Sunday, October 25, 2009

D&D Editions: BECMI Basic Set

From time to time I will be writing my thoughts on different editions of D&D. I take a very expansive view of what counts as an edition of D&D. There are several games that are heavily D&D based that will be included.

BECMI stands for Basic, Expert, Companion, Master, and Immortal. These were box sets published throughout the '80s by TSR and put together by Frank Mentzer. They detail the system that is commonly referred to as Basic D&D or Classic D&D. Each box set was intended to cover different levels of play. Basic: 1-3, Expert: 4-14, Companion: 15-25, Master 26-36, Immortal: after the characters ascended to immortal status. They are easily identified by their Larry Elmore cover art.

The Basic Set was my introduction to D&D. It was not actually my introduction to the hobby, More on that later. This edition is laid out to teach the game. After a short introduction there is a very simple adventure in which you only roll the D20 to play. That is followed by another, slightly more complex, adventure that is laid out in numbered entries like a gamebook. This was a great choice, gamebooks were very popular in the '80s and school book fairs were full of them. Twelve year old boys were very comfortable with this format. By the time you finish the gamebook section you have learned the basics of mapping and the rules of the game.

The next part of the book details the different character classes/races and how to make a new character. The rest of the book is spent detailing combat, equipment, and tips on how to play the game. The reader leaves the Players Manual with a very good idea of what goes on in a D&D session and how to play the game. They know about mapping, using their equipment, retainers, light and many other subjects.

The second volume is the Dungeon Masters Rulebook. Like the Players Manual the meat of the book is taken up with an adventure. This is also done by slowly removing the amount of help the DM gets. The ground level of the dungeon has very detailed notes for the encounter, the second level has less boxed text and the third level is left up to the DM to create. The introduction on how to be a DM is just as well done as the introduction on how to be a player.

The next section of the book details rules for different situations like morale, traps, and retainers. Then there is a list of monsters and treasure. The final section is a how to guide for dungeon making.

For me this is the best introduction to the game ever made. You could learn to play D&D from this even if you didn't understand what a roleplaying game was when you picked it up. The main drawback of this set was that it was not very useful for looking stuff up later because of its teaching layout.