Today, at the discord, I express my curiosity about why Moldvay Basic D&D catalyzed so much the attention today, instead of Mentzer’s BECMI or Holmes’s D&D. Ron recommended checking this with Sean who has the experience of the presence of Moldvay’s version. Sean reacted and triggered a conversation with contributions from James Nostak, John Wilson and Ron Edwards. Here is the full conservation.
This conversation is relevant in the context of this serie of “Finding D&D” posts : https://adeptplay.com/tags/finding-dd
@Greg (GMT+2) I will give a short version that we can take to the site if we wish. A couple caveats: I am of course an unreliable narrator; I only know what I experienced in a insignificant Maryland suburb and later small college.
Second one, almost no one played pure D&D/AD&D. Even though memory suggests we did
When I started playing, I had to hunt around for others who played and they tended to play with Moldvay, seasoned with AD&D or they played different campaigns- one AD&D and one Basic D&D. And there was the idea still that Basic D&D was the kids version. The stepping stone to the bigger game and my recollection of marketing suggested it as well.
But the players I knew who started with Mentzer did not stick with role-playing games. The ones who started with Moldvay did
It’s not scientific at all. However, I will point to the modules before the graphical/tonal switch as one reason Moldvay is perceived as more worthy of resurrection than Mentzer. Those modules (Keep on the Borderland & The Lost City as examples) are seen as great examples of the art of the module, whereas the Mentzer era modules that are considered good are not necessarily associated with Mentzer.
I think the association between what D&D was supposed to be and Moldvay appeared stronger than Mentzer, which is I think seen as a reboxing of the original. Even though they are not the same game.
From my perspective then the reason the OSR seeing Moldvay as the gold standard is that the tonal shift between Moldvay and Mentzer goes unnoticed and so Mentzer is not seen as its own phenomenon.
As far as Holmes, though I was vaguely aware of it, I never encountered anyone who played it for decades. And then I did not think it significant in difference, although there is a huge difference between Holmes and Moldvay.
Two things about Mentzer that I think deserve some praise: (1) the Basic Rules present an extremely good teaching text for 10 year olds; (2) the Companion Rules makes a serious (if IMO unsuccessful) effort to handle the “okay now your character is running a kingdom” trip that’s been a promised part of the game since the beginning.
@James_Nostack to your first point, that new character walk-through at the beginning of the Mentzer player's guide is brilliant, imo. One of the best how to play any rpg I have seen.
Agreed. TSR’s Marvel Super Heroes game does a decent job of this too; Harold Johnson is the one guy in common, though I don’t know him from anything else.
I started with Moldvay at around age 10. Friends of mine had AD&D, and we played together using all our books. It was years before I realized the two were separate games.
My recollection of the OSR circa 2008-2010 is that the preference from Moldvay over Mentzer was likely historically contingent. (1) everyone already knew how to play, so a teaching text from a “less pure” era was less useful; (2) there was a retro-clone of Moldvay, Labyrinth Lord, but not of Mentzer so further development tended to go down that fork; (3) a general preference for the art of Erol Otus over Elmore/Easley. The OSR was a real small scene in those days, so once a preference got locked in by a few bloggers it became received wisdom
And things like hex crawl are a later addition because Moldvay itself begins and ends at the dungeon door.
But it's core OSR now.
Yeah actually that’s a subtle point: when people say “Moldvay” it’s often shorthand for the Moldvay Basic rules + Cook’s Expert rules which came out a year later. Cook’s expert rules have hex crawls which was then cemented by the Isle of Dread adventure (written by both of them).
Thanks both of you, extremely! Another factor perhaps concerns the Satanic Panic. In many parts of the U.S., AD&D was the target - specifically the big demons on the covers, nudity in interior art, and much more-or-less literary occultism in the magic. Those were downplayed a lot in Moldvay, and although to my eyes Otus' art is underground and subversive, to many parents' eyes it was probably kid-friendly and cartoony. I am very interested to know whether Moldvay continued to be distributed in regions where AD&D was not, from about 1981 through 1989. It seems correlated to me with the intensity with which many teens of that era clutched D&D to them as their rebellion and also consider it as something which must be protected from harm.
I wonder too if there is secondary market effect. Moldvay editions became collectors items during late 80s and beyond. People who lost their stuff went looking fir that edition? People selling their old stuff sold the Moldvay editions? Pure speculation but perhaps perceived scarcity created a heightened cultural significance?
I like how this conversation doesn’t end with Sean’s last comments, and how it opens new questions, feel free to contribute in the comments.