Monday, March 29, 2010

Holmes, Moldvay, Mentzer, B/X, BECMI, RC????

Simple question, maybe... can someone explain to me the differences between the various editions of basic D&D.  I have the Rules Cyclopedia, and the Red Box basic set (the one with the choose your own adventure style solo game and the ruined keep), and I don't really notice much difference between them, or even between them and Labyrinth Lord.

So can anyone fill me in on the differences?



  1. You can find a brief explanation of physical changes and corrections with the early boxed sets at the Acaeum website. The early boxed sets went through a vast array of changes over a very short period of time; much of this had less to do with the rulebook and more to do with the contents of the box.

    I have a blue boxed set from the fourth printing run (1978) as well as a Rules Cyclopedia from the seventeenth printing (1991). I think the later printing is very similar to Labyrinth Lord but the earlier printing differed in a multitude of ways, specifically with regards to overall content. Keep in mind the earlier printers were shorter and had very limited detail on monsters, treasure, and even classes.

  2. In short, the 1981 (B/X) and 1983 (BEMCI) are very very close, rules-wise, though B/X never went beyond the expert (14th level) range. The biggest difference is in the presentation, with the 1983 version being written more for those who had never played an RPG before. The Rules Cyclopedia is going to be very close to the BECM version.

    Labyrinth Lord is a clone of B/X, with a few noticeable changes including cleric spells at first level and some changes in the AC values of some armors.

    They are all more or less completely compatible. The 1978 (Holmes blue book) isn't quite as close as the others, but not too far off, either. I've never played that so I'm not positive about the actual differences.

  3. The Rules Cyclopedia is a compilation of the Mentzer line of Basic/Expert/Companion/Masters/Immortals sets. It's got rules for just about everything in it.

    The B/X set of books by Moldvay and Cook are a lot like Mentzer Basic and Expert, but there are some differences in things like monsters, and whether clerics get a spell at 1st level. The B/X rules are more "manageable" for a lot of people compared to the Rules Cyclopedia.

    It depends on where your preferences are for Rules Light vs. Rules Complete. :)

  4. Thanks guys. I'll check out the info on Acaeum.

  5. In terms of play, they're not exactly compatible for players (1st level clerics don't get any spells in B/X and the do in BECMI I believe). LL also has different prices for equipment than B/X and BECMI. So your players will need you to come down on one or the other.

    For the DM's purposes, however, it's easy-peasy to bring stuff from any of those into your game, plus 1e stuff (especially the 1e MM).

    But the point here is that the differences are all in the details. They all pretty much play the same way, with tiny tweaks this way or the other. Often, these have a smaller impact on your game than any house rules you might include.

  6. Lots of OSR bloggers make a big thing of them (usually raving about Holmes and disliking Mentzer) but in all honesty as somebody who always played fast and loose with the printed rules I've never really noticed anything that impacted upon the way I ran things. I've never shown enough slavish devotion to the rules to ever trip up over any incompatibilities.

  7. Try this:

    -- Frank Mentzer