Thursday, June 25, 2009

Getting Back to the Basics

Written by Justin Mason

One of my fondest early role-playing experiences was with what most now refer to as Basic Dungeons & Dragons. More specifically, the 1983-1984 red, blue, cyan and black boxed sets with fantastic art by Larry Elmore.

My friends and I were in junior high school, and things were usually pretty, well, "basic". Our game sessions consisted mostly of dungeon-delves strung together by very loose, usually pre-determined central plots used mostly to explain why in hell our characters kept ending up in these accursed, monster-filled (and treasure-filled) dungeons.

It was during this time, I had one of my most impacting game-related experiences. It was summertime, school was out for three months, and the entire lot of us had virtually no responsibilities from sun-up until midnight. It was the perfect breeding ground for imagination.

Early one morning, I cracked the crimson cover to the Dungeon Master’s Rulebook for the very first time, grabbed my dice, a pencil and notepad, and a sheet of blank graph paper. A few hours later, I had created my very first dungeon…

Sitting there in my bedroom, holding in my hands a pitifully-sketched map of strangely rectangular-shaped rooms and a dozen pages of scribbled notes, I somehow knew that this fantastic concept -- role-playing games -- would forever-more be a part of my life in one way or another.

Thinking back on it now, I’m sure there are several factors just beyond recollection that attribute to the fondness of these memories: the smell of the dank, dusty and moldy basement where we spent hours-on-end felling dragons and evil wizards, room-temperature sandwiches and lukewarm colas that would have made trail-rations seem appealing, and the comradery of a half-dozen kids piled around a rickety card table rolling dice for hours on end. Those were the days.

There have been times since then that I have longed to recapture at least part of the essence of “Basic” role-playing games; the easy character management, the simplicity of the rules, etc. And, I was willing to bet that I was not the only one out there who was interested in running/playing a Basic RPG campaign. And, I was correct.

The Basic Fantasy Role-Playing Game is a rules-light game system based on the d20 SRD v3.5, but heavily rewritten with inspiration from early RPG game systems. It is suitable for those who are fans of "old-school" game mechanics.

I also found Labyrinth Lord by Goblinoid Games, though at the time of this blog entry their website is undergoing renovations.

If you know of any other retro-clone “Basic” role-playing games that are available out there, please let me know by leaving a comment so others might find it as well.


  1. you could do what i and my group does and play Palladium Fantasy. it's only slightly different than it was back in the 80's. and since it's Palladium, it is essentially a rules-lite system cause you'll be making up new rules as you go along!

  2. You might want to check out Swords & Wizardry from Mythmere games - if you're not already aware of it, it's a "retro-clone" of original D&D. (There's also OSRIC, if you're interested in an AD&D retro-clone.)


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