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Moldvay vs. Modern
How would a campaign using Moldvay B/X alone compare to other modern games? Does it stand up as a playable systems? I don't want to dig into real details of mechanics here. I mean, every game has a combat system that has it's own ups and downs, so I look at combat as more or less a wash. Fact is, if I was running a Moldvay game I'd probably do some minor house ruling to clean up the math. The obvious thing is to invert the AC/to hit rolls to make it a simple d20 plus bonus roll trying to match or exceed a target AC value.

Anyway, as far as major parts of the game go, I think the easiest thing to do is compare character sheets. I'm looking at the character sheet in Moldvay's basic rules (page B14) vs. the character sheets I use for D&D 3.0, Warhammer RPG, and Savage Worlds.

Well, first the similarities. Each has a section for:

  • Name, XP, class, race (where applicable), etc.
  • Core Stats (D&D abilities, SW Attributes, WFRPG Profile)
  • Equipment List
  • Wealth
  • Spells (if applicable)
  • Experience/Advancement scheme

Now, here's what the other three all seem to have that Moldvay lacks:
  • Weapon/Armor section separate from other equipment
  • Skills
  • Talents/Feats/Special Abilities

The first item I think just represents the complexity level of combat in these other systems. Moldvay's character sheet just has a blank box for equipment, so I suppose you could write more details for weapons/armor if you wanted to. But really there isn't that much to write. Perhaps you'd want to list the AC bonuses from each armor item, and perhaps weapons could use damage and range if applicable. The option of including these details is certainly there, it's just not spelled out.

The major difference though is skills and talents. OK, Moldvay does have a line for 'Special Abilities' and one for 'Special Skills'. Really though these are just class granted things. Only spells are really going to differ from one character to the next. All thieves of the same level will have the same thief skills, all clerics of the same level have the same turning ability, etc.

Most of the other systems do grant special abilities specific to races and classes, but they also expand on this with customization. Usually you've got some choice of skill or talent A vs. B. This is only occaisonally true in the Warhammer professions, but there are so many professions in that game that the chances of there being two dwarven rat catchers in one game for example are pretty slim.

So the obvious bonus from these are further character customization. Players can define their characters more concretely by picking skills or talents as they advance, and sometimes right during character creation. On the other hand, the interesting thing about Moldvay D&D is that because these things are aren't itereated, you can really do anything.

Can a Moldvay D&D character drive a cart? Swim? Disguise himself? Sure. Some of these things (especially things like hiding and searching) do have specific mechanics general to all characters. Others, well, it's just up to the GM to adjudicate on the fly. In fact, Moldvay tells us:

Often a DM can decide on a solution to a player's action not covered by these rules. Other times, a problem may have no simple solution. One quick way for a DM to decide whether a solution will work is by imagining the situation, and then choosing percentage chances for different possibilities.

Holy crap, I can use my imgination. It's so obvious. It's also a bit of a double edged sword. On the one hand, having a skills & talents system gives players something to go on. Sometimes staring at the big empty spaces on your character sheet doesn't give you much of a clue on what to do. On the other hand, the world's your oyster. If you can imagine you want to do something, you can try and do it.

It probably comes down to GM style. Personally, I love being forced to improvise. I think I come up with the best stuff when I do. Also, it cuts down on rulebook page flipping time. Take for example last weeks WFRPG game. We were in a chase scene, using rules I floated from Savage Worlds. It's a very simple mechanic, basically expanding a yes/no question (do they get away?) into a series of dice rolls. It adds a little more excitement I think than just comparing stats or having a single percentage chance roll happen. However, in this case the chase was starting to drag just a little. One player asked: 'Are there rules for doing things other than just running? Can I knock stuff over to get in the way of the person chasing me?' Umm... I flipped through the rules I had jotted down, nothing. OK, I made something up on the spot. I wished at the time I had written rules for this idea. But it's a slippery slope I think, if I wrote those rules down, I might eventually have a chase system that's so cumbersome it takes an hour to adjudicate something that could've taken only five minutes.

Anyway, back to skills and talents. Are they good? I don't know, I'm kind of torn. It probably depends on the GM and players involved. I think I'd like to give Moldvay B/X a try some time and see how it goes.
March 1st, 2009 - 11:16 am | Comments (0) | PERMALINK

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