an excellent post reviewing the rule book for basic D&D that I started with, the 1991 Black Box. This was the board game style release of D&D, in several ways: it came with a boardgame style map of "Zanzer's Dungeon" and stand-up counters, and it was the width of a board game instead of a smaller box. There's a certain whiff of nostalgia that gets me seeing that dragon leaping out of the cover that Jeff doesn't get, and rightly so - it's not a great piece of art. Still gets me, because I played through the Dragon Cards four or five times before I actually played D&D with a group, and played some of the other battlemat style adventures as solos. This reminds me of my very start.
What this brought up for me is the question of rules choices. You should know by now from reading this blog that my heart will always be torn; I love original D&D, but I don't run it day to day. I also have become very fond of the Holmes set despite not having started with it - which is honestly the most interesting bit for me, as I think there's an impression that the appeal of Holmes is largely driven by nostalgia. But a stripped-down simple core, to me, is just such a wonderful and elegant thing that I wouldn't mind saying I was going to run games primarily with Holmes from here on out, adding and removing different parts as necessary. S&W Complete gets good marks and I'll keep running it for my current game but my heart lies with Holmes and OD&D.
Part of the reason I think Holmes is so promising is that I think it goes exactly far enough with the game as is. Up until 3rd level, things are fairly set, and you have the low level D&D experience the way it's supposed to be. It's when you hit 4th level - and this is important, since it's "Hero" level - that the game becomes wide open. That gibes with me philosophically, that the game starts to shift when you hit Hero rank.
One later innovation that could really work well with this are the ability to get into specialized classes and abilities only after 4th level. I'm thinking something along the lines of BECMI Companion style Paladin / Knight / Avenger / Druid type subclasses, perhaps expanded a bit, but sharply limited in terms of scope - just a handful of abilities. One central point is that this streamlines character generation but leaves the possibility for more down the road, after the character's personality is more established. With the eleven AD&D classes, unless you dual-class, you're pretty much locked in. I think this would be an interesting direction for an "expanded Holmes" beyond just reincorporating OD&D or AD&D material.
As for the "Brown Basic" (which I prefer to think of as Black Box, both are BB D&D), I like the idea of reincorporating a couple of its minor rules. Bed rest restoring d4 instead of 1HP/day seems reasonable, as does the notion of an "Exhausted" penalty ("'Exhausted' foes are +2 to be hit, while you are -2 to hit if exhausted. I'm still looking for a rule on how you become exhausted.") And this is just fun: "Wooden doors can be burned or destroyed in 1d4 turns." There was a section I remember in the Dragon Cards that also introduced the Expert-style roll under stat on 1d20 for ability checks when players improvise.
Thoughts are welcome both on expanding Holmes after 3rd level and on Black Box D&D rules.