Dungeon Delving: Brown Box Edition (DD:BBE from here on out) is easily the best OD&D retroclone I've seen so far. The author compiled the 3 core booklets (Men & Magic, Underworld & Wilderness Adventures, Monsters & Treasure) into one single tome along with some of the additional classes (Thieves!) that came out in the later OD&D booklets. The writer clearly tried to maintain the same writing style & prose that Gygax used which is a very nice homage to one of the creators of our beloved hobby. I honestly forgot for a little while that this WASN'T written by Gary Gygax which really says something. Also, as would be expected, all the references to D&D's predecessor, the tabletop wargame known as Chainmail, have been scrubbed and removed. While this isn't new or innovative, it's nice to essentially have an edition of OD&D that plays almost like Gygax's original game without the inclusion of awkward wargame rules mixed with a tabletop RPG. You won't find drawings of topless Amazonian women here, but then again this isn't the 70s lol.
Heroes & Magic:
This section is devoted to the player characters. It goes over character creation starting with the classic "roll 3d6 in order" for attributes. The "holy trinity" of cleric, fighter, and magic-user classes are all present, as well as an optional thief class (which honestly only die-hard grognards would view them as "optional"). I did notice one departure right away with the Thief class: rather than use clunky percentile dice to determine chances of success when it comes to sneaking, disarming traps, picking locks etc, in this game thieves use a d6 to determine success. Personally I really like that change, however some people might prefer the percentile dice system. The next chapters deal with NPCs (hirelings, mercenaries, retainers, hiring monsters) as well as reaction/morality checks, and equipment. Finally, the section ends with a chapter about Magic. Here you'll find descriptions for both arcane & divine magic spells. Clerics can cast up to 5th level spells and Magic-users up to 6th level, also some spells are reversible (i.e. cure light wounds is reversed to cause light wounds). The author has taken great pains to research and clarify each and every spell, so there won't be any confusion as to the range/duration etc. of a given spell like there was with some spells in OD&D (looking at you, Charm Person!). True to form, the author includes only the spells present in the original Men & Magic booklet, so your spellcasters won't be casting magic missile to attack the darkness unless the GM decides otherwise.
Delving & Exploration:
This section is devoted to the GM, and has details regarding how to set up and populate their world along with creating dungeon or wilderness adventures just as Gygax himself would've recommended. There's even a small section devoted to angry peasants that will eventually fight back against tyrannical/vicious player characters if pushed too far. The Combat chapter deserves special mention, careful attention and detail was given to the attack tables. The OD&D booklet basically gave you exactly -ONE- attack matrix for fighters and said "if you're a cleric, then from levels 1-4 you attack as a 1st level fighter, levels 5-8 as a 2nd level fighter, and so on". It was confusing and clunky to use, fortunately in DD:BBE the author kindly gives each class its own listing so there's no confusion at all as to what a 5th level cleric needs to roll to hit an orc wearing scale mail. Damage inflicted is still 1d6 for all weapons, although fighters with a Strength of 15+ deal an extra point of damage. You'll also see options for parrying or blocking with a shield (read: you can allow your shield to be shattered in exchange for it absorbing all the damage from an attack) which is a welcome touch. The section is rounded out with chapters detailing mounted combat (jousting!), wilderness exploration, seafaring, aerial exploration (for when players inevitably acquire the ability to fly), and a Campaign chapter which deals with specialist hirelings (alchemists, assassins, etc), mass combat, strongholds, enchanting magical items, legendary artifacts, and planes/other worlds.
Monsters & Treasure:
The third section of the book deals with...you guessed it, monsters and their teasure hordes. Monsters along with their combat statistics are presented in a single line as part of a long table like in the original booklets, with a more detailed individual monster description given afterwards. You'll also find entries for several high-tech enemies such as Androids, Cyborgs, and Robots, just in case your group gets tired of fighting "classic" fantasy monsters like orcs, goblins, and dragons. Treasure is handled via an alphabetically arranged table, although the A rank treasure table is subdivided into A1, A2, and A3. There are tables for gems & jewels, along with magic item tables, and treasure map tables. The section ends with a description of magical items/weapons/armor.
This is perhaps the best part of the book, and in my opinion is worth its weight in gold. The author has clearly been playing OD&D for a very long time, and have compiled a list of houserules to enhance DD:BBE. "Wait a minute, why should I pay money for some person's houserules?!", you ask? Honestly, because they're VERY GOOD houserules (not to mention all the hours that went into compiling and editing the book, but I digress). They've clearly been playtested over many decades and honestly feel like something that Gygax himself would've incorporated into his own personal campaigns. I won't list them all but I'll delve more into some of the more notable ones below.
- Advantages/Disadvantages. No this isn't like D&D 5E where you roll twice and keep the best/worst result lol. This optional rule allows players to further differentiate their characters by having either a minor boon or hindrance. For example, one fighter could be ambidextrous, while another could have a severe phobia of heights. An advantage deducts the amount of XP a character receives, anywhere from 5% up to 25%, while a disadvantage adds extra XP in a smilliar range depending on the severity of the disadvantage.
- Allegiances. This optional rule allows characters to declare an allegiance to a person/group, nation, organization, belief system or philosophy, or only to themselves (renegades, free spirits, etc). Any time a player interacts with someone of the same allegiance they gain a bonus to their Charisma checks and/or reaction rolls etc, meanwhile interacting with someone of a hostile allegiance (two nations at war, for example) would suffer a penalty when interacting with someone of an opposite allegiance.
- Alternative Advancement. Rather than track raw XP, players instead level up based on the number of adventures they complete. While not a new or ground-breaking idea, its still a nice option to have for those that prefer not to tally individual XP.
- Alternative Attributes. Here you'll see options beyond the standard "roll 3d6 in order", such as the ever popular "roll 4d6 drop lowest and arrange to taste".
- Backgrounds and Talents. Basically this is as close as you'll see to a skill system in this game. Characters are allowed to define something that they're "good at" that fits with their background, such as a fighter with blacksmith skills, or a spoony bard that really knows how to charm the ladies.
- Class Special Abilities. These are minor additional abilities that enhance the base classes. For example, clerics can utter a minor healing prayer and sacrifice 1 HP in order to heal an ally 1d3 HP outside of combat, or fighters can choose to make a cleave attack (free attack on an adjacent enemy if the first enemy is felled with an attack). These are minor boosts to the classes that aren't overpowered and honestly really fit the classes' themes nicely. What I really like is that these abilities help keep the fighter class useful at later levels when clerics & magic-users tend to dominate the game and fighters are relegated to being "bullet sponges" during combat.
- Variant Classes. Here you'll find the Ranger, Druid, Acrobat, Cavalier, etc. that were released in subsequent OD&D booklets.
The rest of this section is rounded out with a few other tweaks/options, such as a Hit/Wound Point system (if that's your cup of tea), a Psionics system, and a treatise on the different styles of gaming (Power gaming, War-gaming, Roleplaying, Storytelling, etc).
There's a few appendices at the back of the book with some additional sage advice for GMs. There's also a nice discussion about running games for smaller parties, as well as rules for solo adventures. This to me is amazing because like many people there are times where it's difficult to get a group together so being able to run a game alone your only option other than just not playing at all. The author even presents some solo rules from Scarlet Heroes, which if you've never used before, work really, really well for old school solo games or small parties.
You're getting a lot of value from this product. In one single volume you'll get everything you need for years of OD&D campaigns. $10 is a ridiculously cheap price when you consider that buying the individual PDFs of the original D&D game will set you back around $20 for the 3 core booklets plus Greyhawk (which has the thief class), however even then you'll still have to contend with the wonky references to Chainmail (trust me, it can get a bit confusing). Can't wait to run a game with this!