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


Backing up a little bit:

Opening "Stuck" Doors.

This is something that's fallen out of favor in my group, I stopped using the rule somewhere in 2nd edition. I figured if the monsters weren't having any problems with the doors that they go through all the time, why should the PCs? Other folks that started with the "stuck" door rule for dungeons, do you still use it? It *seems* this is something that's fallen out of favor.
I'm not sure if any of the early groups I played with used it. If so, it didn't stick around long. Probably for the reason you cited.

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Steeliest of the dragons
Stuck doors: Once or twice as a player. Gives a low level fighter or dwarf something to do besides fight. As a DM, never. If the door couldn't be opened it was locked or barred, wizard locked, etc... not just "stuck." But yeah, back then, once everyone had the rules down and all we wanted to do was kill things n' take their stuff, I think the "stuck door" was just viewed as an unnecessary impediment to getting to the next combat.


5ever, or until 2024
stuck doors: back in the days, a little. In my "next" campaign (always the next one) I would like to carefully track long abandoned areas and use it for those. Well, at least a few times.

morale: I have never made a morale check outside of the few large scale battles we have had over the years, but I do have opponents run away or surrender, (or recently, play dead and then escape) both to make the fight shorter and because fighting to the death, all the time, is beyond unrealistic.


I used them, but only a few doors in the dungeon. We had small groups, and I didn't want to shut off large parts of the dungeon if the dice were cold.


5ever, or until 2024
This is a key area of play style. If you are doing the "tent-pole" dungeon, ie a location that has a pretty long life, then what is not explored today is an opportunity for later.

With the move to more discrete, serial, adventures, you start to loose this. (though it depends on how long the adventure goes for).


Now, morale was mentioned. This is something we used all the time, pretty religiously and it's one of the biggest complaints I have about later era D&D that it was removed.


Four player characters, Morgan Ironwolf (1st level fighter), Silverleaf (2nd level Elf), Fredrik (1st level dwarf) and Sister Rebecca (2nd level cleric) enter a room through a secret door which was detected and opened by Silverleaf. The room appears to be empty. While they are searching it, a second secret door opens (which Silverleaf did not find) and the first pair of 12 hobgoblins walks in.
So, right off the bat we have a nice variety of classes and races, a 5 PC party, and a bit of the exploration that is Basic D&D's forte. I think having one retainer NPC would have been a good chance to show how those rules work, and how the DM would run them.

The DM checks for surprise; the party rolls a 2, the hobgoblins a 1; both sides are surprised. The two groups stare at each other while changing their order into better defensive positions. Since Silverleaf is the only member of the party who speaks Hobgoblin, the other characters elect him as their spokesman. The player who runs Silverleaf becomes the caller. He quickly warns the others that he may have to use his sleep spell.
Here Moldvay introduces the surprise rules. Both sides surprised, so a round where neither can attack. Here's an interesting change: when Silverleaf takes the job of primary interaction with the DM, he becomes the caller. This suggests that the caller is not purely a metagame convention. There's an in-character aspect, as well. This paragraph also demonstrates the relevance of the language rules, something that's become somewhat vestigal since 2e, providing some flavor, but not really part of the game unless the DM makes an effort to use them. With B/X's regular use of reaction rolls, knowing the language of the other side can be a notable advantage!

Silverleaf steps forward with both hands empty in a token of friendship, and says "Greeting, noble dwellers of deep caverns; can we help you?" Just in case, Silverleaf is thinking of the words he must chant to cast his spell.

The DM decides that Silverleaf's open hands and words in the hobgoblins' language are worth +1 when checking for reaction. Unfortunately the DM rolls a 4 (on 2d6) which, even adjusted to 5, is not a good reaction. The hobgoblins draw their weapons, but do not attack. The do move aside as two more hobgoblins enter the room.
Moldvay introduces the reaction rules. Interestingly, he foregoes rolling initiative before the reaction roll.

The largest of the hobgolbins shouts, in his language, "Go away! You're not allowed in this room!"

"It's okay; Gary sent us," Silverleaf answers.

"Huh?" the hobgoblin wittily responds.

The DM rolls a new reaction with no adjustments. The roll is a 3; the hobgoblins charge.
Ah, the infamous "Gary sent us." In contrast to the high, heroic fantasy of Moldvay's foreword, here Moldvay portrays the game much as it is played: with goofiness and bathos.

The DM rolls a 2 for the hobgoblins initiative; Silverleaf rolls a 4 for the party, so the party has the initiative. Silverleaf has already warned the others that he is going to throw a sleep spell if the hobgoblins attack, so the party moves to form a defensive line across the room (making sure that they do not getcaught in the spell's area of effect). Morgan has a short bow ready to fire. Fredrik is getting his throwing axe ready, and Sister Rebecca is pulling out her mace and bracing her shield.
While Moldvay doesn't provide much detail in how to use miniatures in the book, if consider what suggestions he does make, it's interesting to imagine this scenario playing out on a battlemap. He later suggests using a 1"= 5' scale, just like 3e and 4e. This room is 30' x 30', or 6 squares by 6 squares. You can imagine the characters forming a line 5 squares across, effectively preventing the hobgoblins from getting any of the characters in a pincer.

Since Morgan has her bow ready and Fredrik has his axe, they choose their targets and fire. First level characters need a roll of 13 or better to hit the hobgoblins' Armor Class of 6. Since both attacks are at short range, Morgan and Fredrik each add +1 to their rolls. In addition, Morgan has a Dexterity score of 13, so she gains another +1 bonus. Therefore, Fredrik needs a roll of 12 (or greater) to hit, and Morgan needs a roll of 11.
No morale or movement, so we go straight to missile fire. That short range bonus is really helpful in the relative close quarters of the dungeon.

Morgan rolls a 12 and Fredrik rolls a 16 -- both hit! The DM rolls 1d6 for arrow damage and 1d6 for axe damage. Morgan's arrow does 4 points of damage, and the hobgoblin she hit (who only had 4 hit points) falls; the DM announces "Hobgoblin #2 is dead" (counting from the first to enter the room). Fredrik's axe is found to do 5 points of damage, but the first hobgoblin had 7 hit points. The 5 points are deducted from the hobgoblin's total, leaving him with 2 hit points.
Fredrik gets no luck. Even a maximum damage roll would not have dropped his hobgoblin. I note that Moldvay describes the battle so that it works with both 1d6 damage and the variable damage rules.

Silverleaf casts his spell finds that 13 levels of monsters fall asleep. Since hobgoblins have 1+1 hit dice, they are treated as 2 hit die monsters for this purpose. Therefore, six hobgoblins fall asleep; the 3 who are charging, the two coming through the door this round, and one standing just beyond the doorway.
I like to imagine the last goblin, standing next to a buddy, just itching to get into that room and kick some ass, and then just crumpling to the floor as his buddy double-takes.

At least half of the monsters are out of action, so the DM decides to check the hobgoblins' morale. Normal hobgoblin morale is 9, temporarily lowered to 8 in this situation. The DM rolls a 6, so the hobgoblins will fight on.
Moldvay arbitrarily lowers the hobgoblin's morale score. He doesn't explain why the hobgoblins' morale drops here. Perhaps the fact that the PCs have already taken out one of the hobgoblins (which would normally call for a morale check). Or maybe the fact that half of the hobgoblins are down before they've even had a chance to attack! With all hobgoblins in the room incapacitated, the round is over without the PCs coming under attack.

In the second round of combat, the party loses the initiative roll. Another two hobgoblins charge through the door way. Since Morgan still has her bow out, she may shoot at the charging monsters. These start moving from 20' away from her, so the party has time to get their weapons out. The DM warns Silverleaf that if he wants to cast any spells this round, the hobgoblins will be able to attack him before he can do so. Silverleaf decides to get out a weapon. Morgan rolls a 4 (a miss), and the hobgoblins decide to attack Fredrik and Morgan.
One thing I like about the round-by-round initiative is that the ebb and flow of the battle can really change. Here again Moldvay makes a judgment call rather than following the letter of the rules. Goblins have a move of 20', so if he followed the combat sequence strictly, they'd have time to close to melee range and attack that round. However, he allows Morgan to get her attack early.

The hobgoblin attacking Fredrik rolls a 17, hitting Fredrik's Armor Class of 2, and scores 8 points of damage! Poor Fredrik has only 6 hit points, so he is killed. The monster attacking Morgan needs a 15 to hit her Armor Class of 3 (since she had her bow out, which required two hands, her shield was not included in the Armor Class). The DM rolls a 15, and Morgan takes 4 points of damage -- not quite enough to kill her. Morgan has already attacked this round, so she may not do so again. The DM does allow her to drop her bow and draw a sword, so that she may attack in melee combat in the next round. Both Sister Rebecca and Silverleaf can attack, however, and together they kill one hobgoblin.
Again, no luck for Fredrik! The hobgoblin scores maximum damage. Moldvay here demonstrates the lethality of low-level combat in the Basic game, so it's not like he didn't warn us!

The party get the initiative for the third round. All of them choose to attack the only monster in the room. Rebecca and Silverleaf both miss, but Morgan hits (with her sword). She rolls a 4 for damage. The hobgoblin has 5 hit points. But Morgan's great Strength gives her a bonus of +2 on damage, so she scores a total of 6 points of damage, killing the hobgoblin.

The DM decides to check the hobgoblin's morale again. They began with a morale score of 9, adjusted to 8 before, and further adjusted this time down to 7. The DM rolls an 8; the last three hobgoblins drop their weapons, and shout (in hobgoblin, of course), "We surrender! We'll tell you all about this room if you don't kill us!" If the hobgoblins had made their morale check they would not have to check again and would fight to the death.
Again Moldvay adjusts morale, suggesting that using the morale rules and judiciously adjusting the scores when the monsters start dropping helps keep combat from getting too lethal (I daresay one more PC would have gone down if the remaining hobgoblins fought to the death), as well as reducing grind, repetition, and anti-climax.

Silverleaf tells the party what the hobgoblins have said. The characters accept the surrender, and tie up all the hobgoblins and remove their weapons. The helpful hobgoblins not only tell the party where the treasure is, but how to avoid the poison needle trap which guards the lock on the chest.
Alas, too late for that information to help Black Dougal! One interesting part here is that Silverleaf tells the party what the hobgoblins said. I admit, in my regular 4e games, there is a lot of OOC talk. If the DM says something to one character (i.e., the result of a knowledge check), we all "know" it. It's assumed that character tells us, without the player doing so. Meanwhile, during fights, we often discuss strategy and suggest tactics to each other. Here in the Basic rules, Moldvay suggests a different way: virtually all talk is "in-character", and what one character "knows" they still relate to the other players, who have already heard the DM.

Before the party leaves they gag the hobgoblins, to make sure that no alarm will be raised. Morgan is Neutral in alignment, and argues that it is not safe to leave a sure enemy behind them, even if that enemy is temporarily helpless. Silverleaf is also Neutral, but he believes that the hobgoblins are too terrified to be of any further threat. If Morgan wants to kill the prisoners he won't help her, but he won't stop her, either.

Sister Rebecca, a Lawful cleric, is shocked by Morgan's suggestion. She tells Morgan that a Lawful person keeps her word, and that she promised the hobgoblins that they would be spared. Her god would never allow her to heal someone who killed helpless prisoners . . . .

Morgan agrees that killing captives is wrong, and that it was only the great pain from her wound which caused her to say such things. Sister Rebecca casts her cure light wounds spell on Morgan. It does 5 points of healing, bringing Morgan back to her normal 6 hit points.
Moldvay ends with a small demonstration of alignment, plus the mechanics of clerical healing. I get images of Silverleaf looking like the Neutral Hipster fellow on page B11. Typical aloof elf!

Some general thoughts: Moldvay here shows quite a different game from the dragon fighters of the cover and Foreword, but what he does show is a very clear and accurate game for the rules he's presented. Combat is lethal. Characters should try negotiation, not just attacking the "bad guys" on site. Players say goofy stuff. Reaction rolls and morale checks add variety to the game, and keep it from getting bogged down in repetitive combat. The DM doesn't play gotcha; he strives to keep the players informed so they can choose the best options (note his warning to Silverleaf regarding spell casting). He's flexible -- he doesn't slavishly follow the Combat sequence.

The next few parts will be Monsters, monsters, monsters!


What impresses me about these rules is how "modern" they are. There's an almost indie-game feel to them when you read them now, completely different from where D&D went once it became AD&D, 2nd Ed, 3E, and 4E.
I agree. Rereading them after many long years, I can appreciate the faction of the OSR that is about going back to the old games, playing them BTB, and enjoying the play experience that provides. I definitely appreciate that B/X is built on a highly customizable chassis. But it also has a "default" dungeon exploration setting that I find quite fascinating and intriguing.

When we played back in the '80s, dungeons were essentially paths through which to travel to heroic adventure, and our models were cinematic. The "scene" was always well-lit, the challenges at times difficult, but so much that our guys died senselessly, like Fredrik there. But I see in the game now a kind of suspense element, almost approaching horror. The dungeons are dark, so light is essential. They're labyrinthine, so you need the map. You've got to keep track of how much light you have, how much treasure you can carry. You've got to scout ahead so you don't bite off more than you can chew. It's nerve-wracking from the time you enter the dungeon until you can get out again. That's the kind of game I want to play right now.

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