French Moldvay Set - by Adrian Newman
Article by Mr. Adrian Newman (On Instagram : @dnddaily, Official website : www.tsrarchive.com,
Today I’m going to take an in-depth look into the very first translated Dungeons & Dragons product,
the French adaptation of the 1981 Basic Set, typically referred to as the Moldvay Basic,
after editor Tom Moldvay.
TSR had dabbled with foreign distribution as far back as 1978, with Games Workshop
locally producing and distributing D&D products in the U.K., but they didn’t get involved with translations
until several years later.
Released towards the end of 1982, the French version is the only translated edition of the Moldvay set
and the only translated product to bear the old TSR face logo.
Let’s start by taking a look at the box.
Though still featuring the classic Erol Otus artwork, the cover treatment is radically different.
Perhaps predicting things to come, the art is resized and framed in bright red,
strongly resembling the Mentzer Basic Set that wouldn’t be released until 1983.
The familiar Dungeons & Dragons logo has been replaced with the translated “Donjons & Dragons” instead.
This in itself is quite unusual among translated products with only French and Hebrew releases ever
featuring translated logos.
It’s safe to assume that there were no standardized protocols at this time, so there probably wasn’t much
thought put into it since Donjons & Dragons was still “D&D.”
Also worth noting is the use of the stylized dragon ampersand which had only just been introduced in
the U.S. Front cover text is fairly analogous though the back cover text of the French version
is considerably different. The back is also devoid of any graphics.
Moving on to the rulebook, we can see that the covers are set up in similar formats,
just shuffled around a bit with a more modern looking layout.
The back cover of the French version differs dramatically. Instead of advertising we get a full-sized character sheet.
This is another feature that is similar to the then upcoming Mentzer red box which also featured a character sheet
on the back cover of the player’s manual.
Of course, that red background color on this one would make it more difficult to make readable photocopies.
Turning to the interior, we can see by the table of contents that the two versions are almost line-for-line identical.
The only exception appears to be the exclusion of the “Inspirational Source Material” section which wouldn’t
necessarily be quite as relevant to the French audience.
Here’s where things start to get interesting. Every single piece of artwork from the original has either been
eliminated or replaced. Curiously, the replacement artwork pieces are all updates to the originals,
now being illustrated by the “new” TSR artists such as Jeff Easley and Larry Elmore. Starting with page one,
Bill Willingham’s art has been replaced with an Easley piece that was clearly inspired by the original.
Easley is also featured on page four where his gaming supplies picture replaces the original.
Even the dice rolls are the same, though a d10 has now been added.
Dave LaForce’s page six illustration of players imagining their characters
has been replaced with Jim Holloway picture. Format and content are completely different
though it’s clearly the same concept being depicted.
Another LaForce to Holloway replacement takes place on page ten.
The original depicts six different classes while the newer one is trimmed down to only three.
On the next page over, we have the classic alignment illustration.
The chaotic party member is ready to kill the defeated enemy; the lawful character is restraining him,
and the neutral fellow hangs around, completely disinterested. Elmore’s character designs are significantly
different but it’s thematically identical.
This next one on page 12 really hurts, because this is one of my favorite pieces of RPG art.
The Erol Otus weapon rack has colored my perception of what various weapons look like for
forty years now.
Here it’s been replaced by a Jim Holloway. It’s great, but nowhere near as memorable as that Otus piece!
Next, we have a run of pictures that were simply cut, most likely for space.
The slightly modified formatting apparently required some sacrifices.
A real shame because some classics like the web spell,
encumbrance and the ever-popular Morgan Ironwolf were removed.
The monster section sees lots of changes. Many pieces of artwork are dropped completely;
numerous new ones are added, and a handful are replaced.
Among the missing pieces are the carrion crawler, great cat, killer bees, kobold, giant lizards, medusa,
pixie, rust monster, skeletons and giant spider.
Completely new entries were created for the acolyte, gelatinous cube, giant ferret, doppleganger,
green slime, owlbear and veteran, who is represented by a sword illustration.
A select few pictures were replaced with updated pieces. Erol Otus’ white ape:
Bill Willingham’s troglodyte:
And, oddly enough, the dragon breath weapon diagram:
Way back on page 47 we have another Erol Otus classic depicting the division of the treasure.
In the Larry Elmore update, two wizards are still going at it over a magic staff, but the third one has
opted to sneak away quietly with a prize of her own.
The potion bottles on page 48 have been replaced by a pile of miscellaneous magic items,
courtesy of Larry Elmore.
One final cut, the gaseous form potion at work, also from page 48.
And one final swap, the giant snake wandering monster has been replaced by a completely different
wandering monster from Tim Truman.
That’s it for the rulebook. Nineteen completely new illustrations without a single piece of interior artwork
from the original. All of the first wave artists are gone: Otus, Willingham, Dee, Roslof and LaForce have all been
replaced by Elmore, Truman, Holloway and Easley.
Now let’s take a look at the second component of the boxed set, the included
module B2 The Keep on the Borderlands or, in this case, B2 Le Château Fort Aux Confins du Pays.
First off there’s the updated French logo, but by far the most jarring part is the color change.
The universally recognizable Jim Roslof cover art has been replaced by a nice Jim Holloway piece as well.
This cover was used for several other translated editions as well, including the German, Italian and
It obviously also features updated trade dress, with the red stripe along the top edge and totally revamped back
The first page of the interior greets us with a new Holloway as well. As with the rulebook, a classic battle
scene is recreated here, Jim Roslof’s adventurers versus an owlbear.
After that, every single piece of artwork has been removed with no replacement. That’s right, it’s completely
devoid of interior art. Otherwise there’s very little difference, just some very minor changes in layout.
It’s also worth noting that the French set had a second printing shortly before the switch over to the more
familiar Mentzer red box.
The two versions are identical except for the newer TSR logo and the copyright update to 1983.
All of these changes pretty strongly point to the fact that TSR was probably planning an update to the
Moldvay Basic Set. It’s very unlikely that they commissioned this much new artwork just for the French edition.
It’s likely that the impending release of the Mentzer Basic Set put an end to update plans,
but it’s still puzzling that almost none of the new artwork was used. The dragon breath weapon illustration and a
small portion of the wizards splitting treasure were used in the Mentzer set, but otherwise nothing.