"Black Dougal gasps 'Poison!' and falls to the floor. He looks dead."

Monday, April 20, 2009

B/X is my Favorite

Below are a number of reasons why the Moldvay/Cook edition of Dungeons & Dragons is my favorite. I know that a number of them are not exclusive to the B/X version but, when combined with the aspects that are unique, I find the complete system and how all of the pieces interact make this the best version for my games.
These are in no particular order.
1. A complete system in 128 pages
2. Unified bonuses & penalties due to attributes
3. Strong archetype classes
4. Race = Class and meaningful level limitations
5. Clerics have to prove their worthiness to their deity before getting a spell at 2nd level
6. Fighters are good with all weapons
7. The spellbook system
8. A tight power scale with a max of 14th level - I know this one is serendipitous given the unpublished Companion Supplement but I think the power level of the Expert set is about perfect for my games.
9. Complete but small subsystems for adventuring in dungeons and the wilderness
10. The Reaction Roll subsytem
11. It takes about 5 minutes to make a character.
12. It is unapologetically gameist in nature - doors in dungeons are stuck closed. You need to roll to force them open. Why? Because the rulebook says so and it is fun.
13. The importance of retainers.

14. The combat sequence
15. Abstract narrative combat system with just enough to make tactics important. Do you charge into the room or try to draw the monster into the hallway?
16. The BEST morale system EVER!
17. The examples of play - I don't know how many times I have read through the exploits of Black Dougal and his ungrateful companions
18. The roster of monsters - I find the roster of monsters in B/X to be very interesting and a large part of why B/X feels the way it does - a subject for a future post.
19. A "magical" array of magic items.
20. Intelligent magic swords
21. The entire "Dungeon Master Information" section - how to make a dungeon (see my Pit of Tortured Souls, which I really need to do some work on) and how to make a wilderness.
22. The first appearance of Save vs Abilities
23. A simple and very concise Spell Research system that is very important given the spellbook system.
24. An endgame
25. Three alignments and not good vs evil but instead law and society vs chaos and anarchy
Edit: 26. Erol Otus I can't believe I missed that one!


  1. I'm coming to this conclusion as well. I really don't like the ambiguity of OD&D (and use Holmes or B/X to fill in the holes), and AD&D is just too much and I don't use most of the subsystems anyway when I play. B/X just seems to be D&D that has a robust enough set of rules to follow, without being complicated and including a million things nobody would ever use.

  2. Truth. I had the Basic D&D 'epiphany' last Easter Monday. It feels like I've finally come home after a long journey.

  3. I think you're right about this, too. And I say that even though Mentzer is the version I started with, and I still have fond memories of it. It's a great version to learn from. But B/X is just an all around better reference and book to play from.

    I also prefer it for other reasons. It's more coherent, the level span seems just right (with an "endgame" at name level when it's stronghold building time), and the thief progressions in B/X are also more satisfying than the slowed down versions in Mentzer.

  4. In terms of professionally published versions of D&D, B/X is ALMOST my favorite. I can't argue with any of your 26 reasons.

    But I can't shake my first love: the Holmes-edit of D&D. Who needs more than 3 levels? If the DM isn't fudging or throwing softballs, the chance of reaching 4th level is effectively nil.

    In any case, beautiful post. And I love the bright colors of the covers of B/X. Thanks for posting this. :)

  5. Ah, Geoffery...
    You know I am with you on Holmes. It is my second favorite.

  6. I agree. Moldvay/Cook/Marsh is the best version of D&D.

    I wish Labyrinth Lord had #5 as well.

  7. >>I wish Labyrinth Lord had #5 as well<<

    There are just a few things that keep me from playing LL.
    - Clerics getting a spell at 1st level
    - Magic-user spellbooks
    - the reversed bonuses for charisma
    Honestly, they are all minor and could easily be houseruled.
    But I have 8 copies of B/X and it is exactly the way I like it so why change.

  8. I honestly don't get the mystique behind first level clerics not being able to cast spells. Why not just assume that the first level cleric wouldn't be a cleric at all if he hadn't already "proven himself" to his god? Why not make the M-U start without a spell and roleplay his apprenticeship or start the fighter not knowing how to use a sword?

    Anyway, can you be more clear on how LL differs in the way it handles spells and charisma? It seems the same to me, but I've never looked at both books side-by-side.

  9. >>can you be more clear on how LL differs in the way it handles spells and charisma?<<
    B/X has a very unique method for magic-user and elf spellbooks. LL is much more like other editions of D&D. See my post:

    The charisma issue is a small thing. It represents a bonus as a negative and flips the reaction table so that lower is better. Like I said, a small thing but a small thing that bugs me.

  10. Interesting. You know, I don't think I've ever played spellbooks like that. I always went with the typical "M-Us can have as many spells in their books as they can find/research" and assumed that the numbers in the rulebook were only meant to be minimums.

    Learn something new every day, I guess.

  11. IMO, B/X is the players handbook.
    OD&D is the DMG.
    What I really miss in B/X is the illusionist, and demons and some other critters from AD&D.

  12. I find the monster selection in Moldvay/Cook to be an important part of what gives this version of D&D its unique feel. No standardized demons, devils, etc forces a DM to be more creative. Zargon from B4 The Lost City is how demons should be.

  13. I dig on absolutely all your 26 reasons...I remember switching to AD&D and absolutely hating parts of it (like how to use Intelligent swords!). And ditto on Black Dougal and his "ungrateful friends." Ha ha ha! I love those examples!

  14. Excellent list of reasons to love B/X.

    I don't like #12 though... but that's not B/X jargon. ;)