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
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