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

trancejeremy

Villager
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It was superseded in 1983 by a new Basic version by Frank Mentzer, with later Expert, Companion, Master, and Immortals boxed sets (and thus dubbed BECMI), which in turn was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.
 

Hussar

Legend
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.
 

pemerton

Legend
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 [MENTION=22779]Hussar[/MENTION] describes.
 

ad_hoc

Adventurer
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.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
As [MENTION=6748898]ad_hoc[/MENTION] 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.
 
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.
 

Ralif Redhammer

Adventurer
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.

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.
 

lowkey13

I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.
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.
 

Zardnaar

Hero
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:

Zardnaar

Hero
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.
Most popular based on sales. The red box sold over a million units, some say 1.5 million plus (only 1E comes close/beats it). No one really knows how many it sold (TSR records were very bad)

During the golden age adjusted for inflation TSR revenue (27 million dollars in 1983) was higher than the estimated size of the RPG market now. Biggest selling adventure of all time (Keep on the Borderlands).

And then you work out that 1E and B/X were on sale at the same time so each line sold more than all the other D&Ds (except maybe 5E). Hell they almost sold more than all the other D&Ds put together. Two D&Ds at the same time each one of which outsold all the other D&Ds.

It was also well written and clearly presented, it did a lot of 5E things 30 years earlier, AD&D never really got to that point until 2E perhaps. Conceptually you can see a lot of B/X and 2E-4E in 5E (not much 1E that I can make out).
 
Last edited:

Jer

Adventurer
So anyway, B/X lasted only 2 years.
I reject this premise.

As an avid player of what is described as both B/X and BECMI D&D from about 1981 through, well, 3rd edition D&D hitting the stands, I never perceived a real difference in the rules of B/X or BECMI - they were the same game for the levels that they shared in common. Metzner's Basic didn't fundamentally change any of the rules of Moldvay's Basic - it presented them in a different way. Any rule changes that were there were minor and nothing like the difference in editions of AD&D. Metzner's Expert vs. the Moldvay/Cook eXpert set was similar in the minuscule nature of difference between them beyond organization. As far as we were concerned they were the same game and someone coming to the table with either sets of rulebooks would be able to make characters and play. (And the Moldvay/Cook Expert set promised a Companion set in the future - and we always took Metzner's Companion set to be the payoff for that promise, because we didn't know any better back in the day).

Now as to why it's popular - I suspect it's popular for the same reason the system was popular among those of us who didn't want to play AD&D back in the day. It was always a simple version of the game that stripped away a lot of the nonsense that wasn't needed for actual play and gave you just the bare bones to jump in and play.
 

Zardnaar

Hero
I reject this premise.

As an avid player of what is described as both B/X and BECMI D&D from about 1981 through, well, 3rd edition D&D hitting the stands, I never perceived a real difference in the rules of B/X or BECMI - they were the same game for the levels that they shared in common. Metzner's Basic didn't fundamentally change any of the rules of Moldvay's Basic - it presented them in a different way. Any rule changes that were there were minor and nothing like the difference in editions of AD&D. Metzner's Expert vs. the Moldvay/Cook eXpert set was similar in the minuscule nature of difference between them beyond organization. As far as we were concerned they were the same game and someone coming to the table with either sets of rulebooks would be able to make characters and play. (And the Moldvay/Cook Expert set promised a Companion set in the future - and we always took Metzner's Companion set to be the payoff for that promise, because we didn't know any better back in the day).

Now as to why it's popular - I suspect it's popular for the same reason the system was popular among those of us who didn't want to play AD&D back in the day. It was always a simple version of the game that stripped away a lot of the nonsense that wasn't needed for actual play and gave you just the bare bones to jump in and play.
This the various permutations of B/X were more like a 0.1 edition between each version versus a .5 edition like 3.0 vs 3.5 or 3.5 vs Pathfinder.

We were late to the party with B/X but it was our 1st edition in 93/94 we had an old red book, blue book, photocopy of the immortal rules and the Rules Cyclopedia (which also got photocopied in its entirety). Pre internet we didn't know the difference except the RC added more options (Mystic, Druid, Avenger, weapon rules etc). Also had B2,3,4, X1 and 1E DMG, MM, OA, UA, FF but no PHB. That was our D&D until late 95 when we played 2E.

The 5E core is around 1000 pages, a clone of B/X like Basic Fantasy is around 100 pages. One is easier to learn than the other.
 
Last edited:

ParanoydStyle

Peace Among Worlds
While Hussar furnishes a much more concrete answer...I don't know...I'm not sure why it is and it was before my time but I've seen that B/X speaks to people in a profound way (I think it was Ron Edwards who told me it was 'the best' edition of D&D in his opinion, but I can't be sure on the 'famous' person nor the edition). I would guess that it has something to do with a certain age that a lot of people belonging to a certain generation of gamers were at when it was released.

Tangentially related at best, but the same phenomenon: I think I was around 11 years old in the summer of 1997 when HBO started airing its phenomenal Spawn animated series (which I strongly recommend: it is literally as good as the contemporaneous Spawn live action film is bad, and that's not hyperbole, I KNOW how bad that movie was). So I was on the eve of adolescence and pubescence and all that stuff and here comes this (actually quite terrifying) series that airs at midnight on HBO after my parents have gone to bed and it's absolutely filled with supernatural horror, graphic violence, a cornucopia of swearing, and cartoon boobies, surrounding the edgiest superhero comics character I'd ever seen (he had Ghost Rider's chains, he had Venom's living costume, he had Keith David's voice (!!!!), he was LITERALLY FROM HELL, his enemies were angels, demons, shadowy government conspiracies and serial child murderers, not costumed nitwits and he swore, delivered incredibly badass catchphrases from the darkness before appearing behind some a-hole to twist his head off, suffered emotionally like a real person, killed bad guys with guns, and just generally did things I'd never seen comic book characters do before). It was transformative. I got into the comics pretty much immediately thereafter, and while they were certainly better than the live action movie, they didn't measure up to the HBO series--probably because HBO was just growing into the more-than-a-decade of dominance it would have over the "seriously good television" market and it had an AMAZING crack writing team in place to preempty and correct Todd's worst and dumbest impulses. Indeed, to this day, the Spawn cartoon is the epitome of cool. I don't think that's entirely because I haven't matured at all since I was 11, nor do I think it's entirely because the show was actually extremely well acted, animated (there is a quantum leap of improvement in the animation quality between the three seasons that were produced), and written, I think it's kind of both. But when I first saw it on HBO some time after midnight in the summer of 1997, something was planted within me that this was just the coolest freaking thing ever, and that little pearl of childlike amazement or whatever is still there.

Final Fantasy VII had a huge impact on me for largely the same reason: the age I was when it came out. Although in that case, the first hook that Final Fantasy VII got in me was how incredibly similar (it seemed to me) it was to Shadowrun.

Anyway I think B/X may have become beloved of an entire generation of gamers by a similar process.
 
Last edited:

pemerton

Legend
I think it was Ron Edwards who told me it was 'the best' edition of D&D in his opinion, but I can't be sure on the 'famous' person nor the edition
Luke Crane? The Google+ link to his actual play report seems to have died, but he is as critical of AD&D and Expert as he is praising of Moldvay Basic.
 

MerricB

Eternal Optimist
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.
Incorrect, unfortunately.

The "Red Box" referred to that had all the sales is the 1983 Basic set edited by Frank Mentzer, not the 1981 Basic Set edited by Tom Moldvay.

More in my next post about Moldvay's edition and how it relates!

Cheers!
 
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 [MENTION=22779]Hussar[/MENTION] describes.
Quite true, and the Moldvay set did all that in just 64 pages including art. It was elegant in its brevity. With just that one slender book, some dice and a pad of graph paper you could have hours and hours of entertainment.Nothing published since has provided that level of completeness at that page count.
 

Advertisement

Top