Saturday, December 12, 2009

Red Box thoughts

You know you've been trundling along with something too long when you entertain thoughts of how you would like to rewrite it, if you could.

Recently I've been mulling over the idea of what I would put in a "Red Box" of levels 1-3 D&D. What critters, what sort of items; would I add or remove classes, or make alterations to the classes in the Mentzer box (my preferred Red Box) ... Could I condense an itty bitty gazetteer of sorts, give a starting-point for an adventure or two?

This, predictably, soon attracted the question of "Could I make this self-contained?". Hyper-low-level gaming is hardly everyone's cup of tea, but we've gotten a goodly fair bit of mileage from it. A self-contained Red Box may require other adjustments in and of itself; something else to ponder over.

If nothing else, it's turning into an entertaining mental exercise. I may post further ramblings on the subject.


Chris said...

You're not the only one who's been thinking along these lines recently Taichara. IMO 'Red Box only' D&D would probably end up looking something like GW's Mordheim skirmish game (which I love unreservedly), or like the E6 version of 3E. That's a good thing, as the ethos of those games are wholly in keeping with the inspirational reading material of D&D (Howard, Tolkers, Anderson, Lieber, Wagner, etc.).

Even at the giddy heights of 3rd level low-power traps, falling damage and skirmishing goblins would still matter, as the hardiest characters only able to survive 2 or 3 solid hits.

Magic wouldn't trump everything else; it would remain rare enough to be the ace-in-the-hole, rather than being the default option (as with most higher-level games). Skillmonkey characters and player ingenuity would really matter again.

All this (rare magic, character fragility, high-risk combat) would hopefully force a little more forethought from players. In fact - whisper it! - You might even achieve the blissful state of having game mechanics actively reinforce desired play style, rather than subverting it (3E), or engaging in "telephonehalibutvietnam upisdown yesmeansno freetodoaswetellyou" doublethink (4E).

Of course - as with Mordheim - the limitations of 'Red Box only' play would make having the right adventuring kit (lucky charm, holy relic, light armour, etc.) all-important, to an extent even greater than the norm for D&D as people scrabble for every +1 they can grab. But then, doesn't that fit a game about plundering the underworld for bling and toys?

Chris said...

PS: read over first, then post. Stoopud Chris :(

Anonymous said...

I dunno, seems a lot of people wanna referee low-level d&d but don't hear many player's screaming for it.

When I started playing D&D all we HAD was a Mentzer Red box. I played at least a half-dozen characters to third level...I wept when my DM got the Expert set for Christmas. :P

Look a lot like these referees are really looking for the gritty S&S of RuneQuest or Chaosium BRP but don't want to give up saying "I play D&D".

taichara said...


Interesting thoughts, all, and a different train of thought than I've been putting into the idea so far. I freely admit to mostly simply mulling over what sort of things I'd "put in the box" X3;; A starting point for designing a more "me-themed" game ...

And no worries about post gaffes; we all make them ;3


Alas, you seem rather quick to make too many assumptions. Not only can I say -- in fact, said exactly so above -- that we've been trundling along with various low-level endeavours happily, but I most certainly want to continue playing D&D with D&D.

I am not looking for "gritty" anything; I want to tweak a Red Box into a nice customized mess.

You know what happens when one assumes.

Anonymous said...

Why so defensive? Did I hit a nerve? The truth will do that doncha know?

There was no assumption in my post. Only pointed out the APPEARANCE, as in 'looks a lot like' know what they say when it quacks like a duck...

Anyway, glad you're group and you are having fun, that's what gaming's about.

taichara said...


Truth, my arse. That was not defensiveness, that was damned annoyance at your assumption -- and it was assumption, if not baiting.

And the baiting continues, as there was not a bloody thing in my opening post that indicated I wanted a gritty anything.

Good day.

Anonymous said...

So sorry, my remarks were @ chris's post,confused it with yours... my apologies (no coffee in my house). I will not visit your blog again.

Carter Soles said...

I always liked the Holmes basic book, and since I never owned the 1981 Moldvay revision of Basic D&D, I cannot compare / contrast the two. But if you have it or can find it, that Holmes book might aid your thinking / imagining in this area. And I hope you will continue to share your thoughts on the matter as well!

David The Archmage said...

This is a neat idea, and matches pretty well the style of gaming I like to play and DM. If I were planning on doing this I'd probably bump the top up to level 5. This ends up giving wizards either fireball or lightning bolt, some really iconic powers for high level wizards.