Let me start by giving you some context. Even though I have enjoyed the roleplaying game hobby for almost 30 years now, I started playing at an older age than most of you. I was 16 when I first played in a TORG convention game in 1992. Shortly after that I was finally allowed to join a friend’s Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay campaign, which lasted a couple of years and ended with our party saving the Empire from utter destruction! Even though I was aware of D&D at this time, I did only play it a few times. And – oh boy – I really didn’t like the AD&D 2nd Edition rules which were popular back then. I found the rules too restricting, and just plain weird. I still played it if I got the chance because everything aside from the rules was fun and I had the chance to spend some time with cool people.
Back then I didn’t know much about the history of the game, neither was I aware of Basic D&D. D&D 3rd Edition which came out a few years later was more to my liking and we played it quite extensively. But over the years my interest in rules-heavy games plummeted. It was somewhere in the 2010s when I first read blog posts about the Old School Renaissance (or whatever you want to call it) on the RPG Bloggers Network I had joined in 2008. As far as I remember I was pretty skeptical at first, but when I eventually looked closer into these “retro clones” I found something which I didn’t know I have been looking for all this time.
Old-school D&D had all the elements I liked in the D&D editions I played so far, but it was much more rules-light. The kind of gameplay it supported was also something I found intriguing. Eventually I started my long search for the “perfect” retro-clone (I know, there’s no such thing). I played Lamentations of the Flame Princess several times and it came pretty close to what I was looking for. I enjoyed the artwork associated with this game and some of the changes to the rules compared to the edition of D&D it emulated just felt right to me. Unfortunately the guy behind the game is not someone I want to support, so I looked for alternatives.
Over the years I have read basically everything OSR-ish I could get my hands on. There are some pretty popular games inspired by old-school D&D without trying to emulate the original rules which just didn’t click with me. Especially Index Card RPG is a game I really enjoy reading but I just can’t make it work at the game table. A game that almost worked perfectly for me was Swords & Wizardry Whitebox. It was simple and very easy to hack. But you know me, I kept hunting after my personal “white whale”, the perfect retro-clone.
Eventually I heard about Old-School Essentials by Necrotic Gnome. People all over the internet talked about it as if it was the best thing since sliced bread. At first I was seriously underwhelmed when I read it was trying to emulate the B/X edition of D&D perfectly. What I didn’t realize was that the author, Gavin Norman, rewrote it from scratch, so that the rules are much, much easier to understand, made some minor fixes, and added some optional rules like THAC0 or Ascending Armor Class.
But what really sets OSE apart is its layout. To call it perfect would almost be an understatement.