jhkimrpg (jhkimrpg) wrote,

D&D for an 11th birthday

So yesterday I ran a D&D game for an 11th birthday party. The birthday girl Ellie is the daughter of non-gaming friends, but she's had an interest in various games for a while. I'd run RPGs twice before for her -- once at ConQuest where I was running games in the kids room and helped out with a D&D game run by Scott Bagley. See my ConQuest 2006 Report for details. I had also run a nominally-D&D but mostly-freeform game for her and a friend at our house once, a Harry-Potter-esque game which had her younger sister and my son Milo in it as the familiars of their student wizards.

Ellie had especially asked me to come and run specifically a D&D game for her party a week or so earlier -- using the D&D Basic Set that she had gotten a little while ago. I had a strong impression that she wanted the "real thing", as she saw it, and I didn't make alternate suggestions. I've only played D&D3E a few times, and I took a few steps to prepare. She told me that there would be seven players and I knew there were only four character sheets in my Basic Set, so I had hoped there would be some extra Basic-Set-style character sheets online. Sadly, I didn't find any. I started a short ENWorld thread, "Pregens for an 11-year-old's Birthday party?" -- and I got some other advice but no actual character sheets. I mocked up one extra character sheet, but didn't have time to create more. I was prepared to give some people identical sheets and use different miniatures, but luckily it turned out better. I had been busy that week, and to complicate it further was feeling pretty sick with a cold at the time. I called off out of a game earlier in the day (sorry, Jim) and rested up.

When I got to their house, Ellie had decorated the living room with cray paper in a dungeon theme (with her parents help, naturally). The lamps had orange and yellow paper flames coming out, and there were black curtain-like walls. She had copies of a bunch of Basic-Set-style character sheets besides the four in the Basic Set (I'm still not sure where from), and she was explaining about it to the kids who were there. A few were late, though, and I let Ellie do most of the introductions with her friends and have them pick characters.

There were color sheets for the four standard characters. Ellie had photocopies of four other sheets that were of different characters, perhaps from the boardgame (?). And I had my one mock-up sheet in color. The players and their characters were:
  • Ellie played Lidda, a female halfling thief, one of the standard Basic Set sheets.
  • Bobbie played Alhandra, a female human ranger that I had mocked up.
  • Devon played Mialee, a female elven wizard whose sheet Ellie had copied from somewhere.
  • Sherry played Aramil, a male elven sorcerer, one of the standard Basic Set sheets.
  • Julia played Naull, a human female wizard, a copied sheet.
  • Sydney played Tordek, a male dwarven fighter, a copied sheet.
  • Jake played Eberk, a male dwarven cleric from the Basic Set.
It might not be clear from the names, but Jake was the token male at the party. He and Bobbie left around 8:00, while the others were all sleeping over. Everyone had a more-or-less appropriate miniature -- though I'm glad I scoured for some extra female miniatures about the house.

I briefly explained that they were going to rescue a woman Sharia and her young brother Telned. They had traced them to an ancient tomb of their people that had been taken over by an evil necromancer. However, I cut my explanations very short. The kids were all reasonably interested in the game, as talked up by Ellen, but I think with any group of seven pre-teens the group attention span is remarkably short. So I quickly started them at the dungeon door and started everyone on the basics of combat in a clash with some kobolds. There were a bunch of questions like what a d20 was, and I think it was much better to explain through doing rather than trying to teach the rules beforehand. They captured one kobold and it told them a bit, and they explored ahead but we quickly moved into the second combat. I was quick about this because a few of the players really didn't engage unless they were actively called on, and that was hard to arrange. After the second combat against the more powerful monsters, we took a break for a while. (Around this time, my spouse and sprog arrived and took a few pictures.)

There was pizza, present-openeing, some nebulous goings-on in Ellie's room, a war out in the backyard with plastic swords and rubber balls, and then cake. We then resumed the game. They searched the tomb and got some scrolls and defeated a skeleton to get a magic sword, as well as finding and rescuing the little brother. Then they faced down the necromancer, who threatened to kill the hostage woman. This got them into their first group discussion and tactics. Everyone deferred to Ellie as the leader, but most of them still had input. I pushed back a little bit here to get them to think things through, and it went pretty well. The twist in the end was that the capture woman had become a vampire and attacked them, who was quite tough and also brought in some pathos to the ending.

Her mom reported in her blog: "Everyone is playing D and D at the moment, and they're all getting sucked into the game. It's hard to follow from the outside, particularly since I've only played it once in my life and then i was pretty drunk so I can't remember it. Rook is being very patient and participating at all moments. He's awesome." (In a prior post, she described the preparations-making as "Wow, so we set up the "dungeon" with black streamers and torches, and it looks awesome! It's so exciting! The party will be really fun, if all the kids get into it and play. Eliz keeps bragging about how her dungeonmaster who is coming is "totally famous" and an international star and all. Excellent. We're lucky to know Badger's husband Rook, indeed. He runs games all the time. Internationally! I'm not kidding!") Heh.

So it went off pretty well, and we more-or-less stuck to the D&D rules, though not at all the scenario described in the Basic Set. I think that the general premise is reasonably well suited as an introductory game. The limited choices of a dungeon are excellent for a fractious group. There were a number of things which bothered me, though.
  • Having only four characters is really limiting, especially given that only one is the token female (the halfling rogue Lidda). Probably not coincidentally, Ellie as birthday girl got dibs on Lidda as her character.
  • The dungeon scenario in the Basic Set was really empty and dull. Having a mission and an opponent were vital.
  • Magic items should be really special and powerful. In particular, the players of wizard and sorcerer characters seemed a bit underwhelmed by their magic, so I really wanted their detect magic and read magic to have solid payoff.
I'm going to look at putting some introductory material online, because I was pretty disappointed at what I could find for helping someone do this.
Tags: actual play, dnd, kids
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