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
* 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.
* 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!