I am not sure if I like this game in total, but I do like a lot about this game, and this particular incarnation of it. It is probably the most complete game book I have ever encountered. So lets dig into the...
Peritextual ElementsThe game has a beautiful cover, just stunning. It is hardback, 8x11, with black and white interior. The amount of text and information packed in this one book is amazing. The font is solid and easy to read. The interior art is black and white line art, the quality varies from adequate to terrible, but all of it works. I think the art works because it is full of humor and personality, even if the art is not of the highest quality. The tables and charts in the book are a bit mashed together and less than easy to read. It's not super bad or anything, but it is very clear that this book was laid out using earlier techniques than many newer books. Just something to bear in mind.
MechanicsThis is old school. It combines all the various rules and addenda for D&D Basic, which started with the Holmes edition and throughout the eighties built up quite a lot of setting and rules. The rules are pretty darn basic. Roll 3D6 for each attribute(Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma) You choose a class(Cleric, Fighter, Magic-User, Thief, Dwarf, Elf, Halfling, Druid, or Mystic), this grants you your special abilities and your saves and attack bonuses. Each class also has maximum level, Dwarfs, Elfs, and Halflings have severely limited maximum levels, whereas the human classes can go to 36, though I have never seen anyone play a game long enough to reach that level. I have heard stories f games that go from level one through 36, but I am unsure if I believe them. Also the non-human classes have pseudo-levels where they get abilities at certain experience amounts beyond their maximum level. I am not sure why they went this route rather than just making the class go to higher levels but making those levels cost way more experience. Most of the mechanics revolve around combat and exploration. For combat you roll a D20 add any pertinent bonuses and subtract any pertinent penalties then compare the result to the Attack Roll Table(find the column for the targets AC). Low AC is better than high AC. Combat is pretty chart heavy, be prepared for that. There are also a bunch of rules for travel and exploration, as well as loads of conditional rules fr fighting underwater, while in flight, mass combat and a while bunch of their scenarios. The rules are very complete, though they can kind of be all over the place mechanically. Monsters have fairly easy to read stat blocks and it is pretty to "right size" the combat encounters, though it can get a little finicky from time to time.
SettingYou would think with all the rules included in the book they wouldn't have room for setting, but you would be wrong. The setting is The Known World. This would later be called Mystara, and it is kind of weird, even for D&D. The setting involves Space Aliens, Time Travel, Immortal Champions fighting against each other for power and also trying to hold back the great old ones who dwell beyond time and space. Also the world is hollow and the inside is even weirder. Their are n gods really, but the Immortals often fill that role in the setting, but the rules are clear Immortals are not gods. There are even rules for playing Immortals. Elfs can build ships that ride on moon beams and live in cities of living trees. Halflings river folk who live in hills and are ruled by sheriffs. Dwarfs dwell in the depths and are builders of artifacts and find stonework. The human lands are diverse and dominate the map. They have all sorts of cultures and nations. Most of the game focuses around the Grand Duchy of Karameikos(or maybe that was just my games, but it always felt like this was the central hub of adventure). There are also a bunch of other planes of existence that are connected to the Known World, and beyond that are uncounted dimensions each with there own planes and rules and all that. I can't really do the setting justice, but it is zany and fun, yet still familiar enough to those who play D&D to make it understandable.
And so we close out on the Ninth Game of Christmas. Tomorrow...