My regular game group agreed to play a one shot game with a traditional rule set. We normally play a 4E hack. My favorite version of D&D is B/X as edited by Moldvay, Cook, and Marsh. So, to give them a taste of the old ways, I wanted to find something close to that. Most of my current players are not aware of any differentiation between anything prior to and including First Edition.

Why not just use B/X directly? Well, that is actually what I ended up doing. Since I only have one copy of Moldvay Basic though, I had hoped to find a free legal PDF of a clone that was “close enough” so the players could check it out before play. As it turned out, that was not necessary. I just chaperoned character creation along with a few copies of key pages. It turns out that pages B5 through B13 are all you need for a B/X Player’s Handbook (with pages B16 and B17 for magic-user and elf spells). Cleric spells would also need to be added for a game that proceeded past first level, obviously.

Making all the characters from scratch was relatively painless and took less than 20 minutes. In total, there were seven players in addition to me. The group included an experienced 4E player, two players who had only ever played D&D in my normal 4E game, several who had played a few different editions, and one who had never played a tabletop RPG ever. They rolled 3d6 in order, picked a class, rolled for money, and bought equipment.

I was going to run either Keep on the Borderlands or Stonehell, but Aplus helpfully suggested Tower of the Stargazer in response to a G+ query. This is one of my favorite modules, new or old, and I have never had a chance to run it. It is also relatively small and self contained, and I felt confident that they would get to some of the interesting areas within a three hour session. It went well; I’ll write more about the session in another post.

Though I decided to use Moldvay, this is what I was looking for in a ruleset, with reasons in parentheses:

  1. Highest level spells as 0E: magic-user max 6, cleric max 5 (power level)
  2. Race as class (quicker chargen, distinctive demi-humans)
  3. No cleric spells at first level (against the perception of cleric as medic)
  4. Five saving throw categories (atmosphere)
  5. Variable hit dice (I think OD&D’s all d6s would be confusing)
  6. No class ability score requirements (quicker chargen)
  7. No ability score modification (quicker chargen, no optimization)
  8. Freely downloadable (convenience)
Perhaps surprisingly, I don’t care one way or the other about ascending versus descending armor class.

Here is the disposition of various games regarding my criteria:

  • B/X D&D is perfect but not freely downloadable
  • Labyrinth Lord gives first level clerics a spell
  • Labyrinth Lord also has spells higher that the 0E levels
  • Equipment and armor are more complicated in Labyrinth Lord
  • Swords & Wizardry uses a single saving throw
  • S&W Core has a rule for the 5 saves, but separates race and class
  • S&W Core also has spells higher that the 0E levels
  • Lamentations of the Flame Princess has strange attack bonuses
  • It also has spells higher than the 0E levels
  • All the 0E clones (e.g., S&W:WB) are out because of the hit dice
  • Labyrinth Lord Original Edition Characters is not freely downloadable (yes it is, see here)
  • Original Edition Characters is also out because of the hit dice
  • The Microlite games seem to be very much their own thing
  • Basic Fantasy has separate race and class (and odd cleric spells)
  • Dark Dungeons goes much too high in level (Rules Cyclopedia clone)
  • Dark Dungeons also has skills
The highest level of spell available is probably the least important of the criteria, as they are not likely to even notice. The rules directly exposed to first level characters are clearly the most important.

I know I could house rule anything, but I wanted their first traditional D&D experience to be absent provisos and exceptions as much as possible (though I believe I am constitutionally incapable of avoiding house rules entirely; more on that later in the actual play report). I just wanted the rules to fade into the background.

Practically speaking, these seemed to have been my options within the clones (had I not gone with Moldvay):

  1. Swords & Wizardry Core and live with the single save and separate races 
  2. Labyrinth Lord and live with the 1st level cleric spell and SRDisms
  3. Basic Fantasy and live with separate race and class
It seems like Basic Fantasy comes closest to traditional B/X, the only major deviation being the separation of race and class (sixth level cleric spells are odd, but not a big problem; at least magic-user spells only go up to level 6). This is surprising, because Basic Fantasy is a clone that I have almost no experience with (I think I only glanced at the website briefly a few months ago and downloaded the PDFs).

I’m sure any of the clones or neoclassical games would have worked, and this is not to be taken as a dig against them. But it is interesting too see how the various options compare to my idiosyncratic preferences, and how many of the clones diverge in various ways.

2012 04 24 edit: note about free text-only version of Original Edition Characters.

8 thoughts on “Selectivity

  1. blake

    So how did they go in Stargazer? I have heard mixed reviews & would love to hear how your group liked it as mine is similar (1 favours WOTC era versions; 1 prefers 1/2e; 1 plays EVERYTHING; & 1 prefers 0/1e).

    1. Brendan

      The short answer is that it went very well. There were a few things that I would prep for differently if I was running it again, but in general it was solid. The long answer is that I’m working on another post with session details and lessons learned.

  2. Koren nRhys

    Regarding the single saving throw of Swords & Wizardry:
    In the Complete version, a table of modifiers was added so that you can use the traditional 5 categories if you prefer them. When WhiteBox was rebooted, Matt added that table to those rules as well. It’s the current version available from the Mythmere Games website – they are NOT in the Brave Halfling version.

    That doesn’t solve the Hit Dice issue, but I thought you’d like to know!

    1. Brendan

      I saw that table in S&W Core, but I can’t find a similar table in the WhiteBox PDF from Mythmere’s website. (I just re-downloaded another copy to make sure that I had the most recent version.) Do you have a page reference? Or are you talking about the house rule boxes on page 3?

    2. velaran

      It’s the Whitebox 3rd Print Edition, found here.(Perhaps you have the 1st Print Edition, which is still on the site?) The table you’re looking for is the ‘Alternate Rule’ Saving Throw Matrix, located on page 33.

    3. Brendan

      Cool, thanks for the link. I actually have the printed hardcover of that edition! But I was using the old PDF for reference when I wrote this article.


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