Monday, March 30, 2015

Mentzer Basic Cover to Cover: Your First Game

The next several posts in this series cover the tutorial group adventure, which is designed to teach a neophyte DM how to run a game, just as the tutorial games in the Players' Manual taught a new player how to play the game.

This post will focus on the introduction to the Group Adventure, and the next few posts will cover the adventure itself.  Because the introduction is less than half a page, this post will be brief.

First of all, the adventure is written in such a way that, as Frank states right off the bat, it will give you all the information you need, up to what to say even.  Yes, there is the infamous boxed text for the new DM to read.  Love it or hate it, it serves a specific purpose in this adventure.  While I've read many (veteran) DMs complaining about it, I used it to learn what sorts of things I should be communicating to players in my games by riffing off of it.  When I first moved from making simple dungeons with notes on monsters and treasure written right on the map (my earliest dungeons) to more nuanced adventures, I made my own boxes of text in my notes so I would remember what to say when the players hit those encounters.  Later I moved on past the need for that, but at first it did help me.

Next, it is suggested that we at least take a look at the rest of the book, but there's no need to read it all in detail yet.  Everything important has been provided in the adventure key.  Of course, things could easily go off the rails with an experienced set of players, but I remember running this adventure for the first time with Killingmachine and my cousin Ben.  They, also being new to D&D but having experience with CYOA books and video games (Atari, this was pre-Nintendo when we all rode dinosaurs through 10' of snow to school, up hill both ways...) they pretty much were content with the options they were presented with and didn't try anything unusual.  When I ran this module for some veteran players a couple years ago, it was quite different and I never would have been able to handle it as a newbie DM.

We're given a DM's Player checklist to prepare for the game (paraphrased):
1. Does everyone know how to play, and have they read the starter adventures in the players' book?
2. Have you the DM read the book so far, and looked over the rest?
3. Can all of you answer the 5W of the adventure?
4. Do the players have their characters ready?
5. Is there a Caller, a Mapper, and does the mapper have graph paper and pencil?

The checklist is somewhat useful, but obviously points 1 and 2 will not always apply.  Questions 3 to 5 are more generally useful and it's good to be in the habit of checking these things at the start of every session.  In my early days, we often skipped #3.  I had a dungeon.  The players had adventurers.  There were monsters and treasures inside.  That was enough.  These days, I find making sure the players have enough information to know what they're doing and why helps my games run more smoothly.

The next section is again good advice for the beginning DM.  Make an adventure checklist.  Write down the name, class and AC of each character on the adventure.  Note the marching order.  Use the rest of the sheet to keep track of time, monsters encountered, treasure found, etc.  Again, in the very earliest years, we'd go into a dungeon.  After an encounter, I'd award XP and players would divvy up treasure and add it to their sheets.  Yes, every time.  I have mentioned how easily we were influenced by video games, right?  Nintendo hadn't appeared when I first got the Basic Set, but it was just around the corner...  Now, I realize the importance of waiting until the end of the game to award XP.

Well, that's enough reminiscing about my early days as a DM.  It's good to think back on it now and then, to see how far I've come.  I'll do my best to not be so lax about posting in this series.  It's already the end of March and I'm still only on page 4 of the book.  Look for the next installment next Monday, because I've got a split shift on Mondays with plenty of time to post on the blog now that I've settled in to the new job.

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