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B/X Essentials: Core Rules
by Reese L. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 12/08/2018 07:49:40

I've purhased all of the Essentials line and very much look forward to future expansions, both from Necrotic Gnome and the community.

Gavin has done a fantastic job of merging the content of Moldvay Basic and Cook Expert, eliminating discrepancies between the two, and clarifying some of the things that might have been a little tricky for newcomers to understand.

I love the digest-sized booklets, and by splitting the content as he has, it has the advantages of letting a DM to control what info he gives his players and allowing other modular rulebooks to be substituted in.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
B/X Essentials: Core Rules
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B/X Essentials Premium Print Bundle [BUNDLE]
by Carl S. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 12/08/2018 02:38:22

I first started playing RPG's with the classic Basic & Expert D&D boxed sets. As an OSR gammer I have previously used Labyrinth Lord for my game group. I had heard good things about B/X Essentials so decided to give it a try. The books arrived soon after placing my order and I have to say i'm very impressed. The POD quality of the books is very good. You can also tell from the layout and content of each of these books that they are labours of love. I would highly recommend.



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[5 of 5 Stars!]
B/X Essentials Premium Print Bundle [BUNDLE]
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B/X Essentials: Monsters
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 11/26/2018 04:19:22

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This installment of the B/X-Essentials-series clocks in at 44 pages of content if you take away cover, editorial, TOC, etc. My review is based on the premium print edition of the supplement, which I received for the purpose of a fair and unbiased review. The pdf is laid out in 6’’ by 9’’ (A5), just fyi.

In case you were not aware: The standard version is perfect bound. The premium edition has crisper text and colors and is staple bound.

Anyways, but I digress: So, in case you were new to the series, this series reproduces the much beloved Basic/Expert rules from back in the day and present them to a modern audience, remaining as faithful as possible, but also polishing them: Since the 80s, a lot has happened, after all, and thus, we do expect crisper presentation – and usability.

So far, the B/X-Essentials series has succeeded at this task with panache and grace, but what about the monsters? Well, the book represents a vast improvement ion pretty much every way imaginable. The most obvious change, and one that really helps running the critters, is that the original wall of text has been replaced with a bullet point style of presentation.

Below a bandit, you can, for example, read:

Trickery: Use disguise or trickery to surprise victims. Leader: May have a leader of 2nd level or higher (any human class).

This style of presentation makes running the statblocks easier. Similarly, the mechanics are highlighted with the help of soothing and unobtrusive green highlight boxes. The Layout is, in short, precise and enhances the book, presents b/x rules in a modern way.

More importantly, and that is something that many a game should take a close look at, all information is provided. All of it. There are no “see page X” references, and you won’t have to skip pages and look for information xyz. The pdf does provide guidance for Xp values of NPCs as well, and defines “persons” properly, listing all monsters that can be affected by these. Important, since the system has no type-differentiation. Non-humans all get infravision, the older (and imho more sensible) grandfather of darkvision. A huge boon, at least if you’re an old-school veteran, would be that high-level saves have been extrapolated for you. Some potent monsters save as fighters of levels greater than 14. No problem? Well, that’s where B/X caps. So no, you won’t have to do the calculations yourself anymore.

The statblock format is explained in detail, and there is one thing here I really enjoy, even though a purist may frown upon it: The monsters get THAC0s. (To hit AC 0, for the young ‘uns – in B/X, the lower the AC, the better) – while technically, this represents a deviation from B/X presentation standards, it literally makes running the game much, much easier. And there is no downside whatsoever. So yeah, huge kudos!

But perhaps all of that doesn’t interest you as much? Perhaps you want to know about the monsters? Well, first of all, various humans are covered as well herein; I should also mention that the book sports a surprising amount of original, high quality b/w-artwork. But why is this relevant for you and your game, why is it potentially relevant from a game design perspective, even if you’re not playing B/X? Well, because the system’s monsters have changed over the years – and not always for the better. Regarding design paradigms, for example, I love that a basilisk’s reflection s explicitly harmless to all but the basilisk, allowing you to fight it by looking in a mirror. (And yes, this has rules repercussions.)

As an aside: In German, when you’re wheezing from exertion and/or are almost dead/kocked out, we tend to say “Der pfeift aus dem letzten Loch.” (The idiom’s literal translation would be something like “This guy’s wheezing from the final hole.”) – and in B/X, that phenomenon can be observed with dragons. Their breath weapon’s damage output is directly based on their current Hit Points! Oh, and know how today, dragon turtles are smaller and weaker than most dragons? Not so here. The dragon turtle is a 30 HD killer, with a whopping 135 Hit Points – which makes its breath weapon the single most damaging and deadly thing in the whole book! The book contains stats for no less than 5 giant fish…and know what golems are included? Nope, not clay, stone or iron. Amber, bone, bronze and wood! Did not expect that, right?

Did you know that the lycanthropy section includes devil swine, corpulent humanoids with a taste for human flesh that also can charm targets? And that years before the Hannibal-movie hit the screens…What about the arachnid rhagodessa, which has suckers on its legs? Or 3 feet long carnivorous flies? Frost salamanders are included, as are thouls. What are thouls? They kinda look like hobgoblins, but have trollish regeneration and paralytic claws. Oh, and yes, beyond dinosaurs, displacer beasts can also be found within – just look at “warp best.” (I think the original “displacer beast” name is closed IP by now.) So yeah, from a creature choice point of view, this is actually much more interesting than you’d expect a “first bestiary” for a system to be – they tend to be boring as heck. This also extends to the details and certain design paradigms that we don’t see too often nowadays.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no serious glitches on either a formal or rules-language level. Layout is amazing, crisp and clear and adheres to a two-column b/w-standard with the green statblock background serving as a pleasant to look at means to lighten up the text. The use of formatting and bullet points also helps render this a great and easy to use supplement. The copious amounts of high-.quality, cool b/w-artworks make this an aesthetically-pleasing book. The premium print copy is definitely the way to go if you plan on using the game. I can’t comment on the pdf, since I don’t have it – I prefer print anyways.

Gavin Norman’s B/X Essentials-series is genius in its simple and clear presentation. When you compare this, back to back with the original sources, you won’t be able to deny the vast improvement. All of the minor deviations from the goal of utmost fidelity to the source-material serve the purpose of enhancing the game and making the GM/referee’s job easier, and frankly, I can’t conceive of even an arch-conservative grognard not acknowledging, grumbling, under their breath, how much better this is.

There is literally nothing I do not enjoy about how this is presented – oh, and it also serves as a stark reminder that OSR rules and a focus on narrative aspects and crisp rules have to contradict each other. If anything, this serves as an excellent example that showcases how precise and crisp, particularly comparatively rules-lite games, should be. Did I mention that the plain-text version is actually FREE?

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
B/X Essentials: Monsters
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B/X Essentials: Adventures and Treasures
by Jon S. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 09/19/2018 13:33:40

This is the fifth and final book in the B/X essentials set of classic d&d rewrites by Gavin Norman and what a gem it is! As with the rest of the series, the layout is designed to be clear and consise, a retelling of the original B/X rules in a vastly superior order, one that puts all the DM needs in the right places and wherever possible, across double page spreads of linked material. This last book covers all the practical adventuring rules for the DM to build wilderless, city, town and dungeon. As in previous books, excellent artwork enhances the reading experience without overwhelming the piece. I can't give it more than five stars, but I would if I could.



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[5 of 5 Stars!]
B/X Essentials: Adventures and Treasures
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B/X Essentials: Monsters
by Troy H. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 07/02/2018 16:25:25

This is book, like all the B/X essentials, is very well done! The format, fonts, art ... everything come together to make a very useable product. I suppose some might complain that you don't get an illustration for every creature (more like 1 in 8), but that doesn't bother me at all. In fact, I prefer the almost minimalistic presentation. Really great. Everything I wanted it to be. Oh, and the organization makes sense. Giant Bat is under Bat, not "G," for instance.



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[5 of 5 Stars!]
B/X Essentials: Monsters
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B/X Essentials: Monsters
by Jon S. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 07/02/2018 11:25:18

This is book four, of five, in Gavin Norman's B/X Essentials series and it marks something of a milestone in that (although the Adventures and Treasures is yet to come) one could easily use the system to play games without resorting to any other B/X book or clone. Of course, that's been sort if true for any of these books so far, it's a modular and inter compatible system afterall. But now, things are really falling into place.

This book is a sort of compact Monster Manual for all B/X games. Gavin has re invented the humble Stat box so that almost everything you need is right there, in each and every monster entry: number appearing, treasure types in underworld, wilderness and lair. THAC0 is part of the Stat block also. The whole book is very well illustrated, which breaks up the text skillfully and the front cover is a wonder to behold!

The pdf is ridiculously cheap and I can almost guarantee that you'll also want to buy a physical copy when that becomes available in a little while.

Once again, Gavin has made excellent use of collaberators in the community, especially those in the B/X Essentials g+ community ongoogle plus.

I cannot recommend this book, and the entire series, enough. Go on, buy it. Your're worth it!



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
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B/X Essentials: Core Rules
by Graham L. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 06/09/2018 19:06:01

I have a soft spot for old-school D&D books. I’ve got a sprawling collection of Basic, 1E, 4E, and now 5E books as well as Labyrinth Lord, OSRIC, Basic Fantasy RPG, Sword & Sorcery, and more.

Every time I discover a new clone, or a new spin on a classic RPG I try to find print copies on eBay or Print-on-Demand on DriveThruRPG. I’m constantly amazed at the level of effort people put into recreating OGL versions of these games from decades ago. Some of them are — if you set aside nostalgia for the originals — better than the originals.

After spending some time reading the B/X books I can honestly say these are among them. The materials are organized better than the originals, and very much more readable and usable. The layout is professional, and the art is quite good. The pages are largely black and white (like the original books) with tasteful use of color highlights to make the tables more readable.

I love collecting high-grade original D&D books, but I can see using these at the table as much, or maybe even more often than, the books they were inspired by.

(These books are a smaller digest format than most classic D&D books. Still, the type is large enough to read and the smaller size makes them really convenient. The price — even for the higher quality print-on-demand — is affordable. You won’t regret grabbing the whole set.)



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
B/X Essentials: Core Rules
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B/X Essentials: Cleric and Magic-User Spells
by Graham L. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 06/09/2018 19:04:51

I have a soft spot for old-school D&D books. I’ve got a sprawling collection of Basic, 1E, 4E, and now 5E books as well as Labyrinth Lord, OSRIC, Basic Fantasy RPG, Sword & Sorcery, and more.

Every time I discover a new clone, or a new spin on a classic RPG I try to find print copies on eBay or Print-on-Demand on DriveThruRPG. I’m constantly amazed at the level of effort people put into recreating OGL versions of these games from decades ago. Some of them are — if you set aside nostalgia for the originals — better than the originals.

After spending some time reading the B/X books I can honestly say these are among them. The materials are organized better than the originals, and very much more readable and usable. The layout is professional, and the art is quite good. The pages are largely black and white (like the original books) with tasteful use of color highlights to make the tables more readable.

I love collecting high-grade original D&D books, but I can see using these at the table as much, or maybe even more often than, the books they were inspired by.

(These books are a smaller digest format than most classic D&D books. Still, the type is large enough to read and the smaller size makes them really convenient. The price — even for the higher quality print-on-demand — is affordable. You won’t regret grabbing the whole set.)



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
B/X Essentials: Cleric and Magic-User Spells
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B/X Essentials: Classes and Equipment
by Graham L. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 06/09/2018 18:59:35

I have a soft spot for old-school D&D books. I’ve got a sprawling collection of Basic, 1E, 4E, and now 5E books as well as Labyrinth Lord, OSRIC, Basic Fantasy RPG, Sword & Sorcery, and more.

Every time I discover a new clone, or a new spin on a classic RPG I try to find print copies on eBay or Print-on-Demand on DriveThruRPG. I’m constantly amazed at the level of effort people put into recreating OGL versions of these games from decades ago. Some of them are — if you set aside nostalgia for the originals — better than the originals.

After spending some time reading the B/X books I can honestly say these are among them. The materials are organized better than the originals, and very much more readable and usable. The layout is professional, and the art is quite good. The pages are largely black and white (like the original books) with tasteful use of color highlights to make the tables more readable.

I love collecting high-grade original D&D books, but I can see using these at the table as much, or maybe even more often than, the books they were inspired by.

(These books are a smaller digest format than most classic D&D books. Still, the type is large enough to read and the smaller size makes them really convenient. The price — even for the higher quality print-on-demand — is affordable. You won’t regret grabbing the whole set.)



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
B/X Essentials: Classes and Equipment
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Wormskin Issue 1
by Casca C. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 04/29/2018 18:20:43

I can't say enough about how much I enjoyed reading this series. Yes, I greedily purchase all that could be had once I read the first issue. To simply say the writing is great, or even professional, seems below the mark. It was utterly captivating and whimsical. My only issue with any of it was the art. Though I'm sure everyone had fun creating and compiling the sundry illustrations that prevail, most seemed out of place compared to the writing. As for the game itself, I see much here that can be used in many settings and under many guises. All I can say for sure is that I will continue to buy issues as they become available. On that note, should the bestiary come to fruition, as I hope it shall, I beg of you to use the artist who illustrated "Monsters of the Woods" in issue number 8. Their work was beautifully rendered, conveying the same warmth, cohesion and care for detail as the writing. Just a thought.



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[5 of 5 Stars!]
Wormskin Issue 1
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B/X Essentials: Core Rules
by Thaddeus M. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 04/22/2018 06:28:06

I recently had a chance to use B/X essentials 3 core books with a group of new players at a convention game. By new, I mean no tabletop RPG experience whatsoever. The organization, layout, tables, clarity and presentation are superb. Brand new players were able to quickly reference and understand information during character creation and play. Well done! In the future I'd like a DM screen too.



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[5 of 5 Stars!]
B/X Essentials: Core Rules
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B/X Essentials: Core Rules
by Wind L. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 03/19/2018 15:44:10

Finally! After years of searching for the perfect OSR retro-clone, I have finally found it! Gavin Norman’s awesome little set of books condenses all of the rules from the original basic and advanced boxed set into pure, usable, bliss without adding the usual house-rules and personalized gaming ideology that mar so many other OSR products.

The writing is crisp, clean, and efficient, the formatting and layout are elegant and beautiful, and the artwork is top-notch, featuring work from some of the best OSR artists out there–including insanely awesome cover art. But the best thing about Gavin Noman’s little masterpiece is just how stripped-down and usable it is. Each book is about 40 pages and only presents the information that you need to play the game. I can’t overstate how awesome this is–finally an OSR book that actually does what the basic sets were supposed to (LotFP came close, but B/X is still much easier to use at the table)! Wow! Way to go! And the use of three books to chunk out the elements of the game into easily accessible volumes is perfect.

Moreover, he separates the rules of the game into a single book (Core Rules), which allows for the B/X system to be applied to any game you want–not only the classic D&D that he presents in the Classes and Equipment book. This is a stroke of genius and I personally can’t wait to start developing my own B/X-based games! https://knightowlpublishing.com/



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
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B/X Essentials: Classes and Equipment
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 02/22/2018 03:55:28

An Endzeitgeist.com review

The second B/X Essentials-book clocks in at 47 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 1 page advertisement, 2 pages of SRD, 1 page index, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 38 pages of content, laid out for 6’’ by 9’’ (A5). So, what is this about?

First things first: This was moved up in my reviewing-queue due to me receiving a print copy of the book. My review is primarily based on the premium print version of this book, though I have taken the pdf into account as well.

Okay, so the Core Rules-supplement in this series was made to divorce the core rules from all associated flourishes, allowing for maximum flexibility and options to modify them; basically, to provide a version of the B/X-rules that can be used to run anything, from scifi, to horror to modern gaming. The Core Rules-pdf thus represents an OSR-DIY-hacker’s concisely-presented basics.

But what if you actually wanted the accoutrements taken away from the core chassis, the classes etc.? Well, this is where this pdf comes in, once again focusing on a clear and concise presentation of B/X-rules, in the organization and presentation we have come to expect from the previous book: For example, class information is contained on a single page or spread to minimize page-flipping; related rules that end up not actually being next to each other instead use bolded fonts and precise page-numbers to help you navigating the book, making use at the table fast, painless and comfortable.

Now, and this is very much relevant for fans of the original rules, this is not content with simply being a repackaging. While the goal of the book is a faithful rendition of B/X-rules and content, it does acknowledge the fact that not even the most beloved of RPG-systems are perfect; there, system-immanently, are bound to be imperfections. Much like in the Core Rules-supplement, Mr. Norman addresses such instances; in this case, for example the rules for water vessels and strongholds have been interpreted in a way that does not sport the ambiguities and contradictions of the original, focusing on a playable and concise rendition. It is a testament to the author’s professionalism and humility that he actually includes a subjectivity clause here, stating clearly that he does not claim sole authority on interpretations. It is a small thing, but in an age where “opinionated” authors try to jam down their particular design-style or ideology down the throats of the gaming populace, it is something I absolutely adore. (And yes, if “opinionated” authors read this: I have elected to not play games, modules, etc. as a consequence of your incessant need to tell me that I’m doing it wrong or that your way of doing it is the only acceptable one for your precious game. Take a cue from Mr. Norman’s humble and sympathetic attitude.)

Sorry for that tangent, let’s take a look at the book, shall we? Character creation rules fit on a single page-spread, including the attack matrix as well as optional starting hit points rerolling. Since ability scores are relevant for the character creation process, we have that two-page spread reprinted here; for a detailed breakdown of attributes, I’d like to point readers that are new to B/X-rules to my analysis of the Core Rules-supplement. It should be mentioned, though, that the detailed internal references in this book have been completely revamped – it references to the Core Rules, obviously.

Okay, after this, we get an alphabetic presentation of the character classes, each of which fits comfortably on a two-page spread, providing all information required at one glance. Each class has its individual XP-progression and knows 5 saving throws: Death/Poison, Wand, Paralysis/petrify, Breath Weapon, and Rod/Staff/Spell. These scale with levels and usually can’t fall below 3; exception would be the Dwarf, who can have a Death/poison save of 2. That one, fighter and the cleric have btw. the best saves. Progression of most classes caps at level 14, with a few stopping earlier. Each table notes AC0 (modified attack roll to hit AC 0) and spells, if any. Only the magic-user class gets access to 6th level spells; the other two spellcasting classes, cleric and elf, cap at 5th level spellcasting, though the cleric gets more spells per day.

Wait what? Yes, in case you’re new to the whole old-school circuit: All those non-human races are represented by their own classes. Dwarves cap at level 12, elves at level 10, Halflings at level 8. No, no gnomes this early in the game. Sorry. It should be noted that the book contains optional rules for higher level gameplay.

The classes state allowed weapons and armors in the beginning and since each class has a different XP-value required to reach a new level, we will have discrepancies –halflings and fighters, for example, reach 8th level at 120.000 XP, while elves need a whopping 250.000 XP for that level. If you’re not familiar with the game: This is an intentional balancing decision. Similarly, classes stop granting additional Hit Dice at 9th level; thereafter, you only get fixed hit point bonuses and Constitution no longer applies its standard adjustment. Clerics, elves and halflings get d6 HD, while dwarves and fighters get d8 HD. And magic-users? Well, note how I mentioned that it used to be hard to get them to higher levels? Beyond XP required, they only get d4 HD. Yes, rabid dogs can kill you. Be wary… Something you may not be familiar with: Thieves also get only d4, but they get their own array of (mostly) percentile thieves’ skills. And yes, low level thieves are similarly hard to get to survive, but you’ll still definitely want them in your party.

The game assumes three alignments: Lawful, Neutral, Chaotic. Languages include Common (never liked it myself) as well as alignment-based ones and a table provides an idea regarding languages for PCs. We get optional level titles for the classes as well as, wee, the rules for equipment. Adventuring gear, weapons, armor – all with cost and weight (in coins) – and yes, weapon combat stats are provided. Blunt weapons may be used by clerics, charge weapons double damage when used on horseback after moving at least 60 ft. Reloading is an optional rule, and means that a weapon may only be fired every 2nd round. Two-handed weapons can’t be used in conjunction with shields and attack last in a combat round. And yes, once more, these all fit comfortably on a single 2-page spread.

From here, we move on to land transportation, which nets costs, miles per day, movement rates and maximum encumbrance as well as stats for carts and wagons. And yes stats for various horses, camels, etc. are included in the deal.

Now, let’s take a look at water transportation, shall we? This section is split into one page of seaworthy and one of unseaworthy vessels. Both tables sport costs, maximum cargo carried (in gold coins), usages and values for length, beam and draft -and yes, this includes values extrapolated from context where the original rules failed to mention them. Rules for high winds are provided here as well, distinguishing between near gales and proper gales. We follow ths up with descriptions and notes on whether a vessel requires a captain, required crew for rowing, if any; miles/day and movement rate as well as required sailors, miles/day and movement rates when actually sailing – so yeah, we actually can use quite a few of these both with rowed movement and driven by sails. And yes, we get notes for reduced crew-sizes. Heck, we even get fast-play naval combat, including notes on how many catapults you can fit on a vessel, whether a ram can be added and rules for regular and pitch-catapult shots. This section, as a whole, is impressive: Without knowing them by hard or looking up the original rules, it’s impossible to determine where the author has improved the material: The streamlining is utterly seamless. Huge plus!

From there, we take a look at mercenaries next, noting AC, base morale, wage per month, etc. as well as morale based on common types found; fanatical soldiers will have better morale than a peasant militia, for example. Hiring specialists, from oarsmen to navigators to spies and alchemists is detailed next, noting a variety of uses. And yes, you need engineers to build strongholds and castles, which brings me to the next section that the book does exceedingly well: We first get a 7-step-checklist, and permission to build towns, maintenance of cleared lands as well as notes on settlers and taxation are provided alongside a selection of standardized structures with features, dimensions and associated costs noted. And yes, we get rules to make bastions, custom towers and castle walls. For full details, we also get a brief table of interior details: Different doors, arrow slits, shifting walls, trapdoors, etc. This section is a definite winner and closes the book on a high note.

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I noticed no glitches. Layout adheres to an elegant and aesthetically-pleasing two-column standard that uses nice, pastel-green shades to make tables easier to read. As in the first book, we get a MASSIVE amount of really nice, original b/w-artworks provided by a cadre of talented artists – this is a beautiful book. The pdf comes with extensive, nested bookmarks, making the handling of the electronic version simple and comfortable.

As for editions, the standard edition is perfect bound, while the premium version has higher quality paper, better color and ink saturation and comes stitch-bound, which is per se preferable. It should be noted, though, that you should exert a bit of care with the staple-bound version. While superior to the standard edition, this is a pretty thick book for the binding, so if you handle it really roughly, the staple can potentially come out. This is not an issue of the book per se, but rather of the manufacturing process. As before, we get something really fair, namely a plain-text version of the material here, sans all the beautiful art. I applaud this, though I very much recommend the premium version for the optimal experience.

Gavin Norman’s second B/X-Essentials-book is a fantastic continuation of the design-paradigms and organizational aesthetics presented in the first book; the presentation is stream-lined and modifications to the original rules are kept to the bare minimum, emphasizing faithful depictions of the classic rules. At the same time, the book does not shirk away from fixing problems with the source-material in an unobtrusive and elegant manner. The organization of the content is as precise and elegant as we expect after the great Core Rules.

I’d like to use this review to posit an alternate way of thinking about this booklet: This is basically the “traditional fantasy toolkit” for the base B/X-rules-chassis presented, minus the spellcasting details (since many groups employ their own sub-systems there); in short, if you get this and the Core Rules-pdf, you’re basically set up for classic adventuring; just add spellcasting details as desired. This, as a consequence means, that we can potentially hope for other such tomes; for example, one for horror games, one for scifi-games, etc. This is just me, mind you; the material remains as hackable as ever and as open to modification as you’d like it to be. In short: This is an excellent offering and very much recommended if you’re looking for a well-presented, concise take on the much-beloved, classic B/X-rules. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval.

Endzeitgeist out.



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[5 of 5 Stars!]
B/X Essentials: Classes and Equipment
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B/X Essentials: Cleric and Magic-User Spells
by Steve P. [Verified Purchaser] Date Added: 02/17/2018 09:08:25

I just wanted to say that I bought the premium versions of the 3 B/X ESSENTIALS books (3 at time going to press) and they arrived today. They are excellent. Great job. Thanks!



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B/X Essentials: Core Rules
by Thilo G. [Featured Reviewer] Date Added: 02/16/2018 11:37:55

An Endzeitgeist.com review

This rule-set clocks in at 37 pages, 1 page front cover, 1 page inside of front cover, 1 page editorial, 1 page ToC, 2 pages of SRD, 1 page index, 1 page back cover, leaving us with 29 pages of content, laid out for 6’’ by 9’’ (A5). So, what is this about?

First things first: This was moved up in my reviewing-queue due to me receiving a print copy of the book. My review is primarily based on the premium print version of this book, though I have taken the pdf into account as well.

So, this is Basic/Expert-gaming (for the uninitiated, that’s where the “B/X”comes from); you may know the rules from how they have become an integral part of the old-school renaissance via e.g. Labyrinth Lord. The rules are out there, so why did we need this series of books? Well, as anyone who used the original rules can attest to, the organization wasn’t perfect. Labyrinth Lord improved that significantly and a wide variety of different tweaks, hacks and DIY-changes in various OSR-systems have provided their own spins on the subject matter…so why should you care about this book?

To answer this question, I am going to split this review in two parts. Part I will focus on the old-school gaming veteran and explain what sets this apart. Part II will give those of you who are not familiar with the rules (or those intrigued to see what’s inside) a detailed run-down of the material.

All right, so let’s begin with Part I.

As we can read in the foreword, this book takes a step back from the common modifications to the B/X-rules, instead focusing on a faithful rendition of them. Wait! This does not means that this is exclusively a reprint, though! As with any roleplaying game, there are bound to be some components of the system where the rules-language could have been tighter, where ambiguities creep in. This supplement addresses these instances in a clear and concise manner; In such cases, it explains the respective rationale behind a ruling of how a component is supposed to work – this can for example be found in the encumbrance rules, which are somewhat opaque in the original iterations.

There is another selling point for this pdf that may very well sell quite a few of the OSR-aficionados out there on the book. If you have ever tried to hack together different systems, classes etc. for a specific world or campaign, regardless of system, you will have noticed that there is a hurdle that may not be immediately apparent. Roleplaying systems tend to sport implicit assumptions. D20-based games assume bonuses granted by magic items to make the math come out right; LotFP assumes magic to be dangerous and more of a story tool than a form of artillery, etc. As in these systems. B/X is a very elegant and relatively rules-lite system, but this notion does provide a hurdle: Let’s say you want to play a Carcosa-game, or a modern campaign, or a CoC-style campaign using these rules, for example. You’ll have to sift through the rules and pick out the components you’ll actually use.

This is the primary and surprisingly amazing aspect of this book: You see, this takes all those implicit setting-bits out of the rules, providing a clear and distinct vision of the core rules of the B/X-system, which takes a LOT of work off the shoulders of the referee, allowing you to focus on tailoring and tweaking what really matters to you, instead of playing content-editor for your planned campaign. This is perfectly in line with the OSR’s DIY-aesthetics and should be considered to be the main selling point for veterans. This is extremely hackable and concise, also courtesy to internal references – want to read up on a given rule referenced in the pdf? It’ll sport the page number in bold, making use at the table rather comfortable.

Okay, that out of the way, let’s move on to part II of the review and talk about the rules contained within, shall we?

We begin without much fanfare with defining the 6 attributes: Charisma governs reaction adjustment of NPCs and denotes the maximum number of retainers and retainer morale. On the opposite page of the attribute summaries, we get the Charisma Adjustments table, we have all relevant information at one glance. Same goes for Intelligence, which denotes language ability and the number of bonus languages gained – the table’s right there. Nice here would be that Intelligence also governs language-skill – characters with Intelligence 6 – 8, for example, can write simple words and that’s it. All other attributes get a standard adjustment (again, table right there!) that can range from -3 (3)to +3 (18) – Constitution applies that to hit points gained per level; a new level means always at least 1 hit point gained. Dexterity applies standard adjustment to attack rolls, but not damage, with ranged weapons as well as AC. Additionally, Dexterity has a table that denotes a bonus or penalty to initiative, which ranges from -2 to +2. Strength applies standard adjustment to attack and damage rolls with melee weapons. Wisdom applies standard adjustment to saving throws versus magical effects; this usually excludes breath weapons and other saves, but not necessarily. If a prime attribute is high or low, this may also influence experience gained.

And there we go – basic attribute rules on 2 pages, presented in a truly concise manner. The sequence of play in dungeon as well as in wilderness is presented next, with a step-by-step breakdown. The same page contains the notes for encounter-sequence, which similarly makes perfect sense. Need to look up any rules interacting with that? Bolded references point you exactly where you need to look.

The adventuring rules are next and begin with the optional ability check rules: Roll under ability score; depending on difficulty, you may gain a bonus or penalty between -4 to +4. Rolls of 1 are successes, 20s are failures. This also notes air travel – the more HD an aerial mount has, the more it’ll be able to carry. Chase-rules are next and explains group movement rates (slowest member) and proceeds to explain chase rules in dungeons and wilderness…and on waterborne vessels! Fleeing group size and number of pursuers determine the chances to get away – and yes, the tables and mechanics are as painless as can be. Climbing and the mechanics of doors (including notes of alternate ability checks) are noted next.

Movement out of the way, the pdf proceeds to explain encounters: This provides handy starting distances by environment, monster reactions, etc. – once again, easy to grasp…but more interesting would be the encumbrance rules I mentioned earlier: There are two options presented: One for those of you who prefer simplicity and for those of you who, like me, prefer more simulationalist takes on the subject matter. In the simple option, a character’s speed is determined by the armor worn, but he may carry a maximum of 1600 coins.

Coins? Yep! Encumbrance is measured in coins! This makes all kinds of sense to me and a handy table collates the weight of treasure/items by coins. In the more complex version, it is this abstract unit of measurement that determines your movement rate. It should be noted that RAW, metal armor in this version only accounts for 500 coins and thus does not reduce movement greatly – 90’. That being said, adventurers will carry items and weapons, so yeah, it evens out with the simpler system. Some experimenting with both systems did show that the coin values for equipment, weapon.types etc. has been chosen with care and is pretty smart.

XP is gained by gold gained (1 gold coin = 1 XP) and by defeated monster and at the referee’s discretion. Characters can advance a maximum of 2 levels per adventure/session. This table btw. also provides monster XP-values by HD…and the table notes bonus XP/ability. This out of the way, we get falling rules and cover foraging and hunting. A full day of rest nets 1d3 hp. Light and visibility in dungeon, wilderness and at sea are covered next, and then we move on to losing direction…which, in a nice tweak, is much harder at sea while you remain within sight of land. This makes a lot of sense.

Okay, so movement in tactical situations is assumed to be 120’, though armor and encumbrance modify that. While exploring, slowly, a dungeon, characters move movement in feet in one turn; movement through familiar/cleared areas may be quicker at the referee’s discretion. During encounters, a character can move 1/3 of movement rate in feet per round, or yards in the wilderness A character can run instead, up to full movement – but running too long causes exhaustion. Overland movement and how terrain can increase or decrease it is covered, as is the classic forced march. Resting and failing to do so in dungeon, wilderness and after running are similarly presented in a clear manner right on this page.

The next page deals with retainers and their reactions as well as their morale. Saving throws are explained next and the slow and deliberate searching of environments can also be found here. Rules for starvation and swimming, time, traps, wandering monsters and water travel…notice something? Yep, the components here are presented in alphabetic order, with copious internal references. It’s surprising, but this works better as a presentation paradigm than it should.

These rules out of the way, we get a basic breakdown of combat rounds: Characters wishing to declare a spellcasting or a full retreat must declare so first; Initiative is 1d6, rolled by each side. The winner acts first. Referees may then need to check for monster morale; movements are made; missile attacks next, spells are cast; then, melee and other actions occur; after that, same happens for the other side and we rinse and repeat until the combat ends. Before you ask: Yes, we get notes for tied initiative and optional rules for individual initiative.

Generally, a character can move and perform one action, though full movement is possible as an alternative. The system knows two different retreats – panicked full retreat and the slower, but less dangerous fighting retreat- Attack rolls are d20s + Str/Dex-adjustment, respectively. These are then compared to a chart. Class and level determine whether you hit; 1s are botches, 20s are hits. Rules for standardized 1d6 damage and optional rules for variable weapon damage are provided. If a spellcaster is hit or must make a save before finishing casting a spell, it fails. Yes, spellcasters will want to win initiative as often as possible…they may not move or take other actions when casting a spell! (And yes, young ones – try this. Seriously. There was once a time when getting a spellcaster to survive a single level was a real achievement!)

Anyway, we proceed to the rules for the details of combat – cover, boarding vessels, helpless foes, optional morale rues, nonlethal combat, unstable surfaces and painless rules for underwater combat can be found here as well. Spell casting is next and requires both the ability to move hands and to verbalize the incantations. Some spells are reversible and boosts to a single attribute, or attack rolls e.g. do not stack. The basics of spell books are also noted. Finally, we get an explanation of magic items: Identification, uses, charges, cursed items and magic weaponry and armor and their annotation are covered. Potions are noted and it should be noted that you can only be under the effect of one. Mixing potions makes you sick for 3 rounds and nullifies all effects. Scrolls, rings, and the rod/Staff/Wand-category are also explained. The latter items are btw. distinguished by charges they hold – 1d10, 2d10 or 3d10. The same pages btw. also contain the rules for spell research and magic item creation – for the latter, you btw. need 9th level or higher. If you have ever played an old-school game, you know how much of an achievement that is…

And that’s it! All core rules for B/X-gaming!

Conclusion:

Editing and formatting are top-notch, I didn’t notice a single glitch. Layout adheres to a really nice two-column b/w-standard that uses both bolding of page- and rules-references and pastel-green highlights in tables etc. to create an aesthetic presentation. Speaking of aesthetics: This book is chock-full with amazing b/w-artworks I haven’t seen before. Beholder-shepherds, cool items, one-eyed, strange ogre-ish things in caverns, sea serpents…this is a beautiful book. The standard print edition is perfect bound and sports the standard PoD-paper; personally, I’d advise in favor of the stitch-bound premium version, which has better paper and crisper text/colors, etc. The pdf comes with extremely detailed, nested bookmarks, making navigation of that version comfortable. If you#re really strapped for cash, there is even a plain-text version that is FREE!

Gavin Norman’s depiction of the B/X-core rules is an AMAZING foundation. While I personally prefer attack bonuses instead of charts in tables, that is a personal preference, not something in the B/X-rules and as such, expected. Now, other than that, I very much consider this to be pretty much the ideal, perfect start. The rules herein can be read and understood in less than half an hour if you concentrate…but the true value, at least for me, lies in the organization. The content is presented in such a tight and organic manner that actual use of the book is ridiculously simple. Looking for xyz? The index sets you up. If e.g. you want to know where the wandering monster-rules are while reading the encounter section, rest assured you’ll immediately find it, courtesy of the copious internal references. This makes using the book at the table ridiculously simple and comfortable.

Beyond that, the book is a faithful rendition of the much-beloved system, stripped of the accoutrements that may get in the way of your exact vision…and if you want certain things like classic classes in your game, there are always the other books of the series! This is pretty much a perfect start to make your own hack/setting/etc. and the professional, impressive presentation makes using the book a joy. In short: This is an excellent and inexpensive booklet. My final verdict will clock in at 5 stars + seal of approval…and if you’re looking for a start to create your own hack/variant setting with these rules, consider this to be an EZG Essential as well. This is a superb foundation to build on.

Endzeitgeist out.



Rating:
[5 of 5 Stars!]
B/X Essentials: Core Rules
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