Saturday, January 29, 2022

Inspirational Source Material

A good D&D campaign is imaginative and creative.  Sometimes a little research is useful to improve a dungeon, flesh out a scenario, and provide inspiration for a campaign.  Books on folklore, mythology, fairy tales, bestiaries, and knightly legends can often help the DM fill in important details of a campaign, but fictional tales and fantasy novels usually provide the best sources of inspiration.

Tom Moldvay, D&D Basic rulebook (1981)

Tom Moldvay included an extensive list of inspirational source material in the D&D Basic rulebook (pg B62).*  While similar to the list appearing in Appendix N in the AD&D 1e DMs Guide, Moldvay's list is more extensive, and includes non-fiction.

*special thanks for assistance in compiling the list was extended to Barbara Davis, Children's Librarian at the Lake Geneva Public Library, in the credits to the rulebook

In reproducing Moldvay's list, authors and their works have been linked to wikipedia entries, where available.  An exception are the many non-fiction titles, most of which have been linked to, where they can be accessed.

Writers and their books appearing in Appendix N are indicated by an asterisk (those appearing in my "Appendix O" subset are indicated by a second asterisk).

(I've taken the liberty of correcting several typos, but have otherwise reproduced the list as it appears on pg. B62.  Certain entries can also probably be better organized, but I've left that job for another time...)

For those interested in delving deeper into the literary source material that inspired the development of D&D, the Appendix N Book Club podcast is highly recommended.

Fiction: Young Adult Fantasy

Alexander, Lloyd - The Book of Three (1964); The Black Cauldron (1965); The Castle of Llyr (1966), et al.

Baum, L. Frank - The Wizard of Oz (1900); The Emerald City of Oz (1910); The Land of Oz (1904), et al.

Bellairs, John* - The Face in the Frost* (1969); The House with a Clock in Its Walls (1973); The Figure in the Shadows (1975), et al.

Cover to the first edition of A Princess of Mars (1917) by Edgar Rice Burroughs, published by A.C. McClurg.  (Story originally serialized in All-Story Magazine from February - July, 1912).  Illustration by Frank E. Schoonover.

Burroughs, Edgar Rice** - A Princess of Mars** (1912/1917); At the Earth's Core** (1914/1922); Tarzan of the Apes (1912/1914), et al.

Carroll, Lewis - Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865); Through the Looking Glass (1865)

Garner, Alan - Elidor (1965); The Weirdstone of Brisingamen (1960); The Moon of Gomrath (1963), et al.

Le Guin, Ursula K. - A Wizard of Earthsea (1968); The Tombs of Atuan (1971); The Farthest Shore (1972), et al.

Lewis, C. S. - The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe (1950); Prince Caspian (1951); The Voyage of the "Dawn Treader" (1952), et al.

Non-Fiction: Young Adult

Barber, Richard - A Companion to World Mythology (1980)

Buehr, Walter - Chivalry and the Mailed Knight (1963)

Coolidge, Olivia - Greek Myths (1949); The Trojan War (1952); Legends of the North (1951)

see also Men of Athens (1962); Lives of Famous Romans (1965)

d'Aulaire, Ingri and Edgar Parin - Norse Gods and Giants (1967); Trolls (1972)

see also d'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths (1967)

Hazeltine, Alice - Hero Tales from Many Lands (1961)

Hillyer, Virgil - Young People's Story of the Ancient World: Prehistory - 500 B.C. (1966)

Jacobs, Joseph - English Folk and Fairy Tales (1890)

Cover to Castle (1977) by David Macauley, published by Scholastic.  The fictional castle depicted was based on Conwy Castle in North Wales.

Macauley, David - Castle (1977)

see also Castle, PBS special (1983)

McHargue, Georgess - The Beasts of Never (1968); The Impossible People (1972)

see also Mummies (1972); Meet the Werewolf (1976); Meet the Vampire (1979); Meet the Witches (1984)

Renault, Mary - The Lion in the Gateway (1964)

Sellow, Catherine F. - Adventures with the Giants (1950)

Sutcliff, Rosemary - Tristan and Iseult (1971)

Williams, Jay - Life in the Middle Ages (1966)

Winer, Bart - Life in the Ancient World (1961)

Fiction: Adult Fantasy

Anderson, Poul** - Three Hearts and Three Lions** (1961); The Broken Sword** (1954); The Merman's Children (1979), et al.

Anthony, Piers - A Spell for Chameleon (1977); The Source of Magic (1979); Castle Roogna (1979)

Asprin, Robert - Another Fine Myth (1978)

Brackett, Leigh* - The Coming of the Terrans (1967); The Secret of Sinharat (1964); People of the Talisman (1964), et al.

Campbell, J. Ramsey - Demons by Daylight (1973)

Davidson, Avram - The Island Under the Earth (1969); Ursus of Ultima Thule (1973); The Phoenix and the Mirror (1969), et al.

de Camp, L. Sprague* - The Fallible Fiend* (1973); The Goblin Tower (1968), et al.

de Camp, L. Sprague** and Pratt, Fletcher** - The Incomplete Enchanter** (1941); Land of Unreason (1942), et al.

Dunsany, Lord** - Over the Hills and Far Away (1974); The Book of Wonder (1912); The King of Elfland's Daughter (1924), et al.

Eddison, E. R. - The Worm Ouroboros (1922)

Eisenstein, Phyllis - Born to Exile (1978); Sorcerer's Son (1979)

Farmer, Philip Jose* - The Gates of Creation* (1966); The Maker of Universes* (1965); A Private Cosmos* (1968), et al.

Finney, Charles G. - The Unholy City(1937); The Circus of Dr. Lao (1935)

Heinlein, Robert A. - Glory Road (1963)

Howard, Robert E. - Conan; Red Nails (1936); Pigeons from Hell (1938)

Lee, Tanith - Night's Master (1978); The Storm Lord (1976); The Birthgrave (1975), et al

Leiber, Fritz** - The Swords of Lankhmar** (1968); Swords Against Wizardry** (1968); Swords Against Death** (1970), et al.

Lovecraft, H. P.** - The Doom that Came to Sarnath (1920); The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath (1943); The Dunwich Horror (1929)

Merritt, A. E.** - The Moon Pool** (1918/1919); Dwellers in the Mirage** (1932); The Ship of Ishtar (1924), et al.

Moorcock, Michael** - The Stealer of Souls** (1963); The Knight of the Swords (1971); Gloriana (1978), et al.

Mundy, Talbot - Tros of Samothrace (1934)

Niven, Larry - The Flight of the Horse (1973); The Magic Goes Away (1976)

Norton, Andre* - Witch World (1963); Year of the Unicorn (1965); The Crystal Gryphon (1972), et al.

Offutt, Andrew - The Iron Lords (1979); Shadows Out of Hell (1980)

Pratt, Fletcher* - The Blue Star* (1952/1969); The Well of the Unicorn (1948)

Smith, Clark Ashton - Xiccarph (1972); Lost Worlds (1944); Genius Loci and Other Tales (1948)

Stewart, Mary - The Crystal Cave (1970); The Hollow Hills (1973); The Last Enchantment (1979)

see also The Wicked Day (1983); The Prince and the Pilgrim (1995)

Stoker, Bram - Dracula (1897)

Swann, Thomas Burnett - Cry Silver Bells (1977); The Tournament of the Thorns (1976); Moondust (1968), et al.

Cover to the first single-volume edition of The Lord of the Rings (1968) by J.R.R. Tolkien, published by Allen & Unwin.  Illustration by Pauline Baynes.

Tolkien, J. R. R.** - The Hobbit** (1937); The Lord of the Rings** (trilogy; 1954-1955)

see also The Silmarillion (1977)

Vance, Jack** - The Eyes of the Overworld** (1966); The Dying Earth** (1950); The Dragon Masters (1963), et al.

Wagner, Karl Edward - Bloodstone (1975); Death Angel's Shadow (1973); Dark Crusade (1976), et al.

White, Theodore H. - The Once and Future King (1958)

Zelazny, Roger** - Jack of Shadows** (1971); Lord of Light (1967); Nine Princes in Amber** (1970), et al.

Some additional authors of fantasy fiction are:

Beagle, Peter S.

Bok, Hannes

Cabell, James Branch

Carter, Lin*

Cherryh, C. J.

Delany, Samuel R.

Fox, Gardner*

Gaskell, Jane

Green, Roland

Haggard, H. Rider

Jakes, John

Kurtz, Katherine

Lanier, Sterling*

McCaffrey, Anne

McKillip, Patricia A.

Moore, C. L.

Myers, John Myers

Peake, Mervyn

Saberhagen, Fred*

Walton, Evangeline

Wellman, Manly Wade*

Williamson, Jack*

Short Story Collections

Carter, Lin (ed.) - The Year's Best Fantasy Stories (in several volumes; 1975-1988); Flashing Swords! (also in several volumes; 1973-1981)

Offutt, Andrew* (ed.) - Swords Against Darkness* (in several volumes; 1977-1979)


Borges, Jorge Luis - The Book of Imaginary Beings (1957, 1967/1969)

Cover to The Age of Chivalry and Legends of Charlemagne (1992) by Thomas Bulfinch, published by Doubleday.  (Originally published separately in 1859 and 1863, respectively).  Illustration The Accolade (1901) by Edmund Leighton.

Bulfinch, Thomas - Bulfinch's Mythology: The Age of Fable (1855), The Age of Chivalry (1859)

see also Legends of Charlemagne (1863)

Funk and Wagnalls Standard Dictionary of Folklore, Mythology, and Legend (1949, 1950, 1972)

Sunday, January 23, 2022

The Haunted Keep: Expanded Version

I ran an expanded version of "The Haunted Keep" for my brother, a few years after we started playing D&D.  A while back, I came across my decades-old notes, and scanned them, (downloadable, here).

Rough sketch of a plan for the West Tower of the Haunted Keep, drawn by myself, almost 40 years ago.

While nothing profound, the notes are of interest as a gaming artifact, and can serve as the basis for a more sophisticated revision.

There are a couple of good design elements (the hall of alcoves in the catacombs on the 2nd level, the caverns connected by an underwater passage on the 3rd level).

The stocking is quite random, with only token regard as to how nearby creatures interact, and a fairly rudimentary sense of dungeon ecology.

The Ruins:

The surface ruins could be further detailed, with a rough map of the fallen castle walls, and a few hidden encounters (giant centipedes, a gecko, etc.)

This location could also serve as the site for an ambush, should the player characters leave and return to the dungeon, a few days later.

The West Tower:

Moldvay suggests using bandits on the 1st level, and both my original version and the Dragonsfoot adventure place them in the West Tower.

A well sketched-out group of bandits as one of the factions in "The Haunted Keep" is important, and since bandits may have an NPC leader of any class, this represents an opportunity to introduce a higher-level fighter, magic-user, or cleric into the mix.

Two of the prisoners should be held by the bandits, who confine themselves to the West Tower (and could be persuaded to switch sides).

The Catacombs:

The catacombs should predate the construction of the castle, as in Lovecraft's "The Rats in the Walls" (one of the methods to reach the lower caverns should involve a secret passage beneath an altar).

Perhaps there are dungeon cells, used by the Rodemus family for sinister purposes in the past, and where some of the prisoners are being kept, guarded by hobgoblins.

The various undead (skeletons, zombies, and ghouls) probably inhabit parts of the catacombs avoided by the wererats and their goblinoid allies.

The Wererat Lair:

These caverns should include areas predating the arrival of the Rodemus family, with evil creatures that even they and the goblinoids shun.

The Rodemus family should be sketched out as NPCs, with competing interests.  Perhaps there is a power struggle within the family.

The hobgoblin king should be present, with thouls among his bodyguards.  He has been overseeing the raids, and is mustering his forces.

The final prisoners should be here, although might be infected with lycanthropy (why else would they have been taken prisoner?)

Wererats, from the AD&D 1e Monster Manual.  Illustration by Dave Trampier.

The Prisoners:

Each of the twelve prisoners should be fully sketched out (it can be randomly determined which of them are a specific player character's relatives).

Dungeon Dressing:

Moldvay suggests "adding spooky noises and some ghostly figures which appear suddenly in odd places (though harmless)."

I've discovered that the best time for players to be told their characters hear a spooky noise (a low moan, a brief shriek, mindless gibbering, etc.) is when they are listening at a door (the noise originating in the distance from somewhere behind them, not behind the door).

The use of ghostly figures (deceased members of the Rodemus family, recognizable from old portraits, etc.) can help to convey that a curse has befallen the family.

Similar Works:

Other adventures involving rats and/or wererats can serve as a source of inspiration (and ideas).

Dungeon #14 (November/December, 1988) "The Wererats of Relfren" contains a description of Greater Wererats (BECMI).*

*perhaps the bandits were delivering a shipment of "Emerald Moon Cheese" (green-colored cheese with holes in it)...

Knockspell #4 is devoted to rats, with adventures including "Beneath the Crossroads" by Joshua Gervais, and "Rats in the Walls" (AS&SH) by Jeffrey Talanian (inspired by Lovecraft's story, but not based upon it).

Saturday, January 22, 2022

Moldvay Basic: The Haunted Keep

Tom Moldvay included a sample dungeon, "The Haunted Keep", as part of a step-by-step example describing how to design a dungeon, in his section on "Dungeon Master Information", in the D&D Basic Set (1981) rulebook:
In the distant past, the Haunted Keep was the castle of the Rodemus family. It was abandoned many years ago when the family mysteriously disappeared. It is now rumored to be haunted. Strange lights and sounds are often seen and heard in the ruins by passing townspeople.

Recently, a tribe of goblins has been raiding the countryside. On their last raid they captured a dozen prisoners. The prisoners are all relatives of the player characters, who have banded together to rescue their relatives. The party has tracked the goblins to the Keep or castle, right up to the only door to the east tower.

Most of the Haunted Keep is in ruins. Only two towers remain, connected by a gatehouse, and only the first floors of these towers are intact. The Keep was built with rough granite blocks, now pitted with age. The door into the east tower is wooden and one hinge is rusted through.

Tom Moldvay "The Haunted Keep"

A map of the east tower is provided, beneath which a winding staircase leads to the catacombs, where the Rodemus family ancestors are buried.  The lowest level consists of a partially submerged, maze-like series of natural caverns.

Cross section of The Haunted Keep.  Illustration by Erol Otus.

A subsequent "Sample Dungeon Expedition" follows the exploits of Morgan Ironwolf* and her companions beneath the trap door in the east tower, continuing with the "Example of Combat" on pg. B28 (see map, posted at "Jasper's Rantings" (April 20, 2015).

*Morgan Ironwolf, Sister Rebecca, and Black Dougall appear as characters in the back of the AD&D 1e "Dungeon Masters Adventure Log" (1980)

Moldvay appears to have drawn inspiration from the short story "The Rats in the Walls" by H.P. Lovecraft, in conceptualizing "The Haunted Keep".  Both involve crypts leading to subterranean caverns, beneath a castle formerly occupied by cursed nobility.

Incidentally, Wizards of the Coast included the description of a "Myron Rodemus" as an example of a non-player character "foil" in playtest material released for 5e, back in 2017 (discussed in some depth over at the Piazza).


In 2008, the collaborative project DF23: The Haunted Keep was released for download on Dragonsfoot, representing a completion of the sample dungeon.  While this had some good ideas, it didn't channel the Lovecraft source material or feel.

I had the opportunity to play in Paul Stormberg's version of "The Haunted Keep" at Virtual Gary Con XII in 2020, and had a fantastic time.  Paul really captured the spirit of Moldvay's original, and should consider publishing it.

Naturally, I ran my own version of "The Haunted Keep", back in the day, although have since developed further ideas regarding how I would like to expand it, should I ever decide to run it, again (to be covered in tomorrow's post).

Saturday, January 15, 2022

Moldvay Basic: Scenarios

In the section on "Dungeon Master Information" in the Moldvay Basic rulebook, Tom Moldvay provides a step-by-step guide to creating a dungeon, starting with choosing a scenario:

A scenario is a background theme or idea which ties the dungeon together.  A scenario will help keep the dungeon from becoming a boring repetition of "open the door, kill the monster, take the treasure."

Tom Moldvay, D&D Basic rulebook (1981)

The following scenarios, with examples from modules published during the same era, convey a sense of the B/X aesthetic.

Frontispiece to module B3 "Palace of the Silver Princess".  Illustration by Bill Willingham.

1. Exploring the Unknown

The party is hired to map unknown territory.  The area might have once been familiar but is now overrun or destroyed; a strange tower might mysteriously appear overnight in a familiar area.  Dungeon modules B1 (In Search of the Unknown) and B3 (Palace of the Silver Princess) are examples of exploration scenarios.

While module B1 "In Search of the Unknown" is clearly an example of this type of scenario, the revised, green cover version of module B3 "Palace of the Silver Princess" seems more like an example of 6. Fulfilling a Quest (see below).

The reason for this became clear when Wizards of the Coast released a downloadable pdf of the original, orange cover version of module B3, which is definitely an exploration scenario (complete with stylistic similarities to module B1).

(Incidentally, the idea of a strange tower mysteriously appearing overnight really captured my imagination, back in the day, and I drew up maps for a dungeon called "The Tower of Shadows" for one of my brother's characters.)

2. Investigating a Chaotic Outpost

This scenario has to do with a Chaotic invasion (either in progress or about to begin).  The characters must enter the enemy outpost, find out the strength and plans of the invaders, and destroy the outpost if possible.  Dungeon module B2 (The Keep on the Borderlands) is an example of this type of scenario.

This theme was used as the basis for the G-series by Gary Gygax, wherein the player characters must infiltrate, gather intelligence, and deal a retaliatory blow to a number of giant strongholds, continuing into the D-series.

Module B2 "The Keep on the Borderlands", was packaged together with the Basic rulebook in the 1981 Basic Set, and describes a conflict between "the Realm of mankind" and the forces of Chaos, in which the party seeks the Caves of Chaos.

Module B5 "Horror on the Hill" (1983), published a few years later, is another example of this type of scenario, wherein a hobgoblin king is preparing for an attack on Guido's Fort, an isolated frontier settlement at "the end of traders' road."

3. Recovering Ruins

The party is usually scouting an old village before permanent settlers move in.  The ruins have often been overrun by a specific kind of monster which must be killed or driven away.  The ruins could be part of (or underneath) a thriving town!

None of the B-series modules involves this type of scenario, but grabbing a map of any village and stocking it with monsters seems like a really easy and interesting way to create an open-concept "dungeon"-type environment.

Such an idea lends itself well to a setting like the Grand Duchy of Karameikos, as presented in the D&D Expert Set rulebook, where large portions of the wilderness are held by various types of humanoids and monsters.

(I've drafted an adventure in which the player characters must explore the ruins of Lavv, prior to the establishment of the village of Kelven, which eventually becomes the city of Kelvin in GAZ 1 "The Grand Duchy of Karameikos".)

Zargon, from module B4 "The Lost City".  Illustration by Jim Holloway.

4. Destroying an Ancient Evil

The evil is usually a monster or NPC (the exact type not known by the players).  Sometimes the evil has been deeply buried and re-awakened by recent digging.  This theme is often used along with others; for example, an ancient evil may have to be destroyed before some ruins are resettled.

Module B4 "The Lost City" (1982) is an example of this type of scenario.  An ancient creature, "Zargon", was deeply buried and in a state of hibernation until re-awakened by workers digging the foundations of a great pyramid.

5. Visiting a Lost Shrine

To remove a curse or recover a sacred item, the players must travel to a shrine which has been lost for ages.  The characters usually have only a rough idea of its location.  The players may have to consult an oracle or seer during their visit.

None of the B-series modules involve this wilderness-type scenario, although the idea of completing a special adventure in order to remove a specific curse is also mentioned elsewhere in the D&D Basic Set rulebook.

(The AD&D 2e adventure "Hail the Heroes" (1994) for the Mystara line involves a journey to a lost temple in search of a sacred relic, and could easily be run using B/X.)

6. Fulfilling a Quest

This is a scenario in which a king (or other NPC) provides a reason for adventuring.  A variation of this is a special mission for "the gods".  Quite often this scenario also involves the recovery of a sacred object or powerful magic item.

In the revised version of module B3 "Palace of the Silver Princess" the individual player characters are entrusted with a quest by the mysterious Protectors to determine the source of evil which has overtaken the valley of Haven.

Module B8 "Journey to the Rock" (1984), in which the player characters are tasked with recovering part of a magic talisman, is another example of this type of scenario.

7. Escaping from Enemies

The player characters begin this adventure as prisoners, and must escape.  The reason is clear and simple, especially if imprisonment is to be followed by the deaths of the characters.  The DM must be careful to make escape possible (though not necessarily easy).

This scenario was famously used in module A4 "In the Dungeons of the Slave Lords" (1981), in addition to the Basic D&D invisible ink module M1 "Blizzard Pass" (1983), and mini-adventure "The Great Escape" in module B9 "Castle Caldwell and Beyond" (1985).

8. Rescuing Prisoners

Valuable and important persons are being held prisoners by bandits, a tribe of orcs, or an evil magic-user.  The party sets out to rescue the prisoners because they have been hired to (for an expected reward), for a debt of honor, or for some other reason.  Sometimes the player characters are only hired to guard an individual who is talking over the demands of ransom.  This scenario is the basis for the sample dungeon hereafter (The HAUNTED KEEP).

Several D&D adventures published in the 1980s involved rescuing a princess (M2 "Maze of the Riddling Minotaur" (1983), AC2 "The Kidnapping of Princess Arelina" (1984), the mini-adventure "The Abduction of Princess Sylvia" in module B9, and even X7 "The War Rafts of Kron" (1984)

Module B7 "Rahasia" (1984), a combination of RPGA1 "Rahasia" (1983) and RPGA2 "Black Opal Eye" (1983) is another example of this type of scenario.

9. Using a Magic Portal

The "magic portal" is a device which magically sends creatures from one place to another.  A magic portal is usually a door into another dimension or world, and thus may easily become the point of an invasion from one of these worlds.  Portals may be known or secret.  If known, the characters may be on a mission to destroy or guard a portal used by enemies, or perhaps to reopen or repair a "closed" portal.  Secret portals can be used to make sure that the characters will visit an important area of a dungeon.  Portals might operate both ways, or one way only (teleporting into but not out of an area).

Gateways leading into several alternate worlds are described in module Q1 "Queen of the Demonweb Pits" (1980).

Moldvay uses a magic portal in the Expert D&D module X2 "Castle Amber (Chateau d'Amberville)" (1981) leading to Averoigne, a province based on the writings of Clark Ashton Smith, in a parallel world similar to medieval France.

A variation on this type of scenario is used in module DA1 "Adventures in Blackmoor" (1986) in which the player characters pass through a gateway into the ancient past.

10. Finding a Lost Race

The players find a once-human race which has lived underground for so long that it has begun to change.  Its members might have developed infravision, changed color, or begun to fall back into animal ways.  This scenario works well when used with Destroying an Ancient Evil, since Lost Races are often servants of the ancient powers.  This scenario requires extra work and imagination by the DM, since details for the Lost Race must be invented.

The Cynidiceans in module B4 "The Lost City", whose description largely matches the example, given above, are an example of a Lost Race.  (See this thread on Dragonsfoot for ideas about using Cynidiceans as a player character race).

Sunday, January 9, 2022

Moldvay Basic: Monsters

The Moldvay Basic rulebook did not merely draw upon the Holmes Basic rulebook for its list of Monsters, but introduced several changes, adapted creatures from the AD&D 1e Monster Manual, and introduced new monsters (underlined, below).*

*many of the new creatures had appeared in the newly updated, combined Monster & Treasure Assortment (1980), Sets One-Three: Levels One-Nine, for which a working draft of the new list of monsters may have been available

Acolyte - entry for NPC clerics "on a pilgrimage to or from a holy (or unholy) shrine", sometimes led by a higher level NPC cleric

Illustration by Erol Otus

Ape, White - substituted for Carnivorous Ape (from the AD&D 1e Monster Manual) in the updated M&T Assortment (1980), "sometimes kept as pets by Neanderthals."

Bandit - modified version of entry from OD&D vol. 2/Holmes, serving for NPC thieves (although states "may have an NPC leader of any class")

Bat (Normal, Giant) - statistics for Bats had only previously appeared in the article "Good Evening" by Lenard Lakofka, from The Dragon #30 (October, 1979)

Bear (Black, Grizzly, Polar, Cave) - statistics for Black and Cave Bears had previously appeared in the AD&D 1e Monster Manual.  Cave Bears were also listed in the updated M&T Assortment (1980)

Beetle, Giant (Fire, Oil, Tiger) - Fire Beetles are from Blackmoor/AD&D 1e Monster Manual/Holmes 2nd printing (Nov 1978).  Oil and Tiger Beetles (which "usually prey on robber flies") were substituted for other types of Giant Beetles in the updated M&T Assortment (1980)

Berserker - from OD&D vol. 2/Holmes

Boar - similar to Wild Boars in the AD&D 1e Monster Manual

Bugbear - from Greyhawk/Holmes

Carrion Crawler - from Greyhawk/Holmes

Cat, Great (Mountain Lion, Panther, Lion, Tiger, Sabre-tooth Tiger) - Mountain Lions, Leopards, Lions, Tigers, and Sabre-tooth Tigers appeared in the AD&D 1e Monster Manual.  Sabre-tooth Tigers were also listed in the updated M&T Assortment (1980)

Cave Locust - "eat fungus such as yellow mold and shriekers".  Created by Steve Sullivan, as revealed in this thread on the Piazza

Centipede, Giant - from the AD&D 1e Monster Manual/Holmes 2nd printing (Nov, 1978).  Their bite is no longer possibly fatal, but rather "the victim must save vs. Poison or become violently ill for 10 days".

Doppleganger - from Greyhawk/Holmes

Dragon (White, Black, Green, Blue, Red, Gold) - from OD&D vol. 2/Holmes.  See also OD&D Dragons: On the Origin of Species

Driver Ant - substituted for Giant Ants (from the AD&D 1e Monster Manual) in the updated M&T Assortment (1980)

Dwarf - from OD&D vol. 2/Holmes

Elf - from OD&D vol. 2/Holmes

Ferret, Giant - similar to Giant Weasels in the AD&D 1e Monster Manual.  "They hunt giant rats underground, and are sometimes trained for this purpose."

Gargoyle - from OD&D vol. 2/Holmes

Gelatinous Cube - from OD&D vol. 2/Greyhawk/Holmes

Ghoul - from OD&D vol. 2/Holmes

Gnoll - from OD&D vol. 2/Holmes 2nd printing (Nov 1978)

Gnome - from OD&D vol. 2/Holmes

Goblin - from OD&D vol. 2/Holmes

Gray Ooze - from OD&D vol. 2/Holmes

Green Slime - from OD&D vol. 2/Holmes

Halfling - appeared in the AD&D 1e Monster Manual

Harpy - from Greyhawk/Holmes

Hobgoblin - from OD&D vol. 2/Holmes

Insect Swarms - new to Moldvay

Killer Bee - new to Moldvay, likely originating from Moldvay and Lawrence Schick's original Known World campaign

Illustration by Erol Otus

Kobold - from OD&D vol. 2/Holmes

Living Statue (Crystal, Iron, Rock) - although mentioned in OD&D vol. 2, these types of Living Statue are unique to Moldvay.  All three types were listed in the updated M&T Assortment (1980).  See also "Marvel's Crystar and Moldvay's Living Statues: connection?"

Lizards, Giant (Gecko, Draco, Horned Chameleon, Tuatara) - Giant and Subterranean Lizards appeared in the AD&D 1e Monster Manual, although Moldvay's types are different.  All four types were listed in the updated M&T Assortment (1980)

Lizard Man - from Greyhawk/Holmes

Lycanthropes (Wererat, Werewolf, Wereboar, Weretiger, Werebear) - from OD&D vol. 2/Greyhawk/Holmes

Medium - entry for NPC magic-users, sometimes accompanied by their master, a 3rd level magic-user

Medusa - from OD&D vol. 2/Holmes

Minotaur - from OD&D vol. 2/Holmes

Mule - from OD&D vol. 2/Holmes

Neanderthal (Caveman) - from OD&D vol. 2/Holmes manuscript.  Also appeared in the AD&D 1e Monster Manual

Noble - the lord of a castle, will always be accompanied by a squire (a 2nd level fighter)

Normal Human

NPC Party

Ochre Jelly - from OD&D vol. 2/Holmes

Ogre - from OD&D vol. 2/Holmes

Orc - from OD&D vol. 2/Holmes

Owl Bear - from Greyhawk/Holmes

Pixie - from OD&D vol. 2/Holmes

Rat (Normal, Giant) - statistics for Rats had only previously appeared in the article "Good Evening" by Lenard Lakofka, from The Dragon #30 (October, 1979).  The Giant Rat is from Greyhawk/AD&D 1e Monster Manual/Holmes 2nd printing (Nov 1978)

Robber Fly - new to Moldvay

Rock Baboon - new to Moldvay, although statistics for normal Baboons had appeared in the AD&D 1e Monster Manual

Rust Monster - from Greyhawk/Holmes

Shadow - From Greyhawk/Holmes

Shrew, Giant - new to Moldvay, were listed in the updated M&T Assortment (1980)

Shrieker - from The Strategic Review #3/Holmes

Skeleton - from OD&D vol. 2/Holmes

Snake (Spitting Cobra, Pit Viper, Sea Snake, Giant Rattler, Rock Python) - similar to Giant Snakes (Constrictor, Poisonous, Sea, Spitting) in the AD&D 1e Monster Manual.  Giant Rattlesnakes and Pythons were also listed in the updated M&T Assortment (1980)

Illustration by Bill Willingham

Spider, Giant (Crab Spider, Black Widow, Tarantella) - Giant Spiders appeared in the AD&D 1e Monster Manual, although Moldvay's types are different.  All three types were also listed in the updated M&T Assortment (1980)

Sprite - appeared in the the AD&D 1e Monster Manual, although Moldvay's type "have a strange sense of humor.  Five sprites acting together can cause one curse spell." similar to imps as described in the original Known World campaign.

Stirge - from Greyhawk/Holmes

Thoul - originally appeared in the wandering monster tables on page 10 in OD&D vol. 3 "The Underworld & Wilderness Adventures" (5th printing).  Listed in the updated M&T Assortment (1980).  See also Origin of the Thoul?

Trader - similar to Merchants in the AD&D 1e Monster Manual

Illustration by Bill Willingham

Troglodyte- from AD&D 1e Monster Manual/Holmes 2nd printing (Nov 1978)

Veteran - entry for NPC fighters

Wight - from OD&D vol. 2/Holmes

Wolf (Normal Wolf, Dire Wolf) - from Greyhawk/AD&D 1e Monster Manual

Yellow Mold - from OD&D vol. 2/Holmes

Zombie - from OD&D vol. 2/Holmes

Moldvay states "The DM may wish to make these monsters stronger or weaker to suit the needs of the campaign." and "The DM may also create other monsters after becoming familiar with the monsters in this booklet, perhaps basing such monsters on creatures the DM has read about in works of fantasy or science fiction."*

*see "How to Create Monsters for D&D Basic and Expert Games" by Jean Wells, published in RPGA News (Polyhedron) #2 (Autumn, 1981).  Wells provides helpful advice as well as an example of a new monster, the "Hagertral"

Saturday, January 8, 2022

Moldvay Basic: Spells

A spell is a formula for collecting and using magical energies.  A magic-user or cleric controls these energies with a memorized set of words and hand motions: the spell.  Each spell has its own special set of words and gestures.

D&D Basic Rulebook, pg B15 (1981)

In AD&D 1e parlance, all Basic D&D spells have both verbal and somatic components.  In other words, a spell caster must be able to both speak and make hand gestures in order to cast spells.  (Certain spells in Holmes Basic were also assumed to have material components).  Moreover, the spell caster must not be engaged in any other activity, such as walking or combat.

The question arises as to whether spell casters are able to cast spells from a seated position or while on horseback.  I have ruled that they are able to do so, since the somatic component is defined as hand gestures.  (A spell caster on horseback would need to drop the reigns, but would be able to cast spells unless their mount is traveling or engaged in melee.)

Spell Books:

In the Holmes Basic rulebook, magic-users were not permitted to bring their magic books into the dungeon with them, but needed to return home in order to regain their spells.*  (This may have been due to the implication that magic-users possessed a separate book for each level of magic spells).

*in the Basic D&D adventure "The Chapel of Silence", published in Dragon #50, author Mollie Plants states "Since the episode begins with the characters in the midst of a journey, magic-users may be assumed to have their spell books with them.  The books are packed in strong waterproof and airtight cases which are difficult to open and close.  Cases may be opened only at times when the magic-user has absolute security for a period of several hours and in locations where the books are absolutely safe from dampness." 

In discussing the new Basic rulebook, Dr. Holmes stated:

The new rules specify that if an adventure lasts longer than a day, the Magic-User can get his or her spells back through a period of rest and concentration.  I'm glad to see this securely placed in the rules.  All of us who act as Dungeon Masters have had to allow this on longer adventures.  Actually, the "spell book" is often a needless complication and can be dispensed with.  Of course, a particular DM can make spell books a vital part of the game - suppose evil Magic-Users hired a high-level Thief to steal the player characters' spell books?

J. Eric Holmes, from Dragon #52

The Moldvay Basic rulebook states that magic-user and elf spells are stored in large spellbooks, containing all the spells that he or she has learned (pg. B16).*

*it is later specified in the Cook/Marsh Expert rulebook that magic-users and elves must have their spell books with them in order to regain spells (pg. X11)

Clerical Spells:

Moldvay lists eight 1st level clerical spells (the same eight spells listed in Holmes).  Differences from the Holmes Basic rulebook are specified, below:

First Level Clerical Spells

1. Cure Light Wounds* - may alternately be used to cure paralysis

2. Detect Evil - causes creatures with evil intentions or evilly enchanted objects to actually glow (further specifies that "Chaotic" is not always "evil" and that poison and physical traps are neither good nor evil)

3. Detect Magic - likewise causes enchanted people, places, or things to actually glow

4. Light* - may alternately be cast at a creature's eyes, causing blindness if the saving throw vs. spells is failed (furthermore stating that in the D&D Basic rules, a blinded creature may not attack)

5. Protection from Evil - specifies that only hand-to-hand (not missile) attacks from enchanted creatures are prevented, although this benefit is lost if the spell caster attacks the enchanted creature in hand-to-hand combat

6. Purify Food and Water - further specifies that one ration of food (iron or standard), six skins of water, or enough normal food to feed a dozen people is purified

7. Remove Fear* - equivalent to Holmes

8. Resist Cold - further specifies that cold attacks will still inflict at least 1 point of damage per die (or hit die) rolled

*spells marked with an asterisk are reversible in the D&D Expert rules

The effect of a Web spell, depicted as a net-like, spider-type web (Moldvay Basic, pg. B18).  Illustration by Jeff Dee.

Magic-User and Elf Spells:

Moldvay lists twelve 1st level magic-user and elf spells (two less than in Holmes, "Dancing Lights" and "Enlargements" are not included).  Differences from the Holmes Basic rulebook are specified, below:
First Level Magic-User and Elf Spells

1. Charm Person - slightly expands the types of creatures affected, to include both mammalian and reptilian (ie. lizard men) humanoids, up to the size of an ogre (including bugbears).  Chances for new saving throws per intelligence are streamlined.

It's later stated in the Monster section (pg. B29) that charmed characters are too confused to use any spells or magic items, although the death of the charming monster will usually break this type of charm.  Dr. Holmes' reflected upon this:
A charmed Magic-User is too confused to do magic?  Boy, that last rule would make a dramatic change in the conduct of my game, where the player characters would be apt to yell, "Don't kill the evil magician!  Let me try to charm him first, then use him to wipe out the rest of the monsters on this level.")
J. Eric Holmes, from Dragon #52

2. Detect Magic - same as for clerics

3. Floating Disc - specifies that a floating disc cannot be created in a space occupied by another object

4. Hold Portal - clarifies that a creature of 3 hit dice (or greater) than the caster may break open a held portal in one round

5. Light* - similar to clerics (except for duration).  The reversible form takes the place of the 2nd level magic-user spell "Darkness" in Holmes.

6. Magic Missile - states that a magic missile will automatically hit any visible target (no hit roll is needed) and that multiple missile may be shot at different targets

7. Protection from Evil - similar to clerics (except for duration)

8. Read Languages - similar to Holmes

9. Read Magic - equivalent to Holmes, although further states that a magic-user's or elf's spell book is written so that only the owner may read them without using this spell

10. Shield - equivalent to Holmes

11. Sleep - duration is clarified and number of creatures affected is streamlined.  Further specifies that a sleeping creature may be killed (regardless of its hit points) with a single blow with any edged weapon

12. Ventriloquism - equivalent to Holmes


Moldvay lists twelve 2nd level magic-user and elf spells (six less than in Holmes, "Audible Glamer", "Darkness", "Magic Mouth", "Pyrotechnics", "Ray of Enfeeblement", and "Strength" are not included).  Differences from the Holmes Basic rulebook are specified, below:

Second Level Magic-User and Elf Spells

1. Continual Light* - equivalent to Holmes, although may alternately be cast at a creature's eyes

2. Detect Evil - same as for clerics

3. Detect Invisible - the description is missing!  (Presumed equivalent to Holmes.)

4. ESP - permits caster to actually "hear" thoughts, and further specifies that any single creature's thoughts may be understood (regardless of the language), although the caster must concentrate for one full turn in a single direction (implying that the target creature must be stationary) and spend an extra turn to sort out the confused jumble of thoughts when more than one creature is in the line of "hearing"

5. Invisibility - specifies that all items carried or worn by the character also become invisible, but become visible again and remain visible when leaving the character's possession.  Also that an invisible person becomes visible again when attacking (as per Holmes, but also including missile attacks) or casting a spell

6. Knock - equivalent to Holmes

7. Levitate - similar to Holmes, but faster (20'/round vs. 60'/turn) and cannot be cast on another person (or object)

8. Locate Object - similar to Holmes, although specifies it cannot locate a creature

9. Mirror Image - similar to Holmes, although specifies that attacks will always hit an image rather than the caster, whether or not a hit is actually successful

10. Phantasmal Force - a 20' x 20' x 20' area of effect is specified, and bonuses to saving throws and further limitations are described.  Dr. Holmes' comments:
Phantasmal force has been appropriately weakened in the new rules, however; even if the victim fails a saving throw, he or she is not permanently harmed by the phantasm.  If determined to be killed, the character actually only passes out, and recovers in 1d4 turns.  Presumably, hit points lost in this manner are also restored after 1-4 turns.  This makes the phantasmal force a much fairer attack.  With the old spell, the M-U could summon a dragon or demon and, if the poor victim failed his saving throw trying to disbelieve it, he was as good as dead.  A phantom, it seems to me, should indeed be terrifying, but basically harmless.
J. Eric Holmes, from Dragon #52

11. Web - reduces the area of effect to 10' x 10' x 10' and further specifies that flames will destroy a web in two rounds, and that anyone wearing gauntlets of ogre power can break free in four rounds

12. Wizard Lock - equivalent to Holmes

*spells marked with an asterisk are reversible in the D&D Expert rules

Higher Level Cleric and Magic-User Spells:

Lists three 2nd level Clerical and three 3rd level Magic-User/Elf higher level spells (to be discussed when the Cook/Marsh Expert rulebook is covered).

Sunday, January 2, 2022

Moldvay Basic: Character Alignment

Moldvay Basic returned to a 3-prong alignment system, in keeping with OD&D, as opposed to the 5-prong alignment system introduced in The Strategic Review #6, and used in Holmes Basic.

A Pictorial Example of Alignment Behavior (pg B11).  Illustration by David S. LaForce.

Here is what Holmes had to say about character alignment:

This is the most difficult of the D&D concepts to get across. The new rules spend more space on alignments and do a much better job of explaining them, using practical examples. Alignment is Law, Chaos and Neutral. Good and Evil are not discussed as separate alignments at all, which I think makes better sense. The first Basic Set had one of those diagrams which said that blink dogs were lawful good and brass dragons were chaotic good. I never felt that this was particularly helpful. I am sure Gary Gygax has an idea in his mind of what chaotic good (or other “obscure” alignments, etc.) may be, but it certainly isn’t clear to me. Without meaning to be irreverent, I am also sure that Buddha knew what he meant by nirvana, but that doesn’t clarify it in my mind either. I think the new rules simplify the issue appropriately.

J. Eric Holmes, from Dragon #52

Character alignment was introduced in OD&D vol. 1 "Men & Magic", wherein characters were required to choose between "Law", "Chaos", or "Neutrality".  (Interestingly, there was no stated penalty for switching sides, except for OD&D Clerics above 7th level.)

OD&D was influenced by the writings of Poul Anderson and Michael Moorcock in this regard.  Daniel Boggs, in "Champion of ZED (Zero Edition Dungeoneering)" similarly frames alignment in the context of an eternal struggle:

All intelligent beings are aligned with one of three sides involved in a timeless war...

Choosing character Alignment is therefore very important...not so much as a statement of personal philosophy or guide to behavior, but as a choice of which side you are on.  Chaotics and Lawfuls are at war.  It is a great struggle, begun ages ago with no end in sight.  Individuals aligned with either side may privately not be "Lawful" or "Chaotic" in their personal beliefs and/or behavior, but have chosen a side for any number of reasons - ideology, personal advancement, avoiding conflict with their neighbors, etc.

Zero Edition Dungeoneering (Tonisborg edition, 2021)

It should also be noted that The Keep on the Borderlands was packaged together with the Basic Set, in which the conflict between the Realm (the forces of Law and good) and the encroaching forces of Chaos serve as a backdrop to the adventure.

As divisions in alignment became more numerous in AD&D 1e, with a 9-prong system, they also became linked to an ethos of thinking, moreso than a cosmic struggle.  Abandoning alignment is difficult, however, since it is woven into the fabric of the game.

Character alignment is important when it comes to Reversed Clerical Spells (Expert Rulebook, pg X11), the Magic-User "Reincarnation" spell (pg X18), and Intelligent Swords (pg X46).  In OD&D and AD&D cosmology, it's also integral to the concept of the Outer Planes.

Alignment Languages:

Alignment languages in OD&D were "common languages spoken by each respectively."  Perhaps something akin to "camp Latin" by the forces of Law, or "the Black Speech of Mordor" by the forces of Chaos.

Holmes retained this idea in the Holmes Basic rulebook:

Lawful good, lawful evil, chaotic good, chaotic evil, and neutrality also have common languages spoken by each respectively. One can attempt to communicate through the common tongue, language particular to a creature class, or one of the divisional languages (lawful good, etc.). While not understanding the language, creatures who speak a divisional tongue will recognize a hostile one and attack

Holmes Basic, 1977

However, the notion of five different alignment languages implies the existence of five different "sides", which immediately complicates the original concept.

Although Moldvay returned to a 3-prong alignment system, alignment languages were not described as in OD&D or Holmes.  Rather:

Each alignment has a secret language of passwords, hand signals, and other body motions.  Player characters and intelligent monsters will always know their alignment languages.  They will also recognize when another alignment language is being spoken, but will not understand it.  Alignment languages are not written down, nor may they be learned unless a character changes alignment.  When this happens, the character forgets the old alignment language and starts using the new one immediately.

Moldvay Basic, 1981

Where did this idea of alignment languages as "secret" languages originate?  Here is how Gary Gygax described alignment languages in the AD&D 1e DMs Guide:

...alignment languages are the special set of signs, signals, gestures, and words which intelligent creatures use to inform other intelligent creatures of the same alignment of their fellowship and common ethos.

Gary Gygax, AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide, 1979

Gygax based the plausibility of alignment languages on cryptolects, such as thieves' cant, and this idea certainly has merit.  However, thieves' cant is a learned form of communication, whereas it's unclear how alignment languages are learned (or forgotten).

If using alignment language as described in Moldvay Basic, additional context may be derived from the AD&D 1e DMs Guide:
Each alignment language is constructed to allow recognition of like-aligned creatures and to discuss the precepts of the alignment in detail. Otherwise, the tongue will permit only the most rudimentary communication with a vocabulary limited to a few score words. The speaker could inquire of the listener's state of health, ask about hunger, thirst, or degree of tiredness. A few other basic conditions and opinions could be expressed, but no more.

Alignment language is used to establish credentials only after initial communications have been established by other means. Only in the most desperate of situations would any creature utter something in the alignment tongue otherwise. It must also be noted that alignment does NOT necessarily empower a creature to actually speak or understand the alignment language which is general in the ethos. Thus, blink dogs are intelligent, lawful good creatures who have a language of their own. A lawful good human, dwarf, or brownie will be absolutely at a loss to communicate with blink dogs, however, except in the most limited of ways (non-aggression, non-fear, etc.) without knowledge of the creatures' language or some magical means. This is because blink dogs do not intellectually embrace the ethos of lawful good but are of that alignment instinctually; therefore, they do not speak the tongue used by lawful good. This is not true of gold dragons, let us say, or red dragons with respect to their alignment, who do speak their respective alignment languages. 

Gary Gygax, AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide, 1979

It should also be noted that while "forgetting" an alignment language is immediate following a alignment change in AD&D, learning a new alignment language takes a one level transitional period.  (In simplifying the concept, Moldvay lost a degree of verisimilitude).

Another Interpretation:

In later years, Gygax had this to say about alignment languages:

An alignment language is primarily keyed to the religious subjects that would be discussed or read about by those of that persuasion. One might think of such a tongue as being similar to Latin for Roman Catholics or Hebrew for Jews. Ordinary members of the alignment will possibly not even understand what is meant when it is spoken, and those that are aware will probably not be sufficiently versed in it to respond in kind.

Q&A with Gary Gygax, ENWorld, 2007

Those of us running Moldvay Basic therefore have at least three options regarding alignment languages.  One can run them "by-the-book" (an AD&D 1e construct), regard alignment languages as common languages spoken among those of a particular alignment as in OD&D (and Holmes), or adopt Gygax's explanation, above.

I somewhat like Gygax's later interpretation, since one can then regard alignment languages as ancient, largely forgotten modes of communication, and sidestep the issue (for the most part).

Saturday, January 1, 2022

Moldvay Basic

The second edition of the D&D Basic Set was released in 1981, alongside the new D&D Expert Set (for character levels 4-14).  Higher level play was to be covered in the D&D Companion Set (for character levels 15-36).

D&D Basic Set (2nd edition, 1981).  Cover illustration by Erol Otus.

The new Basic Set was discussed in a pair of articles by Dr. J. Eric Holmes (editor of the previous Basic Set) and Tom Moldvay (editor of the new Basic Set) in Dragon #52 (August, 1981).  In it, Moldvay states:

The Basic D&D game rules are directly based on the original Collectors Edition rules. The original rules gave the first gaming system for fantasy role-playing and, in my opinion, the D&D game rules remain the best fantasy role-playing rules available to game enthusiasts.

Tom Moldvay, from Dragon #52 (August, 1981)

The set included a 64-page rulebook (16 more pages than the Holmes Basic rulebook), dungeon module B2 "The Keep on the Borderlands", a set of polyhedral dice (together with a crayon to fill in the numbers), and the "Gateway to Adventure" TSR catalog.

Moldvay was hired by TSR in 1980, about a year after his good friend, Lawrence Schick.  Sadly, he passed away in March, 2007.  A bibliography was compiled in this thread on Dragonsfoot.  He was remembered by Bob Kindel in this post on Swords & Dorkery.

D&D Basic Rulebook (1981).

The title page credits both Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson.  Copyright is listed as 1974 (OD&D), 1977 (Holmes), 1978 (revised Holmes with material from the 1e Monster Manual), and 1981.  Moldvay Basic may therefore be regarded the linear descendant of OD&D via Holmes.

Illustrations were by Jeff Dee, David S. LaForce (Diesel), Erol Otus, James Roslof, and Bill Willingham.  Special thanks were extended to Harold Johnson and Frank Menzter "for their care and dedication in reorganizing and fine tuning this book".

I remember seeing stacks of Basic and Expert Sets on the shelves of a department store in Ottawa, Illinois, during the summer of 1981.  Our family was visiting relatives, and my parents purchased the Basic Set for me.  These were the rules I used to learn to play D&D.

2021 saw the 40th anniversary of the release of the Moldvay Basic Set.  Over the next few weeks, I invite you to join me as I examine various aspects of the Moldvay Basic rulebook, including its differences from Holmes, and why Moldvay Basic possesses such enduring appeal.