Old-School Essentials

Created by Necrotic Gnome

A modular adventure game in the tradition of the beloved 1980s role-playing rules. 100% old-school rules, 100% modern design.

Latest Updates from Our Project:

8 days until lockdown! Advanced Fantasy previews! More art!
5 days ago – Thu, Jul 18, 2019 at 01:09:16 AM

Hey everyone,

Time for the weekly Wednesday Old-School Essentials update!

BackerKit Lockdown Reminder

Firstly, just a quick reminder that the BackerKit add-ons plus the pre-order store will be locked on July 26th (at 20:00 Central European Time, to be precise). What happens after the lockdown?

  • Backers will no longer be able to switch pledge levels. This is the last chance to get in on the Kickstarter exclusive leatherette Rules Tome!
  • Backers will no longer be able to select add-ons. This is the last chance to get early access to the Advanced Fantasy add-ons!
  • It will no longer be possible to pre-order the game. (Anyone who missed the Kickstarter and the pre-order will have to wait until the game is released for general sale, later in the year.)
  • Even after lockdown, backers and pre-order customers will still be able to change their shipping addresses. This will be possible right up until shortly before the game starts shipping.

So if you're in the small percentage of backers who haven't filled out your BackerKit survey yet, get in there! https://old-school-essentials.backerkit.com

Advanced Fantasy Previews

Speaking of add-ons, the most popular ones are the additional rules modules adding material inspired by the 1970s Advanced rules to Old-School Essentials: Advanced Fantasy: Genre Rules and Advanced Fantasy: Druid and Illusionist Spells. Over 1,300 copies of these books have been ordered now, which I'm totally blown away by! I'm excited to get all of this new material into your hands! (Pre-release PDFs will be going out at the end of July.)

In advance of the pre-release PDFs going out to those of you who selected these add-ons, I gave Ryan Marsh of the THAC0 RPG blog permission to make some posts previewing the new material. He posted the last part of his preview series this morning. They're well worth checking out, both to get a preview of the new material and for Ryan's insightful commentary:

Ryan also has lots of other Old-School Essentials material of his own creation on the blog, which is well worth reading.

New Art!

The artwork is really streaming in at quite a pace now! I'll push out the latest updates of the pre-release PDFs — including all of this new art — at the end of the month, once BackerKit and the pre-order store have been locked down. I think everyone will be delighted to see all of the new pieces in the books once you get the updated PDFs! In the meantime, here are a couple of pieces fresh in today:

Illustration by Del Teigeler — remind anyone of anything?
Illustration by Del Teigeler — remind anyone of anything?
Colour plate by Jon Hodgson
Colour plate by Jon Hodgson

All For Now!

Keep on keeping it old-school...

Gavin / Moss Master at Necrotic Gnome

Art, maps, Necrotic Gnome ENnies nominations!
11 days ago – Fri, Jul 12, 2019 at 01:41:06 AM

Hey everyone,

Time for the Wednesday update on Old-School Essentials!

Necrotic Gnome Nominated for Two ENnies!

First of all, I'm delighted to share the news with you all that Necrotic Gnome has been nominated for two ENnies awards! It's the first time we've submitted anything for the awards, so it's a real honour to have been nominated by the judges for these two awards.

The product that's been nominated is the Dolmenwood adventure Winter's Daughter, which many of you have selected as an add-on in BackerKit.

Here's how the awards work:

  • Products are submitted to the judges. (I'll definitely be submitting Old-School Essentials next year!)
  • The judges nominate 5 products for a range of award categories. Winter's Daughter has been nominated for the Best Adventure and Best Art, Cover categories.
  • The final awards are decided by public vote. That means you!
  • Voting is open until July 21st.
  • You can vote for the awards here: http://www.ennie-awards.com/vote/2019

Please consider voting for Winter's Daughter (Best Adventure and Best Art, Cover categories)!

Vote for Necrotic Gnome as Your Favourite Publisher!

There's also a category to vote for your favourite publisher. Necrotic Gnome is in the (long!) list, so please go and cast your vote in the Fan's Favorite Publisher category!


New Colour Art Plates!

Now, back to Old-School Essentials... Two new colour plates have come in this week. First up, a new piece by the inimitable Stefan Poag. This will be placed just before the combat section of Core Rules (and the equivalent location in the Rules Tome).

Art plate by Stefan Poag
Art plate by Stefan Poag

And now a piece by Pauliina Hannuniemi, which will feature in the Classic Fantasy: Treasures book and the Rules Tome.

Art plate by Pauliina Hannuniemi
Art plate by Pauliina Hannuniemi

(By the way, for those of you who are fans of Dolmenwood, I'm chatting with Pauliina about her doing some pieces for the upcoming Dolmenwood Campaign Book. I think her style is an absolutely perfect fit for the fairytale vibe of Dolmenwood!)

The Hole in the Oak Map

As I mentioned in a previous update, work on the free intro adventure The Hole in the Oak is progressing nicely:

  • I'm about a third of the way through converting my rough notes into a properly laid out adventure.
  • James West has finished the cover art and is now working on interior illustrations. (All in full colour, thanks to one of those stretch goals!)
  • Karl Stjernberg has been at work converting my sketch map into the real thing. Check this out:
Map by Karl Stjernberg
Map by Karl Stjernberg

This is what awaits you! For those who are counting: there are 57 numbered areas on the map.

Tales from the Magician's Skull

Before signing off, I wanted to quickly share the link to another Kickstarter that may be of interest to you. Tales From The Magician's Skull is a magazine of new swords & sorcery fiction edited by my friend Howard Andrew Jones. Each issue features new tales of weird adventure by a selection of authors, plus illustrations by a cadre of old-school artists (including some who are part of the Old-School Essentials art crew!).

It's good stuff.


All for Now!

Be seeing you...

Gavin / Moss Master at Necrotic Gnome

THAC0 in Old-School Essentials
16 days ago – Sat, Jul 06, 2019 at 11:33:42 PM

Hey everyone,

Just a quick update on a really specific and obscure rules aspect of Old-School Essentials that I've tweaked today after receiving feedback from a backer. I thought it was a really interesting case (for those of us who area über rules nerds) and worth writing about.

It's all about THAC0...

THAC0 in B/X You Say?

Those of you who are wizened eminences of old-school gaming are probably aware that the term THAC0 — used in Old-School Essentials — was not used in the original Basic/Expert rules. It's an alternative way of resolving attack rolls (using a subtraction instead of a table lookup) that's been around since the late 70s, but which only really gained traction in the 90s with AD&D 2nd Edition.

The main reason for my using THAC0 in Old-School Essentials is that it greatly simplifies the referee's life when running monsters. Each monster listing notes the monster's THAC0, removing the need (for those who wish to do things this way) to look up the monster's attack rolls in the big attack value matrix in Core Rules.

So THAC0 is a streamlining and a way of reducing the need to cross-reference multiple books.

Comparison to the Attack Matrix

Now, my understanding had always been that using THAC0 gives exactly the same results as looking up attack rolls in the matrix, just getting to those results by a different route, a different procedure.

However, as was pointed out to me last night, this is not totally true. It's true most of the time, but not always. An example:

A normal human lucky enough to be in possession of a sword +3 attacks a monster with AC -1.

Using an attack matrix lookup:

  • With a +3 bonus to attack, the character needs a roll of 17 or higher to hit the monster. (Hitting AC -1 requires an unmodified attack roll of 20, according to the attack matrix.)

Using THAC0:

  • The character's THAC0 is 20.
  • The required attack roll to hit a monster with AC -1 is thus 21 (20 minus -1).
  • With a +3 bonus to attack, the character thus needs a roll of 18 or higher to hit the monster.

See the difference?

A Small but Inadvertent Change

This difference between attack roll resolution when using THAC0 vs attack matrix lookup only manifests at the extremes of combat. The example I used reflects this: a character with very high THAC0 and a big attack bonus attacking an opponent with a very low AC. It's difficult to come up against this problem except in rather contrived cases like that.

Nonetheless, a change is a change. As one of the aims of Old-School Essentials is to be 100% compatible with the original Basic/Expert rules, even very subtle changes like this are not desired.

How to Fix This?

Fear not! This issue has already been fixed. (I've updated the Rules Tome and Core Rules pre-release PDFs with the fix.) Here's how:

  • THAC0 remains as a term, but its primary use (by default) is to indicate which row in the attack matrix an attack roll should be looked up in.
  • Using THAC0 directly to resolve attack rolls is now explicitly listed as an optional rule, along with a note that doing so very slightly alters attack probabilities, in some cases.

I won't go into any more detail on the fix here. If you're interested, have a look at the freshly updated pre-release PDFs.

Thanks to Everyone Who's Given Feedback!

Special thanks go out to Alexander Parker for bringing this issue to my attention. (I'm amazed that I and everyone else who's read this game never spotted this before!)

And thanks generally to everyone who's given feedback on this game (and its previous iteration, B/X Essentials) over the past 2+ years. With your insight, Old-School Essentials is being polished way beyond what would be possible for one person alone.

If you're someone who enjoys chatting about rules minutiae like this, please come and join us on MeWe or Discord!

All For Now

Keep on keeping it old-school...

Gavin / Moss Master at Necrotic Gnome

More art, about The Hole in the Oak, manufacturing schedule
19 days ago – Thu, Jul 04, 2019 at 02:05:21 AM

Hi everyone,

It's Wednesday evening here in Berlin, and time for the weekly Old-School Essentials update. This is a big update... there's a lot happening at Necrotic Gnome HQ!

New Black & White Art

The interior artwork keeps streaming in! I've lost track of what's already gone out in the pre-release PDFs, but here's a selection of the freshest pieces. (I think probably no one has seen these yet.)

Illustration by Stefan Poag
Illustration by Stefan Poag
Illustration by Matt Ray
Illustration by Matt Ray
Illustration by Peter Saga
Illustration by Peter Saga

About The Hole in the Oak

Remember the stretch goal to unlock a free starter adventure for all backers, illustrated by James West? And remember the subsequent stretch goal to upgrade to full-colour illustrations?

Well, work has been progressing with the adventure. In fact, in between hours and days of furious art direction for the Old-School Essentials books, I've been equally furiously editing and laying out the starter adventure and am now at a stage where I can share some previews of what's in store.

But first, a little bit more information about the adventure itself!

What's It About?

In the grand tradition of classic dungeon modules, The Hole in the Oak isn't really about anything in particular. It just presents a weird subterranean location where PCs can get into trouble and maybe come out with some loot.

In the usual Necrotic Gnome vein, however, the adventure features lots of quirky, non-standard monsters and treasures. As befits a starter adventure, this dungeon does feature a number of standard monsters, straight out of the rule book, but many of those are given a little twist to surprise experienced players.

Some of the odd inhabitants of this dungeon:

  • Sheep-headed fauns.
  • Rumbling root faces.
  • Spectral hunters.
  • Evil tree-babies.
  • Mutagenic ogres.
  • River ghouls.
  • Demi-ghouls.
  • Shadow gardeners.
  • Completely normal cutesy gnomes with pointy red hats.


This dungeon has a very special place in my personal RPG history — it's the first dungeon that I ran on my return to old-school gaming a decade ago! As far as I recall, it's not actually the first old-school dungeon I wrote — I still have the notes for a necromancer's lair dungeon that I wrote but never ended up running — but The Hole in the Oak was certainly my group's first voyage into the Mythic Underworld of old-school dungeoneering.

I think the sense of fresh-faced wonder at returning to old-school dungeon crawling really shines through in this adventure, and I hope that sense of wonder will inspire others who play it.

Now onto some previews...

The Cover

While I've been working on the editing and layout, James West has been waving his magic art wand. Get a load of this:

Cover illustration by James West
Cover illustration by James West

Yes, evil tree-babies.

A note about style: You might notice that the cover of this adventure looks really different to the covers of the Old-School Essentials books. It doesn't sport the Old-School Essentials logo, it doesn't use the same title font, it doesn't have the white octagonal border around the image, and so on. This is deliberate. Only rules modules in the official Old-School Essentials line will have the trade dress I just described (the logo, the font, the border, etc). The Hole in the Oak, while it's statted using the Old-School Essentials rules, is a separate thing — it's an adventure, not a rules module — and thus has its own, distinct trade dress.

A Look Inside

Here's a preview of the first two pages of area descriptions. The layout isn't final yet, but it should give you a good feeling of how this adventure is being written and presented. Like the Old-School Essentials books, I'm putting a lot of thought into how to present the adventure in a way that makes it as easy to use and reference as possible. (This is the same format I used in the Dolmenwood adventure Winter's Daughter, for those of you who haven't seen it.)

Advanced Fantasy Progress

Just a very quick update here. The recent wave of intensive proofreading was extremely productive. In the coming weeks, I'll be updating the PDFs with all of the suggestions from the proofreaders who gallantly poured their time into reading through the books. In late July, after the orders in BackerKit have been locked down, I'll send out pre-release PDFs of the Advanced Fantasy books to those of you who have ordered them.

Manufacturing Schedule

One last topic for this update: getting all of this delicious stuff into your hands!

I've been discussing the finer points of manufacturing with the printer over the last weeks, including things like finalising paper type and thickness, exact quantities to print, and (most importantly) scheduling. Here's what we've lined up:

  • Manufacturing will commence in the week starting September 9th. (That's two months from now.)
  • Manufacturing of the whole project (a total of 28,250 books plus 3,000 boxes!) is expected to take up to 6 weeks.
  • That'll take us to the end of October.
  • As soon as manufacturing is complete, the books will be shipped off to GamesQuest, I'll send them over the exported data on who ordered what, and fulfillment will commence!

So assuming the printer's estimate of a 6 week printing time is accurate, it's looking likely that orders will start shipping out in early November. This is a little bit later than originally planned. The reason for this is that the original manufacturing schedule was estimated at 3-4 weeks. With the huge levels of support for this Kickstarter and all of the extra content that was unlocked, this is now a much, much bigger print job than we were originally planning. Which is amazing! It'll just take a bit longer to manufacture.

All For Now

Until next time!

Gavin / Moss Master at Necrotic Gnome

Updated PDFs, more art/ists, pre-gen character: Bonesmith
26 days ago – Thu, Jun 27, 2019 at 01:37:32 AM

Hi everyone,

It's time for that Wednesday update!

Pre-Release PDFs Updated

As many of you have probably noticed, I updated the pre-order PDFs earlier today. All of the books have some new artwork, plus lots of little tweaks and fixes have been made. (Thanks to everyone who's provided feedback! Keep it coming.)

Here's one of my favourite new pieces: a stunning evil tome by Mark Lyons.

Next Batch of Download Codes Coming Soon

For those of you who have completed your BackerKit surveys but not yet received the download codes for the pre-release PDFs: I'll be sending out another batch of download codes later today.

Advanced Fantasy Artists Coming On Board

I've been slaving away in the crazily hot Berlin weather the last few days, nailing down the illustrations lists for the two Advanced Fantasy books and commissioning the illustrators for them. In addition to pieces by some of the artists who've already been working on Old-School Essentials, I'm delighted to announce that a whole new wave of old-school illustrators is now coming online for the Advanced books. Check them out!

As you might be able to gather from looking at their work, I'm going for a slightly darker, grittier tone in the Advanced Fantasy books to conjure a bit of that AD&D mystique. Just slightly darker, though — don't worry, I'm not going full-on gore or anything.

New Colour Plate Artists

While we're on the subject of new artists coming on board, I'm also delighted to announce the following additions to the colour artist roster:

Pre-Gen Character: Bonesmith

And now for something completely different!

Remember those stretch goals that unlocked sets of pre-gen characters? And remember that other stretch goal for them all to be illustrated? Well, I've been working on them a little bit in the background, as has illustrator Sam Mameli. For your delectation, here's a preview of what's in store:

Art by Sam Mameli
Art by Sam Mameli

Sam and I will be producing a total of 21 characters like this, covering all possible combinations of the seven core Classic Fantasy classes and the three alignments. (Though it will be a while before they're finished — writing these pre-gens is a low priority task right now, as they're not part of the physical rewards that we'll be shipping out, so don't impact on any hard deadlines.)

(And yes, there will be versions of these pre-gens with Ascending AC.)

All For Now!

Until next time...

Gavin / Moss Master at Necrotic Gnome