Friday, February 5, 2021

Friday Figures: Favorite Basic D&D

 

Survey: Favorite Basic D&D set?

A few months ago on Twitter, user @LeroyD20 (thanks greatly, Leroy!) asked what I thought was a nifty question: what was people's favorite version of Basic D&D ruleset released in the 1977-1986 period? He got almost 80 votes which is fairly good sample size.

As you can see above, the results were -- Moldvay 57%, Mentzer 23%, Holmes 20%. 

Broadly speaking, I think those are fairly reasonable opinions. As someone who started with Holmes myself, of course I have a warm spot in my heart that. Holmes, of course, was trying very hard to mostly re-organize OD&D source material, frequently using the exact same language (and also getting a revision  pass by Gygax himself). On the other hand, Moldvay (which I did run for several years) has a certain spark of editorial design genius, refining, tightening, and improving rules in many, many places. Mentzer mostly follows Moldvay's core rules, but in my opinion is burdened down with the decision to make the player's book mostly a keyed choose-your-own-adventure (which takes a lot of space, and makes the book not very useful as a reference work after initial reading). 

So I might pick Moldvay as the best of the lot myself. That said: He also introduced race-as-class which almost single-handedly causes me to turn away from those rules anytime I think about announcing that my games are based on his work.

Also, how much of this is correlated with marketing pushes at the time, hitting the moment of the explosive fad years, etc.? Obviously, we'll never entirely disentangle that. But Moldvay stands above as the strong editor that many of us wish Gygax had throughout his D&D writing. 

Poll on Favorite Basic D&D at Twitter

12 comments:

  1. I did not vote on the poll, but I would have been with the majority opinion.

    Huh. Race-as-class as a dealbreaker. It was for me "back in the day," too (for about 25 years). I've only recently gone back to playing AD&D (1E) and while I enjoy the variety (and restrictions) involved, I also feel a bit irritated about ANY demihumans. The more I play D&D (that is to say, the more years that go by, as I play less now than I've done in years past) the more I grow to see Gygax's perspective of the game being essentially human-centric...and I think the Moldvay rules eloquently keeps the game so with its race-as-class system.

    I'm not yet ready to step backward to B/X, but...well, we'll see what happens.

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    1. I'm there with you, JB. I increasingly appreciate the virtues of race as class, and I recently noticed the elegance of how B/X gates the demihuman classes behind ability score minimums and doesn't let them be min/max tools by giving them no ability score bonuses.

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  2. I prefer the Holmes Blue Book, because that's how I got my start. To me it's more evocative than Moldvay, which I agree is still a nice ruleset.

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  3. Make mine Moldvay! I started with Moldvay, and BX remains my favorite to this day. Like many after I started playing AD&D I looked down on race as class, but now I much prefer it for many reasons, mostly, as others have said, because I tire of everyone minmaxing. Also, however, I find it helps to better emulate the high fantasy style I have come to prefer, with the heyday of the elder races behind them, much as in Tolkien's Middle-earth. I also appreciate the default 14 level limit, rather than the later 36 level scale of BECMI. It allows humans to advance beyond the ability if demihumans, but not ridiculously so much higher. It also eliminates the weird higher level spells from play and keeps a better balance between spellcasters and fighters and thieves.

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    1. That's actually another good point that the expansion to 36 levels really didn't work well in BECMI. To a large degree they took B/X and just slowed down the skill/spell progression to stretch out over more levels, not very compelling.

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  4. Well someone's gotta represent the 90s here, even if it wasn't on the poll. My favorite basic set is Denning (the big '91 black box, even though I have more nostalgia for the '94 Classic Set that I learned the game on).

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    1. Thanks for that! I'll confess that latest-date basic set I've looked at was Aaron Allston's Rules Cyclopedia -- basically BECMI, but pretty darned nifty to have *everything* in one book. There was a time back then where I was determined to run my campaigns with that as the basis forevermore.

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    2. Well Troy Denning's boxed sets (in both the TSR1070 "New Easy-to-Master Game" and TSR1106 "Classic D&D Game" forms) essentially were basic sets for the Rules Cyclopedia. If there were any consistency* in the practice of referring the versions of basic, we'd call the one that came after Mentzer "Denning/Allston" by analogy to Moldvay/Cook.

      (* Back in the 90s, of course, there was a degree of consistency: it was typical then to still refer to all the versions of basic as "OD&D," and one specified the edition by naming the box color: "blue box" for Holmes, "pink box" for Moldvay, "red box" for Mentzer, and "black box" for the sets that were on the KB Toys shelves at the time. I can appreciate that this might've led to confusion with the various blue-covered Expert Sets and the black box Master Set, but to this day I still prefer the nomenclature I grew up with to the ugly alphabet soup of "B/X" and "BECMI.")

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    3. This was my "basic set" as well! The Rules Cyclopedia was the first hardcover D&D rulebook I ever ran a game from. I grew up more with Palladium and only heard of D&D when I came upon a Monster Manual and mined it for new creatures for my Palladium games. But the Black Box and subsequently the Rules Cyclopedia are what made D&D a viable system for my group of friends. (To this day, I have a bias against games which make you buy multiple full-price hardcover books just to have the core rules, which kept us away from AD&D.)

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    4. That makes a lot of sense. Yesterday some of us chatted a bit about the structure of the AD&D releases: it was a lot easier to get into them when you had OD&D, Holmes basic, etc., as a "full game" and could opt to add any one of the AD&D books as an expansion to that.

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  5. Does anyone know a good page cataloguing the differences between Moldvay/Cook and Mentzer B/E?

    I agree that the streched-out progression of Mentzer is a problem. I very much like that he allowed Magic-Users and Elves to add more spells to their books, though. That seems like an uncharacteristic oversight on Moldvay's part.

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    1. Ooh, that's a good question. I'd like to see that myself. I'm not aware of a resource like that at the moment.

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