Originally posted here: https://theotherside.timsbrannan.com/2021/07/review-old-school-essentials-adventures.html
There are a lot of great clones out there but right now nothing is scratching my old-school itch quite like OSE. I got my Kickstarter package a bit back and while I was engrossed with the rules of the new books, I utterly failed to give much attention to the two included adventures. That is until I started hearing people talk about them more online. I went back to them and you know what? They are really kind of great.
For this review, I am considering both the hardcover copies I got with the Kickstarter and the PDF copies from DriveThru RPG.
The adventure is a 48-page, full-color book. The maps are printed on the inside covers with encounter areas labeled on the maps. The physical books are A5 format (5.8" x 8.3", 148mm x 210mm).
The Incandescent Grottoes
by Gavin Norman
This is an introductory adventure designed for characters level 1-2, written by OSE creator Gavin Norman with art by Nate Treme.
The adventure could be considered a dungeon crawl along the lines of Keep on the Borderlands, but like so much of OSE it taps into how the games were played rather than written. The dungeons of IG could be like the Caves of Chaos, but more accurately they are played like Caves of Chaos were played back then. What do I mean? Well, there is a demonic cult here, The Cult of the Faceless Lord. There are factions within the dungeon and how they interact. Plus goals for the various groups of monsters. There are tables of treasures and random occurrences to make exploring this dungeon something players can keep coming back to.
The rooms and areas a very nicely detailed and the whimsical art really adds to the dream-like qualities of the adventure. There is even a dragon waiting for the characters at the end! Ok, it is not a very powerful one, but to 1st and 2nd level characters it is powerful enough. There are some new monsters (the aforementioned dragon) and lots of great encounters.
While there is no overt meta-plot here, one could easily see this as some sort of introduction to a cult of Juiblex vying for control of the Mythic Underworld.
A bit about the name. I can't help but notice that a 1st level adventure into the "Mythic Underground" can be read as "I(n) Can Descen(d)t." I am sure this is intentional.
If these are examples of how adventures for OSE are going to be written in the future then OSE is going have a nice long shelf life. While neither adventure is revolutionary in design or concepts they are really good adventures.