Being stuck inside on a winter’s afternoon, it seemed an opportune time to run an impromptu game of D&D for two of my children.
(Carolyn’s always in the mood for something fresh, so after weeks of train games and card games like Poo, Uno and Hike, she was willing to dive back into an rpg, while Jonathan was eager to use the new plaster dungeon terrain set he helped construct and paint).
Considering the buzz about 5E/DnDNext from the D&D Experience – that the first public play of the new rules harken back to the days when adventurers cut their teeth on module B2: Â The Keep on the Borderlands Â – I couldn’t help but feel nostalgic.
So I decided to dig out my two copies of the Basic Rules (Moldvay edition). It turned out to be an excellent choice to run for children, and it reminded me again of why I have such fondness for this version of the game.
Character creation is a snap
Does it get any easier than this? Roll 3d6 for six abilities, roll up hit points, and gear up by selecting from Ye Fast Pack in the back of Module B4: The Lost City? In about 10 minutes were were up and ready to roll, with Carolyn playing a magic user, Jonathan a thief and me running an NPC fighter.
My regular group loves the built-in complexity of Third Edition/Pathfinder skill selection and feats, and in previous sessions my kids have enjoyed the cool-sounding names (and effects) for 4E character powers.
Detailed character creation can be its own kind of fun. But we were interested in exploring a dungeon and rolling dice in some combat, not worrying about a host of modifiers for skills and combat.
On the fly adjustments
Not everything about the Moldvay edition is sunshine and roses. So I made some rules adjustments to keep the action going.
- Nixed character death for the kids (hey, even with a fighter around, 4 hit point thieves and magic users go down quick). Characters reaching 0 hit points are ruled unconcious. Each character also started out with two healing potions. (And it was interesting to see which player was willing to share their healing potions.)
- The magic user was not subject to fire-and-forget. Rather, I allowed the magic user to recast after 1 turn of rest. I’ve learned a lot about how fun encounter and at-will powers can be for casters in 4E. And frankly, magic missile used this way still does less damage than an archer who hits every round.
- Pincushioned hides. Monsters with natural armor had their AC raised by 1 (to a maximum of 10) after each successful hit to reflect the wear and tear of battle. Effectively, as the battle wore on, they got easier to hit (remember, under THAC0, the lower the AC number, the better).
Giant toads are still a hoot
Fire beetles, vipers, and yes, even giant toads with 15-foot long sticky tongues and a taste for humans are still fun to run and to fight. Â And interestingly, because I gave the PCs a quest – item retrieval – they started to discuss the need to bypass some encounters because they discovered their resources were being depleted
Look, the old rules have their shortcomings, especially during campaign play, because the PCs aren’t being rewarded as they level up with a raft of additional powers and abilities like they do under more robust systems.
There’s adventure to be found around the next bend. Just mind the white roses and any nameless jovial priest whose acolytes have taken a vow of silence.
Ah, the Keep on the Borderlands! When we tried out older editions of D&D, we started with this module and I think various characters of mine have spent quite a lot of time there, we even started to raise a settlement outside the keep before our campaign ground to a halt. For casual games I personally prefer Tunnels & Trolls though. I just like the bad puns in the rule-book and the way the randomness in character generation is turned up to eleven. Still, it’s always nice to just break out one of those old modules and start exploring without thinking about all the things regular campaigns seem to accumulate over time.
I really enjoyed this article, Troy. It made me nostalgic as well!
It’s been a long, long time since I played OD&D. To my great shame, I don’t even own the books; I may need to rectify that now.
I think the link is http://redboxhack.blogspot.com if you don’t own the old rulebooks and want to sample one interpretation of it. I’ll poke around the net to see if there are any other hacks out there for this rules set.
Another is http://www.oldschoolhack.net. I haven’t sampled the rules in full, yet, but the pdf is absolutely gorgeous looking. There was a lot of love in putting that rules package together.
If you can’t find the books you may be able to purchase OSRIC. It is essentially the original D&D with the serial number filed off.
I don’t like the huge push for constant new toys with leveling. I would love to see a character being knighted and getting a title actually mean something.
OSRIC captures the feel of AD&D 1e. “Labyrinth Lord” is the Moldvay retroclone.
Moldvay Basic was my first RPG. It made learning AD&D 1e easy since that felt like a bunch of optional add-ons to Moldvay.
That said, to this day I don’t understand why the Halfling class didn’t map to Thief rather than Fighter.
That’s a fantastic bunch of links. They’re not solely directed at me, but thanks!
I’ve just checked out OSH and it looks like a ton of fun. Into the zero-prep Ready to Rumble binder it goes!
I cut my teeth on the blue cover, but yeah, this brought back memories.
Gotta get my retro on…
As a coda to my original post: My middle child, Preston, joined us for a follow up session, encouraged by the others because he had not taken part in the first session. He did, but with some reluctance. (He likes Star Wars and Leogs, but not fantasy. Forgotten, apparently was his enjoyment of Lego Heroica.)
Anyway, in the session’s final combat, his fighter character delivered the klling blow to the lava worm. Forgotten, also, was his reluctance, because in that momen of triumph, he got caught up in the theater of the mind, raised his arms and shouted “Hurray! We did it.” Oh, the infectious nature of roleplaying!
The most inspired bit of problem solving came from the youngest, however. His PC was being chased by a swarm of spiders. So his thief ran up and down the hallways of the dungeon until he came to a pool that they’d passed earlier. He jumped in, as did the pursuing spiders, which drowned. (I don’t know if spiders really would drown in that instance — but as GM, I had to acknowledge the effort).
And my belief the D&D Basic game serves as an excellent lead-up game for roleplaying was reinforced once again.
Just wanted to point out that the Rules Cyclopedia is now available once again (as an ebook), so those wanting some DnD rules to recreate this experiment with can now use those (the last official incarnation of Basic).