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

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

The B/X paradox (also: the AD&D paradox, minimum viable D&D)

The B/X paradox is that B/X is both one of my favorite RPGs - maybe the greatest - but I can also think of a dozen games that I like better. These games, however, are mostly directly derived from B/X.

B/X is, IMO:

- Very easy to improve,  customize, or house rule.
- In many ways superior to AD&D, 3e, 4e, 5e, etc., and even the RC.
- In many ways inferior to its streamlined/modernized versions: BFRPG, LotFP, ACKS, OSE and (dare I say it?) Dark Fantasy Basic.

There is not much more to it. B/X is a diamond in the rough. I am often playing some version of it... but ALWAYS with more stuff added, and NEVER exactly as written.

So B/X is also the most heavily house-ruled system I play, despite being a favorite. When playing most other editions of D&D, I use fewer house rules.

Ugly AI art.

Here is another paradox: while I like B/X neoclones more than most games, I hate it when they stick too close to B/X. If you're keeping it as originally written, what is the point? But I also dislike games that change B/X so much that they become incompatible (e.g., changing the number of ability scores or making all abilities "roll under").

So, at the bare minimum, I expect a B/X clone to "fix" thieves' skills and weapons. I would also like to see some solutions for arbitrary saving throws and race-as-class, in addition to the over-reliance on tables (XP, STs, skills, etc.) - but that is a matter of taste. On the other hand, I expect it to be compatible with existing modules, monsters, etc. with minimal tweaking.

Finally, here is my AD&D paradox: I think AD&D is messy and unnecessarily complex (when compared to B/X) and I would never play it as written (not even Gygax did), but I really enjoymany bits from AD&D, and all B/X clones that try to add AD&D stuff to the game: races separated from class, more classes, monsters (including demons), stronger fighters (better THAC0), multiple attacks, thieves with d6 HD, and so on. Same goes for the Rules Cyclopedia.

I think the easiest way to explain is that: B/X is close to a "minimum viable D&D", where every mechanic has a clear purpose. It still has some redundant parts (and some missing parts, IMO; I think every D&D should have a ranger or other way to meaningfully raise your chances at exploring the wilderness), but it does a great job overall. 

AD&D - and every other edition of D&D - also contain that MVD&D, but it is much harder to find under all the spare parts (and not all spare parts are working properly, e.g., weapons versus armor). OD&D could play a similar part if it had better organization. Holmes might be an even simpler D&D, but it lacks some of the parts I consider "minimal" (for example, a sword doing more damage than a dagger).

FWIW, Dark Fantasy Basic is my attempt of improving on the "MV D&D": streamlined skills and saves, ranger-like abilities, etc. 

And Old School Feats and Alternate Magic - both fully compatible with B/X and its clones - are good examples on how to add some fiddly bits to your games without getting to AD&D/RC levels of complexity.

I short - since I like SOME spare parts but not others, B/X remains my favorite game to customize. At least until I manage to publish my minimalist B/X... (the beta version is here).


  1. This is a good way to put it. I tend to describe B/X as the best starting point for building the old-school D&D you want to play - and it's why I'll always disagree with folks who say "oh yeah just get the RC it's everything B/X has and more."

    No! No. The RC has some great stuff in it (as does AD&D), but it's also got a lot of bloat. B/X, on the other hand - well, there's almost nothing I need to cut out. Plenty I'll add - but very little that I need to ignore.

    1. Definitely agree! I love the RC, but only for inspiration and digging for cool parts; it is way too crunchy for me.

  2. Please, someone publish Moldedon Dangons!

  3. Quite frankly, I really dislike RC; if I wanted to play with combat options and skills, I'd play AD&D. For decades, I've used either BECMI or B/X to introduce new players to RPGs, even when I was heavily into 2e, 3e, or 5e. A few years ago, I looked at Pathfinder Basic, Dragon Age, and two different 2e introductory sets for my kids and went with B/X. The only things we've added are custom classes and they are loving it. We just had three sessions over the Thanksgiving break. I'm a happy Papa.

    1. Well, I love the RC, but only for inspiration (monsters, some classes, etc.); combat options are definitely too crunchy for me.