Anyone who has ever ran a tabletop campaign (D&D, Pathfinder, etc.) knows the pains of attempting to manage a group of players. You find out how perfectly unreasonable a group of adults can be. It’s like the sort of chaos that happens if you dump a box of kittens in at the puppy bowl… but the kittens are feral and the puppies are dumb…
I’ve lost track of who the players are in this metaphor. (But the puppy bowl is on today! The day I wrote this. You know something? The puppy bowl seems oddly like a parody. Does anyone know about some other bowl related event they might be referencing?)
But suppose your players aren’t adults. My newfound experience attests, there is a being more difficult to manage than an adult player…
(This is a challenge, because I don’t even remotely work in the realm of child friendly. But, because this is a campaign for my kid, I try. I’ll even try to watch my ****ing language in the write-up.)
Scene: A random Sunday at home, noon.
I suggest to my wife something like, “Let’s play D&D with our son.”
By D&D, I mean Pathfinder, but my wife is a tabletop gaming illiterate, so she understands tabletop as being Dungeons and Dragons.
She likes the idea. She pitches the idea to son. Son goes literally crazy for idea. So crazy we almost have to put him in “the box.”
I know what you’re thinking: “You’re introducing your child to D&D on Super Bowl Sunday? You’re not even giving him a chance at being normal.” Or maybe something like, “Wait, what? The box?”
To which I reply, “Superb Owl? I’ve heard of that. No? Super Bowl? Sure, I could smoke. No again? I don’t understand and can’t be bothered to. Let’s move on.”
And then we move on as I ignore your repeated questioning about “the box.”
I begin planning the campaign immediately. Not even half an hour later, after they’ve chosen names and the bare bones of a backstory, they begin to complain, “Are you almost ready?”
Neither understand the time investment inherent in planning a campaign. In 45 minutes, I manage to come up with a town, character sheets for each of them, a story line, and a rudimentary dungeon. I use a few random generators to speed things along.
So we end up with the coastal village of Gaham (a randomly generated village with a population of forty-one) in the southwestern-most point of Sakana (One of five countries on the continent of Alymmir, neither of which are randomly generated. They are locations on Nyth.)
My wife’s character: Cammi Magillum. A ten year old girl whose brother was killed in the woods by something unknown. She is a cleric, though she behaves more like a ranger, (she. the character, has no knowledge of being a cleric).
My son’s character: Terik Lexand. An eight year old boy (my son is six, in actuality) who has a wooden sword. (So I just roll him as a fighter. To make things easier on him, I’m handling all of the character sheet business.)
Characters and rough idea of a story handled, we sit down to play. Everyone is excit… no. Wait. My son is crying. “I don’t want to play. I want to watch a movie.”
He spends all day watching movies and, after going through the trouble of rushing out a game for them, I’m dead set on at least trying. (A similarity between children and adult players; Neither have respect for what it means to be a Dungeon Master.)
I persist in trying to draw him in to the game. He’s unwilling and does not stop crying (becoming belligerent and angry, as would an adult player who has been drinking all evening) until I set the box of miniatures on the table.
He is gung-ho again.
So we begin.
I introduce the setting before starting with my son’s character. “You are sound asleep in bed when you feel the light of the sun on your eyelids, waking you,” or some such like that, “What do you do?”
Already, this may have been my first mistake. I wanted to ease him in with something like a tutorial level. Note to all: Maybe start in the middle of things. Like a fight scene.
“I don’t know,” he says, refusing to take further action.
“Do you… get out of bed?”
He groans in frustration, holding his head in his hands. “I don’t know.” It seems the mere act of having to make a choice has left him in shock. Unlike an adult player, who is only capable of making bad decisions, the child player seems incapable of making any decisions. This only worsens.
I try to coax his character out of his room with the smell of breakfast.
“I don’t know,” he says again. At this point, I’m fairly certain he thinks the game is just going to be playing house. The child has no concept of story.
So I switch to his mother, giving her the same scenario so the boy can see how it’s done. In response, she begins crying.
I am in hell. Sorry, heck. I am in heck.
Alright, I’m joking. She doesn’t cry. Cammi springs out of bed, feet hitting the dirt floor, and rushes into the kitchen to find food. All she finds is a note. Edible, but hardly satisfactory. It reads something like, “We, your parents, are going away for work, for we are traveling merchants. Be back someday.” That’s the gist of it.
Cammi is home alone, no food in the house. This is the life she is accustomed to, at least after her brother’s death. She’d eat her parent’s… parents of the year trophy, but sadly, they do not have one. So she heads to see her friend Terik.
Cut away to Terik, still in bed, paralyzed by the prospect of making a decision.
It takes his father calling him out to breakfast before Terik will budge. He steps out of bed onto a stone floor (A particularly nice floor compared to some. If it were a modern day floor it would be heated. Terik’s father is the town’s only smith.) At breakfast Terik eyes a sword laid out on the table, wrapped.
“Is that for me?” Terik asks, hand immediately darting for the sword. Why Terik would think the sword was for him, the world may never know. Terik’s father had never allowed him to handle a blade without permission and close supervision.
His father slaps his hand. He’d never give Terik a real sword. An eight year old with a sword? You’ll poke your eye out, Kid. Terik begins to pout, both in the game and in real life.
A knock at the door! Cammi has come over to play (play, in this usage, means to mooch food from). Terik’s mother answers and invites Cammi inside. Knowing the drill, she puts food in front of Cammi.
While Cammi scarfs food like she has never before eaten, Terik eyes her jealously. She comes into his house, wearing her bow. No doubt she has her dagger hidden somewhere on her. And he can’t even have a sword.
His father interrupts his pouting, “I want you to take this sword to Eagen. Straight to Eagen.”
Eagen being father’s brother or friend. Terik wasn’t certain of their relation because the DM was vague on the matter. But! His father had trusted him with a task. Trusted him to carry a sword across town. He finishes breakfast and sets out on this task, not as eagerly as expected, Cammi tagging along.
Outside the door to his home, Terik, once again faced with making a decision, freezes. Do as his father requested and deliver the sword to Eagen. Or do as Cammi suggests, “Let’s take the sword into the woods and play.”
Back in real life, my son begins to cry again. So far as I can tell, he believes we’ve rigged some sort of obedience trap against him. “Let’s say we just pretend I find another metal sword on the ground.”
“Nope,” I begin, starting in on explaining the nature of the game, “You have this sword, and a task. Whether you do what your father wants, or you go play in the woods, or do something else entirely is up to you.”
A meltdown, a time out, and half an hour later, Terik decides, much to my surprise, to take the sword to Eagen.
(I genuinely was not expecting such resistance to being asked to make a simple decision. Fortunately, I think he eventually came to realize he wouldn’t be punished in real life for decisions he makes in the game.)
On the way through the village, he sees the villagers. In such a small village, he knows each and every one of their names. The most noteworthy being a young woman, Sybil, with a half-elf baby, Alys, in her arms.
The baby is the only non-human in Gaham as well as the youngest. Terik is the second youngest. The second youngest used to be Cammi’s brother, before…
But they arrived at Eagen’s where he was waiting on his porch out front, sipping what may or may not have been tea. He accepts the sword and pays Terik with what he and Cammi immediately recognize as a silver piece, a silver morin. Not the country of Sakana’s local currency, but silver is good anywhere. Even better is platinum, which this silver piece actually is.
“Now I can buy a sword,” Terik screams for every villager to hear.
“You’re father is the only smith in town,” I remind him.
“Well, I have money so he has to let me have one.”
So he hurries home and requests to buy a sword from his father. His father, pleased with him for doing as he was told, agrees. He tells his son, who is waving the platinum piece wildly, “I’ll make you a sword fit for you, but it will take some time. Until then, you can hold on to your coin.”
(At this point, the game has been an even split between playing and crying, but my son is starting to get into it.)
With no other demands on their time, Terik and Cammi run out into the woods to play. (Glaring plot hole… who in their right minds lets these kids run off into the woods. Cammi’s brother DIED in the woods. #PCParents)
The children mock fight, Cammi pretending to shoot Terik with her bow (no arrow nocked). Terik, in return, tries to hit her with his wooden sword. (Overly excited about combat, I suppose.) He narrowly misses, but Cammi is upset at him and runs off deeper into the woods, leaving him alone.
Pouting again, Terik turns to head home. He comes face to face with a goblin, whose wide red eyes look just as surprised to see him. Terik shakes the shock first, and makes a mad dash at the goblin, bashing him on the head with his sword.
The goblin retaliates, biting Terik’s arm with several hundred tiny teeth. It is the worst pain Terik has ever felt. One more bop on the head from Terik, and the goblin is unconscious.
Several more bops and the goblin is still unconscious…
(At this point, my son is off the rails excited. We played for a good while longer in our first session but this has been quite a bit of writing. I need to work on other things so I’ll post up a part two before the end of the week, catching up with where we are. We plan to play again next Saturday.)
Next – Goodbye to Gaham