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.

1 comment:

  1. As much as I love diving through the mechanics of the game, for whatever reason I never looked at the old XP mechanics. I love what you've pointed out and how significantly this change has affected the modern versions of the game. It makes me wonder why it was changed at all?