Sunday, May 23, 2021

Playing BD&D with Kids

Cover to "Dungeons & Dragons Basic Rules
Set", "Dungeon Master Rulebook"(1985 vers.)
Art by Larry Elmore; ©1985, TSR, Inc. 
. I started with Dungeons & Dragons when I was six and a half years old. The boy who lived next door to me, Gregory, was a year older, and we were fast friends. He had become fascinated with D&D, and his father had bought him the Mentzer Red Box .

We only played one adventure together, but I was immediately hooked. I put it on my wish list, and fair pestered my parents for it for months, before receiving it at last that Christmas. My parents never really bought into the labels that said "for age X" on toys and games. They believed, as I do now, that you should gauge the maturity and development of the individual child

And you should not be afraid to challenge them by handing them something slightly "older" than what toy makers think they can handle. If it frustrates them, you can simply take it away and give it back to them when they're a little older. However, they can often surprise you by rising to the challenge.

As my son has played more of games like Tiny Dungeon 2e, and less of the kiddish games like No Thank You, Evil!, it has become apparent to me that this is a hobby that is going to stay with him for the rest of his life. And I wanted to make sure he had a good grounding in the original games. I wanted him to be able to make up his own mind about how Dungeons & Dragons has evolved and whether he would rather play a modern game or an old school one.

To that end, earlier this year I decided I wanted to play some of the original adventures with him.

We rolled up a character, 3d6 down the line, and I broke out my old  D&D Rules Cyclopedia

I rewrote the original Mentzer tutorial that appeared in the Player's Rules Guide as a GM edscenario. Including, creating stats for Alieena Harlan and Bargle the Infamous that were as consistent as possible with the scenario. 

Freeing my son to play that scenario as he wanted was interesting, because he insisted on bashing down the door that Aleena and the hero have to skip for lack of a Thief in the original scenario, prompting me to roll up a small treasure horde.

In the encounter with Bargle and Aleena, he out-thought the goblin rather than simply trying to bash it on the head. By maneuvering it into the hall and then setting fire to some of the leaf litter that was described in that chamber tk isolate it from the battle, and so he could focus on protecting Aleena from Bargle.

The fateful magic missile went off, but by a quirk of the dice, Alina took only three damage out of the four hit points she could have as a minimum for a Cleric who could already cast healing spells,with her canonical 13 Constitution. (2d8 HD +2). Without the Goblin present, my son was able to crowd Bargle and keep him from casting more spells. 

"Aleena" by Larry Elmore, ©1985 TSR Inc. 

And so, having saved Aleena, my son was able to return to Threshold a hero and work with Aleena as a contact I  the Order of the Griffin to hunt Bargle. This certainly made sending him to the second dungeon much easier. She became a great contact for driving the action. 

Along the way, he independently decided that he wanted to use some of the treasure he'd already found to hire a thief in case he ran into future locked doors. And so he already independently derived the idea of hirelings by the second adventure from the Mentzer boxed set.

He became quite attached to his hireling. And even paid him at higher than usual portion of the treasure when the Thief, Korl, agreed to kill the rust monster for my son him after it destroyed his suit of chainmail..

Because so much of the Mentzer's boxed set required you to learn from more advanced players after that dungeon, I built a couple of small learning dungeons designed to cover things like traps, locked doors, and the specialty abilities of magic users and clerics.

I introduced a couple of other hirable NPCs to take with him to let him solve problems.

He passed through these training dungeons pretty quickly, but along the way he learned how to search for traps, and look for where they are telegraphed. He learned about the importance of light in dungeons. And the difficulties of moving large amounts of treasure out of the dungeon.

During one of his early adventures, he accidentally exposed Korl to a dangerous poison. Rather than kill him outright, I had the character put into a coma, simply because I wanted to see how my son would respond to the scenario. He did me proud by dropping all of his treasure in order to be able to carry his ally home, and then entreated the local clerics to do what they could for him. 

I'd already come up with the idea of leading into some future dungeons by having NPCs grioe about trouble getting things up by caravan, and on the spot decided to include medicine in the shortages. My son, on his own initiative, consulted sages as to where he might find an antidote for the poison that felled the thief, and then spent almost all of his treasure earned up to that point to organize an expedition to find a cure for Korl's condition.

It was a great opportunity for a short Hex crawl ending in a battle with an ogre and his dire wolves

Sample Dungeon ftom the 1977 "Basic Dungeons
& Dragons Rule Set" by Dr. J. Eric Holmes;
©1977 TSR Inc. 
After that, I set him up with the dungeons under the ruin Tower of Zenoous, which I'd only played myself a few months earlier for the first time as a part of Stephen Smith's World of Weirth play test group.

He showed real cunning in the confrontation with the goblins in the central chamber of that dungeon. He compensated for his human companions' inability to see by throwing flaming oil on a table. He hadn't even heard of throwing flaming oil from me. He just derived the idea himself after I explained how oil lamps worked. 

He even took live prisoners, realizing that a lengthy fight might get him or his allies hurt. And because I have taught him through the stories I have chosen to expose him to, that killing should always be a last resort.

Unfortunately, his now second level Dwarf was hit by The Knockout poison trap in one of the goblin room traps. My son was horrified by the idea that this character, which he had been through so much with, might die. He immediately retired the character and asked for a little break from playing Dungeons & Dragons. s

I suspect he will one day bring the character back into play. But, that brush with the possibility of his character dying has certainly changed the way he plays other role-playing games - for the better. 

1 comment:

  1. "And so he already independently derived the idea of hirelings by the second adventure from the Mentzer boxed set."

    I love it!