Memories of Tom Moldvay

Bob Kindel (dba The diceman), was one of the guys who answered my flier looking for players at the library, and has been playing in Telengard.

Bob’s been attending conventions (as a player, GM, vendor, and convention organizer) for a very long time, and seems to know just about everyone in the industry. I met him at Border’s so we could check each other out, as you have to do these days. Turned out he’s nice guy with no obvious social stigmas. When we got down to the crunch and I said I’m using the Moldvay D&D rules, he asked me if I knew Tom. I had learned a few years ago that Mr. Moldvay lived (and died) in Akron, the next town over. But I was stoked to find out Bob and Tom were friends and had gamed together.

When I mentioned that as boys, my brother & I had started with AD&D and considered “Basic” D&D the kiddy version and AD&D the “adult” version, Bob quickly interjected that Tom Moldvay held the reverse to be true. After all, AD&D really tried to cover every eventuality and provide a rule (or at least a random table) for every occasion; Basic D&D leaves it up to the DM and players to work out how they want the game to to play, and invites tinkering, expansion, and customization. Thirty years later I can see that Moldvay was right. The third thing that came up in our first conversation was that after Tom’s death, his only heir was his sister, a religious fanatic who burned all of Tom’s papers, games, and even his miniatures in a bonfire, since they were tools of Satan. <disconfirmed, 1-6-2012>

Gygax, Arneson, and Holmes have been justly celebrated and are well-documented among gamers on various web sites and forums, but I think that Moldvay deserves more recognition. Anyway enough from em; the point of this post is to reproduce the essay Bob wrote after I began pestering him about writing down some of the oral history of D&D and it’s creators.

Tom Moldvay

I have been asked by Mike to write about Tom Moldvay as a sort of “living history” effort. I don’t know about “living history” but I will give you some living memories before my cerebral cortex shorts out.

I won’t give you the nuts and bolts stuff you can get from wikipedia.com. I reviewed their entry and it’s about as accurate as Wikipedia gets.

I first met Tom in the mid-70s. He was at Kent and ran an excellent SF con called 1st Dimension Con or something. It had Harlan Ellison (who spent Saturday evening standing outside the film site trying to convince people to boycott the showing of A Boy and His Dog) and Frederick Pohl (who sat in front of me at an Ellison reading and spent most of the time making fun of him). It was such a good con, in fact, that Tom once told me that he and the committee had spent four years paying for it. Tom was always more interested in being an SF writer than game designer. It chagrined him that he couldn’t make a living in SF.

At gaming, however, he was a natural. When Boot Hill was first published, an editor asked him to write a module for the system as soon as he could. Tom finished one over the weekend. “Could have done it quicker,” he said “but I needed to read the rules first.” The module? The legendary Mad Mesa with cowboys fighting dinosaurs (1 copy available on Amazon for $83.19).

When the orange cover Palace of the Silver Princess (D+D module B3) was pulled by TSR, it was to Tom they turned to do a superfast edit so that the revised edition (with green cover) could go out close to schedule. Legend has it that TSR pulled it because of “x-rated art.” The art really wasn’t much worse that one found in comics. It was changed, however, because D+D was under fire from the religious right. Tom insisted it needed to be rewritten because when it was reviewed, the editor noticed that there was no way to get into the 2nd story of the palace. He also cleaned up a lot of detail stuff and gave it the Moldvay touch.

Tom was always a good man to turn to when you needed fast work — both professionally or in gaming. When I needed my 7 figure Asterix minis painted in two days for a con event, Tom did them for me in one.

I didn’t know Tom during the TSR years but got to know him well after he left TSR for health reasons and moved back to Akron. He was always active in the local gaming group, the AKS, and was on the con committee with me at many NeoCons (later NeoVention). If you like, I’ll share some memories of those days in a later post. {©2011 Bob Kindel}

[Comments? Questions? Leave a comment and I’ll forward it to Bob.–Mike]

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Published in: on February 2, 2011 at 8:38 am  Comments (11)  
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11 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Wonderful post!!! Moldvay Basic is the greatest incarnation of D&D ever published, in my opinion, and Moldvay’s modules are some of my favorite, especially B4 and X1. I’ve always been curious to know more about the man. That’s sad and horrible news about the destruction of his papers…

    If/when you talk to Bob again can you (1) get more details on Moldvay’s personal DMing style…? [e.g. use of minis, mapping, campaign style, degree of homebrewage, etc.], and (2) ask about Moldvay’s fiction writing? Also, do you think Bob would know of anyone who has pictures of Moldvay?

    Thanks again for a very interesting post!

  2. Wow, the bonfire thing rocked my sanity a bit.

    My first experience with DnD was the Moldvay Basic set, and it remained my only experience for about 3 years. It still holds up, completely, and moreso than any of the other old editions, in my view.

    Compared to other editions, it’s easy to see its virtues. Concise, well written, well organized, and an excellent balance between simplicity and complexity. In addition, taken as a complete package, I think it’s the most evocative of the D&D ‘feel.’

  3. No joke, it wasn’t until I finally read Moldvay (after years of owning/using Mentzer, AD&D in various forms, and Holmes) that I finally “got” certain things about why the rules were the way they were. It made sense, and was clean, clear and concise without feeling dumbed down. I feel it really is the most playable and accessible version of D&D ever made, and I have no nostalgia for it to color my opinion. I’m lucky enough to be playing in a campaign of Moldvay D&D now, and it is a great set of rules.

    If possible, could you ask about any recollections regarding the campaign setting(s) Moldvay used? Details or anecdotes from his adventures, things like that? Beyond what he wrote and did professionally.

  4. Mike, this is an awesome post. I had no idea his gaming stuff met such a terrible fate!

  5. It would be nice to have access to some of Moldvay’s Sci-fi writing, but alas I fear all has been lost.

  6. Great post. I’m deeply saddened by the loss of his papers. What a tragedy. He’s one of my gaming heroes…

  7. Thanks for sharing your memories of Tom, Mike. I agree with the other posts: it’s a shame his unpublished/unfinished works were destroyed & I’ve been searching for a photo of the man for years. I feel as if a photo conveys something of the person. My friends and I began Basic back when we started, but sadly moved to ‘Advanced’ because we didn’t understand how good Basic was. Loved Tom’s work too and Isle of Dread is my favourite adventure.

    Please share more, Mike.

    • They’re Bob’s memories, but you’re welcome! Bob says he can probably answer all the questions put forward so far. I’ll ask him if he has or knows of any photos. He should be back in my game in a week or two.

      • Sorry Mike, I meant Bob. Thanks for helping us Moldvay fans. When I think of role-playing, I remember the excitement of exploring the Isle’s jungle paths and ruins back in 1983 or so. We didn’t know what we might find, or what might find us!

  8. I am sorry to bother you. I am was a friend to Tom Moldvay. Please give me information as to what happened to him and where he is buried. I loved Tom very much, have missed him, I know he must be buried in Akron where his sister is, but have lost contact with her. My heart is broken finding him gone. Old friends in Kent are mostly gone too. Please help me. Linda email [artwork44240 at yahoo period com] phone [redacted] Thank You I can not believe his sister (there are two of them) did such a terrible thing!

  9. Thanks for all of your memories of my brother Tom but fear that your source has been pulling your leg. I am not sure if I should be upset at being called a religious fanatic or be amused as my brother would have been at the absurd story. Sadly Tom passed while living alone and was not discovered for some time. I was notified by the coroner only after he had been cremated. After contacting his landlord I was given 2 days to go through his belongings which were stuffed into garbage bags. I tried to rescue what I could but it was a small portion of a long and creative lifetime of work. I love and miss you Tom. Sister Rebecca (yes like the character he named for me) This made me cry.


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