Saturday, 17 August 2019

Let's read Basic D&D: Your first Saving Throw


By page 3, Mentzer is on a roll to introduce the core mechanics of D&D to new players.1 Your hero follows the goblin's retreat deeper into the caves and encounters a large Rattlesnake amid hundreds of gold and silver coins.

Hints at role-playing are sprinkled in the following instruction, i.e., it's no good to try to talk to a rattlesnake! A "game" of Hit Points attrition is provided with the Snake automatically hitting you, though you have to hit the snake's armor class of 11.2 Initiative is not introduced, so the Fighter goes first.

Let's play. Will you join me?


Snake: 3 HP Fighter: 8 HP

Round 1

Fighter rolls 12 (+2 = 14) 3 Hit! The snake automatically hits! 

Saving Throw vs. Poison or Death Ray... 18! The Fighter saves, having only to roll 12 at 1st Level.

Snake: 2 HP Fighter: 7 HP

Round 2

Fighter rolls a 3! Miss. The snake hits again. And the fighter saves again with 16. Whew.

Snake: 2 HP Fighter: 6 HP

Round 3

Fighter rolls 10. This is a miss! Only because the player has not been introduced to Ability Bonuses yet. The snake misses! Actually, the snake will miss the rest of this encounter.

Round 4

Fighter rolls a 1. No critical fails in this game, yet. The snake misses.

Round 5

Fighter rolls an 8. Miss. Snake dodges and snaps. The dance continues. Your fighter's movement maybe scattering coins about reminding you of the reward.

Round 6

Fighter rolls 15! Hit. The snake is desperate now.

Snake: 1 HP Fighter: 6 HP

Round 7

Fighter rolls an 8. Miss. Snake dodges and hisses, snapping at your thigh, already stained with blood from the last strike.

Round 8

Fighter rolls a Natural 20! Oh, now you're hooked.4 Your swing catches the rattlesnake just below the open and ready jaw, to sever the head from the body!

Healing, Searching, and Economy!

Your fighter's wounds will "heal with a few days rest," but look at all the coins! Of course we should expect a fighter to know the coins of the realm, but the player does not, yet! Gold, Silver, Platinum, and Electrum ("three types of silvery coins") lie about. Searching the room, you also find a small pearl possibly worth 100 gold pieces! And how did this treasure get here? Gygaxian Naturalism of course; some poor fool likely died in this same room.


Deeper still you adventure into the caves, and NPCs are introduced.

  1. [1] Does Mentzer deserve all the credit here in this edition of Basic D&D with regards to the introduction of rules through programmed instruction? It could be argued that his educational background in Math and Physics and musical talent provided some very foundational understanding of instructional editing. He and friends taught themselves D&D in the mid-70s, an act that form cognitive pathways aiding someone not trained in teaching or instruction. Programmed instruction was well understood in the wargaming communities in the mid-70s as well, Avalon Hill's Squad Leader taking this approach to great success.

  2. [2] Is this wrong? Maybe. The Basic D&D Rattlesnake, or Giant Rattler provided in the Dungeon Masters Rulebook on p. 37, has an AC of 5. With the Fighter's Strength of 17, the to hit roll should be 12.

  3. [3] Ability Bonuses are not introduced until p. 10.

  4. [4] You won't know the endorphin rush of the natural 20 for sometime—optionally introduced in AD&D 2nd Edition, but house ruled long before that.

Posted by caffeinated at 11:20 AM in d10

Friday, 16 August 2019

Let's read Basic D&D: Your first adventure

Your first adventure

After almost two years—WTF!?—I'm back reading the 1983 Mentzer Red Box Players Manual for the Basic D&D.

In the opening eight pages, the reader is programmatically, and more than a little procedurally, introduced to the Player Character attributes and more importantly an introduction to adventuring.

The hills are full of caves, possibly monsters, and the murderous thief Bargle. Your character is a strong man or woman (hey, it doesn't matter, we're told this on page 2!), not to quick, but not slow, nor dumb-witted, but adventurous. 

The very first encounter is a bold goblin. Dodging its swing, you prepare to swing. But this is your first game. How do you swing? How do you hit the goblin? You are quickly introduced to the "twenty-sided die," the Hit Roll, and Hit Points.1

The goblin is never going to hit you in this instruction, but you know to hit the goblin you need to roll a 12. Just one hit. The goblin is more afraid of you than you it. It runs away on the first hit. 

Damage and hit points

A new noun. In 1983 D&D was possibly eight years old. Today, we have endless wankery about what Hit Points are? Do they represent anything? Are Tim Kask's words on YouTube worth listening to? Could Frank Mentzer have the gaul to write something to help us? Maybe.

The number of hit points is the amount of damage that a creature can take before being killed. Hit points can be any number; the more hit points a creature has, the harder it is to kill.
Your fighter starts with 8 hp (hit points) and still has 8, since the goblin never hit you. He may have hit your armor or shield, but never got through your protection, so these attacks are still called "misses"—they didn't actually damage your character.

Debate settled. Hit points are an abstraction. Always have been and I've said as much. Immersion and narrative are a function at the table and can be learned, too often the debate starts at and seeks only perfection... to become the enemy of good.


Strength, Dexterity, Intelligence, and introducing Constitution. Our hero has a Constitution of 16. This positively affects our character's hit points. Write it down and let's learn about Saving Throws!

  1. [1] the shorthand forms of dice, e.g., d4, d20, d%, are not introduced for another eight pages, on p. 12.

Posted by caffeinated at 9:38 PM in d10

Sunday, 3 September 2017

Let's read Basic D&D: Learning to play Dungeons & Dragons games

Two core books come in the Mentzer Red Box, the Players Manual and the Dungeon Masters Rulebook. One is admonished in capital letters on the Players Manual: READ THIS BOOK FIRST. Exclamation Point. The DM Rulebook states the same emphatically: READ THE BOOK NEXT!

Learning how to play Dungeon & Dragons games

Games. Plural.

The Preface and How to use this book on the inside cover tease the newcomer with everything that awaits new players to D&D. The Preface by Frank Mentzer, dated in my copy as February 1983, set out with a prompt: a roaring dragon! It sets a narrative to the famous Elmore box cover. Frank hopes to set the expectations of the reader about they hold: a game that is a tool to create epic adventures. He promises fun, but only after an investment of "a few minutes to learn the basic rules, and another hour or two to play a full game." A hobby awaits you as become more experienced. Miniatures, expert rules, and "lots more."

The bottom half of the inside cover is the most ubiquitous section of every technical book you've ever read: How to use this book.

We are introduced in this section about where to start. Page 2 of course, Start here. How a regular game is played in groups and eventually you'll need a Dungeon Master. Important sections lie ahead: Characters and Playing with a Group. The new player is told about the path ahead. Level 1-3 are covered in the Basic Set, Set The BECM is outlined by levels: Expert, 4th-14th; Companion, 15th-25th; Master, 26th-30th. The Immortal set is conspicuously missing. There's probably a story there I'm not familiar with, comments are welcome.

Start Here

The accustomed three-column layout begins and the reader is set on their first adventure and introduced to three of the most important tools of D&D: a pencil, a piece of paper, and the twenty-sided die.

The "strong hero, a famous, but poor fighter" is the role the reader is given. The vehicle for learning to role play. The fighter, day by day, explores the unknown for monsters and treasure. Why? To become more famous and more powerful!

The reader learns the game mechanics for a role begin with abilities, the first game noun. Three abilities are introduced as the reader is set forth on the adventure:

17 Strength
11 Dexterity
 9 Intelligence
And here I think we get to the root of all powergaming going forward into history. "Nearly the highest possible!" the reader learns of the fighter's Strength ability. A fighter doesn't need a high Dexterity and a fighter "often isn't very smart" so we set forth the idea that Intelligence is the fighter's dump stat.

Page 2 and we start to see how presentation sets the expectations going forward. By 1983 the game is six or seven years old and at it's height in popularity. The seeds of the Moral and Satanic panic are being sowed in Richmond, Virginia with the suicide of a young man and in California as the first reports and false allegations of abuse at the McMartin preschool are surfacing.

Posted by caffeinated at 6:59 PM in d10

Let's read Basic D&D: The Prologue

My friend and player in WFRP Roger Brasslett picked up a near mint copy of Basic D&D at GameHoleCon last year. Signed by the legend Frank Mentzer!

What a prize! 

I've been thumbing through it for months and recalling the genuine suppression of all things D&D in my parent's house in the 80s. I can't recall when I expressed interest in the game, but it was certainly not welcome by my mother; my father was probably ambivalent. It was 1983 or 1984—the irony not lost—that I recall getting DragonRaid, a Christian witness RPG. As I recall it was heavy on the catechism of Christian witness and included a cassette tape. And yet, even DragonRaid was a target of the Moral and Satanic Panic of the 80s. I don't recall the specifics, but DragonRaid was soon removed.

So it must have been 1984 that I picked up my own Red Box. My parents began building a house in the country and I quietly played to learn the game. I'm certain I hid it somewhere in the three bedroom duplex our family of six shared. Where in the shared room with a bunk, amongst my own stuff and one of my younger brother's items I don't recall.

Today, in possession of the game that set me on my journey to always the GM rarely the player, I want to reacquaint myself with the Rules as Written. What do I assume are the rules? How does the game introduce the tropes all of us so often take as canon? How does the pre-teen and teen gamer, steeped in a period of oppression of fantasy read and develop expectations of play?

Forewarning: I'm not an educator. This is going to be about as raw a personal impression as you get. In 30+ years life teaches people in subtle ways about life.

Don't look for safe spaces, X-cards, or validation in this series. While some might argue words are violence, I don't subscribe to the idea. Sticks and stones break bones, but "Words are wind," it is somewhere oft written. But words can set expectations and reading the opening introduction of Basic D&D by Mentzer, those expectations are clearly set. 

Next, we meet Aleena, Bargle, and some of the words that cement D&D tropes all the way back to the beginnings. 

Posted by caffeinated at 11:44 AM in d10

Thursday, 31 August 2017

Day 31. What do you anticipate most in gaming for 2018?

Cubicle 7's release of a new edition of WFRP in the 1E/2E setting.

That is all.

Posted by caffeinated at 11:11 PM in d10

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Day 30. What is an RPG genre-mashup you would most like to see?

Is there any RPG genre-mashup better than Shadowrun? I think not.

What about media mashups? How about Harry Potter or Near Dark in WFRP using the Realms of Sorcery or Night's Dark Masters supplements?

What about rebooting media mashups like TMNT&OS and After the Bomb in Savage Worlds?

Posted by caffeinated at 8:00 PM in d10

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Day 29. What has been the best RPG Kickstarter you have backed?

I don't back many RPGs, speaking to the specific RPG concept. However, The Complete Elmore book was very well run by Larry and his partners. Delivered almost on-time and complete.

I backed Numenéra to spite the haters. Delivered complete and almost on-time. Beautiful book and artwork.

Were either of the above run better than others? Probably not. Kickstarter is full of risks and I am very careful about backing anything not already completed or at least resource complete.

I backed Dwimmermount, but we won't discuss that as anything other than an RPG Kickstarter because I know, have met, and support JaMal. He is good, honest people and he was going through some serious emotional upheaval in his life. No one that criticized him would want the same thing in their own life. No one. Except sociopaths.

Posted by caffeinated at 8:00 PM in d10

Monday, 28 August 2017

Day 28. What film/series is the biggest source of quotes for your group?

Is there just one film? Probably only a couple of series.

In no particular order:

  1. Monty Python and the Holy Grail
  2. Conan the Barbarian (1982)
  3. Game of Thrones
  4. The Lord of the Rings

That's probably the entire catechism for all of us.

I also believe this leans into my theory: don't make a D&D movie. These are the D&D movies. Frankly, Conan the Barbarian is a D&D movie.

Posted by caffeinated at 8:00 PM in d10

Sunday, 27 August 2017

Day 27. What are your essential tools for good gaming?

  • Dice
  • Core Rules and major supplements, e.g., D&D's Core Three.
  • Pencils
  • Paper
  • Graph Paper
  • Beer
  • Water
  • Tablet, e.g, iPad
  • WiFi

We tend to skip snacks and soda these days. We'll share a bomber or two of craft beer (22 oz.) instead.

Posted by caffeinated at 8:00 PM in d10