I was approached at Rogue's Gallery during my D&D Encounters session and asked "Are you a Dungon Master?" Well, as a very wise ghostbuster once advised me to do, I said "Yes!" The gentleman then asked me if I would run a D&D game for his son's birthday, since he REALLY wanted a D&D birthday and had only played Encounters once or twice. I thought about it and said I'd do it. Kinda sounded like fun. It turns out I'd have a group of players only two of whom had actually played before, and both of them only experience at D&D Encounters. Time to break in the newbies! Below is my report on how the game went, plus a little foster care status info.
So the birthday party was a smashing success. I had seven 7th Graders and one dad playing. Mom sat on the couch, drank a glass of wine or two, and watched us all play. Of the kids at the table, only the birthday boy, Dakota, and his dad had ever played before- but that was an organized play event at a Rogue’s Gallery (our Friendly Local Game Store), and organized play events tend toward lots of fighting and very little roleplay. Two of the kids, Jacob and Kiara (the only girl there) were pretty skeptical about this strange diversion, in fact Kiara was downright dismissive of it and Jacob tuned into his iPod and decided he wasn’t going to play. So we began our adventure in a tavern (where all good adventures begin) with our heroes given a chance to establish themselves by interacting with the barman and his Halfling waiter. Now, the birthday boy was having a grand time being domineering over his friends, by assigning them the characters HE thought they should play and even forcing them to use the names he had made up for them. Kiara immediately rebelled by renaming her Elven Ranger “Bob”, much to Dakota’s dismay.
Suddenly – Goblins attack the town! The heroes of course rise to the occasion of defending the tavern and its customers, spells fly, swords clash, the ranger gets on top of a table and fires her bow into the fray. The hulking Dragonborn paladin blocks the door with himself (played by a cute little guy named Rushi) and the dad, John, playing a thief goes out the back door to circle around the goblins. Dakota, playing a wizard, duels the goblin’s hexer as he spouts off game statistics for the goblins in an attempt to sound authoritative to his friends who at this point are so caught up in the playing of the game and the battle of the tavern that they could care less that he’s memorized the Monster Vault. They wanna see goblin heads roll!
When the smoke clears, the goblins are all dispatched save the hexer, who had the good sense to run away, but not before shaking his fist and declaring that the White Claw would see vengeance done! The characters had time to rest, and I gave the players a post-battle restroom and snack break while I got my notes set up for the rest of the game. The kids immediately headed for the Xbox to play 4-person HALO save a couple, who wanted to ask me about game rules, and dice, and other details. Jacob decided he wanted to play after all, because this looked like a lot of fun- so he became a half-orc Assassin. He didn’t like the name Dakota had made up for him, either, so he became Alucard. Oh, well- so it’s not original, it’s the kid’s first game.
The first Xbox break turns out to be the last, as the kids become enthralled in the story. An old sage who lives in the town explains that the White Claw is the name of a Dragon who is attempting to stake his claim to this territory, and the goblins are the dragon’s servants. He offers the adventurers 100 gold each if they will hunt this young dragon and defeat it before it becomes larger and more powerful. The kids, having no idea what 100 gold is worth one way or the other, immediately demand more money and one even demands a town of their own. The old sage patiently explains that he has no more money, and certainly no town to give them, but he can give them his staff. The three spellcasters in the group, the Wizard, the Druid and the Illusionist, immediately begin arguing over who gets the magic wizard’s staff. One of the players, Dylan I think his name was, politely tells his friends to shut the heck up because we need to know what happens next. Once it’s decided the birthday boy gets the wizard staff (of course) the party is back on track. The old sage says to defeat the dragon will be no small task, and perhaps they will find a weapon to help them in their quest in the tomb of the famous warrior Rogahn (this name and plot point is cribbed directly from the 1978 module “In Search of The Unknown”)
Off the brave adventurers go, to find the tomb of Rogahn. The old sage told them the long-lost tomb had been uncovered by a recent landslide, but when they arrive, they find a curiously excavated graveyard that looks like it had never been buried at all. The headstones are standing, there’s even a mausoleum that looks untouched by time. Around the site are the sheer, almost smooth cliffs showing where the rest of the area had been buried, but this whole graveyard just seems to be – there. Surely nothing sinister could be at work here… Sure enough, zombies rise from the crypts and attack. Along with some skeletons for good measure. Skeletons always make me think of old Ray Harryhausen Sinbad movies, and I actually did a bit of the Thriller dance when describing the zombies. You kinda have to. It’s at this point I notice I’ve got the full and complete rapt attention of everyone, including Mom and Dad. Everyone wants to know what happens next. The group swings into action, and with a kind of unrehearsed team coordination I’ve never seen in a group of new players before (thanks probably goes to World of Warcraft) the kids (and dad!) engage the vile undead foes. Kiara, once skeptical of D&D being any fun at all, immediately has her ranger scramble up a tree and begin laying down covering fire with her bow. The Druid has his wolf animal companion run interference while he whacks the zombies with the magic staff he’s talked Dakota out of temporarily. The thief (dad) manages to backstab some of the zombies who are otherwise occupied, and in the thick of it all the smallest of the players physically – Rushi and Jacob – are being mighty warriors as the Dragonborn Paladin and the Half-Orc Assassin. When the battle ends, the intrepid adventurers explore the mausoleum, finding the crypt of Rogahn covered with a marble sarcophagus lid carved into an image of the once-great warrior in repose and in the hands of the statue - Rogahn’s Axe! When the characters move to take it, a booming voice demands to know who they are and why they’ve disturbed his rest. They explain that they are seeking to end the depradations of the dragon, and that they are trying to save the town. The voice tells them to take the axe with its blessing and defeat the dragon. The players are relieved that after skeletons and zombies they don’t have to fight a ghost, or worse.
Travelling to the icy lair of the dragon in the nearby mountains, the adventurers fail to escape detection upon entering the dragon’s lair – but the dragon is unafraid. It tells them it has sent all its guards away (totally lying) and that if they can choose the safe path to its lair they can foolishly walk right in and face him. They look at the map and debate on which way is the “safe” passage. The kids guess, correctly, that the passage that looks most ideal for an ambush is indeed the safe path, with the relatively benign-looking room being a deathtrap. They choose the safe path, and enter the dragon’s lair. The dragon is waiting for them, with four goblin guards! The battle is joined and the adventurers split into two groups, the spellcasters and the ranger and theif in one, and the warriors in the other. In another uncanny show of teamwork (and D&D rules that didn’t exist when I was in 7th grade three editions ago) the spellcasters and the ranger create the perfect dragon trap, pinning the beast between an illusionary chasm and a fountain of fire while the ranger uses her ability to knock creatures prone with a well-placed arrow to deny the dragon escape. While they have the creature bottled up, the warriors bravely (foolishly?) rush in, facing its icy breath, and begin to attack. Between deft control of the battlefield by the illusionist, wizard and ranger and the foolhardy charge of the battered and bloodied paladin, druid and fighter the dragon is on the ropes. Kiara looks over my dungeon master screen (kinda cheating) and exclaims “It’s only got one hit point left!” The race is on to land the last blow on the dragon. Rushi misses. Jacob swings and misses. Dad swings and misses. Now the druid sends his wolf to do his dirty work and… HIT! The wolf bites the dragon for the last bit of damage and the mighty beast goes down. Cheers erupt from some of the kids, groans from the warriors who feel outdone by a cute little doggie. Even mom is kinda excited at this point, having watched the story unfold. Kiara asks me where she can write down her ranger’s history and details. I squee internally. A new gamer girl is born. In fact, a table of new gamers has real potential here.
It’s now 10:30PM, six hours after we started. The kids are ready for more. I told them that’s the end of the story – this time. They ask if we can play again. I tell them I’d be happy to find the time if I can, and this time everyone can decide for themselves what kind of adventurer they want to play. General excitement. We cut the cake (a replica of the cake from the Xbox game Portal, this is where I note the Xbox hasn’t been touched since the first restroom break) and sing “Still Alive” from Portal in lieu of “Happy Birthday.” And I thought I loved video games when I was a kid. Dylan proclaims Dungeons and Dragons the best game ever. I tell him that’s why I’ve been playing since 1985. These kids were born around ’98 or ’99. Mom and Dad tell me I must have the patience of Job to put up with all the hootnanny, and I tell them it took me back to my mom’s kitchen table circa 1987, and it was a sheer pleasure. The only difference was not quite as many Def Leppard fans. Kiara corrects me by queuing up some Def Leppard on her iPod, which starts a conversation about how 80% of what the kids have on their iPods is 70s and 80s rock that I grew up listening to. I approve mightily. Dad tips me (a totally unnecessary $50, which I use to buy Mary and I a mixer that she’s been eyeing. Okay, the mixer was more than $50, but every bit helps) and I wonder to myself if there’s money to be made doing professional Dungeon Mastering at birthdays, weddings, bar mitzvahs… Nah. I head home content in a job well done…
On the Foster Parenting front. Mary and I have been licensed by TX for almost two months, still no placements. We have had an “almost” placement of a little girl who the state required be in the care of the foster parents most of the time – IE, court stipulated a stay-at-home mom or dad, no daycare. Since we couldn’t do that, we had to pass. They understood, in fact they knew we both worked but wanted to ask anyway. We are doing some babysitting/respite care for other foster families in September, and continuing to wait. This Saturday we renew our CPR training.