Sunday, September 4, 2011

Thoughts after reading Moldvay’s Basic Set

So, as part of my desire to read up on Classic or "Basic" D&D, I’ve read through Moldvay’s Basic Set. Here’s how I sum up my thoughts after reading it:

The nostalgia that I felt was heavy duty (again, I never played it when I was young, but it still reminded me in some ways of reading through the AD&D 1E books).

The only real difference that I could see between Moldvay Basic and Labyrinth Lord was the rules for attribute adjustment. It might be clearer to state that the only rules difference that matters to me is attribute adjustment, which I think is absent from Labyrinth Lord (then again, I haven’t read Labyrinth Lord from cover to cover, so I could be wrong). But really, I don't think that there are any other differences of any considerable size.

If I wanted to play by these rules or something like them, I’d rather play Labyrinth Lord.

This last statement is how I felt after finishing my read-through. I feel like Labyrinth Lord has a much better organization, appearance, and some small changes in the rules that make it much more accessible, at least to me at my current stage of life.

The big factors that appeal to me when thinking of running a Classic D&D game are:

Limited class options make it easier for the GM to remember class abilities and faster for players to create characters (even faster than Castles & Crusades/C&C, which is pretty quick when it comes to character creation).

Saving throw progression and other similar mechanics don’t require the thought process that goes into systems that require the GM to create target numbers for attribute checks (an issue I had with D&D 3E, but C&C mitigates much of the thought process with the SIEGE Engine system). If I ever thought there was a need for attribute checks in a Classic D&D game, I like the thought of making players roll under the appropriate attribute score. I’ve always felt that D&D attribute numbers were sort of useless, and their modifiers or lack thereof had more effect on the game (perhaps that was just my style of play back in the day…)

The four human races and the demihuman race-as-class options lend a certain archetypal/mythic aspect to the game that appeals to me. I have ideas for developing my own setting for use with Classic D&D rules, and using that in a future campaign.

How Classic D&D lends itself to a certain style of play that is appealing to me (i.e. simpler, faster, rules-light, archetypal/”mythic”). I truly believe that system influences style of play.

Actually, there’s one other big thought on my mind, as you can probably tell from all my references to C&C above: I still prefer C&C for my number-one go-to game. I love that system and its combination of AD&D and d20 D&D concepts. It’s the rules set that makes me want to do the least amount of house ruling. To me, at this point in my life, I find that “limited need for house ruling” is a big factor for me when it comes to a game system. This is mostly due, I think, to my limited free time for gaming. I would prefer to spend my time prepping for game time and actual play rather than rules tinkering. And less house rules means that players can depend mostly on published rules and not have to worry about tons of house rules that I might foist upon them.

While I was reading Labyrinth Lord, I found myself doing a lot of house ruling in my head. There were a lot of tweaks I found myself wanting to make. And in considering the changes, they were mostly efforts on my part to put C&C functionality into Classic D&D. Such as thinking about how to do attribute checks in Classic D&D in a manner that was satisfying to me.

I KNOW that this is a big heresy when it comes to Classic D&D play. I know there’s a rabid contingent of people, many many people out there, who would balk at my attribute check fixation. Trust me, I do so myself. In our C&C games, I try to minimize attribute checks when possible, resorting to asking my players to roleplay out the actions they want to accomplish as much as possible. Even if they are asked to make an attribute check, I still ask them to roleplay things out (and depending on how convincing they are, I will often give them bonuses to the associated rolls).

And come to think of it, instead of resorting to Classic D&D rules to get the Classic D&D “style” of gameplay (archetypal), I could very well just run C&C but restrict races and classes to what would be close to what is available in Classic D&D.

I am thinking of potentially asking my group if we could sometimes run Classic D&D one-shot sessions. Just so I can get a fix. One other aspect of Classic D&D that I like, funnily enough, is how deadly it can be. I would like to run a game that is more deadly and less about epic adventure. Again, this is just my own perception of game systems, but I find that AD&D/C&C (at least for me) lend themselves to more epic adventure style of play, where characters are more hardy at lower levels and therefore have a much greater chance of living to reach high levels and forging great destinies.

Anyway, there you have it, folks. For good or ill. Please give me your thoughts. I guess I’m on to read Moldvay Expert, and then on to Labyrinth Lord (for a more through read than I’ve ever given it).


  1. Two differences that come to mind, between LL and B/X are "To Hit" progressions, which are more favorable to the PC's in LL and spell levels. MU spell levels in LL go up to 9, whereas B/X top out at 6. Likewise, Cleric spells go up to 7th, as opposed to 5th in B/X.

    Personally, I use attribute checks all the time. Never really noticed any great hatred for them in old school circles.

    Recently got my C&C PH and M&T books. Haven't had a chance to really check it out yet. Looks good so far, though. The only thing I think kinda rubs me the wrong way is the saving throw system. I'm a big fan of the S&W single save and saves tied to attributes is one of my biggest beefs with 3e. There's a lot of save situations, which I don't tie to attributes at all, or might narrate, based on different attributes at different times.

    There looks to be some flexibility in the C&C save system, though, which I think I can work with. :)

    Have you checked out the C&C Whitebox? You can still find copies on ebay, fairly cheap. From what I understand, it restricts the classes to the archetypical four and levels out at 10th. Not that you would need it to do so, but if you're looking to scale options back, the Whitebox might be fun to work with. There's a $20 Buy It Now listing for one, ending in a little over 2 hours on ebay.

  2. I'm finding C&C a lot smoother than B/X or AD&D; it's simply a tighter, lighter system that doesn't require houseruling to make it work. I'm gratified at how easy it is to convert old rules or d20 to the C&C template. It's opened up my module library that runs from 1980 to this morning.

    However, I'm a fan of subsystems, so am not certain how I'll feel with the unified mechanic long term. But as far as short term, go forth and adventure and let the rules stay clear, C&C is the best thing I've seen in 31 years of doing this.

  3. Just as a side bar:

    I read this post:

    Followed it:

    I found this a bit of a 'duh' eye opener. It really is the little things...

  4. LL does have the attribute adjustment option during char-gen. I'm not sure if it's identical to the rules in B/X, but it is in there, just so you know :)

  5. Yeah, as Gavin said, LL also has attribute adjustment. It's almost identical to the process in Moldvay, but not exactly the same. In LL, for example, a Thief can lower his Str to raise his Dex – but in Moldvay he cannot.

    With regards to attribute checks, note that Moldvay *does* mention the use of attribute checks a possible ad hoc resolution mechanic. (B60 "There's always a chance.")

  6. Thanks all for chiming in! @Guy Fullerton: thanks for pointing out that part on page B60. I guess I didn't read things as carefully as I thought ;-)

    @James, never took a look at that C&C Whitebox. Might have to check that out...