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The Principles of Moldvay D&D

Posted in Games, Principles

Jonathan Walton took a look at what things from Burning Wheel might be called the Apocalypse World-style Principles of the game. I thought that was really interesting, as was Clyde’s look at D&D that inspired it (sadly no longer available), so I thought I’d try it myself.

Apocalypse D&D started out as very much an Old School Revival game, in the style of AD&D. Dungeon World has gone beyond that a little, while still keeping some of that feel, so I wanted to see how older editions might map to Principles. Here’s my attempt at stating the DMing Principles of Moldvay (1981) D&D:

  1. Give the players a reason for adventuring, give yourself a reason for placing monsters (B51.A)
  2. Map the dungeon, leave blanks (B51.B, B52.D)
  3. When you don’t know what to place, use a random table (B52.E)
  4. Describe to the players what their characters see, hear and do. (B59)
  5. Be flexible, don’t panic (B60)
  6. Be fair, the game is not a contest between you and the players (B60)
  7. Make up (rules) details as needed to keep the game moving (B60)
  8. Always allow a chance to do something nearly impossible (B60)
  9. You are the boss. The final decision is yours, not the players’ not the rules’. (B60)
  10. Make the adventure as real as possible. (B60)
  11. Move along with humor and excitement (B60)

Those are what I was able to pull out, but there’s another option. Page B60 has a list of statements that look an awful lot like AW Principles:

Scan of page B60 from 1981 Basic Dungeons and Dragons

The full list is:

  1. “That’s not in the rules!”
  2. “There’s always a chance”
  3. “The DM is the Boss”
  4. “Everyone is here to have fun”
  5. “Everything is balanced”
  6. “Your character doesn’t know that”

A different set than I’d choose, but interesting. It’s also interesting to see how statements like this have developed over time.

AW phrases these things as rules of play, while Moldvay puts them in a section titled “Dungeon Mastering as a Fine Art.” I actually find AW’s phrasing more liberating: rules are things I can change, part of the game itself. A technique for good GMing is something I should be doing, no matter what, a deviation from it is not good GMing.

Oh, and one more thing. Not a principle, but something of interest for anyone who’s too offended that 4E works better with miniatures: “D&D adventures are more interesting to play when miniatures are used.” (B61)

Sage LaTorra is a game designer and senior test engineer at Google. You may know him from Dungeon World.