Monday, 16 September 2019

Basic D&D: Solo Adventure, Cadman Cadsson, Chapter II

***

The passage is clearly not used, or at least avoided. Leaves and dirt collect at the edges before opening into a large room. Cadman pans his lantern left to right. A red-brown moss or dust covers the floor to every corner. Cadman spots a large green stone, then another, and another! Cadman starts forward with the lantern following ruts behind the gemstones in the red-brown dirt. Cadman stops, seeing how the stones leave trails. Something dragged them? He makes out what looks like a sweep in the dust. A snort from the rear corner turns Cadman around, the lantern stopping on a large creature waking up. 

The creature's hide is the color of the floor with thick, lumpy, bone-like folds. A long tail whips across the floor revealing more rough stones in the lantern light. Two long, red feathered stalks reach out toward Cadman, with an animal like hunger. Its black eyes swallowing the lantern light. 

Cadman, drops the lantern from his grip to swings at the creature's head, cutting a line between the stalks and ducking as the same reach for his shield. Cadman turns his duck into a thrust, driving the sword into the creature's shoulder to feel it bite and crack the lumpy hide. The creature lets out a high-pitched yelp and twists to Cadman. The feather stalks sweeping forward. Cadman leans back and the stalks trace an arc in the air.

The creature charges out of the corner, leading with the feathered stalks forward and reaching. Cadman rapidly retreats leaving the creature is just out of reach. The lantern's shutters had opened wide on impact with the floor, and the weight of the oil stands it upright. Long shadows confuse Cadman and the creature. Cadman thrusts low at the eyes, the sword point glancing off a bony protrusion. The creature's stalks sweeping across the back of Cadman's hand. The down-like texture giving him chills as it seems to be alive, seeking something on his flesh.

Cadman turns, using the lantern light to confuse the creature, sword pointed down, thrusting into the thick, overlapping, armor-like hide. Cadman feels the sword bite muscle. The creature twists in reaction, squealing. The stalks stiffen in pain and both strike Cadman's shield like clubs. Cadman's arm jerks upward in a reaction to a sudden loss of weight on the shield arm. The rivets securing the leather to the shield's inside snap and the shield falls; a thin, wasted shape of steel on the floor.

Cadman reacts with a wide swing that cuts the air and the creature presses the attack, but misjudges Cadman's retreat and, reaching forward with the hungry stalks, exposes its neck. Cadman seize the opening and thrusts down, hard. Muscle and bone part and the creature collapses to the floor, motionless. A thick, red gore begins draining from the neck wound.

The quiet is interrupted by a bubbling sigh, the last breath of the creature. Cadman pauses to catch his own breath. The intensity of the fight, less than a minute, rapidly settles on him.

Resting against the wall, he stares at the remains of his shield. Cadman searches his mind for stories of the creature he just killed. A "Rust Monster"? It explains much: his shield, the red-brown dust all over the floor. Surely it is starving in these caves and passages. The loss of the shield exposes him; it made up for any skill he lacked in a pressed fight. And if there are goblins in these caves, this whole adventure just got a lot more dangerous.

Cadman grabs his lantern and immediately returns his thoughts to the gemstones scattered about. Briefly inspecting each, he drops them into a small bag and searches his memory for appraisers and fences in town to turn into coin.

Cadman looks back to the statue room and turns to another west passage. The lantern reveals a short corridor and Cadman can make out a northern passage about midway. His blood is pumping. Gems in his pocket. His armor and sword still intact. Cadman decides to go west a bit and see how these caves may create a larger network.

Cadman is immediately aware of just how big the network is. Coming to the intersection of the west and north passages, he recognizes something just beyond his lantern further west. Light from another exposed rock cleft. This is the entrance he ventured into just days ago. Ghouls lie that way. Cadman retreats to the northern passage and shines the lantern up the passage. A room lies about 30 feet further, just beyond the light of his lantern. He listens for a moment, but only hears his heartbeat. 

Cadman checks his armor's fittings. He may be more exposed, but he's seen the shield wall on campaign. Courage is a bet, often taken with a fool's odds of winning. Cadman decides to take the bet, though has never considered himself a fool, and walks north, shuttering his lantern to hide his approach.

***

The lantern light dimly falls on the wall of a large room. Cadman catches movement from his right. A sword swing falls on his pauldron with a loud crash and a long scrape as the blade drags down the length of Cadman's sword arm, biting into the armor at the elbow and tearing links of mail that cut into flesh. Cadman winches, throwing his lantern toward the threat. The chaos of shadows as the lantern falls give no pause to the threat, as another sword swings, but misses. 

Cadman's eyes grow wide at the sight of two skeletons, silent as they are dead, prepare to attack. Given no time to remain shocked, Cadman quickly takes in the size of the room and, from the wall, feints a charge on the skeleton to his left only to move wider with his sword arm delivering a skull splitting swing. Cadman's sword drives into the cheek bone, tearing the jaw and scattering rotting teeth. The swing carves though the shoulder and scapula easily severing the arm from the skeleton. The unseen magical energies and the rotting bindings of flesh fail the skeleton and it collapses in a pile of bones.

Cadman recovers from the swing and thrusts his sword into the chest of the remaining skeleton. A murdering thrust, but the blade slips between ribs and through the back. No less harm could have been done to this fell thing. The skeleton swings and its sword weakly clangs on Cadman's forearm bracer where his shield would have been.

Cadman yanks his sword out of the skeleton and swings at the neck. Unprotected by armor or flesh the sword cracks through the spine and before the head bounces off the stone floor the body is collapsing on itself like dry twigs. It is over in three swings.

Cadman sits down to catch his breath. He has seen the bodies of dead men rotting after a battle, picked clean by carrion birds and the bones left after time. To see them walking is the work of Chaos for certain. Was it Bargle or another worshiper of Wee Jas that set these here? Cadman flexes his elbow and pulls out chain links that are biting into his forearm. A little blood, but nothing that will fester and not enough to consider quaffing the potion the Ulaan priests gave him.

Standing, he scans the room and the bones. Nothing of value in the bones or room. Just a stout oak door on the far wall. Cadman checks the door. A keyed latch. Tugging on the door shows that it is securely locked. Grabbing a sword from the skeletons, rusty, but serving the task Cadman has in mind. He pushes the sword into the jamb and kicks at the lock. The sword snaps crashing to the floor and door doesn't budge. No key is found in the skeletons or the room. Cadman recalls something Aleena had told him about bringing a thief along, "They can pick locks. A useful skill in caves and dungeons with locked doors!" With no key and no thief, Cadman pulls his pack taut, picks up the lantern and considers the routes out of the statue room.

The note was old and he heard rats. The east exit is an option. Gobbos settle in caves like these, but he only has a note and the words of the farmer that a band of Gobbos that go by the name Lost Eye Gobbos are in the hills and caves. There was the goblin working with Bargle. Cadman gets angry thinking about Aleena's murderer. Maybe, if the goblins are still to the north they deserve his sword's edge and point.

Cadman shutters his lantern passing through the room of the rust monster, then walks around the statue to the northern passage. Slowing to carefully walk the twenty or thirty feet north and then east, Cadman sees torch light flickering ahead in room that opens east, but stretches north around the corner.

Cadman peeks around the corner. He can not believe his luck. Two goblins are talking in their guttural language, but the one with the nose ring and colorful tabard, Bargle's aide! It wasn't just the nose ring that Cadman recognized, knowing goblins adorn such loops by the dozens in their flesh, but it was Aleena's tabard. Torn and stained with food and grease, the tabard is this goblin's trophy. Cadman tightens his grip on his sword, takes a deep breath and charges into the room. His fierce gaze fixed on a goblin wearing a tabard.

Posted by caffeinated at 9:00 AM in d10

Sunday, 15 September 2019

Basic D&D: 5287 words

My narrative of the Solo Adventure in Mentzer's Red Box weighs in at 5287 words.

I'm not much for writing. I can write, but the craft is not exercised. Active voice is hard. Passive voice is how I recount stories, often mixing them, and it's easy to find myself reading the effort, thinking, sounds good. In my head. First person is so much easier, but I do not like the style and find it too easy to insert the author, i.e., create the Mary Sue.

Chapter I has dropped, II and III this week. Criticism is not violence. Comments welcome.

This series so far has gotten us through 1/3 of the Players Manual. I'll close this week with a page wrapping up the Solo Adventure, After the adventure..., and dive into DUNGEONS & DRAGONS Characters and What comes next?

And a theory on Race as Class from something I found interesting in the text, maybe unintentionally hidden, but lost in explaining during editing. Maybe not new, but it certainly raised my eyebrows.

Posted by caffeinated at 8:57 AM in d10

Friday, 13 September 2019

Basic D&D: Solo Adventure, Cadman Cadsson, Chapter I

"Baldwick will have my new armor ready Levyday! I want to set off at the cock's crow on Bakeday!," Cadman said as he pointed to the forested hills, hidden by the shops surrounding the open tables of the Leaning Dog, the best tavern in town.

The unshaven soldier spit in his tankard and smiled, glancing with mischievous eyes at his drinking partners, all soldiers themselves. "Bald. Wick. Levy. Day. Ha! That old man is sleeping off a drunk. Sit down. Talk about the campaign with us! Baldwick will have your armor ready when you sleep off the drunk we promise you. A handsome lad like you has stories to tell us about border maids for sure!"

Cadman then knew there would be no more interest from these three. His sinking shoulders let the table know he drew no interest in their drinking. "Nay, Will, I'm eager to find something more than drinking and just remembering the last campaign. The Lord has released us, maybe to conscript us next season. But I don't intend on being easily found for the muster." Cadman's "friends," in so far as knowing each other and fighting in the chaos of a shield wall for Lord and Land, found their cups more attractive than dangers in the hills.

"Evil hides in those hills that not even our priests and priestesses wish to fight." Cadman visibly stiffened, thinking about dragging Aleena's body from the caves. No blood or rent links, her life force taken from her by a magic arrow. Yes, you coward, there is evil in those hills, but it bleeds; just as you bleed or your drinking friends do.

Cadman made a turn, practiced countless times in the ranks of pike men on his Lord's border and left his friends to their ale and stories. Surely Baldwick would be ready.

***

On Levyday, Cadman found Baldwick's shop open, but Baldwick's apprentice nursing a cut thumb and kicking, as well as cursing, a breastplate that had been run through, a flaking brown-stain of dried blood on the interior side. Cadman left without speaking. The armor was not ready.

***

It was Kingsday before the armor was ready and the leather oiled and links secured. It fit well, moved with Cadman as Baldwick promised. Cadman checked his pack clasp and found it secure. Baldwick quickly put the 30 gold coins into a purse and grunted a thanks to Cadman. Cadman left with a smile, hoisting his pack across his back. In the intervening two days since Levyday, Cadman made rounds to farmers and their hands about the hills closer to town. He had given some consideration to returning to the exposed rock cleft that opened into the hills where he encountered a praying Aleena.

"Oh, the hills have many of these 'caves', boy," began one farmer. The farmer pointed to a pikeman at the edge of his long field of winter wheat. "I keep that man to watch while my sons and I work the field. Gobbs from the Lost Eye Gobbs come down here sometimes to steal our clothes! Bran and Darcy here," pointing to two of his sons, "came back stark naked only four moons ago." The farmer laughs and his sons blush. "Just follow that cleft there. Nigh the ridge, the rock grows out of the hill and opens into the earth itself! Gobbs and mad men seeking power in words and scrolls, necromancy I think, live in those caves. When I was younger man, like you, my father took me up there to show me the lady of the hill. Still there I think, right in the caves under those rocks. If you seek death, you'll find it in the earth. The Adept Aleena died there last week. Of Ulaa she was. Killed by those same servants of evil hiding in the caves, I hear tale."

Cadman is now used to hearing Aleena's name and the exaggerated stories of her death. Who returned her body to the Temple of Ulaa is never said. He only thinks of the small waxed bottle of honey and cinnamon in his pack, his reward by Ulaan priests for assuring Aleena received a burial appropriate for her faith. 

***

The hike up the hill side to the opening beneath a large boulder earns Cadman a rest. Stopping at a thick trunked tree, upright on the slope, reaching for the top of the canopy, Cadman braces himself and quietly sheds his pack and drinks mightily from his waterskin. The armor will protect him, but it is heavy. If not for the shade and the cool air of Harvest-tide, it could be much more exhausting. The day is young, the sun not at its highest yet. Cadman considers for a moment of leaving his pack here in the low branches of the tree. No, he thinks, I'll need everything in my pack, well most everything. He leaves his torches, the lantern should be enough. Standing, pack slung back over the pauldrons, Cadman lights the wick of his lantern and ducks beneath the overhanging boulder of the cave entrance.

The boulder has made a natural lintel of exposed rocks and the dirt does show signs of recent traffic. How recent, Cadman can not tell. He never tracked game and he knows only the feet of men, horses, cows, or swine. None of these passed through this opening recently.

Cadman walks twenty feet in. Standing tall, the rough work of the cleft of rock suggests old use. Indeed, it opens to a large room. Lit by Cadman's lantern, the cracks in the rock walls are pitch, and the shadows are dominated by the sharp lines of an armored woman on a low plinth in the center of the room. Ulaa? Maybe. There are few goddesses in the land, or only a few that Cadman recalls. There is a skull at the foot of the woman and the relief of the sword in her hand, crossing her waist, is wreathed in flames or smoke. Wee Jas? Certainly apropos of necromancers or "mad men seeking power in words or scrolls." 

Three openings lead deeper into the earth. Cadman walks to each and stops to listen carefully in turn. Looking back to the south, a little light still spills in from the entrance. The east opening swallows the light of Cadman's lantern, but a squeaking noise can be heard faintly in the pitch. Ghouls? No, they are silent as the dead. A wheel or rope? Cadman walks to the north opening and finds a passage that turns back to the east, but no noise. The west passages looks to open into a room some twenty feet away.

Cadman turns back to the statue in the center of the room. If worshippers visit this place, there may be offerings of coin. Cadman thinks immediately better of stealing offerings to a goddess, but he paces around the statue, examining it for recent use. None that he can tell. He plays his lantern over the walls. The yellow light catches the side of piece of parchment folded in a crack at eye level. An offering? No. Cadman knows he certainly wouldn't put an offering of paper in a crack of a cave wall. The goddess certainly would not see it, or at the very least, the priests or officiants would not see it to collect it. Cadman removes the paper and carefully opens it.

Cadman recalls his sergeant's insistent lessons on campaign. A former priest turned warrior, the sergeant taught letters, numbers, and words to any that attended his Holiday thralls. "RATS EAST. GOBLINS NORTH. BEWARE WEST!" Simple words. Who left them and who were they for? But the squeaking is no longer a mystery. Rats could swarm, and cave rats could get bigger than the rats in town. Gobbos to the north. But the real mystery was what scared the writer of the note to the West.

Cadman put the note back in the crack and draws his short sword, lifts his shield, holding the lantern by a leather strap clutched in his sword hand, he could quickly drop it if needed and kick it at a foe as well. The note writer, considering the word "BEWARE," must have feared something to the west, or maybe he or she was not as well armored and a veteran like Cadman? Risk can often lead to reward. Cadman's smile brightened the western passage just a little bit more has he thought that whatever lied down the passage should probably beware as well.

Posted by caffeinated at 9:00 AM in d10

Wednesday, 11 September 2019

Basic D&D: Solo Adventure, Ready, Set, ...

Notes

I took a lot of notes. Each entry, the action taken, if needed, the rounds of combat, if had, and the result.

It's a rather boring list of numbers and outcomes, right down to the dice Cadman and opponents rolled in each round.

Narrative

I've decided that I'm going to complete this portion with a narrative of Cadman Cadsson, Veteran, and his new adventures after serving as a conscript to some local lord... how else did he become a Veteran?!

I'm not sure how many parts this narrative will take, but I'll try to wrap it up in three or four entries. Then the series on the Players Manual of Basic D&D will take a head long dive into What comes next? (the interrogative is Frank's) and Character Classes.

Posted by caffeinated at 9:00 AM in d10

Monday, 9 September 2019

Basic D&D: Solo Adventure, Battles

Battles

As we prepare for the Solo Adventure, Cadman armored and rested, Frank is ready to introduce us to more features of BECMI D&D Combat. In Cadman's fight with Goblin, Snake and Bargle, we learned the prime mechanic of Combat, the d20, or "twenty-sided" die. The Solo Adventure introduces a number of new features to combat and the adventure itself needs some record keeping as well as mapping skills.

More Damage!

In the initial narrative game Cadman only deals one point of damage. The introduces variable weapon damage in the Solo Adventure. Cadman's sword—important to note it is never described as a short sword—does 1d6 points of damage now.1

The Monsters

A simple stat block is introduced with a To Hit number, damage, and Hit Points. It also includes a To Hit for Cadman. Goblins do 1d6 points of damage now too, a fair fight.

Combat Checklist

During the Solo Adventure a handy Combat Checklist is provided. I note that Initiative is still not introduced and the adventure grants initiative to Cadman throughout, it seems; I don't think it's stated.

Record Keeping

Treasure, monsters killed (or encountered), &tc. are all important to track. Keep a scrap piece of paper handy.

Getting Killed

If Cadman dies in the Solo Adventure, "...start the character over again, from the beginning." And we must not forget that we have a Potion of Healing. Interestingly, Frank is introducing us to Opportunity Attacks. Don't take the potion in the middle of a fight, "drink the potion whenever you wish." Drinking it in the middle of battle means forfeiting your attack.

Mapping

I bought so much graph paper back in the day. We get the instruction of scale in the dungeon: 10 feet per square. We also are told how important an accurate map is for adventuring and returning to explore further. 

And don't forget that every map needs a compass rose! We even learn how one is drawn. This seems rather odd, but there's some basic Geography education here that is being reinforced, along with the Algebra in dice notation and combat calculations. With the compass placed on the map and are instruction to note what we find and where we find it on the map we'll be creating, Cadman is ready to delve into the new caves.

---

I'm still thinking on how I want to present Part 3: Into the Caves on the blog. Just an after-action? Details of rooms and actions taken? A narrative of Cadman's adventures from the perspective of wonder and terror? At any rate, the next post will be the first part of that.




  1. [1] We aren't told he has a short sword, but with the introduction of variable weapon damage, only that Cadman's sword does 1d6 damage. We learn later in the tables that a normal sword does 1d8 and a short sword does 1d6, hence I draw the conclusion.

Posted by caffeinated at 9:00 AM in d10

Friday, 6 September 2019

Basic D&D: Solo Adventure, Town Business

Town Business

If Basic D&D did not stress the story over the game, or so goes Conventional Wisdom, I think that the Frank Mentzer, through the Players Manual, wanted us to know it was OK to develop story in the game through regular play.

Cadman Cadsonn, 1st Level Fighter, has rested up and let his wounds heal. He goes to an armorer that he knows, Baldwick. We get to develop him in our Mind's Eye through the narrative and Elmore captures Cadman and Baldwick shaking hands to close a deal on better armor!

The narrative and scene could be from a modern tailor or alterations shop on the corner. Baldwick could be voiced by Tim Gunn if you dare an attempt. It's amusing for its anachronism if nothing more.

Better Armor and Charisma

Cadman strikes a deal for a suit of Plate Mail, custom fitted from "dozens of sets of armor, for people of all sizes, but most of them need repair." I can almost imagine Baldwick buying armor run through, blood possibly sticky or dried, from adventurers that collected it off dead foes (or even friends). One could make this pretty dark. Cadman's Charisma plays into the negotiations with Baldwick. How? We don't know and players don't get much on how Charisma plays into this, though the DM does.1.

Baldwick promises the armor to be ready on Tuesday2. But it's not! So Cadman looks about for others that might join him on ADVENTURE! A brief peek at Retainers is offered, but nothing more than an idea that carousing has any possibly interested men and women distracted.

When the armor is ready, Wednesday?, Cadman is 30gp poorer and has an improved Armor Class of 23.

In Part 2, we'll get a quick introduction to Battles.




  1. [1] The Dungeon Masters Rulebook, the subject of another series, goes into some length regarding Charisma in Retainers, Monster interactions, and Negotiations. Players may learn through play how it works—or reading the DM Rulebook. It's not hard to imagine though it being a blackbox.

  2. [2] So, Tuesday is a day in this D&D Setting. Also a tad anachronistic.

  3. [3] Hence why I found it bothersome that the provided character sheet in the book had 3 written in the Armor Class box. It could not be erased.

Posted by caffeinated at 9:00 AM in d10

Wednesday, 4 September 2019

Basic D&D: Dice

Dice

This is a very important section. Be sure to read it carefully.
Frank is serious: he defines "dice" and "die" and provides instructions for rolling the four-sided die, "the one that looks like a pyramid."

Examples include how to roll "percentile" from a ten-sided die.

Color the numbers

It is not uncommon to hear Grognards tell tale of crayons and "inking" their dice. In fact, D&D came with a wax crayon to do just that! I still do that with GameScience dice as they are not inked and tumbled—thus polishing and rounding the edges.

Dice Notation

d4, d6, d8, d10, d12, d20, d% (also seen currently as d100). "d" here short for "die" and read simply as "dee-four" meaning "4-sided die," not "die 4-sided". Collectively, these types of dice are created from platonic solids consisting of congruent, identical faces. All of them are called polyhedrons and have specific notations that can lead one down a deep rabbit hole.

Multiple dice of a type have a notation common of simple Algebra. 4d6 is read "roll a six-side die four times and total the result." Uncommon die, such as three-side die, or d3, can be rolled as well and might be noted as 1d6/2, or d6/2, rounding up.

Finally, there is 1d10+2, which results in values 3-13.

Dice notation has taken on a form in the three decades since D&D was introduced. Tools and calculators using notation like 4d6kh3, or "roll four d6 and keep the highest three dice." Some calculators capture specific groups and much more, almost in a form not unlike Regular Expressions in computer programming.

The end of this most important section simply ends with "YOU ARE READY FOR YOUR NEXT ADVENTURE!" Next Cadman will go shopping and prepare to venture into hills beyond town. And we get a closer look at Combat in BECMI from the player's side before doing so. 

Posted by caffeinated at 9:00 AM in d10

Monday, 2 September 2019

Basic D&D: Your Character, Equipment and Experience

Magic Items

Frank wants us to use Ending #1 from the narrative introduction to D&D. Aleena died, Cadman recovers her body and takes it to her temple for burial. Cadman was given a Potion of Healing in this ending, so he instructs us to put that item in the space provided.

No 10' Poles

Our normal equipment items are listed next. Cadman is not doing too bad for himself. His assets, minus what Bargle stole from him, is over 100 gold pieces (gp) in value. And Cadman's got coins and a gem that Bargle missed, or left in haste, worth 200 gp.

We copy this list to the character sheet as instructed and learn a lot about a core experience mechanic of BECMI next.

Experience

Basic D&D characters advance in the game through experience. Each class—or race—advances differently and in Basic D&D the rules only look at the first three (3) levels of play. Cadman at level 1, or first, level is a Veteran. Second and Third levels, Warrior and Swordmaster1 respectively, come at 2000 and 4000 experience points, or XP.

Cadman's adventures with Aleena earned him 230 XP. The Goblin and Snake fight earned him 30 XP, and the coins and gem another 200 XP, an experience point per value in gold pieces. This mechanic was central to the original game and in fact suggests that killing monsters was less important than taking their stuff. Frank even suggests this: 

Did you notice that you get a lot of experience for treasure, and not much for killing monsters? It's better to avoid killing, if you can, by tricking monsters or using magic to calm them down.

Bonus XP

Cadman's 17 Strength score means that he earns extra 10% on all XP awarded. This is the Prime Requisite rule. A Fighter's Prime Requisite is Strength. All classes and races have a Prime Requisite and get this extra experience bonus.

Cadman gets another 23 experience points for a total of 253 XP. With each level gain with experience, Cadman will become more powerful though improvements to his Hit Points, Saving Throws and THAC0. 

Much about the Experience points bonus has been made in the intervening years. As well as the experience for gold value. I tend to take the rule at face value and play it straight. However, I have conceded that some "home rules" such as "characters only earn the experience for treasure if they buy things in town or sell the objects that would otherwise directly award them more XP. I actually like this home rule and often use it.

We have recorded Cadman's XP and understand how he can advance to second level, next Frank will introduce us to the dice of D&D. And soon we will travel to new caves near town for new adventures, but only after meeting a tailor that make suits of armor and getting into the details of Combat!




  1. [1] Named levels in BECMI is a nice little detail I love. It possibly adds a little to the story element of the game as well.

Posted by caffeinated at 9:00 AM in d10

Friday, 30 August 2019

Basic D&D: Your Character, The Character Sheet

The Character Sheet

Our Fighter-with-No-Name is no more. Cadman Cadsonn, Lawful Veteran, a Fighter of First Level. I almost went Neutral, after all Cadman values his life and will help others, if that will help Cadman. Or, I could pick Chaotic. Oh. "if I want to take the chance!"

Depending on the printing of the Red Box, new players could be very confused with the tour of the standard BECMI character sheet. I have two different printings. The first is a PDF which states it's a First Printing from May 1983. The second is a First Printing from May 1983. The problem is the character sheet in the center fold of the PDF is not the same character sheet in the center fold of the dead tree version.

Incorrect stats

The PDF version has incorrect Abilities, Hit Points, and Armor Class1. The printed copy corrects the Abilities and Hit Points, but the Armor Class is still incorrect. To the experienced player—as we all are—we shrug our shoulders and maybe correct them.

Only the provided character, and the instruction to use the one provided, has printed these incorrect values. This becomes incredibly confusing and I have 35 years of experience. I did a double take as the tour around the character sheet:

Since your fighter is wearing sturdy armor, your Armor Class is 4; write that number in the shield shape.

Wait. What? The number 3 is written there for me. What's my armor class?

This continues with Hit Points:

In the box above the words Hit Points, put 8.

Wait. The number 6 is written there for me. I'm confused.2

Ability Scores

The tour continues. If, in 1983, you had the uncorrected version of the character sheet you were instructed to "... carefully [fold] along the dotted line and then [tear] along the perforation" you got to this section and compared the table with the character sheet one probably became more confused.

I don't have any negative memories to suggest that these problems troubled me in 1984. It however has provided me with some amusement in blogging today. 

Adjustments

Page 10 introduces players to Ability Score adjustments framed against our "study" fighter. Each is discussed and not much has changed in the game 36 years, only the progression scale. In BECMI the upper and lower bounds of adjustments are 3 and -3, respectively.

Saving Throws

Cadman's Saving Throws are completed for you on the character sheet (and properly reflect a first level Fighter.

Special Abilities and Combat Chart

Cadman is a fighter. He can fight. Fighting is not a "special ability." The special abilities of other classes—and races!—are detailed later.

And we get to the mechanic that introduced me to Algebra, THAC0. THAC0, or To Hit Armor Class "Zero," oft spoken as "THACK-Oh", is shown as a "quick reference" chart on the front of the sheet. In the pages that follow we will get to use this chart a lot. Frank quickly introduces that all creatures have an Armor Class and roll a "twenty side die," adding or subtracting adjustments, to see if you can hit the Armor Class.

We are instructed to turn the Character Sheet over and we will equip Cadman for adventure as well as account for wealth. 'Til next time.




  1. [1] The Armor Class is actually correct, but should not have been printed on the sheet, but blank. We will learn that our fighter buys better armor in part of the narrative leading up to the Solo Adventure.

  2. [2] Six (6) is technically also correct, but again it should not have been printed. Our fighter's Constitution score of 16 gives him a +2 adjustment. This was properly included in the revised printing it seems.

Posted by caffeinated at 9:00 AM in d10

Wednesday, 28 August 2019

Basic D&D: Your Character, Alignment

Alignment

Alignment in Basic D&D is far coarser than the granularity introduced in Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, or AD&D. The evolution of Alignment is fairly well documented.

BECMI can trace its Alignment "poles" to the original releases and many recent "retro clones" or "simulacrums" that seek to capture BECMI or B/X or the Rules Compendium return to this three pole Alignment system.

Behavior

In Dragon #60 John Lees tried to get very analytical on Alignment in the AD&D ruleset and looked at three factors in any behavior that might be modeled in play from Alignment, morality, ethics, and laws

Basic D&D simply introduces Alignment with: "Take a moment, and think about how your character behaved. The fighter was one of the 'good guys.'" The magic user and goblin were "the bad guys."

In contemporary games of D&D, Alignment still exists and players struggle with the aspects of behavior defined by it. This is, in my opinion, due to the tilting of the scales in favor of story development in the game, and to some extent the rise of "Character Concepts." Adherence to an Alignment gets in the way.

"It's what my character's alignment says she would do!" is a not a joke that we laugh about, it's a real thing.

So, in Basic D&D we are presented with the three Alignments and the common behaviors attributed to them in the context of good and bad guys.

Lawful. Our Fighter-with-No-Name "tries to protect others and defeat monsters." This is a broad behavior that defines our fighter in the narrative. Aleena was too, and besides our Charisma attributes, affects our attitudes toward one another. "...if [our] Alignments were different, [we] probably wouldn't have been so friendly..."

Chaotic. Bargle, and the gobbo, are Chaotic, the polar opposite of Lawful. Interesting enough "most people don't like Chaotics" we're told. Normally. I emphasize normally because, as we will find in AD&D, the almost binary definition of Alignment behaviors creates artificial limits in play as attributable to the above idea that Lawful and Chaotic characters at the table would be morally and ethically opposed. In fact, Frank suggests in the example, only magic could make us get along and cooperate.

Neutral. We find that monsters and NPCs and even Characters can be Neutral. It is a balance, not "stupid"—in fact, we are reminded that the Intelligence attribute has nothing to do with Alignment. Snakes and many animals are Neutral.

THAC0, the movie.

In THAC0 Bill Stiteler, writer-director-producer, reminds us in a scene recalling the Satanic Panic of the 80s, that "most of the time we were good characters fighting evil." Alignment in many ways was a mechanic to reinforce these behaviors.

Cookie Jar Philosophy

Unfortunately, in the subtext of introducing Alignment, Frank is making Chaotic synonymous with Evil. The "temptation" to play Chaotic almost becomes an expectation. In fact, we learn in the history of D&D many of the most iconic characters of players in the development of D&D were in fact Chaotic or Lawful Evil (an AD&D alignment and often compared to Darth Vader, if he had an Alignment).

More on Alignment

We will learn specifics about each Alignment much later in the rules, including examples of behaviors in a game. On the very next page, we will also learn about Alignment Languages! And oh what wonderful debates have been had about that mechanic.

But before that, we'll take a tour of the Character Sheet.

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Monday, 26 August 2019

Let's read Basic D&D: Winning

Winning

Frank closes the first eight pages of Basic D&D with eight paragraphs that can be summed up as "We play games to have fun and each player "wins" by having fun."

As our Fighter-with-No-Name succeeded, "[our] character 'wins'." While dying in this adventure was likely off the table, though possible, playing can still be fun. Just make a new character. Here, I think Frank validates that early D&D was quite mortal. Dungeon Crawl Classics succeeds quite well at validating this early play style. But is Frank also providing us permission to "let go" and embrace the mortality of D&D characters at low levels? I think so.

Frank reinforces that the fun of D&D stems from succeeding, as does "winning," but no one loses, as the game does not end. The game "is a little of both" story and game. Dying can be part of a larger story. Yet, as one engages further, learning "more and more" the game will come to the forefront and using the rules "you have learned to use your imagination." 

The encounters, Frank hopes, have come to life your mind's eye. Indeed, for me, 36 years later, they still burn in my mind's eye. I have never forgotten Bargle or Aleena. Elmore and Easley brought it all to life (and in the pages ahead continue too). But maybe Frank plays the story elements of D&D down just a little bit:

[The Story] is another part of the fun in a DUNGEONS & DRAGONS game.

For me the story is an equal part of any D&D game I run and the rules—or game—provide a way to frame story. The dice provide the friction to possibilities in the mind's eye. I've said to people, without the rules and the dice, "... then we are just playing pretend." In "pretend" I can affirm or deny any result, or in combat, just declare 'I hit you!' and 'You miss me!'"

We'll look at Your character next time, starting with Alignment and examining the Character Sheet, front and back.

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Friday, 23 August 2019

Let's read Basic D&D: Doors, Thieves, and Story

Locked Doors and the Party

Aleena and Fighter-with-No-Name venture deeper into the caves, avoiding the route the ghouls took and encounter a locked door. There are no dice rolled, only narrative. Aleena asks you to break down the door, to no avail. Aleena laments your weakness and pines for a thief. Ok, she is disappointed at the idea of treasure behind locked doors and suggests next time they bring a thief!

The idea of a party is being seeded by Frank. A thief can pick locks—and pick your pocket! Aleena even seeds the idea that one better be watching your own purse around a thief. Though it's all good intentions or at the very least not Evil. 

Aleena "usually goes ADVENTURING" with a Thief and a Magic User. "...and a couple of big fighters like YOU to handle the rough stuff."

We certainly can read between the lines on this that Aleena is at least an experienced adventurer, so my earlier guess of her being 2nd or 3rd level is not too far fetched.

Bargle, murderous and bad Magic User

Aleena leads our hero further still and you hear voices ahead. "It's Bargle, one of those bad Magic Users," says Aleena. Bargle has charmed a Goblin, the same goblin that ran from you in the cave entrance.

Frank really leans into the narrative. But again, and I've been stressing this throughout these posts: it's circa 1983! There is something about how D&D was played by the Grognards that contemporary players, e.g., 21st century players are rehashing, dare I say "inventing," only they are not. They are at best rediscovering how the game was played and have failed to read the source documents.

But I digress. Aleena and the Fighter-with-No-Name have decided to take the fight to Bargle and the goblin. A quick flip of the pages reveals only two outcomes. As part of the history of the game Bargle and Aleena are touchstones to the past. And there is part of me that wants to reach into the narrative on these pages and change the outcomes. But let's get through the fight and close this chapter

Box Text and a Fight!

Goblin: 2 HP, Fighter: 8 HP

The opening rounds of this fight start with Box Text and some narrative. Throughout the fight Aleena is struggling to find and hit Bargle. Bargle opens the fight casting Invisibility on himself. Aleena hits Bargle at least once with a wild swing, but you, the fighter, are concentrating on the gobbo.

Round 1

The goblin misses his first attack. Because the goblin attacks first, we can draw the conclusion that Bargle and the goblin have Initiative—which is not introduced until much later. The fighter rolls a 6. Again, ability bonuses are not being added.

Round 2

The goblin hits the Fighter. Ouch, two points of damage. The fighter hits with 15. Bargle appears with a Magic Missile ready. He points it at Aleena and it hits. "She wails and falls with a sigh..." 1

Round 3

Goblin: 1 HP, Fighter: 6 HP

Bargle moves to the corner. The goblin hits—narratively, no roll is made—OUCH! The fighter swings and misses!

Round 4

Goblin: 1 HP, Fighter: 4 HP

Goblin swings and misses and you hit with a 15! The goblin falls to the ground.

Round 5

Goblin: 0 HP, Fighter: 4 HP

Bargle casts a spell and as you charge him you feel it in your mind. Roll a Saving Throw vs. Spells. The target is 17.2 The roll is 10. You are Charmed.

Ending #1

In failing the Saving Throw, Bargle charms you, helps you loot the bodies of Aleena and the Goblin, then leads you through the caves toward daylight. He then casts Sleep and you collapse outside. No saving throw, this is all in the narrative.

You wake, find that you've been robbed by Bargle and likely escaped a coup de grace simply because Bargle got spooked, or you guess. But Aleena! 

This ending concludes with you, the fighter, going back into the caves to recover Aleena's body. Chased from the caves by the ghouls, escaping to daylight and recalling the words of Aleena, "...creatures of darkness..." you surmise the ghouls won't follow.

Back in town, you deliver Aleena's body to her church for a proper burial and receive a Potion of Healing as a gift.

You are ready for adventure, if a bit sad at the loss of Aleena.

Touchstones to the Past

I cannot stress enough that Aleena and Bargle have stayed with me thick and thin. 36 years later, I believe there is part of me that still wants to change the words on the page in the narrative, but know that Aleena advanced to become a powerful priestess. And Bargle met a suitably nasty end dabbling in magic he should not have.

Making it all so much worse is that Ending #2 is no different in outcome for Aleena, she perishes. And in this version of the story, you as the Fighter-with-No-Name, can deliver a vengeful blow to Bargle, killing him. A proper burial for Aleena and a Potion of Growth is awarded at the church.

Next, we look at Frank's words on "Winning D&D."




  1. [1] I've been arguing that Aleena is a 2nd or possibly 3rd level Cleric. Magic Missile does 2-7 (1d6+1) points of damage. At 2nd Level, a cleric could have, depending on Constitution, 1-14 HP (2d6+/-3), or 1-21 HP at 3rd Level. As a Cleric, a Constitution of 10-12 could be expected, so no adjustment. Bargle is also 1st to 3rd Level and can only cast one missile. The average HP for 2d6 is 7 and 11 for 3d6, so Aleena is very likely a 2nd Level Cleric with an average amount of Hit Points and Bargle rolled for maximum damage!

  2. [2] This is not right. The narrative specifically states that a 16 or less is a fail. However, the fighter has a Saving Throw vs. Rods, Staves, and Spells of 16. So, a 16 would "save." Fighter-with-No-Name is not a Normal Man after all.

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Wednesday, 21 August 2019

Let's read Basic D&D: Charisma, Wisdom and Ghouls

Charisma

Our fighter's likability is a measure of his Charisma, our newest Ability Score. The fighter has a Charisma of 14. A low score may have meant Aleena would "have been very cautious and might not have offered to cure you!"

This single paragraph of narrative is packing a lot of expectations a new player might not be introduced as the player, but more than likely through the DM and actual game play, especially around Morale and Retainers. It may be enough to say that if you read this for the first time, the ticking time bomb is set for developing expectations of the  Charisma attribute.

Wisdom

Our fighter in this story may lack some common sense with a Wisdom score of 8. This is compared and contrasted with Aleena's 17. In this, we are introduced to how classes have specialties and those specialties are affected by high and low Ability Scores. The dump stat is most casually introduced for generations to come.

Sharing Adventures and Ghouls

Walking together, apparently considering the treasure split, Aleena and Fighter-with-No-Name encounter Ghouls. Aleena explains that as a Cleric, she "has power over these dark creatures." Aleena steps forward with a religious symbol—we know it's religious as it is a symbol the fighter recognizes from a church in town. Her faith turns the lot of them.1

Aleena cautions our hero not to chase them. The turning is temporary.

Doors and Thieves

Our first door is encountered and we will soon know what kind of friends Aleena has.




  1. [1] Ghouls have 2 Hit Dice. Four ghouls total eight (8) hit dice. Not discussed in the narrative is the DM determines the number of hit dice effected by the Turn Undead attempt. Assuming Aleena is at least a little more experienced than our fighter—hell, she practically is teaching the fighter how to survive in a dungeon—at 2nd or 3rd Level, Aleena needs a 9 or a 7 on 2d6 to turn ghouls, respectively of level.

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Monday, 19 August 2019

Let's read Basic D&D: Your introduction to NPCs, Magic and Dragons

Thank you Aleena.

Deeper into the caves you venture. Frank, or the writer, here continues a narrative of your Fighter-with-No-Name carefully navigating the caves. From watching the amount of light from your lantern, to your reaction finding a "beautiful woman," wearing armor and holding a mace—a rod with a metal ball at one end—and "meditating or praying."

Aleena is cautious. She wants to help, but "watches you carefully, in case you are dangerous." Aleena, like you, is "an ADVENTURER!" (emphasis mine).

Roleplaying Prompts

While the conversation with Aleena is forced in the narrative, we are being prompted to carry on a conversation with her. "Stop and imagine what your character would say."

I think we lose these details of early role-playing prompts when discussing BECMI or B/X. Frank is not just creating the narrative of the exploration of the caves, but he is suggesting to the reader to think about encounters in town or the wilderness or a dungeon and our character's place in that world.

He is never explicitly calling role-playing out, but he is giving us permission in his presentation of the story. At this point in the history of the game, I also believe the game evolves from its beginnings in the correspondence of Gygax and Arneson.

Clerics and Magic Users and... Dragons...?

Frank is assuming of the reader that the ideas are new. Aleena explains the role of Clerics in the world without any introduction to religions of the setting. Aleena has the power to cast spells from her meditation and she heals the Fighter! 

Aleena sits down with your Fighter after healing you and discusses Magic Users. Magic is something you know exists, but have rarely encountered in town. Magic Users memorize spells from books, not like Aleena, she meditates.

Aleena waxes on about the dangers of nefarious uses of all magic, clerical or arcane—though she does not use that descriptor—as well as an immersive narrative on Saving Throws versus Magic Wands, Turn to Stone, Paralysis, Dragon Breath! and Spells or Magic Staffs.

This narrative does feel like forced exposition. In my opinion the context permits this narrative. Aleena is explaining the world to our Fighter-with-No-Name and we are coming to like the Non-Player Character (NPC). Elmore's iconic depiction of Aleena is almost burned into our heads. She is armed and in full chain mail armor.

Charisma and Wisdom

We will be introduced next to two new Ability Scores, Wisdom and Charisma, and more denizens of dungeons and caves.

Posted by caffeinated at 9:00 AM in d10

Saturday, 17 August 2019

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

Rattlesnake!

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?

Blow-by-Blow

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.

Next

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