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.

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 - but 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.). 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 enjoy 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.

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).

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...

EDIT: BTW, both Old School Feats and Alternate Magic are on sale. Both compatible with B/X and both (especially OSF) good examples on how to add some fiddly bits to your games without getting to AD&D/RC levels of complexity.


  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!