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Dave Bernazzani
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My first love and the first full set of RPG material I ever owned (we had played the summer before with what must have been the Holmes Blue Box). It was the classic Erol Otus cover that attracted me - but the little 64-page basic red book hooked me for a lifetime. Had this not been available (and only AD&D in print), I might not have started down a lifetime of RPG playing. At 10 years of age, AD&D was fantastic to look through - but I was still a bit too young to digest it all. The basic set was perfect - it set out just enough rules to constrain the game and just enough fantasy elements and open ends to fuel a young imagination.



And that's the main attraction of the Basic set of D&D. It doesn't cover everything. Not even close - it provides a framework for adjudication by a good Dungeon Master. It provides enough classes and levels (1-3) to be used by players to start their adventuring. Whereas later rule sets tied things down, this left many areas wide open to interpretation (and some areas totally vacant). This leeway allowed a group to really tailor the game to their wants and needs. I firmly believe that the core attraction of the retro-clone and Old School Renaissance (OSR) movement is that the rule sets are light and reasonably wide open - putting much more onus on the DM and players to bring the awesome to the table.

Let's look at the product in detail. The box set comes with the red 64-page Basic rulebook (supplemented by the blue 64-page Expert rulebook). It is saddle stapled and, unfortunately, with any real use the cover tends to come detached from the bulk of the pages. It's not a big deal - we all dealt with it fine and it doesn't impact the use of the product. The book comes with B2: The Keep on the Borderlands which is a classic entry-level module as well as dice and a crayon to color them in (these plastic dice were not quite high impact and would smooth and round with use).

On the front cover it says 3 or more Adults, Ages 10 and up! I felt good that at age 10 I was considered an adult -- smart work by the wizards at TSR to give the reader a quick ego boost right away. Clearly this was no 'kids' game!

The book is based on the material of Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson but was edited by Tom Moldvay. The Expert set that followed this was written by David Zeb Cook. The two sets taken together are often referred to as B/X or Moldvay/Cook.

Introduction - 2 pages
Inside, things get rolling with a 2-page intro that today would seem to be so very clich├ęd. But back then... this was the introduction for millions of us to the hobby. We knew no other game. Very little else was sold in the way of RPG games at the local Toys-Backwards-R-Us or hobby shops. So it was needed and much appreciated.

Characters - 9 pages
It starts with the explanation of the core abilities which have been the backbone of everything D&D. Strength, Dexterity, Intelligence, Wisdom, Constitution and Charisma. All of the iconic classes are presented here - most with inspiring black and white art. The fighter, the cleric, the thief and the magic-user are joined by some 'odd' character classes of Elves, Dwarves and Halflings (no PC races in the basic D&D... those are classes). The experience tables only go up to level 3 - enough to get your adventure going and join the realm of heroes. The blue-box Expert set takes over to cover levels 4-14.

Spells - 4 pages
That's it. Just four pages. But all the classic low-level spells are here - Magic Missile, Knock, Charm Person, Detect Magic, Sleep, etc.

The Adventure - 4 pages
This section covers movement, light, exploration in a dungeon setting and all things the adventurer might want to do. It has a section on henchmen and retainers - a common occurrence in basic D&D (we had parties of 6PCs with another 4-6 hirelings - it was not uncommon to go trekking around a dungeon with a small army!). How to deal with locked doors and traps is covered in detail - this section is intended for both PCs and DMs so everyone knows what's going on.

The Encounter - 6 pages
The encounters section is primarily for the DM but has some player information as well. It covers combat in all the gory detail. Descending armor classes prevail here (AC9 is simple clothed character... going down to AC0 and below). Saving throws are explained as well as the often dire consequences for failing them. A nice example dialog between a DM and players for a combat is presented to help cement the ideas.

Monsters - 16 pages
The biggest section of the book. Many of the all-time iconic creatures make an appearance here including several types of dragons. I love the art showcasing the three dragon weapon types - cone, ray, cloud. The Rust Monster used to scare the crap out of me as a character. Always afraid my sword would rot!

Treasure - 6 pages
More DM material for how to doll out treasure and some ideas for how player's should split it up. A classic image here of three mages splitting treasure and arguing of who get what. EROL OTUS puts his name on the magic potion bottle on the table. Good stuff!

Dungeon Master Information - 11 pages
And finally some advice for the new DM on how to create an adventure, how to populate the dungeons and how to deal with wandering monsters. Includes a sample small dungeon called the 'Haunted Keep'. My favorite part of this book comes in this section - a detailed key of mapping symbols that I still use to this day:



The section wraps up with a sample exchange between DM and players in a dungeon setting - exploring and getting ready for a big battle.

Inspirational Source Material - 1 page
A selection of recommended books for both young adults and adults. Mostly fantasy fiction but some non-fiction as well.

Glossary - 2 pages
The book ends with a treaty of the more common terms used in the game - many of which continue to be the core vocabulary of RPGers everywhere.

I can't review this book without my rose-colored glasses. I love it and still play it but it may be because I've such fond memories as a 10 year old playing in my basement with friends all summer long. But this is classic - it introduced the game to many of us and is worth picking up for anyone interested to see how so many got started in this hobby. Plus the classic art rocks!

Highly recommended.
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Jeremiah Lee
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Those map symbols are great. I still use them too, so many years later.

This was a great book, and still is. I'm looking forward to introducing my kids to it someday (soon! my daughter just turned seven).
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DMSamuel
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Great Review!

I remember sitting at the table and drawing map after map on graph paper, using those symbols. Ah the good old days....
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Charles Donnell
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Great review Dave. This is one of only two books that survived the 'purge' and still one of my fondest memories from my youth. Glad to see that I'm not the only one who still has a soft spot for it.
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John Middleton
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Nice review, Dave!!!

This is the one that started it for me as well. If I could apply the number of hours I've spent reading, drawing maps, and writing adventures to something like... law school, well you know where this thought goes.

Bought a minty fresh copy of this a year back because my old copy was loaned out and vanished.
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Maurice Tousignant
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Great review.

I personally skipped the early editions of D&D and didn't get into it until AD&D 2nd edition. I have my father's books (which I'm sure is pretty normal now but isn't for people of my/my dad's age) and I've looked through them but never actually sat down to run a game. Reading reviews like this makes me consider it.

I've generally read, at least here on RPGgeek that the Rules Encyclopedia is a better way to experience OD&D. What are your thoughts on that?
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Patrick McInally
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You mean the Dungeons & Dragons Rules Cyclopedia?

Those people speak truth. Never owned a copy, but covet it, even if I no longer play (A)D&D.
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Dave Bernazzani
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GilvanBlight wrote:
I've generally read, at least here on RPGgeek that the Rules Encyclopedia is a better way to experience OD&D. What are your thoughts on that?

The Dungeons & Dragons Rules Cyclopedia is really tight - covering all things Basic D&D from levels 1 to level 36. It's really a one-stop volume with the Frank Mentzer basic D&D rules (red box, blue box, aqua box, black box) cleaned up and edited by Aaron Allston. While it's a fantastic compilation and resource, I still slightly prefer the older Moldvay/Cook D&D with it's quirks, vague rules and open-ended interpretations. Next to the Moldvay/Cook edition, I love the Mentzer Red Box which goes a long way to codifying the rules but still presents them in a simple 64 page digestible format. The Rules Cyclopedia is, obviously, a much larger volume and so if you're just looking to digest and play some basic D&D it's a lot more to read.

I have several copies of the RC however. Hard to pass them up when I see them!

-Dave
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Mike G
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Excellent review. I just picked up a nearly complete second edition boxed set with a few extra modules sitting at the GW today. It was only missing the dice.

Spent much of my youth playing this game along with my 3 brothers. Good times.
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Andrew Sinclair
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Great review, Dave.

This set was the one that got me into role-playing as well. It was a gift from my parents at Christmas, and my very first game was with my Dad as DM, and my Mom, brother and I as players.

I was telling a friend the other day that I have forgotten lots of D&D sessions over the years, but I remember everything about that very first game.

I played a dwarf! mb

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Dan Conley
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Hi, Dave! I have the red box. Are there differences in content between this edition in your review and the red box?

Another great review as always!
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