Originally posted here: https://theotherside.tims-
Arguably one of the biggest success stories of the late OSR movement has been the publication of Old-School Essentials Classic Fantasy (2019) and Old-School Essentials Advanced Fantasy (2021). Indeed I feel that OSE has supplanted Swords & Wizardry, the darling of the middle OSR movement as the old-school game of choice. It is the old-school game of choice here in my home game, alternating between it and D&D 5e, and seems to be the most talked-about game in the old-school discussion areas.
This is all with good reason. OSE is well designed, superbly organized, and has wonderful art. There is a minimalist approach to the rules and presentation that does not detract from the experience, instead, it rather enhances it. You can see my enthusiasm in my review of the Old-School Essentials Classic Fantasy Boxed set back in 2020. So imagine my surprise when I learned I had not given OSE Advanced a proper review yet.
I have detailed my introduction to D&D many times here. But briefly, my "first" D&D was a poorly copied version of Holmes Basic with an AD&D Monster Manual. My first "true" D&D, the one I could properly call my own was Moldvay Basic/Cook & MArsh Expert (commonly referred to as "B/X"). I would over the course of a year or so add in elements of AD&D. Most importantly the Deities & Demigods, the Fiend Folio, and a copy of Eldritch Wizardry. My D&D was always a mish-mash of Basic D&D and AD&D. I later discovered that my playstyle was not at all unique.
Old School Essentials Advanced Fantasy Edition really strikes at the heart of what this sort of play was like. The familiar and easy Basic/Expert rules with AD&D layered on top. Layered is the right word, AD&D had a lot of situational rules and rules used in tournaments and rules designed to cover what looked like medieval realism. As real that is in a world where half-elves fought dragons with magic. OSE-AF strips this down back to the B/X style rules found in OSE-CF and then adds in what people used the most from AD&D. No weapon speed factors, no tournament scoring, just D&D-style play.
OSE-AF is divided into two books, the Player's Tome and the Referee's Tome.
For this review, I am considering the hardcover books I got via the Kickstarter, the PDFs from DriveThruRPG, and extra copies of the Player's Tome I picked up at my FLGS. All books were purchased by me and none were submitted for review purposes.
OSE-AF Referee's Tome
Hardcover. Black and White and color interior art and covers. 248 pages. Bookmarked PDF with hyperlinked table of contents and index. $40.00 for the hardcover print (retail). $15.00 for the PDF.
This book covers how to run an OSE-AF game. Some of the details here are the same as OSE-CF but there are enough rules additions and clarification to make it worthwhile to anyone that has OSE-CF.
The first part covers running the game and adventures along with designing a dungeon and wilderness areas.
The next section, Monsters, makes up the bulk of the book. All the old OSE-CF favorites are here and most of the Advanced era monsters. In 107 or so pages we get over 320 monsters. Again the art is light, but it is there. We do not get any Demons or Devils, those are coming in a future book from my understanding, but it is still plenty.
The next largest section is Treasure which includes intelligent swords.
We also get sections on monster tables by terrain, strongholds, and NPCs.
The main feature of this book, and indeed all of the OSE line, is the layout. All material is laid out so that everything you need to read is on facing pages. This is less obvious here as in the Player's Tome, but it is still a solid feature.
The two-volume set might just be the ultimate in expression of the time period in which I was doing my earliest D&D play. There are other Basic/Advanced hybrid games out there and they all provide a good mix of their sources, but it is OSE-AF that is the closest to what I was playing then. All of the fun of Basic with the options in Advanced I loved. The modularity of OSE also allows for expansion. While the 1 to 14 level range covers most of what people will play there is no reason why there can't be an OSE-Companion to cover higher levels.
Throughout all these books and the entire OSE line, the art is both evocative of the old-school style and still modern enough to please new audiences.
This is the game of choice for me to introduce old-school style play to players of modern games. My regular 5e group took to it like ducks to water. They love it. They still love their 5e games, but they also like to do this one. None of them had ever played B/X prior to this and it was a huge success.
I know that Gavin Norman and Necrotic Gnome have more material to give us for this, I hope it all lives up this new gold standard I set my OSR book to.
[5 of 5 Stars!]