The 1981 release of the Tom Moldvay edition of D&D Basic was before my time. I was 10 when this book was published by TSR for the final time, and I wouldn’t enter the hobby until the Red Box two years later.
Still, the nostalgia content for the Moldvay box still resonates heavily in the OSR today, the bulk of players remembering it fondly right alongside the Trampier PHB and the Sutherland MM and DMG.
When taking a look at it today, I’m moved by the interior artistic content since it captures a perfect era in the TSR evolution, something I call ‘The First Four’.
Here, you can find Jeff Dee, Jim Roslof, Bill Willingham, and Erol Otus in all their glory. Sure, Roslof and Dee don’t appear as much as I’d like, but nonetheless they are all together on a single project and that is something to be proud of.
The box was covered by Otus, and this is probably one of his prime published works at TSR, but I have to say, I once saw a colorized version of Willingham’s dragon fight from the interior cover and I would have also made a fantastic piece if chosen, and probably more so since it features a fully formed D&D adventuring company.
Whatever the case, both artists shine here, but the book tends to lose its artistic way as you progress through it. While the Red Box told a cohesive story, the Moldvay set does not, and instead devolves into random spot illustrations that do reflect text, but don’t draw the reader through the product or inspire.
That isn’t to say the art is bad, it is simply without overall direction, and for that the product suffers more than it should.
There are also a few added spot monster illustrations by David ‘Diesel’ LaForce where he comes out of the TSR warehouse to show he has skill enough to hang, although his work isn’t on par with the other pit artists of the period.
In all, the Moldvay box is certainly a classic, but I think it could have been so much more with the right hand to guide it. And please, if you are able, HELP SUPPORT AOTG THROUGH OUR ONGOING THE FOLIO KICKSTARTER TO THE RIGHT! Good gaming!
Artistic Rating: 3.5 [out of 5]
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Timothy: It is outstanding how each player has ‘his’ version of the game. Mine was Mentzer’s Red Box, but they are all GREAT!
Phil: I feel you. Let me see if I can find the colorized version. If I do, I’ll post it in AotG on facebook. https://www.facebook.com/ArtOfTheGenre
I started out with Holmes, but this the one I bought on my own a played forever. Moldvay was always “my” D&D!