Thursday, April 24, 2014

I just ran one of the best D&D sessions of my life and the only player was 12 years old

I wanted to accompany this post with some thoughts about how running this short session (it only lasted an hour) really got me thinking in new ways about DMing. But the report is long enough as-is and I'm getting sleepy, so that will come tomorrow.

She also asked me for rules to run games. I sent her S&W Core but it's virtually nothing like what we actually played, so there might be a kid-friendly D&D hack forthcoming.

Sometimes I babysit a 12 year-old who lives nearby. She's an extremely creative person with an artist for a mother and a neurosurgeon for a father. She regularly shows me the comics and drawings she's working on, the 50 pages of Harry Potter / Twilight concept mashup fiction she's typed up in the past week (this is not an exaggeration she seriously did that), or tells me her latest idea for a surprisingly gritty manga. So naturally I've been trying to pique her curiosity about RPGs. Today I succeeded.

So after I casually mentioned D&D for the umpteenth time she asked me how it works. I tell her that you've got a person who provides a situation and invents the world the action takes place in, you've got players who describe how they're going to navigate that situation, and you've got dice you roll to decide what happens if it's not immediately obvious.

HER: So, the Dungeon Master says something like, "you're in a room and the walls start to slide together and crush you?"
ME: That's right. And you say something like, "I try to push them apart with my arms." And you roll some dice and compare them to your Strength to see if it works.
HER: Or if the character's not very strong you could jam something hard in between?

She was grokking it before I could even finish explaining it. We had to walk her dog, so we took it by my place so I could run in and grab my dice and a copy of the Dungeon Dozen. On the way there, she tried her hand at DMing diceless. I woke up on a deserted island, stole a hot-air balloon, killed a wyvern with nothing but rope while the balloon crashed, escaped a river full of piranhas, and knocked out a tiger before nailing myself in the head with my own rock and blacking out.

Back at her house we set to chargen. I asked her what kind of character she wanted to play. She said, "a vampire! No, a werewolf!" I quietly searched my mind for an easy way to houserule those, but ended up not having to: "No! A sorceress!" She said. We rolled ability scores down the line and I told her she could switch two if she liked. She ended up switching her 16 Wisdom (which I called Awareness to keep things uncomplicated) and her 10 Intelligence. I decided to give her a base HP value of 6+Con, which ended up being 6.

HER: What happens if I run out of HP? Do I faint? [She's a big Pokemon fan.]
ME: You die.
HER: Oh! [she thinks for a moment.] Is 6 HP a lot?
ME: It's decent. You'll still be pretty fragile.
HER: I'll have to be really careful.

I told her to name her character. She told me her name was Isabelle and while I was flipping through the Dungeon Dozen for the table of Magic-User backgrounds she told me she was orphaned when an enemy Sorcerer slew her parents and stole their souls, and that she had vowed an oath to rescue their souls from him. The Sorcerer's name is Mortimer.

Like, Jesus, I didn't even have to ask.

So I showed her this map I doodled on the Metro this morning and told her she lives on this island.

She told me that she lives in the Black Hills because they sound cool, but that Mortimer lives on another island. So much for that then.

We rolled for her spells. She got Light and Magic Shield. I decided she could cast each of them once a day, since she was playing solo and I didn't feel like explaining spell slots quite yet.

I figured it was about time to get started but was worried her wizard was too squishy. I told her she could have a pet. It turned out to be a pixie named Tito. Why not. And so we started.

Several days out to sea Isabelle and Tito were running out of water on their little dingy and had a while to go before reaching the island where Mortimer was living. Before long she began to see the bows of ships through the waves. The flags and design indicated a number of ships from a variety of countries. Bringing the boat up alongside, she saw that the ships were manned by strange folk wearing bird masks (Patrick Stuart's Kenku). Reaction roll 6. They called over and asked where she was going. She said she sought a Sorcerer, but lied about whom as she suspected these may be loyal to him.

They offered to provide her with food, drink, and safe passage to a nearby island where a Sorcerer dwells, in exchange for a small service. They cast down a rope ladder. Before climbing up, she warned them that she was a powerful magician and would curse them with dark magic if they tried to harm her or her companion. Her oration was delightfully Vancian. I had her roll d20 + Charisma (the whole score) over 21. (This is equivalent to rolling under Charisma, but I prefer high rolls = better results.) She succeeded and the masked men were duly impressed. Loading her up with food and water, they told her a foul tribe of barracuda men live on the same island as the sorcerer. Their terms were that she sneak into the barracuda men's lair and poison their sacred well. She agreed, the terms were set, and the expedition set off.

A couple days later they arrived at the cave where the barracuda men dwelt. I flipped through my notebook and found a half-finished dungeon called "ghoul hole." Easy reskin, why not.

This is where she really shined. Entering the dungeon, she found herself in dark, winding tunnel. She picked up a rock and tossed it about 20 feet in, listening carefully and readying herself for an attack. (She would continue to do this every 20 feet or so, and I would continue rolling 4s and 5s on every damn wandering monster roll.)

HER: While I walk, I check the floor, walls, and ceiling for traps.

This without my ever even mentioning traps. A natural!

She comes to a room with a straw floor with two chests on the far end. She says she jumps in, just past where the straw meets the floor. I draw a diagram of the room and ask her to indicate where she lands. Right on a pit trap hidden beneath the straw. (I think she suspected there was a trip wire?) The floor gives way. I tell her to make a saving throw 1d20 + Dex mod. She just scrapes by with a 15.

She sends Tito to check out what's below. He identifies the location of two more pit traps, a pile of animal pelts, and a corridor going who knows where.

She had Tito pile up the pelts and climbed into the lower room. Exploring further, she found herself at the bottom of a ditch. She sent Tito up to scout, and he spotted a barracuda man on guard. Unfortunately it spotted him too and sprinted over to the edge of the pit. Reaction 6. It starts asking questions.

Isabelle says she came to worn them that evil Kenku were heading upriver to with vile plans for the barracuda men. She claimed to have barely escaped their clutches, and knew nothing more of their devices. Another excellent Charisma roll. The guard went to fetch his superior. She sent Tito to spy.

She hears a scuffle, and a priestly-looking fellow draped in barnacles, tattered robes and broken shells arrives with Tito trapped a net. "We caught your little spyyyy" he gurgles.

As if on cue, her dad gets home. To be continued.

Spoiler: She's hooked.


  1. Awesome read :) I love to hear about new player introductions and can't wait til my own kids are old enough to play.