D&D Master Set (1e, BECMI) – Sean’s Pick, 081116

The BECMI edition of the original Dungeons & Dragons is regarded very highly by many gaming enthusiasts and historians as the best presentation of the D&D experience. Created by the illustrious Frank Mentzer, it’s called “BECMI” due to the various releases in the series – the Basic sets – the Player’s Manual and the DM’s Rulebook – followed by the Expert Set, the Companion Set, the Master Set (the focus of today’s Pick), and the Immortal Set. As you can guess, this scheme was set up to graduate folks’ campaigns from initial adventures all the way to godhood. If you are an Old School enthusiast or just someone who wants to see how folks really played it back in the day, this is an excellent series of PDFs to grab.

At last, the cycle is complete. Players and Dungeon Masters alike may experience the wonder of reaching for the ultimate levels of mortal might with the D&D Master Set.

In the Basic Set you learned to crawl through dungeons and defeat the minions of evil. In the Expert Set you set out on wanderings through the wilderness. In the Companion Set you climbed to the pinnacle of success and founded kingdoms, conquered wild lands, and battled barbarian hordes. Now, in the Master Set, you can soar across the sky and into the pages of legend.

These books are written for the experienced D&D player. The Master Player’s Book expands on the known abilities of characters with new skills and spells. The Dungeon Masters Book features three sections that have become a standard for each rules set: New Procedures, Monsters, and Magical Treasures, all designed with the Master Level characters in mind.

Now, you are only limited by your imagination. Answer the clarion call to adventure; the lands of legend await!

Product History (Excerpts)

The D&D Master Rules Set (1985), by Frank Mentzer, is the fourth volume in Mentzer’s BECMI rules series. It was published in June 1985.

Origins (I): Moving Toward BECMI. The BECMI line was a strongly themed and carefully constructed series of boxes for the third edition of Basic D&D (1983-1991). The Basic Rules (1983) focused on dungeon exploration for levels 1-3, the Expert Rules (1983) introduced wilderness exploration for levels 4-14, and the Companion Rules debuted kingdom building for levels 15-25. Now the Master Rules finished the collection with a march to immortality for levels 26-36.

Origins (II): Developers & Designers. Back in the ’70s and ’80s, developers and revisers didn’t get a lot of credit at TSR. Prior to the release of the Master Rules, the Basic D&D books all said “by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson”, despite the fact that they’d only created the original OD&D (1974) system and none of the text in the continuing line of Basic D&D games. Thus the “B/X” series said that it was “edited” by Tom Moldvay, David “Zeb” Cook, and Steve Marsh, while the new BECMI series similarly gave Frank Mentzer a mere “revised” credit for the Basic Rules and Expert Rules. He got a full byline in the Companion Rules, but it was under a “Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson” byline.

The Master Rules were even more an original work by Frank Mentzer than the books that came before it, but this time he was dropped back to a “compiled by” credit. Surprisingly, the main credit goes only to Gary Gygax, with no reference to Dave Arneson. It was a curious omission of one of the two creators of D&D when a more accurate byline would have highlighted Mentzer’s name alone. Mentzer explains: “TSR had enough problems between Gygax & Arneson, no sense giving me grounds to add my name to the list. However, the further it went, the greater the amount I ‘compiled’ from my own ideas; there’s very very little in Masters and nearly nothing in Immortals that had ever appeared before.”

There were probably other political reasons for how the credits appeared, including: the attempt to move aware from credit (and royalties) to Arneson, who hadn’t worked on the game in years; and a push to put Gygax’s name forward in a year when TSR badly needed the attention and sales that might result.

What a Difference an Edition Makes. The Companion Rules had been an innovative and ground-breaking expansion of the D&D game, the first of its sort in several years. Meanwhile, the Master Rules came out the same month as Unearthed Arcana and unfortunately loses out in comparison. Where Unearthed Arcana was a groundbreaking expansion for AD&D, the Master Rules was a more simplistic continuation of the Basic D&D books that came before it; it expands classes, spell, and weapons to the ultimate levels of mortal D&D, but it’s evolutionary, not revolutionary.

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