Friday, 8 February 2013

B/X vs Labyrinth Lord

Inspired by the release of the Basic/Expert rules at, there's been a bit of discussion going around about "is this the death of Labyrinth Lord / the OSR?".

Well, I'm not about to launch into some philosophical post about the OSR movement. Suffice to say, I feel that the availability of another OSR style game (the original B/X in this case) will only increase the number of people playing old-school style games.

No, I wanted to point out a very beneficial point of Labyrinth Lord over B/X: organisation. It's an argument which is often brought up in relation to clones vs the original editions, but it's actually rather difficult to point that finger at B/X, which is, in my opinion, impeccably laid out, not to mention having a beautiful concision, which obviously aids its readability.

I only came to realise that Labyrinth Lord still has one up on B/X when I gleefully started chopping up the PDFs I'd bought from I wonder how many other people tried this too -- what most of us have never dared do with the real books? What I discovered is that, despite the urging to do so in the introduction of the Expert rule book, it's actually not easy to make a decent rearrangement / combination of the two rule books into a cohesive whole. What you end up with is something like this:
  • Section 1: Basic
  • Section 1: Expert
  • Section 2: Basic
  • Section 2: Expert
Which is sort of ok, but not really what one is looking for. So, in terms of having a unified rule book, Labyrinth Lord wins hands down.

I guess this is why the BECMI Rules Cyclopedia is so popular as well. I'm not really a fan of the CMI parts of BECMI, but I can definitely see the appeal of an all-in-one combined rule book.


  1. You make a reasonable argument here, Gavin, and I wasn't there when they decided to make one book Basic and a next one Expert, so I don't know. To me the clarity of the B/X layout, down to where section breaks are placed, how the image sizes maximize odd spaces left in the text, is a big part of why the books resonate to my adult eyes now. Taken as two separate entities, each jamming all this material into 64-pages, there's also the larger design/layout sense of two parallel systems: dungeon vs wilderness, and the stocking rules in each follow from the logic of the preceding sections. And I think this is probably what you describe above as the best (but unsatisfactory) way to cut the books up to make them one book. I know it's uncool to try to read the intentions of the designers at the time (or so I've read today), but seems hard to believe that the recommendation to cut the books up and make a unified rule book had much influence on the B/X layouts. So I don't know if it's a fair comparison either way.

    I use LL all the time, but my gaming group still get irked 3 years on by certain things. Like why is LL longer than the books it clones? Why are the summary Saving Throw tables sandwiched between Missile Weapon Ranges and the Stronghold Encounter tables on pp. 54-56 rather than with the character sections? Drives me nuts. But we use it because there's a zero-cost investment for new players, it's one book, it's electronic, and it's the best we have. Neither B/X nor LL are the best possible, but I also don't want to reformat all of LL to make it exactly to my liking either, so I suppose I can just shut up about it now.

    1. Yeah I guess the super cool thing B/X has going is the clean split between dungeon & wilderness adventures. I really like the way they're described almost as two separate games. I think that works great in the DM's side of the equation. The non-ideal aspect of the B/X split seems to me to be the players' sections really... class descriptions, spell lists -- which is where LL has one up, imho.

  2. Spawn, thanks for the feedback. However, one thing that kind of baffles me this sort of thing i that it's not like I'm inaccessible. Please feel free to simply write to me and ask if you have questions about why I did something the way I did. I may not always have an answer that is satisfying, and it's been six years since I first wrote Labyrinth Lord, but I can do my best.

  3. As someone who did cup up the B/X books close to 20 years ago, I can say that they do work together well and it doesn't take to long before you'll be able to find what you want easily. The expert tables restate the basic ones so most of the tables are on one or two pages.

    1. Yeah I think it was this duplication which I found tricky when I was re-arranging the pages in my PDFs... You know, whether to include the Basic info at all, as most (but not all) of it's repeated in the Expert section.

      I guess it works better for some things than others. The monster listings were what I found the least pleasing, having two separate A..Z sections.

      Not dissing B/X though -- I still love it :)

  4. The advantage of LL over B/X is simple. One is open content and the other is not. I can, and have, made money off of LL (though mostly with its spin off Mutant Future). I can not do that with B/X.

    As long as people buy electronic material, be it on OBS or other sites, LL will be the more desired game for publishers.

    1. Also a very good point Derek. I do wonder whether WotC, as part of their "reunification" drive, will license third parties to create content compatible with older editions of D&D, but that remains completely speculative at this point. Even if that did happen, I guess Labyrinth Lord could simply be labelled "officially compatible with Basic D&D" or something.

      I also agree that there's enormous value in the legally safe (due to the OGL) open source nature of LL -- a very positive thing to support. PDFs / reprints / support for B/X may come and go with the moods of WotC's management, but the rules of LL are (as far as anything) here to stay.


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