I must create a system, or be enslaved by another man's. I will not reason and compare: my business is to create.

- William Blake

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Moldvay's ORACLE (Basic D&D is the best, and it contains multitudes)

Here is another great post from Trollsmyth:


The title, appropriately enough, is "Why BX is the Best!", but it talks about the Charm Person spell. Go read it, I'll wait.

Awesome, right?

Moldvay's Basic* might the best RPG ever written, indeed. Only 64-pages, and contains answers to questions that have been discussed for ages - before and after this book.

What modern D&D book (full of useless complexity and repetition) could do something similar with this page count?

I don't have a ton of examples to give you, and some might be from OD&D or other sources. But every time I read it, I learn something new.

Take open locks, for example:

Open Locks may only be tried once per lock. The thief may not "try again" on a difficult lock until he or she has gained another level of experience.

Compare this to the 5e DMG, page 237, which doesn't actually address picking locks (and suggests taking ten times longer to attempt any given task to automatically succeed... but with no mention of how long it takes to pick a lock, and using the "Fast Hands" thief feature as reference, one could assume that ANYONE can pick any lock in one minute - even with no proficiency - provided it is possible at all).

[BTW, want another option for 5e? If you fail, it means the lock cannot be picked by you or anyone less experienced than you. Someone more experienced can try but the DC is raised with every attempt. Or try this.]

Here are a few other things that come to mind right now:

- Moldvay's encumbrance system is better than it looks. It makes the choice between armor/gold/movement explicit, something that is lacking in modern versions. In 5e, encumbrance is either too lenient or too strict (depending on whether you use optional rules).

- Loyalty rules are succinct and precise:

LOYALTY: The loyalty of a retainer is a measure of the retainer's morale and willingness to take risks for the PC and not run away in the face of danger. A retainer's loyalty or morale is based on the charisma of the player character employer (see page B7). The loyalty of retainers should be checked whenever extraordinary danger is met during an adventure. Loyalty should also be checked after each adventure. The DM may wish to adjust a retainer's loyalty due to actions of the player character, such as if the PC pays the retainer more than agreed upon, or rescues the retainer from danger and vice versa.

- You get XP for defeating monsters (in addition to treasure). Does that mean you must defeat every monster? Not quite:

ADJUSTMENTS TO XP: The DM may treat an unusually "tough" situation or monster as one category better (use the next line down). Situations might also allow the DM to give partial experience if the characters learned from the encounter without actually defeating the monster. The DM may also award extra XP to characters who deserve them (fighting a dangerous monster alone, or saving the party with a great idea), and less XP to characters who did less than their fair share ("do-nothing" characters). The DM should consider the character's alignment and class carefully, and should remember that guarding the rear is an important role in any party

- What about this rule, that grant you more XP if your allies died in the process, but reduces total XP (I assume) if you take many NPCs with you:

DIVIDING XP: Treasure is divided by the party, but the DM handles all the XP awards. At the end of an adventure, the DM totals the XP from all treasures recovered plus all monsters defeated and then divides the total by the number of surviving characters (both player characters and NPCs) in the party. EXAMPLE: A party of 7 (5 player characters and 2 NPCs) goes on an adventure but only 6 come back alive. They killed monsters for a total of 800 XP and also collected 5800 gp in treasure, for a total of 6600 XP. Each character receives 1100 XP at the end of the adventure. (The DM may give each NPC 1/2 normal experience — 550 XP in this case — since the NPCs were "directed" and thus benefit less from the adventure.)

- Well, but what if a single weakling survives an expedition where true heroes have fallen? Does he suddenly become a demi-god? Nope:

MAXIMUM XP: A character should never be given enough XP in a single adventure to advance more than one level of experience. For example, if a beginning (0 XP) 1st level fighter earns 5000 XP (a rare and outstanding achievement), he or she should only be given 3999 XP, enough to place the character 1 XP short of 3rd level.

And, of course, there is this bit (a rule that Moldvay certainly didn't invent, but inspired many later versions):

"There's always a chance." The DM may want to base a character's chance of doing something on his or her ability scores (Strength, Dexterity, and so forth). To perform a difficult task (such as climbing up a rope or thinking of a forgotten clue), the player should roll the ability score or less on ld20. The DM may give a bonus or penalty to the roll, depending on the difficulty of the action (-4 for a simple task to + 4 for a difficult one). A roll of 1 should always succeed, and a roll of 20 should always fail.

The whole "Dungeon Mastering as a Fine Art" section is great.... well, the entire book.

Moldvay's Basic is far from perfect, mind you. Mostly because it keeps things that I didn't like much in OD&D in the first place... For example, it seems that climbing a rope RAW is harder than climbing sheer walls for a thief... There are some things that are obscure, others are convoluted (I'm not a fan of all those tables, for example).

As you know, I wrote an entire book trying to improve D&D Basic.

But that's only because I really love it.

There is hardly any better material to start from.

EDIT: In addition, Moldvay mentions Clark Ashton Smith as an inspiration, unlike AD&D. I rest my case.

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  1. This is the first version of D&D I ever played. I still recall my dwarf getting gored by a minotaur.
    I bought this a few years back from ebay and it brought back so many memories. I even ran a couple of sessions of it with my group. Unfortunately the players felt limited by the Character options so we moved on to 5E.

    1. B/X plus character options is my holy grail... I tried to do this with Dark Fantasy Basic, and still working on it.

  2. Not a fan of tables! Blasphemy I say!

    In all seriousness, when I had first heard of the 5e playtest, I thought they would start from the beginning and draw on the decades of game design experience since then. I always feel like a lot of good things were left on the cutting room floor (look at discussions on this blog regarding gold = XP? Take the idea of "Level teaining" and integrate it into other downtime activities and voila! You keep the dynamics of the original system, and can also tweak or ignore the set up entirely.

    Use the bond,flaw,ideal system as a means to give advantage to Charm/Illusion effects or Charisma/Wisdom based checks. Complementary bond flaws grant a boost to NPC morale...

    There is much that could have been done to make 5e truly more streamlined. But if they had, would we have so much to work with?

    1. Hahahaha, well, I like some tables I guess... What I dislike is stopping the game to look a them.
      But yeah, you're right, 5e could be a lot better if it had carried more stuff from old editions.

    2. To me, if I can set things up as the table ties a flat d20 roll to a result, I am more than happy for that. Worst case scenario is a couple of dice rolls to hit and it flows well in my experience.

      But I also got really used to how B/X matrices worked at my table. The maths wasn't bad because you just moved up or down from your roll (-4 to roll, go 4 back from your original roll result on the table).