Wednesday, January 23, 2013

D&D Classics PDFs Online

So the big news of the day is that after a 4-year interdiction on the practice, the owners of the classic D&D properties have made many of them once again available online as purchasable PDFs. This is being done through the new DnDClassics.com website, under the auspices of well-known seller DriveThruRPG (through which you can also access the same books).

At first blush, the site looks pretty good (I haven't done a comprehensive review or bought anything from the new site -- I got the stuff I really wanted back when it was available pre-2009). The layout and search look reasonably useful, and I must say that the historical background info for each product, written by Shannon Appelcline ("Product Historian"), looks really spot-on and impressive.

Now, in keeping with the raison d'ĂȘtre of this blog, the first thing I noticed, and the biggest disappointment, is that the Original D&D little-brown books from the 1973 era are not available. Even though this wasn't the edition that I first started with, after considered thought it is now my favorite edition to run and play, and the one in which the motivations for the classic D&D traditions are most crisply on display (there are plenty of things in later editions that I didn't really understanding until I looked at OD&D). In some sense it is the most cohesive and complete edition, with rules for all character levels from 1 to infinity, all ranges of monsters/spells/treasure, rules for wilderness-aerial-naval-strongholds, all right out of the very concise box. Of course, this has been my position since the start of this blog (see the First Post in the sidebar).

So my initial hope is that, in addition to the 1st-4th edition products available at the new site, at some point WOTC will also add scanned PDFs for the Original D&D books, which would be my highest recommendation for anyone to procure, study, modify, and play with.

But in lieu of that choice, my 2nd choice would be: the Moldvay Basic D&D set from 1981. Again not the edition that I started with (it was the earlier Holmes Basic D&D book that first captured my imagination), but the more I look at the work of Moldvay over the years, the more impressed I am by it. He made quite a few changes, and those changes almost always show evidence of a very deep understanding of the classic D&D rules, and a great talent to streamline the rougher points with very brief, eminently playable edits. It still keeps a lot of the great flavor, energy, and excitement that somehow got steam-pressed out in the later Mentzer publication. The two great regrets I have for the Moldvay edition: the invention of race-as-class (cutting down the interesting permutations for starting PCs), and the fact that the sample randomized dungeon at the end is fairly uninspiring.

So it's to their credit that what WOTC has presented for a Basic D&D rulebook is the Moldvay edition (the Holmes, Mentzer, etc. versions are not available at this time), and in fact it's currently the #1 selling item at both the DndClassics classics and the overarching DriveThruRPG itself. You can, in fact, get a complete, playable, official, classic D&D game in one single book for about $5 once again as of today. If you're someone that never had classic D&D books in hand, or you're introducing the hobby to new players young or old, then I can give a completely confident recommendation that you should get a Moldvay D&D Basic PDF to check out and begin playing. Hopefully there will also be the Original old-school classics on the way at some point in the future, as well.

10 comments:

  1. Agreed. Hopefully, WotC will make the OD&D LBB's and Cook Expert book available in the next round of PDF's.

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    1. Yeah, the associated Expert book seems like a no-brainer. Crossing fingers for the OD&D stuff (including Chainmail, of course).

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  2. Actually, it was the Holmes blue book that pioneered the "race as class" concept.

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    1. It's true that Holmes only gives one class option to each non-human race (halflings & dwarves assumed fighters, elves assumed fighter/magic-users). But that's just a copy of the situation in OD&D Vol-1, you still need to split elf XP between two classes, etc. What's new in Moldvay is the presence of XP tables marked "Elf", "Dwarf", and "Halfling".

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    2. Holmes does give hobbits d6 hit dice which was carried forward in Moldvay.

      I prefer racial classes because it is easier to add new weird PC types without worrying about how new races or classes interact with the old ones.

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    3. See, I think it's harder to add new racial types in that regime (almost wrote that above) because then you're forced to present a brand new XP table for every one.

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    4. I see why we disagree. I don't present new races like a menu. Instead, the players tell me what type of character they want to play and I'll whip up a new class for them. This way you only have to design the class one level at a time.

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    5. Interesting, that is about the total reverse of how I approach campaign design. (Also, most of my play now is in short-term situations, often with new players who need hand-holding.)

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  3. I'm hoping for POD at some point. I like the idea of getting Chainmail and Against the Giants in a printed product. My printer stinks. I have to wonder if the classics site will do anything to steer dndnext's direction? If the products sold are hugely the old stuff, they may think it makes sense to make the Next like the 1rst less than like the 3rd or 4th.

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    1. Good point. It seems like a pretty easy guess that that this generally ties into that "Next" strategy.

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