First Five Fantasy Roleplaying

My first post on this blog was about the 1991 Black Box Dungeons & Dragons starter set, which was my introduction to D&D and the roleplaying game hobby generally. I still believe this version of the game is an underappreciated classic. It covered dungeon crawling for levels 1 to 5. The box contained a rulebook, a DM’s screen which doubled as a folder for Dragon Cards (which restated the rules in single-page chunks for the most part), a large fold-out map of Zanzer Tem’s dungeon (adventure included with the Dragon Cards), and a huge set of fold-up paper miniatures for player characters, non-player characters, and monsters.

As previously discussed, I am running a D&D campaign for my kids and some of their friends, playing through the B1-9 super module. Although the Black Box version of the game had the “Thunder Rift” modules to accompany it, the same rules also work perfectly well for B1-9. Unfortunately, my old black D&D rulebook is nearly falling apart, and this classic is one of the few TSR-era titles which has not been made available on DriveThruRPG as PDF or print-on-demand. I wanted the kids to be able to have physical rulebooks they could hold and read both at and away from the game table, so I started looking to other options.

I love the Rules Cyclopedia but that is a cruelly large book to inflict on a 9 year old. It’s great it is available as print-on-demand from DriveThruRPG (you can pick it up via my affiliate link). Ultimately, my D&D campaign with the kids will progress to using the Rules Cyclopedia once their characters are high enough level, but a great introductory tome it is not.

Likewise, as much as I love Labyrinth Lord and Old School Essentials (or B/X Essentials as it still was when we started playing), both games present too much too soon for young beginners, in my view. The way Old School Essentials splits topic and contents across multiple books is convenient as a DM or as an experienced player, but I don’t multiple booklets is intuitive for young players. The main thing against these retroclones, though, was that both really strive to present B/X in a modern format, not the version of the rules as presented in the 1991 black box (which are subtly different from but closer to BECMI).

So, using Labyrinth Lord and Old School Essentials, I started to build my own retroclone, seeking specifically to provide a retroclone of the rulebook from my beloved 1991 black box. I wanted to make these rules available in print-on-demand so that players and DMs could have sturdy, gameable books, as opposed to my nearly falling apart original book, to play the version of D&D which introduced so many of us to the hobby. First Five Fantasy Roleplaying is the result.

My retroclone of the 1991 black box rulebook, with cover art by Payton Vaughn.

This is a 64 A4 page rulebook which includes everything the black box book had, with a few bonus features including the monster you see depicted on the cover here, and an index (definitely a missing feature from the black box book).

I found during actual play, it helped me to teach the rules to the kids if they had copies of the rules as well. It definitely speeds up character creation and equipment list shopping if everyone has their own copy! However, I didn’t want the kids to reference monsters during play. My solution? I removed the monsters, treasure, and dungeon design sections from First Five Fantasy Roleplaying and produced the First Five Fantasy Roleplaying Player’s Guide. This is a 32 A4 page rulebook which has everything players need to play the game and learn the rules, but doesn’t include any of the material you’d rather keep secret during play as the referee. Since it is almost literally the first half of the full rulebook, I made it available as pay-what-you-want on DriveThruRPG.

I’ve been a little bit shy about promoting First Five Fantasy Roleplaying mostly because I made it first and foremost for my kids and their friends and our home game. I also know it stands on the shoulders of some pretty tall giants. Nevertheless, if you’re looking for a new print version of the 1991 black box rules, I am pretty sure you’ll like First Five Fantasy Roleplaying.

2 Comments on “First Five Fantasy Roleplaying

  1. I have such a huge love for the Black Box. It wasnt my first exposure to rpgs or D&D but it was my first D&D rules set I didn’t pilfer from my older brother. And it successfully taught me all the esoteric stuff like Saving Throws and THAC0.

    I’ll definitely be taking a look at First 5!

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