I think I have chosen an appropriate title for this post considering everything that has been going on lately. Despite the deathlike silence, I am still very much alive and working very hard toward getting a couple of projects finished and released. Despite the constant need for me to focus my attention on family obligations, I am slowly grinding my way toward getting things done, and I hope to share something very soon.
Recently, I acquired a copy of The Challenges Game System, written by Tom Moldvay and distributed by GameScience back in 1986. Apparently, this is a very obscure game, and hard to obtain. I didn't even know of it's existence until earlier this summer. So, what is Challenges? In Moldvay's own words:
The Challenges Game System offers an easy-to-play alternative to fantasy game systems which are becoming increasingly complex. All of the basic information needed for play is organized into 8 pages, instead of scattered among hundreds of pages of several expansive books.
I can say with confidence that he succeeded in his goal. Challenges takes the crux of 1st edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons and boils it all down to an eight page game. The only glaring omission is the lack of a bestiary. I am assuming this is something that would be released later, or possibly as part of adventure modules. With my penchant for minimalist games, it should come as no surprise that I like Challenges a lot. Also, consider this: Moldvay released this game without the luxury of the Open Game License, and did so without, to my knowledge, bringing the wrath of TSR, Inc. down on him like a bolt of lighting from upon high!
What does Challenges include? Present are the "core" D&D classes (cleric, sorcerer, thief and warrior) and races (elf, dwarf, hobbit -- yep, you read that right, the game calls them hobbits -- and human), as well as five levels of spells for both sorcerers and clerics. Armor Rating and Life Points work just as AC and HP do in AD&D. The basic combat rules have more in common with the Holmes edition of Basic D&D than AD&D, but advanced combat rules are included as well that introduce a few new wrinkles, though nothing as complicated as that found in AD&D. Despite some differences in terminology, though the intent is always obvious, Challenges is AD&D-lite for all intents and purposes.
One of the big departures from AD&D that Challenges makes is using the Luck score as the game's generic saving throw mechanic, as well as a roll to be used at the Game Master's discretion to resolve a number of situations that might arise. This doesn't seem like a big deal, given that Swords & Wizardry introduced this concept with its release in 2008, but consider the year 1986 and how thinking outside of the box was frowned upon in the D&D community. I know that other games published by TSR, like Gangbusters, used Luck, which I would guess is where Moldvay got his inspiration. I am left wondering if Matt Finch was influenced by Challenges when he decided to use the single saving throw in S&W? Either way, this concept has grown on me over the past few years, though I must admit that I wasn't very impressed when I read the rule in S&W the first time around. As for Challenges, I can see the obvious benefit of using Luck to simplify the game.
I have found a lot to like about Challenges and it has me realizing that minimalist D&D is not only possible, but it can be done without cutting too much away, or loosing any of the core concepts or flavor. Having been gripped with so many challenges myself this past year-and-a-half, it is nice to find a gem like Tom Moldvay's The Challenges Game System to get me get jazzed again, and to help recharge my creative batteries.