Monday, April 13, 2015

Mentzer Basic Cover to Cover: Group Adventure

The Group Adventure consists of a lot of numbered passages, with Choose Your Own Adventure style "do A, go to section X, do B, go to section Y" prompts at the end of each.  At the time, CYOA books were the rage.  I was into them.  My brother and sisters were into them.  Many of my friends were into them.  And not just the CYOA series, but TSR's Endless Quest books, Twist-a-Plot, Fighting Fantasy, and all kinds of other second person narrative, non-linear fiction books.  So this seems like a good choice on the part of Frank Mentzer to get new players (who would mostly be young) into the game easily.

In this post, I'll cover entries 1 to 19, which get the party through the ruins around the dungeon.

First off is a long bit of description about the trip from town to the ruins.  It's fairly railroady, but my players didn't complain at the time.  It's just a segue from "you're shopping in town" to "you're at the dungeon, what do you do?"

After this, a DM only section reviews a few rules, and advises the DM to start tracking time.  The "game" has begun.

The first encounter is with a carrion crawler that hides under the fallen gate.  The DM is actively encouraged to try and get the players to investigate.  It doesn't say what to do if they don't, only that you should warn them that "hidden monsters behind the party is a bad thing."  While this is a training module, that could set a bad precedent.

When I first ran this adventure, I had my two best friends over, and they each had a character - one Fighter and one Elf.  The carrion crawler paralyzed the Fighter, but we missed the fact that an Elf is only immune to ghoul paralysis, so the crawler was ineffective against the Elf.  Also, I messed up Turns and Rounds, so the Fighter was only out of it for 3 rounds, not 3 turns.  Well, they needed that help anyway, since there were only two of them and otherwise they would have been crawler snacks.  Frank says in his notes to the DM that this should be an easy encounter, but well, 8 paralyzing attacks per round is a bit much, even if they don't do any damage.

Next, the main gates of the castle wall are shut as the PCs approach.  There are kobolds guarding the gate.  This encounter is much better designed.  It offers multiple approaches to the problem, rewards planning and tactical thinking, and also rewards players who are less vicious (leave at least one alive, it will show you to some hidden treasure).  Most of this section is taken up with covering a variety of ways the party might approach and investigate the problem, as well as many different ways to run the confrontation between the party and kobolds (spells, melee, ranged combat, a mix of tactics).

One thing I like about this section, although I really can't remember if we did this when I first got the game or not, is a suggestion that after this encounter is finished, to read through the other options, or even play through them as a way to show the players different ways they could handle the encounter.  That's a good learning tool, right there.  If the players made a bad choice at the beginning, it can show them better ways.  If they were smart or just got lucky, it will show them how things could have gone worse.  And the lesson they will learn (hopefully) is that combat is deadly, stack the odds on your side.

So while I don't really like how the first encounter plays out (too restricted), the second and longer encounter is an excellent teaching tool for new players.

Apologies for not getting to this last week.  Life is hectic these days.  Only getting three posts up last month was unfortunately a harbinger of things to come, I'm afraid.  And my first post of this month is this one, and the month's half over already.  One reason for that is a side project I'm working on which I hope to announce soon.  The pictures in this post are related to that.


  1. I picked up the actual Mentzer basic rather late in life (after 2005, if I am remembering correctly). Tried running the opening adventure three times; never once did anyone make it past the carrion crawler (even knowing it was there on successive attempts).

    Does it mean something that I see CYOA and think "cover your own ass?"

  2. Yeah, if I'd gotten the rules right (elves can be paralyzed, paralysis lasts 30 minutes), it would have been a TPK on our first outing. I didn't read a suggested number of players for the adventure, but I'm guessing it's designed for at least five PCs, maybe more.

    And I read new acronyms strangely, too. For a long time, when people started using the "SMH" acronym on social media, I had no idea what it stood for. I kept trying to think of an H word to go after "suck my..." which shows where my mind goes when I see acronyms on the internet.