Friday, June 19, 2020

Recaps & Roundups part 68: Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set

Box art by Dave Sutherkand

The D&D basic set was the beginning of a new era for the game, one where TSR was upping their production values and shooting for wider mass market success.  A big part of that process was the development of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, but prior to that it was decided that the game needed a more introductory rule-set.  These rules - which only cover player character levels 1 to 3 - were written by John Eric Holmes, a professor of neurology, and are mostly a revision of the original Dungeons & Dragons booklets (with some stuff thrown in from Supplement I: Greyhawk).

Initially, the boxed set came with a rules booklet, a copy of Dungeon Geomorphs Set One, a copy of Monster & Treasure Assortment Set One, and a set of dice.  Later printings swapped out the Geomorphs and Monster & Treasure Assortment for the module B1 In Search of the Unknown, and much later that was replaced by B2 The Keep on the Borderlands.  There were also the infamous numbered cardboard chits, which replaced the dice when TSR were having a shortage.

I already covered this product, starting all the way back here.  Check those posts out for a more in-depth look at the product.  (Although maybe ignore the stuff at the beginning about resetting the rules via an adventurer's guild, because I'm not planning on doing that kind of "rules progression" campaign, at least not in the way I was originally.)  Here I'm just going to quickly run through the new additions to the game, mostly to remind myself of the things I need to incorporate for the Ultimate Sandbox.


  • The first racial ability score requirements (for dwarves and halflings) in an official product.
  • Elves now specifically operate as fighters and magic-users simultaneously (not having to switch classes between adventures as they did in OD&D).
  • The halfling missile bonus is clarified as +1 to attack rolls.  (Previously the rule had referred back to Chainmail, but what was in Chainmail made little sense with D&D's combat system.)
  • Halfling fighters only get 1d6 hit die, as opposed to the standard 1d8.
  • Halflings are specifically limited in size of weapons and armour. I don't think this had been mentioned before.
  • While I'm on the subject of halflings, this is the first D&D product that consistently uses halfling instead of hobbit.  As I understand it, this was the result of legal action from the Tolkien estate, and we won't be seeing the use of the word hobbit from this point forward.
  • The rates for healing are now different.  In OD&D a character healed 1 hit point per day of rest after the first, but here they heal 1-3 points per day
  • Spears now cost 2 gold pieces instead of 1.
  • Tinderboxes have been added to the equipment list.
  • A specific price is given for advertising to hire henchmen (1d6 x 100 gp).
  • The five-point alignment system from The Dragon #6 is used for the first time in an official D&D product.  The alignments are neutral, lawful good, chaotic good, lawful evil and chaotic evil.
  • A simplified, rudimentary encumbrance system is introduced, where characters are either unencumbered, encumbered by armour or a heavy load, or encumbered by both.
  • Durations are given for lanterns and torches.
  • Infravision is clarified as not working near a light source.
  • The chance for surprised characters to drop items is lowered from 25% to 1-in-6.
  • Wandering monsters are now checked for at end of every third turn, rather than every turn, a drastic drop in frequency.
  • The starting distance for encounters is changed from 20-80 to 20-120.
  • Monsters (at least the ones appearing on the wandering monster charts) are given ranges for number appearing that are much more manageable than those from OD&D.
  • The wandering monster tables for dungeons are altered, mostly to get rid of the various classed NPCs and the monsters that Holmes didn't give any stats.
  • The monster reaction roll table is altered, with results for rolls of 2 and 12 being "immediate attack" and "enthusiastic friendship", respectively.
  • Turning undead is greatly clarified, with an actual explanation of how it works presented alongside the chart.
  • Clerics seemingly no longer use spell books, as they were said to do in OD&D.
  • Thieves used to use the magic-user table for saving throws, but now they use the fighter table.
  • Normal men were previously as good in battle as 1st level fighters, but now they've been a little downgraded.
  • The use of flaming oil in combat gets specific (and very lethal) rules.
  • The use of holy water on undead gets specific rules.
  • Combat rounds last for 10 seconds, rather than 1 minute.
  • Parrying rules are given that are different from those in Chainmail.
  • There are rules introduced that allow daggers to strike twice in a round, and limit heavier weapons like polearms and two-handed swords to striking once every other round.  Every weapons does 1d6 damage, so there's no reason at all with this system to choose anything other than a dagger.


There are a bunch of minor changes to spells, but here I'm only listing the more significant ones.

  • The following 1st level magic-user spells make their debut: dancing lights, enlargement and Tenser's floating disc.
  • The following 2nd level magic-user spells make their debut: audible glamer and ray of enfeeblement.
  • The following 1st level cleric spells make their debut: remove fear, resist cold, know alignment, and resist fire.
  • Light is given a range of 120', whereas before it didn't have a range.
  • Magic missile requires an attack roll to hit, whereas most later versions of D&D make it hit automatically.
  • Protection from evil's bonuses stack with magic armor, whereas before that was specifically not the case.
  • Sleep is given a duration of either 4-16 turns or 2-8 turns (both are used.) It previously had no duration specified.
  • The radius of continual light has dropped from 240 ft. to a much saner 60 ft.
  • The strength spell bonuses are now reversed for clerics and thieves; originally, clerics got a 1d6 bonus and thieves got a 1d4 bonus.
  • Hold person is clarified as a paralysis spell, whereas before it could be interpreted as a variation on charm person.
  • The reversed spells for evil clerics now get specific names: cure light wounds becomes cause light wounds, detect evil becomes detect good, light becomes darkness, purify food and water becomes contaminate food and water, remove fear becomes cause fear, and bless becomes curse.


  • Pretty much every monster's alignment gets changed from OD&D to the Basic Set, due to the use of the new alignment system.  There are also a bunch of smaller statistical changes that I'm not going to bother listing here.  I went through those pretty exhaustively in my initial posts on the Basic Set.
  • Zombies are said to be poisoned by salt.  Curiously, this line (under "Monster Saving Throws") is in my PDF version of the rules, but not my actual copy of the book.  It must have been removed from later printings.  I might keep it in mind for specific types of zombies.
  • Kobolds are described as dwarf-like, which is more mythologically correct than the D&D-style dog-men.  They also get a saving throw bonus that's not seen in other versions of the game.
  • Weresharks are mentioned as a possibility (and said to come from "Polynesia"), but sadly no stats are given.
  • The sight of a mummy can now paralyse, which isn't something I recall from other editions.
  • Pixie royalty are said to be powerful magic-users.
  • Zombies are upgraded from 1 Hit Die to 2 Hit Dice.  (Although I think that the OD&D tables could be interpreted as 2.)


  • The value of electrum pieces are set at half a gold piece.  Previously they had been valued at either half or double of one gold piece.
  • Treasure Types J through T are added, which mostly give much smaller results than the earlier types.
  • There's a cursed sword -1 on the chart, whereas I'm pretty sure the only previous cursed sword had been a cursed sword +1.  That might have been a typo.
  • Magic swords are no longer all intelligent.
  • The ring of plant control makes its debut.
  • The ring of protection grants an Armor Class of 2, which is a very generous interpretation of the OD&D rules.
  • Gauntlets of ogre power get specific powers, adding a bonus of 2d4 to damage.


  • Malchor the Magic-User is an NPC who has an Intelligence score of 10.  In addition to his normal garb (boots, loincloth, robes, girdle, pointy hat), he bought the following gear with his starting gold: 2 daggers, a backpack, a large sack, some rope, standard rations, 2 small sacks, 12 iron spikes, a quart of wine, 2 oil flasks, 2 vials of holy water, a garlic bud, some wolvesbane, a waterskin, a tinderbox and a lantern.  He had 20 gold pieces left over.  He is able to cast the sleep spell.
  • Drego the Thief is another NPC named.  He is 1st level.  At one point he failed to pick a lock, and at another he successfully hid in the shadows of a dark corridor while a party of evil warriors passed by.
  • Bruno the Battler is another NPC, a fighter.  He has a Dexterity of 13, wields a sword, wears chainmail and shield, uses a bow, and has 6 hit points.  As will be seen later, I sadly won't be using Bruno as an active NPC in my campaign.
  • Clarissa the Cleric is an NPC with a Dexterity of 6, who uses a mace.  She's described as a "priestess", which might make her 3rd level (the 3rd level cleric title being "priest").
  • Mogo the Mighty is the last named NPC.  He is presumably a fighter, as he uses a bow and a sword, and wears chainmail armour.  He has a Dexterity of 9, and only has 3 hit points.
  • On one adventure, Bruno the Battler busted down a door and killed a big goblin wearing chainmail armour and wielding a scimitar.
  • On another adventure (or possibly later in the same one), a party of adventurers (which includes Malchor, Bruno, Clarissa, and Mogo, among others) is standing at an intersection when they are attacked by six giant spiders.  Malchor takes out four of them with a sleep spell, while one is killed by arrow fire.  The last one poisons Bruno to death, before being killed by Clarissa.
  • An example dungeon cross section is given, as shown below.  I will probably use the Skull Mountain adventure written by Jeff Sparks to represent this dungeon in my campaign.

  • There's also a sample dungeon, set beneath the ruined tower of the wizard Zenopus.  I've already extensively detailed my placement for this module in the campaign, as shown in this post.
  • Finally, there's an example of play with a party that includes the "caller", a halfling, a fighter, an elf, a dwarf, and possibly others.  They move north up a corridor, and enter a room and fight some orcs for a chest with 100 gold pieces.  The halfling hears slithering behind the door they just came through, while the elf finds a secret door.  The party goes through the secret door until they are eventually confronted by a gelatinous cube.  As the cube advances, the dwarf notices a hollow space under the floor.  I may include this section of dungeon somewhere, and I've mapped it below.  The NPCs aren't named, so I might just assume that the cube did them in.

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