[WARNING - Nerd talk ahead!]
So I’m an engineer, so it should come as no surprise I at least tried Dungeons and Dragons in my youth. I talked my mom into the red-boxed Basic D&D set when I was maybe 13 or 14 years old, and with my two brothers and a couple of friends played a few games before dropping it.
Basically, we didn’t know how to play and sort of made up rules based on the book. It was fun, but we never took it to the next level. We followed up that experience up with a Marvel Superheroes RPG, which was fun too, but that soon followed the path of D&D. We lived outside of town, and not having a mentor or other friends to play the games with were probably our biggest reasons for dropping it.
Somehow I got it in my head that my kids may be interested in playing it this summer. Thought it may be fun to mix it in with all the other summer activities (swimming, camp, soccer, video games, piano, gardening, crafts) and keep things interesting. So I bought the newly released (July 2014) basic level Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set ($12 on Amazon) at a local hobby shop for $20. It comes with basic rules, a guide for the game master (AKA Dungeon Master or DM in nerd-talk) and some multisided dice. I wasn’t sure how my kids would like it, or be able to handle it (they just turned 7 and 9 respectively). Prior to this arriving in the mail, I had checked out some D&D rule books (something like version 3.5, which are for “real” players) from the library, and holy shit, was my head spinning. Very complex for someone who hadn’t looked at this stuff for 25 years and never played at that level.
Thankfully, this starter set made things easy. They had pre-made characters (though my kids wanted to make their own anyway), simplified instructions (that I further modified for the kiddos- recommended age was “12 and up”), and a pre-made adventure. As I was reading the instructions, I told the kids they should have a Lego figure to represent the character (there are no miniatures in the kit), so they spent some time getting outfits and weapons and so forth set. Then, I gave them a brief description of the first adventure setting, so they went ahead and built a Lego version of the adventure complete with bridge and water. Finally, they built Lego “bad guys” of unknown species or origin. Half the fun for this first go around was this initial effort.
They weren’t happy with their pre-made equipment list for their characters so rolled for gold and went shopping using a weapons/armor/equipment list in one of the library books. After equipping their newly rolled characters, they were finally ready for adventure. Since I don’t really know how to DM, I followed the book adventure closely, but tried to impart on them the need to flesh out their actions and pretend they were really there. I led them to their first battle (LoudBoy, Birdsnest, and Birdsnest’s friend SoccerGirl) which they recommended for 5-6 players. Not to spoil it, but it was against four goblins or some such villianry – two raining down arrows while the other two attacking our party with swords. Rolling dice and battling was quickly figured out by the group, and all three barely made it out alive. LoudBoy’s cleric casted a heal spell on himself despite the fact that his sister’s wizard was getting creamed and his hit points were mostly fine. Funny.
We called an end to our first part of the tale shortly thereafter, where the characters set up camp to heal and recover to move on to part two which we played later.
My thoughts on the whole thing is that while 9 (and especially 7) is too young for full on D&D adventures and rules, if you dumb it down, focus on stories, let them have the benefit from time to time of some “lucky” rolls and engage in battle of various sorts, they will have a great time. We weren’t doing lots of extra dexterity or wisdom rolls, or figuring out movements in battles – we would just move the Lego characters and bad guys around the grid and Lego setting, have them tell me what they were doing (attacking and with what, casting a spell) while they battled it out. That was a key part of our adventure. Keeping things moving and simple.
Now lest you think I live in my own fantasy world and don’t know the social stigma associated with the Dungeons and Dragons term, think again. I’m not looking to have my kids be social outcasts (not to say D&D folks are, but it is looked down upon, or was in my day), and I’m even considering changing the name to “Dragon Adventure” or simply “Adventure” to perhaps take away some of the geek stink from it when they talk about it. But it’s a social atmosphere, where they use their imagination, problem solving skills and teamwork to beat the bad guys. Anything is possible in the game, so unlike the constraints of a videogame, they truly are tapping into parts of their brain that doesn’t get used and had a wonderful time imagining fighting goblins and monsters. I’d much rather have them playing something that requires these skills versus sitting in front of a television watching shows or playing computer games. I’m not out to make geeks, but to have them play Adventure and have a good time, and have some quality time with them to boot – creating fond memories, I hope.
With a variety of free resources and older adventure modules you can find in .pdf, even if you aren’t a creative game master like me, you can still navigate your group through whole new worlds and campaigns. Since I still don’t really know what I’m doing as DM, I may sit in with the neckbeards at the local hobby/game shop on their weekly game night and observe some real D&D play to get a better understanding of how it goes so I may better lead my kids adventures.
For those out there punching their fist like Nelson Muntz looking to give me a wedgie, I ask you, is Dungeons and Dragons any dorkier than Fantasy Football (which I, and 33.5 million other people play)? Both require “fantasy” in that you don’t really own an NFL team. Both involve stats. Both involve randomness. Both involve picking players. Not that different people.
Your wife thinks you’re a dork no matter what, but on the D&D side, I think it is different playing with your kids (quality time with games) vs. taking it to the next level and finding a real game with of grownups (it’s harder to shrug off gaming with grownups, though I’m sure it is pretty fun and not much different than board game night with friends). Regardless, whether D&D or Fantasy Football or some other dorky hobby, you have to balance out this tendency to nerd-out with some manly things like weights, or hunting, or MMA – something so that your wife can pretend to ignore these (perhaps) less than sexy hobbies for ones that have more street cred. That is, unless your wife is into CosPlay and dress up, which sounds super hot to me.
Finally, since starting this topic, I can’t get this song out of my head. Thanks Weezer!