Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Reviewing the Classics, B/X Edition

I love the Basic D&D game and the B/X version in particular.  I love it's simplicity and its ability to be adaptable to just about anything I want it to do.  So I was thrilled to death that the B/X pdfs starting showing up on DriveThruRPG, even if I knew that also meant that there was little chance of them getting reprinted.
B/X was also one of the first systems I own every product.  There are still some AD&D items I don't own and even some later editions, but B/X was and still is one of my favorites.

I have picking up all the B/X material I can on

D&D Basic Set Rulebook (B/X ed.) (Basic)
If you are like me then this is it. THIS is what D&D was. Sure I had read a friends Holmes/Blue-book Basic set and I knew of AD&D through the Monster Manual. But this is the D&D book that started it all for me. This is the one that set fire to my imagination.
This is a complete set of rules. Character creation through to 3rd level. Monsters, treasures, dungeons. Everything that ever was or will be D&D had it's start right here (more or less). Honestly this book is not worth 5 stars here. It is worth 6 out of 5.
I almost would say that if I could only play one version of D&D ever, then this might be the one. It lacks the complexity of AD&D or 3e, but anymore I see this as a feature.
64 pages plus cover. Marbleized dice and crayon not included.

D&D Expert Set Rulebook (B/X ed.) (Basic)
This was the 1981 followup to the D&D Basic set. Designed for the Moldvay Basic there was even a little bit about what to do if you had the Holmes Basic.
This expanded the game to level 14 and for most of us it was all we needed for a very long time.
I loved the introduction of all the new undead like Vampires and Spectres (was a big horror fan even then) and that little map of the Known World. I starred at that map for hours, learning lands and names of places far off and never were.
Plus all the new spells! The options of spells for my cleric and magic-users were beyond my 11-year old brain's reckoning at the time.
At 5 bucks this is a criminal steal. I wore my old copy of my expert book out, now I have a PDF to go back too anytime I like. Combine it with the Basic book and some adventures and you are set. Everything you need to play D&D just like the good old days. No skills, no feats, no attacks of opportunity, but plenty of flexibility and action.
I love newer games, but this is the one. The one that keeps me coming back. Back to the Keep, back to Glantri and back to D&D.

B1 In Search of the Unknown (Basic)
This is my "go to" adventure anytime I want to start up a new group or game.  It's a ritual for me, roll up characters and run them through the halls of the lost Castle of Quasqueton. I still have my copy that I bought all those years ago and it was also one of the first PDFs I purchased from WotC. I never really expanded on Roghan the Fearless or Zelligar the Unknown save that they were long dead and their Castle was now overrun with monsters.
It is one of those adventures I can run with zero prep time and each time I learn something new or remember something I forgot.
This module is simple, easy to use and can adapted to any campaign world and even any game.
It is a perfect module for the Basic game.

B2 The Keep on the Borderlands (Basic)
I once read that more people have played through the Keep on the Borderlands more than any other adventure. Of that I am sure. I have run scores of new players through it myself including a new generation of gamers.
The module hardly needs an introduction and it really is almost immune to review. Who cares that the Caves of Chaos look like some sort of Monster Condo where all these different creatures live together until those meddling humans show up from the Keep.
Going to the Caves is rite of passage. It is the hallmark of a real honest to Pelor adventurer.
If you don't have it you can't really call yourself a D&D player.
Just remember, "Bree-Yark" means "I surrender" in goblin. Yell it out really loud.

B3 Palace of the Silver Princess (Basic)
Another classic. B3 has had a storied history, but the module we all actually played has a special place in many gamer's hearts.
For starters it is a Basic module, and lot of material in it is aimed at new DMs working on their craft. While the programmed text of rooms 1 to 6 might look quaint by today's standards, there is a lot of good things here.
For starters the basic premise of the module is a fun one. An Evil artifact, an innocent princess, a dashing rogue on a white dragon. Lots of the cliches of fantasy gaming, but all are played earnestly and not a hint of irony is here.
The module itself is not without issues as mentioned elsewhere. The map of the castle is enough to drive a sane mapper crazy and some of the NPCs (like the green elf "Protectors") are annoying. But all that fades when you discover the Eye of Arik and destroy it.
I recently re-ran this one for my kids using the D&D 3.5 edition rules. Worked great.
If you are new to the Basic D&D game (B/X flavor) then this is a great adventure to get.

B4 The Lost City (Basic)
Another great Moldvay module. This one is so strange, but so much fun.  I remember playing this one in 8th grade and honestly I had a blast.  It wasn't though till many years later while running it for my own kids did I see it's Pulp fiction roots.   Plenty of great influences can be seen in this from Robert E. Howard to Lovecraft to Clark Ashton Smith.
To me this one was always on the edge of that B/X divide. Sure it was a B series module, but it could have easily been one of the X series.
Unlike some adventures I played or ran in the 80s I went back to this one appreciated it more now then I did then.

X1 The Isle of Dread (Basic)
Maybe second only to B2 and B1 in terms of numbers of players, but The Ilse of Dread lasts as one of the best Basic-era adventures out there.  In today's frame of mind the adventure is equal parts Pirates of the Caribean, King Kong and Jurassic Park.  It is a heady cauldron of tropes, ideas and just plain crazy fun.  It was included in the original Expert set and it still had expanded maps and more creatures.  I never understood why the creatures where not just in the main book, but it did make the module special.
What was so nice about X1 over B2 is you had the feel it was more integrated into the Expert rules; it felt like a logical extension.
I ran it again recently with 20+ years between the last time I had ran it and it felt like a very different adventure.  There is a lot of untapped potential here. Enough for several adventures.

X2 Castle Amber (Basic)
This adventure had always been something of a Holy Grail for me.  I was a huge fan of Tom Moldvay, I  had heard this adventure took place in Glantri and it was full of horror elements.  As time went on and I still never found a copy I began to hear more; that it was a crazy dungeon full of crazier NPCs. That it is was more of a thinking module and not a hack and slash one and finally it was heavily influenced by Clark Ashton Smith, whom I always felt was superior to Lovecraft in many respects.
I did finally get a copy, paid a lot for it and I also got a copy here.
The module lives up to the hype.  It is not a particularly easy module to run and you better spend a lot of time with it.  But for me at that time (the mid 90s when I finally got a copy) it became a great addition to my growing Ravenloft collection.  It was not officially part of Ravenloft mind you, but so much of it feels the same that is would have been a crime not to bring them together.
This is one of the last of the truly classic modules.

Though not official there have been some great B/X related products.

1 comment:

Tom Doolan said...

Moldvay's book was where I started as well. I own print and PDFs of both B/X rule books, and two copies of B2. B2 was what I considered "basic training" for new D&D players. But really, no D&D book evokes nostalgia and that 11-year old sense of awe and wonder as much as that red Moldvay book.