Mongol Home

Mongol Home

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Moldvay Basic Observations Part 2-

OK, yesterday I got us all the way through character creation and only wrote a little bit about the different classes and how they differed from the edition of D&D I was more familiar with. I was a little hard on the Thief maybe, because he does get to advance his abilities pretty quickly from worse than everyone else to pretty good and Thieves do have the fastest rate of advancement. I didn't go at all into how much better it was to be a Cleric or a Magic-User in B/X D&D than it is in AD&D and that was an oversight brought on mostly by the fact that I figured it would get covered when I did spells, but the spells alone aren't the reasons why B/X Clerics and Magic-Users are better off than the AD&D versions.

First, I have to backtrack us to Ability scores, and this really applies to every character class in Moldvay, but AD&D really favors Fighters and Fighter Sub-Classes when it comes to Ability score modifiers in regard to Strength and Constitution. In AD&D only Fighters, Paladins and Rangers get percentile Strength scores, so only they have the ability to really lay down the hurt. Likewise, only they have access to the +3 and +4 Constitution modifier for Hit Points, so only they can really stand up in a fight; at best a Cleric in AD&D is a second rate Fighter, limited to weapons that deal less damage, unable to be physically strong enough to do as much extra damage per hit as a Fighter and having both a smaller Hit Die type and less likely to have a Constitution bonus that gives them as many Hit Points, they are unable to stick with a fight as long as a Fighter. Granted, this assumes that the AD&D Fighter has a standard Fighter build, high Strength, Constitution and Dexterity; in AD&D it's pretty common to roll your Ability scores and place them as desired. My point here is that in Moldvay Basic a Cleric* has access to the same Strength and Constitution** bonuses as a Fighter does, he also has the same access to armor, and variable weapon damage is an optional rule***; so the Cleric can stand on the front line, with the same AC as the Fighter, dealing out the same damage as the Fighter and has, on average 1 HP less/level.

Second, and this is Cleric specific, they own the undead. They don't appear to have any restrictions on turning undead, with regards to multiple attempts or trying again after failed attempts; and they turn them generally easier than they do in AD&D at 1st-3rd level. For example, the Skeleton, the easiest undead to turn is turned on a 7 by a 1st level Moldvay D&D Cleric and on a 10 by a 1st level AD&D Cleric, automatically turned by a 2nd level Moldvay D&D Cleric which doesn't happen for an AD&D Cleric until he's 4th level. Additionally, an AD&D Cleric can not attempt to turn again after a failed turn attempt. That said, a 1st level AD&D Cleric at least has a shot at turning a Wight, that doesn't happen in Moldvay.

To end the Cleric specific portion of today's post I'd like to once again point out that the Moldvay Basic Cleric doesn't get a spell at 1st level and I thought that would be a problem, but it really wasn't, and I don't really see it becoming a problem. Cleric's level pretty quick anyway, so that first Clerical spell is right around the corner, but the Cleric should not be used as a healing potion with legs anyway. Honestly, he's never going to have enough healing magic to keep the party going forward, especially considering there are no bonus spells for high Wisdom in Moldvay Basic, so if he casts Cure Light Wounds it's probably because someone got unlucky in one combat. There are only eight first level Cleric spells listed in the Moldvay Basic book and they all have some utility.

Which brings us to spells in general and the biggest surprise I found in the Moldvay Basic rules, EGG really nerfed spell-casters, and Magic-Users in particular, in AD&D. I really considered giving spells a blog post or two of their own and just going through and comparing the spells from Holmes Basic to Moldvay Basic to AD&D, I decided against that, but it's pretty clear now how everyone from the old days considered Magic-Users to be the most seriously bad-ass class. Elves can come in second here, they get hosed by their super slow advancement**** and their low level limit. All of the spells in Moldvay Basic are better than in AD&D somehow, usually in duration. In AD&D spells got pretty much knocked back to a per encounter use, by which I mean nothing lasts until the next encounter; in Moldvay pretty much every spell has a good chance of lasting that long. Detect Magic lasts 20 minutes in Moldvay, it's 2 rounds (minutes)/level of the caster in AD&D, you can take a walk looking for magical stuff in Moldvay, in AD&D you better have all the stuff ready to check when you cast the spell. Mirror Image, 2nd level Magic-User spell, lasts for 6 turns, an hour, in Moldvay; in AD&D it lasts 2 rounds/level of the caster; and in Moldvay an image is always hit first, in AD&D there is a percent chance based on how many images are left. These are just two examples of the many.

So AD&D kind of toned down the Magic-User pretty hard, in Moldvay Basic they share a Hit Die type with the Thief, have awesome spells and can fight pretty well. They can't wear armor, so they probably ought to stay off the line, and they still have a pretty slow advancement, but they have access to the Strength and Constitution bonuses that everyone else has and on average, they are only going to have 2 HP less than the party Fighter at 1st level, the same as the party Thief, who is expected to go into combat with his crappy leather armor and no shield.

*or any PC for that matter, but I am using the Cleric in the example.

**and Constitution can't be modified, so you get what you get. The Fighter probably modified his Strength upwards if he could to get bonuses, so he is more likely to hit and do more damage than the Cleric in the example, but maybe he couldn't.

***although I recommend it's use, just to give the Fighter something to feel special about.

****it's a good thing the Expert Book came out so quick, by the time the Elf hit's 2nd level the Thief and the Cleric have needed to move on to it's expanded experience points chart.

Next D&D bargain week on EBay continues-

These pictures are of the beat up box and the contents sold with the set, it's the complete boxed set with some odd extras thrown in too. The first Dragonlance module and "Quest for the Heartstone", which has a picture of Strongheart the Paladin and Warduke, the D&D action figures, on the cover. I got this because I wanted a better copy of the Basic book.

This is the AD&D 2nd edition Mystara Monsterous Compendium Appendix, I didn't even know it existed until I saw it, but I figured it probably gave AD&D stats for all the monsters that appeared in D&D modules over the years, maybe even AD&D stats for all the monsters that appeared in B/X, BECMI or Cyclopedia D&D but never made it into AD&D.


  1. Dude, you can have all my old D&D stuff. I had that Mystara MC and have some of those odd iter-edition publications from the late 90's too. Next time I'm up north I'll try to get it to you. That will probably be March.

  2. You sure about that? You'll miss that stuff when it comes time to teach your son to play D&D, and that time comes quicker than you think.

  3. Nice series of posts. Moldvay was where I started with D&D. As good as the AD&D hardbacks were for lifting cool stuff and inspiration that's all I did. I never moved on to using the AD&D rules to play. Basic was always good enough. I'm going to be running a game on Sunday. Will have to give the rules a quick once over. It's been awhile.

  4. Yeah, you are probably right. Certainly I don't need all of it, though. If you are looking for any 'fills' let me know. I have a slew of those splatbooks and some other odd stuff that I don't think really added to the game. As you it is your area of research, I'll send you an inventory of what I have at the least.

  5. Great posts. I know there's a lot of Mentzer kids in the clubhouse, but Moldvay will always be, for me, the best basic/intro rules around.

    1. You know it's kind of funny you say that, because I think the Mentzer fans and the Moldvay fans both think they are in the minority; as a Holmes kid I don't have a dog in the Moldvay/Mentzer race, I am curious about both, I just wanted to do Moldvay first because it came chronologically first. That and I haven't found a reasonably priced Mentzer Basic set in decent condition yet.

      The real irony here is that I got side tracked onto this whole B/X thing because of my Oriental Adventures project, Fabian kept converting OA classes & races to Labyrinth Lord, which is based on B/X, as I understand it, so I wanted to go back to the source there and understand the original material on it's own merit.

      My own OA project is starting to look more like 2nd edition AD&D with all the optional stuff, although that's kind of back-burnered now anyway because I wanted to actually play the Moldvay Basic rules after reading them.

      On the plus side, if I can ever find a playtest group, my B/X WW II project is looking much more robust, since actually playing Moldvay Basic has given me a greater understanding of how some of the rules subsystems work in play.

  6. Hey - great blog! I'm just now finding it. The subject matter, including minis, is right up my alley. You know, I've played a lot of B/X, tons of AD&D, and a smattering of OD&D. But I've never played or even owned Mentzer. I may need to change that. But the Rules Cyclopedia and the old mentzer books seem kind of pricey.

  7. And hey, I'm curious about that B/X WWII thing. Oddly enough, I've been thinking about a B/X Raiders of the Lost Ark game (just for personal use).

  8. I am glad you like the blog, I never played any Moldvay until last weekend although I did use stuff from the old Cook Expert set back in '81 while I was still assembling my AD&D collection. You are correct about Mentzer and Cyclopedia being quite pricey. I got my Cyclopedia back in the 90s when it was still kind of new, mostly as a curiousity because a friend told me it had a lot of the D&D Known World stuff in it; and I had been a fan of that setting ever since I had bought the Expert boxed set.

    My B/X WW II stuff is still in an Alpha stage at this point, I designed a bit and had one real playtest session, then tweaked the rules a bit and went back to the drawing board for some stuff. I got bogged down on vehicle rules, because they probably need a skill system and I wanted to avoid adding a skill system to B/X and vehicle armor rules and damage to vehicles needed to be on a different scale than that used for characters, I had some ideas for that, but never really got them down. Soft skinned vehicles vs. armored vehicles were an issue with the system, damage to characters inside vehicles, and a slew of other minor things that kept nagging at me. I wanted something that made sense, but kept the game flowing along too. Realism was always going to be trumped by playability and fun, my design model was Sgt. Rock comics and the old Combat TV series.

  9. Quest for the Heartstone is a sentimental favorite of mine. I've run it for every group I've played.

    The water-powered elevator/toilet always fascinates players & the 3 dimensional complexity of the mountain's tunnels was always a favorite.

    The illusory floor that drops you several stories down into frigid, hydra-infested water is also some real old school brilliance.