B/X/R/X: Remixing the Best Monster Manual

September 4, 2017 rpgs dnd monsters bxrx moldvay

There’s something really magical to me about Moldvay & Cook’s Basic/Expert boxed sets of D&D. From a product design standpoint they hold up even today with the best of the best in RPG products. Great box, comes with dice, a crayon, a sample adventure1, just enough rules to get you started - and they even thought about how players would use the rules, which is why the rulebooks are three hole punched. It’s a huge feat of streamlining, marketing, design, and gaming and I can’t sing its praises enough.

One of the many things I love about the set is its pretty bare-bones monster entries. It’s just enough to get you started and to set your mind churning2.

For example:

Killer Bee
Killer Bees are 1’ long giant bees with a very vicious temper. Killer bees almost always attack on sight, and will automatically attack anyone within 30’ of their underground hive. When a killer bee succesfully stings (attacks), it dies, but the creature stung must save vs. Poison or die. The stinger will continue to work its way into the victim, doing an automatic 1 point of damage per round, unless 1 round is spent pulling it out.

A special kind of honey may be found inside the beehive. If eaten, it acts as one half-strength potion of healing, curing 1-4 (1d4) points of damage (this will require all the honey in the hive — about 2 pints). There will always be at least 10 killer bees with their queen in or near the hive. At least 4 of these bees wil have 1 hit die each. The queen bee will have 2 hit dice and can sting repeatedly without dying.

D&D: Basic, pg. B37

A couple short paragraphs - one of them detailing a cool ability (save or die Poison, plus a stinger that keeps working its way in), the other detailing special treasure and how the group works together. This isn’t exactly skimmable content - but it’s about as close as you can get. Everything in those two paragraphs is gameable. On top of that, for a boring entry (Killer Bees, c’mon), it’s a pretty interesting challenge. It’s a 1/2 HD creature that has the ability to instakill and they travel in packs of 1d6. Killer Bees could be an easy TPK - or they could be an easy source of some potions. Great creature.

The other great thing about this compact list is that there’s tons of room for you to hack. The B/X books more than any other3 seem just ripe for the new GM to start making their own world.

Which is why, after seeing the awesome work of Alex Schroeder, I’ve decided to remix the B/X monsters for my Nilvein campaign. I’ll be doing a mixture of adding tables that I think would be helpful at the table when running an encounter with the monster, flavor specific to the Nilvein world, or whole-cloth changes and adaptations.

Here’s the list of monsters, I’ll add links and cross them off as I get to them:

  1. Keep on the Borderlands which usually ranks up as one of the best modules - probably because it came with this widely circulated box set, but still. It’s a classic.↩︎

  2. Great example: there are Neanderthals, T-Rexes, Giant Leeches, and Pterodactyls. I have never once played in a game with all this dinosaur stuff. But there’s literally a whole other setting for B/X just buried in the monster chapter. If you can come up with a whole setting based around just a portion of the monster list, let me know, I’d love to do a post about that.↩︎

  3. Except for OD&D which practically demands it.↩︎

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