It's been a month since my last post in this series. My apologies. The end of the grad school semester, the approaching birth of our second son, an extra project for one of my professors, the release of the first bits of 5E, and Arrow Season 2 conspired against me the past month. At least with regard to posting about Mentzer Basic.
This section, about 1 1/3 pages, covers some general advice on game systems and exploration within the game for new players. And it's one of those gems of a section that really seem pitch perfect to me to explain certain concepts to a new gamer. It gives solid advice about game mechanics, but just enough hints about "in-game" activities to get the player thinking creatively.
The first sub-section is on equipment, and explains what certain items on the equipment list are, and what they can be used for. These are the sorts of tips that you could pick up from other players if you begin playing with an experienced group, but if everyone is new no one might think to try.
One interesting note in this section is that Frank suggests poking things with a 10' pole might eliminate a surprise check. I've had games in the past where even poking something suspicious with a pole didn't prevent surprise, but I will try to remember this one going forward. It also just made me realize as I typed this, that the standard "traps are set off on a 1 or 2 on 1d6" rule from Holmes (and Moldvay?) is really a surprise check. Again, note to self to remember this.
The next section on time explains game turns and rounds, the distinction between game time and real time, and that sometimes the DM will skip to the exiting bits. Also, many every-day or common sense actions should just be assumed.
Related closely is the next section on movement. We get general movement rates explained (per turn, per round, running per round, unencumbered and encumbered speeds). At the end of the section, sort of easy to forget, especially for the DM, are rules for exhaustion. After running for 20 rounds (the book says 5 minutes, but that should be 30 rounds; 20 rounds is just over 3 minutes), characters will need to rest for 30 minutes (3 turns). Fighting while exhausted results in a +2 bonus to monsters to hit, and a -2 to hit and damage for you.
Listening is the next section. Good advice for new players. Listen at doors. Listen down hallways. Gather what clues you can so you can make informed decisions. However, it's explicitly stated that everyone gets one shot at listening in any instance.
Light is next. Tinder boxes are explained. The pros and cons of torches and lanterns are explained. Light can ruin chances to surprise monsters. Elf and Dwarf infravision is given a bit more detail about the sorts of things you can and can't see.
Doors. They come in two types, normal doors which may be easily opened, stuck and in need of bashing, or locked. Secret doors may be the type we usually think of, with hidden switches and sliding panels, or they may simply be concealed normal doors. Reading this reminds me that I use too many "secret" doors and not enough concealed doors in my dungeons.
The next section is on traps. Some basic types are explained. Pit traps are listed as the default option, although poisoned chests and doors, blade traps, and poisoned needles are also mentioned. Searching for traps is listed as less time consuming than searching for secret doors (from the previous section). Secret door searches cover a 10'x10' area in one turn, while a trap search covers a 20'x20' room or 20' stretch of corridor (shouldn't that be a 40' stretch of corridor?) in one Turn.
Wandering monsters are explained, and a warning is given that they are nuisances best avoided, especially as they rarely have treasure.
The next section covers using miniature figures to represent characters, suggesting that if they are used, they can be used to show marching order. Of course, "Official DUNGEONS & DRAGONS(r) figures are available." Graph paper or a vinyl mat are suggested to be used for mapping the dungeon, and the final small section suggests this should be done at a scale of 1 inch = 10'.
My reaction on re-reading this, is very positive. I remember getting ideas about equipment uses from this when I first read it, and it also boils down some of the game concepts that players will want to be familiar with (Dungeon Masters need to know by heart) such as time, movement, and perception. In general, it gives a new player most of the information they will need to play smart and keep their PC alive during exploration phases of the game.