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Monday, March 2, 2020

B/X Is Bad, Mmmkay? Part II

Continuing my rant about what I don’t like about B/X: I’m skipping over the post I promised as a follow-up about races, for now, and focusing instead on another element of B/X that I just can’t abide: the way magic-users gain and prep spells.

Unlike all the other versions pf D&D, a magic-user in B/X has exactly the same number of spells in their spell book as they are able to memorize and cast during an adventure. First level magic-users can memorize and cast one spell, so they only know one spell, and have exactly one spell in their spell books. Second level magic-users can memorize and cast two spells, so they add one spell to their spell books. And so on. The rules explicitly state that magic-users cannot copy spells from scrolls or from another magic-user’s spell books.

This may simplify the class, but it also limits an already heavily-limited class, especially at low levels. Furthermore, part of the motivation for adventuring, for magic-users in other versions of D&D, is to find more spells. Forbidding them from using spells found damps the interest.

But there’s something far worse about this design decision: it eliminates some of the challenge and strategy. A magic-user who knows eight spells but can only cast two during an adventure has to make decisions. Which spells are most likely to be needed? Should the party look for clues about what they are about to face, or just guess? Should they abort an adventure and return later if it looks like there was a better choice of spells? The only choice a B/X magic-user has is “use the spell now, or save it for later?”

Some of the B/X clones seem to agree with me. I notice Labyrinth Lord has characters begin with exactly one spell, but drops the restriction on adding spells to their spell books. So, players start with an extremely limited range of options, but expand to the same range as OD&D or AD&D as they play.

So, my complaint about how spells work in B/X is basically the same as my complaint about how races work. B/X stifles variety and restricts options too much.


  1. Thank you for having the courage to post this. OD&D was a far better game the Basic, but too much of the OSR community seems to be in love with the latter.

  2. Personally, I really like this aspect of B/X...though it took me a while to see the virtues of the design choice. Still, I understand it's not everyone's cup of tea.

    Would just add that B/X appears to be the ONLY edition that uses this system for magic-user/elf spells. Holmes Basic does not, and neither does BECMI.