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

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Moldvay Basic Part 1: Introduction

Starting on page B3 and X3 respectively, the Introductions for both the Basic and Expert rulebooks each take up two pages and have the same general layout.

The Basic rulebook has the following sections in the introduction:
What the D&D Game Is All About
How To Use This Book
Definitions of Standard D&D Terms
Use of the Word "Level"
How To Use the Dice
How To "Win"

A few things I enjoyed or found interesting:

In the "What the D&D Game Is All About" section there are two great and concise sentences:
"In the D&D rules, individuals play the role of characters in a fantasy world where magic is real and heroes venture out on dangerous quests in search of fame and fortune. Characters gain experience by overcoming perils and recovering treasures." - emphasis mine.
Now, to most people familiar with Classic D&D, these are fairly self-evident, but these two short sentences tell us what D&D is about.

In the "How To Use This Book" section we are told that the Basic rulebook details adventures in dungeons and refers us to the Expert book for levels 4-14 and gives rules for wilderness adventures. It further explains that a supplement - the D&D Companion Set - would provide details for levels 15-36. What else would have been in that supplement?

Near the top of the second column on page B3 is another great paragraph:
"D&D rules all fit together, and the rules that seem confusing at first will become more understandable when used with the rest of the game. This is not like any other game you've ever played before: it is more important that you understand the ideas in the rules than that you know every detail about the game. When you understand how they work, the rules will become more understandable."
We are introduced to the "mapper" and the "caller". The importance of the mapper is stressed and is still something I focus on. There is nothing like taking the map away from the party as they flee from some pursuing monsters and have them try to remember how to get out of the dungeon from memory.

Reading the "How To Use the Dice" section reminds me of the first time I opened the Basic boxed set and I got to handle the dice for the first time. There is still something great about the tactile sensation from D&D dice.


  1. The style of the Moldvay Basic and Cook Expert fascinates me. As a kid I didn't need to know much and when we learned how to play, the rule book became a source for spells and monsters and stuff. We didn't need to read it for anything.

    To this day I roll my eyes in boredom when people do try to read too much into it. It's a game. If you don't like or understand how some things work change them. Otherwise, play for orc bashing and sneaking down dark, slimy halls in old ruined temples.

    Some things were copied from Gygax's first three-book version -- while leaving out other elements. Sometimes the text is concise. Sometimes it rambles. Sometimes it repeats the same thing in different places. Sometimes it's scattered out and a concept that might be key for a lost novice is mentioned in a few words way in back.

    "While it was not possible to cover everything that might happen in a game, the ideas here give a solid framework to build on." is a sentence some people seem to have never read. Maybe because it's in the Afterword on page B61.

    The thief description includes the statement "They are the only characters who can open locks and find traps without using magic to do so." (page B10). On page B22 you have under Traps: "Any character has a 1 in 6 chance of finding a trap...". Mentzer repeated the "They are the only..." statement on page 43 of his player's manual for his basic book. And proceeded to show how other characters can find traps with a 1d6 roll.

    When people talk about the rules like the designers agonized for years beating out every word into a concise meaning of high minded philosophy, I roll my eyes up. They threw it together as best they could and made a bunch of goofs in doing so. Rather than think some things out, the TSR crew was grab-bagging ideas almost randomly.

    But, it is (and was) just a game, and none of those goofs prevent playing for sheer fun. You don't need the rules to play -- all you need is imagination and a good adventure to go through.

  2. In a lot of ways I agree with you.
    As Old Geezer says, "they threw together a bunch of sh*t that sounded fun".
    But I enjoy reading the rules and making comments about it. I think Mr. Moldvay edited together the best version of the rules and I like to talk about why I think they're the best.
    If it makes you roll your eyes don't bother reading it.

  3. I'm so enthusiastic about B/X rules I splutter like an idiot some times, so it probably didn't come across right:

    Reading your comments and observations don't make my eyes roll up. What does is when people go off the deep end.

    I was trying to get across the idea that when all things are said, it's just a game. The writers were not perfect. But they weren't doing anything but trying to make a fun game to play.

    I was trying to point out some things I don't see mentioned that often. Some people just don't seem to read the rules; what you are doing is grand, as some people need to be reminded of what the rules actually say.

    Looking at a few points I tried to make, I can see how they can read as critical. The point about "grab bagging" I was trying to make was not that they did a sloppy job or didn't actually put a lot of thought in it. I see a whole lot of thought and effort in it. It's just that they didn't have the time to make the rules perfect.

    And, it was a continuation of D&D, not a rewrite, so they did take ideas from before. And they added or changed a few minor things.

    I can point out flaws -- but the rules are professionally made and designed. If the overall depth of the game matches the needs of the people playing, they can have as much fun with it today as people had 28 years ago when the books were new and wrapped in shiny plastic. This is just me: but I really do not need more than 128 pages for my own gaming today.

    I recently made my own basic and expert modules as such, based on what I find interesting, so other people might not like them. And I got scared and published them under Basic Fantasy rules (as free downloads). But I did it to try to make modules that remind people of the games and adventures TSR was publishing in the late 70s and early 80s.

    Keep writing about it and commenting. I'll try to make any observations I do make more coherent and on topic.

  4. Sorry!
    It is always difficult to get "tone" in a written comment.
    It is always nice to hear from another B/X enthusiast!

  5. My post quality is usually pretty poor and confusing (long rambling posts) and embarassing.

    I started with B/X and it's still my sweetheart. I wish Basic D&D had been kept alive, perhaps as the "old school" version. Something for ordinary people, like me.

    Not that I wish it were the only game. More games = more players. If I owned D&D, there would be more versions to give people more options...

    I really think there'd be more gamers today if more ordinary people had a shorter, complete game like B/X readily available to play. They could always move on to more sophisticated games, if they wanted.

    Maybe the clones will do that. Maybe not.

    I never experienced the 1974 three book D&D set (only got copies recently) because everyone said it was "much like AD&D" and other put-off comments. With only their side comments to work on, I missed out on it because when I later looked into it, it had gems of D&D concepts and wisdom hidden inside.

    Hopefully what you are doing will expose more people to more than just quick little side comments about B/X.