Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Moldvay on Moldvay

This was posted by Fenway over at Sword & Shield; I re-post it here for posterity on my own blog and because, dammit, it's pretty cool. This is Tom Moldvay's own explanation of the 1981 Basic set, the need for it, and the thought that went into its construction. The article was first published in Dragon Magazine Issue #52 (one I do not, unfortunately, possess):

by Tom Moldvay
Editor, second edition
D&D® Basic Set rules

Why was a new edition of the D&D® Basic Set rules needed?

First of all, it was necessary for the Basic rules to be in the same format as their sequel, the D&D Expert Set rules. Otherwise, it would be difficult to use the two sets together, as they were meant to be used. The D&D Expert rules build on the D&D Basic rules, they do not replace them.

Second, good as it was, the earlier edition still had minor flaws. The large number of questions received by TSR Hobbies showed that many areas of the D&D rules were still difficult for beginners to grasp. It was necessary to reorganize and re-edit the rules, keeping in mind that most new D&D players are not hard-core gamers and have never played a role-playing game before.

Third, the market has changed since the earlier rules edition. The first D&D market was made up of game buffs and college students. Today, the majority of D&D players are high-school and junior-high students. The new rules edition takes into account the younger readership in its style of writing.

Fourth, the TSR staff had answered thousands of rule questions; play tested countless dungeons at conventions, and received myriad letters detailing players’ experiences with D&D game rules. Because of the accumulated experience of the staff, and the help of the gamers, we could now pinpoint which rules needed additional clarification. When I edited the D&D Basic rules, I tried to stress clarity, simplicity, and conciseness. The organization of the rules was particularly important since the rules would set the format for all other rule books in the D&D system, such as the D&D Expert rules.

One important point to keep in mind when reading the D&D Basic rules is that they are not hard-and-fast rules, they are rule suggestions. The system is complete and highly playable, but it is flexible enough that Dungeon Masters and players need not fear experimenting with the rules. DMs and players, by mutual consent, are always welcome to change any rule they wish, or to add new rules when necessary. Because of this rule flexibility, individuals who learned to play using the original D&D Collectors Edition rules, or the earlier edition of the D&D Basic rules, can use the new edition without changing their campaign. Much of the work put into the new edition was in reorganization. Whenever possible, step-by-step instructions were given because that type of direction is easiest to understand. Numerous examples were added, because examples often clarify rule descriptions. The edge of the booklet was drilled with holes so that it could be placed in a notebook, thus cutting down on the usual wear and tear the rulebook takes. The rules were organized into a number of different sections which logically build on one another, are easy to follow and read, and are easy to find by using the Table of Contents. Furthermore, the general section headings will remain the same for all rulebooks in the D&D system. All gaming terms are defined before the actual rule
sections begin, and the definitions are repeated in a glossary.

Finally, the rules were indexed. My favorite two sections of the rules were Part 8: Dungeon Master Information and page B62, dealing with Inspirational Source Material. Much of the information given in these two sections is new. Many players feel that becoming a DM is difficult. I tried to make it as easy to become a DM as possible. After all, DMs like to play too, but if there is only one DM per group, that person never gets the chance to play. Novice DMs are given detailed instructions and as many helpful tips as possible.
The rules include a description of typical dungeon scenarios and settings. They give suggestions for common types of room traps, treasure traps, and special trap types. They provide a simple system for creating an NPC party.

Finally, they outline a sample dungeon, designed so that, if desired, one section could be played immediately. I also enjoyed sharing my favorite books and authors with readers. I have always found books to be excellent inspirational material when designing adventures. I am sorry that, because of space considerations, the list could not have been longer. The Basic D&D game rules are directly based on the original Collectors Edition rules. The original rules gave the first gaming system for fantasy role-playing and, in my opinion, the D&D game rules remain the best fantasy role-playing rules available to game enthusiasts.

I am proud to have edited the new edition of the D&D Basic Set rules. It was our intent to retain the flavor of the original game while improving upon and extending the rules, so that the game could be more quickly and more easily enjoyed by new players. I believe our efforts were a success.

There is an also an article written by J. Eric Holmes (writer of the 1st Basic set, commonly called "The Holmes Edition) in the same issue, comparing the new Basic set to his own version. Fenway also posted that one, and it's also a good read. Some surprises? Mainly how complimentary Holmes is of the Moldvay...especially since (presumably) he was no longer on the TSR payroll in 1981...considering most of the new set's changes to be "improvements" over his own book.

How different is that from the blog-o-sphere's general bickering over editions?

Anyway, hope you folks enjoy the articles...thanks to Fenway, as I said.
: )


  1. I happened to see this at the other blog, but yeah, quite interesting. I just received a nice Moldvay Basic in the mail with the little mini catalogue of the era. Smells like the 80s, man. Cook/Marsh Expert set enroute, then I'll be chillin' like a villain, as the kids used to say.

    By the way, have tried the roll to advance method for experience progression? And if so, what's your take? I'll poke around here and see if you've addressed that already. Curious, though.

  2. @ Imago: Not sure what you are referring to in that last paragraph. PCs in my campaigns use the same XP/Level tables found in the B/X books.

  3. Thanks for posting this, JB. I wouldn't have seen it otherwise and I find it very interesting. There's so much of this kind of commentary (by the authors and fans) for OD&D and Holmes, but I've seen precious little on B/X. The article by Holmes is very cool. Much appreciated!

  4. Sorry, JB. There's a system to advance in level by using a d20--you get an xp point per session and add that to the d20 roll. Match the number on a chart for class and level, advance. For some reason I thought you'd talked about this before. Obviously I'm mixing up blogs. So many blogs.

  5. Great articles, both the Moldvay on Moldvay and the Holmes. Thanks for digging these up and posting links. It's nice to have insight from the designers themselves, and it feels especially good when they affirm the reasons that I enjoy the system.

    Simplicity, clarity when it counts and the ability to step back and let individual DMs make the call on situations specific to their campaigns or's really empowering to the players and the DMs, and quite visionary compared to more modern "there's a rule for that" systems.