Due to an unexpected change in my weekly D&D games roster we had to call in a reliever from the bullpen. Ah… sports metaphors. Anyways, due to some change in my usual group, mainly the departure of two regulars, we were left we a distinct lack of enough people to field a strong, four man party. One of my friend’s sons has shown interest. Previously we had played some very simple RPGs with his two sons with varying success. One of these attempts was the Sword & Shield RPG I have spoken about previously.
The eldest boy is eight and we decided to give him a go running character in the interim. He has proven to be generally capable with some minor coaching from his father. Currently he plays a warlord in our 4e campaign. Despite the experience he still lacks a certain respect for the aspects of the game which are not concerned with bashing evil things in the face. Such is to be expected, I’ve yet to meet a young kid whose strong point was his/her patience.
As the campaign’s DM placed the story on hold at the conclusion of the most recent chapter we were given a few weeks of time to fill as he works on the next leg of the campaign. It was at such time the boy requested to take the mantle of Dungeon Master for his first campaign. With smiles equal mix nostalgia and jaded we agreed.
The plot was as simple as you might expect, a short three session parade. There are dragons, dragons are bad, kill the dragons; voila plot! The task of PCs fell to me and I tinkered some time to forge four stalwart adventurers. Unfortunately the wizard turned out to be not so useful, the one silver lining it’s pretty cool to fling a dragon 25 ft through the air. We constructed a paper thin background for our group, all the PCs were orphans (imagine that!) raised in an orphanage/mercenary factory. Because what good are orphans if not for molding into trained warriors. We were shortly summoned to the king’s castle. Which king, why the king of the whole freaking world. The guy has all the resources of the world at his disposal, united varied people and places under his iron fist but a few dragons are giving him fits, call in the low level adventurers!
En route to the king we were set upon by one such dragon. A might battle ensued and the party stood triumphant over the corpse of their kill. The remainder of the journey to the king’s castle was uneventful. We met the king and learned the specifics. Three dragons were terrorizing his lands, suspiciously in close proximity to the king’s castle. We had killed one and were tasked to dispatch the remaining two dragons. Given 1/3 of the job was already finished the group requested some upfront cash. The king of the world said no. We pleaded, he said ‘ok, five gold pieces each.’ The king of the world is a notorious miser. We also learned the dragons are a particular issue because they crave the sugary, deliciousness of gold. Suddenly the five gold pieces inflated in value. Since gold is scarce, my character requested the king provide us with some equipment to better accomplish the slaying of the remaining dragons, perhaps a healing potion. Without hesitation the king granted each member of the party three healing potions. In the back of my mind I knew that was the gold equivalent of 150 gp. Gold was scarce indeed to begrudgingly liberate 20 gp from the king’s coffers while not a second thought is given to providing the adventurers 600 gp worth of goods. Instead of gold the king offers the strangest of rewards for dragon slaying. If we complete the task we will be adopted by the king and become princes and princesses. It is not so much an offer of reward but a demand. I mean you can’t tell the king of the world ‘no it’s cool, I don’t really want to be a prince’. It is of note to mention that the king already has eight princes. This does not seem to be an extraordinary turn of events.
We left the king with reports of a dragon a few miles to the south. Traveling along the road we came across a fortified camp complete with a palisade. With the day drawing to a close it was decided best to seek shelter behind the walls than exposed on the road. The wizard and paladin approached the gate and knocked. The thief sidled up to the palisade to peer between the heavy logs at the camp’s interior. The rune priest held back by the road alternating between scratching his butt and picking his nose. The camp was populated by orcs and they disliked being disturbed. Conveniently no one spoke orcish and benign diplomacy quickly broke down. Weapons were unsheathed and sunset was accompanied by the sounds of battle and the death cries of orcs. The camp liberated the party bedded down. The night proved to be uneventful but a quick search of camp revealed a partially buried chest glittering with a gemstone and some small coinage.
In the morning the group gathered their supplies and readied to depart. While making the final equipment check on the road the party was approached by a servant of the castle bearing news the castle had spotted a dragon and it was descending on the castle proper. Just as the news broke and the party readied to turn around they were attacked by the remaining dragon. A fierce battle raged, with fire breath and poisoned tail spines but the adventurers were able to dispatch the beast. Being smart this time the party cut open the fiend’s belly to retrieve a small fortune of gold only to find none. Seriously gold is scarce and the handful of coins in the party’s collective pockets must have made them a beacon. Gold = catnip for dragons, they go bonkers for the stuff.
The party rushes back to the castle, a days journey away and arrive the next morning. In the castle’s atrium the king was bravely battling a massive, purple dragon. Just within the hall lay the eight princes, wounded and exhausted from the conflict. The party hurries to aid the king, their would-be father. Another great battle, another victory and the day is saved. The party becomes royalty and everyone lives happily ever after.
It wasn’t bad. The game had a refreshing simplicity. There was no thought of what was being presented by the DM as anything but fact. No diabolical NPCs, no subversion, no real surprises. While this might sound somewhat bad on paper, a few traps or an NPC betraying the PCs at some point and the group can quickly get paranoid. If you’re running a horror game this is probably good, otherwise it’s bad. The party painstakingly scouring dungeon floors inch by inch for traps and giving every NPC a thorough background check can grind a game to a halt.
So here are some things I have taken away from the experience.
– When in doubt simplicity is the best way. The more convoluted things are the more difficult it is to adjust on the fly and as a DM/GM you will have to do this because you know, players are far too ignorant and rude to follow the obvious route.
– Material wealth is unnecessary. Strip away the almighty power of the dollar/gold piece and it will free you to make better impetus and reward for adventuring. Money is a terrible motivator for RPGs, it’s shallow and if it is the PC’s primary concern that character will be all sorts of boring to play. I usually keep the PCs in my games edging the line of abject poverty. Campaigns and NPCs are more interesting when you have to use a barter system. Thanks for killing those goblins, have a pair of goats. Now that random wolves encounter is more plausible.
– Honey and vinegar should be mixed when using NPCs of power. If PCs grumble or push aggressively for a better reward don’t be afraid of strong arming them. Threaten some dungeon time, and then when they decide to take the reward tell them you’ve changed your mind and offer them 75% of the previous reward. Don’t let PCs walk over plot-centric NPCs, especially ones in positions of power.
– Solo monsters in 4e still suck. Collectively gaming groups have tried to use them, tweaked them, created new ones. WoTC has done the same. No one has crushed it with a winning solution. A balanced group of five PCs against a single monster with appropriate stats is simply no match. Solo contests are often obvious early on who will win the fight. The rest is the whittling away of a solo’s ridiculous HP. I may have to delve back into tinkering solos. I don’t particularly like solo fights and especially dragons, so it’s usually a non-issue for me.
– The ending should be more interesting than the beginning. Maybe it goes along the lines of ‘always leave them wanting more’. I find myself wondering what happens to those characters next. Suddenly becoming royalty, a household of 11 princes and 1 princess, that seems like it would be a very interesting situation to explore. Is their contention for the throne, are all the princes adopted or are some of the eight legitimate blood heirs to the world. Upon the king’s death will their be one heir or will the world kingdom be broken up into multiple princedoms. A great amount of intrigue. This sort of plot is beyond an eight-year-old to bring to fruition, but interesting all the same.
– Uncanny. I think a success of world building is being uncanny. By that I mean familiar, but strange. Familiar means it is easy to grasp the general order of things but strange is that one thing that sets it apart from others, its distinction. A generic fantasy world where the world is already solidified under one ruler who does not appear to be a twisted tyrant. A world where gold is ridiculously scarce, to the point it cannot be used for general coinage. I have a campaign setting where a virulent plague wiped out horses. A world that very suddenly lost its standard method of transportation and its infrastructure is reeling from the loss.
Have you played games with kids? What was your experience like, what sort of things did you learn, truths did you need to reexamine?