Tuesday, 28 January 2014

From the Big Box: Mentzer D&D - the ECM Boxes

Previously on From the Big Box of Random Boxed Sets War was Hammered and Cars were Deluxe this week D&D and its companions are expert and masterful . . .

So what's in the Mentzer Expert boxed set . . .

Well wasn't expecting that instead of the rules we have three X Modules, X4, X5, and X6 and a character sheet (Gason of Buckingham a 1st lvl Cavalier).

The copies of X4 Master of the Desert Nomads, X5 Temple of Death (both by David Cook), and X6 Quagmire! (Giggitty) by Merle M Rasmussen all look pristine, apart from some stapler rust and a slight musty smell from 20 odd years in storage. Which seems about right as I don't remember playing or any of these. Other than a quick flip through I haven't read them. I might read the Cook module, but I could never run Quagmire! (Giggitty). Family guy has killed that module. X5 has some nice interior artwork. There's a definite step up in terms of presentation from these 83/84 modules compared to the earlier AD&D and Moldvay modules.

Next up is the Companion set and another surprise. When I opened it up the first thing I see is a battered copy of Moldvay Basic . . .

  . . . as well as Moldvay Basic there are the missing Mentzer Expert rules, and the Companion players and DM's book, oh and one of my maps that isn't Middle Earth, but all the place names are straight out of LotR. 

Not that I'm dissapointed to find a copy of Moldvay Basic (it is after all my favourite version) but was hoping to find a Menzter basic or a Cook expert as it stands I now have 2 copies of Moldvay basic, and 2 copies of Mentzer Expert but no Mentzer basic or Cook/Marsh Expert. Not that I'm bothered I have pdfs, and back in the day we really didn't notice any difference between the two 

Obviously non of us played Thieves much cos if we had we'd have noticed how totally hosed they get in the Mentzer versions.  In the Expert rules their skills from 1-14 look kosher. At 10th level the Thief has an 85% chance to open a lock, 80% to remove a trap, etc. but looking in the Companion set those two skills at 15th lvl are 75% and 67% and hide in shadows is 58%. 58% at 15th level that's a lot of slog to be a not very good thief. It's weird that the Mentzer Expert shows the thieves skills from 1-14th, but the Companion rules only show 15-25th so there's no example of how the skills should be stretched to cover the whole 1-25. Also, hey thief player congrats for getting to 15th level, now all your skills go down.

The companion players book has new weapons, spells, and the like nothing really mind blowing, but the DM's book has Dominion rules, a mass battle system, and planar travel which is a bit more like it. I don't remember paying much attention to the planar travel back in the day. It was the dominions and mass battles that we were really wanting from the companion set.

Next up is the Master Rules . . .

This box is packed full of character sheets and notes which If I'm honest I find more interesting than the rule books they share a box with.

 There are three sections in the players book: Character classes, Weapon Mastery, and a Sieges (a handy complement for the companions Domain rules).

The classes have all the usual stuff covering lvls 26-36. XP tables, Saving Throws, Turn Undead, To Hit, Thief Skills, and Spells. The Fighter's info fit's into one column of a three column page. We also get a table showing the Thief skills from lvl 1-36 we can now compare the Expert Thief to the Companion & Master Thief and see that the latter at 10th level has only a 58% chance to pick a lock compared to 85% for the Thief from Expert. I was aware there was a difference between B/X Moldvay/Cook/Marsh edition thief skills, but didn't realise there was difference between Expert Mentzer and the Companion and Master boxes.

Weapon's mastery looks interesting, though a little fiddly for my liking, but there are two elements that stand out as neat one is a defensive bonus to AC which I think is common sense. If you're a master of whirling steel death you're going to have a good defence even without armour and magic. The other is the Despair effect which triggers extra morale checks when you do full damage, deflect all blows, or disarm foes. Neat. Of course the best thing is that the Basic line finally gets a selection of Pole Arms!

Anyway, as I said the more interesting things, to me at least, to come out of this box are the 20+ year old notes and characters from our games. There are a few artifcact notes, lots of notes, like these badly photographed and out of focus ones, on domain buildings along with some castle, and keep sketches along with very important notes such as : Church pays 40% of cost. 

Then there are the characters. We have what looks like three groups of characters. There's a group of 1st level characters. Which speaks to the idea that despite having the companion and Master boxed sets (and I'm sure I had the Immortal boxed set too) that we still liked to start fresh games with a group of 1st level characters. 

The first level party features: Faspar the MU (N), Tatril the Cleric (L), Conan the Fighter (N), Eamonn the Thief (no alignment recorded) Jopphindle the Elf (N), and Gilli the Dwarf (N). Mostly Neutral which ment for us pre-teen do what ever you want with no sucky consequences (just tell the cleric to shut up).

Then there's a few mid level characters: Barak The Bastard 3rd level Barbarian, Marco the 3rd level Fighter, Helarn a 3rd level Thief, Samoran a 5th lvl Dwarf, Toromarg the 6th level Fighter.

Then we have Kamoran an 8th lvl (Attack Rank B) Halfing, and Torquemada the Black a 27th level Cleric (who was a Dwarf in another life). These two are blinged up to the max. Seriously the magic items they have at their disposal make the gods and deomons of the Ramayana look low powered. They could wade through any number of Pantheons.  Kamoran has five magic swords! And that's just the swords! He has five other magic weapons. On his character sheet there is a slot for each  type of magic item and Kamoran has multiple entries in all categories. 

Torqueamada was my mate's main character from back when we started playing Moldvay basic up until we stopped playing (about 81-86). He'd started life as a Dwarf called Thorin Ravenscrag but died in a PvP fight with another friend's character (that I refereed). He was resurrected but came back as a Cleric. Which doesn't seem to be in the Raise Dead cleric spell so must be some weird house rule of mine, or borrowed from AD&D, White Dwarf, or Judges Guild. He is as equally overburdened with magic items as is his friend Kamoran. 

27th level, lowest stat is 9, magic items up the wing-wang,  I mean . . .

It wasn't all shits in giggles though, after all this is Fantasy Fucking Vietnam - Hmm, maybe I should work up a Fantasy Fucking Vietnam campaign setting called Fight For Victory, hmm -  the last group of characters are our noble fallen designated dead, in true pre-teen bastard GM style with a very definite cross through the character sheet . . .

The list of the fallen includes: Goronto a 4th lvl Fighter, Amaron (aka Fingers) a 5th level thief and Frenodin (sounds like a painkiller) the 4th level Elf. Despite the obvious Monty Haul nature of our immature gaming it's obvious that we put a lot of hours in and played a lot of D&D back in the day. After all getting a B/X Elf to 4th level is a slog no matter how free and easy you are with the loot.

At this stage in my life I can't imagine a situation where I'm ever going to want to run a high level campaign, or have the time to play a campaign that goes from 1st - 36th level. B/Xs 1st -14th levels is all the D&D I'll ever need, in fact 1st - 10th prolly does it for me.

One last thing; the box has the words . . .

"This game requires no gameboard because the action takes place in your imagination."

. . . which is kinda lame and cool all at the same time.


  1. I see what you mean. I was 30+ when I got my copy of the Master box and then the 36 levels sounded great. Just some years later and two kids and I no longer think anything past 9 levels is ever going to happen!

  2. In fact with partners, kids, other hobbies, work and holidays scheduling an ongoing campaign for thirty or forty-somethings, that will play long enough and regularly enough to hit 9th, is going to be a hassle.

    I can see why the storygame peeps like games that can play out to completion in a game or two, and although I like the odd one shot, and love to vary genre and systems, I still feel the draw to a long term campaign and find it hits the spot in a way that one shots don't.