
It's probably just about being comprehensive about modeling 1e classes. I don't ever imagine myself playing one outside a traveling circus campaign.
 

Baulderstone

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That's some good information and I see how it serves the organization. I still think "genre" is a confusing word...it might have been better to go with "style" or "setting."
Well, there is the Dolmenwood setting book that will be for use with the Classic Fantasy: Genre Rules, so that is another category.

As for style, I think genre is a more standard word for this sort of thing in the RPG scene.
Not entirely. Page four has a one-column sub-section entitled "The Underworld" under the "Advanced Play" section, where it seems to suggest that underdark play is the "genre" it's targeting here. I'm partly interpreting this by placement.
Ah, okay. I'll wait until we get there rather than muddle the conversation.

Grr, I missed the word "natural." I'd probably construe that to mean anything non-magical and non-technological. But I have to say it's a little bit disappointing.
Actually, I think you are right. It probably does just mean anything non-magical. After all, any non-magical poisons in D&D are typically going to be natural.

I still don't get the point of the Acrobat, but I think Gavin has at least given us a viable class that can go out in search of a point.
I think Edgewise had a good point about their ability with hit-and-run tactics. I don't know if that will be enough to get players interested, but it makes it an interesting class for NPC for them to face. As OSE/BX has morale rules, I find that more than in most RPGs, it leads to battles that take place over multiple fights. I can the ability to jump in and out fights quickly being interesting.
 

Voros

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I still don't get the point of the Acrobat, but I think Gavin has at least given us a viable class that can go out in search of a point.
I never cared for the Assassin’s instakill ability no matter how you tweak it, I much prefer the 2e version of that ‘subclass.’

As to the Acrobat and Bard, I think it has always been the concept rather than mechanical advantage that has drawn certain players to those classes. Course it is better if they aren’t fairly useless either. I always liked playing bards but it was only the 2e version that clicked and didn’t seem absurdly convoluted.
 

Edgewise

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Ah, okay. I'll wait until we get there rather than muddle the conversation.
You’re not muddling anything so no worries, and we already got there if you mean the underworld section - that was in the intro. So feel free to continue. I’m obviously basing my opinion here on a number of assumptions, so I’m open to being corrected.
 

Edgewise

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I never cared for the Assassin’s instakill ability no matter how you tweak it, I much prefer the 2e version of that ‘subclass.’
It wouldn’t be hard to make an assassin whose backstab just does progressively more damage as he levels up. I don’t recall the 2e version - I had dropped out of D&D during the 1.5 era.
 

Voros

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It wouldn’t be hard to make an assassin whose backstab just does progressively more damage as he levels up. I don’t recall the 2e version - I had dropped out of D&D during the 1.5 era.
I have the 2e Complete Thief so I’ll look it up and post about it later.
 

Edgewise

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A funny thing just occurred to me about the barbarian: you got a 1d12 hit die and double the Constitution hit point bonuses, but progression was much slower than a lot of other classes. In my comparison above, the thief reaches fourth level right before the barbarian hits second. That means that not only does the thief have 4d6 HP (mean = 14) to the 2d12 HP (mean = 13) of the barbarian, but he has received any Constitution bonuses four times to the barbarians two times. So even the doubled Constitution-based HP bonuses are insignificant!

I remember Dragon had a very interesting article where someone had the bright idea to compare classes at the same XP level instead of the same experience level. IIRC it turned out that the thief has one of the best HP-to-XP ratios, and monks were the worst thing ever. The article made fun of the fact that the monks learns how to feign death around the same time a magic-user learns how to throw fireballs.
 

Vargold

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A funny thing just occurred to me about the barbarian: you got a 1d12 hit die and double the Constitution hit point bonuses, but progression was much slower than a lot of other classes. In my comparison above, the thief reaches fourth level right before the barbarian hits second. That means that not only does the thief have 4d6 HP (mean = 14) to the 2d12 HP (mean = 13) of the barbarian, but he has received any Constitution bonuses four times to the barbarians two times. So even the doubled Constitution-based HP bonuses are insignificant!

I remember Dragon had a very interesting article where someone had the bright idea to compare classes at the same XP level instead of the same experience level. IIRC it turned out that the thief has one of the best HP-to-XP ratios, and monks were the worst thing ever. The article made fun of the fact that the monks learns how to feign death around the same time a magic-user learns how to throw fireballs.
So what you're saying is that adventurers need a Billy Beane to help them play MONEYCRAWL!
 

Baulderstone

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A funny thing just occurred to me about the barbarian: you got a 1d12 hit die and double the Constitution hit point bonuses, but progression was much slower than a lot of other classes. In my comparison above, the thief reaches fourth level right before the barbarian hits second. That means that not only does the thief have 4d6 HP (mean = 14) to the 2d12 HP (mean = 13) of the barbarian, but he has received any Constitution bonuses four times to the barbarians two times. So even the doubled Constitution-based HP bonuses are insignificant!

I remember Dragon had a very interesting article where someone had the bright idea to compare classes at the same XP level instead of the same experience level. IIRC it turned out that the thief has one of the best HP-to-XP ratios, and monks were the worst thing ever. The article made fun of the fact that the monks learns how to feign death around the same time a magic-user learns how to throw fireballs.
I find that completely ignoring the way class-based XP tables work is one of the things people most often overlook when analyzing older editions without playing them.
 

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As for style, I think genre is a more standard word for this sort of thing in the RPG scene
You know, I think this will make a lot more sense when there are post-apocalyptic and Asian genre supplements. But you have to admit that calling basic fantasy and advanced fantasy “genres” is odd and confusing. With my unstoppable powers of hindsight, I would have called it "Classic Fantasy: Advanced Rules" or something like that, because "advanced" isn't a genre.
 

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You know, I think this will make a lot more sense when there are post-apocalyptic and Asian genre supplements. But you have to admit that calling basic fantasy and advanced fantasy “genres” is odd and confusing. With my unstoppable powers of hindsight, I would have called it "Classic Fantasy: Advanced Rules" or something like that, because "advanced" isn't a genre.
There is definitely a slight issue there. Advanced Fantasy is technically a supplemental genre book for Classic Fantasy, not a separate genre, but the Classic Fantasy label isn't anywhere on the cover.
 

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Well, if “Fantasy Genre” equals D&D (and it’s pretty clear it does here), then “Classic” Fantasy is Basic D&D and “Advanced” Fantasy is AD&D.

“Advanced” is modifying “Fantasy Genre”, not “Advanced Fantasy” declaring a genre.

At least that’s how I read it.
 

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Humza has said over on RPGNet that Hydra Coop plans on releasing their Slumbering Ursine Dune compilation in OSE.
That is great news. I was just thinking today about how the Hill Cantons setting is a better fit for OSE than LL, as most of its classes are in the 8-12 level range rather than going to 20.
 

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Well, if “Fantasy Genre” equals D&D (and it’s pretty clear it does here), then “Classic” Fantasy is Basic D&D and “Advanced” Fantasy is AD&D.

“Advanced” is modifying “Fantasy Genre”, not “Advanced Fantasy” declaring a genre.

At least that’s how I read it.
I think that's probably right. My problem with these titles is not just that they weren't entirely intuitive to me, but they would be downright confusing to a newbie. And since the entire reason for changing the name of the line from "B/X Essentials" to "Old-School Essentials" was to make it less insular, I consider it to be a minor failing.
 

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Humza has said over on RPGNet that Hydra Coop plans on releasing their Slumbering Ursine Dune compilation in OSE.
I, too, think this is great news, and I'm surprised to find evidence of a migration to OSE so early.
 

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Part Three: Classes (continued)

Time for more classes! I was going to do six, but these are pretty long and require a fair amount of cross-referencing, so it's three for now. We're getting into the racial classes, which requires a comparison not only to the 1e races but the B/X race-classes. It's pretty interesting, though.

Drow
I would expect this to be a pretty popular class, just because folks like bad-ass elves. But are they cool? They're...fine. Actually, they're pretty similar to the B/X elf class, so it's very easy to compare them. In fact, here's a list of things that are exactly the same:
  • Experience costs (4000 XP for second level!)
  • Fighting ability (martial-type)
  • Hit dice (1d6)
  • Spells-per-level
  • Sharp senses (i.e. better detection of secret doors and listening at doors)
  • Immunity to ghoul paralysis (so specific!)
That's a lot! Here's what's different:
  • Drow cast clerical spells instead of magic-user spells, and their initial spell is always light (darkness).
  • Drow have a -2 improvement to their Spell saving throw.
  • Drow have 90' of infravision instead of 60'.
  • Drow have a spider affinity.
  • Drow have light sensitivity (-2 to hit and +1 AC in bright light).
Obviously, the biggest change is the switch to clerical spells. The saving throw improvement is not insignificant, however. That bonus, the additional infravision range and the spider affinity are all paid for with light sensitivity. That's not a small problem; imagine hexcrawling on the surface with a drow character.

Long story short: drow are clerical elves who are better indoors and worse in sunlight.

Checking in quickly with Unearthed Arcana, there's plenty of interesting stuff that escaped my memory. The infravision range, light sensitivity and saving throw bonus are all there. Interestingly, they apparently can also dual wield without penalty! Am I reading that right? That sounds like an insane bonus, actually.

Also, UA drow females moved faster, for some reason, and drow got some innate minor spell use. The former just seems silly, and the latter shows up later in the chapter on optional mechanics for bifurcating race and class. We'll get there later.

A good solid adaptation. Since it's so similar to the normal elf, I feel pretty confident that it's well-balanced. Moving right along...

Druid
I never thought that AD&D did druids well. They are basically hippy clerics with a peculiar love for NEUTRALITY. Not very much like the hooded mystics and scholars of Celtic lore at all. Those druids didn't run off into the wilderness - they were proper priests.

Anyway, OSE doesn't stray from the neutral hippy template. But since we have a well-defined antecedent, let's start with the Player's Handbook of yore.

So we all know that druids are basically clerics with an emphasis on hippy magic who can't use metal armor. But they also learn a bunch of mundane skills and magical talents as they go up in level. At third level, they can identify plants and water purity, and pass without a trace. Also, they start learning sylvan languages at the rate of one per level after second. At seventh level they are immune to charm and can turn into animals thrice a day (one bird, one mammal and one reptile).

What else? Experience progression is reasonable (2000 XP for second level) and they get a d8 hit die.

The OSE druid is actually quite similar. Pretty much all the same stuff can be found, including the experience progression. They get the identification skills at the same time, the sylvan languages, the immunity to charm and the same ability to turn into animals. Check, check, check.

The OSE version only has a 1d6 hit die and a much smaller set of weapon proficiencies, but it has a few new edges. These druids get a +2 saving throw against fire and electricity for reasons I can't quite fathom. They also get lost only half as often as other characters, which is nice for wilderness adventures. A counterbalance to all your new drow companions, perhaps.

The biggest difference here is probably the spell list. AD&D had twelve 1st level spells while OSE only has eight (just like with the cleric). UA extended this to sixteen. I'm not going to run down the differences because you already knew that B/X has a smaller spell list than 1e.

Duergar
Starting with Unearthed Arcana, we learn that the "gray dwarves" have a lot of typical dwarven abilities (i.e. detection of architectural features and traps), as well as bonuses against giant races (but not goblinoids). Duergar, however, as also immune to illusions, paralyzation and non-natural poisons; the text actually clarifies that this means magical or alchemical in origin. Huh!

Other abilities include longer-range infravision and being both surprising and hard to surprise. All of that is very useful. Along with other deep races, they speak undercommon and hate bright light.

Oh, and they are twice as likely to be psionic. All said, a pretty nice collection of perks. Of course, we know that bright light vulnerability can be a major PITA.

The OSE version is a very interesting take. Let's compare him to the OSE dwarf, keeping in mind the 1e duergar. The dwarf costs 2200 XP to reach 2nd level while the duergar takes 2800, so we should expect some significant improvements. But right off the bat, that doesn't seem to be the case; the duergar hit die is d6 while the dwarf gets d8. At least saving throws and THAC0 are identical, so the edge must lie in the talents.

Duergar and dwarves share certain abilities here: detecting architectural features and traps as well as being good at listening through doors. True to form, duergar have double the infravision, they speak "deepcommon," and they are very light sensitive. One nice perk they get is a 3-in-6 chance to move silently.

I've been saving the best for last. What really sets duergar apart are what are apparently psionic powers! OSE keeps it very simple; they get one use from a limited set of powers per level per day. Here are the powers; they are roughly equivalent to 1st level spells, maybe 1.5:
  • Enlarge
  • Invisibility
  • Shrink
  • Heat object
Simple stuff, but a creative player can do a lot with these. A lot.

In summation, this is one of the more radical interpretations. They took the dwarf and made him into an underdark psychic trickster. Needless to say, I like this very much. Could Gavin have introduced more powers? Absolutely, but I'm not sure that it needs it.

Is it balanced? I think so. The psychic abilities make it sort of like a drow with weak magic use. I think it's better than the dwarf, so it feels like it's in the right place.

Coming up...
Gnome, Half-Elf and Half-Orc are next on the menu.
 
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Vargold

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I actually like that the Drow are presented neutrally and not as KEWL EV1L. Gavin does his best to do the same for the Duergar, but they've always been assholes and so moving them toward neutral is harder. :smile:

The Druid save bonus vs. fire and lightning is actually of AD&D PHB vintage at least.
 

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These are great write-ups, one of the things Gavin and I went back in forth over was the XP cost for Drow. I thought it should be 3,000 not 4,000, due to the lower XP threshold of a Cleric vs a Magic User.
I think you have a case in that clerics have a superior hit die and THAC0 to magic-users and their XP curve is still gentler, whereas drow are no better than elves on both points and their curves are likewise identical. When you think of it that way, it seems pretty skewed. I think clerics are a bit of a bargain but (a) that's just my opinion, man, and (b) not by as much as that. Also, drow can't turn undead!

In summary, it always makes sense to take an elf or a cleric over a drow, unless you absolutely need a cleric with infravision or you just want to play a drow.
 
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Many of those points you bring up I did too, especially the Turn Undead. In fairness his point was that they were the suppose to be mirrors of each other, and the merits of magic user spells vs cleric spells is up for debate.
 

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Part Four: Classes (continued)

Hey gang, we're back with more classes from Old-School Essentials - Advanced Fantasy: Genre Rules. And we're only now crossing the halfway mark; check the TOC I posted back in Part Two if you doubt me.

Gnome
This class immediately caught my attention. Part of it is because I really like this adaptation, but another reason is because I'm currently playing a gnome enchanter in a 5e game. As I write this, he's invisible and in the middle of looting random houses in a duergar city (see above for details about these guys in OSE). Too bad 5e doesn't reward XP-for-GP! But I digress...

Starting with the Player's Handbook, we see that 1e gnomes could be fighters, thieves, assassins and illusionists. Like dwarves, they have Constitution based bonuses to magic-related saving throws, possess infravision to sixty feet and are able to detect architectural oddities. They speak the languages of burrowing creatures and possess a defensive bonus when fighting giant creatures. They also gain an animosity-related bonus when fighting goblinoids.

Turning to Old-School Essentials, the gnome class has a set of features that are based on the possibilities of a 1e gnome. It takes 3000 XP to reach second level; that's high but not crazy. It puts them between elves (4000 XP) and magic-users (2500 XP). They max out at eight level, which is similar to the halfling.

Gnomes have the same d4 hit die and pathetic THAC0 progression of a magic-user, but their saving throws are much closer to the halfling (+1 for breath weapons and -1 for spells, and otherwise the same). They have the same progression of spell slots as a magic-user, but they select from the illusionist spell list.

On top of this, they get a bunch of perks reminiscent of the originals. Gnomes get a defensive bonus against giant attackers, construction sense, sixty feet of infravision, the ability to speak to hedgehogs and the power to listen really well. Plus, they are naturally stealthy (2-in-6 to hide in shadows), especially when outdoors (90% hide in foliage).

The one downside is that their little hands have trouble using big weapons. Aw! However, they are able to wear leather armor, wield shields and use any modestly-sized one-handed weapon. That's much better than magic-users or, as we'll eventually see, illusionists. Those guys get no shield and zero armor and they can only fight with daggers. As you'll see later, the rules hilariously lighten-up on these guys by letting them fight with staves, too. But now who will carry the torch?

Anyway, my point is that gnomes are a bargain on the XP scale. More importantly, though, is the fact that they seem fun to play and they have a nice theme. I like the idea of a very "fae" race that fills the role of a sneaky trickster. These guys are definitely not built for the front line, but their equipment options make them a bit tougher than a typical magic-user.

Half-elf
At first glance, this is a pretty boring class. I'll get to the details later, but the half-elf is a lot like an elf with a slower spell progression and about half the perks. But I thought about it a bit and I think they're a good fit. Half-elves also work as a generic "fighter/wizard" character type that leans a bit harder into the fighter end of things. They would be an excellent choice for a one-player campaign, actually.

Anyway, let's go back to the roots for a bit. AD&D half-elves could be clerics, fighters, rangers, magic-users, thieves and assassins, all with modest level limits. They also multi-class nicely. They get a partial magic resistance to sleep and charm. They're also good at spotting secret doors. That's it.

The OSE take on the half-elf is similarly a watered-down elf. The XP progression is medium-high at 2500 XP for second level. They get 1d6 hit dice and martial THAC0s. They progress in magic-user spells, but the third slowest of all the classes on a level-by-level basis (ranger and paladin tie for slowest). For instance, they get no spells at first level, and receive their initial third-level spell at their eighth level of experience. Perks are infravision and secret door detection.

There's nothing particularly high-concept about this class, but I think it occupies a nice place mechanically and would work well at the table. If a GM wanted to create a human fighter-mage class, he or she would only need to find a replacement for infravision. Maybe something like a single thief skill of the player's choice to create a fun-but-generic Adventurer class.

Half-orc
This has the potential to be a very interesting class. Just as half-elves are effective as fighter-mages, I can envision half-orcs as fighter-thieves. That would definitely fill a niche. But first, the PHB:

Half-orcs of yore could become clerics, fighters, thieves and assassins. Interestingly enough, half-orcs have no level limit as assassins, which may have been unique for a demi-human. Don't quote me. Otherwise, the only difference (besides ability modifiers, which don't carry over to B/X or OSE) is the 60' infravision.

In OSE, half-orcs progress pretty quickly, reaching second level at 1800 XP. That's definitely on the low end, although the cleric and thief are lower. Half-orcs get the same THAC0 and saving throw progress as thieves of the same level, but they have a 1d6 hit die instead of 1d4.

In terms of extras, half-orcs get infravision, but in return, they lack the following thief skills: read languages, use scrolls, open locks, find/remove traps, hear noise and climb surfaces! The only thief skills they keep are backstab, hide in shadows, move silently and pick pockets. These all progress exactly the same as for thieves of the same level.

This is a nicely thematic class. Half-orcs are nasty bushwhackers with more staying power than thieves. This is also helped by their access chainmail and shields - half-orcs have mastered the arts of armored stealth that elude mere human thieves. Infravision is always nice, especially for a class that is so well-suited to scouting.

Half-orcs are essentially bandits, and as with half-elves, they could easily be reskinned as pure humans. Drop the infravision and put their XP progression on par with a cleric (i.e. 1500 XP at second level), and you've got a Bandit class.

Next installment
I think we'll keep this at three classes per installment for now. That means the next part will cover illusionists, knights and paladins. We're going all-human for the next round - stay tuned!
 
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Vargold

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The gnome is definitely my favorite of the new classes—but then Necrotic Gnome was always going to have to deliver when it came to the children of Garl Glittergold.
 

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Half-elf
At first glance, this is a pretty boring class. I'll get to the details later, but the half-elf is a lot like an elf with a slower spell progression and about half the perks. But I thought about it a bit and I think they're a good fit. Half-elves also work as a generic "fighter/wizard" character type that leans a bit harder into the fighter end of things. They would be an excellent choice for a one-player campaign, actually.

Anyway, let's go back to the roots for a bit. AD&D half-elves could be clerics, fighters, rangers, magic-users, thieves and assassins, all with modest level limits. They also multi-class nicely. They get a partial magic resistance to sleep and charm. They're also good at spotting secret doors. That's it.

The OSE take on the half-elf is similarly a watered-down elf. The XP progression is medium-high at 2500 XP for second level. They get 1d6 hit dice and martial THAC0s. They progress in magic-user spells, but the third slowest of all the classes on a level-by-level basis (ranger and paladin tie for slowest). For instance, they get no spells at first level, and receive their initial third-level spell at their eighth level of experience. Perks are infravision and secret door detection.

There's nothing particularly high-concept about this class, but I think it occupies a nice place mechanically and would work well at the table. If a GM wanted to create a human fighter-mage class, he or she would only need to find a replacement for infravision. Maybe something like a single thief skill of the player's choice to create a fun-but-generic Adventurer class.
Yeah, the half-elf was a particular point of fixation for me, actually. Originally they capped at level 10 and their spells progressed to level 3. I thought they were a little lacking, though, and part of my feedback for them was suggesting the 12 level progression/level 4 spell to give them a something to set them apart a little bit. I guess they liked the idea! Either that or everyone suggested it. But the preening jackass in me likes to pretend I'm a visionary ;)
 

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The gnome is definitely my favorite of the new classes—but then Necrotic Gnome was always going to have to deliver when it came to the children of Garl Glittergold.
I think the duergar is currently my favorite and the gnome is in second place.
Originally they capped at level 10 and their spells progressed to level 3. I thought they were a little lacking, though, and part of my feedback for them was suggesting the 12 level progression/level 4 spell to give them a something to set them apart a little bit.
It's definitely an improvement. Right now, I feel like half-elves are on the right side of generic, but what you describe tips towards lackluster.
 

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Thing is, with race-as-class, it's all about the archetype, and half-elf is one of the more potent ones.
 
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