Monday, July 17, 2017

The Boys Try Dungeons & Dragons

So, back on Saturday I ran a game of Dungeons & Dragons for the boy.

It's a little soon. I mean, Firstborn is eleven, which is plenty old enough; but Secondborn is still seven, which is well below the intended player age for Ad&D. He did pretty well, despite his age and despite the part where we really didn't have a lot of visual aids.

We're playing in 3.5, because honestly:
A) That's the most recent version that I'm familiar with - I never really tried 4 or 5.
B) It's a good, reasonably balanced and playable system.
C) You can make it as simple or as complex as you like, relatively speaking.

For now, we're sticking with simple. Or... mostly simple. The boys have complicated things, all by themselves. And I've also discovered that, as much as I like to think of myself as a veteran Game Master (or Dungeon Master, as Firstborn just reminded me) it's been years since I played, and I've actually forgotten huge chunks of the rules. So I'm... well.. winging it. Specifically, I'm filling in the actual combat system with the "this seems reasonable" system, at least until I can read back through and wrap my mind around the system.

So let's talk about boys complicating things. I let everybody start at fourth level, because first level characters die ridiculously easily. So both of the boys immediately decided to go with split-class characters.

Firstborn has decided to play a Elvish Barbarian/Druid, which is odd but viable. He's taken a viper for his animal companion, and he's set up to be a fairly reasonable front-line fighter, who can then fall back and heal people when the battle is over.

Secondborn went with a Human Ranger/Rogue split, apparently with the intention to sneak up reasonably close and then snipe people with arrows. This is, again, odd but viable.

Beautiful Wife said she'd fill in anything that would round out the party's skillset, so she's a Halfling Sorceress with an owl for her animal companion. She has one really good attack spell, and some useful/defensive secondary spells, plus a magic dagger that she can throw; her job is to hang back and use ranged attacks, or to do the talking and negotiating for the group.

That left me in need of, you know, a setting and an actual adventure, but I think we're off to a pretty good start. The characters all know each other, and more or less grew up together - at least in the same town. They grew in the free town of Morendell, which is out in the southwestern edge of the great forest. It's an area that the human kingdoms generally consider to be part of the elven kingdoms, but that the elves consider to be outside of their demesne. Elves come there to trade with humans in a reasonably comfortable environment; humans come there to trade with elves without having to actually travel into the deep forest. The population is approximately 40% elves and 40% humans, with maybe 8% being half-elves and the remainder being dwarves, gnomes, halflings, and everybody else. It's a walled city, with a ring of farms outside the walls and the forest beyond the farms. Our heroes are a special unit of the guards, who patrol - or at least sort of check in with - the outlying settlements: the farmer, trappers, woodcutters, and etc. who live outside the walls and out in the forest.

For our first adventure, I introduced the human Chief Guard, Vendik (Fighter, lvl 7 - we're not hugely advanced around here). He's about halfway between a sheriff and a police chief, but he's well organized and keeps the city safe. He's also the one who recruited the PCs and set them to patrolling the outlying settlers. Vendik was waiting with one of the outliers, a half-elf farmer named Berrin. Berrin explained that his kids had been playing in the woods a couple of weeks back when one of them fell through the forest floor. The kids were smart: one of them waited with the one who fell, while the third went back to get help. Berrin and his wife came back with rope, and they pulled the kid out.

Since then, though, they'd been hearing noises in the night. They thought something was prowling through the woods and watching the farm. So Berrin had come into town, to get the guard to come have a look and tell them whether they were really in danger, or whether they were just scaring themselves.

Vendik told the PCs to skip their patrol of the eastern settlements, and look into this instead; then he told Berring that the PCs would take care of him, and went back to his office.

...And we were off.

One of the complications that came up immediately was that Secondborn (who is only seven, remember) didn't realize that being a ranger made him the tracker for the party. They got to the farm immediately, but it was quiet and when they went to put their horses in the barn they found that something had cut its way into the chicken coup, killed the chickens, and probably carried them off. Once the ranger realized he could track things, he identified the prints as small boots, and the party set out to follow the trail.

Unsurprisingly, the trail led to the hole that Berrin's child had fallen into. It wasn't a cave, or at least not exactly; the edges of the hole, and the fallen stones, were clearly clean-cut rectangular blocks. After a bit of consultation, the group descended into the hole, and immediately discovered that they were in a large-ish room, still mostly covered, with a doorway at the far end. Also, the Druid/Barbarian was just sure there was something else down there, even though nobody else could hear anything.

The Ranger/Rogue began to scout ahead, but the Halfling Sorceress got impatient and sent her familiar owl on ahead. The owl grew concerned and came flapping back, and all of a sudden everybody could hear harsh, guttural voices up ahead somewhere. So the Ranger/Rogue snuck up the hall, around a couple of corners, and looked in through a doorway. By then he could smell both smoke and cooking meat.

Looking in, he saw a large room, with pillars to support the ceiling, and a fire in the middle. There were three goblins sitting on stone blocks around the fire, and a pot cooking over it. He ducked back when one of the goblins looked at the doorway, and went back to report to the others.

They moved up to the nearest turn in the hallway, and the ranger/thief decided that he was going to sneak into the room and take the goblins by surprise. He crept silently down the hall, reached the doorway, and started around it. That was exactly the moment when he realized that there was a goblin sneaking around the corner in an exact mirror of his own plan. For a moment they just stood there, staring at each other. Then we rolled initiative.

Secondborn rolled something obscene - a 19, I think, which combined with his Dexterity bonus and Improved Initiative to let him go first at 24. Firstborn was next, and then the Beautiful Wife. The goblins rolled poorly, and all came after the Player Characters.

So Secondborn jumped back, I guess because he was startled, and pulled his longsword. (Never mind that he's an archery specialist; he's seven years old, he's startled, and by the gods he's going to beat things down with a sword.) The goblin, meanwhile, yells loudly to alert its companions.

Firstborn and Secondborn move to flank the door, leaving Beautiful Wife a little ways back down the hallway. The goblin is still there in the doorway, and Secondborn attacks with his sword - not a one-hit kill, but a one-hit KO which is good enough. Firstborn spots the goblins by the fire and charges one of them. This leaves him open to the fourth goblin, who was hiding just inside the doorway, but that goblin misses and Firstborn reaches his target and essentially cuts him in half. He's raging, of course, as only a barbarian can - and while his skin hasn't turned green, that elf suddenly looks a lot larger and more muscular.

Beautiful wife advances to the doorway, and sights the other goblin beside the fire. She lets loose with her one offensive spell, and immolates him. Like, he bursts into flames and then dissolves into ash. This, I suppose, is the advantage of taking a single-class character.

The one remaining goblin decides to dodge past the characters in the doorway, and race off into the deeper darkness down the other branch of the hallway. Unfortunately, he doesn't quite manage it, and Secondborn sticks a broadsword in his kidney but doesn't quite kill him.

When the next round starts, Secondborn decides to let the goblin go. Apparently, he's having second thoughts about wantonly murdering sentient beings over stolen chickens. Firstborn's character yells "Let it go!" for the slightly more sophisticated reason that he wants to chase it and find out where it was trying to go.

Beautiful Wife's character immolates it anyway, either because she's tired and cranky or because halflings are nasty like that.

After some prodding and some consultation, the characters decide to head back to the farm, put their horses in the barn (under guard) and bring Berrin and his family up to speed.

So... I think we have a good start. The characters have a decent base of operations (the city, and to a lesser extent the farm). The boys have had a decent introduction to the system and how it works. They've kept the farm safe and found out what got into the chicken coop. If they don't decide to explore the dungeon on their own, I'll have their commander order them to make sure it's safe.

More importantly, I think everybody enjoyed it -- even the Beautiful Wife, who spent a fair amount of the game looking at FaceBook. Firstborn is thrilled; he's actually asked if, once this adventure is done, he can try being the dungeon master. (For the record, I said: "Sure, but you have to realize that it's a lot more work than it looks like.") Secondborn did amazingly well for something that requires sustained focus, and I think had a good time as well. Beautiful Wife was less enthused at the outset, but she did get into it -- and, again, she's not feeling entirely well, which makes it hard to really dig in on something like this.

I've offered to take the boys to the local gaming store tomorrow, and let everyone choose their own dice, if they'd make a reasonable effort to go to bed. This, they've done. I may let them pick out figurines for their characters, too, if we can find anything suitable.

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