Game Title: Old School Essentials – The Hole in the Oak
Publisher: Necrotic Gnome
Author: Gavin Norman
Artist: James West
Year: 2019; Revised 2021
Genre: A low level adventure designed for OSE or other OSR rulesets
MSRP: $15.00 for the A5 sized hardcover (with PDF) at Exalted Funeral or $7.50 for the PDF at DriveThruRPG
The Hole in the Oak is a fun low-level dungeon crawler that combines the old school need for thought and problem solving with ample opportunity for referee-added flavor and storytelling.
The dungeon layout is clear and easy to follow with location descriptions (sixty in total) taking up the bulk of the book’s text. Description tends to be sparse, favoring economy of language and space over elaboration. This is great for referees who like to add their own personal spin and parties who don’t particularly care for detail, but it tends to leave the setting as written feeling a little flat. This is true as well of NPCs players may encounter. While there is certainly sufficient information for the referee to take on these ‘roles,’ it can feel a little light. That said, in the case of both the locations and the NPCS, the details referees are provided often include delightful tidbits that truly help sell the magical if menacing fantasy forest aesthetic.
A variety of randomization tables help to keep the players engaged and produce encounter hooks for referees to build on. Many of these charts could be easily repurposed with only minor alterations for use in other adventures or in other game systems. Likewise, the “Unanswered Mysteries” section offers a number of wonderful prompts for referees hoping to add in an extra element of intrigue to draw the players’ attention.
The overview of the factions and their relationships is a masterful demonstration of worldbuilding efficiency. In just two-thirds of a page, author Gavin Norman offers referees a toolbox brimming with potential quests, encounters, and conflicts. Sure, players are free to handle the outcast gnomes as they deem fit, but what if, instead, the fauns —seeking an alliance— have charged the party with currying favor on their behalf in exchange for a valuable artifact? What if, perhaps, a lone troglodyte has decided to venture out beyond the river in search of an idol rumored to be worshipped by the gnomes and possessed of great power? The potential here extends far beyond the drawl as written and deserves high praise for its smart use of detail.
All of this is facilitated by a layout that manages to be simple and uncluttered without sacrificing visual appeal. Art appears at a regular interval, adding visual interest but avoiding the trap of distracting placement. Despite not being a particularly lengthy PDF at 40 pages, each major section, including each dungeon area, is hot-linked from the table of contents to ensure ease of navigation on devices.
The Hole in the Oak blends structured challenges with room for creative growth and improvisation into an enjoyable one-off crawl with the potential for bigger storytelling for those inclined to take advantage. Though players and referees accustomed to beefier descriptions may find themselves coming up short, those who appreciate a straighter challenge will delight in the text as written. With solid worldbuilding and easily repurposed resources, The Hole in the Oak is an easy addition for both fans of the OSE system as well as those looking to flesh out their fantasy campaigns regardless of system.