Monday, July 24, 2017

The Basic Set at 40

Gamers of a Certain Age all know about their first Basic Set.  For some, it was light maroon with a red book.  For many it was a red box with red books.  But some of us had a different experience.  The box was blue(ish) and had a dragon on the cover, the book was blue and it changed gaming forever.

On July 22, 1977 the Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set was shown at Origins Game Fair and it changed the face of RPGs.  Prior to this people learned to play from others that had been playing.  The John Eric Holmes edited Basic Set gave brand new players with no prior experience in either RPGs (which really meant D&D) or in wargames.  It gave us the Moldvay Basic set and the  Frank Mentzer Basic set. But more importantly, it opened the world of D&D to others.

Dr. Holmes took on the massive task of collecting what was then OD&D, edited it and reorganized it into a game that made sense to new players.  There is some debate as to whether this was designed as a stand alone game line (which it would become) or as an introduction to Advanced D&D (which it reads like).

A lot of blogs will talk about the history of the Holmes Basic Edition. A great post can be found over at +Wayne Rossi's Semper Initiativus Unum, Basic D&D at 40  and pretty much the entire Zenopus Archive blog by +Zach H.

My experiences with Holmes though are a little different.

My gaming began in 1979, before the Moldvay set, but after Holmes.  I had read the Monster Manual and I had a copy, badly xeroxed, of the Holmes Basic set.   Like many, my "first" D&D was a combination of Basic and Advanced. Still today that is the same experience I look for in D&D.

I will be honest, it took me a while to get the game down.  With Holmes D&D I always felt like there was something I was missing. I only learned later of the "Little Brown Books" and how "Basic" actually came about.  I also did not have a full copy.

I would later get my hands on a copy of Holmes to read in full.  It was an eye opening experience to be sure. I had been playing Moldvay Basic for a while and moving over to AD&D proper.  Holmes felt like a Rosetta Stone to me.  A product that could crossover between these two games.
When I got a hold of a copy of my own much later I would use it for 1st level characters with my adventure of choice, B1 In Search of the Unknown, before moving over to AD&D.

I became a fan of J. Eric Holmes work and even stumbled on vague references for a Witch class!

I had found some alternate evolution of D&D, one where Basic lead to Advanced and not to Expert. Where you played a magic-user in one and a wizard, illusionist or witch in the other.
It should come as no surprise then that my own witch class is heavily influenced by my time playing using the Holmes and Moldvay rule sets.

Re-reading my Holmes set over the weekend made me think about how much fun a box set really is.  The next time I start up an AD&D game, I'll be starting with Holmes.

I also feel the need to mention that along with Holmes the Traveller "Little Black Books" also celebrated 40 years.

Safe journeys to you Free Trader Beowulf. Hope you found help.


Darryl R Taylor said...

Heheh, it was only about six months ago that I got my first copy of Holmes basic (still with the chits in the back), which was 14 months after my first copy of Moldvay, which was some 31 years after my first copy of Mentzner.

I still haven't found the players for the Holmes game, when I do I fully intend to make part of the experience a "history lesson rpg", where there is an extra game outside the D&D game where everyone at the table has to pretend that they have never seen a video game, modern comic book, or seen any of the movies that have come out since the mid/late 70s.

So much of the modern media that most people under 30 take for granted has been influenced in some way, shape, or form by ODD/Holmes/AD&D, it is fun to be able to show just a bit of that to kids who are used to VTT/Warcraft/Whatever.

Someday I will sit down and make a video recording of opening the sealed bag of dice that came with the Moldvay (it WAS a real score at a thrift shop) and colouring in the numbers with the crayon, I haven't done that since 1983.

Maybe I'll do that as part of the lead in to the beginning of the Holmes campaign, that could make for a good pod cast, methinks...

Doug said...

My module in my Holmes box had the chits... ...but there was no cover for the included module. The one with the map.

I had a booklet of room descriptions, I always assumed we were supposed to make our own maps for it.