Playing By The Rules


Featured Writer Keith Parker continues his D&D confession, and it’s all about the rules.  D&D Rule Books

Last time I mentioned my serious problem, collecting rules, modules, and magazines from the early days of Dungeons & Dragons. Now I’d like to give some perspective on the rules sets you might enjoy collecting. Your best resources are the behemoths of the marketplace, eBay and, although there are many other sites devoted to RPG collecting as well.

Check out Keith’s first article on D&D collecting here!

Collecting old school D&D comes down to one of several product lines. Of course, many of us mix-and-match these. Here is brief rundown of the wide selection of rules sets available. Since many of you may have played in past perhaps this will help jog your memory about which set is which:

  1. The original White Box set. I covered this last time; it’s the original game put out by TSR, which includes the booklets Men & Magic, Monsters & Treasure, and the Underworld & Wilderness Adventures. In addition, the original rules usually include the supplements Greyhawk, Blackmoor, Eldritch Wizardry, Gods, Demigods & Heroes, and Swords & Spells. While all are interesting for the first-time collector the prices can be, well, pricey.
  2. The Holmes Set, also known as the Blue Box, came out in 1977. Seen by some old-schoolers as a “supplement” to the White Box, this entry-level version of the game allows you to play character levels 1-3. Vintage Holmes Set boxes can get pricey, too. I gawked like a rube in the big city when one first printing soared north of $250 a few weeks ago.  The interesting thing about the Holmes Set is that it directs players to the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons game system; this marks an interesting point in the game’s history, since it’s the only “basic set” that does so.
  3. The Moldvay/Cook Set, also known as “B/X”, appeared in 1981 and remains one of the best entries points to role-playing. The Basic Set (Moldvay, ed.) is used for playing characters at levels 1-3; the Expert Set (Cook, ed.) takes characters from levels 4-14. This set also heralded a philosophical change at TSR. The B/X game was now its own product line.  It’s a looser set of rules, allowing for more improvisation and faster play. These sets are readily available on eBay and Amazon, and usually run about $10-$30 per box, depending on the condition. This milestone is also renown for including the now-famous Keep on the Borderlands module; if you’re a gaming geek this module is a must-have.
  4. In 1983 TSR began publishing the Mentzer Sets, also known as “BECMI”, which was a monumental editing of the original rules by Frank Mentzer. The red box cover art is famous, one of the best selling games ever.  By the time the effort was complete the Menzter Sets consisted of five games: The Basic Set (B) which took characters from levels 1-3; the Expert Set (E), which took them from 4-14; the Companion Set (C) from 15-25; the Master Set (M) from 26-36; and the Immortal Rules (I) from 37 on up. These are readily available, and not terribly expensive.  You can get complete boxed sets for as little as $5.
  5. Advanced Dungeons & Dragons — This, of course, is the behemoth of old school gaming, and is often what’s thought of when people imagine (pun intended) Dungeons & Dragons.  Many players saw the basic sets as just that, basic. And for those of us in our teens, we wanted to be “advanced.” Thus, many players immediately transitioned to the triumvirate of the Players Handbook, Monster Manual and Dungeon Masters Guide that compose the AD&D game.  The first printings of these rule books can be quite expensive ($200 for a NM MM; $2000 for a 2nd-alpha DMG) but these are the exception, not the rule.  Typically you can pick these up dirt cheap ($4 or $5 each), and they comprise one of the most famous game systems ever created.

So, where do you start? It all depends on what you want. When and how did you start playing? The Holmes set, maybe? Or, perhaps, with the AD&D Players Handbook? Just start there. It’s not hard, and it’s a fun hobby as long as you keep your eye out for a good deal.

Don’t miss our Beginner’s Guide to Dungeons and Dragons episode of the podcast!

Next time I’d like to move away from role-playing games, and move into my main hobby, writing science fiction. I’ll try to give tips and tricks to those of you who aspire to be creative writers, and try to give you a taste for the upcoming SF series being penned by Jack Parker and me.  Thanks for readin

About author

Keith Parker

Keith Parker is a traditionally published science fiction and fantasy writer, history geek, college football fan, and long-time collector of games and shiny objects. You can find him at NASA unless he has transmogrified himself into an elephant.

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