Tuesday, July 13, 2010

What the Hell IS a "B/X Companion?"

Okay, so I've received enough questions...in emails and comments (here and elsewhere) regarding my B/X Companion project that I figured I should probably tell new folks what it's all about. After all, I just picked up another six followers today...I'm sure they don't relish the idea of combing through the 500+ post on this blog just to "put it all together."

Thing is, I sometimes (often?) forget that I have an audience reading my blog. It's not really designed at hyping/promoting my wares (not yet, anyway), and most of what I share is just my own thoughts and ideas, my excitement about a project or game, reminisces about my personal history...and more often than not serious rants about something or other that's bugging the crap out of me.

So here's the skinny on the B/X Companion:

My B/X Companion is intended to be the mythical 3rd volume designed to complete the work begun with Tom Moldvay's Basic Rules and continued in the Dave Cook/Steve Marsh Expert Rules, both published in 1981. Both promised a "Companion" volume that would conclude the series...instead TSR (and Frank Mentzer) re-wrote and re-published a five volume series (BECMI) that, while certainly interesting, failed to deliver on the promise of those earlier works.

What do I mean by that? A few different things:

- in many ways, B/X edition of Dungeons & Dragons (the 1981 rules) are a codified version of OD&D...the Little Brown Books of 1974. Most everything present in the LBBs are present in B/X. Some of the exceptions (stuff left out) are added back.

- rather than "add to" the rules as written, Mentzer re-wrote the rules. An example are the thief abilities: originally, they were supposed to top at level 14 and NEW ABILITIES were to be presented for higher level thieves. Instead, Mentzer "changed the math" so that they simply stretched to 36. I want my amp to go to 11...I don't want to simply make 10 "a little louder."

- in many ways, the style of the BECMI (Mentzer edition) books is toned WAY down from the mature form of the B/X edition. B/X was designed "for Adults" (as it says on the cover)...the bibliography includes books by Kurt Wagner, Robert Howard, Moorcock, Leiber, Aspirin, etc. as inspirational reading. In every example of play, a Player Character dies and the players exhibit much more cutthroat tendencies (Exhibit A: Frederik's death and the party's treating of the goblin prisoners; Exhibit B: Black Dougal's death and the party's treating of him!).

This mature tone/style is absent from the Mentzer version. In fact, while the B/X edition bears the epigram "for 3 or More Adults, Ages 10 and Up," the Mentzer version says only "For Any Number of Players, Ages 10 and Up" seeming to imply the game is for 10 year old kids. Likewise, there is no bibliography of inspirational reading (adult or not), there is only the imperative for the DM to "BE FAIR" (again, as if telling a child to "play nice") and an introduction to the game where one is forced to learn the rules vicariously through a Lawful hero type as his friendly, Lawful companion...rather than expose young innocents to the whole gamut of human possibility I suppose.


The B/X Companion is not a "stepping stone" to AD&D or a "missing link" between the two editions (as is the Advanced Edition Companion published by Goblinoid Games). It IS mostly compatible with Labyrinth Lord, as LL is mostly patterned after B/X itself. It does not use "intellectual property" of TSR/WotC/Hasbro...you won't find mind flayers or beholders, for example. You will find a lot of other creatures from myth and legend (which is where most of the original D&D monsters came from) as well as spells and magic items inspired by both literature and film. You will also find additional rules for high level play, including rules for managing domains and ideas for running high level campaigns. Also, some cool artwork from several talented (and very generous) artists.

All in a paperback, 64-page rule book...the same size as the original Basic and Expert sets.
: )

When I first started this project (June 2009), I don't think I ever really thought I'd make it this far. It was a lark...a vanity project for my own enjoyment. Kind of like this blog. Now...well, one thing I remember now is how much I really, REALLY wanted those Companion rules to be published as a kid. They're mentioned on the first column of the first page of the introduction to the Moldvay Basic rules...my first RPG as a kid. I played the hell out of the Basic and Expert Rules (itself promising a Companion set) and finally moved onto AD&D long before we even realized Mentzer's Companion set had been published...and as IT was incompatible with our (then) preferred edition, we kept what we liked (magic items, huge dragons, Domain rules) and junked the rest. It wasn't until my 20s that I realized how sweet and coherent Mentzer's design was...and it wasn't until my 30s that I realized it was actually B/X (that 1981 edition) that I preferred and that Mentzer's "closed system" design felt hollow and toothless, a pale shadow of the thing that had originally fired my imagination.

Looking back over my B/X Companion, I am pleased to discover that it, too, fires my imagination. It's almost ready, folks...just wait a little bit longer.
; )


  1. Too bad you didn't get this out a couple months ago - I would have loved to carry it for Ropecon!

    Obviously the Companion is specifically designed to go with the Moldvay/Marsh/Cook rules, but is there any "extra" or new stuff which can be used outside of that context (besides Domain rules which you mentioned)?

    For example, Labyrinth Lord uses B/X as its base and goes up to level 20 for the human classes. Is your Companion goes to be usable with the things LL did with the higher level abilities or would it be used instead of them?

    Doing anything with the demi-humans so that their capped levels aren't such an issue when the humans are up in the Companion levels?

    Details man, details. :D

  2. Same questions as Jim, plus: what would you say is the balance of adapted material available in Labyrinth Lord, AD&D or BECMI versus totally new in the companion? I'll buy it if there's substantial new stuff but as B/X isn't my favored edition I don't know if I could justify it otherwise.

  3. In addition to Jim and Wayne's questions above, I seem to remember you originally planning this as a boxed set? Is that still in the offing or no?

  4. Cosmically important question: Will this be three-hole-punched, so we can put it in a binder with the first two books?

  5. Just to be sure, I can use this without the original B/X right?

  6. What are the rule differences between the Moldvay/Cook/Marsh and Mentzer versions (other than that Mentzer covers higher levels)?

  7. @ Everyone: Check out today's post regarding the actual contents of the book.

    @ Icarus: if you don't have the original B/X books, you will still need a "base system." In addition to a couple-three different B/X retro-clones on the market (Labyrinth Lord is just one), you could use Mentzer's Red Book and Mentzer's Blue Book (which are near exact duplicates of B/X), OR you could use the Rules Cyclopedia or its latest clone (Dark Dungeons)...although, this makes some things (like thief abilities) problematic since the RC "corrected" (or rather, ret-conned) all per-14 character abilities to STRETCH them to level 36. LL is probably the best source if you don't have the original B/X (and it's available as a free download from Goblinoid Games).

    @ Anarchist: very little system differences. Mentzer's expert set provides some additional cleric spells that weren't in Cook/Marsh book. It has some typographical errors (not really rule differences) in the castle construction section. I'd have to review the spell chapter to see if magic is handled differently.

    However once you get into Mentzer's Companion/Master books or the Rules Cyclopedia there are some significant differences. Character abilities (including thief abilities) get ret-conned to make "mid-game" characters "suck more." Saving throws are down-graded, thieves get worse...all in aid of having "something to shoot for" while advancing towards level 36.

    Mentzer introduces a lot of additional concepts not present in B/X, often simplified AD&D but sometimes more sophisticated AD&D (or, at least, more CODIFIED). This topic probably deserves its own post.

    @ Jason: The boxed set was the original plan, but it's been junked for the time being. I decided the B/X Companion was simply too good to "sit on" while I perfect my vanity project! I still intend to release a "Deluxe Boxed" version at some point in the future, but there's no time estimation for it. I'll be sure to let blog reader's know when THAT's ready!
    ; )

  8. After starting my own B/X Companion project, I rethought it. I ended up deciding that it should be what you’ve described. I also decided that I needed to put it on hold until I really needed it. Too little time and too much gaming to do means that that time still hasn’t come. I’m glad to see this, and I’m really looking forward to reading what you’ve come up with.

  9. @ Robert: Thank you...I hope you enjoy it! I've read many of your archived D&D articles on your web site...I don't remember seeing anything from your Companion project. Was anything posted?

  10. Next to nothing was posted. I was mostly hoping to inspire some of the Dragonsfoot veterans to collaborate on it since I had only recently come back to B/X.

  11. I just wish you could afford to get Erol Otus to do the cover art. I know when I first read the Cook/Marsh Expert Set, I was positive the Companion Set would depict what was watching the wizard watching the adventurers and the dragon.

  12. @ Michael: It wasn't that I couldn't afford Otus; I opened negotiations with him but he cited "burn out" on the theme (he had just completed his work for Hackmaster Basic at the time) as his reason for turning me down.

    However, I will say I am exceptionally pleased with Brian's artwork...he did a really great job.
    : )

  13. Just received my copy and noticed quickly once I had a good look at the cover. Nice!

  14. @ Michael: Glad to know it got there safe and sound. Enjoy!

  15. Will there be another printing or is a pdf my only choice now?

    1. @ Isaac:

      Another printing is likely, considering I keep getting interested inquiries. You can email be at bxblackrazor AT gmail DOT com; I'm keeping a list of folks to contact when it's ready.

  16. My fried Cthulhudrew just pointed me at your B/X Companion page from The Piazza (where I was trying to find out if people used BECMI to expand B/X):

    This looks pretty interesting. I'm a 3e player, so it might take me a while to work out what you are up to, but it looks to me that this is a major contribution to B/X fandom.

    Would a "B/X Master" ever be possible?