Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

Moldvay Basic Set Rules Clarifications

Spell Books: Starting characters begin with one first level spell of their choice in their spell book. This is the only spell that they can memorize until they reach level two. Not even a Read Magic spell will allow magic users to memorize spells from spell books that belong to other spell-casters. (Low level magic users could, once they’ve cast Read Magic on each spell in the book, use other people’s spell books as sort of compendium of scrolls, I suppose.)

Scrolls: Scrolls are essentially one-shot spells that can only be used if the spell-caster has previously used a Read Magic spell to “unlock” it first. There is no official Infocom-style “gnusto” spell that would allow a magic user to transfer scrolls to his spell book. And yes, if you chose Sleep as your only spell when you started the game, then you can’t use magic-user scrolls– that’s just how limited your spell-casting abilities are!

Gaining New Spells: The source of a magic user’s new spells are not spelled out– as far as the rules seemed to be concerned, you simply pick new spells for your spell book when you level up. I think I shall stick with that rather than going through some sort of gimmick where you have to pay guild fees and so forth.

The Sleep Spell: There is no saving throw against a sleep spell. The only defense a party has against it is to level up quickly. (In contrast, everyone gets a save against the Charm Person spell.) Also, note that half hit-dice monsters count as one hit dice each for the purposes of counting the number of monsters affected– so it’s 2d8 kobolds not 2d8x2.

Interrupting Spell Casters: There is no “ready” or preparation step in the sequence of play. Pretty much the only way you can expect to have your spell caster interrupted is if your side loses initiative. When a side’s party loses initiative, their spell casters should declare whether they will ready a weapon or attempt to cast a spell anyway. Any spell caster that chooses the latter and takes damage fails to cast their spell. More rarely, two sides can roll the same number and then be required to fight simultaneously. In that situation, both sides declare spell casting and then resolve missile fire attacks to see if they foiled any spells. (Melee combat follows the missiles and magic steps and cannot interrupt spells when both sides have tied for intiative.) There does not seem to be any rule that indicates that foiled spells are “erased” from memory and implementing such a rule would seem to require an amount of book-keeping that is for more fiddly than the rest of the game.

Ye Olde Magic Shoppe: There are no magic items for sale at the Keep– certainly there is no general store selling scrolls and potions. There may be such at thing at a large city or perhaps on the sixth level of a crazy dungeon, but generally the only way low level characters get magic items is to pry them from someone’s cold dead fingers.

Ability Checks: I have avoided making players roll for ability checks as such a practice has seemed inconsistent with an “old school” style of play. However, Moldvay does outline such a rule in his section on Dungeon Master advice. In the situation where the Elf character climbed up the side of the pit trap to cast a sleep spell, it would have actually been in the spirit of the game to ask for a Dexterity check to see if he could pull it off. (As a GM, I think I would tend to just say “yes” to most actions, but to ask for rolls in situations that seem to be a bit of a stretch to me.)

Experience Points: Normally, the total XP awarded is tallied up and divided equally among the survivors. The DM may elect to give out additional bonuses and penalties on a character-by-character basis. Parties may be awarded XP for just “learning” from encounters even when they don’t actually kill the monsters. (Curiously, there is a note in the hirelings section stating that retainers can earn additional xp if the party gives them a greater share of gold. I do not see how to resolve this suggestion with the rules and examples in the classic magenta basic set.) Moldvay states that characters should start leveling up within three or four sessions.

Hit Points: If your hit points drop to zero or less, you are dead. Cure light wounds spells do not have any effect on dead characters. Dead men can’t quaff healing potions, either. Deal with it.

Flaming Oil: It looks like it will take four flasks of oil to close off a typical 10 foot wide hallway for one turn. These aren’t really Molotov cocktails or anything like that. To be able to automatically and quickly set it off, you’re going to have to have a torch ready. And of course, a torch means you cannot surprise monsters or use infravision.

2 responses to “Moldvay Basic Set Rules Clarifications

  1. Chris Mata November 30, 2011 at 7:51 am

    Do you have a link to the differences between this set and the later red box? I never played Moldvay. My first experience was with the Red Box.

    • jeffro November 30, 2011 at 9:47 am

      This page contains a complete answer. For low level play, the biggest difference is that your Mentzer Red Box had mercy on the magic-users and gave the Read Magic for free at first level in addition to whatever other spell they chose.

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