Monday, August 24, 2015

#Blaugust Day 24: Mystara Monday: Basic Rules

Today we take a look at where it all began, the first Dungeons & Dragons product I ever owned, Dungeons & Dragons Set 1: Basic Rules.

Adventure lies within

If you played Fourth Edition D&D you may recognize that art and cover design as being nearly identical to that of the Fourth Edition Starter Set. This was the third boxed set to be released as the Basic Rules. The first came out in 1977 and was intended to introduce players to Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. The second, often referred to as the Moldvay rules was a heavy revision done by Tom Moldvay in 1981. I was in this revision that the Dungeons & Dragons rules split from Advanced D&D. What I have here is the third Basic Rules set, revised by Frank Mentzer in 1983.

In this box, I got a 64 page Players Manual, a 48 page Dungeon Masters Rulebook, and a set of polyhedral dice. Sadly, the dice were stolen along with all my others nearly 20 years ago. I've bought plenty of dice since then, but I still miss that very first set I ever owned. The books have almost the exact same cover layout as the box cover.

The art on that box, by the way, is by the famed Larry Elmore, and the Players Handbook is full of more. Jeff Easley contributed a fair bit as well, but Elmore's art is what I always think of when I think of these books, and of D&D in general. The Dungeon Masters Guide mostly has art by Jim Holloway which is a bit rougher. Elmore's adventurers look like high fantasy characters, almost superheroes even; Holloway's look more like rough and ready mountain men.

And that is what elves, halflings, and dwarves should look like

Based on my internet research, the rules differences between the previous version and this are pretty minor. The big change is in how the information is presented. The box says for ages 10 and up, and the books are very well suited for just that. The writing is aimed young without being pedantic or insulting. The set was also clearly designed as an introduction for someone with no prior experience.

Rather than starting out with rules to create characters and so forth, the Players Manual first explains what 'role playing' is and then runs the character through a simple, linear solo adventure. Throughout the adventure concepts are introduced as they come up, so constitution and hit points are explained when you fight your first monster, a goblin. Saving throws are introduced in a fight with a poisonous snake, and so on. By the time you reach the rules for new character creation, 48 pages in, you've played two solo adventures and should have a pretty good concept of how the game works.

The Dungeon Masters Guide is set up in a similar way, starting out with a pretty straightforward castle adventure to run for your group. I recall playing this adventure with my best friend at the time, with each of us running two characters and me serving as DM. Eventually I put together a more typical gaming group in high school where I DMd for a group of friends every day at lunch, but in the beginning it was just the two of us.

That first adventure was a great introduction, even if it did contain more than one of the classic PC killers (a carrion crawler, yellow mold, and harpies). It also connected to the solo adventure from the Players Handbook through the character of Bargle the Infamous, an evil magic user who served as the main villain in each. In the solo adventure, Bargle kills a beautiful female cleric named Aleena whom you have befriended and now the town (and you) want him to pay. Bargle is a fantastic, and well-loved (hated) villain who reappears in later supplements and adventures and makes a perfect Big Bad for an ongoing campaign. When this mini-adventure was reworked for 3rd edition and published in the final issue of Dungeon, it was even titled 'Kill Bargle.'

Seriously, Bargle is the worst

This box was what kindled my love of tabletop role-playing games, and nearly 30 years later I still treasure it. I had played a few computer RPGs prior to this, notable Might & Magic, so I had a decent idea how the dungeon crawl part was supposed to go. I actually found the character sheets for the two PCs I played in that first campaign with my friend, and I had even reused the names of two of the default Might & Magic PCs for them. But this box was what made me realize we could create our own adventures, and that they could involve more than just killing monsters. It was the beginning of something wonderful.

Next week I'm going to take a look at the first adventure released specifically for the Basic Rules (although for an earlier revision); Adventure Module B1: In Search of the Unknown. Let's see how many ways to kill a player we can find in this one!


  1. That demihuman picture is one of the illustrations indelibly in my head.

    I also really liked the character sheet in the red box with the shield for AC and the black bar with round areas for saves.

    1. Yep, those three pretty much epitomize the demihuman races for me. When I picture Bilbo Baggins, the image is not too far off from that halfling.

  2. RPGMP3 suggested I send you this link. It's a 5E Player's Handbook for Mystara.

    1. It was me that pointed TheGlen here FYI. I'm Lucky_Strike over there if it ever comes up. you should swing by those forums.

    2. This is definitely relevant to my interests. Thanks!