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.