Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Characters of the Moldvay Basic Set

Aleena the cleric vs. Morgan Ironwolf.  How many times have we heard that argument?  Just like Star Wars vs. Star Trek or PC vs. Apple, you're either for one or the other.  While the debate over which character is better will probably never be settled, we surely can agree that in regards to nostalgia, each female is strongly connected to her respective boxed set:  Aleena for Metzer and Morgan for Moldvay.

All the attention in the Moldvay set is focused on Morgan Ironwolf.  And for that reason, most of us tend to forget that a host of other characters are present within the pages of that venerable tome.  During my rereading project I was pleasantly surprised to come across names that I had forgotten long ago.  Revisit with me their stories.

Morgan receives the bulk of the attention in Moldvay and we know the most about her of all the characters therein.  She is beautiful and deadly, a natural leader, and she knows how to compromise to get what she wants.  We first meet her on page B13 when she appears as an example of creating a player character.

According to the fictional player creating Morgan, the name was inspired by Morgan le Fey from the King Arthur stories.  Beyond the reasoning for the name, we get little true background for Morgan.  I think this is the main reason that for many, Aleena the cleric wins out over Morgan in the debate.  We come to feel for Aleena because we know more about her.  Morgan is mostly just numbers on a page, though we do learn a bit more about her personality later in the book.

Morgan Ironwolf from page B14

Her stats suggest that she is strong, healthy, and dexterous but not very bright.  She possesses average wisdom and is a fairly likable person.  Morgan is well-equipped but not particularly rich in coin.  She is law abiding and dislikes chaos and evil.  That's about all we know about her for certain.  It will take two short example dungeon adventures for us to learn a bit more.

**  It is interesting to note that on this character sheet, Morgan is listed as having a lawful alignment.  When we next meet her she is not only noted as being neutral, but definitely acts that way in character.

Morgan appears again on pages B28 and B59, but this time she is on an adventure with four fellow companions.  Reading between the lines, it is here that one can find out more about Morgan Ironwolf.  For example:  after a battle that would see one of her companions fall, the attacking hobgoblins choose to surrender when the outcome of the melee becomes obvious.  This is when we finally see a glimpse Morgan's personality.  At first, though an agreement was made with the surrendering hobgoblins, Morgan wants to kill them anyhow.  As a neutral fighter* (see the note above), she sees no issue at all with dispatching her remaining enemies.  Perhaps she desires revenge for her fallen comrade or maybe she is being practical and does not wish to leave enemies behind to warn others.  Whatever the reason, she clearly wants them dead.  She wisely changes her mind when confronted by another party member who happens to be a lawful cleric.  Perhaps it was the wound Morgan received in battle (which she suggests) that causes her to wish to kill the hobgoblins and that mood has now passed.  Or maybe Morgan is savvy enough to elicit a healing spell from the cleric by bending to a more lawful view of the situation.  No matter her reasoning, it is plain that she understands that situations are fluid and she exhibits the ability to gain an advantage from such scenarios.

From reading the description of the encounter I think it is easy to determine some of her other personality traits that cannot be gleaned from a character sheet.  Even at low levels she is a hardened and practical fighter.  She understands battle tactics and the rules of war.  Yet she is not rash.  Morgan knows that to survive the harsh underground environment she must cooperate with the others and be a team player.  Morgan Ironwolf may not be as well-liked as Aleena but one cannot deny that she is an accomplished warrior and clever dungeoneer.

With Morgan in the dungeon are several lesser known characters from the Moldvay set:  Silverleaf the elf (level 2), Sister Rebecca the Adept (second level cleric), Fredrik the dwarf (first level), and Black Dougal the Footpad (second level thief).

We know only a little of Silverleaf the elf.  For certain he has Sleep for one of his two first level spells and we also know that he is neutral in alignment.  Silverleaf speaks hobgoblin and it is he that arranges for the surrender of the hobgoblins after the battle described above.  Just like Morgan, Silverleaf appears to be a practical fighter and knows that leaving an enemy behind is a dangerous gamble.  He is willing to go along with the fighter's plans to murder the hobgoblins to protect the party's rear.  Apparently he too is reasonable since he relents as well when the cleric insists on honoring their agreement with the hobgoblins.

We know less about Sister Rebecca, the lawful cleric. Other than the fact that she is obviously the moral compass of the party, not much can be determined about her.  Despite her dislike for the hobgoblins, she will not allow the party to forget their promise to spare their lives.  She forces her will upon the party and the hobgoblins are allowed to live.  Later she frets over a fallen companion when her fellow adventurers seem more concerned with treasure.  I think the cleric has a good heart.  We also know that she is armed with a mace and shield.  Other than those few details, Sister Rebecca remains shrouded in mystery.

Fredrik the Dwarven Veteran is a bit more fleshed out.  He seems to be both cautious yet battle-brave.  Perhaps it's his innate dwarven dungeoneering skills that allows him to sense danger, or maybe he is just simply afraid, but several times during the adventure he gets a bad feeling and warns the party.  Whether the party takes his warnings seriously or just puts him off as a grumbling dwarf is unknown.  His caution apparently does not apply to fighting goblins and finding treasure however.  He shrugs off his apprehension and charges into the goblin ranks in the party's first encounter on page B59 (the encounter order is reversed with the first taking place on B59 and the followup encounter on B28), helping the party win the melee without suffering any casualties.  His lust for treasure consumes him shortly thereafter when he concerns himself with loading coins rather than the death of a companion.  In fact, Fredrik is more than willing to strip the dead of his possessions to aid in the transport of his newly discovered loot. Dwarven stubbornness and greed aside, Fredrik does carry the corpse of his fellow adventurer from the room as they depart, thus allowing the dwarf to regain some sense of honor.  Despite his battle skills and earned karma, Fredrik is felled in the next melee by a hobgoblin that dispatches the dwarf with one mighty blow.  Alas for poor Fredrik.  Who will carry his stout body?

Morgan's last companion is Black Dougal.  We never get the chance to learn much about him since he is poisoned by a spring trap early in the adventure.  Perhaps his nerves were shaken after the battle with the goblins or maybe the lighting was too poor to properly detect the trap on the chest.  Whatever the reason, Black Dougal met an untimely end beside thousands of shiny silver coins.  Ironic is it not?

Is this Fredrik, Black Dougal, and Silverleaf?  Possibly.  

Other than Morgan Ironwolf and her brave companions, several other characters are mentioned in the Moldvay manual but little is said of them.

Borg the fighter is the only remaining character that we truly know anything bout.  Our knowledge of him comes from a single source on page B5.  We see his stats and equipment but have no other details about him.

Borg the fighter from B5: How To Create A Player Character.

We know even less about Tars the fighter and Gantry the cleric.  They both appear on page B15 in the example of Cure Light Wounds spell use.  Tars has a max of 6 hit points and was apparently wounded in a battle.  He is saved by his companion with a healing spell.

Sarien the elf appears on B17 in the example of using a Sleep spell.  During an encounter with four lizard men the crafty elf is able to put three of them to sleep.  Whether he survives the rest of the encounter is unknown.

We meet Bork the fighter on page B22 in the XP example.  Mighty Bork rises from second level to level 3 and becomes Bork the Swordmaster.  He gains six hit points during the level change to give him a total of 17.  Moldvay Basic D&D is a dangerous game.  He will need those extra HP to survive!  The photo below is not attributed to any one character in the text.  However, I can't help but think that if any illustration looks like a Bork, it must be this one!

Bork the Swordmaster?  

Finally we happen upon Huxley the fighter on page B25.  He and an unnamed companion (also a fighter) find themselves in battle with a gargoyle.  Lacking a proper weapon to inflict injury on the beast, Huxley first tries to employ a fighting withdrawal to allow his companion to join the fray but eventually opts to retreat instead.  Good luck Huxley... you will need it.

Morgan Ironwolf, Silverleaf the elf, Sister Rebecca, poor Fredrik the dwarf, Black Dougal the unlucky, Borg, Tars, Gantry, Sarien, Bork, and Huxley:  these are the brave men and women of the Moldvay Basic Set.  Let us bow our heads in remembrance of their daring exploits.  Long may they live in memory.

This rereading project has turned up many treasures thus far, and not just the kind that Fredrik the dwarf likes to find.  I must say that I had forgotten about most of these characters.  I'm glad I had the opportunity to rediscover them.  I hope you have enjoyed doing the same by reading this post.

I'd like to leave you with a few questions again.
*  Did I find them all?  Are there other characters in the Moldvay rule book that I missed?
*  Of those listed, which do you remember the most?  Any special stories about them?
*  Morgan's alignment change, was it intentional or a misprint?
*  Should Fredrik at least have mourned Black Dougal for a moment before snagging his backpack?
*  Is the photo of the three adventurers with the bound goblin meant to be Black Dougal and company?
*  The last pic of the fighter in a horned helm:  Borg, Tars, or Bork (or none of the above)?
*  Aleena or Morgan?  Never mind, that is a question for another day.

Thanks for your comments and participation.  Most of all, thanks for reading!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Rereading the Moldvay Basic Set - Part 2

My rereading project continues this week with the next section of the Moldvay Basic Set:  Spells.

A fair word of warning before I begin:  I have never played a magic-user.  Yep, that's right.  In the thousands of hours I spent playing D&D in the 80s I never once rolled up a magic-user.  Sure I've taken on the role of a spell-slinger as an NPC or an evil adversary while DMing, but never did I wear the robes of a squishy magician.  "But what about your elves?", you might ask.  Well, I've played many elves over the years but to me that really didn't count.  I mainly relied on their martial ability and used spells only as a backup.  So in both cases, as a DM playing a magic-using NPC and as an elf with a penchant for fireballs, I usually avoided the spell section almost completely.  I simply didn't need to reference it.  After all, what else was there to know beyond sleep, magic missiles, fireballs, and the occasional light spell?

The same can almost be said of clerics.  Although I've played a few when needed (never by choice), once again martial ability was far more important than spells.  To a bunch of young boys/teens, a cleric was nothing more than a fighter that could not use edged weapons, but did possess the gift of casting healing spells.  Detect Evil and Purify Food and Water were all just a waste of space on a character sheet.

My lack of magic use in those early years made the rereading of the Spells section that much more enlightening.  If I had taken the time to read through the spell descriptions thirty-two years ago I might have played more magic-users and clerics.  Those non-offensive spells would have been rather useful back then.

Part 3: Spells begins on page B15 and informs the reader that magic-users must memorize spells before they can be used.  After a given spell is used however, it is wiped clean from memory and must be studied again for use the next day (after a full night's uninterrupted sleep of course).  Since the manual tells the reader that most adventures take place over only a few hours of in-game time, this should not pose an issue.  I can't help but wonder though what adventures Moldvay was talking about.  Almost every module I ever played or ran (wether commercial or homemade) lasted well over a few hours of game time.  Most were epic dungeon delves or longterm travel in the wilds where finding a suitable place to camp in the dungeon or forest was just as an important decision as deciding what to bring on an adventure.  I also wonder how a full night's rest was to be accomplished due to watch schedules and wandering monsters.  I think both assumptions were pretty darn silly.  Fortunately it was never an issue for us because I'm quite sure we simply ignored the rule.  Sure we did set up camp each night (that was part of the fun) but I'm fairly certain no one in the party ever got much rest....certainly not a full night's sleep.  We woke up (if we survived) and our spell-slingers suddenly had new spells.  Now that's magical!

It was a good thing that clerics were able to use a mace and turn undead because their spell selection at lower levels absolutely sucked.  Hell, they could not even use a spell at first level.  At second level, when they finally got one first level spell, the only really useful option was Cure Light Wounds.  One of our players would have been heavily berated and mocked had they chosen Purify Food and Water over a healing spell!  To us, a cleric was nothing more than a combat medic.  I suspect that role remains through the more recent editions as well.

First Level Cleric Spells
Cure Light Wounds:  1d6 +1 of healing goodness.
Detect Evil:  Of course it's's in a dungeon!
Detect Magic:  Only useful after the adventure when dividing treasure.
Light:  Continual Light at second level is the only way to go.
Protection from Evil:  That's what armor and a shield are for.
Purify Food and Water:  No comment.
Remove Fear:  Useful in the Expert Set when the spell can be reversed to Cause Fear.
Resist Cold:  Good, because low level characters fight white dragons all the time.

Yes, I was being quite sarcastic.  And yes, I know it's all about game balance (but I didn't back then).  But there is simply nothing fun about a cleric's spell selection.  If it were not for the healing aspect, I doubt The Known World would have ever witnessed a mace in use.

Although I never played a magic-user, at least the spell selection was a bit more exciting.  I just wish that a first level PC could do more than blow his load at the start of the adventure, then spend the rest of the day hiding behind the thief.  I may have very fond memories of Moldvay/Metzer/AD&D, but some of the new editions of Dungeons & Dragons definitely make magic-users much more interesting and fun to play.

My thoughts as a younger player on magic-user spell selection.  Yes, I will be sarcastic again.

First Level Magic-user and Elf Spells
Charm Person:  Make dumb humanoids fall in love with you and become meat shields.
Detect Magic:  See above.
Floating Disc:  Useful as a pickup truck for treasure if it only lasted for more than 6 turns.
Hold Portal:  Reminds me of Gandalf's mental battle with the Balrog at the top of the stairs.
Light:  See above
Magic Missile:  1d6 +1 is absolutely deadly at lower levels.  Plus, it never misses!  Best. Spell. Ever!
Protection from Evil:  Would help a squishy wizard but casting would leave little room for offense.
Read Languages:  I wonder if this spell was ever pre-studied in the history of the D&D game.
Read Magic:  All magic-users should be able to cast this any time!  That was our house rule.
Shield:  A better option for squishy wizard protection but still shoots blanks on offense.
Ventriloquism:  ...................................Never ever saw it used.
Sleep:  Goodnight Kobolds!  Possibly the second best low level magic-user spell.

Second Level Magic-user and Elf Spells
Continual Light:  Cast this a day before the adventure then forget about torches and lanterns.
Detect Evil:  See above.
ESP:  This is only really useful as a chance at humor for the DM.  I loved confusing thoughts.
Invisibility:  Best armor for a magic-user.  Too bad it doesn't last in melee.
Knock:  Open up!
Levitate:  Good for hiding or dealing with chasms.
Locate Object:  Not very useful as written but I'm sure this spell was heavily abused in game.
Mirror Image:  If a squishy wizard has to resort to this then he has already lost the rest of his party.
Phantasmal Force:  Confusing as hell!
Web:  Of all the second level spells, this is the only one with any offensive ability.
Wizard Lock:  A fancy version of Hold Portal.

At higher levels, a Moldvay magic-user could be devastating.  I very much enjoyed taking on the roll of a powerful spell-slinger when behind the DM screen (my players....not so much).  Getting there as a player character was a challenge though.  That of course was the intent of the rules but I always felt magic-users to be underpowered in the beginning.  Perhaps the reward of reaching higher levels and the power that comes with doing so was enough to tempt others into playing the class.  I simply did not have the patience for it.  I wanted to kill and loot!

In the last years of the 80s before I stopped playing, I became more of a roleplayer.  The emphasis was no longer on destruction and progression. Instead I became more interested in living in the D&D world, enjoying the story, and creating character.  It's a shame that I had already developed such a deep dislike for magic-users.  Now that I have read through the spells and understood their role in the grand scheme of things, I think roleplaying a magic-user would be a lot of fun.  In fact, I may have to roll up a squishy magician right now.  Here are the spells that I would be interested in:

First Level Magic-user and Elf Spells
Charm Person:  Not only could this spell be useful, but in the hands of a clever player and creative DM, lots of role-play opportunities could be developed.
Magic Missile:  This would still be my first choice for an offensive weapon.
Shield:  Using tactical style combat, this could be a useful defensive position to aid the party.
Sleep:  Just like magic missile, this would be one of my first choices.  It would be valuable for crowd control.

Second Level Magic-user and Elf Spells
Continual Light:  A permanent light for dark places.  Could be used as an accessory or as an offensive spell.
ESP:  With a good DM behind the screen, this could be used to create additional RP plot hooks.
Invisibility:  I would still keep this in my arsenal but use it more in non-dungeon settings.
Web:  Another good crowd control device.

How about you, dear reader?  Did you play magic-users?  If so, what did you do to survive the lower levels?  What was your favorite spell?  How did you play the rule for resting/studying spell books?  Do you think Moldvay (or Metzer) magic-users were underpowered?

How about you cleric you think the cleric had any role beyond healing and turning undead?  Was I being too hard on the usefulness of cleric spells?

Thanks for reading.  I look forward to your comments.

A final note:  The wizard and cleric illustrations in the post are actually Photoshoped images I created of miniatures I purchased from Otherworld Miniatures.  I'm a big fan of their work which combines the old school look of the 80s with the precision and detail of modern miniatures.  I just purchased another miniature from them to represent my re-creation of Tryon the elf in-game and I'm very happy with the quality of that one as well.  If you're not familiar with Otherworld Miniatures you might want to pay them a visit.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Re-creating My First Character: Tryon the Elf

As darkness surrounded the old military tent pitched haphazardly in the backyard, a group of boys huddled around the warm glow of flashlights and lanterns while flipping through strangely illustrated tomes.  Armed with pencil, paper, and oddly shaped dice, one of those boys recorded esoteric numbers and arcane symbols onto paper and brought to life a creation that would remain a faithful adventuring companion for many years.  On a warm humid summer night in 1982, Tryon the elf came to be.

The re-created character of Tryon the Elf

Tryon the elf was my very first Dungeons & Dragons character.  I rolled him up at a friend's birthday sleepover in 1982 - the night I first learned to play D&D.  The entire concept of a roleplaying game was entirely new to me then so I'm sure I had no idea what I was doing.  Most of the other boys did know however, and guided me through the process.  Today, I have no way of knowing exactly what that character sheet really looked like.  Unfortunately, the original met its demise around 1987 or '88 when I decided that I was much too cool to play D&D anymore.  Tryon's stats, weapons, and armor on that magical first night are lost to memory and time.  All I truly remember about that first character was the class (elf) and the name.

After finishing the character's stats and buying equipment, I was prompted to choose a name but I was at a complete loss.  As a boy I had always been interested in anything related to medieval times or outer space so I certainly had the imagination to pick a good one.  But for some reason I remember drawing a complete blank.  How could I come up with a name (which was obviously an important life decision at the time) on the spur of the moment?  When the others grew frustrated at my indecision, I was forced to make a final decision.  I blurted out the first thing that came to me:  Tryon.

NC Governor William Tryon - an early elven ancestor?

To this day I have no idea where the name came from.  At the time, the name meant absolutely nothing to me.  Perhaps it was a subconscious decision forced on me by the others urging me to "try" to come up with something.  Or maybe I had heard the word at some point in my life and it came bubbling to the surface unbidden and unlooked for.  The second possibility may be the most plausible.  I found out a few years later when taking North Carolina state history in school that there was both a governor (William Tryon 1765) and a town (located in Polk County) with the name.  Most likely it was pure coincidence though.  I was only 11 at the time so hearing of the historical governor or knowing of the town (which was clear on the other side of the state from where I grew up) was highly unlikely.  Whatever the origin of the name, Tryon was my first character and he lived to go on many adventures and luckily survived each and every one.

The picturesque town of Tryon, NC.  Perhaps the Caves of Chaos lie in the mountains behind?

I can't even begin to pretend to remember much about that first character.  As mentioned above, the name and class where the only clues I had to go on.  So instead of blindly trying to re-create Tryon, I simply rerolled the character using the Moldvay basic rules that would have governed his creation thirty-two years ago.  In doing so, I went by the book except for two deviations.  I vaguely remembered our old house rule for rolling stats and used that method rather than rolling 3d6 in proper order.  Tryon's abilities were generated by rolling 3d6 seven times and discarding the worst result.  The scores were then assigned to the abilities in any order desired.  I don't know how good Tryon's stats would have been way back then but I was very pleased with the results this time around.  A 15 was the highest roll but I was fortunate enough to roll it three different times.  My lowest roll (not counting the 7, which was discarded) was an 11.  It seems that the new Tryon is a very well-rounded elf.

The second deviation was dealing with hit points.  Even after being away from the game all these years I remember how deadly the combat was.  So instead of relying on fate to give me a good score, I once again enacted an old house rule and maxed the character's hit points which resulted in a score of 7 (+1 for the constitution modifier).

The rest of the character was created by choosing equipment and spells as an 11 year old boy might have done.  I may not have chosen wisely (which was the point), but the character still looks pretty good to me.  I'm completely guessing here, but I think that this version of Tryon would look remarkably similar to the Tryon that first entered the Caves of Chaos thirty-two years ago.

Rolling lucky tonight.

Name:  Tryon                              Class:  Elf
Level:  1                                      XP:  0
Alignment:  Lawful
Armor Class:  4                           HP:  7

Str:   15                                       Armor:  Chainmail, Shield
Int:   15                                       Weapons:  Longsword, Longbow
Dex: 15                                        Spells:  Magic Missle
Wis:  11
Con: 14
Cha:  12

The process of re-creating Tryon was quite fun.  To relive the full experience, I only used items that would have been available to me on that night so long ago (minus the tent and flashlight of course).  I haven't written in pencil in ages.  I had a hell of a time simply finding one in the house to use.  Wide ruled filler paper was even more difficult to find.  I had to drive to the local office supply store to find something that wasn't college ruled.  They had only one pack left.  The only easy part were the dice.  Yes, those are the original dice.  Nasty looking, are they not?  They survived the great RPG purge of '88.  Maybe they have disintegrated to the point that they roll unfairly thus giving me a distinct advantage with my ability scores.  In that case I am glad I kept them.  I think I will clean them up a bit and find a white crayon to fill in the numbers again.

Now that Tryon the elf is alive and well it is time to take him on an adventure.  I think I will try a solo adventure first to test drive the rules and refamiliarize myself with an old friend.  Then it's off to the Keep on the Borderlands to resupply and maybe hire a few henchmen before venturing into the Caves of Chaos.

Posted:  Adventuring Companions Needed.  Contact Tryon the Elf for Details.

I'll leave you with a few questions to ponder:
   *  Do you remember the name of your first character?
   *  If so, how was it chosen?  Is there any meaning behind the name?
   *  Do you still have your first character sheet?
   *  Do you think my method of rolling ability scores is unfair?
   *  Hit points...max them out or let fate decide?

Remember that comments and participation are always welcome on this blog.  I look forward to hearing from you.

Thanks for reading!

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Rereading the Moldvay Basic Set - Part 1

One of the many lofty goals for my return to Dungeons and Dragons this year is to reread all the source material from the era during which I played D&D the first time around (roughly 1982-1988).  There are some great tomes that I can't wait to get to but there are none that are as special to me as the Moldvay Basic Set.  As such, I think it is only fitting that I begin my journey there.

While the Moldvay set may not be the official start of D&D (the original rules followed by the Holmes Basic Set has that distinction), it was the beginning for me.  It was the first book I saw when introduced to the game, it contained my first ever adventure, and it was the first TSR product I ever owned.  Yes, Moldvay definitely represents my starting point on the road to high adventure.

I have so many fond memories of this set.  I wouldn't even know where to begin if I were to try to recount them all.  To me, Dungeons and Dragons is this basic set.  Even in my latter years of playing before the hiatus, I would often forgo my vast collection of AD&D material and return to this beautiful box.  I think it's telling that of the hundreds of items that I got rid of when I decided to stop playing D&D, this is one of the only things that I decided to keep.  It's almost as if I knew that one day I would return and that the treasure held inside that beautifully illustrated box would be priceless to me.  I've lovingly flipped through the pages now and then over the last few years but I have not reread it until now.

Before I get into the revelations I discovered while rereading, I would like to make a comment about the cover.  While not my favorite fantasy artist (that would be Larry Elmore), Erol Otus definitely defined the early days of D&D for me.  His art style is quite distinct (some call it "trippy") and certainly lends flavor to the era.  I'm not sure if it's just nostalgia driving my taste, but for me the cover of the basic box set is the most iconic piece of art in the Dungeons and Dragons line.  I don't think many others would agree with me though.  The covers of the DMG, PHB, or any of Larry's works would probably be at the top of the list for most readers.  But for me the content (dragon, treasure, underground dungeon, etc...), action (a wizard and warrior in combat with a dragon), and colors of the Erol Otus cover all combine to evoke the essence of what the game is all about.

Now for the rereading.  I sat down with pen and paper to reread the manual and take notes.  I wanted to absorb every minor detail and compare the written word to my uncertain memory of the past.  I knew I was bound to be in for some surprises.

For this particular post I will cover the forward along with the first two sections - the introduction and  character creation (the other sections will be covered in future posts).  I may also say a thing or two about the art in each section.  To me, the art is just as important to the experience as the text and I do not want to ignore it.

I will not bore the reader with a blow by blow account of each section.  Instead I will comment on certain rules, interesting passages, and most importantly, items that I either do not remember or ignored when I was younger (either consciously or subconsciously).  I promise to keep the comments short and succinct.  After all, this is a blog and not a scholarly work.  Who has time for that?


I never bothered to read all the extra stuff in the front of books back when I was young.  If it came before chapter one then it did not exist for me.  What a pity.  If I had read the forward back in 1982 however, I would have discovered that what I was holding in my hands already had quite a history.  I would have leaned that I was reading a revised version of the first basic set edited by J. Eric Holmes.  Back then I was unaware that OD&D and a previous version of basic D&D even existed.  To be honest, I did not know the Holmes set existed until about two years ago when I won a copy on eBay.  I thought it was nothing more than an alternative early cover.  That's what I get for not reading!


   *  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 "Win"

The intro does what most introductions are designed to do.  It tells one what is in the book and what to expect.  For new players, the Moldvay introduction does a good job explaining relevant D&D terms, how to use the dice, and how to "win", or rather that one does not actually win at the game.  While sufficient, a better explanation with great examples would have to wait a few years until the Metzer set arrived.  Still, the mood is set and the reader should be ready to move on.

What I never noticed before is the mention of a Companion Set for levels 15-36.  I found it interesting that an additional supplement was visualized well before the Metzer revisions that eventually saw the publication of the Companion Set.  Maybe it's a good thing that I never read that little bit of information.  I would have been waiting many years before I could finally get my hands on the promised set.

This is one of my favorite illustrations in the book.  For me, it accurately portrays what was going through my mind whenever I was creating a character.

Player Character Information

   *  How to Create a Player Character
   *  Character Abilities
   *  Ability Score Adjustments
   *  Hit Points and Hit Dice
   *  Bonuses and Penalties Due to Abilities
   *  Character Class Tables
   *  Character Classes
   *  Character Alignment
   *  Cost of Weapons and Equipment
   *  Languages
   *  Inheritance
   *  Hopeless Characters
   *  Example of Creating a Player Character

This is standard character creation stuff.  The section tells a player how to create a character step by step.  The instructions are easy to follow and directions on where to find the relevant information for each section is clearly written.  While good, I think the Metzer revision does a much better job here as well.  I think it's the examples that set the two apart.

I've always been bothered by warrior on the right with no mouth.  I wonder if the absence of one was a mistake or a deliberate omission. 

What I did not realize until rereading is that the basic premise for character creation is quite different from what players expect today.  Instead of picking a class and building the character's ability scores around that choice, the opposite was true back then.  Ability scores were rolled in order and the character's class was chosen based upon the results.  Good luck if you wanted to play a demi-human.  Rolling the scores required, and in the order required, took no small amount of good fortune.

Of course the rules are really just suggestions, as Moldvay points out in the introduction.  Dungeon Masters and players are not required to follow those strict guidelines while rolling characters.  I'm not sure how many DMs actually forced players to create characters in that manner.  I can't remember if that was the case when I first started playing.  Considering that my first character was an elf, I would guess the answer to be no.  Certainly later on when I became a DM, I did not enforce the rule.  After all, it was a game and I wanted my players to have fun and play the character that most appealed to them.  I suspect that many other DMs felt the same way and either altered ability scores on the fly or created less stringent house rules governing character creation.  I wonder what caused the change that took place in future editions that allowed the player more freedom when creating characters.

Some of the interesting rules that I did not remember are:
     *  The opportunity to adjust ability scores (this would have been quite useful)
     *  The +1 to hit given to Halflings on missile weapons (a nod to Tolkien I would guess)
     *  Following alignment change a character immediately forgets the old alignment language
     *  Experience bonuses for meeting certain ability score requirements

A black and white view of alignments - pun fully intended.

The section ends with a step by step example of creating a player character.  In this case we see the creation and introduction of Morgan Ironwolf.  Years later she would be pitted against another character created in a basic set example, but the story of Morgan vs. Aleena will have to wait for another day.

Just as I suspected, rereading Moldvay was both rewarding and surprising.  I'm looking forward to covering the next few sections.  I wonder what treasures await discovery there.

I'll close with a few questions:

*  What cover artwork do you think most defines Dungeons and Dragons as a whole?
*  If you played this set, were you aware of the option to adjust ability scores and if so, did you exercise that option?
*  Have you ever played a character that was rolled up strictly according to the basic set rules?  If so, did he/she survive?

You're comments and questions are certainly welcome on this blog.

Thanks for reading!