Sunday, September 18, 2011

1980 Review from Complete Book of Wargames

Jeffrey Fleming ( has kindly provided me with a transcription of a 1980 review of the Holmes Basic Set:

The Complete Book of Wargames, by the Editors of Consumer Guide with Jon Freeman, published by Simon & Schuster, 1980 (excerpt)

Dungeons & Dragons, Basic Set (1977)
SUBJECT: Fantasy role-playing rules are provided for an initial campaign.
PLAYING TIME: This is discretionary; typically, four to six hours.
KEY FEATURES: With the addition of a few new spells, this is straight Dungeons & Dragons— but only part of it. Essentially, this is a condensation and reorganization of material from the first three rule books plus the supplements that directly pertain to starting a Dungeons & Dragons campaign. Only things appropriate to the first three character levels are included, so all the charts and tables are truncated. Also, included are a set of play aids useful for the beginner: polyhedral dice, a monster and treasure list for random encounters, and a set of “dungeon geomorphs”—uncoded modular sections that can be arranged in different ways to construct a dungeon setting quickly.
COMMENTS: Basic Dungeons & Dragons is only a starter set and effectively obsolete a few weeks after you get a campaign going. It was written (“edited,” if you prefer) by someone outside the TSR establishment who knew a noun from a verb, and the difference shows. It’s still a long jump short of perfection, but you can read this and generally understand what’s going on. The playing aids are useful, if only as examples. It’s still preferable to participate in an ongoing campaign, but if you must venture into RPG country without a guide, this is the first place to visit.
            Presentation—Very Good
OVERALL EVALUATION: Good but incomplete.

I've added a new section to the website that will cover contemporary reviews.

A few thoughts:
This is a review of one of the earlier printings of the Basic Set. The Geomorphs and M&TA were gone by the second edition of Nov 1978, so this review was a bit out of date by the time book was published. By 1980, the Basic Set was already on to its second module (B2). 

The recognition of Holmes' editing skills is nice, though a bit harsh on the grammar of the LBBs, which I don't think are as poorly written as commonly perceived. Holmes, after all, in many places uses language directly from the LBBs.


  1. I remember picking up that book from my library when I was a kid. There weren't many books about wargaming or rpgs at the time. I was still trying to get a grasp on how to play an rpg.

  2. I've seen it mentioned on the Acaeum, but never a physical copy. It's one of the first mass market books reviewing RPGs, predating even Holmes' FRPG book, and had a wide distribution if it made it to libraries such as yours. It's not widely remembered among RPGs circles because of the title ("Wargames"). The yellow D&D banner is funny: "We're trying to look like a D&D rulebook but don't want a lawsuit so we'll just move it to the other corner".