The Game We Never Got.
One of the things I like most about the OSR are the products that don't give me things I already have, but things I have always wanted or never knew I needed. B/X Companion is one of those products.
The product I think I have been waiting for for close to 30 years. Sure I have had books that have covered the same ground, and books that made this book obsolete, but somewhere, deep in my psyche there is still that 12 year old version of me wishing he could take his cleric to 15th level.
The B/X Companion does not disappoint. Let me just say that if this isn't exactly how it was going to be, then I'd be hard pressed to know what it would have been. I am reading through it all now and I am purposefully NOT comparing it to the BECMI version of the Companion rules.
The cover of course is very much part of the original scheme. The three principle characters, the fighter and the two wizards (or maybe she is a cleric, that could be a "light" spell, though she has a torch too) stand in front of their followers. They braved the dungeon, the wilderness and now they are ready for the next adventure. So are we.
For those of us that grew up with the Moldvay/Cook Basic and Expert sets, the Companion book feels very familiar. The layout is similar, the flow is similar and even the art has a familiar feel. If you own the Basic or Expert books then finding something in the Companion book is trivial. I turned right to the character rules and took a glance at all the tables. Yes sir they run from 15 to 36, just like promised. Clerics still top out at 7th level spells, but eventually they get 9 of them. Wizards still go to 9th level, and get 9 of those too.
Fighters get more attacks per round (as they should) and thieves get more abilities.
There are plenty of new spells here. Many look like they take their inspiration from the products that came after, the Player's Handbook or the D&D Rules Cyclopedia, but nothing is an outright copy. It does have the feel like Becker sat around one day and thought, what are some good spells and what level should they be.
There new monsters and advanced versions of some others. The Greater Vampire nearly made me laugh out loud as I had done the exact same thing after reading and playing the Expert book for so long. My Greater Vampire was a photocopy of Ptah from Deities and Demigods with some fangs drawn in. I never claimed to be an artist. Te monsters all seem to be appropriate for the levels, though a few more in the 30 HD range might have been nice, but not really needed.
The BIG additions here though are the ones that were most "advertised" back in the day.
“Running a High Level Game” is great advice for ANY edition of the game. It gives this book the same place as say, the Epic Level Handbook for D&D 3.0 or even the Epic Tier for D&D 4.
Chances are very, very good I'll be using the B/X Companion in my next D&D 4 game in fact.
Related are running a domain and running large armies. Battlesystem would later give us these rules for AD&D, but here they are much simpler to use. Again, this is something to consider to port over to other versions of the game.
I loved the new magic items and can never get enough of those. I also liked the part on the planes and how it is totally left up to design of the DM. I wonder how many people out there will re-invent the Gygaxian Great Wheel for their B/X/C games?
Companion to Basic/Expert Rules
Obviously this is where it works the best. But there is something here that I don't think others have tapped into just yet. Companion makes the Moldvay/Cook rules a complete game. With these three books you now have a complete D&D game. The only thing really missing is a "C1" module or maybe a BXC one.
Companion to Labyrinth Lord/Basic Fantasy
The new Becker Companion has a lot it owes to Labyrinth Lord (LL) and Basic Fantasy (BFRPG). While maybe not directly, these two games showed that there is a market out there for "Basic" styles of play. Both LL and BFRPG take the modern 1-20 level limit for human classes. Companion is 15 to 36. So some adjustments need to be made. There are a few differences in the how each of these books calculate XP per level, and how they do spells. But nothing so complicated that a a good DM couldn't figure out.
Personally if I were playing a LL/BFRPG game, I'd go to 15th level and then switch over to B/X Companion for the next levels to 36. OR even go to 20 and use B/X Companion as a guide to levels 30 or even 36.
Frankly the homebrewiness of it all has me very excited for anyone that has decided to throw their lot in with "Basic" D&D.
The B/X Companion vs. the BECMI Companion
Ok, I know I said above I wasn't going to do this, but I felt it was worth a look.
Now I am no expert on the Mentzer era of the rules. I had moved to AD&D by the time they were out and I never owned them. I picked up the Rules Cyclopedia a while back and got all the BECMI boxes on PDF back when Wizards sold them on DriveThru.
Both Companions cover similar ground. The spell progressions and XP look about the same (given that they use simple math, no surprise). The BECMI Companion only goes to 25th level, not 36 like the B/X Companion. The BECMI Companion generally speaking has more detail than the B/X one, but that is not really a nitpick since the abstraction of the rules in B/X is greater to allow more with less; just like the B/X books it was modeled after.
I like this book. A lot. It makes me want to pull out my ratty Basic and Expert books and play Moldvay/Cook era Basic D&D again. In the mean time, I think I'll just have to satisfy myself with converting some D&D 3.0 or 4e characters over to Companion, just for the fun of it.