Monday, May 12, 2014

Mentzer Basic Cover to Cover: How to Prepare

The next several sections fall under the heading of "Playing in a Group" and give advice for finally going beyond the solo play tutorials at the beginning of the book.  This first part is on general advice for play, especially things to do and think about before the game starts.

The first bit is for beginners only.  Make sure everyone has read this book, and that whoever will be the DM has read the Dungeon Master's Rulebook.  Frank suggests sticking to the starter adventure instead of using a purchased module for the first few game sessions.  I did just that back in the day, and it's not a bad little dungeon (I've used it again and again in the intervening years).  But I know that Holmes Basic came with either B1 or B2 and Moldvay Basic came with B2, and I assume many DMs started out running one of them, or the caves under Zenopus' Tower (Holmes) or the Haunted Keep (Moldvay).  YMMV on this one, I guess.

Setting Up: make sure everyone has pencils, erasers, paper, dice, character sheets, snacks, etc.  Players are given permission to access the Player's Manual whenever they need it, but forbidden from looking at the Dungeon Master's Rulebook during play. 

Mapper and Caller: Mapping, for me at least, has always been fun.  It's advised that everyone learn how to do it, but over the years we've realized that certain types of adventures don't rely on careful mapping.  That's not an indictment, and it's good to have more than one player able to map some adventure site in case it does become necessary.  Recently, with our online games and whiteboard, the DM just draws the map to save time. 

Caller is something I don't think I've ever used extensively.  When we were kids, there usually weren't enough of us to bother.  If we'd had groups of seven to twelve players, callers might be necessary.  Also, Frank tells us that the caller is just a reporter, giving the final decision to the DM - NOT the final judge who makes the decision.  Whenever I've heard of people using a caller, it's usually listed as the caller's role to make the final decision.  If you can trust the caller, I suppose it's more efficient that way, but that wasn't the original intention.  The caller is there as the safety filter to keep players from doing stupid things like wandering off on their own or pressing the obviously dangerous button just by calling it out to the DM.  Unless the caller says you will do it, it doesn't happen.  So I guess it's a good idea to keep that player who wants to randomly screw up everything from being the caller.

First Steps to Take: Again, I am happy to see how succinct Frank can be at explaining game concepts.  My long, rambling Tackling the Megadungeon post series was designed to get players to consider some of these things, which Frank lays out quite nicely.  I'll just copy/paste this here (and hope the OCR of the PDF doesn't lead to any weirdness):
When all the players are together, with characters ready, each player should take a moment to think about the adventure to come. Some of these things apply to players, and some apply to the characters.
  • Who is your character, and who are the other characters? Have you adventured with them before, or not? Are any of them friends - or enemies? Should you keep an eye on any one character? Who can you trust completely?
  • Why are you going? Are the characters just out to explore, or is someone looking for a specific item? Are you out to rescue a prisoner, destroy a famous monster, or some other goal? Games are usually more fun if a specific goal is kept in mind; if nobody is sure just what they want to do, you can waste a lot of time doing nothing.
  • Where are you going? Nearby caves, or a castle, or some other dungeon? Have you bought the equipment you need to explore?
  • When are you going? Do you plan to explore a dungeon at night, when more dangerous creatures could be around? Players: decide when the game will end; it’s very easy to play longer than you intended. Set a time for quitting, and stick to it! Remember to leave some time for dividing the treasure found.
  • What are you going to do? Look for big monsters or small ones? Will you run from danger, or face it? What can your party do, considering the abilities and special items available amongst the characters? (Player's Manual p. 53)
Treasure: decide on how to divide up the loot before the adventure starts, a suggested method is provided below.

Marching Order: general common sense advice - keep Fighter-types up front, with a rear guard as well, and Thieves and Magic-users in the middle where they are protected.  Dwarves and Halflings should take the front rank so others may fire missiles or spells over them.

Tactics of Play: Some general play advice - let the combat types handle the combats, stick to marching order when moving, specialists should move forward to deal with special problems then get back in position, let the high Charisma PCs negotiate, and always have someone keeping watch for monsters when others are searching for traps, treasure or secret doors. 

Ending the Adventure: Some good advice given subtly here.  Of course as players you should stick to your ending time for the session even if things are going well, but also be prepared to retreat and end the session when prudent (Fighters are wounded, spellcasters are out or nearly out of spells, etc.).  Be sure to leave some time at the end for calculating XP and divvying up treasure, and resupply NOW (assuming the party heads back to a town) so you don't forget something important next session.  I know I've fallen into that trap often enough, especially with late night finishes.

Dividing Treasure: I don't think I've ever played in a group where this system was actually used.  In my experience, magic items are divided as need/want dictates, with random rolls for contested items, even if it's not "fair."  Then all the money is just divided evenly among the PCs.

The system listed here is as follows: if everyone gets a permanent magic item, divide money evenly between all characters regardless of other magic items acquired. 

If some get permanent items while others get temporary items, those with permanent items get a 1/2 share.

If some get permanent items, some get temporary items and some get nothing, then those with permanent items get no treasure, those with temporary items get 1/2 share, and those with no magic items get a full share.

It would be interesting to try some time.  Of course, I've always wondered - should a powerful wand or staff count as a temporary item due to its charges?  If so, you could walk away with a Staff of Wizardry and a full share of treasure while your companion gets a dagger +1 and a half share.  Obviously, common sense should come into play along with the general system presented here.

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