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May 24, 2013 / bpeveril

Dungeon Dad

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Quick! Roll a save versus lifelong virginity, difficulty 27!

Many years ago my parents bought a gift for my brothers and I that had an enormous impact on our lives. We got a beginner’s Dungeons and Dragons box. We had a hard time figuring out what exactly to do with it for a while, but when we did it became one of the cornerstones of our young lives. D&D somehow got a bad reputation in the eighties when some people with too much time on their hands and (ironically) the inability to separate reality from fantasy equated acne speckled teens consulting charts and manuals with sorcery, mind control and devil worship. I never found any of those, though. Instead I learned about problem solving, improvisation, resource management, interpersonal skills, other cultures, story telling and imagination. Rather than retreating into a fantasy world, even when I’ve wanted desperately to do that, I’ve made and bonded with many of my closest friends over the dice. Now that there are some NPC’s whose childhoods I’m responsible for running around, you can be sure that I’m going to introduce them to roleplaying in some form. The boy isn’t old enough yet. At barely more than a year old, his main interests are bananas and the dog, and I don’t really trust him with dice. The girl is another story. She’s a little younger than I was when I rolled my first save, but old enough to grasp most of the concepts. It’s not a hard sell either; she has her own blog about Scifi and nerdy things, she’s really into video games, especially if they have rpg elements. I have, however, stumbled into a few roadblocks that caught me off guard.

Characters

When you’re setting up an adventure for a new player, especially if you’re doing the prep work before you’ve walked them through the character generation process, you’re trying to write a scenario that is easy to grasp, finite enough that you can reach a satisfying conclusion in the allotted time, open ended enough to intrigue them for next time, and simple enough that any character your players come up with will be drawn into it. I was not, however, prepared for the character generation process. When I began most of my early characters were pretty similar; heroic archetypes like the wandering scholar, the brute with a sword, or the quick witted rogue, and no one had much in the way of a back story. When you’re twelve you don’t have much of a backstory yourself, so that facet doesn’t tend to be too well developed. I was not prepared when, practically before I had the chance to explain why her constitution score was important, my daughter spouted an elaborate history for the elven sorceress she absolutely had to play. It wasn’t entirely original, it was the mishmash of Disney, Nintendo and Studio Ghibli characters you’d expect from any eight year old, but it wasn’t at all what I had been expecting and it put a bit of a cramp in my story telling. The solution is, of course, to have her make the character before I sit down behind the screen. I’ll be ready next time. For the record, her mother decided to play a gnomish bard, which didn’t help anything at all.

Gnomish bard.

Accounting

I was a bit more prepared for just how uninterested she was in equipping her character. This, I would chalk up largely to inexperience. She’s never done this before, and has no idea why she might want an extra two dozen arrows or some candles, and it holds about as much interest for her as a trip to the grocery store. I, of course, explained the process as it’s an important step toward that time when she’ll find herself in a hardware store, holding a coil of rope, a lantern, and a crowbar, only to realize that she doesn’t need them in real life, she needs them to plunder the mad bard’s tomb. In the mean time, though, I just jotted down a few things rather than belabor the part that’s not that far off from homework.

hailee zelda

That’s her

Violence

The thing that threw me the most was the way she reacted to the situations I put her in. The story I had laid out had strange noises in the forest, cunning goblins, an ailing wizard’s abandoned lair, and magical automatons gone mad. Adventure was immanent and danger was on the menu. During the character creation process, though, she actually asked me what she would need a sword for. That is not a question I have ever felt the need to ask. I’ve known for as long as I’ve known what a sword is that sword ownership is a reward and a goal unto itself. She didn’t agree. When we got down to actually playing, fighting, or even putting herself in any sort of peril, was not even an option. She did fine with strategy, had no problem with puzzles, but her reaction to any danger was just to run away. Hear crying in the forest? Hide under the bed. See someone sitting in a tree? Run! Hear a noise on the other side of the door? Abscond. She couldn’t be goaded into the reckless acts I expected to advance the story by adventure, greed, curiosity, or anything I could come up with. She’s naturally a much more cautious person than I am, apparently to the point where imagined hazards are too much to bear. This has given me more trouble than anything else I’ve listed, and it’s delayed the next session. I hate to say it, but I’m having a hard time coming up with adventures that I think she will be interested in.

All of that aside, we all had a great time. Buy your kid some dice and get ready to explain the difference between a bastard sword and a long sword five times, you won’t regret it for a moment.

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5 Comments

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  1. Jeremy Livingston / May 25 2013 12:52 am

    Hey, have you heard of Dungeon World? I haven’t played it, but I have read it, and it seems to cleave pretty close to D&D in spirit—at least the parts that I think will interest Herself. Accounting is pretty abstract, and there’s more emphasis on interpreting the strategic possibilities of the fiction, with combat being only one possible approach among others.

    • bpeveril / May 25 2013 1:04 am

      I’ll look into that. We’ve been using Pathfinder, which is pretty close to 3.5.

  2. redraggedfiend / May 25 2013 3:50 am

    Honestly I’d run away from any potential danger too if my only companion was a gnome bard. I would definitely look into some rules light tabletop RPGs to get her feet wet before forcing some of the crunchier, rules heavy systems. As for avoiding danger I guess it’s all about the quest. If you can remind her people are relying on her to be the hero and save the day you might get some bravery out of her IC.

  3. speveril / May 25 2013 4:50 am

    I’d suggest relying on some of the obvious influences in her backstory to suggest story ideas to you as well. Not everyone has it ingrained that they get to be a complete bad-ass in D&D, especially not new players. I’d suggest coming up with some characters that you know she’d like and just throw her into some situations where she can interact with them and learn about them and maybe help them out in ways that make her feel accomplished without having to be a tactical genius or a hack’n’slash fan. A full-on NPC party member might be useful for you too. These characters get to be your mouthpiece so you can have a person in the game world suggest likely courses of action without breaking the fourth wall and being “DM tells you to do something so do it or else”. They also get to be your mouthpiece and make a two-player party feel a little less lonely.

    A rules-light system might be good to work with, but honestly I think she’ll probably get enough of it that you guys can have fun, just don’t be hard on her (and don’t let her be hard on herself) when she needs to be reminded how to roll a skill roll or something. The box set that I gave you guys at Christmas actually describes a stripped-down version of the Pathfinder rules — full Pathfinder has all of the silly crunch that 3.5 did (in some cases, streamlined to make play flow better, and in some cases, expounded on to give more options). Are you using the box set rules or the full SRD rules? (I’m gonna go out on a limb and guess the full rules, since the box rules don’t describe gnomes or bards, which really, is two strikes against them.)

    Anyway, glad to hear you guys are trying it out, and that you all had fun. Keep me apprised of the ongoing adventures.

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