After the success of our venture with the Dungeon Fantasy Roleplaying Game last spring, my colleague and I decided to offer the activity again this fall. We had enough student interest to justify buying two more boxed sets. The photo below shows all the material organized and laid out before students arrived.
Earlier this week, Griffin and Maggie created a four-level dungeon on my dry erase hex tiles. They were so excited about it that they wanted me to play in it, so Griffin volunteered to be the game master. It was his first time running a game and his first original adventure. When I asked what it was called, he replied, “The Dungeon of Doom.”
It was remarkably fun playing this game with the kids. Griffin was creative and clever, and I found myself not just playing with my children, but getting into the game. See below for a few pictures of the wild map. Beneath the pictures are some highlights from the session, written mostly for other tabletop gamers.
- In one of our first encounters, we needed to use serious tactics just to survive. Ten enemy soldiers nearly surrounded us, but we were able to retreat into a narrow passageway where we could defend ourselves more easily. The passage was filled with water, though, which slowed everybody down and made for treacherous footing. As we continued retreating, we eventually discovered a trap behind us (some sort of “laser-like” forcefield) which made us hold our ground, duking it out in the muck.
- There were numerous traps, illusions, and original magic items. A favorite item of mine was the “rock of heating” that becomes hot enough to start fires if it is in contact with organic matter. If it touches metal, however, it instantly cools into an inert, black rock. We’re currently using a helmet from one of our foes to keep it safely cool.
- The dungeon included some “realistic” touches, like beds for the soldiers and barrels of preserved food (the soldiers lived on a balanced diet of “grain, meat, and vegetables.”
- Griffin responded creatively to our ideas and questions. For example, we used the barrel of meat to lure a flesh-dissolving-slime monster closer to the lava pit for immolation.
- Griffin was on top of the logistics, too, making sure that Maggie (playing an archer/scout named “Moon”) marked off her arrows every time she fired one.
- We were playing the Dungeon Fantasy Roleplaying Game (powered by GURPS) which is more mathematically complex than straight Dungeons and Dragons. Griffin is completely on top of the math, easily managing damage resistance, injury types, armor divisors on bodkin point arrows, damage thresholds, negative hit points, and other fiddly bits. He also has a good grasp of the odds on a 3d6 bell curve.
Two of my passions—teaching and roleplaying games—came together in this short piece. After running a gaming activity at school this year, the fine folks at Steve Jackson Games asked me to write up a blurb about the experience. It went live this morning.
The target audience is definitely gamers (who else ends up on the SJGames homepage?), but it shouldn’t cause Muggle eyes to glaze over too much.
(See also a PDF version in case the site goes down.)
We enjoyed a few days with away from the end-of-school rush at the cabin over Memorial Day weekend. Our friends Jess, Murray, and Olive joined us. (Sadly, Kevin couldn’t make it this year.)
The trip included a number of notable events:
- Oliver’s first trip to the cabin, including relatively long drives, unfamiliar sleeping arrangements, and a wacky schedule. He was quite flexible, though he did complain that we were letting him freeze during the first night (temps dropped steeply after dark). We nailed it on the second night.
- Oliver’s first kayak trip.
- Maggie’s first time paddling the canoe and sitting on a proper bench.
- Griffin and Murray’s first time being largely independent in the kayaks. This was not exactly our intent, but they got them in the water before the rest of us were ready and before we knew it they were across the lake, exploring the island. (Definitely wearing life jackets!)
- Griffin caught a frog.
- Relatively close encounter with a pileated woodpecker on a birch by the cabin. The photos, at the end of the set below, are blurry phone pics, but this sucker was huge.
- Two new eggs in the loon nest. We weren’t sure if they would use the same nest site for a second year running. Last year one egg did not hatch. We’ll be checking back on the nest at our next visit.
- Thunderstorms and hail kept us inside on Sunday afternoon, which allowed for a smashing D&D game. (Griffin’s elf wizard was nearly killed by an evil skeleton, but Maggie gave him one of her healing potions.)
Maggie: “I don’t want to play any games. I only want to read D&D books!” At which point she heads upstairs and does just that.
(Note that she can’t quite read these books yet, but she loves looking at the pictures, especially the gruesome monsters.)
Sarah was out of town for a wedding. The kids had been asking for another D&D game. We hadn’t played in ages, not since last summer. So, yes, totally, let’s play D&D! But let’s do it properly. We needed more players. I invited over some friends of theirs so that we could potentially have five players, but if the youngest two—Maggie and her friend, Olive—lost interest, they could entertain each other. Five kids while solo parenting… I was asking for it.
We had a great time. Maggie and Olive only played for a bit, but Griffin, Murray, and Miles invested a couple of hours into it. In the year and a half since our first game, the kids have developed quite a bit. Some observations and highlights:
- Griffin is far more adept at arithmetic now, and loves doing it. He gets mad if I do any of the math during the game, wanting to calculate everybody’s hit points and bonuses and all of that.
- Griffin is also better at reading and writing, though not quite as good as Murray, who is a year older. They loved writing things down and, when possible, reading things aloud. When they came to the ruins of a village, they could not have been more excited to read this scrawled note posted by the main road:
Plant monsters and zombies
- They acted like all they wanted to do was fight monsters, but in reality they tended to get a little bored during combat. They were most engaged when they were debating their plans and making decisions as a group.
- They loved deciding whether to travel on the road or through the wilderness. Although crossing the wilderness was more direct, they elected to follow the road because they thought (correctly) that it would be less dangerous.
- When they passed through a civilized town, they debated what kind of meal to have, and spent some time figuring out how much treasure they had and whether they could afford a fancy meal. They eventually elected to splurge on a princely feast.
- This led to them being followed by a pickpocket. Much joy as they spotted him and then ambushed him, leading eventually to the moral quandary of what to do with their criminal prisoner. After some debate, they elected to “scare him” and then let him go, telling him not to try to steal from people anymore.
- Honestly, my impression was that I could mostly dispense with the adventure plot, and simply give them opportunities to go shopping, explore the map, etc. I think they just loved getting to make the kinds of decisions that adults usually make for them. (Plus rolling dice, of course—lots of dice!)
Just told Griffin that friends are coming this weekend to play D&D and he got REALLY excited. Then he tried to “get” me as a goblin, so I cast a spell on him. Then he said, “well, I have 100 hit points and you have only 5, so I won.”
— Text message from Sarah this morning
A week before heading up to the cabin, Griffin and I walked to our local comic shop to pick up a new graphic novel (he chose Journey to the Center of the Earth). While browsing, I noticed that the latest (fifth) edition of Dungeons and Dragons was out. I couldn’t resist picking up the Player’s Handbook and the introductory boxed set. I wanted to read over the new rules, and I rationalized that I’d use them when the D&D activity gets going again at my school this winter. (Also, the fourth edition was garbage, so I hoped the fifth would do better.) Of course I didn’t have time to read them during the week, so I tossed them into my reading bag for the cabin. It wasn’t until we got there that it occurred to me that Griffin might be old enough to get into it. Sarah was game, so after our hike on Saturday, I opened the boxed set and had them choose from the five pre-generated characters. For posterity, here’s the group for our first ever family D&D game:
- Griffin played an elf wizard named… Griffin!
- Sarah played a halfling rogue named Sarafina.
- Maggie played a human fighter named Maggie. (Armed with a two-handed sword, no less.)
- Andrew, besides being the dungeon master, played a dwarf cleric named Amber. (Those who gamed with me in ages past may recall my appreciation for dwarf clerics.)
A bunch of goblins, some wolves, and a bugbear later and everyone gained a level. Griffin’s first request when we got home was, “Can we play some more D&D today?” (The answer was no, but the request warmed my heart.)
It was neat seeing how Griffin’s five-year-old mind grappled with the complexities of the game. His favorite part was definitely rolling the dice: at one point the group rescued a kidnapped knight and he offered to tell the story of his capture; Griffin responded with, “Can I roll the 20-sided die?” But he definitely followed the story, and has a remarkable memory for detail. He instantly grasped some fairly complicated mechanics around how often he can cast his spells, and a week later he can explain the overall quest and the names of the characters and places in the story. (Including a number of details that I had forgotten!)
Maggie, naturally, had only a loose grasp of things, but also enjoyed rolling the dice and paging through the rulebooks to see the pictures.
With Sarah gone this weekend, we haven’t had a chance for a followup game, but this adds a great new activity to our family menu, especially when the snows blow in. (I always hear Ned Stark… “Winter is coming…”)
Oh, and in case any gamers stumble on this post, my first impression of 5th edition is overwhelmingly positive. The core rules are elegant with an emphasis on flexibility, role-playing, and imaginative fun. The writers captured the spirit of what made the original AD&D so compelling, while streamlining the rules and updating them for the current generation.