Old-School Essentials: Advanced Fantasy (2021)

With the release of Old-School Essentials, an extremely polished and user-friendly restatement of the B/X Dungeons & Dragons rules, I think we got the last of the pure retroclone treatments we really need. Now that there was a rock solid old school system packaged in shining modern presentation, I wanted what I always want: for folks to get weird with it. Old-School Essentials: Advanced Fantasy (2021) is the first step.

Basically, the four volumes take everything from Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, streamlines it and converts it to the B/X power level (which is a bit lower). So you can have Duergar and Druids running around with the basic character types. Further, there are option rules to untether race from class, making the experience even more like AD&D.

What’s so weird about that? Well, not a lot honestly. It certainly makes OSE more flexible and adds a significant number of player options. That’s the key building block, actually — most of us know AD&D, so by importing that material, this is a teaching exercise. That’s what an Acrobat looks like in OSE? In that case, now I know how to build the Fungus Lord class. See? OK, maybe not that direct a line, but it’s still a gateway to weirdness. The Carcass Crawler zine reinforces this, as do the official adventures (we’ll look at those the rest of the week).

Like the standard OSE, the Advanced material comes in slim digest-size hardcovers — Genre Rules, Druid and Illusionist Spells, Monsters, Treasures — or in two tomes, one for players, one for GMs. I still like having both, there is a different utility to each form factor, but I prefer keeping the tomes on the shelf. And, even if you don’t want to play, they are collections of gorgeous art. The original OSE was lovely, too, but Necrotic Gnome has a greater variety of artists on tap now, so the Advanced books feel that much more visually vibrant (the art often hints at the potential weirdness, even when the rules stay straight-faced).

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