The Hole in the Oak: Layout Preview

The other day, I posted a bit of info about the upcoming adventure The Hole in the Oak. Today, I want to share some previews of the layout, including the first piece of interior art by James West!

Note: These are previews of the 1st pass layout, so the layout and styling are not 100% final.

Table of Contents

First, just for fun, here's a preview of the table of contents.

A few notes:

  • The intro gives a bit of an overview of the history and factions in the dungeon.
  • It's a decent sized dungeon level, with 57 described areas.
  • There are two locations in the dungeon that lend themselves to expansion, where extra levels could easily be added in.
  • I'm probably going to have room for a sneaky appendix that gives a little bit of background info on the world which this adventure is set in.

Area Descriptions

Now a preview of some area descriptions.

A few notes:
  • The area descriptions use a format that's highly optimised for ease of use at the table. Descriptions are presented in a minimal format, with bolded words highlighting the main elements. More detail on possible eventualities is broken out into bullet lists.
  • Incidentally, this is same format I used in the ENnie nominated Winter's Daughter. The format was such a success that I decided to adopt it as the Necrotic Gnome "house adventure style".
  • You don't see any monster listings on this spread, but they follow the standard Old-School Essentials monster format.
  • Colour art by James West!

How to Get It?

All backers of the Old-School Essentials Kickstarter will receive a free copy of The Hole in the OakIf you missed out on the Kickstarter, you can pre-order the adventure (and loads of other goodies!) at our BackerKit pre-order store.

The Hole in the Oak

One of the stretch goals of the recent Old-School Essentials Kickstarter was a starter adventure. Here's what the stretch goal said:
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.
I realised that I've not said much about this adventure since the stretch goal was unlocked (on the first day of the Kickstarter!), so here goes.

What's it About?

In the 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 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.
  • 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 ran -- but The Hole in the Oak was certainly my group's first voyage into the Mythic Underworld of old-school D&D. We had a lot of fun playing this and the group of characters who survived it stayed together for a long series of subsequent adventures, taking them up to around 6th level.

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

The Cover

While I'm finishing up writing and laying out the adventure, James West has been working on the art for the cover. Here's a near-finished version of it:

This piece depicts a scene from one of the encounter areas in the adventure, where PCs come across a subterranean jungle inhabited with evil tree-babies guarding sacred treasures.

When Will it be Published?

The Hole in the Oak will ship along with the rest of the Kickstarter rewards in October. If you missed out on the Kickstarter, you can pre-order the adventure (and loads of other goodies!) at our BackerKit pre-order store.

Old-School Essentials: Index of Druid and Illusionist Spells

Work on the final touches to the Advanced Fantasy: Genre Rules and Advanced Fantasy: Druid and Illusionist Spells books for Old-School Essentials is progressing very well!

I've just made the final tweaks to the text and layout, and have written the introductions for both books. (Writing introductions is always the last thing I do.) Later today, I'll be sending out pre-release PDFs of both books to the wonderful proofreaders who have gallantly offered to pore over these 104 pages of delicious Advanced material. (As so many people offered to proofread these books, I won't be sending them out to everyone. I'll select a group of 10 or so people to do the honours.)

Another thing I just did was to regenerate the indexes in the two books. I thought it'd be fun to share the index of spells, which now shows the final list of spells contained in Advanced Fantasy: Druid and Illusionist Spells.

Click to embiggen

Some Numbers

  • The book contains a total of 106 spells. 34 druid spells and 72 illusionist spells.
  • 19 of the spells have already appeared in Classic Fantasy: Cleric and Magic-User Spells. That means that this book contains 87 new B/X spells.
  • Many of the new spells were adapted from Unearthed Arcana, and have not appeared in a B/X clone before (to my knowledge).
  • A few illusionist spells (I forget how many exactly) were also adapted from AD&D 2e.
  • 4 illusionist spells (blacklight, dream quest, through the looking glass, visitation) are completely new creations of my own.

What's Next?

Following proofreading and illustration, these books will be published in October, along with the rest of the deluxe Old-School Essentials books that I'm producing following the recent Kickstarter. (For anyone who missed the Kickstarter, you can pre-order everything here.)

New Vivimancer Spell: Anasethesia

A little vivimancer spell that I came up with recently, statted in the Old-School Essentials format.

Anaesthesia (1st level vivimancer spell)

Duration: 6 turns +1 per level
Range: Touch

The subject loses the ability to feel pain.

  • Save bonus: The subject gains a +2 bonus to saves vs death (but not poison).
  • Bonus hit points: The subject’s resolve is not easily shaken by wounds. They gain 1d6 bonus hit points. Any damage suffered is subtracted first from the bonus hit points.
  • When the duration expires: If any of the bonus hit points remain, they disappear.
  • Hit point tracking: The subject does not always realise when they have been injured. While this spell is in effect, the referee should secretly keep track of the subject’s hit points. An examination of the subject reveals their level of injury, which the referee should describe in broad terms (e.g. mildly wounded, seriously wounded), rather than revealing the exact hit point total.

Old-School Essentials: Pre-Order Store Open Now!

For anyone who missed the Kickstarter, now's your chance to get in on everything!

What's Available?

A quick run-down on the main things that are available to pre-order:
  • The Old-School Essentials Black Box. This is the complete game (and a complete clone of B/X) in the form of a box of five hardcover rules modules: Core Rules (80 pages), Classic Fantasy: Genre Rules (48 pages), Classic Fantasy: Cleric and Magic-User Spells (48 pages), Classic Fantasy: Monsters (80 pages), Classic Fantasy: Treasures (48 pages).
  • The Old-School Essentials Rules Tome. This is the complete game (and a complete clone of B/X) in a single hardcover tome (296 pages).
  • Advanced Fantasy: Genre Rules. 15 extra classes and a bunch of optional rules for your Old-School Essentials / B/X games! All inspired by AD&D but carefully scaled to match B/X levels of power and complexity.
  • Advanced Fantasy: Druid and Illusionist Spells. 104 new spells for the game!

Here's The Link!

Winter's Daughter: Shipping Update

I just wanted to post a very quick update on the fulfillment of the Winter's Daughter pre-orders. Here's the full rundown:

All Orders Have Been Shipped

(Except the people who ordered in the last few days.)

US Pre-Orders

US pre-orders are being handled by our friends at Exalted Funeral. We packed up two massive boxes full of Dolmenwoody goodness a few weeks back (using moss as the padding material, naturally), and sent them off on their merry way to the US of A.

One of the boxes has now arrived at Exalted Funeral HQ, but the other has been slightly delayed by customs gremlins. Despite this small hitch, the US orders will start shipping out to you this week!

Non-US Orders

If you're not in the US and you've not received your order:
  1. If you have a tracking code (not all orders were sent tracked), enter it into, along with the date you got the fulfillment email to see where it's at.
  2. If you think something's up, just send us an email:

Old-School Essentials Kickstarter — Launching April 12th!

The post title says it all: I'm super excited to announce that the Kickstarter for Old-School Essentials goes live next Friday, April 12th!


We'll be producing two things for this Kickstarter:

  1. The Black Box: A luxury box set containing 5 slim hardcover rules modules covering all aspects of the game: Core Rules, Classic Fantasy Genre Rules (your classes, equipment, strongholds, etc), Cleric and Magic-User Spells, Classic Fantasy Monsters, Classic Fantasy Treasures.
  2. The Rules Tome: All the Old-School Essentials rules in a single, fat hardcover. 
  • Quality: All books will be produced as luxury, sewn-binding hardcovers.
  • Covers: Book and box covers by Andrew Walter and Peter Mullen.
  • Complete B/X clone: Both products form a complete retro-clone of the beloved Basic / Expert rules from 1981!
  • Limited edition Rules Tome: A leatherette-bound, foil-stamped edition of the Rules Tome, only available in this Kickstarter!
  • High-level rewards: Very limited rewards include your name in the credits on the title page of the books, and your face in an illustration!

Stretch Goals

We have a lot of stretch goals lined up for this campaign (12 to be announced at the start of the campaign, and more lined up if we reach giddy funding heights). Some highlights:
  • Referee's screen: With 4-panel art by Peter Mullen.
  • Advanced books: Two extra books (Advanced Fantasy Genre Rules and Druid and Illusionist Spells) that add 15 new character classes and 106 new spells to the game, all 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. The covers will be created by Stefan Poag.
  • Character sheets: Three different character sheets for Old-School Essentials, by Gavin Norman, James West, and Frank Reding.
  • Old-School Essentials SRD: An online rules reference for Old-School Essentials.
  • Intro adventure: The Hole in the Oak, by Gavin Norman. Illustrated by James West. Maps by Karl Stjernberg.

More Info

See here for a bit more information about the Kickstarter and Old-School Essentials in general, including some layout previews.

Winter's Daughter Now Available in PDF!

The tomb of an ancient hero, lost in the tangled depths of the woods. A ring of standing stones, guarded by the sinister Drune cult. A fairy princess who watches with ageless patience from beyond the veil of the mortal. A forgotten treasure that holds the key to her heart.

Winter's Daughter is a romantic fairy-tale dungeon adventure set in the creepy old forest of Dolmenwood.

  • Suitable for characters of 1st to 3rd level.
  • Available in old-school (B/X) and 5e versions.
  • Encompasses woodland, tomb, and fairy otherworld—all in one handy package!
  • Keyed in a quick-reference, bullet point format.
  • Illustrated by the otherworldly Mish Scott.
  • Cartography by the mycotic Karl Stjernberg.
  • 5e conversion by the maximally erudite Thilo Graf. (Read Thilo's blog on his conversion work.)

Get Yer Romantic Fairy-Tale Dungeons 'ere

People Who Have Already Pre-Ordered

I'm afraid I had a, shall we say, "learning experience" when I tried to send you all a code to download your PDFs! What I hadn't realised is that I can only send emails to people who have signed up for the mailing list (which only covered about 25% of people who pre-ordered!).

So for people who pre-ordered, here's how you get the PDF:

Method 1: View Order

  • Go to your email.
  • Open the "Order #XXXX confirmed" email from
  • Click on the VIEW ORDER button in the email.
  • Click on "Click here to download your digital goods".
  • Rejoice.

Method 2: Discount Code
  • Click on this link.
  • You'll arrive at the product page of the PDF version of the book.
  • Add the version you want (old-school or 5th edition) to your cart.
  • Go to your cart. You'll see the full price of the PDF listed at this stage.
  • Go to the checkout. You'll now see the price of the PDF reduced to 0.
  • Confirm the order. You'll now be able to download a ZIP file containing the PDF of the adventure and a PDF containing just the unkeyed maps.

Return to Dolmenwood!

The pre-order for the new Dolmenwood adventure -- Winter's Daughter -- is now live at!

Here's what the back-cover blurb says about the adventure:
  • The tomb of an ancient hero, lost in the tangled depths of the woods.
  • A ring of standing stones, guarded by the sinister Drune cult.
  • A fairy princess who watches with ageless patience from beyond the veil of the mortal.
  • A forgotten treasure that holds the key to her heart.
  • A romantic fairytale dungeon adventure for characters of 1st to 3rd level.

Pre-Order Until March 25th!

This adventure hasn't been printed yet! Get in early to guarantee a copy of the limited edition run! This pre-order works as follows:

  • On March 25th, we'll tally up the orders, send out PDF copies to everyone, and hit up the printer with the order.
  • Printing time is estimated to be four weeks.
  • We'll ship the book out to you after that.
  • US orders will be fulfilled by Exalted Funeral.
  • Other orders will be fulfilled by Necrotic Gnome from our lair in Berlin.

Limited Edition

All pre-orders will be lovingly hand-numbered by mythical beings.

Necrotic Gnome T-Shirts Too!

While you're there, you may wish to consider the sartorial benefits of having everyone's favourite cuddly/psychotic undead gnome on your torso.

Old-School Essentials: Introductory Material

As planning for the Old-School Essentials Kickstarter progresses, I thought it'd be nice to make a series of blog posts with some more details about what I have planned, and what's included in the new edition of the game.

I've mentioned before that there's some additional introductory materials in Core Rules, so that seems like a reasonable place to start the discussion!

Here's the content of three pages of the introduction, where I discuss the following:

  1. Which books are required to play the game, and who needs copies of them. Also why the game is split into separate books in this way, and the benefits of this approach. (Naturally, this section will appear in a modified form in the all-in-one hardcover.)
  2. Which other games Old-School Essentials is compatible with. I think this is a super important point, as the sheer amount of material that all works together is far from obvious to a newcomer to the old-school scene.
  3. The basic assumptions of the game, around which the rules are forged.

Required Books

Old-School Essentials is split into a set of books, known as rules modules, allowing the game to be tailored to different settings, genres, and styles of play.

Rules Modules

Core Rules (This Book)

Contains the core rules of the game that are common to all settings, genres, and styles of play. All players need access to a copy of this book. Each player may want their own copy, or a group may share one or more copies among themselves.

Genre Rules

Contains the game rules specific to a setting or genre of fiction in which the games take place. A genre rules book typically describes the classes of adventurers that can be played, and provides lists of weapons, armour, vehicles, services, and strongholds that may be purchased. All players need access to a copy of the genre rules book that the group is using.


Lists the spells that can be cast by character classes in the corresponding genre rules book. Only players who are playing a character capable of casting spells need access to a copy of the spells book.


Lists adversaries and monstrosities that may be encountered during adventures in a particular setting or genre. Only the referee needs access to a book of monsters.


Lists wondrous and precious items that may be found during adventures in a particular setting or genre. Only the referee needs access to a book of treasures.

Mix and Match

With the rules of the game split up into separate modules, it is easy to swap out individual elements, replacing them with alternatives. In this way, different settings and genres may be combined. For example, a group may wish to use a classic fantasy genre rules book along with a book of alien technology treasures, lending a science-fantasy feel to the game.

Multiple rules modules of the same type may also be used together. For example, a book of classic fantasy monsters might be augmented with a book of lost world monsters, for a campaign set around a dinosaur-infested jungle that time forgot.

As the core rules do not assume the use of any specific rules modules of the other types, all may be combined freely.

Roll Your Own

In addition to using the rules modules published in The Old-School Essentials product line, groups may wish to create their own rules modules, tailoring the game to their own needs.


The old-school gaming scene is sitting on a secret: a huge number of games, despite having different brand names on their covers, are highly compatible! This cross-compatibility between many games means that a great wealth of adventures, campaign settings, and rules supplements can be used with Old-School Essentials.

The Basic / Expert Rules

Old-School Essentials is 100% compatible with the 1981 edition of the world’s most popular fantasy RPG, commonly known as the Basic / Expert edition (B/X for short). Any material published for the Basic / Expert rules can be used directly with Old-School Essentials. Decades of adventure are at your fingertips!

Other Basic / Expert Games

Over the last decade, a large number of old-school adventure games have been published, many of which—like Old-School Essentials—are also closely compatible with the Basic / Expert rules. Some of the most popular are Labyrinth Lord (by Daniel Proctor), Lamentations of the Flame Princess (by James Edward Raggi IV), and Basic Fantasy RPG (by Chris Gonnerman).

While each of the games mentioned above adds its own twists to the Basic / Expert rules, they are highly compatible, making it easy to use material published for these games with Old-School Essentials.

Other Editions

Additionally, material published for all 20th century editions of the world’s most popular fantasy RPG (for example, the classic Advanced edition from the 1970s) is also largely compatible with Old-School Essentials.

The rules of other editions do differ somewhat from the Basic / Expert rules, so some amount of adaptation work may be required in order to use these materials with Old-School Essentials. This is not recommended for beginning players, but for those who are familiar with the rules, such adaptation is not complicated.

Adaptation Guidelines

Concrete guidelines are beyond the scope of this introduction. However, a guide to adapting other, similar rules sets for use with this one is available as a free download from for those who want more information on this topic.

Adventure Gaming

The rules in this book provide a solid and flexible basis for running adventure games in many different fantastic settings. The following elements are fundamental.

Peril and Adventure

Players take on the role of people who are drawn to confront danger, in search of wealth, ancient secrets, and wonder. These bold individuals are known as adventurers, and are the focus of the game.

The danger and reward of adventure is most commonly found in two types of locations: wilderness and dungeons.


Accursed forests, toxic wastelands, rotting swamps, the depths of the ocean, the uncharted reaches of space. Any outdoor space where peril and adventure can be met is classified as wilderness.


Forsaken ruins, primal caverns, subterranean cities, accursed tombs, derelict vessels. Any indoor or subterranean space where peril and adventure can be met is classified as a dungeon.

The Fantastic

The rules assume a setting where PCs come into contact with the fantastic, otherworldly, weird, and wonderful.


Hoards of long-forgotten gold, artefacts of alien technology, fabled objects of great magical power. The promise of attaining treasures such as these—either for their fabulous material value, or for their fantastic powers—is the lure that pulls many an adventurer into perilous realms.


Terrible creatures older than time, fearsome mythical beasts, chimeric biological experiments, tribes of beast-like half-men, invasive alien species, beings from strange dimensions. Such inhuman creatures lurk in the wilderness and in dungeons, guarding wondrous treasures.


Forbidden practices of dark sorcery, rituals to invoke the gods, monsters summoned from weird dimensions, sites of eldritch power, objects bound with occult energies. Magic may be a tool wielded by player characters (or their enemies!), or may be a lost and forgotten art that is encountered only in the ancient places of the world. Of course, though some settings might not feature magic per se, sufficiently advanced technology may be indistinguishable from magic.

Sentient Species

Fairies malevolent and kind, dwarves in subterranean kingdoms, humanoids from other worlds, mutants twisted by exposure to toxic environments. While humans are typically the most widespread species in the game, other humanoids of equal (or perhaps greater!) intelligence may exist. Intelligent species that are available as player characters are termed demihumans.

Winter's Daughter is Coming!

The new Dolmenwood adventure is imminent! Some pertinent factoids...

Interior illustration by Mish Scott

Deluxe Offset Print Run

This book will be my first jaunt into the tantalising realm of traditional offset printing (i.e. not print-on-demand). Everything is primed to produce this adventure with a high-quality printer in Europe. Feast your eyes on these stats:
  • Digest-sized (A5) hardcover.
  • Durable, sewn binding.
  • Lovely creamy-tinted paper.
  • Maps and area summaries printed on the end papers of the book for super easy access.
I'm working with the same printer who produced Melsonian Arts Council's Fever Swamp, for those of you who have seen that. Winter's Daughter should be a very similar book, physically.


I'm going to run a pre-order to gauge interest, before sending out the command to start the printing presses. It's not live yet, but will manifest at some time in the next week or two. The ducal fanfare will be blasted from all appropriate turrets when the pre-order is ready to go.

Old-School and 5e Versions

Now what may be the biggest news of all on this front: there will be two versions of this adventure! The original crafted for old-school rules (B/X, specifically), and a loving conversion to the 5th edition rules.

This marks a first step into the world of 5e for Necrotic Gnome and Dolmenwood!

More Details Coming Soon!

Winter's Daughter: Maps Are In!

I am delighted to announce that the cartographer for the upcoming Dolmenwood adventure, Winter's Daughter, is none other than the hyperdimensional Karl Stjernberg!

Here's a little preview of one of the maps for the adventure, laid out along with some quick summary text of a few of the areas: