29 April 2011

Snook, 'Tis a Silly Place

Snook -- 'tis a silly place

We gamed again Wednesday night. It certainly wasn't the best session ever, but we had fun and laughed a lot.  So much so, in fact, that it led me to a realization about this group and their style that, in turn, has made me think of some rules changes.

The quick recap: the party exited Tergal's Dungeon and discussed how or if to use it as a base or hideout of some sort. Two strange figures wandered separately into camp.  One, an elf, came with a cart of assorted items that were all that was left of a raid by bandits.  The other was pursued by some monstrous troll/hobgoblin hybrid. The party defeated those and, of course, the two wanderers agreed to join up.

The still-charmed bandit, Gunter, recognized one of the items in. The elf's cart as a medallion bearing the crest of Snook, a small nearby town.  Hoping for a reward, the party went to Snook, only to find Snook had been beset by a string of robberies.  The party agreed to help after being promised reward and some equipment upgrades.  Learning that the thief was likely coming and going via the town well, they devised a Scooby-Doo like scheme intended to trap the culprit.  This, of course, did not work, so the party climbed down the well.  In the caves beneath, they fought a giant spider. We had to end there.

There are a couple of take-aways from this session that I am going to implement going forward that I hope will make the game more fun and run more smoothly.

1.  Build the Sandbox.  I simply don't have time to do a lot of prep, but I need to invest a little time in building the immediate environs for the game and populating it with potential adventure sites.  I will likely be using a lot of adventure modules for the actual adventures, but spending a few hours gathering my materials, making a rough map of the area, and deciding where each module "lives" would go a long way toward fleshing things out for me and my players.  I can also include my player's three sentences in this sandbox to generate more buy-in.  I really felt the transition from Knowledge Illuminates to the next module, The Dragonfiend Pact, was really forced by me.  I didn't like such heavy-handedness.  Having a better defined sandbox would help the players take more direction.  Right now, they don't know where to go because I haven't (literally) given them a map.

2.  My players are silly; what's that mean?  There was a lot of silliness around the table on Wednesday.  Three things stand out.  First was the chickens.  When new PC one arrived, with a cart, I asked him what was in the cart.  he listed a few "adventure-ish" sorts of things, then another player added "two chickens".  Those chickens, their care, and their potential magical properties ("Wouldn't it be awesome if they laid already-cooked omelets, and whatever you fed them showed up in the omelets!") then occupied us all for a good 15-20 minutes.  Second, the other new PC is a thief.  But he has decided he's more of a con-man, so another 15-20 minute conversation occurred during which the players discussed how he could claim he'd written some famous texts and, possibly, bilk senior citizens out of their gold with a real estate scheme.  Third, once the PC's were on the case in Snook, they launched into full Scobby-Doo mode, complete with assigned roles ("Okay, you're Velma!") and an elaborate plan.  Said plan consisted of a crate propped up with a stick tied to a rope and a gem.  You see where I am going with this. 

I think I need to mention that all of these players have advanced degrees. :)

I also need to make it clear that, 95% of the time, this sort of thing does not bother me at all.  Sure, during the Scobby-Doo bit, I did want to tell them "JUST GO DOWN THE WELL!" but most of the time, I think it's funny, and creative. Clearly they are enjoying themselves.  But you don't get a lot of XP for silly banter and witty references in Old School D&D.  Given that we play every other week for, at most, three-hours, this means there's not a tremendous amount of time for monster-fighting and treasure looting.

So, change the system?  RISUS seems made for this group.  But they are all familiar with D&D and seem to like it.

So what I think I may do it adopt some sort of different leveling system, something like the Jovial Priest's 2d6 System.

Also, I need to harness the silliness a bit.  More NPC's with which to interact.  More adventures that are, well, adventures but feature unusual or interesting elements.  I'm still musing on how to best accomplish this.

Still, we're having fun!

27 April 2011

Mentzer Reflections, Part 5: "Your Character"

After the walk-through adventure, the Player's Manual has a section called "Your Character."  While reading through this section, you note and fill in the included character sheet, learning more about all the details of your character (Ragnar, in my case).

Although the instructions are to tear out the character sheet at the center of the book, 11 year-old me did not follow these, thus preserving for posterity my first D&D character ever.  I'll try to scan and post this when I get some time.

Overall, I found this section to be fairly straightforward -- a good, basic instructional tool that gradually introduces readers to the increasing complexity of the game.  You learn more about ability score adjustments, saving throws (all six are now mentioned), money, and equipment.  Two sections, however, really contained some gems from my retrospective view.

First, there is the section on alignment.  This is actually the first section of the "Your character" chapter, though I am not sure it being first has anything to do with importance.  Likely, it's there because it's at the top of the character sheet.  It breaks down the three basic alignments -- lawful, neutral, and chaotic.  I remember thinking that lawful = good, chaotic = evil, and neutral = animal and this section really reinforces that interpretation.  Lawful beings protect others, chaotic creatures (like that damned Bargle) only care about themselves, and neutral things are survivors.  Deep moral theory it is not.  Personally, I don't recall ever having any qualms about alignment until I really started playing AD&D in high school.  Good, evil, and "neither because it's a snake" seemed perfectly fine for me at this introductory period to the game.  It is explained further later in the book, so we'll see what complexity gets added at that point.

The second thing I found interesting is contained in the "experience" section.  This is an introduction to the concepts of "experience points" and "Level".  It discusses how one earns XP and how one gains in levels.  It's fairly clear on the time investment the later takes.  Humans can go to level 36, but this takes "hundreds of games".  Given the "one year = one campaign from levels 1-20" formula brought on by 3E, I doubt this contrastingly glacial pace of advancement has much purchase in current D&D discussions.  That was interesting, but not unexpected.  What was really intriguing, however, was how one ought to earn XP.  Granted, you get XP by gaining treasure and killing monsters, but "it's better to avoid killing, if you can, by tricking monsters or using magic to calm them down."  That's the rationale for more experience earned for treasure as opposed to monsters -- it's harder and it's the desired strategy.  I found this fascinating, given how the game has completely abandoned the gp for XP model.  Here, though, the object is to get the loot without killing.  This not only reinforces the old school "player skill, not character ability" maxim (since it takes more player skill to avoid combat or trick monsters), but also shows continuity with the "everyone is really a thief" pulp fantasy vibe of OE.

Having completed these observations and filled in my character sheet, I am ready for my next adventure!  The next eight pages are a choose-your-own adventure dungeon, which begins in town with a Larry Elmore drawn blacksmith.

25 April 2011

Mentzer Reflections, Part 4: Bargle and Aleena

In my own pantheon of evil wizards, Sauron (whom, I know, isn't just a wizard) is followed closely by Bargle, the black robed fellow from the Red Box Basic set.  He sucks and killed my girlfriend.

Tonight I finished the introductory solo adventure in the Mentzer basic set, almost a month after I began.  As I played through the remainder, it occurred to me that there is really no choice or variability in this one until the very end.  I met Aleena, the cleric, her long blond hair flowing from beneath her finely crafted helm, her luminous eyes. . . err, where was I?  Sorry.  Aleena filled Ragnar in on a few more adventuring classes -- the cleric and the magic-user.  When she describes the cleric, no mention is made of a church, or divine power, or anything of the sort.  Clerics are simply trained in fighting and can cast spells after they meditate.  Magic-users, on the other hand, don't fight and learn their spells from books.  I wonder if the initial omission of the holy power of the cleric was an attempt to avoid scaring people with religious backgrounds or parents off.  We'll see how much the holy nature of the cleric is conveyed in the class section when I get to that.

My encounter with Aleena also gives me the last of my ability scores -- Wisdom (8) and Charisma (14).

There's also a short paragraph about teaming up -- "sharing adventures" that gives some in-game justification of the meta-game facts of group play.  More teammates means having to split the treasure, but it also means being able to defeat more dangerous monsters.

We venture onward and run into some ghouls.  Aleena turns them and explains about undead.  Here, we get a little bit of the religious nature of the cleric, as she "pulls a necklace out from under her armor, and you see that there is a symbol of one of the town churches on her silver chain."  After the ghouls, we find a locked door, which gives Aleena the opportunity to teach Ragnar about thieves.  Aleena's explanation makes Adventuring sound like a night out at the club: "I usually go adventuring with those types . . . unfortunately, nobody else wanted to come along this time."

Then, we hear voices!  That goblin I encountered earlier is getting chewed out by some black-robed guy whom Aleena recognizes as Bargle, a "bad magic-user".  We can't go back because of the ghouls, so we hastily make a plan and charge in.  Unfortunately, while we're discussing tactics, the magic-user turns himself invisible.  Aleena tries to find Bargle while I tackle the goblin.  I take two points of damage, but make short work (2 hits!) of the goblin.  Too bad I am too late to save Aleena, who gets blasted by a magic missile and falls.  Then, in the penultimate encounter, the son of a bitch casts a spell at me.  Now looks like a good time to learn about the saving throw!

Too bad the knowledge doesn't translate into high rolling; I roll a 14, but I need a 16.  Hey, Bargle is now my best friend!

There are two endings to the adventure, one if you fail the save and one if you make it.  I fail, so I end up helping Bargle loot Aleena (ouch!) and the goblin, then escorting him out of the dungeon.  He then promptly puts me to sleep and takes almost all of my stuff.  He leaves me my sword and misses the treasure I got from the snake.  Apparently, I feel really guilty, because Ragnar goes back into the dungeon to get Aleena's body.  With ghouls nipping at my heals, I make it back to town and take Aleena's body to her church.  They thank me with a potion of healing.  This, unfortunately, cannot mend a broken heart.

That's how it ended for me, but the book tells me to read the other ending as well.  In the happy ending, Aleena still dies, but I kill Bargle, getting a potion of growth and some gems.

The last part of this introductory adventure is called "winning".  Before I reread it, I was a little surprised.  Isn't this game supposed to be different -- with no winners and losers?  As it turns out, that's where the section ends up.  You win if you have fun, which can happen "even if your character gets killed". "The fun comes from doing it [the adventure] not ending it!"  The text explains that there are story elements, but there are more game elements as well, elements that will shortly be explained.  And, of course, a lot of the fun comes from using your imagination.

Way back in my youth, this obviously did it for me, as I was hooked.  Looking back at the solo semi-adventure, I think it does a good job of laying out some of the key elements of the game while being at least semi-interactive and fun.

Except for poor Aleena.

22 April 2011

I've gained a level in my character class.

The Academic Level Progression
Level     Title
1            Graduate Student
2            All But Dissertation
3            Doctor!
4            Assistant Professor
5            Tenured
6            Associate Professor
7            Full Professor
8            Endowed Chair/Distinguished Professor
9            Professor Emeritus

As of today, I am level 5!  (and expect to hear about level 6 in a couple of weeks).

This makes me a higher level academic than Indiana Jones who, understandably, was denied tenure.

21 April 2011

Mentzer Stops By!

Two not really related things today:

I really meant to post the next of my Mentzer reflections today, but went and left my Basic Players Handbook at home, so I wasn't able to compose my post at lunch.  I am redoubling my efforts to work my way through the BECM sets because . . . Frank Menzter commented on an earlier post!  How cool is that!  I certainly recognize all Mentzer's work that went into those sets and am beginning to recognize the challenge in taking a hobbiest game and translating it into something that can be self-taught.  Expect continued effort on that front.  And, Mr. Menzter, you are always welcome to comment!

Speaking of effort, I've waded through the blogroll; my RSS reader is now empty.  I certainly didn't read everything.  To be honest, I skipped a lot of the April A-Z stuff.  But it's nice to know there are those out there who can be so deadicated; it's also nice to know all of my fellow bloggers put out so much good stuff.  Thanks to those who pointed me to Jeff Reint's Dragon Magazine project.  That is, indeed, something cool.  I also wanted to highlight three other posts I thought were interesting, fun, and/or provocative in a creative way.

I really dug (see what I did there), Christian's post about Permaculture and RPG's.  Like Christian, I see a lot more people I know interested in gardening, eating locally, and trying to opt out of larger corporate food structures to some degree.  Seeing this as paralleling the DIY nature of the OSR was a nice comparison.

Similarly, What the Old School Reformation is Fighting For and Against at The Mule Abides.  It reaches high, comparing the OSR to the Protestant Reformation, but I think it gets a few things right and, hopefully, will warrant a full post of my own soon.  It also contains this gem of a sentence:
 we’re fighting to prevent devaluation of the original miracle of role-playing games: the greatest way ever invented to collaboratively create ideas that soar in the mind’s eye and explode like fireworks, leaving nothing behind but memory and satisfaction.
Nicely put.

Finally, Countdown to Game Time sent me to Real Military Videos (waring, there site has some fairly annoying video adds), which posted an OSS training film from the 1940's.  Nice inspiration for the Weird War II game I will run someday, dammit.

20 April 2011

Knolwedge Illuminates Actual Play Report, Part 2

This is part 2 of an actual play report of Tim of Gothridge Manor's module, Knowledge Illuminates.

So, where was I?  Oh, yes.  Half the party died.

That was slightly misleading.  Two party members died and one turned into a ghoul, who was then killed by the rest of the party.  So he un-died, was poisoned, then re-died.  But I get ahead of myself.

After the creepy ghoul room was a door, sealed with wax.  There was some muttering about "whatever is beyond that can't be good" before the decision to melt the wax with a torch so the door could be opened.  What was beyond the door was not, in fact, good.  It was a hallway filled with poison gas, which jetted out into the faces of the two party members melting the wax.  Two failed saves = six points of damage each for a first level cleric and theif = two dead PC's.  There was some general dismay before moving on into the corridor, then some backtracking to loot the fallen.

Next in Knowledge Illuminates is another very cool room - this one an altar and a burial chamber.  Tyhe PC's figured this part out fairly quickly, but having skipped the room with the pool and the dead body, they didn't immeidately see the room as connected with other goings on in the dungeon.  They did, however, toss one of their recently deceased comrades on the altar, to no effect.  I also think it was here that I decided Delaquain, the goddess sketched out in the module, was another incarnation of Xena.  Her given description matched Xena fairly well.  Who knows, maybe the entire pantheon will be various incarnations of 1990's fantasy TV shows.

Next, the party found a hidden compartment which hid a glowing red liquid in a vial.  After some jokes about hot sauce, they decided not to drink it immediately and proceede to the Workshop.  The Workshop had a nasty magical trap -- a rune that turned one into a ghoul if triggered. Of course the PC's triggered it, by stepping purposefully into the summoning circle drawn on the floor.  It was Raymond, the Count of Tripoli, who immeidately began his transformation.  In a desperate attempt to halt his growing craving for human flesh, he drank the bottle of red liquid and. .  . failed his saving throw.  He then became horribly sick AND turning undead.  Not Raymond's best day.  The party chained him up and left him in the workshop so they could explore the final room.

The final room is not the BBEG encounter, which I thought was a nice feautre of the adventure.  Instead, it gives the PC's the chance to totally screw themselves over, as it contains the key to the locked magical chest they found amidst the heap of dead bodies earlier in the dungeon, tucked inside a book resting in a dead man's hands.  The PC's found the key, but instead of making a mad dash back to the chest, they prudently decided to see what was written in the book first.  Reading the sorrid details of Tergul's fall, they decided to wait on opening the chest.

Pausing briefly to decapitate their former friend and now part-ghoul on the way out, the PC's exited the dungeon.

I'll freely admit to being worn out by the end of the adventure, so I hand waved a lot of the exit, including the room the PC's hadn't yet explored.  Thus, they didn't really encounter the shadow that lurked there, which was fine because I was thiking about eliminating that encounter anyway.

That's my only small compalaint about Knowledge Illuminates -- it's deadly.  I think I pulled some punches and toned it down in parts and half of the party still died.  That actually ended up setting a nice old-school tone.  My players were fine with it, but the adventure is pretty harsh.  We still had a great time.  I think the adventure itself is fun, with interesting encounters and a nice backstory that can easily lead to future adventures.  Certainly the Porters of Gideon will show up in the campaign; I am not sure if the PC's will decide to use this as a base of operations.  Right now, they are heading into town to cash in on the bandit bounty.

Thanks, Tim, for a fun adventure!

18 April 2011

If anything serious has happened in the blogosphere over the past week or so. . .

Someone just needs to tell me.

I've SERIOUSLY neglected my RSS feeds (which are about 80% OSR blogs) during the past week of work and travel craziness.  I knew it was going to be bad.  I had actually avoided checking it on my phone for fear of the device simply melting under the weight of unread posts.  I finally checked it from work today at lunch.

766 unread posts.

That's a lot.

The winner of the most posts while I was neglecting my feeds?  The awesomely thorough and well-researched War and Game, with 37 posts. If you're doing anything connected to historical gaming and, well, war, you need to check that blog out.

Thus, it's going to take me awhile to catch up.  So if anything undeniably awesome was posted in the past 10 days, point me to it and I'll check there first.


15 April 2011

Knowledge Illuminates Actual Play Report, Part 1

Our group met for the second time this past Wednesday to complete Tim of Gothridge Manor's Knowledge Illuminates.  We were joined by two new players who were unable to make it to the previous session.

I would characterize what follows as an actual play report, with notes and comments about the module Knowledge Illuminates interspersed throughout.  Thus, it's not a thorough review of the module, but more of a "this is what happened to us when we played it".  As I show below, I changed a few things from the module as written, either consciously beforehand or in the midst of actual play.  Since we actually started the module the previous session, this is really two sessions worth of gaming.  Given that each session lasts three hours max, however, I really think the module could be worked through in one session without much difficulty.

After using the Three Sentence Method to get things rolling with the players, I plopped them down on the Redden Rot Road mentioned in the module and had them immediately attacked by bandits.  I reduced the number of bandits from the published eight to six, given the four person party for our first session.  The elf immediately charmed one of the bandits (Gunter!) and the party dispatched the others without much difficulty.  The Drover Stream ran red with the blood of thieves!

Since it looked like Gunter would be charmed for a week, the party made quick use of him as a "tour guide" through the rest of the mini-sandbox wilderness portion of the adventure.  Gunter happily split the bandit treasure with his new friends, told them of a "glowing lake" he saw in the Lascon Thickets, and happily led the party to the ruins of a large statue.  Though the module lists the statue as Malichia, I decided it would be an early incarnation of Xena, the Warrior Princess, whom the party's cleric follows.

Yes, I know it's a bit silly.  No, I don't really care.  We're all having fun.

Speaking of fun, we all really enjoyed the mini-sandbox wilderness portion of the module.  The encounters are varied and interesting, if occasionally pretty tough.  There are plenty of places to add elements to connect it to a larger world.  Every encounter can easily be done within a single game session.

The party visited the Hangman Tree, finding it creepy but not doing much there.  They had much more interest in the giant's skeleton atop a nearby hill.  They spent considerable time poking about the giant bones, looking for treasure and possible uses for the giant skeleton, until they were attacked by the ankheg.  I dropped the ankheg's spit attack, as the beast almost killed two of the party members in the first round without an attack that does 5d6 damage.  The defeated it, however, and moved on to the "viz pond" -- the glowing pond mentioned by the charmed Gunter.

Here, they noticed the viz rocks at the bottom of the pond and successfully collected a few, even though they weren't sure what the rocks did.  They then inspected the strange obelisk on the pond's shore, inadvertently opening the way to the dungeon by speaking the words engraved on the stone.

They then explored Tergal's Workshop, stumbling and bumbling about, with bits of hilarity and combat.  There's a cool hallway with paintings hanging on the walls, one of which is magic mouthed.  That's the only piece of art the characters took. After growing tired of it shouting its warnings, they rolled it up and stuffed it in a sack.  It still shouts, but is very muffled.

The adventure introduces a new creature called tvorns, two of which still inhabit the dungeon.  These are nice, extraplanar beasties that gave the party just the right amount of trouble before being dispatched.  They then found a magic bow and arrows (being fought over by the Tvorns).  Unsure of what the weapons did, they "tested it out" in one of the dungeon rooms.  The fighter doing the testing rolled a "1" and so the arrow landed right at his feet.  Unbeknown to him, the arrow was an arrow of fireballs (a magic item detailed in the adventure) and, thus, the fighter blew himself up.  He made his save and was then brought to 1 hit point.  The party then wisely fled the dungeon to camp and heal.  This was also where our first session ended.

The next session featured two new players (who just stumbled into the camp in a very hand-wave sort of adventure set up).  They all ventured back into the dungeon.  The second foray saw the party being appropriately creeped out by some well-crafted dungeon elements.   First, they were suitably worried by a room full of corpses, two of which were still clutching a chained and locked chest.  The party immediately set about trying to find the key.  Heh.  Further exploration revealed magic darkness and some pits, which Gunter, the charmed bandit, promptly fell into.  I also ruled the viz stones' glow could penetrate the darkness, albeit to a limited range.  The party successfully navigated the pits with some rope.

Second, they had a nasty but fun fight with two ghouls, one of which surprised the group from a murder hole in the cieling.  The ghoul room featured the other ghoul chained to the wall, only to be freed by the ill-effects of a natural "1" roll during combat.  I think I've really been influenced by some of the more free-form and narrative games with things like the above -- make bad luck "pay off" by complicating the situation in some way.  It's way more fun that just ignoring the roll or having the PC's miss an attack.

Then half the party died.

13 April 2011

April, 'tis the busiest month.

For an academic, anyway.

I've just returned from four days in New Orleans, one of my favorite cities on the planet.  I was there for a giant education conference where I presented some work.  I have a personal connection with the city; I think I like it so much because it also scares me just a bit.  Whatever you want to say about it, New Orleans is not boring!

In addition to the travel, my university had its big accreditation visit last week.  Things went well, but it was a stressful two days.  I felt like I was testifying before congress or something.  Add to that a big Friday deadline for some textbooks I'm developing and the general mad dash to the end of the semester and things are rather crazy here.

I'll make it, though.  We're gaming again tonight.  I'll post a recap soon after, as well as keep plugging away at the Mentzer reflections whenever I get a moment.

In the meantime, stay classy San Diego.

07 April 2011

Patton -- Reincarnated Carolingian Knight

Thumbnail for version as of 22:02, 8 April 2009
 Although it does not look like my Weird War II game will get off the ground anytime soon, I'm still going to continue to periodically post my "weirded" versions of WWII era figures.  I hope to use them someday.  Besides, I learn a lot and it's a lot of fun!

"We will get the name of killers and killers are immortal"

I knew the major details of the life and career of General George S. Patton -- fiery personality, prescient in his use of tanks and armored units, tactically brilliant, almost canned for slapping a solider while in North Africa, feared by the Nazis, hated the Russians, and wanted to conquer Germany but ran out of gas (seriously).  But here are a few things I didn't know:
  • Became a "Master of the Sword" after spending time in intense study with one of the greatest swordsmen in all of Europe.  This happened after. . .
  • He placed 5th in the pentathlon in the 1912 Olympics.  Afterwards, he traveled throughout Germany before heading to France to study fencing.
  • He then designed a cavalry saber for the U.S. Army and wrote an manual detailing its use.
  • Saved the Lipizzaner Stallions from the advancing Soviet Army.
Given all of this, it's easy to imagine that Patton has, at his core, some mystical connection with a ghost, soul, or spirit of a Knight of the Holy Roman Empire.  This connection gives him almost inhuman fighting ability, especially on horse and with a sword.  It enhances his tactical powers to supernatural levels, allowing him to anticipate an enemy army's movements and develop devastating counter-attacks.  His knowledge of military history is beyond encyclopedic, as he seemingly has first hand-knowledge of the tactics and terrain of Europe.  It also makes him somewhat unstable, as his ghostly inhabitant is obsessed with reestablishing the Holy Roman Empire.  This explains Patton's interest in the Crown Jewels of the HRE, his distrust of the Soviet "Mongolian Savages", and his more than occasional impatience with other members of his own command.

Maybe someone in the Ahnenerbe gets wind of this spirit connection and tries to destroy the relics associated with the inhabiting spirit, crippling one of the Allies' best generals. . .

Or maybe the spirit finally gets the upper hand when Patton becomes bored as governor of Bavaria, leading to the mobilization of the U.S. Third Army against the Soviets and the outbreak of World War III.

04 April 2011

Mentzer Reflections, Part 3

I am going to backtrack a bit with my Mentzer reflections, leaving poor Ragnar the fighter wounded and breathlessly staring at Aleena the Cleric, to discuss the "How to Use This Book" (HTUTB) section and the "Dedication" of the Basic Set.  Read together, those two things clearly spell out the direction and rationale of the BECMI project.  They also, I think, point toward some tensions in the game.

My point of departure for all of this are a couple of points made by James at Grognardia.  First, that the origins of D&D lie in it's hobbyist, esoteric nature as wargaming evolved into sword and sorcery role-playing.  Second, that such origins contributed to the creative, free-wheeling, everyone's game is slightly different and that's okay spirit of the old school.  Third, that as D&D grew into a fad with Moldvay/Cook and then into a brand as TSR became a big company, something of all the above was lost (1).  I think the HTUTB and Dedication of the Mentzer set really show this transition, as D&D tries to maintain it's openness while being aimed at a broader audience.

HTUTB starts with the idea that, while you can learn to play this game by yourself "simply by reading the next two sections of this booklet", you really need a group to play.  The best way to learn, according to Mentzer, is to have someone who already knows how teach you.  If you don't have access to an experienced person, then everyone can learn together, ideally by reading the intro adventure separately then coming together to play.  The HTUTB states that someone will have to be the Dungeon Master ("who plays the role of the Monsters") and thus will have to read the other book in the set.

I think the above is a nod to how those of Mentzer's (and, as it sounds, James') generation learned to play -- at the feet of someone who already knew.  One was brought into the game by a friend, or a friend's older metalhead brother, learning from an experienced player.  With the success of the game in the early 1980's, this apprentice-like system could not be sustained and, in an effort to grow the game and the company, steps were made to provide a self-teaching sort of system.  That's the BECMI rules.

The later was how it happened for me, by the way.  No one I knew, except a kid who had mentioned the game before moving away (thanks Ricky Terzo), had played D&D before I brought the Red Box back from Christmas break in 6th grade.  Other kids bought theirs or borrowed mine and we all stumbled through getting almost killed by Bargle together, then quickly making up our own adventures.

Mentzer also notes that all the details about how to play are in this set, but there are others that have rules "for bigger and better games."  It names the Expert, Companion, and Master's sets, giving the levels covered by each of those boxes.  They all fit together to form "a complete system."  One could, I suppose, see this as some sort of master-corporate strategy, doling out treasures and rules to string kids and their money along.  I'm sure a graduated, consistent revenue stream was part of the considerations here, but (to me, anyway) it also makes sense to start simply and add the complexity, especially if the game is going to be self-taught.  And, lest we think we all HAVE to buy everything TSR is selling, there's the next few sentences: "You may use all or part of these rules. . . You may create new rules, monsters, and magic, using these rules as guidelines."  So, make your own stuff up!

Did anyone do that?  By that I mean, did anyone buy this Basic Set, then just make up the rest of the game for themselves?

It's the Dedication, however, that explicitly notes the transition from OD&D to this new iteration.  I had never really noticed it before and likely would not have seen it as remarkable if it weren't for the things I've learned about the evolution of the game from all the OSR blogs.  It's worth quoting almost in it's entirety:

This game has undergone a startling metamorphosis from its earliest forms, written for hobbyists, to the current revision, usable and understandable by nearly everyone.  The original flavor and intent has been carefully preserved.

The game is, of course, dedicated to E. Gary Gygax.  (Also worth noting that Gygax and Arenson are listed as the authors, while Frank Mentzer gets a "revised by" credit).

That's a fairly explicit statement of the changes in the percieved audience and thus, the responsibility of the rules to that audience.  D&D is out of the back room of the game store and into the hands of 12 year olds everywhere.  It's an open question as to whether or not it's possible to preserve the "flavor and intent" while undergoing such a self-admitted change.  My sense is "no."  Or rather one can largely preserve the intent, but not the flavor.  But this Basic Set is the one I began with, so I can't really judge from my own experience.

I promise the next entry will read more like a love letter to a dying cleric ("Aleena. . . Noooo!") and less like a philosophy essay.

(1)  I think I am reading James right here, based on a number of posts he's put forth over the past few years.  He's considerably more nuanced than this, of course, so blame me if you think this isn't 100% correct.  My own exposure to OD&D, indeed anything prior to Moldvay/Cook and AD&D, is very limited.