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Dungeons & Dragons, 1981 Edition

Dungeons & Dragons, 1981 Edition

There are a bunch of things I love about the simplicity of the 1981 Dungeons & Dragons Basic and Expert rules (without even going into the retro love for the modules).

This is the edition I cut my teeth on, the game that made me a gamer. I’ve played hundreds of RPGs since then, but I still run a B/X edition game to this day and don’t plan to stop anytime soon.

1 – Living Statues

First off the block is the missing constructs from every other edition. Three of these low-level constructs were included in the Basic Rules – Crystal, Iron and Rock, having between 3 and 5 hit dice. As a 10 year old DM drawing up huge dungeons and cave complexes, I routinely drew in statues in a variety of rooms with the intent that maybe… oh lets say a third… of them would be living statues.

2 – Ability Score Adjustments

I’m a big fan of the 3d6 in order method of character creation. But this rules set allows a *bit* of customization. You can decrease some ability scores in order to increase your prime requisites for your class, at a 2 to 1 ratio.

3 – Halflings

Moldvay halflings kick ass. They are small heroic people with very hairy feet. Not hobbits, not kender. If anything, the halflings in 3e were starting to become a throwback to the Moldvay halflings. Well, Moldvay halflings with a propensity for theft and mischief. The illustration of the halflings in the Expert rulebook by Jeff Dee has always been the one I go back to.

Halfling Illustration by Jeff Dee in the 1981 Expert Rulebook

Halfling Illustration by Jeff Dee in the 1981 Expert Rulebook

4 – The Odd-Ball Monsters

There are some truly strange critters in this edition that just never crawled out into the dungeons of other games all that often. The Tarantella (a giant tarantula who’s poison makes you dance – dance the tarantella of course!) and the Thoul (a magical combination of ghoul, hobgoblin and troll (one of the few 3 hit die critters with regeneration) both reside in the Basic rules, and are joined by the Devil Swine (a porcine lycanthrope who has the ability to charm humans – the first of the mind flayer brain control cult creatures) in the Expert rules. Oh yeah, and Green Slime is a mobile creature, not a hazardous dungeon mold.

5 – Simple Spell Lists

With 12 spells at each level for magic users, and 8 per level for clerics, the game has enough spells to do just about anything you need to delve a dungeon or run a small kingdom, without the massive glut of spells and extended descriptions and rules for each spell that take up half or more of the player’s guides for most editions of the game.

6 – Clerics

Clerics in this edition have no level 1 spells – they are holy warriors, at level 2 they finally get the blessing of their deity / church. And that’s where we hit what I love. The church is described indirectly throughout the adventures as something huge, monolithic, and quite possibly a single church for all clerics, or three churches, one for each alignment.