So I received an email last night from Gavin Norman with my sparkling copy of B/X Essentials. Straight up I asked to for a copy for review and boy I surprised at the fact straight out of the gate that its only thirty seven pages long. This really is a boiled down version of B/X Dungeons & Dragons in retroclone form. Right out of the gate The author states exactly what his intent is;
"My love for Basic/Expert-style fantasy adventuring was reignited with the publication of Labyrinth Lord and the rise of the old-school renaissance / whatever-you-like-to-call-it. Over the years, I’ve run all sorts of campaigns with the Basic/Expert rules— everything from classic dungeon hacks, to dying Earth science
fantasy, to Lovecraft-inspired, Victorian age horror. Of course, all these campaigns have
added their own twists to the rules: alternate classes, new spells, monsters, equipment,
treasures, and so on. Nonetheless, the core rules of the game remained constant. And I think that’s the real treasure of the Basic/ Expert rules: their timeless elegance, concision,
and very wide (I wouldn’t go quite so far as to say universal) applicability. Through all these years of play, though, what I’ve always missed is a cleanly presented, easy-to-reference rendition of the core rules of the game separated from the associated “accoutrements”—the classes, spells, monsters,
magic items, etc. Neither the original Basic/Expert books nor the various modern clones exactly satisfy this requirement. That’s what this book is about."
But does it succeed in its mission of boiling down everything in the B/X Dungeons & Dragons Basic & Expert rules into its quintessential form? Yes but that's not everything that B/X Essentials does. The mission statement goes like this:
- 100% accurate rules clone. B/X Essentials, unlike other clones or games inspired by B/X, goes to great efforts to be 100% accurate to the original. Nothing is altered. Nothing is added. Nothing is removed.
- Organized for quick reference. The text of B/X Essentials is consciously kept concise and is broken into logical chunks, each with a header, making quick reference possible. I believe this is the clearest expression of the Basic/Expert rules available to date.
- Clarified rules. The original rules are delightfully straightforward, but there certainly exist areas of confusion and ambiguity. (Check out the rules for encumbrance or wilderness chases, for example.) B/X Essentials presents greatly clarified descriptions of these rules.
These rules are the essential systems for B/X Dungeons & Dragons nothing more or less. They are the combined Basic & Expert D&D systems boiled right down to their essence and its done right in my humble opinion. Is it better then Holmes or Mentzer? No, its a good set of both edits in one system.
But the best part about this product is the following :
But the best part about this product is the following :
"100% Open Game Content. In addition to a fancy, fully illustrated print / PDF edition, the B/X Essentials rules will be released in a simple text format licensed as 100% Open Game Content (under the OGL). The fresh expression of the B/X rules can thus be freely used by other people for the creation of their own house rules documents and B/X-inspired games."
This is one of the places where the OSR excels at by creating a set of rules open for others to create their own game material and settings to put into the OSR but its also a bane because of the sometimes lack of oversight. But this is the drawback with any open game content OSR retroclones but shrug that comes with the territory.
Does B/X Essentials succeed in its mission? I think over all it does exactly what it properts to be a 100% boiled down reference set of rules that has the Gavin Norman style of 'meat & potatoes' approach to the rules. This is where I'm familiar with how the author works in his game design choices and its something we've seen before in Wormskin with Greg Gorgonmilk. Take the high road with the choices but deal with the hard & fast regardless of design conceits. Necrotic Gnome has done this before but its not a bad thing. The quality of rules are here in B/X Essentials and it shows.
Here rules are combined & straightened out without altering the flavor, the essence, and intent in my opinion of the originals. Sure its a new coat of paint but its one with all of the bumps and creases taken out from the material. This means there's enough here to run a campaign but its a set of rules that applies across the board. How does this compare with other retroclones on the market currently? There are choices here that make B/X Essentials stand on its own. And that's the way it should be in my opinion. Over that means that purists are going find little to 'bitch' about but there will be some as always. What I was surprised at was the artwork in the B/X Essential rules set. Its very nice and layout is very well done. The material is easily accessible and its true that everything here works for a B/X addict like me. Overall the effort in my humble opinion is five out of five. There will be a follow up book B/X Essentials: Classes and Equipment so B/X Essentials is exactly what it claims to be the essential rules for B/X.
There is a No Art Work Version available for free here Print editions coming soon! People who purchase the PDF edition will be sent a voucher to upgrade to the print edition, when it becomes available.
The B/X Essentials Paid Version With artwork
is available right here for five dollars for a 37 page PDF full
of great artwork!