LL vs. B/X vs. BECMI

(Sorry about the alphabet soup title. Spelling them all out would make a ridiculously long title.)

The differences between Original D&D and its retroclone Swords & Wizardy are pretty obvious and occasionally commented on. But the differences between Labyrinth Lord and the B/X D&D books seem rather significant to me, now that my brother dug up our old basic set book and I’ve had a chance to look at it. The major changes I notice include clerics (B/X: no spells at 1st level, LL: spells at 1st), the experience tables (B/X uses mostly round numbers, LL has some really odd numbers), and the equipment lists (B/X prices plate armor at just 60 GP, easily within the reach of most starting PCs, who get 3d6 x 10 GP, while LL uses the much higher prices you find in AD&D). There are of course others but these three are apparent right from the start when you’re rolling up characters.

I suppose LL could simply be modeled on the Mentzner BECMI rules, and not B/X as I’d assumed; I have never read Metzner’s version. But LL retains many artifacts from B/X (I had totally forgotten about the attribute checks, and that variable weapon damage is presented as an optional rule in B/X!).

I always liked the idea of the Rules Cyclopedia (which I understand compiles BECMI with some additional material?), but I find myself drawn much more to B/X (because of perceived simplicty, nostalgia, and the Erol Otus artwork!). Unfortunately that means houseruling LL to bring a few things more in line with B/X, or just accepting the changes LL makes. A big motivator for me to use LL to begin with was the fact that players could in principle get a free copy of the rules if they wanted to, rather than trolling eBay and what not for the B/X books.


Published in: on October 12, 2010 at 3:10 pm  Comments (7)  
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  1. I believe that the changes to LL were done, in most cases, for legal reasons, so that it wasn’t a complete copy of B/X. The change to the cleric spells is the exception, as far as I’m aware. It’s definitely based on B/X though; note the name of the big city on the hexmap in the back of the book.

    The Rules Cyclopedia only includes the first four boxed sets, and stops short of the I; a new version of the immortal-level set was released to go with the RC.

    That’s my understanding of it, anyway.

  2. In practice I find the changes not too hard to deal with. Armor is expensive, no big whoop. The XP charts are wonky. Shrug. I’m a meanie and make clerics earn that first spell though.

  3. The differences between LL and B/X are mostly cosmetic and owe more to matters of “artistic presentation” for legal purposes than anything else (that’s why the XP values are wonky, for example). It’s certainly a great deal closer to B/X than Swords & Wizardry is to OD&D. Heck, with Original Edition Characters, LL is closer to OD&D than is S&W.

  4. LL Leather = AC 8, B/X Leather = 7. Although there’s a typo in LL (p.120) that contradicts this and says its the same. It was the same as B/X in the first and second printings. Thought it might be of interest in you hadn’t noticed..

  5. I would not make your decision based on your ability to get a free copy. I can get you enough copies of B/X. I can make a DOC copy for the PDF of the encyclopedia I bought, so you can house-rule anything you want in. B/X rules are real short.

    I noticed the AC thing but LL also has more Armor types.

    The thing I like about B/X armor is the encumbrance system, it seem almost to balance the armor choices as far as speed to AC. LL might too

  6. I noticed those too, and asked about them on the LL forums. The armor price changes are because they added a few more armor types, so plate had to go up in price. The 1st level cleric spell doesn’t bug me at all. The differences overall are very minor and only have an impact for first level characters. Even first level PC’s will be buying plate soon enough, as the bulk of their XP comes from treasure.

    Nobody in my group has the B/X rules floating around except me, and my copy is pretty beat, so I just decided to use LL as written.

  7. OK, thanks to everyone for the info!

    I guess it makes sense. The rules mechanics themselves cannot be protected by copyright but the presentation (wording, tables, etc.) can.

    I actually wish LL had went ahead with ascending AC, unlike B/X, since most people are so used to it now.

    I think I’ll just use the B/X XP tables and clerical spell table. I’ve already messed around with the arms & armor anyway* so I’m not worried about those differences, my 1st level party has already suited up in plate anyway with the grossly excessive treasure they found in that ogre module.

    *I should actually say, I outsourced the arms & armor stuff to my brother Tom.

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