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!


  1. I recently picked up the Moldvay Basic Set as well. Man the memories came rushing back despite not looking at the book in ages. The nostalgia trip is vivid. I have yet to reread it all so I don't know if you have all the characters.Black Dougal sounds familiar and the name Silverleaf must have stuck with me as I had a 2nd Edition character with that name. Though it's so generically Elfy that one would probably end up with that name for an Elf even without reading the set.

    That pic can't be Bork the swordmaster. He doesn't have a sword. Unless it's strapped to his belt.Though you're right. It looks like a Bork.

    1. You're right, Silverleaf is very elfy. Reading your recollection makes me think that I may have had an elf named Silverleaf as well. I played a lot of elves back then.

      Bork the Swordmaster = Bork the 3rd level fighter. Not many people I played with ever used the level titles but I enjoyed them...especially the titles from AD&D.

      I remember when I unpacked my Moldvay set after all those years and opened up the box. My experience was just like yours! I wish I could bottle that rush of nostalgia and sip from it every time I want to relive the good ole' days.

      Thanks for reading!

    2. I also had an elf named "Silverleaf" (one of several platemail clad, sleep-slinging elves who formed a single-class party). By the 90s I had decided that his name was probably derived from (or an homage to) Legolas Greenleaf.

      Black Dougal, as you probably already know, has a blog named in his honor ("Ode to Black Dougal").

      Morgan was awesome, not just because she made so many pre-teen hearts go pitter-pat, but because she represented an entirely new KIND of female protagonist. Remember with me .. it was 1981 ... how many female action heroes were there? Filter that still further when asking how many would appear in media consumed by boys 10-and-under who didn't want to be accused of being interested in "girls' stuff". It's a pretty short list: Lynda Carter's Wonder Woman, Lindsay Wagner's Bionic Woman, and Princess Leia of course. Marion Ravenwood wouldn't appear in Raiders of the Lost Ark until June of 81, and would take much longer to find her way to a dollar theater matinee that I could attend.

      Morgan was TOUGH ... she wasn't there to get captured or squeal about spiders. She wasn't the kid-sister foil for the real main character.

      Morgan got WOUNDED ... pause a second on that. Sure, Wonder Woman got captured or chloroformed regularly (so often one has to wonder about brain damage), but did she ever bleed? Was an attractive woman pounded elsewhere in media deemed suitable for "Adults Ages 10 and Up"? Comics I suppose, but how many boys read female-centered titles in 1981? How many were even out there?

      Morgan was NEUTRAL ... can you Princess Leia suggesting that Chewie execute the prisoners?!

      All this is to say that my first experiences of Morgan were with someone decidedly unlike the stock 2-dimensional archetypes [mother, fairy godmother, witch/hag, annoying kid sister, temptress, kidnapped princess] that made up the whole of female roles in my world at that time.

    3. Good points Jarrett. I have never really thought of it that way but you are correct. Morgan was ahead of her time.

      Thanks for the heads-up on the Ode to Black Dougal blog. I did not know about it but I'm glad I do now. Too bad it doesn't seem terribly active anymore.

      It seems lots of people woke up one day and decided to relive the good old days of D&D. I'm glad to be a part of it.

  2. I really need to get a copy of both Moldvay and Mentzer B/X! I love hearing about all of this because it's all pretty new to me, being a Holmes-man. One interesting side note: There was once a 1e product called the "Dungeon Masters Adventure Log" and on the sample page on the inside of the back cover, some of the characters are Black Dougal, Sister Rebecca, and Morgan Ironwolf! Morgan is listed as being played by Tom Moldvay. I wonder if she was actually one of his characters that made it into his version of B/X? In any case, she sounds like one tough chick! That chain mail has GOT to pinch, if you know what I mean.

    Speaking of names, Fredrik probably shouldn't have too worried about Black Dougal's demise. As a Scot, I would have been very leery of that name as Dougall actually means "black stranger". No need to add the black. I'm sure Black Black Stranger was not a good guy.

    I once had an NPC called Oaklock Gilderleaf (or -leif). Not quite Silverleaf, but certainly cut from the same cloth. If anyone can remember what module he appeared in, please let me know as I'm pretty sure I stole him from somewhere. Back in the day if I was DM-ing an adventure, virtually every NPC that the party rescued ended up as a major character in the campaign. It was one of my habits, good or bad.

    I, too, break out my Holmes box a couple of times per year just for the memories.

    1. Glad you're enjoying my walk through the woods of nostalgia. You probably already know, but you can pick up a PDF copy of Moldvay on RPGNow for $4.99. Even though I have four physical copies (in various conditions) since I started rereading I bought a PDF so that I can keep it with me even while at work. It's not a bad price and the scan is very good.

      Thanks for the tip on the Adventure Log. I need to hunt that down on eBay now to add to my collection. I'll let you know if I find it and posts some photos as well.

      I wonder how many boys had characters inspired by Legolas (or any other LotR personality)?

    2. I keep forgetting to get a copy on RPGNow. I'll post a note to myself. Moldvay just had the 1 book, correct?

    3. Yes. Just one book although B2, Keep on the Borderlands came in the box. The advanced set also only had the one book. It too can be found on RPGNow for the same price.

    4. I still have my Adventure Log in a box somewhere! Now, let's see, where could that box be............

  3. I just discovered your blog, and wanted to mention that there was a "Father Miles" who,turns some ghouls, then some skeletons, in the "Cleric" class description.