TSR [Let's Read] Dungeons & Dragons Basic Rules, by Tom Moldvay


On top of WotC's announced plans for a basic set, the possibility of an RC reprint, and the mysterious test of the D&D page on RPGNow, I've just purchased box sets of Moldvay Basic and Cook Expert (no dice, but B2 and X1 are included!). And I kinda miss the Let's Read OD&D thread. So I thought I'd do a Let's Read of Moldvay Basic, which Mearls has cited as a significant influence on D&DN.

Starting off, the box cover. The cover by Erol Otus is a classic, and while most of my gaming youth was influenced by Elmore, Easley, Parkinson, and Caldwell, it was Erol Otus who first inspired me of the possibilities when I saw this art. It pretty much effectively encapsulates the game: you've got a dungeon, you've got a dragon, you've got magic, you've got treasure, you've got a fighter. And in retrospect it's interesting to note that the fighter wields not the sword of a fantasy hero, but rather the spear of a common footsoldier. I remember being fascinated by the door in the background. Fighting a dragon, of course! Who doesn't want to do that? But for some reason that door in the background of the cover art awoke in me a desire to explore dungeons.

Looking at the rest of the cover, it's notable that the game is called "The Original Fantasy Role Playing Game For 3 or More Adults, Ages 10 and Up". As a player and fan of BECMI, it bugs me when some folks decry it as when D&D began being marketed as a kids game, especially when B/X was noted as "Ages 10 and Up". OTOH, you have the curious construction "Adults, Ages 10 and Up". It is almost as if D&D was saying, you can be 10 years old, but you have to be an adult to play this game. Also, the "3 or More" is telling. That's a dungeon master and two players. My current group cancels the session if only three people can show up (not my call).

The cover of the rulebook has the same art within a red background. No classic dragon-ampersand at this point in time. Inside the cover is the table of contents, in hard to read blue ink. The title page includes this art by Bill Willingham. Another piece favored by fans of Moldvay Basic. I like it; it's evocative. But it's a little cartoony, and frankly, I'm detecting a pattern... The game is credited to Gary Gygax & Dave Arneson, edited by Tom Moldvay. Holmes gets name-checked with "Previous edition edited by J. Eric Holmes". Art by Jeff Dee, Davis S. LaForce, Erol Otus, James Roslof, and Bill Willingham. On to the foreword!

Two things strike me about the foreword. One is that it is bookended by Moldvay describing his character fighting and defeating a dragon. So, you have dragon fight on cover, dragon fight on title page, dragon fight in foreword. Even though 1-3rd level characters probably shouldn't go up against a dragon, and even if they do, they probably don't want to take it head on. So there's a bit of a disconnect between the game and playstyle that Moldvay describes in the rules, and the game and playstyle presented to a new player on their initial contact with the book. It's no wonder that fans in the 80s took game in more heroic, high fantasy directions.

The other thing is that Moldvay writes, "Sometimes I forget that the D&D® Fantasy Adventure Game is a game and not a novel..." There's a lot of this. Anytime "D&D" or "Dungeons & Dragons" appears on the box cover, book cover, forward, or introduction, it's accompanied by a ®. The title page doesn't just say © 1981, it says "© 1974, 1977, 1978, 1981". No disclaimer is spared -- "...are registered trademarks of TSR...", "All rights reserved", "...prohibited without express written consent..." I glossed over it back in the day, but after reading Jon Peterson's "Playing at the World", I can see some of the context. A lot of potted histories of D&D/TSR that I've read recently paint Gygax as the hard working, visionary designer, forced out by the Lorraine Williams and the suits, who then proceeded to sue everyone. But as "Playing at the World" illustrates, already by 1976 C&D letters were flying around, lawsuits were threatened, material was appropriated in shaky ways. Moldvay Basic post-dates the lawsuits between Gygax and Arneson. So it's no surprise to see TSR being absolutely clear and persistent in the declarations of their intellectual property.

Moving on to the acknowledgements, RPG.net's Old Geezer gets name-checked! Also many names I would get to "know" in the coming years: Dave Cook (not yet "Zeb"!), Ernie Gygax, Harold Johnson, Rob Kuntz, Frank Mentzer, and Jim Ward.

Next time -- the Introduction!

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What The D&D® Game Is All About - The aforementioned art and foreword aside, rereading the Basic Rules has brought home how very clearly Moldvay laid out the point of the game. Here he refers to D&D as "the Dungeons & Dragons® Fantasy Adventure Game". While the cover refers to D&D as "the original Fantasy Role-Playing Game", the words "role-playing" never appear in the rules. There is no "What is a role-playing game?" section. The closest it gets is when he says, "In the D&D rules, individuals play the role of characters in a fantasy world..." In fact, that begins Moldvay's succinct description of what D&D is about: "In the D&D rules, individuals play the role of characters in a fantasy world where magic is real and heroes venture out on dangerous quests in search of fame and fortune. Characters gain experience by overcoming perils and recovering treasures. As characters gain experience, they grow in power and ability."

How To Use This Book - Here Moldvay summarizes the structure of the rule book, which Cook's Expert Set would follow. An Expert Set is promised to cover 4th to 14th levels, and a Companion Set for 15th to 36th level. He notes the use of the punched holes for combining the sets in a binder. Another interesting thing is that he tells the player to read the whole book, except for Dungeon Master Information. Dungeon Master Information only includes the rules for making up a dungeon, and a sample dungeon. The non-DM Information sections includes combat, monsters, and treasure. So Moldvay seemingly intended for players to have a grasp for how the rules worked (he writes, "It is more important that you understand the ideas in the rules, than that you know every detail about the game.") This seems to jive with the article in Dragon he wrote that Shannon brought up earlier. He says there:
Moldvay in Dragon said:
Many players feel that becoming a DM is difficult. I tried to make it as easy to become a DM as possible. After all, DMs like to play too, but if there is only one DM per group, that person never gets the chance to play.
Personally, I think this is part of the easy "buy-in" that is one of the strengths of Basic D&D.

Here he also notes,
Basic Rules said:
While the material in this booklet is referred to as rules, that is not really correct. Anything in this booklet (and other D&D booklets) should be thought of as changeable -- anything, that is, that the Dungeon Master or referee things should be changed. This is not to say that everything in this booklet should be discarded! All of this material has been carefully thought out and playtested. However, if, after playing the rules as written for a while, you or your referee (the Dungeon Master) think that something should be changed, first think about how the changes will affect the game, and then go ahead. The purpose of these "rules" is to provide guidelines that enable you to play and have fun, so don't feel absolutely bound to them.
Moldvay expanded on this in the article:
Moldvay in Dragon said:
One important point to keep in mind when reading the D&D Basic rules is that they are not hard-and-fast rules, they are rule suggestions. The system is complete and highly playable, but it is flexible enough that Dungeon Masters and players need not fear experimenting with the rules. DMs and players, by mutual consent, are always welcome to change any rule they wish, or to add new rules when necessary. Because of this rule flexibility, individuals who learned to play using the original D&D Collectors Edition rules, or the earlier edition of the D&D Basic rules, can use the new edition without changing their campaign.
For myself, this being my first interaction with RPGs, this forever imprinted this conception of RPGs on me. Every edition of D&D (perhaps with the exception of 1e?) has included the basic disclaimer of "Feel free to make changes or add rules to fit your group and playstyle." But I don't think any other edition's gone that extra-step of putting "rules" in quotes and guidelines in bold, except for OD&D, which really hit the "don't call us, make it up yourself" angle hard.

Definitions of Standard D&D® Terms - Here Moldvay gives a quick rundown of Dungeon Master, player, player character, non-player character, party, dungeon, dungeon module, class, adventure, campaign, mapper, caller, monster, encounter, melee, and experience points. "Adventure" is defined as a game session, beginning when the party entered the dungeon, and ending when the party left the dungeon and divided up treasure. a "campaign" is then defined as "several related adventures (one adventure leading to another, often with the same player characters)". Some in the OSR have suggested that "campaign" originally simply referred to sandbox worlds independent of particular characters. If that is true, the sense of it was already changing by 1981.

Regarding the caller, I think the definition here is perhaps different from the popular conception:
Basic Rules said:
To avoid confusion, the players should select one player to speak for the entire group or party. That player is named the caller. When unusual situations occur, each player may want to say what his or her character is doing. The caller should make sure that he or she is accurately representing all the player characters' wishes. The caller is a mediator between the players and the DM, and should not judge what the player characters do.

It's interesting that fighting monsters is underplayed in this section. Moldvay says that in the course of adventuring, PCs will meet monsters, "which they will have to avoid, talk to, or fight." Interesting that avoid comes first, talk to comes next, and fight comes last. Further, he says,
Basic Rules said:
During an adventure the player characters will also discover treasure and try to avoid dangerous traps as well as encounter monsters. Sometimes, of course, the player characters will have to fight the monsters.

Use of the World "Level" - Of course, there's a dedicated section for all the uses of the world "level".

How To Use The Dice - Always useful. Gives advice on how to "roll" a d4. This section is accompanied by this picture, which brings back memories of dice, notebooks, and graph paper.

Finally, How To "Win" - Here Moldvay downplays adversarial DMing, saying "The DM and players do not play against each other" and "the DM must not take sides." It ends with a statement that might actually be controversial today: "A good D&D campaign is similar to the creation of a fantasy novel, written by the DM and the players."


I picked up this set at a church garage sale. It was my introduction to D&D. And my, what an introduction it was! :)

Nice write-up so far, it definitely brings back fond memories.


I started with this game.

I owned Black Box Traveller before I owned this, but never worked out how to play Traveller (it is very opaque if you don't already know how to play an RPG). Whereas Moldvay Basic is very clear.

the foreword <snip> is bookended by Moldvay describing his character fighting and defeating a dragon. So, you have dragon fight on cover, dragon fight on title page, dragon fight in foreword. Even though 1-3rd level characters probably shouldn't go up against a dragon, and even if they do, they probably don't want to take it head on. So there's a bit of a disconnect between the game and playstyle that Moldvay describes in the rules, and the game and playstyle presented to a new player on their initial contact with the book. It's no wonder that fans in the 80s took game in more heroic, high fantasy directions.
I strongly agree abut this disconnect. I certainly felt it in my early play of D&D, and in my early GMing.


Part 2: Player Character Information

Here we have a single page describing the character generation process in 14 steps. 1. Write down ability scores in SIWDCoCh order. 2. Roll 3d6 in order for ability scores. 3. Choose class. 4. Write down special abilites. 5. Adjust ability scores if desired. 6. Note bonuses and penalties. 7. Put in a line for XP. 8. Determine hp. 9. Choose alignment. 10. Roll 3d6 and multiply by 10 for starting gp. 11. Buy equipment. 12. Note AC. 13. Write down character attacks and saving throws. 14. Name character. Each section lists the relevant pages to explain these steps.

At the bottom there's a 7 point summary: 1. Roll for ability scores; 2. Choose a class, note special abilities and spells; 3. Adjust scores as desired, note bonuses for high scores; 4. Roll hit points; 5. Roll for money, equip character; 6. Find Armor Class, attack, and saving throw numbers; 7. Name the character.

The next page explains ability scores, adjustments, and hp/HD. The abilities are pretty straightforward. Of particular interest are the possible adjustments. Lower two points to gain 1 in a prime requisite, no ability can be lowered below 9. Only magic-users and clerics can lower strength. Strength is a prime req of the fighter, dwarf, elf, and halfling, so that makes sense; but thieves are unable to lower it, despite it not being a prime req. Dex can be raised, but not lowered, and Con and Cha can't be adjusted.

Hit points are described as "the number of 'points' of damage a character or monster can take during battle before dying." Huge debates have had over whether hp represent meat, or some combination of luck and skill. Given that all editions of the AD&D line, including 3e and 4e have clearly stated that hp represent more than just meat, I've sometimes wondered if people who prefer to see them as representing wounds were influenced by Classic D&D, which doesn't appear to have any such conception of hp. Also of note is that Moldvay includes an optional rule of rolling again if a 1st level character rolls a 1 or 2.

This page includes a pic I've always liked. TSR gets not unjustifiably rapped for sexist imagery, but one nice thing about Moldvay's rules is that he always uses "he or she" for the third person, and the art and examples includes women players and characters as a matter of course.

Bonuses are quite uniform. -3 to +3, except for Cha which goes from -2 to +2 for reactions, probably because of the range of results on the 2d6 reaction table. Prime reqs also give a -20% to +10% of earned experience, which tends to discourage playing too far from type. Str bonus applies to to-hit, damage, and opening doors. Int provides 1 to 3 extra languages. Wis gives a bonus to magic-based saving throws (Turn to Stone, Wands, Rod/Staff/Spell, and Death Ray/Poison if the attack is magical). Dex gives a bonus to missile fire, AC, and initiative if individual initiative is used. Con gives a bonus to hp. In addition to reaction adjustment, Cha sets the number of maximum retainers and their attendant morale.

Finally the character class tables. Thieves advance the quickest, followed by clerics, fighters/halflings, dwarves, magic-users, and elves. Here we still see the level titles. Acolyte, Adept, and Priest for clerics; Veteran, Warrior, and Swordmaster for fighters, dwarves, halflings for elves; Medium, Seer, and Conjurer for magic-users and elves, and Apprentice, Footpad, and Robber for thieves. Personally, I've never felt D&D was necessarily about zero-to-hero, given the level titles. It always seemed like 1st level characters were supposed to be experienced, if not powerful. Thieves' Abilities use percentile dice, except for Hear Noise, which is a 1-2 on d6 at 1st and 2nd level, and 1-3 at 3rd level. Open Locks and Find/Remove traps can tried once per lock/trap per level. Rolling twice the chance of success on Pick Pockets mean the character is seen, after which follows a reaction roll. Move Silently will always seem successful to the thief, but are there any groups out there who haven't role-played a bad Move Silently roll as the thief making an amusing amount of ruckus? "Climb Walls" is here called "Climb Sheer Surfaces", although it seems there's a typo in the description, where it's called "Climb Steep Surfaces". This roll should only be made every 100', with failure meaning a fall halfway up. Interestingly, Hide in Shadows cannot be attempted unless the thief remains absolutely still. This isn't true in Mentzer, and neither OD&D nor Holmes are clear one way or the other. It does appear that way in AD&D 1e. The Hear Noise skill applies not just to doors, but also things coming from any direction, such as wandering monsters. They must tell the DM they are being quiet and trying to hear noise. Re-reading this, it really gives me the flavor of a thief as a silent scout.


All right folks, if you've been the dark so far, spring for a Moldvay Basic PDF for 5 bucks! 'Cause now we're going to...

Character Classes!
First off, Moldvay notes from the outset that humans are the most wide-spread race, due to their "courage, curiosity, and resourcefulness." Elves, dwarves, and halflings are of course classes, and grouped under "demi-humans", one of those D&D turns of phrase that have vanished from the lexicon. While Holmes distinguished race from class, Moldvay seems to simplify the conceits of the original Little Brown Books, where dwarves and hobbits could only be fighting-men, and elves were both fighting-men and magic-users.

Clerics - Unlike Mentzer, who attributed clerical powers to their "beliefs", Moldvay says from the outset: "Clerics are humans who have dedicated themselves to the service of a god or goddess." Prime req is Wisdom, Hit Dice are d6, can wear any armor, and only use weapons without edges. Turning Undead is explained here - the Clerics versus Undead table lists either "no effect", a number, or a "T". No effect means they can't be turned, a number indicates the number to be rolled over with 2d6, and a T means automatic Turning. Successful Turning means the DM rolls 2d6 to see how many HD are turned.

Dwarves - An interesting descriptor here is that dwarves' skin is "earth-colored", giving dwarves something of an ethnic feel. Dwarves get favorable saves vs. magical attacks, due to innate resistance. Con must be 9 to be a dwarf. Prime req is Strength, they use d8 for HD and can use any armor or weapon, except for longbows and two-handed swords. Special abilities are good saves, infravision for 60', and able to find slanting passages, traps, shifting walls, and new construction on a 1 or 2 on a d6, if they are looking for them. They automatically speak Common, Dwarvish, alignment tongue, and the gnome, kobold, and goblin languages. Moldvay already notes that they can only advance to the 10th level, which is nice so players don't get trapped before they buy the Expert Set.

Interestingly, one of Holmes' gripes about the Moldvay revision was infravision! He wrote:
Holmes said:
Infravision: Saying that infravision is the ability to “see” heat patterns is putting a magical ability into terms of mundane universe physics. I think it would have been better to leave it as pure magic. I know this “heat seeing” explanation is the one favored by Gygax, but it embraces too many inconsistencies.
Living creatures give off heat. Okay, but how about the undead? Do they appear as spots of cold? If so, a dwarf or elf can always identify a vampire by looking at him in the dark. What about inanimate objects? If a monster (all monsters have infravision) charges into a room, can he see the furniture before he runs into it? How about a rope stretched across the corridor? It would have been better just to say, “It’s magic.”

Elves - Elves are 5 to 5 1/2 feet tall, and like feasting and frolicking. They have two Prime reqs: Strength and Intelligence. 13 or better in both gets +5% XP, and a 16 in Int gets the +10%. Hit dice are d6, can use any weapon or armor, and cast magic spells. Int must be 9 to be an elf. Special abilities include infravision to 60', they find secret and hidden doors on a 1 or 2 on a d6, if they are looking for them, and are immune to ghoul paralysis. They automatically speak Common, Elvish, alignment tongue, and the languages of orcs, hobgoblins, and gnolls. They can only advance to the 10th level.

Commenting on the classes in Moldvay, Holmes wrote:
Holmes said:
Character classes: Player characters are restricted to being a Fighter, Cleric, Thief, Magic-User, Elf, Halfling or Dwarf. This probably covers the roles most beginning players want to try, but I am personally sorry to see the range of possibilities so restricted. The original rules (the three little brown books) specifically stated that a player could be a dragon if he wanted to be, and if he started at first level. For several years there was a dragon player character in my own game. At first level he could puff a little fire and do one die of damage. He could, of course, fly, even at first level. He was one of the most unpopular characters in the game, but this was because of the way he was played, not because he was a dragon. I enjoyed having dragons, centaurs, samurai and witch doctors in the game. My own most successful player character was a Dreenoi, an insectoid creature borrowed from McEwan’s Starguard. He reached fourth level (as high as any of my personal characters ever got), made an unfortunate decision, and was turned into a pool of green slime.


I love the Moldvay Basic rules. One of the few places I think it could have been better is basically encapsulated by Holmes' quote. I wish the rules had been written more to make it clear that the 7 classes presented therein were "a good start" and that the DM and players could and/or should create their own classes from time to time as needed.

That's something that I, an experience player of 30+ years, certainly understand. But I think it would have been helpful to me as a kid to get me thinking about being more creative.
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5ever, or until 2024
It is now available (legally again) as a pdf here


I was going to give a direct link, but there servers are down...

One of my top all time D&D products, and still probably one of the easiest versions to just pick up and start playing. Standardized ability mods are of course one of its innovations, beyond the super clear style.

And this picture:


has one of the earliest hot elvish chicks I know of.


Character Classes Part 2
Interestingly, both fighters and magic-users get the shortest entries in this section.

Fighters - Renamed from "Fighting-men", it's otherwise pretty staid here. Hercules is name-checked. Train for battle, prime req of Strength, Str over 13 gives +10% to XP, d8 HD, use any weapon, wear any armor, use shields, no special abilities. I'm not leaving much out!

Halflings - Halflings are demi-humans on easy mode. Their prime reqs are Strength and Dexterity, but you only need a 13 or better in one for the 5% XP bonus, and a 13+ in both gives you 10%. They get d6 Hit Dice, putting them on par with elves and clerics. They can use any weapon or armor that has is halfling-sized (no two-handed swords or longbows). They advance to a maximum of 8th level. They have very good saves, and get a +1 halfling bonus in addition to Dex bonuses for missile fire and individual initiative. They also get a -2 to AC versus opponents larger than man-sized. They can hide in shadows on a 1 or 2 on d6 in a dungeon, but on a 1-9 on d10 when outside. Pump Dex up, and these halflings are hard, bold, and wicked!

Magic-users - Again, pretty staid. Merlin is name-checked. Cast spells, prime req is Intelligence, d4 HD, can only use daggers, no armor. One line is very pointed: "Though they are weak at first, magic-users can eventually become very powerful." This is what I call the different balance of old editions. The magic-user is deliberately made weaker at first, and their dominance later in the game makes up for this initial weakness.

Thieves - Humans trained in the "arts of stealing and sneaking". Moldvay makes it a point to note that the presence of thieves is not out of the normal for adventurers, due to these skills. But then comes the stinger - "As their name indicates, however, they do steal -- sometimes from members of their own party." Prime req is Dexterity, Hit Dice are d4, no shield, only leather armor, but any kind of weapon. In addition to their thief abilities, they get their backstab ability, although this is not called "backstab". It merely says "When striking unnoticed from behind, a thief gains a bonus of +4 on "to hit" rolls and inflicts twice the normal amount of damage." Here is one point where I wish Moldvay had provided more elaboration. He emphasizes "unnoticed", but there isn't even any DM advice, let alone mechanics or rules for how thieves achieve these conditions. As a result, it's entirely up to the graces of the DM if the thief is to take advantage of this ability. It's great if you've got a "say yes" kind of DM, but if not, I can see the frustration.

So, the classes. Certainly, from a customizing, "create your imagined character" perspective, it's quite limiting. On the other hand, I can see why Basic D&D took off like it did. The classes not only have niche roles in a party and represent easily relatable archetypes, their various advantages and disadvantages, even on the meta-game level, IMO offer the beginning player just the right level of choice and structure.

Someone once asked, "Why play a fighter in the older editions?" and from the class description there's not much that might persuade them. Left unsaid in the Moldvay class description (although expanded on in Mentzer) is that fighters are instant gratification. They have lots of hp, and pretty fast advancement, quickly giving them more hp and better to-hit rolls. Dwarves are much the same, just trading some upper levels for immediate special abilities. Magic-users, OTOH, play the long game. If you persevere at the early levels, the rewards are great. Elves, in addition to calling to mind Tolkien and providing an alternative to human characters, give you the chance to wield some magic and a sword, on the condition of slow advancement. Similarly, halflings definitely call to mind Tolkien, while presenting a class seemingly built to harry opponents at range. Thieves are for the player who isn't particularly interested in combat, but finds lots of spotlight time out of it, with rapid advancement. And clerics have decent fighting ability, a unique set of highly useful special abilities, and fairly fast advancement. I actually wonder that they were not a popular class (prior to CoDzilla); I would almost say they were designed to encourage at least one person to play one.

Reflecting on our early games when we first played, I recall that all of us had a favorite class we tended to play. I liked magic-users, my sister preferred elves, and my buddy was a thief man through and through. I think that's a residue of the design.

This page comes with this picture, showing all the classes, except for the thief.


By my count, the OP is through page B9 of the rules. I'll try to keep up a bit but not pass him.

Do we really need a mapper? I tend to stress the dungeon exploration theme and strongly encourage the party to map. I don't do it for them. If they get lost in the dungeon and can't find their way out... Oh well. That said, I try to make it easy on the mapper and make sure he doesn't get hung up on the little details. I generally tell my players that a flowchart will probably work just as well as anything else.

Do we really need a caller? This one of those things I think modern players completely misunderstand, especially since the 4 person party became standard. "Nobody tells me what my pc does." Etc. As this section makes clear, that's entirely not the point. The caller just takes what everyone wants to do with their character and passes it along to the DM. It's not particularly useful for smaller groups, but once you've got 6 or more players, it can cut down on the chaos.

Creating a character: There should be an additional step: "Pick extra languages, if applicable."

Ability scores: Low and average ability scores are not as crippling to a character in this version of D&D as they are in other versions. A character with nothing but average (9-11) scores will be a perfectly good character. A character with a couple below average ability scores might be serviceable depending on which scores are low and whether he has some high scores. Generally speaking, your ability scores will not be the most important rolls made at character creation; in my experience, one’s starting hit point roll and starting gold roll have more impact on the character’s short-term survivability and long-term viability.

Hit points: Note the optional rule to re-roll 1's and 2's. It doesn't say how many times you get to re-roll it. So, I suppose that could be interpreted to say that when using the optional rule first level characters have a minimum starting hp of 3.

Classes: I think the key to the classes is to think of each of the classes as broad archetypes rather than a specific profession. No one actually calls himself a “fighter.” Rather, a bounty hunter, soldier, highwayman, pirate, or guard. No one actually calls herself a “magic-user.” Rather, a seer, enchantress, mystic, or scholar. Clerics are teachers, preachers, bureaucrats, tax-collectors, and scientists. All demi-humans don't conform to the respective classes, but rather the class represents a typical adventuring member of the race. Don't get hung up on the accretions that decades of further game products have laced these terms with.

Level-titles: Level titles are really only there for fun. I neither encourage to nor discourage players from using titles. As a player, I'll often write them on my character sheets, but then never do anything with them. As a DM, I have NPCs use the level titles from time to time, but they also often exaggerate or downplay their abilities by using a level title that doesn’t match their actual level.

Weapon and armor restrictions: This is how I handle weapons and armor restrictions... Clerics do not use edged weapons. Magic-users do not use any other weapon besides a dagger and do not wear armor. Thieves do not wear metal armor. It’s not that these characters cannot use the relevant weapon and armor; it’s that they, as a general rule, don’t. Failure to abide by the weapon and armor restrictions is a failure to play the role of the class.

In extenuating circumstances, a character can violate the restrictions. A magic-user or thief could don plate mail as part of a disguise while infiltrating a castle. (But will be unable to perform most class specific functions.) A cleric or magic-user could pick up a sword in self-defense if he had no other recourse. (But would attack with a substantial penalty.)

However, if a character makes common practice of violating the class restrictions, he will not gain any experience points for those adventures where he does so. You receive experience points for acting as your class. If a magic-user dons plate mail and charges into battle wielding a sword, he’s not acting as his class, and thus gains no experience as a magic-user.


5ever, or until 2024
One thing to keep in mind with that "weak early on magic-user" is there high death probability if playing by the RAW. Of course, its not just them...


Iosue posted again, while I was writing... I'll catch up.

Halflings: There's a couple missing items with halflings. Halflings' xp bonus is kind of unclear. To be a halfling, you must have a Dex of 9. The prime requisites are strength and dexterity. If you have one or the other above 13, you get a 5% xp bonus. If you have both above 13, you get a 10% xp bonus. What if your Str is below 9 (usually a penalty to xp when your prime requisite is below 9) and your Dex is above 13? My reading is that you'd still get the 5% bonus for xp for having the high Dex.

Also, later in the book (pg. B13), "Halfling" is listed as one of the additional languages a character could learn. However, it isn't noted in the halfling's description that they can speak the language. I think that's just an omission and let pc halflings speak their native tongue.

A word about magic-users: Magic-users can be the toughest class to play at low levels. They are probably the weakest class to begin with, and have a high mortality rate. In my view, humans really aren’t cut out to cast magic well, unlike, say, elves and dragons. I wouldn’t recommend the class for beginners.

On the plus side, once a magic-user gets to fourth or fifth level, he gradually becomes the most powerful member of the party. Once magic-users get over the “hump” and discover their potential, their power becomes virtually unlimited. Thus, high-level magic-users are the most powerful beings you are going to face in the campaign world. However, it’s a real tough road to hoe to get that far, and there’s a reason why there are so few powerful human practitioners of magic in my campaign worlds. In that respect, the magic-user can also be the most rewarding class to play.

Thief skills: I think of the thief skill percentages as base scores in non-optimum conditions. (Moving silently when there isn’t any other noise to cover the movement, for example). I'll give bonuses in optimum conditions.

A thief who has an unlimited amount of time to open a non-magical lock can eventually get it open. Taking a locked treasure chest out of the dungeon to a well-lit room without the risk of wandering monsters will usually result in an unlocked chest.

I interpret the later rule on B22 to mean that all characters can find large structural traps such as pit traps on a 1 in 6 (or a 1 or 2 in 6 for dwarves), and thieves use that chance of finding the larger type traps until third level, when their find traps chances exceed that of the other characters.

Generally, I think the chance to remove traps just applies to small, non-structural traps such as a poisoned needle in a lock. A pit trap built into the dungeon floor, for example, cannot be removed. I might, however, require a remove traps roll to neutralize a larger trap if the method the thief is using to neutralize the trap is difficult. (Placing a plank across a pit trap and walking over would succeed automatically – throwing a rope over a beam and swinging across the pit will probably require a roll.) I don't usually have a failure to remove a trap trigger it. I think that's doing a disservice to the thief.

Likewise, I think failure to move silently or hide in shadows does not mean that the thief is automatically noticed. It just means that he does not have an increased chance of not being noticed.

In my campaigns, to employ his backstab, the thief will have to be “unnoticed” and approaching the victim from behind. Generally speaking, this means his opponent will have to have been surprised. Successful Move Silently and Hide in Shadows rolls increase the chance to surprise. The opponent will also have to have a discernible back in order to be backstabbed. (Green slimes, for example, have no back and therefore cannot be backstabbed.) Thieves should certainly hang back from melee and attempt to move into position to backstab opponents, falling back on missile weapons when that isn’t possible.
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Steeliest of the dragons
First off, regarding this thread, great job! I'm really enjoying going through all of this.

This page comes with this picture, showing all the classes, except for the thief.

This is really funny because I have ALWAYS thought that the missing one was the Magic-user...or rather the Elf was kinda doing double duty with her crystal ball, there. And the sneaky looking guy with the hood and dagger, behind the fighter, was the thief. But with the hood and appearing to be in robe...and holding a dagger, I could see where the "that's the MU" comes from...still think it's the thief though. ;P

Actually, waaay back originally, I thought the cleric was the magic-user and the cleric was missing...but at some point conceded the symbol around "the guy with the staff"'s neck was the cleric...which leaves the MU out in the cold. :(

Interesting how that image (like so many from those early books) can strike up imaginations in various ways/various perspectives.


I admit, if there's one thing I find unsatisfactory about Moldvay's Basic, it's alignment. It seems like there were a number of good ideas there, but nothing you can point at to say "This is alignment." Rereading it now doesn't provide me with further insight. First there's the idea of the players being aligned with Great Forces. This is hinted at. The first line of the section is, "Three basic ways of life guide the acts of both player characters and monsters." Ways of life hints at more than just personality, or even moral attitudes. The alignments are given proper noun names - a character isn't just Lawful or Chaotic, their alignment is Law or Chaos. There's also a hint that alignment is a game-world phenomenon: "Most Lawful characters will reveal their alignment if asked." As well as the alignment languages. But then it stops there. To my frustration, alignment languages are not fully explained. Why does a character forget them if he changes alignment? Why do they use the new one immediately?

Then there's the idea that Law and Chaos are just euphemism for Good and Evil. Moldvay writes "Lawful behavior is usually the same as behavior that could be called 'good'," "Chaotic behavior is usually the same as behavior that could be called 'evil'," and "Neutral behavior may be considered 'good' or 'evil' (or neither) depending on the situation. In particular, Chaotic gets singled out: "When picking alignments, the characters should know that Chaotics cannot be trusted, even by other Chaotics. A Chaotic character doesn't work well with other player characters." As if to say, "Chaotic is not really for PCs..." But this good-evil parallel is undercut almost immediately by such words as "usually" and the fact that neutral might be good or evil. So the game also hints that you could have good Chaotic characters and evil Lawful characters (which had been in D&D since the early supplements, as well as Holmes.)

So alignment doesn't say my character is good or evil. So is it describing personality, morals, and attitude? Is it less in-world fluff than just a role-playing aid? A short-hand for communicating to other players what kind of character he or she is? But this is undercut by alignment languages, as well as advice for DMs give players a punishment or penalty for not playing in line with the character's alignment.

With our group, I guess we ended up ignoring alignment languages and just playing alignment as broad personality traits. Our characters were basically good - I tended to go with Neutral because I didn't have to worry about "playing to alignment" so much. My sister made Chaotic elves that were basically just whimsical. The alignment section has this picture, which seems to portray the alignments as Good, Evil, and Hipster.

Holmes writes:
Holmes said:
Character alignment: This is the most difficult of the D&D concepts to get across. The new rules spend more space on alignments and do a much better job of explaining them, using practical examples. Alignment is Law, Chaos and Neutral. Good and Evil are not discussed as separate alignments at all, which I think makes better sense. The first Basic Set had one of those diagrams which said that blink dogs were lawful good and brass dragons were chaotic good. I never felt that this was particularly helpful. I am sure Gary Gygax has an idea in his mind of what chaotic good (or other “obscure” alignments, etc.) may be, but it certainly isn’t clear to me. Without meaning to be irreverent, I am also sure that Buddha knew what he meant by nirvana, but that doesn’t clarify it in my mind either. I think the new rules simplify the issue appropriately.

Quickly rounding up character generation:
Equipment - I'm not entirely sure if the Basic equipment list is good because it provides just the right amount of variety without being overwhelming, or if I only think that because it's the standard by which I've judged everything that comes after. Two axes (Battle and Hand), three bows (Cross, Long, and Short), two daggers (Normal and Silver), three swords (Short, normal, and Two-handed), and rounded up by the Mace, Club, Pole Arm, Sling, Spear, and War Hammer. Three kinds of armor, Chain, Leather, and Plate Mail, plus the Shield. Clothing only is AC 9, Leather is AC 7, Chain is AC 5, and Plate Mail is AC 3. Add the shield in between those, and you've got every number from 9 to 2, which is kinda elegant. Variety without analysis paralysis. Unfortunately, it wouldn't be until the Expert Set that equipment got much in the way of explanation. The noble 10' pole is here, but I can't see any reference to what it's used for.

Languages - a table is provided with 20 intelligent monsters from the Basic book. Monsters only have a 20% chance of speaking Common, except for Dragons who will speak both Dragon and Common if they speak at all. I feel this is something that's fallen to the wayside in later editions -- and not without reason. But languages take on a whole new meaning when used in conjunction with Basic's reaction rolls. Having someone speak the language of an encountered monster can mean the difference between pulling a masterful Yojimbo, or getting into a high-risk, low-reward fight.

Inheritance - At the DM's option, each player can have a one-time heir to whom all their treasure and equipment (minus 10% for the taxman) will go to in the event of their character's death. The heir has to be a new level 1 character.

"Hopeless characters" - Here defined as below average in every ability, or more than score in the 3-6 range.

This chapter ends with an example of character creation, as a female player rolls up Morgan Ironwolf. I have the feeling that this egalitarian approach is one reason why my sister took to D&D when we were kids, and years later introduced my 6 year old niece to the game. Go Moldvay.

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