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May 20th, 2007

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11:06 pm - 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.

(13 comments | Leave a comment)


(Deleted comment)
[User Picture]
Date:May 21st, 2007 10:40 pm (UTC)
Well, they were a group of friends who had gotten together expressly for this purpose. Also, they were around 11, which may have helped.

There was a lot of tendency to get distracted, and occaisionally Ellie as the alpha of the group would tell everyone to pay attention. Also, I don't think I mentioned the toy factor above. Everyone had miniatures and we were using the nicely-painted dungeon tiles from the Basic Set. So there was stuff to look at, and character sheets with a bunch of stuff on them to browse in between turns.

Still, I think it's true I did get a good group.
Date:May 22nd, 2007 03:25 pm (UTC)
Out of curiosity, how do you think the toy factor affected play, versus non-minis play with similar age kids ( assuming you have experiences with both)?

Also, this bit struck me:
"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."

What sorts of things would you do to make low level specialists really show off their stuff if you did something like this again?
[User Picture]
Date:May 22nd, 2007 07:07 pm (UTC)
It's hard to say exactly about the toy factor, but my limited experience is that the toy factor helps keep everyone focused on the game. It is a sensory reminder that draws the imagination back to the events going on in the game. It seems like attention span was a lot longer.

As far as low-level magicians -- well, the thing is that the magical class can't do anything magical outside of a handful of times during the game. What I did in the game was for there to be hidden scrolls that they detected by detect magic, and could read with read magic -- and that further kept them going with magical things to do. I think that's a fairly good solution.
Date:May 21st, 2007 04:06 pm (UTC)
That sounds like a really cool thing to do!
[User Picture]
Date:May 21st, 2007 06:13 pm (UTC)
This is completely terrific. Your working to your audience sounds very well done. I'd be quite interested in your intro material when you get it organized...

Date:May 21st, 2007 07:29 pm (UTC)


This is awesome. Well done!

[User Picture]
Date:May 22nd, 2007 05:34 am (UTC)
Go you! Carry the torch to the next generation and set them alight! ;) (I love hearing about people GMing for youngsters.)
[User Picture]
Date:May 29th, 2007 03:52 am (UTC)
Oh man. You HAVE to come to ConQuest again!
[User Picture]
Date:May 22nd, 2007 07:16 pm (UTC)
I got excited when you said "D&D Basic Set" but then I got to the 3.5 part. Good to see young folks getting excited about a game, though. And kudos to you for being willing to take on such a daunting task.
[User Picture]
Date:May 22nd, 2007 08:04 pm (UTC)
I played a bit of earlier edition Basic Set D&D with other adults at KueiCon in January, cf. my post on Saturday Games in Oakland. However, I didn't think very much of it.
[User Picture]
Date:May 28th, 2007 04:23 pm (UTC)
John - excellent, excellent work!

Would you mind terribly if I linked to this on my kids-and-RPGs project, The Young Person's Adventure League? It might give others the inspiration to do the same...
[User Picture]
Date:May 29th, 2007 04:48 am (UTC)
Yes, naturally you can link to this. (In general, I have no reservations about you linking to anything on my LJ or my website. I'm even fairly free about reproducing stuff (see the Site Policies from my website. Also, see my RPGs for Kids page for a bunch of links, including your site.)
Date:June 9th, 2007 08:46 pm (UTC)

other character sheets

hi there, just a beginning player & GM-er here, but i can answer the question bout the other character sheets. The AD&D starter set has a nice adventure to start with (in my very limited experience :p) which features amongst other Tordek, a dwarf fighter and i'm pretty sure Mialee is in there somewhere as well. If you want i can scan the sheets and email'm over to you. Just give me a buzz on badlapje@yahoo.com and i'll provide you with them (i'll prolly not check this thread again ;)

Btw, not sure how to create a username here, i'm to lazy to bother to look... came here from a TT thread.

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