OSR Why is the shortest lived edition, still one of the most popular?
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  1. #1
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    Why is the shortest lived edition, still one of the most popular?

    I am referring to what is called in OSR nomenclature, B/X, basically the version of D&D rules that came in a 1981 Basic Boxed set by Tom Moldvay and Expert Boxed set by Dave Cook and Steve Marsh.

    It was superseded in 1983 by a new Basic version by Frank Mentzer, with later Expert, Companion, Master, and Immortals boxed sets (and thus dubbed BECMI), which in turn was replaced by the Rules Cyclopedia by Aaron Allston in 1991 (mostly just a compilation of the BECMI rules) and then in 1994 by another basic boxed set, this time called "The Classic Dungeons & Dragons Game" which I think was supported until WOTC killed off D&D, merging the line with AD&D 2e (which only lasted a few years and then we got 3e)

    So anyway, B/X lasted only 2 years. And by my count, it only got 5 products for it (B3,B4, X1, X2, and X3 B1 and B2 were written for Holmes D&D). Yet it's arguably the 2nd largest part of the OSR, next to OD&D. A Kickstarter for another retroclone of it has already pulled in $60,000 after two days (despite there being one from another company a month before that).

    I am one of those people that started with AD&D, I never got into D&D until I read the Princess Ark stuff by Bruce Heard, which got me interested in Mystara, so I ended up with the Rules Cyclopedia. I was fairly impressed with that rules set. You had rules for running dominions; a surprisingly robust skill system that isn't class based; rules for weapon mastery that makes each weapon different. And if you delve into the various gazetteers and such, you get economic rules, rules for playing dozens of monsters, magical airplanes, flying ships, historical cultures (preserved in a Hollow World), and even becoming and being a god.

    B/X has none of that. While I suppose that could be part of the appeal, you could get the same by just ignoring all the extra stuff in BECMI D&D.
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    Simplest answer - most bought.

    They sold the hell out of those red and blue boxes for Basic and Expert rules. To the tune of millions. No other single D&D product has come anywhere near that kind of penetration. B2 is the best selling module because it was bundled with the Basic set. This was the height of the fad days and everyone and their mother got one of these boxes.

    Now, I think lots of people then moved on to AD&D or dropped out of the hobby, which is why the hobby crashed. You went from hundred of thousands of units to thousands of units sold practically overnight. The fad bubble wasn't AD&D books being sold, it was Moldvay Basic and Expert.

    At least, that's my understanding of it.
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    I want to add: Moldvay Basic is also a really clearly presented set of D&D rules. It's better in this respect than the original books, than either edition of AD&D, than 3E or 4e. It sets out clear procedures for character building, for the processes of play (adventure turns, encounters, combat resolution), for GMing, for scenario design. This made it very playable. Which helps explain the degree of penetration that @Hussar describes.

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    You haven't established that it is one of the most popular.

    A successful Kickstarter just shows that people still play it. Lots of people play the other editions too.
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    As @ad_hoc just stated, most popular based on what? I don't know anyone that plays it, and I know quite a few gamers. Now that may be self-selecting because I met most of them through my connection with D&D living campaigns but if it weren't for this message board I wouldn't even know people still played it.
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    Nostalgia?
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    I don't really see any evidence that it's 'one of the most popular', except in the literal sense that any edition is 'one of' whichever category you name. Getting a small-scale kickstarter off the ground where people are basically paying for a nicely printed version of the old rules is not an indication that they're wildly popular, just that some people would like a copy of the rules.

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    This, definitely. The Moldvay, Holmes, and Mentzer boxed sets all did a far better job at explaining D&D, making it appealing, and making it accessible than the OD&D and AD&D books.

    Nostalgia also has something to do with it. Many people started with the basic sets, so that initial rush and sense of wonder is intimately tied to the basic sets.

    Quote Originally Posted by pemerton View Post
    I want to add: Moldvay Basic is also a really clearly presented set of D&D rules. It's better in this respect than the original books, than either edition of AD&D, than 3E or 4e. It sets out clear procedures for character building, for the processes of play (adventure turns, encounters, combat resolution), for GMing, for scenario design. This made it very playable. Which helps explain the degree of penetration that @Hussar describes.

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    Quote Originally Posted by trancejeremy View Post
    I am referring to what is called in OSR nomenclature, B/X, basically the version of D&D rules that came in a 1981 Basic Boxed set by Tom Moldvay and Expert Boxed set by Dave Cook and Steve Marsh.

    It was superseded in 1983 by a new Basic version by Frank Mentzer, with later Expert, Companion, Master, and Immortals boxed sets (and thus dubbed BECMI), which in turn was replaced by the Rules Cyclopedia by Aaron Allston in 1991 (mostly just a compilation of the BECMI rules) and then in 1994 by another basic boxed set, this time called "The Classic Dungeons & Dragons Game" which I think was supported until WOTC killed off D&D, merging the line with AD&D 2e (which only lasted a few years and then we got 3e)

    So anyway, B/X lasted only 2 years. And by my count, it only got 5 products for it (B3,B4, X1, X2, and X3 B1 and B2 were written for Holmes D&D). Yet it's arguably the 2nd largest part of the OSR, next to OD&D.
    So ... there are a few different factors here.

    First, I have to reject your premise. Sorry, buddy, but- "B/X lasted only two years" isn't (IMO) correct. Let's start with the basic history as I know it-

    OD&D (from brown box through supplements) was 1974 - 1976.

    AD&D was from 1977 (PHB) but wasn't playable as AD&D until 1979.

    B/X or BECMI was from 1977 until ...

    Okay, so let's start with that. We have the original (OD&D) that peters out around 1976 due to the publication of both the PHB (AD&D) and the Holmes set (and there is the whole "Arneson/Gygax" IP issue there, but that's another story). So until the publication of the DMG in 1979, people who were playing "D&D" were usually playing a melange of OD&D, Basic, and PHB-style D&D, with 3PP and Dragon Magazine articles thrown in.

    But in terms of what we call "B/X" the real time line is 1977 - (at least) 1983, with the Holmes/Moldvay sets. Most people would include the Mentzer expansion in that lineage, at least the B/X part of BECMI. Which continued through 1991 (Cyclopedia).

    Anyway, it was a lot longer than two years. As for the popularity, the 1981 and 1983 sets were widely available everywhere during the most popular era of D&D, often at toy stores and department stores, which meant that for kids, this was often the gateway to D&D.


    PS- here's a list of retroclones:
    http://taxidermicowlbear.weebly.com/dd-retroclones.html

    Yeah. B/X is popular.
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  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by Hussar View Post
    Simplest answer - most bought.

    They sold the hell out of those red and blue boxes for Basic and Expert rules. To the tune of millions. No other single D&D product has come anywhere near that kind of penetration. B2 is the best selling module because it was bundled with the Basic set. This was the height of the fad days and everyone and their mother got one of these boxes.

    Now, I think lots of people then moved on to AD&D or dropped out of the hobby, which is why the hobby crashed. You went from hundred of thousands of units to thousands of units sold practically overnight. The fad bubble wasn't AD&D books being sold, it was Moldvay Basic and Expert.

    At least, that's my understanding of it.
    Not quite they sold 2 million 1E PHB and as late as 1991 they shifted half a million black boxes which was BECMI+ Rules Cyclopedia+ another box.

    People didn't like the CMI part as much or never played those levels as it took so long to reach them. Also they just kind of stretched out the thief to cover 36 levels.

    B/X family was also the longest lasting D&D in print. 1977- 1994 (or 1996 the last product published was 1994)

    So a 17 year edition (1996 was the official year they canceled the line IIRC). If you count its OD&D lineage a 20 year edition. D&D has two family trees although you could argue 5E is a third one.
    Last edited by Zardnaar; Wednesday, 17th April, 2019 at 05:14 PM.
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