Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Mentzer Basic Set I

One of my groups meets every Tuesday. Dubbed “Team Evil” by the other team (who are referred to as “Team Swamp” even still), they have chosen instead to go by the moniker “Team Tuesday.”

My usual prep night for Team Tuesday is Monday, but this week Team RTS had an impromptu and snowy session on Monday, so my mind was scrambling all day to get together material for the game when the news reached me through a co-worker that Gary Gygax had passed away.

Tonight's game needed to be special.

I set aside all thoughts of sharks and sahuagin, and my brain began to brumate. I’d already been spending entirely too much time with OD&D lately, yearning mostly for the classic Mentzer days. Although the Blue Book was my introduction to Dungeons and Dragons, I would not actually run a game until much later, until the Mentzer Basic Set was the gold piece standard of gaming.

I had been doodling dungeons on graph paper in my spare time, and sighing at the sad notion that dungeons don’t seem to belong in my Epic Campaigns. Dungeon design seems so much more difficult these days. Before my pencil even approached the page, I was already ruminating on ecology, logic, architecture, leit motif, theme, and so on.

It didn’t used to be this way. I could crank out a mega-dungeon that spanned several sheets of graph paper in a matter of hours, with each room fully stocked and wandering monster tables at the ready. I needed to rekindle this spirit again. I desperately wanted to be that 12 year old DM again.

Flash forward to game-time-Tuesday. With player’s trickling in, battlemat and screen in place. I used Peterson’s printer to enact my evil scheme. Four copies of Erik Johansson’s Excellent Basic D&D Character Sheet later, I poured the entirety of my dice bag on the table with a clatter and passed the half-pages all around.

As I expected, the new sheets were greeted with an equal mix of groans and perplexed expressions. I rose to my feet behind the screen and stood upon my invisible soapbox.

"We're doing something special today in memory of Gary Gygax. I don't have the white box anymore, but we're going as old school as we can."

I launched into some partially remembered by-the-book character generation rules:

Ktrey: “Alright everybody grab 3d6 and roll and record the totals six times. Write ‘em down in order on some scrap paper”

Rip went the spiral binder, sprinkling it’s wonderful pale confetti over my red Mentzer Basic books.

Candace: “Only six times! Why not 8 and drop the two lowest?”

Ktrey: “I’m just getting started,” I grinned. “I need to see any 18s that get rolled.”

Clatter, clatter, pitter patter, be still my beating gamer-heart.

Woody: “Do you need to see a 16?”

Ktrey: “Sure. Great roll. Looks like everyone’s finishing up, now write these down in order on your sheet. First score is STR, etcetera.”

Xac: “WHAT!? We don’t get to pick where they go?”

Ktrey: “Nope. You didn’t get to pick your abilities when you were created. Did you?”

More groans. Xac was the first to get his numbers in.

Xac: “Looks like I’m playing a Cleric. My high scores are in Wisdom and Charisma.”

Ktrey: “Awesome. Remember, no Spells until Second Level. Don’t worry about a Deity. We’re not even naming these guys or picking an alignment until they reach 3rd level.”

Xac: “Wait, so these guys are just gonna die?”

Ktrey: “It’s quite possible. Roll your HD on a d6.”

Xac: “I got a One. Can I reroll?”

Ktrey: “Nope.”

Dissenting chatter again fills the table. A kitten has taken the DM’s chair.

Ktrey: “Alright, Xac has a Class. Anyone else know what they want to play?”

Candace: “You mean we actually get to pick this? I have a pretty high INT.”

Ktrey: “You might want to play something that takes advantage of your high stats. Each class has Prime Requisites, STR for Fighter, WIS for Cleric. High scores in these Primes will give you a bonus to earned XP. Magic-Users need INT.”

Woody has scrawled Barbarian next to class.

Woody: “My CON sucks for a Barbarian, but I have a 16 in STR.”

Ktrey: “Sorry, no Barbarians. The Class choices are a lot simpler now. Just the Seven.”

Chris: “Are there Rangers?”

Ktrey: “Nope. The choices are Fighter, Magic-User, Thief, Cleric, Elf, Dwarf, and Halfling.”

Woody: “So Race is a Class?!”

Ktrey: “Yep.”

Candace: “So I could be an Elf?”

Ktrey: “Sure, if you meet the minimum attribute requirements. Let’s see…” frantic page flipping. “You need at least an INT of 9.”

Candace: “I’ll be an Elf.”

Ktrey: “Roll a d12 for your spell.”

Thank goodness that spells were laid out in handy, die-friendly groups. A dozen Magic-User Spells, and eight Cleric Spells per level...

Candace: “4”

Ktrey: “Floating Disk”

Candace: “What?!”

Ktrey: “Floating Disk. You know if you choose Magic-User, you get another spell. But keep in mind you can still only cast one per day.”

Candace: “I guess I’ll go with Magic-User then.”

Ktrey: “Great, d12 again for your second spell.”

Candace: “8”

Ktrey: “Sleep.”

Candace: “Sleep?”

Ktrey: “Yep. Take heart, it’s ridiculously over powered for a first level spell in this version.”

Woody: “No Barbarian? Well I guess it’s Fighter then.”

Ktrey: "You can always play him like a Barbarian. Great. Roll a d8 for your Hit Die.”

Woody: “I rolled a 2”

Ktrey: “Yep. It happens, what’s your CON again?”

Woody: “Six”

Ktrey: “Minus 1 Hit Point.”

Woody: “Great. I’m a Fighter with 1 Hit Point…”

Candace: “What do I roll for Hit Points?”

Ktrey: “1d4”

Candace: “4”

Ktrey: “Awesome. That’s the best a Magic User can do”

Chris: “I rolled 5”

Ktrey: “Did you decide on a class yet, Chris?”

Chris: “Yeah. I’m going with Fighter too.”

Ktrey: “Great. Now everybody roll 3d6 again, and multiply it by ten. This is how much gold you have starting out to equip yourself.”

Chris: “Ugh. 8. This means I have 80 gold?”

Ktrey: “Yep. You stroll up to the weapon shop. Ye Olde Bloodbath & Beyond. Who wants to buy what?”

Woody: “I want a Warhammer.”

Ktrey: “Sure 5 gold pieces.”

Xac: “If I remember right, no edged weapons for me. I want a Mace and a Club”

Ktrey: “Cool, good memory. Mace’ll set you back 5 gp, the Club is 2 gp.”

Chris: “Clerics can’t use edged weapons? What about their favored weapon?”

Ktrey: “The concept hadn’t been invented yet. And I always liked it better this way, didn't let them outshine Fighters.”

Chris: “How much for a Long Sword”

Ktrey: “I can sell you a Normal Sword for 10 gold.”

Chris: “What damage does it do?”

Ktrey: “d8, and it's still d8 after all these years. All weapons used to do d6, you know.”

Woody: “I changed my mind. I want a Battle Axe.”

Ktrey:“It’s two handed, that means no Shield. And AC is precious where we’re going.”

Woody: “That’s fine. How much?”

Ktrey: “Seven Gold. It does d8 plus your STR bonus.”

Chris: “How much is a shield?”

Ktrey: “10 gold pieces, but let me make sure everyone’s set weapon-wise. Magic-User?”

Candace: “I don’t even know what weapons I can use.”

Ktrey: “Well, you can use a Dagger. That’s it. But the good news is a dagger is only 3 gold. Or you can buy the super special exotic and expensive SILVER DAGGER for 30.”

Candace: “I have cash to spare. I’ll take the fancy one.”

Players (except Xac): We'll take some daggers too!

Ktrey: “Alright. So that’s weapons then. Anyone want a ranged weapon?”

Xac: “I don’t think there’s any that I can use.”

I completely forgot about the Sling!

Chris: “My DEX sucks.”

Ktrey: “Alright. Cool then. On to the Armor Shop, Shields cost 10 gp. Here are your other choices: Leather 20 gold, Chain 40 gold, Plate Mail 60 gold.”

Xac: “No Scale Mail?”

Ktrey: “Not yet, if I had the RC with me, I’m sure it’s in there, but we’re going by Basic. Those are your choices.”

Woody: “Plate.”

Xac: “Chain”

Candace: “I can’t wear any armor can I?”

Ktrey: “Nope. I think you’re starting to get it, doll.”

Candace: “Magic-User’s suck. There’s even that song about it. Always the first to die.”

Ktrey: “Yep. That song is hilarious. I wish I had Keep On the Borderlands with me.”

Chris: “I can’t afford Plate.”

Ktrey:“Someone else might loan you the coin. You’re all old friends.”

Players: “Huh?”

Ktrey: “Anyone want to loan Peterson some cash for Plate.”

Woody: “I’ll do it.”

Ktrey: “Cool.”

Xac: “I might as well pick up a Shield to.”

Ktrey: “Great. 10 gold pieces. Adventurers are good for the economy.”

Xac: “What about torches and stuff?”

Ktrey: “We’re getting there. Everyone done with armor? Good. Let’s speed this up. I’ll call out the item from the list, and the cost.”

(Proceeds down the lovely, short, equipment list of the basic set).

Ktrey: “Cleric, you want a Holy Symbol? 25 gold pieces.”

Xac: “Definitely, I’m thinking of making my character a chick.”

Ktrey: “Heh. That’s fine. Actually, I’ll let you pick an Alignment too, it'll help us figure out what you do to undead when you turn them.”

Xac: “Lawful, Neutral, Chaotic, right?”

Ktrey: “Yep.”

Chris: “No Evil?”

Ktrey: “Nope. This was pure Moorcock. The Good/Evil Axis came later.”

Xac: “I’m a Cleric of Lawful!”

Ktrey: “Awesome. Does anyone want a 10 foot pole?”

Woody & Candace: “OF COURSE.”

Xac: “What about a belt pouch?”

Ktrey: “If I recall correctly, all adventurers start out with two or three sets of clothes, a belt, belt pouch, and sensible shoes...”

Players: Okay we're writing that down.

Candace:
Do I get anything else?

Ktrey: “You have your travelling Spellbook. It fits in your backpack.

Ktrey: “Great, let’s fill in the handy little to-hit table. Start at zero, with a 19. It works it’s way backwards from what you’re used to. Higher AC is worse. So 1 is going to be 18, then 2 17, etcetera. Go ahead and factor in any STR bonus’ here, although I think Woody is the only one with a bonus.”

Chris: “Low AC is good?”

Ktrey: “Yep. We’re doing Saving throws next.”

Scribble Scribble

Ktrey: “Great. Your ACs are based on your DEX bonus and Armor. Anyone with a Shield also subtracts an additional one. Plate Mail fighters, your AC is 3. Peterson has a Sheild, so that makes it 2. Cleric starts at 5, and then lowers it by one for the shield. Magic-User, you mentioned you had a low DEX. What is it?”

Candace: “8”

Ktrey: “That means you have a minus. Your AC is 10.”

Candace: “Crap.”

Woody: “Ah, but it is the price you pay for Awesome Arcane Might!”

(Woody plays a creepy wizard during regular Team Tuesday escapades)

Candace: “You mean disk and Sleep.”

Woody: “Magic-Users get awesome at higher levels.”

Candace: “If they survive.”

DM: “Alright. Saving throws are done. You stand in the midst of a green sylvan glade, before you is the entrance to the dungeon. It’s a small pit and there’s a rope that leads downward, no doubt carelessly left by a previous explorer. It’s tied to one of the trees in the glade. I need a Caller and a Mapper and a Marching Order.”

Players: “Whoa... No story?”

(Note: I make no apologies for the quality or accuracy of this transcript. I tried to do everything within my power to rekindle and recapture the spirit of the game before my brain was tainted by" narrativist" tendencies and roleplaying theory. Forgoing balance and flavor in favor of fun.)
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