Saturday, December 21, 2013

Mentzer Basic Cover to Cover: What Comes Next/Character Classes

The next page in the Mentzer Basic Players Manual, p. 23 for those following along at home, is divided into two sections.  The top has a section transitioning from the solo stuff to the idea of group games.  The bottom section has a bit of general information on character classes.

What Comes Next?

Well, according to this, you could keep replaying the solo adventure, or you could go out and buy a couple of solo modules, M1 Blizzard Pass and M2 Maze of the Riddling Minotaur.  I personally have never played either of these, and I've heard that the invisible ink pen needed to play them makes them sort of unplayable after that first time.  And from what I hear, PDFs of them are sort of useless.  I wonder if a PDF with the invisible stuff unreadable would make a good skeleton for a DM to use to make it into their own adventure?  Maybe.  But that's sort of off topic.

We finally get an explanation of the Dungeon Master, with advice to the prospective DM to read at least the first section of the Dungeon Master's Rulebook to familiarize themselves with the sample step-by-step group game.

Players are encouraged to just keep playing the Nameless Fighter (as it says, it never hurts to have more Fighters) all with different names, or to take one of the other sample PCs from the middle of the book, read over that character class's description, and have everyone read through the solo adventure stuff or have one player who has read it explain everything.  It also gives some page references to some other info later in the book that might be useful to know (or at least be familiar with) in group games.

Good advice to new folks to the game, but unnecessary for more experienced gamers.  I guess it's sections like this that give the Mentzer Basic Set a bad reputation.  Moldvay Basic makes a much better reference book, to be sure.  The meaty information is spread around in the Mentzer book, but the format did allow a large number of new gamers to learn the game without any mentoring.  As players (I probably mentioned this before), back in the day, we mostly used the Expert Set for PC information once we had it, since except for low level spell descriptions, it had all the information we needed.

Character Classes

This section obviously gives an overview of character classes, but other than introducing the demi-humans, it doesn't explain what each class is about.  It would be repetitive, since the human classes are explained in the tutorial section.  Also, each class will be explained in detail on the following pages.  Most modern RPGs have devoted this space to a brief description of each class before providing all the details, so it seems a bit sparse to me, reading it now.

We are again advised that while we could create our own characters, it would be better to use the Fighter or one of the other sample PCs in our first group games.  There is definite value in having pre-gens so that new players can just jump in and start playing.  On the other hand, character creation is so simple in Classic D&D that it's not so hard to walk a new player through it.  For a starting DM, though, the pregens are likely very handy. 

I don't remember if we ever did use the pregens or not.  My old Elf character Belrain may have used the pregen Elf stats.  I definitely borrowed the name from the class description.

We get an explanation of the Prime Requisite concept next.  "Each character has a specialty."  It explains the XP bonus/penalty attached to the PR, and how to calculate it.
Finally, we get a short reminder of saving throws.  The text doesn't explicitly state that each class's saves are different, only that players should note their class's numbers on their sheet, and a reminder to just roll 1d20 and try to meet or beat the number listed when the DM tells you to make a saving throw.

As a kid, I think the most valuable thing on the page were the images of the seven classes.  Pictures are worth a thousand words, and these profile pictures (by Easley or Elmore?  I can't tell which, although I'd guess Easley) do actually show what to expect from each class rather well.

I'm thinking now, since I play in a few PbP games on, that I should send in these pictures for portraits.  I don't remember seeing any of them on there.


  1. Yeah, the art in the Mentzer box really IS D&D for me. I remember spending hours pouring through the books over and over just taking in the art. Not to get too pervy, but the Cleric in the tutorial was smoking... she filled out her chainmail quite well.

    The other boxes were also quite awesome art-wise. The Expert set's Vampire illustration is forever etched in my mind. The artist really nailed that one. The hair, the mouth (looked like it would be awesome at sucking lifesblood... full lips... muscular jaws). The illustration's eyes also suggested the creature's hypnotic abilities. Very cool stuff.

    I know this will sound weird, but I'd love to see a re-release of this generation (BECMI) as a single streamlined volume (perhaps with some Compendium stuff thrown in). To me, the Compendium was cool but way too dry. The graphic design and the art also very sub-par compared to the boxed sets. I remember the page numbers being exceptionally poor graphically, same font as the body text and were they even bolded?

  2. Yeah, I always had trouble finding the page numbers in the border with the RC. And yeah, I'd pay good money for a BECMI/RC reprint that used original BECMI art. Wouldn't bother me if they through in the Otus/Willingham/Sutherland art from BX as well as the Elmore/Easley/Holloway stuff from BECMI.

    And yeah, Aleena the Cleric was hot. BARGLE!!!

  3. Those character portraits seems way too old to be first level. But, I never liked the BECMI artwork. It lacked the fantastic elements of earlier art.