This post is my personal musings about introducing my son to tabletop roleplaying as a progression from the Storytime games we’ve been playing since I came back from Gen Con last year. Instead of telling you why I want to do this, I’ll refer you to Martin Ralya’s excellent RPG advocacy article he just posted here.
Lets just say that I too believe that RPGs are perfect games to teach social and real life lessons to children.
Ever since my son told me that he’d rather do interactive stories or play computer games than play actual Dungeons and Dragons, I’ve been mulling this over.
I feel like a Hockey coach who’s son tells him he’d rather be a painter.
Oh, I don’t mind sticking to the interactive stories, they both feed my gaming needs and allows me to share some priceless quality time with my son.
But I’ve got tons of miniatures, many boxes of dungeon tiles, plenty of books and a head full of ideas for great quests. I’d love to be able to share this with my son.
But maybe therein lies the problem. I’ve got too much stuff and the current edition of D&D is needlessly complex for a 7 year old to enjoy. Maybe later, but not just yet.
So I’ve spent some of the last few weeks thinking about what I loved about my first D&D games when I was 10.
It wasn’t combats that I loved, it was the sheer thrill of discovering weird things behind every door of the dungeon my buddy DM created. It was puzzling out how to escape from a room whose only door shut itself behind me. I loved making torches out of femur bones and cobwebs. Or thinking of ways to scare monsters with my awesome illusionist spells!
And treasures! How I loved finding treasures!
So I could possibly make the experience more entertaining for my son if I toned down the crunchy combats and brought up the exploration aspects of the game.
So if I want to go back to basics, I have a few choices:
- Go back to an earlier version of D&D or a retro Clone (Labyrinth Lord comes to mind)
- Chose another game system like Faery Tales, Risus, BESM or Mouse Guard.
- Simplify D&D 4e to its essence and work up from there
- Forget about game systems and just make it up.
Last week I decided to go to the actual core of my first RPG experience and decided to re-create it with my son. I decided to forget about rules and use just one mechanic:
Say Yes or play Rock , paper, Scissors.
I was seated in an empty cinema with Nico (We were going to watch the excellent Monsters vs Aliens). We still had 20 minutes to kill and none of the arcade games outside the theater interested us. So I took out a pen and my trusty writer’s notebook and I told him.
Chatty: How ’bout we try a different adventure game?
Nico: Sure! Why do you have this notebook?
It’s so that we can see where you explore! Here, this is a cross-road in a town. This house here is your house, and this house here is the adventurer’s store. You are in your house, tell me about the three objects you want to start the game with”
Okay, I have this big axe that I can throw and it can bust through many, many walls before returning to me”
Wow, that’s one cool axe! Sure, I’ll write ‘magical Axe’ here at the top of the sheet. What else?
I have a shield, it’s not magical or anything, just a shield.
Wood or metal?
Okay, I wrote that down here. And lastly?
Hmmm. Can I have a gun?
How about you have a crossbow, you know what that is?
Yeah! It’s like a gun-bow!
That’s exactly what it is. I’ll even give you 10 bolts packed in a wooden case, that’s how we call Crossbow arrows (carreaux instead of flèche in French).
All right. Now can I go to the store?
Sure, You have 10 gold pieces and you can buy all kinds of interesting things. I’ll give you a backpack so you can carry all your stuff.
Okay! And I want another case of bolts!
Sure, no problem, and take a lantern to light your way. You’re all set now?
No, I want a metal detector!
Hmmm, sure, why not? You have one.
And I want batteries in case they run out of power.
Smart move, here, take 10. You’re out of money. Are you ready?
Okay so the village you live in is very near this mountain (and I draw a wavy live under the village) and this opening leads into a dungeon filled with monsters and treasures. Are you ready to explore it?
Okay so as you enter, you follow a winding corridor that leads to a big chamber divided by this river that flows from this direction to that one (I divide the room in two and draw a river that crosses the room). A big troll is sitting on the other side of the chasm, looking sad and confused. He’s got a whole bunch of planks and nails and tools beside him but he doesn’t seem to know what to do.
I ask him if he needs help!
The troll looks at you, surprised and says “Yeah, I could use some help. I was told to build a bridge and guard it against explorers, only I don’t know how to!”
Well it’s easy, you just have to put planks across the chasm and nail them real hard to the floor!
Okay then! The troll and Nico start making a simple bridge. Once it’s completed the Troll thanks you and tells you “Normally I should prevent you from crossing, but since you helped me, you can cross it whenever you like”. Behind the troll a corridor goes deeper in the mountain and forks in 2 directions, left and right (I draw a Y intersection).
I use my metal detector!
Okay, you detect a large quantity of metal to your right.
I go there.
Okay, but first, lets see if your metal detector’s battery goes out, let’s play rock,paper,scissors.
(Nico lost, so I took off one battery from his inventory).
Okay, you come to an iron portcullis that’s locked. Behind it you see a series of 5 doors to your right and 5 to your left. What do you do.
Hmmm. I shoot an arrow with my crossbow on the 1st door to the right.
Okay, it makes a ‘ping’ sound when it strikes the Iron door and the door opens, you see a little guy, a goblin, peer out. Do you think he’s a bad guy or a good guy?
A bad guy! I shoot it with my crossbow.
(We play rock, paper, scissors again, he wins)
You hit the goblin and he falls, a set of keys drops from him and falls on the floor, too far for you to reach for it.
Okay, I shoot my crossbow on the open door, maybe it will swing back and push the keys.
Hmmm, why not, let’s play for it (he wins). It works! Your bolt hits the door, it swings back, hits the wall and bouces back. It hits the keys and they are pushed close enough for you to take them.
This is fun!
At this point, the cinema’s light dimmed and we promised to play again soon.
After the movie, while we drove back home, Nico suprised me (yet again) by taking my notebook and my pen and drawing more details on the dungeon maps. He added new entrances into the mountain and stretched the river in both directions.
“Here, there will be a treasure, and here a locked door!”
Turns out I’ve been doing it backwards, instead of nurturing a new RPG player, I should be coaching a new DM!
God I’m a lucky man!