Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Building A Culture...

...one person at a time.

Hasn't got me yet.
Nope, still alive. Just been busy. Panic-stricken citizens, school (and office) closures, soccer games on the other side of mountain ranges, world-hopping spouse, and (of course) the start of Little League baseball season for two kids this year (in addition to on-going basketball and soccer) have all conjoined to steal my time. That and my own propensity for distraction...we'll get to that in a sec.

[I'm also abstaining from both alcohol AND coffee this Lenten season, which has had a bit of an impact on my writing habits]

Still, I have been gaming. Playing Dungeons & Dragons, in fact.  B/X only, for the moment...but it's always best to start slow. My children and wife have been my main players, though we have had at least a couple of my son's friends over and introduced them to the game (a third one...Caroline...is scheduled to come this Friday for a five hour session). All of these individuals are complete (or nearly complete) novices to the entire concept of "role-playing games;" hell, they're novices to most forms of fantasy adventure, outside the realm of Harry Potter (or The Lord of the Rings films, with regard to my wife).

The reactions to the game have been interesting, to say the least, with my spouse's perhaps the most intriguing of all. While she's never been a gamer (in any sense of the term), she does enjoy playing games with her children and their enthusiasm feeds her own. Joining our game in the third session of our Zenopus expedition, she took the initiative to map the dungeon (leading to much more efficient adventuring) and helped curb my son's rather Chaotic (evil) impulses.

And it's been effective...after eight sessions the characters have mostly advanced (except for the elf...she's still 433 x.p. away from 2nd level) and no one has yet died, though I did give one "mulligan" that prevented what would have been the one (and only) character death. To completely ease my conscience I'll confess that event here: the dungeon's ogre-sized spider had pinned my son's 1st level character, despite the party's precautions and lack of surprise; he managed to survive several rounds, stabbing it with a dagger while his compatriots attempted to kill it. In the final round of the combat, the spider beat my son's roll for initiative and would have struck him a death blow (from hit point loss...the kid had already made multiple, successful saves versus poison). Rather than let his heroic efforts end in failure, I allowed the party members to make a separate initiative roll against the spider, which they won, and then they managed to slay the plate-armored beast prior to its fatal attack on the boy.

Frodo should have died, too.
As I said, a mulligan...and I pointed out to the players that there would be no more shenanigans of that kind. I feel a little bad to have deprived my child of the "joy" of his first character death (though I'm confident that particular experience will be coming soon enough)...but at the time, I felt bad about the gross unfairness of the situation. The kid had immediately searched the rafters for giant spiders upon entering the web room, and the creature is just such a horrendous beast for first level characters (Gygax changed the original creature from 1 HD creature to something the size of Shelob). Besides, they've already had blood spilled (three hired mercenaries have been killed by this point)...they have been exposed to the dangers of dungeon crawling.

The party members (minus my wife's thief character) are currently locked up in the Portown jail awaiting execution anyway, so, you know, not a huge deal by any stretch...

Here's the thing, the really interesting thing (from my perspective): despite having NOT read the rulebook (yet), both my kids have already expressed interest in becoming Dungeon Masters. My son drew and annotated a dungeon map, made me roll up a character, and then ran me through his "adventure." Fortunately, I'm a pretty good player so my first level thief managed to avoid certain death on multiple occasions through a combination of deceit and cleverness and made out like a frigging bandit (I'll detail that in a different long-winded braggart post sometime).

My daughter did NOT draw a map, but also insisted on running me through an adventure of her own (while we were on the sidelines of my son's soccer match) that she spun from whole cloth and boy is she gonzo: evil clowns with poisonous claws, one-eyed killer robots, giant radioactive spiders with electrocution powers, and a room full of animal-headed humanoids that gave me a magic "wishing chest" of treasure before calling me a cab to take me out of the dungeon and back to town. Wow. If I wrote up adventures based on her imagination, I could probably make a small fortune in certain OSR circles...

[it's not just MY kids, by the way. One nine year old boy we had over was positively INDIE in his approach to gaming, suggesting all sorts of ideas, un-prompted, to incorporate into the game's narrative structure. Nicholas is one copy of Moldvay away from DMing his own campaign...]

Which is all to say: I have hope. I have hope these days that the type and style of gaming I want and crave and enjoy will not die off with my generation, or be subsumed and co-opted by 5E and the current styles/systems of gaming. I just have to get to people when they're young and raw and have no basis of comparison. Get them excited about the game that I like...at least provide them with a foundation for understanding the damn thing. After that they can pick up whatever monstrosity is the industry's "latest greatest" and make an informed opinion...with real, experiential knowledge in the back of their brains.

Yeah, I'm a pusher. And dammit, this is the hill I'm prepared to stand (and die) on. Well, this and one other...which I'll try to blog about tomorrow. Right now, I've got a couple things to do before I start prep for Friday's game.

Later, gators.


  1. Thanks for keeping the old ways alive!

    While personally I'm a pan-editional, ecumenical syncretic, my gaming has been greatly enriched by learning about the old-school traditions and I'm delighted to hear that a new generation is taking up the mantle.

  2. By gum we're doing the like thing in our own ways!

    I started with my four year old son, my seven year old daughter, and my wife five years ago, and I had them running five characters through a fifteen session campaign of Keep on the Borderlands over the course of six months.

    Since then, we had a long interludes and a second group of characters run through an eleven session Village of Hommlet campaign guest-starring their Ankle Eeek (Uncle Eric), my brother who played D&D with me back in the early 80s and who played a hilarious Elmo.

    Then back to the original five characters and a grueling cross-country trek of thirteen sessions to cover two hundred miles of overgrown, nearly forgotten track, complete with weather, choosing defensive terrain, horse, food, water, and cart logistics, random encounters, weird abandoned keeps, and the like.

    Now we're five years into it, and on a recent family campervan vacation to New Zealand, I was immensely gratified that my daughter insisted that I run D&D in the evenings at the campsites several evenings. And by golly with no more than my notebook, a pen, and a set of dice I ran the last five sessions of that overland trek. And on the evenings I wasn't running a game, they were watching my carefully edited and repaired versions of LotR or The Hobbit which I had read to them before they saw them.

    I think aside from the game itself, what's kept them super hooked is the large Strathmore 11"x14" art book that I've lovingly and painstakingly lined, transcribed, and illustrated with maps, sketches, and the like. Every single session they're experiencing is being recorded and so they're making a family legendarium.

    All this to say you're not alone.