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Title: Starting up D&D with the kids
Post by: greyorm on June 05, 2006, 06:43:19 PM
Saturday nights are family night around our house once we've got the youngest two in bed, as their idea of playing a game is stealing everyone else's pieces every two minutes and laughing until we get them back and they cry-scream. That leaves my wife, the oldest two (seven and nine), and I to watch a movie or play some games together.

I wanted to get my son away from video games, and I didn't want to play Monopoly again (bloody Capitalism! hah!), so I subtly insinuated we could play D&D instead, as they'd shown interest a few weeks back. That time, they decided they weren't interested after all and chose to do something else. This time, they eventually bit the hook.

The history

What I mean by D&D is not precisely D&D, but more D&Dish than our other (generally abortive) attempts have been. To explain, I have these three huge D&D boxed sets -- not Basic, Expert, etc., but the D&D Adventure Game thingies with the themed tri-part adventures, pre-rolled characters, maps, counters, and fold-up cardboard minis. I believe the titles are Haunted Tower, Dragon's Den, and Goblin's Lair. These adventures aren't 3E. They're old school basic D&D from the red box, more specifically from the era of the Rules Cyclopedia.

Each of the nine adventures has a board game element, that is, they can be played as a board game instead with some simple rules and typical board-gamey stuff like rolling dice to move. That's how we played them in the past, in fact. So the kids think they're board games, but I'd determined some time ago that if we played again I would be trying for a more straight-up D&D feel, given the first two times we tried out the board game rules -- with the Dragon's Lair set -- we found them to be badly written, some to the point of being nonsensical.

Now, I could tell that while the kids understood the basic rules, the rules -- the ones that made sense, at least -- were bogging the game down into "not fun". My daughter had noticeably lost all interest about an hour into the game the last time we'd played, and I had noticed that (I was changing the rules to make it more fun for the same reason!), so it is no wonder they were reluctant to play again.

That was the main reason why I determined to ditch this crud as "unfun" and play something closer to actual D&D, rather than hack something together from what the existing board game was giving out. Plus, I wanted to, so I could eventually play more complex RPGs with them.

Getting to the Playing

I wasn't going full bore into the D&D rules with the kids. "Let's spend the next two hours making characters, kids, and I'll explain the rules to you, too, without playing at all!" was about as high on my priority list -- and about as exciting -- as showing the kids the lint between my toes for the next two hours. So we dove right in. However, I had to work out what exactly I was going to keep and what I was going to ditch from the D&D system for the night's play. Was I going to worry about levels, ability bonuses and penalties, different weapon damages, etc?

It was also the fastest I have ever gotten into the first session of a game of D&D. Looking at it now, I find that disturbing...for the traditional: "Let's spend endless hours making characters and looking over the rules instead of playing!" Damn. Gamers DO that? Yikes.

Because my son was absorbed in playing the PS2, my daughter picked out the map we were going to use -- the first map of the Goblin's Lair set -- and grabbed a card for a character. Last time she played a cleric (and her brother yelled at her for not playing "a healing-person" again) but she chose the thief this time.

What sold her on it was the idea that she could sneak around and hit her enemies from behind and steal their stuff. Her little eyes lit up, and she was all like, "oooOOOOOoo...Hehehe"...a reaction which worries me in a particularly fatherly way.

Once we got him to the table, my son dragged out the card for the fighter he had played the last time (to which my wife said, "Of course" -- my son: sword fetish. Until what happened at the end of the game, I would have sworn he was going to grow up to be the "I play the fighter" guy).

In fact, he refused to play without having that character, a problem which arose because we could not initially find the character's stat card and had to dig through all three boxes to find it. THEN he complained because we couldn't find the little mini for it, either, but he solved the problem himself by suggesting he just use another of the minis to represent his guy. Yay! Emotional disaster averted! Whew. Honestly, I was very impressed he'd solved the problem himself and didn't turn into a complete grump about the situation, as is all too typical for him when he does not get exactly what he wants.

But after hearing about his sister's character's special abilities, he wanted to know what special things his character could do. I thought that was a fair request-phrased-as-a-question, so he got to hit things automatically for four points of damage by spending one hit point, though I think he forgot about doing so (I did, too). No, his character could not do healing (this was a repeated topic). His mom, from the nearby bedroom where we had enslaved her to fold laundry, brought up that paladins could heal people and fight with swords. They had no clue what a paladin was, and I had to try and herd them back on track after we discussed clerics and priests and resting in town.

Now, I couldn't remember what the book says each of the weapons they had does for damage, so I made it up on the spot, and I handed out dice for each one (ie: "This d8 is for your sword, you roll it every time to hit something with your sword. This d6 is for your bow." etc). They thought that was pretty neat; they had their "sword die" and their "bow die" all laid out in front of them along with their d20. The physical reminder of their equipment seemed to help them remember the things they had and what to roll, so it was a cool little "prop" for play.

I'm thinking of digging through their toy bins for other little equipment props: those little dollhouse bottles or cups to stand in as healing potions, sparkling dood-dads for amulets or whatnot, that kind of thing. Or just more funky colored dice, since that's how they picked their d20s: "The red one is way more cool, I want that one! Here, dad, you get this one back 'cause it's ugly." Sparkly dice for potions! Yay!

Ok. Next, I asked if they wanted to play using the map, or just see everything in their heads and use their imaginations. They both voted (loudly) for using the map, but wanted to roll to see how many spaces they could move each time it was their turn (still in boardgame mode). In fact, my daughter leapt right in, rolling and moving before we were even ready. After reminding them we hadn't started playing yet, I gave them a move of six squares each time it was their turn, and that worked fine for them.

I explained (quick, they were gunning to start) we would be playing the game more like regular D&D. My son complained that would be hard because there were so many rules (hrm...actually, he's right, but I have no idea where he got that idea from. I've never said anything like that, he's never looked at my D&D books to my knowledge. I am thinking it was just his usual "new things are too hard and complex" assumptive nature kicking in). I reassured him it wasn't too hard, and we started.

Once we started play, the game actually took forever to get off the ground because much of that time was spent trying to get my son to stop interrupting at length about every tangent under the sun that crossed his mind, but he finally settled down when I explained how we couldn't play at all if he kept talking and interrupting me. Kids. (Actually, children with ADHD, but I digress.)

cont...


Title: Re: Starting up D&D with the kids
Post by: greyorm on June 05, 2006, 06:45:31 PM
Actually Playing the Game

Eventually I was able to start-and-finish a short ad-libbed intro loosely based on the pages of "Read Aloud to Players" introductory text for the adventure -- short and loose because I wasn't about to put them to sleep before play even began (Imagine you're a kid, and your brain is asking: "Are we playing a game or reading a story? Come on!").

They were set at the entrance to the caves of the nasty goblins; their goal was to find the goblin chieftain and put an end to him so the goblins would stop raiding the local farms and return to fighting among themselves.

My daughter: "We have to kill him to the death!" A statement somehow both amusing and scary coming from a seven-year old, especially one who is currently missing her two front teeth. She was being a smart-aleck.

Anyways, pretty shallow on the plot, but not really a big problem when your kids aren't even ten and television has rotted their brains. Then again, they'll surprise you.

My daughter is a little shit. The first thing she does is abandon her brother and sneak off on her own to explore. I didn't say anything about this, except to ask her if she was sure she wanted to go off alone and leave her brother alone. Yep! Tra-la-la! She ends up in an empty stretch of cavern while her brother checks out a debris-filled room and is attacked by a pack of fleeing rats he disturbs. He manages to kill one, and they don't do him any harm through his thick armor.

Two things were decided here: I didn't want to have to dig through the mess of counters and fold-ups in the boxes, so I resorted to using dice as markers on the map board. This die was a rockfall, this die was the attacking rats, etc. It added a nice 3-D visual element to play. Little things were d4's, bigger things were larger sizes. Kind of cool.

Second: combat itself was pretty straight-forward, but stripped down. I made some on-the-fly decisions about how to run it, especially with the dread THAC0 staring me in the face from the monster stat block. I always hated THAC0 -- "Crap, what's the math for this one? Subtract it from what? Poo." -- and the "smaller AC is better" thing. So combat consisted of rolling a d20 to beat their opponent's (recalculated-in-my-head) AC. I also ditched levels and strength bonuses to hit and damage and such, at least for the moment -- I figured I can add those as we play more and they learn the rules better. Right then the idea was to get them playing and having fun and rolling dice, and hell, they didn't care about that stuff.

After the rats go, I prompt my son about whether he wants to search the room, and my wife encourages him to do it from the sidelines, then tells him to keep the stuff he finds "like she would." I decide to roll d6s for searching, with a "1" entailing success. He finds a small throwing hammer he keeps (and some junk he doesn't); I let him know he can throw the hammer, and give him a d4 "hammer die" for it. He's all cackling and rubbing his hands together.

While my daughter pesters me about her turn -- she hasn't had one in maybe five minutes, sheesh, and has to be restrained from moving her character past areas I haven't even described to her yet -- my son passes on digging out a rockfall blocking the way to the mine, because he "doesn't want any rocks to fall on his head". He goes to find his sister instead.

Skills and Streams

For almost everything except combat, I decided to have the kids roll a d20 against an appropriate ability score (which were all listed clearly on their character cards). Success was rolling under their appropriate ability score. It worked, though I waffled between modifying the target number of these rolls based on circumstances, such as the weight of the fighter's armor when he tried to cross the stream I'm about to talk about. Something to decide on for certain before the next time we play.

We go back to his sister, who has crossed a small stream and unfortunately alerted the goblin sentry in the chamber beyond by being too loud. To determine that, we rolled surprise on d6s, with high rolls winning. We also used that as a basic initiative. The sentry runs away screaming, alerting three goblin archers on the far side of an underground river up ahead. She sees them and then successfully hides from them -- the kids learn about the "20 is automatic" rule -- and then puts one down with her bow and giggles gleefully.

Unfortunately, the remaining two goblins spot her (we roll for it again -- opposed roll this time). She runs away and hides again. I am convinced she just likes moving her piece around the map for the sheer joy of the fact that she can.

Meanwhile, her brother has managed to almost drown himself getting across the stream. He has to roll to successfully wade across the stream in his heavy armor and he doesn't make it. An interesting aside about the stream: At this point I asked my daughter if she had left the rope she had used to help her get across the stream there or taken it with her. Knowing it would help her brother if she had left it, and make escape quicker for her if she came back this way, she thought about it for a few minutes but declared she'd taken it with her. So, no help for the fighter!

Once he'd fallen in, my son asked if he could shoot the rope up out of the water with his bow to let him climb out. I said "No. You're underwater; how would you shoot your bow?" He thought about it and agreed it wouldn't really work. And then 'Dogs' invaded my head-space, and I heard Vincent saying, "Say yes or roll the dice!" Curse you, Vincent. I began thinking about doing that from then on, since I'd rather be rewarding player investment and cool stunts. And I'd like to keep those filthy RPG pundits away from my kids; if that means breaking some bad gaming habits myself, I'll do it.

Both my kids know what they want, and I wouldn't want typical D&D dickery turning them off to gaming. I know my daughter would not put up with it. My son is always trying to be the big boss bitch when they play anything together -- yes/no'ing and trying to spin everything to his advantage, controlling everyone else's input (sound familiar? Uh-huh!). In response, she can and will simply stand up and go find something else to do, and simply be done with playing whatever she was done with, regardless of how much she wanted to play whatever it was.

She won't put herself through misery to eke out some small enjoyment when she can go elsewhere for some other kind of fun and not have to deal with dickery to get it. (Adult gamers could learn from this child.) In fact, she did this last time we played: it was a big "this is hideously boring" clue for me when she said she was tired of playing and left the table (along with the not paying any attention and being distracted constantly that came before that).

So, I know she gets bored when the action isn't interesting to her, not necessarily focused on her, as I learned that night, but interesting to her. The bear incident coming up held her attention even though the spotlight wasn't on her for a good while. It was very noticeable because she had been very pushy up until that point about doing something (anything) right now or as quickly as possible.

This is probably a good measuring stick for me in play: if my daughter is interested, what's happening is good and fun.

More combat and some concerns

After dragging himself out of the stream, my son reaches the area with the goblins, fires an arrow and kills another goblin. Two down, one to go! The kids are having fun. Too much fun, in fact; they're starting to get pushy about taking turns and walking all over one another's turns. I have to bring down the "wait your turns!" hammer on them to restore some order to play, and they start waiting their turns again.

My daughter now fires at the remaining goblin -- they learn about the "1 is a botch" rule -- her bowstring snaps, she now has no ranged weapon. But they both immediately ask me about using the ROPES for bowstrings -- in fact, I think my son brought it up first. Clever.

I have to explain how bowstrings are different from rope -- "But we could cut the ropes up to make smaller strings!" -- and I'm thinking that won't work because it isn't the same material, but they don't know that. Thus, because I'm still wondering if I should just allow it if they try and succeed at a check, all I have as a comeback is, "There are goblins shooting at you right now, do you want to work on the ropes, or shoot back?"

My son decides to shoot back, and his sister runs away after trying to figure out if she could sneak across the river to attack with her sword and deciding she doesn't want to try. There is some negotiation with her about where she runs: first it is back into the caverns they came from, but then she decides, no, she is going to try to sneak past the goblins on this side of the river, into a cavern just to the left. She can see on the map that there is a narrow stretch of slippery rocks that normally wouldn't be crossable, but I'm open to letting her try.

I tell her she has to roll to keep her feet AND to avoid being shot by the goblin archer, who can plainly see her trying to cross. She agrees, makes the rolls, and makes it across into the other part of the cavern on this side of the river without falling in or being hurt.

However, my son pulls a classic of gaming while we're doing this, and says he is going to go play the PS2 when it isn't his turn. I'm sitting there thinking, "Oh no. Don't be that guy, kiddo! DON'T BE THAT GUY!" I tell him "no" and there is a brief argument about it, but he settles back down and gets back into playing. Yay. ADHD.

Phhhooo...

I switch back to my son, and there is a shoot-out as the goblin (who can't hit the broad-side of a barn) and my son's fighter go at it with an exchange of arrows. My son decides to try out his hammer, and misses with the throw. Splash, into the river and gone. He flicks the d4 "hammer die" across the table at me and knocks my dice all over the place. Thankfully, it was an accident, he wasn't angry about the situation, just trying to return the die.

I realized later this is cool and good for a non-obvious reason: my kids don't know about or think about hoarding items yet. They actually put the stuff they find to use! Another stupid D&D behavior I won't have to untrain them from! Huzzah!

He goes back to his bow and boffs the motion of his roll -- doesn't physically drop the die the way he wants to -- and says he "made a mistake rolling it" (or something along those lines), begging to try again. Second time he's done this. I sternly let him know there are no "rerolls" or "test rolls" or anything like that, but say I will allow it this time only, and not to ask again. He agrees and gets his reroll. I never hear him ask for another reroll (though it's possible I've gone suddenly senile because that surprises me).

Eventually, after a number of misses and three grazes -- plus getting hit once himself -- and just when I can tell he is about to get bored with the whiffs, he puts the goblin down. Then he moves to join his sister, and we roll to make sure he doesn't slip and fall off the rocks and into the river. He falls in again but manages to pull himself out this time without being hurt or being swept downriver.

I was a bit worried there about what to do, given the obviously boring back-and-forth of whiff-shots. I considered suggesting a change in tactics to move play along, but wasn't sure how to go about it, or what to suggest. I'm still not certain how I would have handled that using the D&D rules (or a slimmed down knock-off of them).


Title: Re: Starting up D&D with the kids
Post by: greyorm on June 05, 2006, 06:47:26 PM
Endgame

They find another rockfall on the other side of this cavern, get a definition of what a rockfall is because my daughter wasn't sure, and find a symbol they can't identify carven on the rocks (Intelligence roll. Both fail). My son begs me to let him try again, a couple times, and I tell them that isn't how the game works; they just don't know the symbol. My son groans and pleads, and offers me gold(!). Heh.

His sister has moved her piece into the space beyond the rockfall before they clear it out, because she sees something on the map that really interests her. I have her rewind her move, then let them know how long it will take to clear the rocks away -- no rolls required. They choose to clear the rubble and then explore the area just beyond it, a small cave opening to the outside, full of sticks and leaves and bones.

A quick die roll for suprise reveals they are accosted by the grizzly bear that lives in the cave. I described it vaguely as a big, mean, furry, toothy, roaring thing that sticks its head into the cave from outside, and my son shouts, "It's a BEAR!" He's quick in recognizing it, but should have listened to his intuition about fighting it.

My son had taken damage, so before the fight with the bear, I made him total it up and figure out how many hit points he had left. He groaned about that, though I don't know why -- he's ahead of his class mathematically, doing multiplication and things. But how dare I sneak school work into playing a game! I'm just so awful. Heh. He gets it, easily, after I remind him it's subtraction and after he freaks out that he only has ONE hit point left! I tell him to check again, because that's wrong, and he ends up at half (which is right).

At the appearance of the bear, my daughter's thief runs (again!), leaving her brother behind (again!). My son decides to FIGHT THE BEAR! He misses on his attack, it pulps him on its turn and has fighter snacks for dinner that night. Oops. He's like, "I was GOING to run." To which the only reply is, "But you didn't." I have been wondering if I should have suggested to him that the bear might be more dangerous than what he could handle by himself, or even with help. I realize now I probably should have.

I was very concerned about leading the kids -- that is, telling them what they should do, instead of allowing them to make their own decisions. The concern led to a whiff here and there on my part, such as this, and I ended up not suggesting things to try or do out of the worry I would be leading or forcing them. I'll have to work on that for next time...or perhaps better, ask them what sorts of non-obvious alternatives or varied actions they might try.

My son tells his sister, "See, you should have played a thing (a cleric)...so you could heal me! Come back and get me and bring me to town to get healed!" I'm like, "Unh, healers can't help you now. You're dead. I mean, the priests might be able to bring you back from the dead...but that's expensive. I mean, you were just eaten by a bear. You're BEAR CHOW. You're dinner. It's kind of hard to heal from being dinner." Yes, I say this, but I'm not mean about it. Just trying to get him to actually listen.

He sighs that he should have gone back to town to heal like we talked about before, then shouts all excited, "Wait! I'm gonna play THIS guy!" and he shoves the stand-in fold-up mini he chose into my face. He proceeds to dig out the card for that character.

Unfortunately, it is getting quite late at this point, and so I try to wrap up the game. I move to his sister, who is now intent on checking out another spot on the map that looks interesting -- no concern about the fighter bear-snack (or going off by herself)! She crosses the river into another cavern and finds a half-dozen goblin warriors, the chieftain, and three huge wolves mustered against the intruders. I plunk down around a dozen dice on the map there to make my point, d6's for the goblins, d8's for the wolves, and a d-something for the chieftain. They completely fill the cavern ahead and I let her know they're out for her blood.

She wants to hide, but I tell her, "You can't hide from the wolves, they can sniff you out!" She wisely runs, all fun-terrified. There's an exciting chase through the caverns as she flees from the wolves, one of whom takes a nasty chunk out of her rear. She loses two of them at the stream, and laughs when they fall in and get swept away by the currents (I rolled for it).

She wonders about how many spaces the wolves can move, and I tell her they can move seven, slightly faster than her, which is why they can catch up. And to illustrate my point, the remaining wolf catches her right at the entrance to the cavern. I don't want a TPK, so I have her roll to see if she gets away first, or if the wolf attacks first -- and one good hit from the wolf and she's toast. d6's, she wins. Boom, outside! She just barely escapes from the cave ahead of the wolf, and I call an end to the game for the night.

I was a bit torn about that roll, however, because it seemed like rolling initiative a little "late in the game"...giving her a sneaky back-door-escape-by-fiat, since one more good hit by the wolf would have ended her. Still not sure if I made the best call there.

In Conclusion

All-in-all, the actual play of the game lasted something like an hour-and-a-half or two hours. I don't remember exactly, things moved so fast. That is probably the most I have ever seen accomplished/done in a session of D&D -- and fun, memorable stuff -- in that short an amount of time in ten years. That both sucks and rocks. They're all excited! Especially my son, who sees he has an invisibility potion on his new character. My daughter wants to come back to the caves next time, with mommy, who can help her play her character. I explain that mommy will play her own character, maybe play the cleric (because that's what mommy likes playing) and she thinks that's good, too.

And though it does not come out as well as it might above, I was quite concerned during play about whether or not to use attribute modifiers, level modifiers and that kind of thing. I kept spinning it around in my mind each time they rolled for things. On reflection, I think I was concerned for no good reason, because play did turn out so well, and that concern turned out not to be a real issue in play. However, I'm still trying to deal with the line between suggestion and force for my kids and our play, and just getting past my own distaste for the idea that I'm coming anywhere close to guiding play for them, instead of letting them make the choices.

Regardless of my own concerns, the kids are wild about playing again. In fact, I couldn't get my son to shut up about it this morning. "Can we play D&D again today, daddy?" After the fifteenth time -- literally, the fifteenth time -- of telling him "Not today, maybe a night I don't work. Definitely next weekend, when mommy is going to play, too." I was at the point I wasn't sure I wanted to play again.

My son is unable to let go of anything once he's fixated on it, or be patient for more than five minutes. And even knowing the reasons for that wasn't doing anything for my stress levels, let me tell you. Six hours of "Can we play..." every ten-to-fifteen minutes will drive any sane man to the breaking point, "No! D&D is devil-worship and I'm burning the game tomorrow!! Now stop asking, for the LOVE OF THE MANY GODS, STOP ASKING!" *sob*

But, hey, we are playing next weekend, and seriously, I am excited about playing again, too!


Title: Re: Starting up D&D with the kids
Post by: ffilz on June 05, 2006, 07:55:50 PM
Sounds like loads of fun.

On leading the players too much: I'm wondering if you could trust your kids to tell you they don't need your help? I think you always have to strike a balance between helping out stuck players and letting them come up with cool ideas. Of course not shooting down player contributions is a good way to keep them from learning not to try things.

One random thought I had about whiffing in combat, which can suck if it goes on for too long: If a combat round passes with no one hitting or otherwise changing the situation (a long string of whiffs is just fine if someone is running away for example), the character that rolled the closest to what they needed to hit gets an auto hit the next round (along with anyone who ties for closest). Everyone else rolls to hit as normal next round. This will change the odds somewhat, but I don't think it improves the odds of the character with the lower chance to hit. To add a bit to it, you could take the amount missed by as the number of rounds of back and forth play with no hits, and allow the players the option of doing some other action before the next hit (breaking the cycle).

Do you have a sense for how they feel about you making up rules on the fly?

Frank


Title: Re: Starting up D&D with the kids
Post by: Valamir on June 05, 2006, 08:36:54 PM
Quote
Eventually, after a number of misses and three grazes -- plus getting hit once himself -- and just when I can tell he is about to get bored with the whiffs, he puts the goblin down. Then he moves to join his sister, and we roll to make sure he doesn't slip and fall off the rocks and into the river. He falls in again but manages to pull himself out this time without being hurt or being swept downriver.

I was a bit worried there about what to do, given the obviously boring back-and-forth of whiff-shots. I considered suggesting a change in tactics to move play along, but wasn't sure how to go about it, or what to suggest. I'm still not certain how I would have handled that using the D&D rules (or a slimmed down knock-off of them).

Sounds like a perfect opportunity for the 1 hp to do an automatic 4hp damage rule to have gotten remembered.

Another house rule we used to use for aiming (or careful ambush attacks) was to roll against AC10 to aim instead of attack.  The amount hit by then served as a bonus to the next round's roll.  Sometimes when we were feeling a bit "lets just get this over with" we'd declare "oh I was just aiming" after we rolled and missed


Title: Re: Starting up D&D with the kids
Post by: Chris Peterson on June 05, 2006, 10:12:04 PM
Interesting story! What other RPGs have you introduced your kids to? After you guys got rolling, do you think the D&D rules bogged you down? If you have to drop so many rules, maybe D&D is not the game you guys want to be playing? There was a recent Forge thread about playing Donjon as a D&D substitute with kids. That thread inspired me to pull out my Donjon book again! :D


Title: Re: Starting up D&D with the kids
Post by: charles ferguson on June 05, 2006, 11:01:16 PM
Hi Raven,

Sounds like a blast,man. I think you nailed it when you said keeping the interest level up is key. You could look at opposed rolls whenever possible--give everything an ability, even obstacles (ie, the river is St 15 to cross, then you roll for "the river"), with a "failure is interesting" clause so that rolls always make something cool happen.

Me, I'd seriously look at doing all rolls the same way, to keep it simple.

You could even extend that to combat - maybe something like a flat combat bonus of St + Dx bonus for PC's & Monsters both: both roll, high roll gets to attack, with the loser then getting an armor save (roll + AC bonus) against the victor's attack roll? You could either go the classic "save means half damage" or "save means no damage but the victor gets an advantage", ie a pushback or dropped weapon or whatever.

And the "bowstrings from rope" was very cool! I'd definitely give them that one if they had time to unravel the rope.

Re: the bear... man, that was harsh! Your son's rush-in-sword-waving seems perfectly reasonable on his part, given the kind of game you described up until then--it seems kind of unfair to punish him for it by getting his character eaten :(
I mean, that's totally the way I used to GM D&D, but in hindsight, it pretty well always sucked then too. The only thing it really taught my players was the hyper-cautious, 'the GM is out to bury us, travel ten feet in ten minutes of real-time' play that your game seems to be joyfully free of.
I guess it all comes down to what kind of things you're hoping your kids will learn from these games. To me, the Nar staple 'all char deaths should be meaningful' sounds pretty good advice when playing with kids this age. All kinds of alternatives to the eating finale rear their heads, like the fighter falling unconscious before death &/or getting rescued (by his sister? some kindly hermit? the goblins?) or the bear just losing interest & then him coming to, or maybe even the hermit shows up & tames the bear using a Wis roll, showing there's ways of dealing with obstacles other than fighting?
"The Force is in all living things, Luke" ;) After the fighter has been sufficiently mauled, this might make an impact, who knows?

Look fwd to hearing more, man!


Title: Re: Starting up D&D with the kids
Post by: John Harper on June 05, 2006, 11:41:52 PM
Wow. That sounds like great fun.

I have only one bit of advice from my few experiences playing RPGs with kids: Say yes to every idea they have. Ropes for bowstrings? Sure! Healed after being eaten by a bear? Of course! Throw a twist in if you really, really have to ("Now that they put you back together again, you owe the temple of Elkor a REALLY big favor...") but otherwise, just say yes.

This builds confidence and, in my experience anyway, helps the kids engage with the game even more. Instead of running into roadblocks, they're supported. They don't have to worry about saying "the wrong thing." If they push it to test your limits ("We make swords out of pieces of string!") then assert some authority by suggesting another alternative ("String swords? They wouldn't be very scary. How about making a net instead? You can drop it on bad guys.").

Say yes. Never block. This old improv stuff will work wonders, I bet.


Title: Re: Starting up D&D with the kids
Post by: Storn on June 06, 2006, 05:43:17 AM
Ron has a thread about D&D with an older kid, and it is d20.  Not AD&D.

I think d20 would be easier for you to wing and simplify.

I agree that Donjon is already streamlined.

this next suggestion is not an indie game, but I've particpated in several threads over on the Pinnacle Entertainment Group boards about playing with kids.  Savage Worlds is a generic system that kids get very quickly... and is a breeze to run for us adults w/o being simplistic.

But some of your mechanic streamlining issues is simply rust.  Give yourself a break, imo.  If the kids are having fun... then cool!   And it sounds like they are having fun.

BUt who is "I wanna play this GUY next"?  I"m curious to know what your son wants to try next.


Title: Re: Starting up D&D with the kids
Post by: Clay on June 06, 2006, 07:49:19 AM
The attention span issue is a concern, but I think you've got the right focus.  If the kids are engaged and not wandering off, it means you're keeping it interesting.  That's a measuring stick I'm gonna try to use in my own game coming up.  No kids involved, but drunks have similar issues.


Title: Re: Starting up D&D with the kids
Post by: Chris Peterson on June 06, 2006, 10:47:42 AM
Another D&D variant to keep the bored players active:  reverse monster attack rolls into PC defending rolls. Normally the DM rolls monster attacks against PC's static AC. This gets boring real fast if player must wait for the DM to roll for 20 orc attacks. Instead, assume the monster attack rolls at 10 + their BAB/etc. Let the player's roll their AC = d20 + their AC modifiers (instead of a static AC = 10 + AC modifiers). This reduces DM work and keeps players rolling, which I know they love!


Title: Re: Starting up D&D with the kids
Post by: David "Czar Fnord" Artman on June 06, 2006, 10:59:35 AM
Another D&D variant to keep the bored players active:  reverse monster attack rolls into PC defending rolls. ... Instead, assume the monster attack rolls at 10 + their BAB/etc. Let the player's roll their AC = d20 + their AC modifiers (instead of a static AC = 10 + AC modifiers). This reduces DM work and keeps players rolling, which I know they love!

*gawp*  Urk... Uh....

Why didn't I think of that, oh, twenty years ago?!? *slap head* *repeatedly*


Title: Re: Starting up D&D with the kids
Post by: Andrew Cooper on June 06, 2006, 11:36:39 AM
*gawp*  Urk... Uh....

Why didn't I think of that, oh, twenty years ago?!? *slap head* *repeatedly*

Yeah.  I just had one of those *Duh* moments too.



Title: Re: Starting up D&D with the kids
Post by: greyorm on June 06, 2006, 06:12:17 PM
Guys, thanks for all the support and suggestions, but we're playing D&D.

Not Donjon, not 3rd Edition, not AD&D. Basic D&D. If you don't know what that is, think I am talking about AD&D, or that Donjon (or gods forbid, d20) is simpler than it, well, I'm going to thank you and then kick you in the nuts for providing empty advice. We're playing an (even simpler) version of that particular game, which just happens to share the D&D name but is not very much like the versions of D&D many of you are probably familiar with -- we're talking about stripped-down "old skool nursing home patient" D&D. Ok? Cool? Thanks!

BUt who is "I wanna play this GUY next"?  I"m curious to know what your son wants to try next.

I'm glad you brought that up!

Originally, I was thinking offing my son's character was overly harsh of me, but it didn't bother him. He didn't shit himself in all sorts of ways because his guy died, and he was not noticeably upset about it. Realize* he's not carrying around twenty-some years of broken gamer baggage behaviors: "OMG! YOU KILLED HIS GUY!!111!!1 GASP! What a big, horrible deal we all need to come to terms with because it was awful and game-breaking of you!!" (* I'm still trying to do that, too.)

In fact, I think it was very good for him. He didn't give in to his usual fixative nature, as I mentioned he displayed regarding his character at the start, AND as a bonus he decided to go with something completely different: he's playing a thief, like his sister (though apparently that had nothing to do with his decision...he didn't realize what the new character was until I asked him just now. He's all excited again because he just realized he gets to do all sorts of sneaky things). This is a good thing, because it means he's not getting into the habit of being the "I'll be the fighter" guy, nor the "must protect character at all costs" attitude.

It's fun. He got into a fight with a bear. Didn't run. Got whacked. Moved on. All while having fun.

I mean, that's totally the way I used to GM D&D, but in hindsight, it pretty well always sucked then too. The only thing it really taught my players was the hyper-cautious, 'the GM is out to bury us, travel ten feet in ten minutes of real-time' play that your game seems to be joyfully free of.

Avoiding the creation of hyper-cautious, "the GM is out to get us" feelings in the kids is a slight concern of mine. I say "slight" because I don't know that it will be an issue given the social dynamic that exists at the table between my kids and I is not the same as the one that existed between my teenaged peers and I. I'm not in social competition with my kids -- like kids are with their peers -- trying to prove I'm one of the gang, that I have the power, that I'm creative, or etc. So I don't know that it will be an issue, any more than would be my worrying about beating someone at a hand of poker, or being beaten by them, be an "issue".

Still, that issue, or a related one, is why I am trying to strike the right balance between providing suggestions and avoiding force: I want to avoid producing those usual D&D player-behaviors, but I don't know that avoiding character death is the way to go about that or really has much to do with the cautious behavior fundamentally. Something for me to think about, however.

And thanks everyone for helping reinforce the idea that I should say yes to their attempts/suggestions (or roll) and avoid blocking and shooting-down behaviors. I think that will be key in building our style of play.

Do you have a sense for how they feel about you making up rules on the fly?

I don't think it is even on their radar. They're still pretty young, so basically dad is the guy who knows the rules and tells them what those rules are, whether they're out of a book or out of my head makes no difference. Making up a rule on the fly is something I doubt even enters their headspace as something to have feelings about. However, my son is very strict about rules in any game, so what we set up now is going to be what I will be held to afterwards by him, and I will get nailed for any inconsistency on my part.

Sounds like a perfect opportunity for the 1 hp to do an automatic 4hp damage rule to have gotten remembered.

Yep, it was. I wish I'd remembered it at the time, since it would have solved the problem right there without resorting to any weird system hacks, fiat or "special-situation" rulings. Of course, for characters without that special ability, rounds of combat whiffing is still going to be a potential problem, so I will need a way to handle it and get things moving. Thanks everyone for the suggestions in that area: I haven't come to any conclusive decision yet.

Interesting story! What other RPGs have you introduced your kids to? After you guys got rolling, do you think the D&D rules bogged you down? If you have to drop so many rules, maybe D&D is not the game you guys want to be playing?

This is actually the first RPG they've ever played. Before this, as mentioned, we tried out the "play it like a board game" rules for this series of adventures, and that was their experience of what "D&D" (and thus role-playing) was. It wasn't very good, so I'm glad this worked out so well and we had such a good time.

I had wanted to introduce them to "Dogs in the Vineyard", but they weren't too interested in the concept of the game, and I wasn't certain how to play it with them (the themes are a bit more adult than I'm comfortable with for children of my kids' ages). I though of trying a Jedi variant with them, but I don't have enough experience with Dogs yet to be comfortable playing it non-standard.

The rules we were using were smooth and fast, and with the exception of the "whiff" situation, they did not bog down play at all. Which is to say I did not even notice their handling time; they were a very nicely organic part of play. As for dropping rules and game complexity, I will actually be adding things like levels and ability modifiers later as we play more, and as I feel it will enhance their experience of play. Right now my task was to introduce them to the basics, and to make sure they're having fun. Anything else I do will always be checked against that latter criteria if not directly in service to it.

We might try something else later, but for right now, basic old D&D is good for us.


Title: Re: Starting up D&D with the kids
Post by: Callan S. on June 06, 2006, 06:16:43 PM
Quote
At the appearance of the bear, my daughter's thief runs (again!), leaving her brother behind (again!). My son decides to FIGHT THE BEAR! He misses on his attack, it pulps him on its turn and has fighter snacks for dinner that night. Oops. He's like, "I was GOING to run." To which the only reply is, "But you didn't." I have been wondering if I should have suggested to him that the bear might be more dangerous than what he could handle by himself, or even with help. I realize now I probably should have.
I don't think so. On a related topic, with my own 6 y.o. son, when he's asked for things I've started to asking 'What will you do if I say no?'. Because really it's not asking, if you wont accept a no for an answer. Whining and complaining is not acceptance and so it really wasn't asking to begin with.

In terms of situations like this, you might want to ask 'What will you do (as a player) if the bear kills your PC?'. It helps put the stakes on the table - is he going to whine and complain? No? Is he's going to take it and accept it? Even though it's unpleasant? Ok, now we really see him taking on risks himself, rather than leaving it to daddy to clean up when things go bad.


Title: Re: Starting up D&D with the kids
Post by: Storn on June 07, 2006, 06:26:47 AM
Quote
I'm going to thank you and then kick you in the nuts for providing empty advice. We're playing an (even simpler) version of that particular game, which just happens to share the D&D name but is not very much like the versions of D&D many of you are probably familiar with -- we're talking about stripped-down "old skool nursing home patient" D&D. Ok? Cool? Thanks!

Hold on.

When you spent 3 posts explaining the STRUGGLE you had with simplifying D&D Basic.... you do not have to jump down our throats for suggesting systems where you don't have to do that work.  I can speak for me, I was just gently suggesting alternatives... .not demanding that you switch.

If you WANT to do that work... fine.  It can be great fun.   But that wasn't coming across to this reader.  Ok?  Cool?  thanks.


Title: Re: Starting up D&D with the kids
Post by: Mike Holmes on June 07, 2006, 09:37:55 AM
I have to agree with Storn. I'm absolutely baffled why somebody who has created more functional, and certainly easier to teach, RPGs like Orx would decide to go with D&D of any color. I felt baffled before when you were playing your "narrativist D&D" game. And I'm twice as baffled now. At least with adults there's the chance that they can overcome the problems at hand to make for more frequently functional play. With children, D&D is about the last thing I'd start them on. I mean, if they're rolling a D20 to see if they hit, and another die to find the number of HP of damage, you're playing the wrong system.

By way of trying to anger you here,  so that we might find an answer, I'm going to rashly and spuriously propose that you feel some sort of apologetic sympathy for D&D, that it's the only "real" RPG, and that, in the end, all other RPG developments are just artsy, difficult to understand forays into intellectual dishonesty. That's the only reason I can think of why you, of all people, would keep coming back to D&D.

I've been trying to argue for quite a while now with the people on the Kids-RPG Yahoo group that, while certainly it's possible for children to learn and even have fun with D&D (I did at a pretty early age), that it's far from optimal for children. The game we try to suggest is Zak Arneston's Shadows, for instance. But there are tons of games better suited to children than D&D.

So I gotta ask....why?

Mike


Title: Re: Starting up D&D with the kids
Post by: Adam Dray on June 07, 2006, 12:04:38 PM
Cool game, Raven.

Hey, what are you doing for experience points?  For kids, I'd dumb it way down, like "you need 10 tokens to get to the next level, and here's 1 token for killing that wolf just now."

Then you can do things like, "Okay, you can reroll that die, but it'll cost you 2 tokens..." or "are you stuck? I'll give you a hint for 1 token..."  There are metagame things for which you won't want to "say yes or roll the dice," and you can just charge them tokens for it, and they'll learn that nothing is free.


Title: Re: Starting up D&D with the kids
Post by: greyorm on June 07, 2006, 05:35:42 PM
So I gotta ask....why?

Mike, this and the related subject you brought up (Narrativist 3E) is really, really, really a topic for a completely different thread. Please start one if you would like and I'll be happy to deal with it over there!

Storn, I'm not going to get into a pissing match with you (or anyone else) here in my own thread. Take the "must...defend...ego...from...jerk" posting somewhere else, like a PM if you really need to work it out with me. But don't post it here. And don't apologize. Just don't do it again.

I do welcome specific feedback about specific points of play, or specific areas of concern I've raised. Anything about dealing with the whiff factor, how to suggest without influencing, and outright avoiding force, or the fiat I used at the end of the game are all good examples of subjects we can talk about here.


Title: Re: Starting up D&D with the kids
Post by: greyorm on June 07, 2006, 05:38:00 PM
Hey, what are you doing for experience points?  For kids, I'd dumb it way down, like "you need 10 tokens to get to the next level, and here's 1 token for killing that wolf just now."

Heya Adam,

I hadn't even thought about XP yet, since I have not yet introduced levels and such. I like that token idea, though; that's really good. I'll probably tie it to stuff other than just offing the beasties: such as handing out X number of tokens for taking care of the goblin chieftan (ie: completing the quest), maybe tokens for doing cool things like or trying out unusual strategies (like the "I shoot my bow from underwater" or "bowstring ropes" ideas) even if they don't succeed at the task. That way I can reward ideas and actions without tying the reward to the success, which is more the direction I want to head.

Hrm, that's also a possible solution to "character death as punishment", too: your character just died, ok, you get a couple tokens as a consolation prize (since I am thinking tokens would make a better player resource than a character resource, and thus be transferable). Well, something for me to think about, anyways.

Thanks!


Title: Re: Starting up D&D with the kids
Post by: Mike Holmes on June 08, 2006, 04:37:54 AM
Mike, this and the related subject you brought up (Narrativist 3E) is really, really, really a topic for a completely different thread. Please start one if you would like and I'll be happy to deal with it over there!
OK, split this topic off here: http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=20054.0

Back to your regularly scheduled thread.

Mike


Title: Re: Starting up D&D with the kids
Post by: Calithena on June 08, 2006, 07:29:43 AM
Whiff factor: not really very avoidable except by handing out potent magic items. The game (we're talking the OD&D - Holmes Set - Basic/Expert - RC lineage of D&D here) was originally designed for pretty large parties, and even tough monsters don't have all that many hit points until you get to the Mentzer and RC editions. So it's actually a feature, if an 8 HD monster is supposed to be tough, but takes eight hits to kill, and you've got seven adventurers fighting it, to whiff a lot - it increases suspense and makes fights last. The way people actually play, in small groups, it gets frustrating though. One thing you can do is let the PCs find things like spearmen and blink dogs to help them out, let the players run them in combat, and then at least one of their 2-3 characters probably won't whiff.

Suggestion vs. Fiat: A variant on Vincent's "spill the beans" concept - when things start to bog just hand out more and more facts. If they do what you want them to do, great, say yes. If they come up with some other weird way of combining the elements you've given them, great, say yes.

Other note: I use the following generic resolution system with my OD&D-basic homebrew:

http://www.knights-n-knaves.com/phpbb/viewtopic.php?t=1266

I try to invoke this stunt system when I don't like the player's idea (and so don't want to 'just say yes') or when the scene seems to call for the drama of a dice roll; it's my way of almost never just saying no. I decide on a difficulty and if the player makes the roll his or her vision prevails.

Don't know if this is useful to you but for me it's a way to have a principled noncombat adjudication system without descending into the morass that is skills.

Mike, I hear what you're saying about the two-roll resolution system, but when hits are rare and monsters don't have as many hit points (because you avoid the Greyhawk - AD&D - 3e lineage of ever-escalating damage and hit points), the occasional drama in 'how much damage do I do?' occurs relatively more often. Maybe it still leads to bog more often than drama, but surely there are better reasons than this to try to unsell people on D&D as a first RPG.


Title: Re: Starting up D&D with the kids
Post by: Mike Holmes on June 08, 2006, 08:55:51 AM
It's not really that it's two rolls, but that there's a combat system at all. Actually it's far more complex than that, but if you want to discuss that, please move the comments over to the other thread set up for that.

Mike


Title: Re: Starting up D&D with the kids
Post by: Calithena on June 08, 2006, 09:56:51 AM
Mike - Not sure which other thread you mean since Ron closed the most obvious choice.

I know your standard rant on subsystems (esp. combat systems) and agree with you on general principle, so that's cool.

But - one way to think about the 'why put in a priveleged subsystem?' question (and you're one of the people I got this from I think) is because you want to privilege that part of the imaginative material as important to the game. D&D has special subsystems for, and therefore calls attention to, violent conflict and magic. If you want your game to be about violent conflict and magic - irrespective of GNS, these can be the ways that themes of loyalty or heroism get dealt with just as easily as they can be opportunities for Step on Up - then it seems like these big subsystems of D&D might be in a sense well-motivated.

One reason I like (certain versions of) D&D (particularly the lineage that Raven is using) is that I get off on a pretty deep level on the idea of using violence to solve my problems, and the threat of violence/possibility of avoiding violence as a driver of decision-making. And I do think that the rules support that. On the other hand, I can see how that would bother some people (not me!) in terms of a game to introduce kids to role-playing with, and form the basis of a stronger don't-start-with-D&D argument relative to some people's assumptoins. But I suspect I'm drifting this thread where it shouldn't go, so I'll stop there.


Title: Re: Starting up D&D with the kids
Post by: greyorm on June 08, 2006, 10:52:10 AM
I don't think so.
...
In terms of situations like this, you might want to ask 'What will you do (as a player) if the bear kills your PC?'. It helps put the stakes on the table - is he going to whine and complain? No? Is he's going to take it and accept it? Even though it's unpleasant? Ok, now we really see him taking on risks himself, rather than leaving it to daddy to clean up when things go bad.

Yeah, that's actually what I was thinking of having done: "Hey, this bear is really strong, a lot stronger than a goblin. He could really hurt you badly or even kill you if you attack him. You might be able to beat him, but you still have time to run if you want to do that instead. What do you want to do?" That is what I believe I should have said.

I say that, in disagreement with your assessment, only because my son doesn't (or didn't) really know there are things in the game that can crush his character in one blow. If we had been playing for quite a while, or this situation had come up before, then I wouldn't disagree. Then it is, "Well, you knew the odds"...but he didn't. As far as he knew, it would be like fighting the rats or the goblins.

So, I wouldn't have expected him to know about the bear's strength or have any idea of his chances against it, hence my post-event worry of having been wrong in not bringing that up before he chose to fight. I feel it was poor sportsmanship on my part. Or maybe...I've been in games before where the GM just dropped things into play that were more dangerous than suspected, without providing any hints about the level of danger. I never liked it when it happened to me.

I did the same once to my players a few years ago -- just dropped a bomb on them out of the blue, killed half the party -- and my players didn't like it at all. I realized my mistake right there, though stupidly, I didn't rectify it. I want to avoid that: it feels like part of the traditional broken D&D behavior -- GM-vs-player antagonism and power dynamics -- that I want to get away from.

But this brings up a good talking point about the subject. D&D does not provide a good method by which the players can gauge the actual risk of an endeavor. They're completely in the dark. The GM can throw a 5HD monster at a 1st level party without any sort of safeguard for them, because until they've seen it in action they have no clue just how dangerous it actually is.

So the players have no way to know whether they should take a chance on the fight or run; the risk they are taking is opaque until they're in the thick of it, at which point it might be too late. The reason I don't like this is because it is a big stinking pile of fiat on the GM's part to hold up his part of the bargain and "be fair" with encounters and chances of success, but there's no control for it.

Dogs, to use a counter example, puts it right out there on the table. You know how much you're risking or how much of a risk it is going into a conflict.

Deciding which way to swing, and figuring out how to swing the latter in D&D (though it seems simple enough to just announce relative difficulty), changes the very nature of the game play between knowing the risks and deciding if they're worth it, and not knowing the risks and having to figure out if the unknown level of risk is worth it. Play changes from being about taking the risk to figuring out what the risk is. That's a big difference in play style.

Thanks for the input! I can see your suggestion being very useful once they get a feel for the odds in play and start taking big risks knowingly, and it has gotten me thinking.


Title: Re: Starting up D&D with the kids
Post by: ffilz on June 08, 2006, 11:17:25 AM
I think there are ways to keep this issue manageable. One option is to never present a challenge that is too risky for the PCs. That's probably not attractive. Another option is to make it easy for the players to get information that a challenge may be too hard. When I want to present unwinnable encounters, I either use large numbers of some creature the PC has fought before, or use something that's so obviously overwhelming that I can just state it outright if necessary ("the dragon looks pretty big, and can probably whip you and eat you for lunch.").

But another part of the problem is players realizing how quickly they can die when they are low on hit points etc. I think this problem is something that really only can be learned by having it happen to you, or another player.

In any game where the GM has cards up his sleeve, it's abosutely critical that the GM play fair. The GM sneaking in a killer encounter to a gamist game is just as bad as a GM negating a player's input in a narativist game. Dogs has an advantage that it doesn't rely on hidden information.

Frank


Title: Re: Starting up D&D with the kids
Post by: Callan S. on June 08, 2006, 03:56:10 PM
I don't think so.
...
In terms of situations like this, you might want to ask 'What will you do (as a player) if the bear kills your PC?'. It helps put the stakes on the table - is he going to whine and complain? No? Is he's going to take it and accept it? Even though it's unpleasant? Ok, now we really see him taking on risks himself, rather than leaving it to daddy to clean up when things go bad.

Yeah, that's actually what I was thinking of having done: "Hey, this bear is really strong, a lot stronger than a goblin. He could really hurt you badly or even kill you if you attack him. You might be able to beat him, but you still have time to run if you want to do that instead. What do you want to do?" That is what I believe I should have said.
That wasn't my suggestion. I suggested getting him to say not what he does now, but to say what he'll do as a player if in the end his character dies.

Quote
I say that, in disagreement with your assessment, only because my son doesn't (or didn't) really know there are things in the game that can crush his character in one blow. If we had been playing for quite a while, or this situation had come up before, then I wouldn't disagree. Then it is, "Well, you knew the odds"...but he didn't. As far as he knew, it would be like fighting the rats or the goblins.
I think contemplating the odds is to also contemplate, more importantly, how you would feel/act upon losing. But contemplation of odds is not a required part of this. You can always contemplate failure without actually knowing the odds of it.

Quote
So the players have no way to know whether they should take a chance on the fight or run; the risk they are taking is opaque until they're in the thick of it, at which point it might be too late. The reason I don't like this is because it is a big stinking pile of fiat on the GM's part to hold up his part of the bargain and "be fair" with encounters and chances of success, but there's no control for it.
You have to admit, a player who isn't prepared to lose, can never be placated by a GM. No matter to what lengths that GM went in being fair. It just isn't possible.


Title: Re: Starting up D&D with the kids
Post by: charles ferguson on June 08, 2006, 04:09:31 PM
Raven said
Quote
But this brings up a good talking point about the subject. D&D does not provide a good method by which the players can gauge the actual risk of an endeavor.

My own preference:
1) All rolls clearly signal the risk factor beforehand as an integral part of the roll process, whether this be a fromal mechanism or an informal GM declaration
2) the players can always run away up to a specific point of commitment to the action, and always know what that point is. Continuation then becomes a player statement

Don't know how this would work for your ruleset, Raven, since I'm not real clear on what's acceptable drift in your current istuation & what's not (& gee, I don't want to get kicked in the nuts again :)

Hey, how about if you go with that "dice are tokens" thing? I think that's an exceptionally cool technique, especially for kids.

Maybe when they take on any challenge that has potential damage, line up the damage dice you'll be rolling if they take a hit? Then say, "OK, are you sure?" If they say yes, that's the signal they're committing to the action.



Title: Re: Starting up D&D with the kids
Post by: Larry L. on June 08, 2006, 06:19:08 PM
This thread is generating cool ideas, regarding the tokens for XP and the transparent threat assessment things. Maybe there's more to be learned about good design by breaking down RPGs so that kids can grasp them, more than just a "dumbing down" effect.

Obviously, this ties in nicely with games like The Pool or DitV, where the dice are dual-purposed to be both number generators and finite currency sitting on the table for all to see.

Just saying I'm finding these things useful. Thanks Raven, Adam, Charles, & the rest.


Title: Re: Starting up D&D with the kids
Post by: greyorm on June 08, 2006, 09:21:46 PM
That wasn't my suggestion. I suggested getting him to say not what he does now, but to say what he'll do as a player if in the end his character dies.

Callan, you are correct that my quote was not what you suggested. I communicated my thoughts really poorly there and accidentally mixed two different ideas together. Apologies.

With all due respect, I am more concerned with my failure to have indicated the odds to him than I am with his ability to deal with losing, because the latter simply hasn't cropped up as a big problem in play. After all, he didn't throw a huge fit when his character died, he didn't pout and stomp his feet or quit the game, or anything of the sort that I've seen in some gamers twice his age. He had a very healthy, natural reaction for a nine-year old boy: a bit of disappointed whining on his part, but overall he handled it well given his nature and particular problems. So I'm not worried knowing the huge disaster it could have been.

I am instead concerned with my having misled him (or so I feel) with the bear. If he knew one hit could take him down, that the game could work that way, too, would he have gone at it? I didn't give him that choice, though, and I don't believe that was at all fair of me in the circumstance. It was like asking him to pick between two doors, and then having a tiger kill him without ever having indicated the possible outcomes included being killed by a tiger.

What kind of choice is that? It's not. It's meaningless. Worse, it's typical D&D peer-power-struggle dickery. I'm making him play by rules that, functionally, exist only in my head and are completely unknown to him. It's fizzbin: "Oops, it's Tuesday. You lose."

All of which is not to say I won't ask the question you brought up, because I think it is a good one to ask the kids a couple times and get both of them thinking about, I'm just not concerned with it right now.

Suggestion vs. Fiat: A variant on Vincent's "spill the beans" concept - when things start to bog just hand out more and more facts. If they do what you want them to do, great, say yes. If they come up with some other weird way of combining the elements you've given them, great, say yes.

Not really too heavy on the plot right now, so spilling the beans hasn't been an issue, though I will definitely be keeping that in mind when I throw more complexity their way, rather than playing my hand close to my chest.

By fiat, I mean issues more similar to the one I encountered with my daughter in the endgame: I made an arbitrary ruling about the combat that let her get away from the wolf before it chewed her in half. Really, it should have just attacked her, not made a contested initiative roll again. On the other hand, I didn't want a TPK, either. I just didn't have an alternative possibility for her between giving an unwarranted chance to avoid the normal attack routine or possibly get killed.

Hey, how about if you go with that "dice are tokens" thing? I think that's an exceptionally cool technique, especially for kids. Maybe when they take on any challenge that has potential damage, line up the damage dice you'll be rolling if they take a hit? Then say, "OK, are you sure?" If they say yes, that's the signal they're committing to the action.

Man, that rocks. That's a great suggestion!!

It builds on what I've already established with the dice/tokens as visually/viscerally representing "stuff", and gives me a way to show them the relative amount of danger they are in.

I can also build on it. For example, I could hide the damage dice, if I want to worry them a bit or encourage some caution. That makes a great talking point, too: "I'm not showing you how dangerous this creature is; you don't know. Are you sure you want to attack it? What if it is stronger than you think it is? Can you think of a way to find out how dangerous it is, or a different way to deal with it?"

Thanks!


Title: Re: Starting up D&D with the kids
Post by: charles ferguson on June 09, 2006, 12:28:45 AM
No worries--you gave me the picture when you described how they lined up the dice, "this is my bow dice, this is my sword dice,"  :D

So you could be like, "These are for the it's teeth, and see this big green one? That's for it's death-cloud breath!" which will give the lead in for you to explain different abilities etc as they get to know the monsters. Kind of like "show don't tell" but by showing and telling. Or if you want to up the suspense, "and see these dice? You don't know what they do just yet... are you sure you want to find out?"

Maybe there's more to be learned about good design by breaking down RPGs so that kids can grasp them, more than just a "dumbing down" effect.

Absolutely. ALthough I dunno about the "dumbing down", I mean simplicity is to me the pinnacle of design, & the hardest to do. My take on desiging for kids would be the thematic content would be the only thing you'd tone down. It's true in writing, kids have got a nose for shit dished up on a silver platter, and they usually have no interest in putting up with it for a second longer than it takes to grab their fluffy toy & walk off (see Raven's comments about his daughter). And I've read that for a long time kids have no concept of brand loyalty. If they don't like a book they ditch it, regardless of how much they like the last book by the same writer (which is the reverse of most adults, a fact that's has kept more than one writer rolling in the green. Yes I'm looking at you, Robert Jordan).



Title: Re: Starting up D&D with the kids
Post by: Calithena on June 09, 2006, 03:05:36 AM
I agree, that dice idea is really good, and one I haven't thought of before. I think that once upon a time people imagined that learning the game by figuring out in play what monsters were tougher etc. was a fun part of the experience, and I remember occasions on which it was, but then it's unenforceable unless the GM makes up a lot of his own monsters or you play with people who actually don't go out and buy monster books. This leads to the whole trope of veteran players "roleplaying" by trying to make their character not do the thing they know is most effective against the monster until the second or third melee round, after they've tried other things, etc.

Raven - I don't have a problem with sometimes just saying "you get away from the bear", especially if the player describes an entertaining flight scene prior. However, no rolls sometimes decrease a sense of drama, and virtually everyone has a problem with the fizzbin "the bear catches you and eats you" (even the crustiest old schooler typically wants a chance to roll a natural 20 and survive just about anything).

So anyway, this is how I use that stat resolution system I linked you to. Depending on how the player described it running away from the bear would probably be a 'hard' or test of Strength (I use Strength for general athleticism), and then you roll that d6. Now, the GM has the right to call for stunt rolls, and the 'extreme' rolls are very hard, so the worry is, that's sort of fizzbin-like, it's an unlimited adversity resource.

Well, you can't please everyone, but this is another place where T&T appears to have had a leg up, at least as a _game_, on D&D. The solution is just that stunt rolls always get the player's character experience, so that if the GM wants to pile on stunt roll adversity, the player's character gets tougher the more rolls you make. I'd say 25 xp for a 'hard' roll and 150 xp for an 'extreme' roll strikes me as about right up front.

So then the DM has to 'pay' if he wants to create adversity through stuck doors, difficult-to-leap chasms, etc., and you get at least a mild DM resource limitation through that.

Anyway, with the bear thing, you'd then listen to her description, and decide whether it was just good enough by itself ('say yes', which is what you did), or whether you wanted the additional drama of die rolls (or the chance of death for her character), in which case you could call for a roll and hand out some experience points.


Title: Re: Starting up D&D with the kids
Post by: greyorm on June 09, 2006, 07:12:48 PM
So you could be like, "These are for the it's teeth, and see this big green one? That's for it's death-cloud breath!"...Or if you want to up the suspense, "and see these dice? You don't know what they do just yet... are you sure you want to find out?"

Oooo. Excellent suggestion. Thank you; this is great stuff, Charles.

However, no rolls sometimes decrease a sense of drama...

...this is how I use that stat resolution system I linked you to...

...you'd then listen to her description, and decide whether it was just good enough by itself or whether you wanted the additional drama of die rolls...

Heya Cal,

Quick check: did I accidentally say my daughter was running from the bear at the end of the game? My bad. She was running from the wolves at the end of the game. Her flight from the bear wasn't a problem since she had intiative, and the bear was busy fighting and then eating her brother. Plenty of opportunity and time for her escape, without bending any rules...whereas with the wolves, I technically -- according to the rules of the game -- should have rolled an attack.

However, it is interesting that my choosing the fiat solution of "the bear doesn't follow you" doesn't bother me or register as bad fiat at all. After all, the bear could have knocked down her brother, then chased after her -- there was nothing that would have prevented that scenario except my own choice not to have the bear do that.

I like your suggestion, though; I can see how that might have worked in the wolf situation. Thinking about it, it really isn't any different than my "reroll initiative to escape" solution...that's basically the same thing as a stunt like "shake off pursuit".

I'm guessing my problem, then, had to do with the lack of having a codified rule there for the situation: the fact that I ruled it up on the fly without considering how it fit into the system or might affect play in general from that point on. Can they always do that during pursuit, now (reroll initiative to escape)? Or was that a one-time thing born of desperation on my part to avoid a TPK?

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So then the DM has to 'pay' if he wants to create adversity through stuck doors, difficult-to-leap chasms, etc., and you get at least a mild DM resource limitation through that.

Hrm, but does he (pay, that is)? Think about it: in D&Dish games, you hand out XP anyways, and when you increase their XP, you don't actually lose anything, because all you do as GM once you've handed out XP is jack up the level of creatures they're fighting or the level-dependent difficulties of tasks.

That's what you're supposed to do, in fact: it is implicitly part of D&D-style systems that as the characters gain levels, they fight level-equivalent opponents, and dangers scale to their current level, functionally meaning they never actually -- in play -- become more powerful (ie: more able, more successful), except through numerical and number-of-options sleight-of-hand...it's a sort of illusory "if we ignore this stuff over here and how we actually play" power gain.

It is functionally, in play, a Color power-up: "NOW I can throw fireballs." Magic with the same chance of dropping whatever the character is fighting today as magic missle had of dropping what he was fighting yesterday.

Man, that realization is really going to affect what I do about levels/introducing them in this game.

For the moment, if I think about your suggestion and combine it with the token system, I might have a way to create a GM-resource that really does cost the GM in some fashion. OTOH, I don't know that I would want to (or need to) do that for this particular game.

But that's all for now since we play again tomorrow night. This thread has provided some excellent advice and feedback, and I will be putting it to good use. I'm going to spend the next few hours hashing out more clear rules for me to follow tomorrow night, based on what I used last time and what we've developed here: solidify my thinking before the game.

Thanks everyone!


Title: Re: Starting up D&D with the kids
Post by: Callan S. on June 09, 2006, 09:01:19 PM
With all due respect, I am more concerned with my failure to have indicated the odds to him than I am with his ability to deal with losing, because the latter simply hasn't cropped up as a big problem in play. After all, he didn't throw a huge fit when his character died, he didn't pout and stomp his feet or quit the game, or anything of the sort that I've seen in some gamers twice his age. He had a very healthy, natural reaction for a nine-year old boy: a bit of disappointed whining on his part, but overall he handled it well given his nature and particular problems. So I'm not worried knowing the huge disaster it could have been.
From my perspective in reading your AP, he enacted alot of displacement activity. He tried to say he was gooooing to run, he tried to blame his sister for it, he made the whole thing go away by switching quickly to another character. Assuming your going for a gamist agenda, this is going to gut play. This is pretty common behaviour for a nine year old. But IMO it's still going to gut play.

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I am instead concerned with my having misled him (or so I feel) with the bear. If he knew one hit could take him down, that the game could work that way, too, would he have gone at it? I didn't give him that choice, though, and I don't believe that was at all fair of me in the circumstance. It was like asking him to pick between two doors, and then having a tiger kill him without ever having indicated the possible outcomes included being killed by a tiger.
From your account, it sounded like you offered absolute veto. He could just leave the challenge from the start, automatically at will. You applied no force to him to take it on, yet your acting like you did. If you offer two doors, yes it's force, because they have to open one. If you offer two doors and the option to just move on to other stimulating stuff, no, it's not force. That's my opinion, of course.

I think rather than teaching him the odds, you might both want to discuss what an players absolute veto means. How it leaves no room for someone else to have forced the player. Ask him 'Who does that put in charge?'


Title: Re: Starting up D&D with the kids
Post by: Callan S. on June 09, 2006, 09:14:35 PM
That's what you're supposed to do, in fact: it is implicitly part of D&D-style systems that as the characters gain levels, they fight level-equivalent opponents, and dangers scale to their current level, functionally meaning they never actually -- in play -- become more powerful (ie: more able, more successful), except through numerical and number-of-options sleight-of-hand...it's a sort of illusory "if we ignore this stuff over here and how we actually play" power gain.
You might want to keep in mind that typically, high level characters are actually weaker than lower level characters. In terms of player effort to run them, that is.

Think of a first level character with one or two abilities, and a level 15 character with dozens of abilities. Never mind tactics as yet...at a sheer 'remember what you've got' challenge, the level 15 character is weaker, as in he is harder for the player to run properly. Tactics just make the level 15 character even more difficult, as you try to pull together the resources.

This doesn't apply to systems where eveyone has one simple combat number or such, then it really is color. But when you add more and more player tasks by adding abilties, then the PC becomes weaker, so to speak.


Title: Re: Starting up D&D with the kids
Post by: greyorm on June 10, 2006, 01:04:53 AM
From my perspective in reading your AP, he enacted alot of displacement activity.

That's pretty normal for him, given his problems. It isn't isn't going away without some miracle drugs or years more life experience and effort on his part. So I don't have a problem with it cropping up in play. I know it will. When it happens, redirection and refocusing has always been key to dealing with it.

Make note, there were only three instances of displacement during play and none of them were disruptive to the game or left anyone frustrated or unhappy. That's successful play. That's functional behavior and interaction. I can not and see no reason to ask for more than this.

As such, consider that you may be making a bigger deal out of this than it is, perhaps due to the way I wrote it, but note how all three instances were swiftly, successfully, and positively resolved. That tells me there is nothing to worry about here because the situation is well in hand, not out-of-control, not threatening the game by its very existance.

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he made the whole thing go away by switching quickly to another character.

This was the high point of the game for me regarding him. This was positive behavior for him, and I really, really don't like it being discussed as dysfunctional or dodgy, especially after I pointed out how impressed I was at his doing this in the original play review.

He did not fixate on the dead character and spend the next two hours bawling and bitching about how his character was gone, moping about, or stating he was never playing again, but he accepted the character's fate and made a positive move forward choosing (excitedly) a new character, and all on his own initiative, so GOOD!

Saying he was avoiding personal responsibility by doing this is a nonsense call because there is no sensical alternative to it except what he did: pick a new character and get on with his life. Seriously, look at your criticism: you can only be suggesting he was avoiding responsibility by picking a new character, or by too quickly doing so...so he should have pouted more, and that would have shown he accepted responsibility. Or he should have quit right there and never chosen another character.

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He could just leave the challenge from the start, automatically at will. You applied no force to him to take it on, yet your acting like you did. If you offer two doors, yes it's force, because they have to open one. If you offer two doors and the option to just move on to other stimulating stuff, no, it's not force. That's my opinion, of course. Ask him 'Who does that put in charge?'

As I have already stated, absolute veto is meaningless if the person with the veto is not aware of the possible consequences of a choice. This is absolutely important to the problem. This situation is not that simple as it just being his choice and him having to accept that. As I mentioned before, I will ask the questions offered -- what will you do if you lose? -- and I did ask him whose choice it was not to run? Stop trying to make this black-and-white, him-or-me.

This is the third or fourth post that has tried to convince me that I didn't do anything wrong and my son should suck up his mistake/choice, offering advice on how to make him do that. But all that commentary and advice has ignored or brushed off the fact if you don't know what the choices actually entail, you aren't really in charge, you don't really have a choice, and the choice you make isn't the one you supposedly have. Especially for a nine-year old who has never played RPGs before and doesn't know the rules.


Title: Re: Starting up D&D with the kids
Post by: John Harper on June 10, 2006, 11:18:06 AM
So you could be like, "These are for the it's teeth, and see this big green one? That's for it's death-cloud breath!"...Or if you want to up the suspense, "and see these dice? You don't know what they do just yet... are you sure you want to find out?"

That's awesome. And it gives a PC a reason to have a Knowledge: Monsters skill. You can roll against a DC, and if you succeed, you get a fact about those mystery dice. Maybe every 5 points over the DC gets you an extra fact.

"Okay... you beat the DC by 10, so I'll tell you three things. These dice are for its acid breath. It can only use the breath once every three rounds. The acid comes out in a cone, so it's very hard to avoid it if you're in the open."


Title: Re: Starting up D&D with the kids
Post by: greyorm on June 10, 2006, 12:13:31 PM
In the light of morning (or afternoon, as it happens to be), my post above is much more confrontational than I intended. Sorry about that.

I suspect the subject is aggravating me because it is close to, if not over that line between offering advice on gaming and treading into parental territory and psycho-analysis of my kids. While that would not necessarily be a deal breaker in and of itself -- that is, "Do you think your kids are doing this?" is OK as a question -- but not as it keeps playing out here.

I've kept trying to redirect that particular line of discussion towards what I can do in the situations described, but it keeps snapping right back to something resembling "But it's the players' fault and they are whining/misbehaving/need to be taught a lesson!" with a viciousness that seems to me to indicate we have stopped discussing the situation in my game and are now engaged in defending intellectual territory, playing out an argument/situation in someone else's game(s) at some time in the past.

On the basis of my irritation with this direction, I think it's probably time to close up the thread and call it done. I would like to thank everyone for their ideas and participation.

I'll let you know how the next session goes!