I’d originally thought about doing a Wild Talents review (or continue) going through the Doctor Who game today, but got in an old-school kind of mood.

So continuing from our introductory post, let us take a look at the introduction to the D&D Basic Rules (Mentzer edition).

We get a basic introduction to “What the D&D Game Is All About”.  There is a “mission statement” of sorts embedded within:

In the D&D rules, individuals play the role of characters in a fantasy world where magic is real and heroes venture out on dangerous quests in search of fame and fortune. Characters gain experience by overcoming perils and recovering treasures. As characters gain in experience, they grow in power and ability.

While I certainly games in various styles, that really was the style that always seemed to work best. Not necessarily mercenary type characters, but characters in search of fame and fortune. And forced to choose between the two, fortune would almost always be the preference. That’s not to say our heroes did not do good deeds — it was always fortunate that the treasure-laden dungeons were inhabited by baddies intent on nefarious deeds.

We then get a basic breakdown of how the book is divided. It then tells us how this deals mostly with dungeon adventures and covers characters of 1st through 3rd level and tells us of the other two sets in the game –

  • D&D Expert Set covering 4-14th levels and wilderness adventures
  • Companion Set, covering 15-36th levels

Technically, the Companion rules as described here never came out. There was another revision of the game, resulting in new Basic and Expert sets followed by 3 more sets –

  • Companion Set, covering 15-25th levels as well as rules for dominions, mass combat, tournaments, wrestling, and an introduction to the planes of existence.
  • Masters Set, covering 16-36th levels as well as rules for becoming immortal, weapons mastery, and greater details on the planes of existence.
  • Immortals Set, covering Immortal PCs.

D&D Basic Rules by Frank Mentzer

I got this new series of sets and enjoyed them, especially since this is the series that I believe introduced the most people to D&D and therefore most people I gamed with were introduced through this series. However, I always liked the Tom Moldvay version of the D&D Rules more. It’s probably more a stylistic/personal preference. In any case, we’ll continue our trip down memory lane focusing on the Mentzer incarnation of the D&D Basic Set.

We get a discussion about the rule booklet being drilled with holes so you could cut the pages apart and arrange them in a three-ring binder, with the suggestion you could rearrange the pages and mix them with corresponding sections from the Expert and Companion Sets.

There is also a discussion that while the booklet is referred to as rules, everything within is changeable, with the purpose of the rules being “to provide guidelines [emphasis theirs] that enable you to play and have fun, so don’t feel absolutely bound to them.” While I think the 3rd and later editions of D&D did a lot of good things, one unfortunate thing was having a rule for everything. One thing I discovered when trying to houserule D&D 3.0 is everything is pretty tightly linked together – making one change quickly causes a ripple effect.

We then have “Definitions of Standard D&D Terms. It introduces some terms which are still very familiar such as DM, PC, NPC, and party. There are also some terms whose definitions I found interesting. The rulebook refers to the setting as a dungeon, reasonable enough. It then refers to a purchased dungeon, called a “dungeon module”. This is a term which has fallen somewhat into disuse in gaming circles though it still appears. I’m fond of it for some reason.

The definition for adventure struck me as interesting –

Each game session is called an adventure. An adventure lasts for as long as the players and DM agree to play. An adventure begins when the party enters a dungeon and ends when the party has left the dungeon and divided up treasure.

We never used that definition – I have fond memories, both as a player and a DM, of setting up camp in the Caves of Chaos, especially in cleared out lairs.

We also have definitions for certain special players. We have the mapper, the player who is responsible for drawing the maps based on the DM’s descriptions. This is something of a lost art in gaming I think – I know for my 4e game I used the Maptools application and gradually revealed the dungeon as the players explored it. We also have the caller who is responsible for being the primary interface between the DM and the players – kind of the spokesman for the players. To be honest, even back in the 80s we never made use of a caller and rarely used a mapper. It might be interesting to try out some time.

We then move to a definition of monsters.

As details of the dungeon are revealed, the player characters will meet “monsters” which they have to avoid, talk to, or fight. A monster is any animal, person, or supernatural creature that is not a player character. A monster may be a ferocious dragon or a humble merchant.

Here lies another thing which I think has been lost in newer RPGs – the idea of avoiding monsters. In the 3rd and 4th editions of D&D encounters are designed to be carefully balanced against the party of adventurers. Some of my fondest gaming memories are of encounters with foes that did not involve a fight. The wandering monster you run into when you are trying to get out of the dungeon, are low on hit points and out of spells. I recall my brother, his 2nd or 3rd level magic-user encountering goblins he was not prepared to fight, bluffing his way out of the encounter. “I am… the Wizard.” He then pulled out a jar with a spell component – probably a live spider for spider climb (this was AD&D) – and claimed it was a goblin he had polymorphed for failing to obey him. Excellent times. I think those older rules, with less balance, encouraged that behavior far more.  If you are a 1st level party going through the dungeon and you encounter a minotaur, you would be well-advised not to fight it head-on. The odds of your victory are low and if you do win, you will certainly suffer massive casualties.

We then reach a discussion of encounters, used to describe a meeting between PCs and monsters. Encounters may lead to a fight, often called a melee. I’d like to thank D&D for adding the word melee to my vocabulary at such a young age.

Next up is a section entitled “Use of the Word ‘Level'”. They did a pretty good job defining this, as I never had difficulty distinguishing between levels of experience, monsters, spells. and dungeon. As characters rose in level I was uncertain if that meant that all dungeons were supposed to begin with 1st level dungeons (i.e. with mainly 1 Hit Die monsters) even as characters advanced – that seemed silly early on, though the rules seemed to at least suggest that. I think that system would work best when playing in a “megadungeon” — some gargantuan, deep dungeon, like the famous Greyhawk Castle Dungeon.

How To Use the Dice

Following this is a section on “How To Use the Dice”. This section was so vital for us new gamers faced with these oddly shaped dice in our basic set – made of cheap plastic with a wax crayon to fill in the etchings on the dice. I remember it being hard to get ahold of these funky dice so it was important to take good care of the dice the Basic (and later Expert) sets gave you. Imagine my surprise when I found a hobby shop in my hometown with loads and loads of dice – and games beyond D&D – and even beyond A&D…

The final section is “How To ‘Win'”. This section states that the DM and players do not play against each other, despite the DM running the opposition. It also says that the game is not even “lost” if a PC dies, as it is a simple matter to roll up a new PC. The goal is for everyone to have a good time. And as a DM I learned that’s a tough balance to maintain. You didn’t want to make things too easy for the players but being the killer DM wasn’t the best option either. But fumbling about the same time the other players were learning their roles was so much fun.

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