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.


  1. Looking forward to it. This was the year I entered the hobby, but via the Holmes box. At the time, I had zero awareness of the gaming industry and all the drama going on between Arneson and Gygax, so I'm fascinated by this period and the developments in both the game and the business.

  2. I'm looking forward to reading your retrospective! I started with Holmes, but moved to AD&D (as Holmes told me to do). I never even knew of Moldvey/Cook until 2008!?!? We now play B/X exclusively as our D&D rules set.

  3. This was my version too, although I bought a secondhand copy complete with B2 and original dice in 83 or 84. It is still my preferred version and the reality is that our AD&D was largely Moldvay Basic with classes, spells and magic items tacked on. It rehabilitation in comparison to the AD&D books meant that we'd generally check Moldvay for the rule interpretation rather than go to the bother of looking up the DMG or PHB.

  4. Moldvay B/X D&D is what I started with!