Take the 2-minute tour ×
Role-playing Games Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for gamemasters and players of tabletop, paper-and-pencil role-playing games. It's 100% free, no registration required.

What are the differences between Holmes, Moldvay, and Mentzer D&D? Also, which one came first?

share|improve this question

5 Answers 5

up vote 49 down vote accepted

History

D&D started as a series of little booklets, now called "original D&D" (OD&D). These booklets were basically barely-edited versions of the house rules of Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson.

Holmes Basic Dungeons & Dragons book In 1977, TSR hired J. Eric Holmes to develop a Basic D&D game. This was a dark blue, boxed set containing D&D in a single book, plus a module (B1 In Search of the Unknown), and some dice (or cardboard chits, when they ran out!).

Moldvay and Mentzer are game designers who took the old Basic D&D game (edited by Eric Holmes) and revised them. Both produced "red box" versions of the game. You'll find far more differences between Holmes and the later red boxes than you'll find between Moldvay and Mentzer.

Moldvay Basic Dungeons & Dragons book Tom Moldvay revised the "Basic" D&D game in 1981. It came in a red box and featured the B2 Keep on the Borderlands module. It came with dice (and a marking crayon!). These rules handled levels 1-3. David "Zeb" Cook wrote the follow-on "Expert" rule book (another boxed set) that expanded the game to levels 4-14.

Mentzer Basic Dungeons & Dragons book Frank Mentzer revised the game again in 1983 with another "red box" set featuring the art of Larry Elmore. This time, the Dungeon Master book was separated from the Player book. Mentzer would continue the Basic (1-3) and Expert (4-14) classifications but would go on to produce additional expansions: Companion (15-25), Master (26-36), and Immortal (characters too sexy for their levels, but you essentially get 36 more). These separate books would later be combined into the D&D Rules Cyclopedia.


Differences between Holmes and Moldvay

Moldvay made many changes to the Holmes version to streamline play and make it easier for players to understand the game. Both games cover levels 1-3, though.

Overall differences:

  • Holmes' game includes B1 In Search of the Unknown. Moldvay's game includes B2 Keep on the Borderlands.

  • The Holmes version is intended as an introduction for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, and refers the reader to there for further help. Moldvay Basic D&D is intended as its own game, with little connection to AD&D.

  • Holmes' book is a reference manual. Moldvay's book is an instruction manual.

Rules differences:

  • Holmes presents the game as rules to be followed. Moldvay presents the game as guidelines to be considered.

  • Holmes has initiative in order of dexterity (high to low). Moldvay has players roll group initiative.

  • Combat in Holmes is based on OD&D, which was based on Chainmail (more wargamey). The weapons all do 1d6 damage. Moldvay gives weapons individual damage ratings.

  • The spell Magic Missile requires a to-hit roll in Holmes, but not in Moldvay.

  • Holmes offers dozens of spells (level 1-3). Moldvay cuts this spell list a lot (from 18 to 3 3rd level spells, for instance).

  • In Holmes, not all ability scores have modifiers. Moldvay makes every ability count and provides bonus charts for each one, and most fall into the same seven bands (-3 to +3).

  • There are differences in advancement for classes. Elves in Holmes need far more XP to advance than in Moldvay.

  • Holmes has no surprise rules. Moldvay does, but they're essentially brought back in from OD&D.

  • Moldvay adds monster morale.

  • Moldvay adds automatic hits on a 20 and automatic misses on a 1.

  • Holmes carries forward the OD&D class name "Fighting Man." Moldvay shortened that to "Fighter" (probably copying Gygax in AD&D).


Differences between Moldvay and Mentzer

In general, the Mentzer version was a repackaging and expansion of the Moldvay version. The differences are minor in the Basic ruleset.

Overall differences:

  • Moldvay aims his writing at a younger audience. Mentzer writes for an adult audience.

  • The Moldvay version has weaker layout and art than the later Mentzer version.

  • Moldvay's game is pretty simple and straightforward. Mentzer adds complexity, like skills and weapon mastery.

  • Moldvay's red box came with B2 Keep on the Borderlands, but you could buy the books separately (unboxed). Mentzer's Basic box didn't come with a module (the Expert set came with X1 The Isle of Dread, though!).

Rule differences:

  • Moldvay stops at level 3 (and Cook's Expert set continues that to 14). Mentzer's "BECMI" continues on and on.

  • Moldvay states that clerics get their spells from gods. Mentzer gets all "wishy-washy"* about this aspect of the game and only says clerics get spells from "their beliefs."

  • Moldvay's magic-users get one spell at 1st level and have to find more in play. Mentzer's get one spell plus Read Magic at 1st level, and then one new one at every level.

  • The monster list changes between these versions. A number of people "monsters" are combined into the Human entry: acolyte, medium, trader, veteran. Insect swarm and noble are moved to the Expert rules. Some monsters are renamed: cave locust became locust, giant; driver ant became ant, giant; and killer bee became bee, giant.

  • Mentzer slows down the advancement of saving throws, thieves' abilities, and spell acquisition for clerics and magic-users.

  • Castle-building rules are more detailed in Moldvay, but Mentzer details a base town and talks about running town adventures.

share|improve this answer
2  
A couple nits. Later printings of the Holmes' set came with B2 (including my copy :) Holmes uses the same rules for surprise that OD&D does, 1-2 out of 6. (From Maliszewski - grognardia.blogspot.com/2010/07/…) –  Pat Ludwig Sep 2 '10 at 16:50
1  
Oh, and Moldvay's individual weapon damages are from Gygax's Supplement 1. By using supplements 1 & 2, one was essentially playing AD&D. –  aramis Sep 3 '10 at 4:29
5  
I'll endorse this answer. :) --FM (Tho it's depressing to be the sole survivor of the three.) –  ExTSR Sep 4 '10 at 1:34
    
Hi, Frank! Thanks for your kind words. Revel in surviving them all! I met Tom at NEOcon in Akron in the late 80's. I was a high school kid with big dreams of game design and he was very kind to me. Moldvay's death saddened me in a way that the deaths of Gygax and Arneson didn't, because I had met him and talked for a couple hours. –  Adam Dray Sep 4 '10 at 18:17

Just adding to the excellent answers, it appears Holmes D&D was really more a continuation of OD&D than any sort of intro to the emerging Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. Holmes D&D is really almost a complete game in itself, separate from anything else ever published at TSR. Although continuations of Holmes' Blue book to higher levels can be found, Moldvay's version is really much more seamless in it's graduation to higher level play. To me that is the major difference between the two editions.

Moldvay's version in my experience is really a much better introduction into eventually playing AD&D, if you have the two books (Beginning and Expert) you have what is considered one of the most perfect contained RPGs ever published. The game Labyrinth Lord is based on the Moldvay version of D&D found in these two books.

The Mentzer version is the "Everything and the kitchen sink" approach....five box sets that take you from first level to, well, gods (immortals). I think this version was meant for the more "campaign" minded gamers who were immersed into the whole experience (gaining levels, setting up a kingdom, then becoming gods) than the first two versions, which seem to be more focused on low level and medium level play.

share|improve this answer
1  
And, I believe, Labyrinth Lord's "Advanced Edition Companion" takes some of the things from 1st ed AD&D that people liked to "house rule" into their Moldvay-era games, molds it to make the rules fit together a bit more, and presents it as a set of options for the basic LL game. LL+AEC together are a wonderful set of rules. –  Viktor Haag Sep 2 '10 at 15:42

One stark difference between Moldvay and Holmes is that Holmes uses 1d6 for all weapons damage while Moldvay had each type of weapon roll different dice for damage.

share|improve this answer
  • 1973: woodgrain box D&D.
  • 1974-76: supplements come out for D&D
  • 1977: Holmes collates the "basic" set, incorporating much of Supplements 1 & 2 into the rules. White editions of original rules sold as "Classic D&D", AD&D announced.
  • 1979: AD&D starts to be released, with the PH, based firmly in Holmes' work.
  • 1981: Moldvay simplifies the rules, and adds a few innovations, seems to ignore Supplements 1 & 2 except for variable weapon damage as an option.
  • 1982 or so: Cook expands upon Moldvay with the Expert Set; D&D forks into two paths, Classic D&D discontinued.
  • 1983: Mentzer revises Basic and Expert Sets, firmly entrenching Moldvay's changes, and creating a different look for B/X than the AD&D look.
  • By 1990, the game has been expanded to Basic (red), Expert (Blue), Companion (Teal), Master (Black) and Immortal (Gold) boxes. Companion adds AD&D inspired subclasses, Master adds weapon mastery. Immortal allows PC's to essentially ascend to Godhood.
  • 1991 Black Box Basic - Denning rewrites Mentzer rules for levels 1-5, and puts them in a big box with maps, paper minis, and dice; Allston cleans up and collates Basic, Expert, Companion, and Master rules into the Cyclopedia, making some errata fixes and rewording a lot.
  • 1992 Wrath of the Immortals - Allston completely rewrites the Immortals Rules...

All of them except Holmes use the simple stat mods; classic has the AD&D style mods in Supplement 1. All of them have variable weapon damage, some as an option; Classic, Moldvay, and Mentzer all have 1d6 damage for any weapon as standard. Alston and Denning use Variable Weapon Damage as a standard.

original or Classic D&D: levels 1-10+, Fighter, Mage, Cleric. All weapons do 1d6 hit points (at least one printing is missing that line). All hit dice in d6's with mods; completely reroll HP each level. Races are not classes.

Note: sometimes called "Little Brown Book" or "Little White Book" D&D.

CD&D with Supplement 1: add thief class and paladin sub-class of fighter, HD type by class and 1 HD per level, asymmetric stat bonuses tables (later used in AD&D), damage by weapon type instead of all doing 1d6, modifiers to to-hit rolls on weapon vs specific armor types...

CD&D Supplement 2: adds druids and assassins. Adds more stuff, too.

Holmes Basic: I don't have a copy; no details I can check. ISTR it used the supplement 1 stat effect tables.

Moldvay Basic: Introduces Race-based classes; Basic set levels 1-3, Fighter, Magic User, Cleric, Theif, Elf, Dwarf Halfling. Covers only dungeons.
Cook Expert: adds levels 4-12, wilderness travel rules, more monsters.

Mentzer Basic: same classes and focus as Moldvay; different writing style, a few errata-ish changes.
Mentzer Expert: same focus as cook; Levels 4-14, only Mentzer set done as a single volume.
Mentzer Companion: Levels 15-25, Clan Relics for demihumans, Adds druids, Paladins, Avengers. Landholding rules and the War Machine. Adds a variety of NPC specialist henchmen. Unarmed Combat rules.
Mentzer Master: Levels 25-36, Weapon Mastery Rules, Dimensional Travel, Planes. Introduces quest for immortality.
Mentzer Immortals: Levels Immortal-1 to Immortal-36, more on dimensions, lots of stuff.

Denning Basic: BIG black box (18x12x4 inches or so) Levels 1-5, 1st version without "All weapons do 1d6, but you have the option for polyhedrals," using only the damage by weapon type. Dungeon focused. Otherwise, very comparable to Moldvay or Mentzer editions.

Allston Cyclopedia: covers all the same as Mentzer through Master. Like Denning, no "1d6" option. Adds the General Skills from the Gazeteer and Hollow World series of modules.

Allston Wrath of the Immortals: complete rewrite of the immortals rules; works differently in many ways, includes a campaign adventure for both immortals and non-immortals (two sides of the same story!). Covers more details onthe multiverse and planes, covers levels I1 to I36, and on how to become immortal.

Advanced D&D just for clarity, Advanced D&D starts off with almost all of Supplements 1, 2, and 3 incorporated into the Player's Handbook and Dungeon Master's Guide. It uses the asymmetric stat modifier tables, variable damage by weapon, no racial classes, has Fighter, Cleric, Thief, Mage, Ranger, Paladin, Monk, Assassin and Druid, and a funky Bard class as well. It included the Supplement 3 psionics rules in an appendix, and was revised by Gygax from a base of Classic and Holmes.

share|improve this answer
    
Interesting answer, but it doesn't really address the question, does it? –  Adam Dray Sep 3 '10 at 15:00

Come on people...the dice!

Adam mentions that the Holmes version came with chits instead of dice after a while. When it came with chits, it also came with a coupon for a set of polyhedra. These were terrible, soft, twisted and awesome!

The white d20 would turn pretty spherical and roll forever after a year or so of play. The blue d12 was as soft as the others but it hardly ever got rolled, so they're the ones that we old-timers tend to still have around. ('Course, I still have all of them -- useless as they've become.) The green d8 seems like it was the second most used die -- it suffered the most damage after the 20. The red d6 -- my first one had this huge dent in one edge and it's still in pretty good shape. I think we maybe used dice from Yahtzee or something instead of the D&D die. And the yellow d4! Who could forget you? Ever leave this baby on the floor of the family room in the dark? Back then, no one had thought to flatten the points and they were like little caltrops.

By the time the red boxes came out, there were other, better, dice options in the glass cases of hobby and game stores and and TSR was shipping them with these little pastel dice. They were also soft plastic, but not as vulnerable as the originals, it seems. And they were littler than the originals and than the standard that has evolved. It seems like they were mostly blue, but maybe some beige or rose or something too. The set of dice in the box would be ALL THE SAME color though -- which was weird.

:)

share|improve this answer
    
Was this a major difference between Holmes and Mentzer? Incidentally, I still have one of the cyan d20's. It probably came with my Mentzer Expert box. I have a dark blue d12 from somewhere, too. –  Adam Dray Sep 3 '10 at 15:02
    
Me and my chits envy you your dice :) I don't recall a coupon for dice, but it could just be that my parents weren't interested in assisting me in sending away for them. –  Pat Ludwig Sep 3 '10 at 15:15
    
As a forty-year-old I certainly can't credit the dice as a "major difference." But when I was twelve it seemed like the most important thing... –  clweeks Sep 3 '10 at 15:18
    
I think the chits were a temporary replacement for a brief period of time while they restocked on dice. Chits-vs.-dice certainly isn't a universal difference between the games. That's the only point I'm making. Further, I mentioned the chits thing in my post, so I think it's covered. –  Adam Dray Sep 3 '10 at 15:23
1  
The chits version was an attempt by certain management (Blumes) to decrease costs, which obviously backfired severely. –  ExTSR Jan 29 '11 at 18:18

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.