Old-School Essentials is an adventure role-playing game of exploration, danger, monsters, and magic. The game is intentionally rules-light, putting the focus of play on imagination, improvisation, and fun. The rules are optimised for ease of use at the table, with meticulous attention to wording and layout clarity. What's more, Old-School Essentials is 100% compatible with the classic Basic/Expert game from 1981, meaning that decades of adventure are at your fingertips!
Old-School Essentials comes in two forms: a chunky tome and a modular boxed set. The content is identical. Choose one or both, depending on your preferred format!
The first two Old-School Essentials supplements — adding extra classes, spells, and combat options — will be available as optional add-ons in BackerKit (following the completion of the Kickstarter)!
See below for in-depth info on all products!
All books will also be produced as extensively hyperlinked PDFs. Once the Kickstarter has finished, backers will get early access to PDFs in their current, near-finished forms. Once all artwork is in place and everything is finalised, the final PDFs will be sent out to backers.
Free Basic Rules PDF: To whet your appetite for this game, you can download a free PDF, featuring the basic rules for creating characters, adventuring in dungeons, combat, magic, and spells. Includes the complete rules for four classic fantasy character classes: the cleric, fighter, magic-user, and thief.
Killer Features of Old-School Essentials
Usability: Old-School Essentials is meticulously edited and laid out, with the aim of maximising ease of reference during play. No more searching for references scattered across multiple pages. No more scanning dense paragraphs of text to pick out details. Everything in Old-School Essentials is logically organised and collated, and presented in a quick-to-read format based on "control panels" — two-page spreads presenting a single topic in its entirety. (See page examples below or check out the free Basic Rules.)
Modularity: The rules of Old-School Essentials are divided into "modules" — cleanly separated chunks of related content. For example, the core rules of the game are cleanly separated from the rules for the classic fantasy character classes. This makes it simple to swap out any of the modular components of the game's rules with alternatives — perfect for referees who love to customise and tweak. We have lots of plans for further rules modules in the Old-School Essentials line, building on the core rules to take the game into a myriad of different settings and genres, from science fantasy to post-apocalyptic to sword and sorcery.
Convenience: All books are produced in handy A5 (Digest) size for convenient use at the table. The small, modular books in the Black Box make it easy to find what you need. Want to look up a spell? Just grab the book of spells. No need to navigate a big tome to find the right section.
Quality: We're set to produce the Old-School Essentials books at a deluxe level of quality — hardcovers with sewn bindings. These will be beautiful and seriously durable books!
Compatibility: Old-School Essentials is a 100% accurate restatement of the original Basic/Expert rules (B/X), with nothing added, changed, or removed. All material written for the B/X rules over the last 38 years can be used with Old-School Essentials, without any conversion effort whatsoever!
Refinement: The original Basic/Expert game presents a wondrously solid rules set, but the rules are not without areas of confusion and contradiction. All known omissions, contradictions, and areas of confusion have been carefully ironed out in Old-School Essentials.
Ben Milton of Questing Beast
Thilo Graf of Endzeitgeist
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A box full of adventure to fire up your nostalgia to the max! The Old-School Essentials core rules plus four rules modules for creating characters and running adventures in the classic fantasy genre. Each of the five books in the Black Box is described below.
72-page A5 hardcover
The core rules of the game, including procedures for: creating characters; exploring dungeons, the wilderness, and the high seas; combat, hazards, and challenges; retainers, hirelings, and vehicles; adventure design; magic, monsters, and treasures.
The Old-School Essentials core rules are carefully designed to be applicable to a multitude of fantastic campaign settings and genre conventions, from Classic Fantasy to Post-Apocalyptic to Sword and Planet. Just add a book of genre rules and you're ready for adventure!
Classic Fantasy: Genre Rules
40-page A5 hardcover
Options for classic fantasy characters: classes, equipment, vehicles, hirelings, strongholds, and more. Play as a devout cleric or a sagacious magic-user, a doughty fighter or a cunning thief, a surly dwarf, a noble elf, or a homesick halfling. This book contains all character options from the Basic/Expert game.
Full rules for character advancement to 14th level.
Classic Fantasy: Cleric and Magic-User Spells
40-page A5 hardcover; only required by players with spell-casting characters
All 106 magic spells that can be used by clerics, magic-users, and elves, ranging from 1st to 6th level. This book contains all spells from the Basic/Expert game.
Classic Fantasy: Monsters
72-page A5 hardcover; only required by the referee
A timeless collection of over 200 fearsome beasts! Includes full encounter tables by dungeon level and wilderness terrain type. This book contains all monsters from the Basic/Expert game.
Classic Fantasy: Treasures
40-page A5 hardcover; only required by the referee
A hoard of classic magic items, encompassing enchanted weapons and armour; magic wands, staves and rods; magical scrolls, rings, and potions; and the plethora of weird and wondrous items that don't fit into any of those categories! Includes full rules for sentient swords. This book contains all magic items from the Basic/Expert game.
For those who prefer all of their RPG rules in one book, rather than divided into modules — this is what you've been waiting for! Everything that's in the Black Box, combined into a single 256-page, A5 (Digest sized), hardcover tome.
The Old-School Essentials core rules plus all of the classic fantasy genre content, all in one meaty hardcover book. This book is a complete restatement of the Basic/Expert rules, meticulously edited and laid out for maximum usability and ease of reference.
Special Kickstarter Price!
Backers can get the Rules Tome at a reduced price of €25. The final retail price will be €30.
There's Also a Super-Deluxe Limited Edition!
In conjunction with our manufacturer, we're delighted to be able to offer a super-deluxe and highly limited edition of the Rules Tome, only available to backers of this Kickstarter!
The limited edition book will be wrapped in luxurious black leatherette, and foil stamped with the Old-School Essentials logo plus a design based on the cover illustration. (We'll post updates on that design as work on the cover illustration progresses.
The Rules Tome and the Black Box present a loving restatement of the classic Basic/Expert rules from the 1980s. But this is just the beginning of the Old-School Essentials line — we have many more books in the works, taking the game into a vista of different worlds and genres.
As part of this Kickstarter, we will also be producing a pair of hotly anticipated books to add Advanced magic and character options to your games! These new options are inspired by the beloved Advanced rules from the 1970s, and carefully scaled to mesh smoothly with the lower Basic/Expert levels of power and rules complexity.
Advanced Fantasy: Genre Rules
56-page A5 hardcover
This book adds:
- 9 new human classes: acrobat, assassin, barbarian, bard, druid, illusionist, knight, paladin, ranger.
- 6 new demihuman race-classes: drow, duergar, gnome, half-elf, half-orc, svirfneblin.
- Optional rules for choosing race and class separately.
- Advanced rules for poisons, combat options, and more.
Advanced Fantasy: Druid and Illusionist Spells
40-page A5 hardcover; only required by players with spell-casting characters
106 new spells that can be used by bards, druids, gnomes, and illusionists, ranging from 1st to 6th level.
More Advanced Fantasy Books...
We plan to continue expanding Old-School Essentials with more Advanced books, bringing in monsters and magic items inspired by the Advanced rules.
All books in these deluxe editions will be high quality hardcovers with sewn bindings. In addition to their high durability, a great thing about books with a sewn binding is that they can lay open flat!
What's more, we have stretch goals lined up for extra trimmings, to further increase the quality of these books. See below for more info on what we have planned, if the initial funding goal is surpassed.
Wondering who's behind all of this? Allow us to elucidate:
Gavin Norman: Author of Old-School Essentials (and formerly B/X Essentials), co-creator and principle author of the critically acclaimed Dolmenwood campaign setting, and founder of Necrotic Gnome. Gavin has driven the Old-School Essentials project since its inception, and is the mastermind behind the writing, editing, and layout.
Andrew Walter: Visual genius behind a vista of weirdness, including Dolmenwood and Troika! Andrew's flights of imaginative fantasy feature on the covers of the five books in the Black Box. Four of these are complete (as shown in the product mock-up above). Andrew is now working on a completely new cover for the Core Rules book in the Black Box.
Peter Mullen: Revered for his fantastically imaginative work on the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG and many other old-school games, Peter is working on a brand new piece that will grace the cover of the Black Box and the Rules Tome, and full 4-panel art for the front of the referee screen!
Stefan Poag: Prolific and beloved creator of weird and wonderful fantasy art, including many pieces for the Mutant Crawl Classics RPG, Metamorphosis Alpha, and many others. Stefan created the cover art for the Advanced Fantasy rules modules.
Interior artists: A crack team of artists is tackling the interior illustration of the books, including: Luka Rejec, Matt Ray, Michael Clarke, Alex Mayo, Tom Kilian, Sean Poppe, Kyle Latino, Thomas Novosel.
What's This About 1981?
The 1981 Basic/Expert Fantasy Adventure Game sets (also known as B/X) have experienced a vibrant renaissance over the last decade. Many players have returned to (or discovered for the first time!) the simple rules and imaginative open space of the Basic/Expert game, with the focus on ease of play, adventure, wonder, and mystery.
Renewed interest in this vintage game has led to the creation of a wide array of retro-clones: games that restate or are inspired by the rules of the Basic/Expert sets. In fact, the B/X rules (and games based on them) are the most popular rules in use in the old-school gaming scene.
Old-School Essentials is exactly such a retro-clone, and we're immensely proud to be a part of the renaissance of these beloved rules.
100% Rules Accuracy
The material in the Black Box and the Rules Tome forms a complete retelling of the classic Basic/Expert rules, including all of the classic fantasy classes, spells, monsters, and treasures.
Old-School Essentials has been developed with equal measures of love and precision. The ultimate aim of this project is to produce as accurate as possible a restatement of the revered B/X rules, while improving the structure and presentation, and fixing errors and contradictions in the original rules. (For those with a passion for rules archaeology, this document describes all the areas of the Basic/Expert rules which are clarified in Old-School Essentials.)
The resulting books are the product of over two years of meticulous research, rules archaeology, and discussion.
A Single Optional Addition — Ascending Armour Class
Modern iterations of the world's most popular RPG use an Armour Class system where AC values start at 10 and go up. This is known as Ascending Armour Class. (The default Armour Class system in B/X has AC starting at 9 and going down, known as Descending Armour Class.)
For those more familiar or comfortable with Ascending Armour Class, this optional rule has been fully integrated into Old-School Essentials. All AC ratings are presented in a dual format, for example: AC 7 .
This is the single rule we've added to the game that is not present in the original Basic/Expert rules, and it is strictly optional — Descending AC remains the default.
€16,000 – Purist Character Sheet [UNLOCKED]
Designed by Gavin Norman. Available as a free PDF download, provided to all backers.
€17,000 – Referee Screen Production [UNLOCKED]
Free PDF and print add-on, designed by Gavin Norman. The core rules and most vital tables of the game, collated onto the back of an expansive 4-panel screen. The referee screen will be produced as landscape-orientation inserts for the universal GM screen from DriveThruRPG. All backers will receive a code to download the insert PDFs for free (to print at home) and to order printed inserts from DriveThruRPG at cost.
€18,000 – Rules Tome Printed End-Papers [UNLOCKED]
The Rules Tome will be upgraded with fancy printed end-papers, featuring the most commonly used tables. All backers at a reward tier that includes the Rules Tome will get this upgrade at no extra cost.
€19,000 – Rules Tome Ribbon Marker [UNLOCKED]
The Rules Tome will be upgraded with a fancy ribbon marker, for quick access to your favourite sections. All backers at a reward tier that includes the Rules Tome will get this upgrade at no extra cost.
€20,000 – Peter Mullen 4-Panel Screen Art [UNLOCKED]
The fabulous and critically acclaimed Peter Mullen will create a full 4-panel painting to grace the front of the referee screen! This promises to be a seriously special piece of art, and will make the Old-School Essentials referee screen an absolute must-have for all fans of old-school gaming! All orders of the referee screen (see above) will feature Peter's resplendent art!
€25,000 – Advanced Fantasy Add-Ons [UNLOCKED]
We now have sufficient funds to produce two hotly anticipated books — Advanced Fantasy: Genre Rules and Druid and Illusionist Spells — right away!
€26,000 – Black Box Printed End-Papers [UNLOCKED]
All of the books inside the Black Box will be upgraded with fancy printed end-papers, featuring the most commonly used tables. The Advanced Fantasy: Genre Rules and Druid and Illusionist Spells books (available as add-ons) will also be enhanced in this way! All backers at a reward tier that includes the Black Box will get this upgrade at no extra cost.
€27,000 – Underground Character Sheet [UNLOCKED]
Hand-illustrated A4 character sheet designed by the enigmatic James West. Available as a free PDF download, provided to all backers.
€28,000 – Refined Character Sheet [UNLOCKED]
A slick, double-sided A4 character sheet designed by the hyper-dimensional Frank Reding. Available as a free PDF download, provided to all backers.
€29,000 – Pre-Gen Characters [UNLOCKED]
Ready to jump straight into your first adventure? You'll be needing characters! We'll be rolling up a set of seven characters (one of each of the classic character classes), equip them, and come up with suitably quirky backgrounds for them. This cadre of adventurers will also come in handy for referees who need a quick rival NPC party to throw at players! Provided to all backers as a free PDF download.
€30,000 – Rules Reference Website [UNLOCKED]
We will create a hyperlinked System Reference Document website for the complete Old-School Essentials rules! Available online for the whole world to marvel at.
€35,000 – Intro Adventure: The Hole in the Oak [UNLOCKED]
The Rules Tome and the Black Box contain all the rules and advice you need to create your own campaigns of fantastic adventure, but sometimes you want an intro adventure to kick-start your games. Gavin Norman (creator of Old-School Essentials) will produce a classic (and quirky!) old-school adventure for 1st level characters, set in the Mythic Underworld that lies beyond the hole in an old oak tree. This odd realm will be mapped by the mycologically inclined Karl Stjernberg and illustrated by the phantasmagoric James West.
All backers will receive a PDF of this adventure. All backers at a reward tier that includes the Rules Tome or the Black Box will receive a softcover copy of this adventure at no extra cost.
€50,000 – Rules Reference Website Generators [UNLOCKED]
The Old-School Essentials System Reference Document website will be enhanced with a selection of fancy interactive elements. Generate classic fantasy treasure hoards, wandering monsters, or entire NPC adventuring parties at the click of a button! All fully integrated with the SRD.
€55,000 – Rules Tome Second Ribbon Marker [UNLOCKED]
The Rules Tome will be upgraded with a second fancy ribbon marker! All backers at a reward tier that includes the Rules Tome will get this upgrade at no extra cost.
€60,000 – Intro Adventure in Full Colour [UNLOCKED]
All those spooky chambers and twisting, root-infested tunnels beneath the Hole in the Oak? They'll be illustrated in full colour by the speleological James West! All backers will receive a full-colour PDF of this adventure. All backers at a reward tier that includes the Rules Tome or the Black Box will receive a full-colour softcover copy of this adventure at no extra cost.
€65,000 – Chaotic Pre-Gen Characters [UNLOCKED]
We'll be rolling up a set of seven nasty characters (one of each of the classic character classes), equip them, and come up with suitably quirky backgrounds for them. This cadre of ne'er-do-wells will also come in handy for referees who need a quick rival NPC party to throw at players! Provided to all backers as a free PDF download.
€70,000 – Neutral Pre-Gen Characters [UNLOCKED]
We'll be rolling up a set of seven characters (one of each of the classic character classes), equip them, and come up with suitably quirky backgrounds for them. This cadre of emotionally well-balanced explorers will also come in handy for referees who need a quick rival NPC party to throw at players! Provided to all backers as a free PDF download.
€75,000 – Illustrated Pre-Gen Characters [UNLOCKED]
The 21 pre-gen characters (see above) will be lovingly illustrated by the Old-School Essentials artists. Provided to all backers as a free PDF download.
€80,000 – 1st Set of Full-Colour Art Plates [UNLOCKED]
We'll commission a set of full-spread, full-colour art pieces to appear in the Rules Tome and the Classic Fantasy: Genre Rules book in the Black Box. (Artists to be announced.) All backers at a reward tier that includes the Rules Tome or Black Box will get this upgrade at no extra cost.
€90,000 – 2nd Set of Full-Colour Art Plates [UNLOCKED]
We'll commission a set of full-spread, full-colour art pieces to appear in the Rules Tome and the Cleric and Magic-User Spells book in the Black Box. (Artists to be announced.) All backers at a reward tier that includes the Rules Tome or Black Box will get this upgrade at no extra cost.
€100,000 – 3rd Set of Full-Colour Art Plates [UNLOCKED]
If this stretch goal is reached, we'll commission a set of full-spread, full-colour art pieces to appear in the Rules Tome and the Classic Fantasy: Monsters book in the Black Box. (Artists to be announced.) All backers at a reward tier that includes the Rules Tome or Black Box will get this upgrade at no extra cost.
€110,000 – 4th Set of Full-Colour Art Plates [UNLOCKED]
If this stretch goal is reached, we'll commission a set of full-spread, full-colour art pieces to appear in the Rules Tome and the Classic Fantasy: Treasures book in the Black Box. (Artists to be announced.) All backers at a reward tier that includes the Rules Tome or Black Box will get this upgrade at no extra cost.
€120,000 – Final Set of Full-Colour Art Plates [UNLOCKED]
Rules Tome and Black Box aesthetic upgrade
If this stretch goal is reached, we'll commission a set of full-spread, full-colour art pieces to appear in the Rules Tome and the Core Rules book in the Black Box. (Artists to be announced.) All backers at a reward tier that includes the Rules Tome or Black Box will get this upgrade at no extra cost.
And That's It...
We're at the limits of what is feasible to add to this project without risking production delays. The last thing we want is production delays! We won't be adding any more stretch goals.
After the campaign finishes, we'll be moving over to BackerKit, where you'll be able to manage your pledge level, specify your shipping address, etc. At that stage, you'll also have the option of adding extras to your pledge, all at a special reduced price! All add-ons will ship along with the Rules Tome / Black Box.
Note: There's no need to add money to your pledge for add-ons now. You'll be able to adjust your pledge and select add-ons once we get to BackerKit.
Extra Rules Tome – €25
Extra Black Box – €45
Extra Core Rules Book – €10
Extra Classic Fantasy: Genre Rules Book – €10
Extra Cleric and Magic-User Spells Book – €10
Extra Classic Fantasy: Monsters Book – €10
Extra Classic Fantasy: Treasures Book – €10
Necrotic Gnome T-Shirt – €15
Advanced Fantasy: Genre Rules Book + PDF – €10
Druid and Illusionist Spells Book + PDF – €10
Advanced Fantasy PDFs – €10
Winter's Daughter Adventure + PDF – €10
More to be added after the campaign...
Shipping costs will be added in BackerKit, after completion of the Kickstarter. At that stage, you'll be able to specify your shipping address, and, once we're ready to send out the rewards, you'll be charged for shipping.
Shipping and fulfillment will be handled by Games Quest in the UK. At the time of writing, tracked shipping costs are in the region of:
- US: $15 for the Rules Tome, $20 for the Black Box.
- UK: £8 for the Rules Tome or the Black Box.
- Other EU countries: €10-15 (depending on country) for the Rules Tome or the Black Box.
- Canada / Australia: $45 (CAD / AUD).
- South America: £35.
Untracked shipping will also be offered as a cheaper option for some countries. The rates are currently in the region of:
- Canada: $20 for the Rules Tome, $25 for the Black Box.
- Australia: $25 for the Rules Tome, $35 for the Black Box.
- Africa / Asia / South America: £15 for the Rules Tome, £20 for the Black Box.
(Extra add-ons selected in BackerKit will also increase the shipping costs.)
Customs: Note that you may be liable to pay customs charges on the shipment, depending on your country of residence. Please check with your customs office to see what fees might apply.
PDF rewards will be fulfilled by DriveThruRPG.
Risks and challenges
This is our first Kickstarter (so please help us make it an overwhelming success!). That said, Necrotic Gnome has been relentlessly producing high quality old-school content since 2012. The team behind Old-School Essentials is by no means new to producing games! We are renowned for our communicative and transparent development process, so you can be sure of receiving a steady stream of updates as the project progresses.
The risks involved in this project are low. The text of the Rules Tome and the books in the Black Box is 100% finished. The layout of all books is done. The cover art for most of the books is done. About 50% of the interior illustrations are in place. All that remains, development-wise, is for the artists to get working on the final illustrations, to be slotted into the layout.
We've previously worked with the printer who'll be manufacturing the books, so their professionalism and commitment to high quality are known factors. They do excellent work, fast.
The box manufacturer isn't someone we've worked with before, so that is a slight unknown, but in case of an utter fall-through in communication, we have a second box manufacturer lined up.
As for the stretch goals, the majority of them are designed such that they will not add delays to the production and fulfillment of the main campaign goals:
• The physical upgrades to the books don't entail any additional development time. (They just cost extra!)
• The referee screen (as noted above) will be shipped separately from the books / box, so any unexpected delays in development there will not delay the whole project.
• Development of all the digital stretch goals (character sheet PDFs, the rules reference website, etc.) likewise does not impact the delivery of the books / box.
The stretch goals that require additional print production (the Advanced books and the introductory adventure) are the main extras that could, in principle, cause delays. However, all of those products are already written. They just need to be laid out and illustrated. This extra work has already been factored into the planned shipping dates, so the risk is minimal.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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