Thursday, June 10, 2010

D&D Basic Set part 1

Yes, it's been a long time. And yes, I know that I promised to do some consolidation and campaign-building in the meantime. That stuff is still going to happen. But in the interests of keeping this blog ticking over, I'm leaving the OD&D era behind and forging blindly ahead into the AD&D era, starting with the D&D Basic Set, as edited by J. Eric Holmes.

But wait! The Basic Set is not AD&D, I hear you cry. Shouldn't it be a part of the Classic D&D line? There's a school of thought that places it there, but I honestly believe that, as a reinterpretation of the original D&D booklets, it has more to do with AD&D than it does to Classic D&D. And besides that, this is a chronological journey through the history of D&D, and both lines of the game were in publication at the same time. That means I'll have both rulesets operating simultaneously in my campaign. And even disregarding all of that, the D&D Basic Set is obviously from a different era than the original D&D booklets in terms of style and presentation. I think it's a good relaunch point.

In terms of my campaign, the introduction of this product is going to be a major shift in how things work. The Basic Set is a simplified and clarified version of original D&D, and a lot of the rules introduced in later supplements are not included here. This is fine by me, as it will clear away a lot of accumulated dross, but it's going to take some explaining. So this is what I'm going to do. Once I get to the end of the D&D era, I'll leave things be until a group of players decide to create new characters. At that point, I'll explain that the head of the Adventurer's Guild has died, probably of old age (or possibly through murder if I feel like tossing a plot hook out there). A new guy has taken over, and he has issued an edict – back to basics! Out with illusionists! Bye bye assassins! No more new fangled fighting styles or any other such nonsense – just good old fashioned traditional adventuring techniques. Heavy-handed? Yeah, but I have nothing better. And all of that stuff is going to work its way back in soon enough, in spades. I should also note that older characters will continue to work with all of the previous rules - it doesn't make sense to strip a veteran character of all of those skills, and the different varations of D&D are all fairly compatible at this stage.

But enough of that, it's time to get to the real meat – the D&D Basic Set!

The preface kicks off with some words from the author, explaining that this is based on original D&D, and has been edited to make it easier to understand. Then it moves into a reprint of the foreword from OD&D, which I've covered before in the halcyon days. Nothing new here, kids.

The Introduction does a good job of explaining what the game is about (exploring fantasy dungeons for treasure, of course) without ever explaining how the game is played. We'll see how long it takes the author to get around to this. There's also a brief note on the role of the Dungeon Master, and it's good to see this term now being used in an official capacity.

And then it's straight into character creation, beginning with Ability Scores. It's the usual six (Strength, Intelligence, Wisdom, Constitution, Dexterity, and Charisma), each rolled with 3d6, and the prime requisites for each class remain unchanged. One thing that's interesting to note is that Dwarves and Halflings now have ability score requirements: you now need a Constitution of 9 or more to become a Dwarf, and a Constitution and Dexterity of 9 more to be a Halfling. Ability score requirements for race had been introduced earlier in a Dragon article about birth tables and social standing, but this is the first time that they appear in a core product.

Oh, and they've also kept the awesome bit about witches keeping high-Charisma male characters as their lovers. There's also an equal opportunity version, whereby charismatic females will be captured by dragons instead of eaten.

Having a high score in your class's prime requisite still nets you an experience point bonus (just as having a low score nets you a penalty), and those numbers haven’t changed at all. The Dexterity bonus for missile fire also remains unchanged. What has changed is the hit point bonus for high Constitution. In OD&D, it was a simple +1 for a score of 15 or more. Supplement I: Greyhawk introduced higher bonuses for scores of 17 and 18, and it's that system that is used here.

The rules for exchanging ability scores (dropping one score to make your prime requisite higher) are exactly as they had been, except that now Magic-Users can exchange Strength for Intelligence. Previously, Magic-Users had been more limited than the other classes in what they could exchange, which was probably more of an oversight than a deliberate choice. Holmes has changed that here, and I approve. Alas, the Thief remains as limited as before. While the other classes get two scores they can trade with, Thieves must lose 2 Intelligence and 1 Wisdom point to gain one point of Dexterity. It doesn't match up with the rest of the classes, and just plain offends my sense of symmetry. Blah!

NEXT: Classes!

1 comment:

chatdemon said...

I agree 100% with your classification of the Holmes Basic set as part of the AD&D family and not the Classic (Basic) D&D family.

The main reason for this is that the Holmes set has a definite feel of "these are the essentials of the game, once you've mastered them, go pick up the PHB and DMG and see what the game is really about.", as opposed to the Moldvay and Mentzer era sets which stand alone from AD&D and present themselves as a complete game.