Simple Sages for Old-School Essentials

There are many great aspects of classic D&D that are far too often ignored or, at best, underutilized. I discussed this in my article about spell research. Another one of these great facets of classic D&D is the sage.

Sages can be an absolutely valuable tool for both players and the GM. They can provide lore and setting information, valuable adventure clues, and even advantages without the need for the GM to artificially skew things in the PCs' favor.

Old-School Essentials (my go-to OSR clone) references sages, but there are no real rules, mechanics, or guidance for the GM. The AD&D 1e DMG has some of my favorite and most detailed "official" sage rules for use in a D&D campaign. But as with so many things AD&D, it gets into the weeds quite thoroughly. Now I enjoy this depth and "crunch" in my RPGs, but many OSR fans (especially OSE players) are looking for something a bit more streamlined. Figuring out exact fields of study and an associated % chance of having an answer and what that will cost, along with time and type of questions can be a bit much for many GMs to prepare.

For my own OSE campaigns, I came up with a system that expands upon what is officially included in OSE, because I found it lacking in detail. Taking their sage "rules" as written really dissuades one from using them. AD&D goes the opposite direction and that's not what I was looking for either. So taking inspiration from the great Castles & Crusades by Troll Lord Games, I went for a middle ground between the two extremes.

As described, sages are highly educated individuals specialized in specific fields of study. PCs may hire and consult a sage if they are looking for answers to specific topics beyond their own knowledge.

Such experts can possibly be found in towns or cities. Originally, it was stated that sages are only found in cities. I expanded that to include towns, but there is only a 2-in-6 chance (rolled on 1d6) of a town having a sage. Now for cities I adjusted it a little bit. Sages are definitely found in a cities, but they are not always available to be consulted. Sages are so busy with their studies or might already employed to some lord or institution that keeps them very busy, meaning that they might not have time for the PCs and their questions. The chance that there is a sage available for hire in a city is a 4-in-6.

The time required to get an answer and the associated costs are dependent upon the type of inquiry. There is a chance that a question touches upon the exact field of study that the sage specializes in. In these cases, an immediate answer can be provided. Otherwise, a certain amount of research time is needed. This chance for an immediate answer (rolled on an "X-in-6" chance) abstracts the entire "field of study" process found in AD&D 1e and simplifies it a bit.

The table below shows the chances of getting an immediate answer to a question, research time required if the sage is not specialized on the question’s topic, as well as costs associated with consulting a sage.

Consulting Sages








20 gp

1d6 hours

10 gp per question



100 gp

1d6 days

50 gp per day



250 gp

1d6 weeks

100 gp per day

The first cost column is for immediate answers and the second cost column is for researched answers. The type of question and how it is posed is very important. A general question would be: “When did the battle happen?” A specific question would be: “Who were the commanders of the armies at the battle?” And a complex question would be: “Was the great lance of ogre slaying used during the battle?”

This streamlined sage system has made me (and my players) use sages more often than in the past. I hope you will find it useful in utilizing sages more in your campaigns of Old-School Essentials or any OSR game.