This may get long and will probably jump around a lot, but please bear with me.
It is quite possible, upon reflection, that I have been a bad B/X Dungeon Master.
Not meaning "jerk" or "mean" and not even meaning "incompetent." I think I can still rate passable in the DM category (I still have players showing up). But inaccurate in my portrayal (or rather, "running") of the B/X system.
Having got that off my chest, let's take a couple steps back.
I play and run B/X for the same reason most of us (except for my players, who are kind enough to indulge my weirdness) play whatever edition/clone of the D&D game we do. Namely, I play B/X because it works for me and does what I need/want it to do.
There are folks who enjoy tinkering and house-ruling and such, but everyone starts with a foundation and builds from there. The choice of a particular edition is the choice of that foundation. Do you want a game where everything is sculpted out from the beginning of your career to the end? You may be playing BECMI/RC. Do you like the semi-occultic writing of Gygax and its absolutely huge amount of pre-made monsters, spells, and magic items (not to mention the option of playing halfling thieves and half-orc assassins)? Then AD&D is probably your game. Etc.
I play B/X instead of OD&D or BECMI or AD&D because it works the way I think D&D should work. That's just me, okay? For me, I don't need anything else because B/X sets a foundation of play...even my B/X Companion is nothing but a supplement built from that foundation based on the material in the B/X books. I'm big enough to admit that.
I'm likewise big enough to admit I've been leaving out a large chunk of the B/X game...specifically, Henchmen and (by association) Charisma.
I'll speak to that in a moment; let's talk ability scores for a moment. I know much ado has been made about the Sacred Six ability scores over the years...specifically their importance (for better or worse) to the mechanics of the game. In the Little Brown Books of OD&D they did precious little...but since that first publication of D&D, they've grown and grown in importance until you have the 3rd edition/Pathfinder era (and presumably 4th edition as well), where they drive everything outside of a random D20 roll. And with their growth in importance, ability scores have grown in range, with the ability to continuously add more and more points to your stats until you wonder what exactly they model at all.
[people don't just continuously get bigger and stronger over time...only the Hulk does that]
Because of their mechanical importance to later editions of the game, there have been many methods used to up players' chances of getting desirable, high scores. Beyond 3D6, new methods of rolling scores using multiple dice and even "point-buy" systems have been introduced to the D&D game. Back when I was a kid playing AD&D, you'd roll until you got a set of stats you liked and then you worked like hell to keep your PC alive (or else bring him back if he died), so you didn't have to go through that again.
For the sake of expedience in my current B/X campaign, I recently introduced a (limited) point-buy system to speed chargen of viable PCs (our group is at a high enough level that newly created characters are coming in at a level greater than 1st, more often than not). After a couple of character deaths we had our 1st introduction of point-buy PCs into the game.
Two of the three PCs had a score of "3" in Charisma.
The players assured me they weren't attempting to game the system, but had needed the points for other abilities and fully intended to role-play their characters. I don't believe I said boo to them, but later felt more than a little steamed. More at myself and my chargen "house rule" than at the players. I provided them a means to "dump" in one stat, and they took it...that they both chose Charisma for that dumping shows that I had made the ability score so weak as to not necessitate putting points into it.
[the odds that any given player rolling a 3 for CHA using the standard 3D6 in order method is 1 in 1296. The odds of seeing two in the same party is 1 in 1,679,616, adjusted downwards depending on how many party members are present and rolling randomly. What a gyp]
All ability scores should be equal; there should be NO "dump stats." If there's a useless ability score in a game, than the game is probably better off without it...or it needs to be changed. I've been playing a lot of chess this week down in Mexico, a game where pieces have been changed and re-developed over centuries. In Spanish, the bishop is called the "alfiel," which is an Arabic translation of a Persian translation of Indian sanskrit from when the piece was an elephant that only moved two spaces diagonally. It was judged too weak and was changed to the bishop in the 1500s or so...but this was after the Moorish people had conquered Spain and brought their own version of chess to the Iberian peninsula.
Whatever. The point is, the elephant sucked and needed to be changed and the bishop rocks.
Now back to what I said towards the beginning of this post: I play B/X because it does what I want it to do. It gives me what I need in a fantasy RPG. Moldvay did a pretty genius job of his Basic set (as even Holmes points out), so maybe I needed to go back to Moldvay and see just what the hell Charisma was good for.
Aside from parleying with monsters...a tactic that's only useful when PCs and monsters speak a common language...the MAIN operative mechanic is in the interaction of PCs and henchmen, aka Retainers. Counting the section on retainer morale in the Encounter chapter, and the portion of character generation pertaining to Charisma and its effects on henchmen, Moldvay devotes nearly an entire page to henchmen/retainers.
In a 64 page rule book, that is huge.
When you are creating an entire set of rules on a 64 page budget, you do not waste space on unnecessary subjects. Trust me, I learned this when writing the B/X Companion. You can always fill white-space with an illustration, but generally even space for illos are at a premium...at least in a book designed to be a "complete" game, that includes beneficial examples of play, glossary, random tables, etc.
Let me give you some perspective on this: one page devoted to henchmen is more than the Cook/Marsh rules devote to castle construction OR spell research and magic item creation...fairly large subjects, right?
Do you know how much space Moldvay devotes to traps? Not counting the thief section (where there disarming receives minimal mention), we get about three paragraphs, split between the Adventure section and the DM Info chapter. Three paragraphs...compared to a full page.
How prominent are traps in your D&D game? How often do they come into play?
Compared to traps, how much attention do you give to henchmen and retainers. If you're like me, the answer is "not very much." Which is why O why, Charisma becomes a dump stat. If you run a B/X game and forget one 64th of the rules. That's like knocking out three or four pages of rules (NOT color text) form your D20 Players Handbook. Where do you want to take those from? Spells? Equipment? Removing 3 pages could mean removing 2-4 entire classes from the rules.
I've been doing B/X a disservice by NOT paying more attention to these rules.
All right, that's the teaser...I hope to flesh this subject out more in my next post.