Dungeons & Dragons is a lot like Doctor Who. No, bear with me on this one. It will make sense in a minute.
Just like Doctor Who, D&D regenerates into a new edition every few years, with each fresh incarnation bringing subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) shifts in personality and direction. Fans become polarized as to which version is best, and a subset of the fanbase decry all other versions as somehow inferior to their one true incarnation. Whether it’s David Tennant or Third Edition Dungeons & Dragons, you will find a vocal proponent somewhere loudly proclaiming that any other incarnation is just a pale pastiche in comparison.
And, just like Doctor Who, you always remember your first.
For me, my earliest recollections of Doctor Who was Patrick Troughton, and I still have a soft spot for the whimsical yet austere portrayal of the good Doctor.
I feel just the same about the first edition of Dungeons & Dragons that crossed my path.
Thanks to the wonder that is D&D Classics, Tom Molvday’s brilliant edition of D&D is once more legally available to purchase as a downloadable PDF for just $4.99 or regional equivalent (about £3.15 or 3.75 euros). Here’s why you owe it to yourself to do just that very thing, right now.
One book D&D
This is an edition of D&D that contains everything you need in a single easily digestible package (especially if printed on edible paper). It’s just 68 pages in length yet still manages to contain the very essence of Dungeons & Dragons. We have the four core classes – Fighter, Thief, Cleric, Magic-User alongside the Elf, Dwarf and Halfling. The non-human races are presented as full Classes in their own right rather than Races, but this serves to make character generation quite possibly the fastest found in any edition of D&D, ever.
Character advancement only reaches up to 3rd level, but don’t be fooled. This is Classic D&D where gaining a level is a milestone event rather than a speed bump with advancement progressing at a near glacial pace. For a starting adventurer, the path to second level is measured over many adventurers rather than a handful of encounters. If you measure level advancement in how many Goblins you have to kill to get there (and Goblin should be a standard unit of measurement, imho) a Fighter would need to slay 400 Goblins single handedly just to reach 2nd level. A party composed of Fighter, Thief, Cleric and Magic-User would have to kill 1,400 Goblins for them all to reach 2nd level. I did the math.
Over on the DM’s side of the table, Moldvay provides The Haunted Keep, complete ready to run 1st level adventure (that I had an absolute blast DM’ing with Fourth Edition D&D, but more of that later), a complete Bestiary containing everything from the lowliest Kobolds to Dragons of all colours (all the colours that matter, anyway), Magic Items, rules and guidelines for Adventure and Encounter Design. Heck, there’s even a set of Wandering Monster tables. What more do you need?
This isn’t just a one-shot Starter Edition of D&D. It is many, many months of game-play in a single tome.
Pick up and play D&D
While this is so much more than a Starter Edition of D&D, it also makes a darned fine Starter Edition of D&D. Moldvay makes an ideal version of the game to introduce new players (or even a whole new group, DM and all) to Dungeons & Dragons. Where other editions of the game may require a certain amount of advance preparation (or at the very least, a willingness to get your head around quite complex concepts quickly in-game), Moldvay D&D is simple. This is a game that says, in large friendly letters on the cover
For 3 or More Adults, Ages 10 and Up
Yes, it’s official. This game is for adults aged 10 and up. Even the youngest adult can play Moldvay D&D. Not that I have seen many 10-year old adults, but if they are out there, they can play this game too. Isn’t that nice to know?
Adaptable to other editions of D&D
If you play other editions of D&D already and don’t want to change, I guarantee that there will be something in this book you can use. I ran the Haunted Keep from this book in Fourth Edition simply by winging it as I went along, and it ranks as probably the most fun I had playing 4e. If that doesn’t appeal, you will find rules for Retainers, those darned handy Wandering Monsters tables and more.
Small it might be, but Moldvay D&D is cover-to-cover gaming inspiration.
A taste of what is to come
In the latest articles for Legend & Lore, Mike Mearls has talked about the design goals for the Next edition of D&D, and a large part of that is the idea that Dungeons & Dragons can operate and appeal to three levels of complexity – Basic, Standard and Advanced. I expect that most gamers will recognise and have some experience of playing at the Standard level as that is most similar to the Third and Fourth Editions of the game. The Basic level taps directly into the spiritual core of D&D, and that is where Moldvay D&D sits, right now. This is D&D stripped of any and all extraneous rules to provide as quick and elegant a system as possible.
While it is great that many gamers came to D&D through Third and Fourth Edition, it’s a sad fact that an awful lot of them haven’t experienced D&D in its purest form where the rules complexity takes a back seat and whimsy, inventiveness and just plain having fun takes centre stage – not that I’m saying you can’t do these things in any other edition of D&D (don’t start your “my Doctor Who is better than yours” arguments with me!).
In our own playtests of D&D Next, I do get that strong sense of Classic D&D through the rules, and that is partly because I have played Classic D&D and know it when I see it. If you haven’t played or run a game of Classic D&D, I firmly suggest you do. Minimal it might be, but that minimalism opens up a whole vista of imaginative play. If D&D Next can replicate that (and so far, it’s succeeding), it will have bottled the rainbow.
Excellent quality PDF
The first time around, the D&D PDFs available from RPGNow were (let’s be kind) variable in quality, with several being poor quality scans that bordered on the downright illegible.
Not this time.
All of the pre- Third Edition PDFs have been fully remastered with full OCR and bookmarks. For the Third and Fourth Edition PDFs (and D&D Next ones too, when and if they are released), the PDFs come from the actual print masters themselves. Whatever the age, the PDFs should be of a far better quality than we have seen before. The Molvday PDF is no exception; it is fully bookmarked with crisp, clean text and artwork throughout. I can’t fault it.
Dude, it’s five bucks!
Last but not least, Molvday D&D is cheap. It’s the price of an expensive coffee or a soggy lasagne, and will provide far more enjoyment than either. Probably more nutrition too. While Classic D&D has countless OSR-fueled replicants, this is the original and (dare I say it?) the best. For five dollars, you can buy a slice of D&D history that you can sit down and play immediately. What’s not to love.
Go get a copy. You won’t regret it. It might just become your favourite incarnation of D&D (sonic screwdriver not included).
Thanks for listening.