Our game session with Basic D&D started with the Players creating their characters at the game table. I let the three Players create two PCs each, because I knew some were going to die. (Death can be swift and arbitrary for 1st-level BD&D PCs.)
I have two BD&D rule books, and the Players are already experienced D&D gamers, but there was a moderate amount of stuff to learn and unlearn. Creating the six PCs took 30-40 minutes:
Roll ability scores, 3d6, in order, no arranging or changing. (There’s an option for lowering certain stats by 2 points to raise a certain other stat 1 point, but I skipped this for our first time.) The overall ability score range fell between 16 and 7. No one rolled up a “helpless character.”
- Ability score order in BD&D is different than in the contemporary editions: Strength, Intelligence, Wisdom, Dexterity, Constitution, Charisma
Check the ability score tables for modifiers.
- Ability score modifier grouping in BD&D is different than in the contemporary editions: 3, 4-5, 6-8, 9-12 (average), 13-15, 16-17, 18
- Strength modifies attack, damage, and open doors rolls
- Intelligence gives bonus languages (1 to 3)
- Wisdom modifies saving throws versus magic
- Dexterity modifies range attacks and AC
- Constitution modifies hit points
- Charisma modifies encounter reaction rolls, and sets max number and morale of hirelings
Read/teach/learn the basics of the classes. Choose a class
- Classes are: cleric, dwarf, elf, fighter, halfling, magic-user, thief — dwarf and halfling are basically fighters with racial extras, and the elf is a fighter/magic-user with racial extras
Roll hit points. There is a DM’s option to allow Players to reroll 1st-level hit point rolls of 1 or 2. I used this option when two PCs came up with 1 hit point (both PCs belonged to the same Player).
- Hit dice are: fighter, dwarf = d8, cleric, elf, halfling = d6, magic-user, thief = d4
Roll up starting gold, 3d6 x10, and purchase equipment. The BD&D equipment list is very limited compared to other editions. There are only 3 types of armor suits, about 15 weapons, about 20 other odds and ends.
- Armor choices are: leather, chainmail, platemail, plus shield
- AC starts at 9 and the lower the number (even into the negatives), the better the protection
Spellcasters choose a (1, one) spell from a relatively short list.
- There are 12 first-level spells, including sleep, charm person, detect magic, and light (which is an effective attack spell in BD&D)
Look up and write down to-hit numbers and saving throws. All 1st-level PC classes have the same to-hit numbers (called THAC0 and BAB in other editions).
- There are five saving throws: “Death Ray or Poison”, “Magic Wands”, “Paralysis or Turn to Stone”, “Dragon Breath”, “Rods, Staves, or Spells”
Jabber and joke about games, movies, and women (not necessarily in this order). This hasn’t changed much since I originally played BD&D in the early 80s. (Well, we’ve more experience with women, now. Though we don’t understand them any better than we did then.)
Creating a BD&D character is relatively easy and quick because there are very few decisions to make. Equipment is the only decision point for most characters, and choosing just one spell for a magic-user or elf is pretty easy. (BD&D clerics don’t get a spell at all at first level.)
- Player 1 – Fighter (Str 15, AC 1, HP 7), Cleric (AC 6, HP 5)
- Player 2 – Thief (AC 6, HP 3*), Magic-User (AC 10, HP 3*, Spell: detect magic) [Yes, AC 10 – low Dex]
- Player 3 – Magic-User (Spell: magic missile), Magic-User (Spell: sleep)
* Player 2 is the one who originally rolled 1s for hit points. His rerolls netted 3 each.
No one expressed dislike of the rules for character generation, and most of the differences were taken in stride. The only thing that got any real comment was: magic-users get just 1 spell known, castable just once per day. They can’t wear any armor, and can use only a dagger (not even a staff or crossbow).
There’s an oddity about the equipment list: there’s no description or explanation of any items other than the ACs for the armors. Although we, as experienced D&D gamers already, knew what the items in the list were, novices to the game, (for which BD&D was designed and marketed), probably wouldn’t know.
From a newbie’s perspective:
- What use is a holy symbol? There’s no mention about what it is or what it’s used for or why it would be needed in the BD&D book. The rules for a cleric turning don’t even mention a holy symbol. Reading the rules as written, it’s a waste of 25gp. (Better to spend that amount on better armor.)
- What’s the difference between iron rations and normal rations? One is preserved, the other is not. But what does this mean in adventuring terms? How long do normal rations last? How much longer do preserved rations last? You buy both in 1-week units.
- What’s the purpose of a silver dagger? I remember way back when I first started playing BD&D, we didn’t yet know about some creatures needing silver to hit them. Our DM ruled that a silver dagger automatically hit. It was some months later that we discovered the real purpose of a silver dagger. And then we immediately asked why there aren’t silver swords.
- What’s a ten-foot pole for? What are iron spikes for?
As experienced D&D gamers, we knew what the above were (although I still don’t know the BD&D game rule difference between normal rations and iron rations). The Players made sure the party had 10′ poles, spikes, torches, and plenty of sacks — they were ready for old school dungeon delving.
I didn’t enforce the encumbrance rules for this game session (other than setting their movement by their armor worn). No one went crazy with their starting equipment, so I could wait until they started picking up stuff in the dungeon crawl to bring up encumbrance. For such an otherwise very free-wheeling rules set, calculating encumbrance is a pretty precise operation.
To be continued.