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A discussion of alignments begins this next section. The character the reader has just played (“Halleck” in my case) is described as one of the “good guys” (you took poor Aleena’s dead body back to her church, because it was the right thing to do), while Bargle the Bandit and his goblin minion were characterized as the “bad guys” (they cared for no one but themselves, and were selfish and nasty).

Halleck, because he wants to do the right thing regardless of the situation, is described as being of “Lawful” alignment. He “tries to protect others and defeat monsters”. Aleena was also of Lawful Alignment, which is part of the reason she and Halleck got on so famously. Bargle the Bandit, however was of the opposite, “Chaotic” alignment. He only cared about others insofar as he could exploit them for personal gain. The ten-foot rattlesnake was of “Neutral” Alignment, which meant it was concerned with neither Law nor Chaos. It was dangerous, but not willfully malicious.

The reader is next notified of a second adventure, which begins on page 13, but first, some discussion of the Character Sheet. A character sheet “already filled out” is referenced; it is in the middle of the book, and is printed on a perforated sheet that the reader is encouraged to detach and look at. The only problem is that the sheet is not filled out completely, or correctly. The saving throws seem to be right for a fighter, but the ability scores are different from those listed in this section.

What’s interesting is that this fighter (“Halleck”) and the sample characters listed elsewhere in the book seem to be using an array of scores, consisting of 17, 16, 14, 11, 9, 8. In 4th edition, which makes using an array the standard rule, the array is 16, 14, 13, 12, 11, 10. In the 4th Edition “Essentials” Player books, three arrays are given: 16, 14, 14, 11, 10, 10; 16, 16, 12, 11, 11, 8; or 18, 14, 11, 10, 10, 8. I digress, but, in any case, I would feel comfortable, as a DM, in allowing players to use this “Basic Edition Array” when creating characters, even though the scores are not officially given as such. I might require that the scores be used “as is”, though, and disallow the exchange of ability points (a process explained later).

In the next section, we will learn all about ability score adjustments.

 

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First, the front-and-back of the character sheet:

B. Mentzer Character Sheet 1.1

 

Next, the game data reference sheet (from the Basic Player’s Manual):

A. Mentzer Basic PM Reference Sheets

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Halleck and Aleena see a light ahead, and hear someone berating someone else who “sounds like a goblin”. Probably has an ugly, wrinkly, gray voice. Anyway, there’s a back and forth where the goblin swears that he has only seen Halleck and Aleena. Aleena whispers that she knows that guy’s voice, and that it is Bargle the Bandit. It turns out that Bargle is one of those “bad” magic-users. Aleena counsels that going back would be a mistake, because of the ghouls, and that fighting Bargle is the more prudent course, since he only has one goblin with him. She mentions that Bargle probably has the goblin ensorcelled. Bargle is described as a bearded man in a black robe. He casts a spell that makes himself invisible. Before he can make the goblin invisible, too, Halleck and Aleena charge into the room.

Halleck takes on the goblin, while Aleena says she will fight Bargle’s spells with her own. This indicates that she is at least level 3. Clerics in Basic do not get any spells at first level; they get one spell at second level, and two spells at third level.  Aleena already cast one spell, to cure Halleck’s wounds. Regardless, she is fated to die, and she does, after a quick and fierce battle. Bargle casts “Magic Missile”, which conjures a golden arrow that floats in the air. He points at Aleena, it hits her, and she falls down, dead. Halleck kills the goblin. At least, I’m pretty sure he does; there is a sentence saying that if your character’s hit points fall to zero, you won’t be going home. Every time you miss the goblin hits for two points of damage.

Aleena is dead, the goblin is dead, and Halleck is ready to usher Bargle into that same state, when Bargle casts a third spell (Invisibility, Magic Missile, and now Charm Person). The Saving throw is much higher–Halleck needs a 17 or greater to save. There are two endings, based on whether you make the save or not. If Halleck makes the save, he avoids getting magically tricked into being Bargle’s new friend, and he kills him dead, dead, dead (unless, of course, he misses, at which point Bargle screams and runs away). If Halleck fails the save, then he suddenly sees that Bargle is not such a bad guy, really. Bargle was actually helping Halleck and Aleena to fight the goblin, as it turns out. Halleck and Bargle make their escape from the dungeon, Bargle casts a fourth spell (Sleep) and Halleck wakes up some time later.

Whether he is charmed or not, Halleck carries Aleena’s dead body back to town, and delivers it to the church. If he made the Saving Throw against Bargle’s “Charming” spell, then Halleck gets a Potion of Growth, which will make him turn into a giant for a couple of hours. If he didn’t make the Saving Throw, then Halleck gets back to town too late, and the only potion that the church has left is a potion of healing. In either case, the church officials stress the potion’s value, and urge Halleck to save it for a future adventure.

The few paragraphs that follow discuss what the purpose of games are, and the unique nature of the Dungeons & Dragons game. Then, it moves on to “what happens next”.

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Halleck stands with sword in hand, facing down a snake. It’s a ten footer, but it’s got some sweet loot and, uh, 3 hp. See the last post if you don’t know what an “hp” is.

Halleck has to roll an 11 to hit the snake, which means it’s easier to land a blow against it than against the goblin that Halleck fought a few moments before. However, unlike the goblin, the snake can actually hit back. I’ll let you read the gripping blow-by-blow of the battle (What do you mean, you haven’t yet purchased this off dmsguild.com?). I shall mention that the snake auto-hits twice, then hits Halleck no more.

Turning the page, we are given the distressing information that this rattlesnake is actually poisonous! I think they mean venomous! Did you know you could drink a gallon of venom with no ill effect, unless you have a mouth sore, or something? Not that I’ve tried it. Whatever. If the snake bites Halleck, it does one point of damage, but then the concept of the “Saving Throw” is introduced. For a fighter that is level three or below, his saving throw for poisons (or venoms) is 12. The player will want to roll a d20 and hope he gets a result at or above 12. That means that the snake’s bite did not envenom Halleck. If the player rolls less than a 12, then Halleck takes two more points of damage. It’s quite harrowing, but since the poisonous-venomous rattlesnake can only hit twice (“This fighter is Nintendo hard!” ~ P. V. Rattlesnake), the battle ends with Halleck still standing–perhaps only barely, though. He can recover his health with a few days’ rest, but why would he want to do the sensible thing? He’s here for treasure, and P.V. Rattlesnake’s little nest egg will barely cover the cost of replacing Halleck’s beautiful sword when he loses it later to the rust monster. Oops; spoilers.

Now, comes the most unrealistic part of this adventure: Halleck hears a voice, and shutters his lantern and peeks around the corner and sees a beautiful woman. She’s got her own lantern, and she seems to be praying. This is Aleena the cleric. Since she’s beautiful and religious, then I’m sure she’ll survive this adventure. She claims that she lives in the town nearby, so you’d think that Aleena and Halleck were already acquainted, but perhaps she’s lived a sheltered life, all cloistered in the cloister, and stuff. She probably ran through the hills, singing, before entering the cave.

Okay, I’ll stop. Aleena actually helps Halleck out quite a bit. She tells him which way the goblin went, she informs him what clerics are, and she restores his hit points. There is no talk of religion or gods or churches at this point; all we know from Aleena is that clerics can 1. Fight and 2. cast spells that “enter their minds”. She then invites Halleck to sit, and explains the differences between magic-users (not wizards, mages, or sorcerers) and clerics. Magic-users have book-learnin’ while clerics have meditation. She talks about types of attacks, like poison, that require Saving Throws.

We next read of another ability score (for the record, we have already spoken of Strength, Dexterity, Intelligence, and Constitution): Charisma (CHA). Halleck is a likeable fellow; he was able to put Aleena at her ease, even after sneaking up on her with his lantern shuttered. His CHA score is 14.

We also learn about his Wisdom (WIS). This is his lowest ability score, at 8. Halleck is probably the kind of guy who would jump out of a plane at 25,000 feet without a parachute:

 

Aleena offers to assist Halleck, just like the beautiful alien women would help Captain Kirk. As soon as Aleena said she would help, Fate looked up from binge-watching “Early Edition” on DailyMotion, and frowned.

Halleck and Aleena, walking side by side, down dark corridors with lanterns half-shuttered. They run across a few ghouls–foul, undead creatures that seem to be a fairly tough monster for a first-level adventurer, especially since there are four of them. Here we get the first mention of a “church”: the symbol of one of the town churches hangs on Aleena’s silver necklace. She shouts, in a harsh voice, “BEGONE, vile things!” I wonder if she pronounces it “beegahn” or “beegohnee”. Whichever it is, it works, and the four ghouls scramble, Three Stooges style, out the door, while Yakety-sax plays on the dungeon intercom. (As an aside, the themes of The Three Stooges are “Three Blind Mice” and “Listen to the Mockingbird“; either of those would have been acceptable alternative tunes). Aleena pauses to let Halleck know of other types of creatures that are “neither dead nor alive, but something horribly in between!”

They proceed, and come across a door, which one sometimes finds in caves. Halleck can’t force it open, which is a pity, because it probably has a lot of sweet swag, according to Aleena. Aleena bemoans the lack of a thief. Halleck gives her the “WTQ?” look, and she explains that thieves can pick locks and disable traps. Well, this is Basic D&D, so they can eventually, but most of the time they won’t be any more effective than Halleck trying to break down the door. Aleena then lets slip that, while she usually tries to go adventuring with some companions–a thief, a magic-user, and a couple of fighters (Five Man Band, what?), this time around no one else wanted to join her. Considering how things are about to turn out, I don’t blame them; don’t blame them, at all.

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Just after the Preface, we have a section describing “How to Use this Book”. If you’re ready to start, then start at the place that says “Start Here”. He says that a D&D game is usually composed of at least three players; one person must be the Dungeon Master, who plays as the monsters (along with being responsible for a whole slew of other stuff that is not mentioned here).

A section of acknowledgements is just beside the “How to Use this Book” section. You have the two creators of D&D: Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson. John Eric Holmes (“Professor Holmes”) did the first reorganization of the rules that is known as “Basic D&D”. Tom Moldvay did the second reorganization. Note also the name “Mike Mornard”; he still posts occasionally on rpg-centered message boards and fora, using the handle “Old Geezer”.  As an aside, when the Dungeon World rules came out a few years ago, Old Geezer expressed a high amount of regard for them.

On the next page, we have the Dedication to Gary Gygax, and the Table of Contents. First Printing, May, 1983. So, thirty-four years ago this month. Turning the page, we find the aforementioned “Start here” section.

We get a definition of a dungeon–it’s a place for adventures and treasure, basically. There are different kinds of monsters, but “dragons are the biggest and most dangerous–and have the most treasure”. Sure, why not? The reader is then instructed to just start reading to learn the game, while playing at the same time. It will be like a “choose your own adventure” book, but with dice.

Well, the reader is first instructed to select the twenty-sided die (d20), and use the crayon provided to color in the numbers (modern dice no longer come with crayons, as I understand it). Grab a pencil and paper, and NOW you can start reading. When you get to page 22, you will have learned the game.

A short explanation of role-playing follows, then a description of the type of character you will play in this initial adventure. You are informed that your character lives in an imaginary world similar to Medieval Europe, and does not have access to any modern comforts of any kind. Your character is a strong hero (already!), and is famous, but poor. Rather than charge money for his autograph, he explores previously unexplored regions, in search of treasure. The section ends with this: “The more [treasure] you find, the more powerful and famous you become.” This is a hint to the rules about gaining experience. Modern versions of D&D and D&D-esque games assign experience based on the number and strength of the monsters the adventurers kill. In Basic (and in AD&D 1st edition), the amount of treasure accumulated is the greatest source of an adventurer’s experience.

So, the player learns about his character’s abilities. It gives a general description of the character, but then explains that these abilities can be assigned numerical values to help adjudicate conflict. This character has a “17” strength. Since the highest value for any ability is 18 in this ruleset, 17 is pretty good. The lowest possible ability score is 3.

Along with Strength (STR), the character’s Dexterity (DEX) and Intelligence (INT) are assigned values (11 and 9, respectively). Equipment is then listed. He (or she) wears chain mail and a helmet, and carries a “beautiful” sword and the standard “dagger in the boot”. The character knows how to use his gear, naturally. He’s (or She’s) all set, so we proceed.

The character–I should give him a name. Since Matthew Colville gave his fighter the name “Duncan”,  then I will call this fellow “Halleck”. So, Halleck lives in a town with dirt roads that has some caves filled with monsters and treasures nearby. Sort of like real life, what? Anyway, since Halleck is “famous but poor”, he needs to get into these caves and grab some of the treasure and fight some monsters. There’s also Bargle the Bandit, who may or may not be hiding in the caves. If Halleck catches him, he “can become a hero!” Wait; I thought he already was a hero. Whatever.

Halleck picks a pleasant day to go adventuring, and stands in front of a cave entrance.

There’s some descriptive text about lanterns and tinderboxes and dark and musty passages. There’s a ugly little gray-skinned goblin, and you have to keep an eye out for the bats, and–oh! A goblin! Before Halleck can say “Boo to your mother”, the goblin attacks. He has no choice; it’s a fight for his life. Says so, right in the text.

The story breaks off here to describe Hit Rolls: roll the d20. If the number is 12 or more, then Halleck hits the goblin. If he manages to miss the goblin, the goblin attacks him back, but always misses. Once Halleck manages to smite ye goblin, then the creature runs screaming into the dark cave. Hit points are explained next, and is defined as “the amount of damage that a creature can take before being killed”.

I’d like to make a digression, here, to talk about what hit points are: they are the numerical expression of a character’s ability to keep fighting. The 4th edition player’s book says: “Hit points (hp) measure a creature’s ability to stand up to punishment, turn deadly strikes into glancing blows, and stay on its feet throughout a battle. Hit points represent physical endurance, skill, luck, and resolve.” (Heroes of the Fallen Lands, p27)

I think this is a better understanding of how hit points interact with the fiction, than the idea that loss of hit points represents actual physical injury to the character. Traditionally, if a monster hits Halleck, then the Dungeon Master (DM) would say something like, “The goblin hits! You feel a slash across your arm, and you start to bleed. One point of damage”.

Anyway, back to the adventure. We learn that Halleck has 8 hit points, and retains all 8 after his encounter with the goblin, since the goblin never actually managed to land a blow. Halleck’s Constitution (CON) is then described. The score is a 16, which means that the player rolled a “6” on an eight-sided die (d8) for hit points when creating Halleck (a 16 CON grants a 2 point bonus to Hit Points). This calculation is not explained in the rules, here; I just know.

Halleck then looks down, and sees A SNAKE! THERE’S A SNAKE! It’s a rattlesnake, and is nearly ten feet in length. It lies on top of a pile of coins, which makes me think it’s trying to pretend to be a dragon. Halleck doesn’t try to talk to the snake, because that would be silly. They fight!

 

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That is the message at the top of the Player’s Manual of the Frank Mentzer version of “Basic” Dungeons and Dragons. The artwork is classic–Wizards of the Coast used the same artwork when they published the D&D 4th Edition “Essentials” Red Box Starter Set.

All five “sets” of Dungeons & Dragons (as opposed to the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons game, which was determined–by an actual judge in actual court–to be a separate game) are available for purchase as PDFs at dndclassics.com. If you type dndclassics.com into your browser, you are actually taken to dmsguild.com, and then you must click on the link to “D&D Classics”.

dmsguild

Be aware that, if you wish to purchase the “Basic Set” books, it will cost you $10. The Player’s Manual and the DM’s Manual are sold separately. I purchased and printed the “Basic” and “Expert” books for my son for his birthday. He read through them, and said that he still preferred the Moldvay Basic/Cook Expert rules. There are a few differences between the two, but they are mostly compatible.

But I digress.

If one browses the Internets for information concerning these rule books, one inevitably comes across statements similar to: “Back in the day, we thought that ‘Basic’ D&D was for the little kids, and ‘Advanced D&D’ was for the grown-ups.” Not a hard mistake to make, based on the nomenclature of each rule set. Such statements are usually followed by surprise that the ‘Basic’ rules are actually complex and interesting.

I never played D&D of any kind “back in the day”. I think the first “role-playing” game I ever played was The Legend of Zelda, for Nintendo. We also purchased The Adventure Construction Set for our Apple IIc, which was entertaining, for what it was. I was always curious, though. In the mid- to late-nineteen nineties, I flipped through a 2nd edition AD&D player’s manual, but did not see the attraction. Sometime during the Aughts (2000 – 2009) I perused a 3rd edition manual, and started to get a headache. The rules are for people who like accounting, I guess. When 4th edition came out, I actually put some money down, and got the core rules. 4th edition is an excellent, excellent set of rules, no matter what the detractors say.

But I digress.

I’m looking at the PDF of Mentzer’s Basic Rules–Player’s Manual. Opening to page one, I read this sentence: “This is a game that is fun. It helps you imagine.” I’m sold, Mr. Mentzer! I like games that are fun, and, though I have a pretty good imagination, I will certainly not turn down any help!

By the way, as of this date (05/26/2017), Mr. Frank Mentzer is still alive. He posts on a few fora dedicated to role playing games (www.enworld.org, forum.rpg.net, that sort of site, if you want to try to track him down).

He states that D&D is like a good book, except that a D&D game can continue indefinitely. Then, he claims that D&D is the most popular game ever made. That may possibly be true today, with all the D&D derivative games, both table-top and computer-based, but he wrote this in 1983. I am a mite skeptical. Anyway, he asserts that in a D&D game, nobody loses, everyone wins! That does sound amazing. He winds up the Preface with this:

“Your character stands atop a grassy hill. . .
the sun glints off your golden hair, rippling in
the warm breeze . . . you absent-mindedly rub
the gem-studded hilt of your magic sword, and
glance over at the dwarf and elf, bickering as
usual about how to load the horses . . . the
magic-user has memorized her spells, and says
she’s ready to go . . . a dangerous dungeon
entrance gapes at you from the mountain
nearby, and inside, a fearsome dragon awaits.
Time to get moving . . .

Awesome.

So, he describes a four character party of Fighter (a cleric would not use a sword), Dwarf, Elf, and Magic-User. They are going to track down and face a dragon, apparently. They also have at least some experience under their belts, because “You” have a magic sword already. “Your” party may regret not bringing the Thief along, but perhaps you’ve not had good experience with thieves, and, besides, the dwarf can find structural traps (just not the ones that are tiny–hidden in the clasps of chests and whatnot).

Let’s see what the rules are, then, what?

 

 

 

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