Friday, February 24, 2012

What I want my son to learn by playing D&D

I recently started playing BECMI Dungeons & Dragons with my 11-year-old son. I'm trying to give him the whole “Redbox” experience—searching room after room by torch-light, mapping as you go, listening for skeletons and goblins. I want Bargle to piss him off as much as he did me.

Perhaps more importantly, there are several life lessons I want the boy to learn through D&D.

This is the obvious one, but it's still true. I'm no calculus whiz, but nothing taught me to add and subtract columns of number quickly and accurately like shopping for equipment for my D&D characters. That's not even touching on the math and geometry required for combat and miniatures movement.

Be a Gracious Winner and a Good Loser
Sportsmanship is a difficult lesson to learn these days. We live in a poor section of town, so there's not much in the way of organized sports, nor does his school offer much. And let's face it, I'm a D&D nerd, I'm not big on sports anyway. But even when I was a kid, I had Sports Billy, Fat Albert, and other shows to teach me about good sportsmanship.

No so much any more. I've heard the banter on Xbox live. I've been on Ventrillo on failed raids in WoW. Sportsmanship, grace, and humility are rare traits.

So, I'm hoping to teach the boy those qualities through D&D. When you succeed, good job! You should be proud, but don't brag (unless, you know, you're roleplaying a braggart, but one thing at a time, okay?). Pride leads to hubris, which leads to failure. And when you DO fail, you get up and try again. Don't brood, don't sulk, don't get angry. It's a game. Your elf was eaten by an ochre jelly? Roll up a dwarf and try again. The fun in in the playing.

Fun is independent of Success or Failure
This goes along with the above lesson. It doesn't matter if you saved the princess and slew the minotaur, or if your party got wiped out by the first batch of kobolds. What matters is that you had fun. More often than not, massive failures make for better stories than victories. This is the “Call of Cthulhu Corollary.”

The Impermanence of Things
This is the “Rust Monster Rule.” Nothing lasts forever. Sometimes you're going to loose things you love. You have to learn to let go of material things. Sure that +5 Vorpal Sword is nice, but one magical armadillo can destroy it forever in six rounds. You gotta just let it go.

Experience is The Most Important Thing
Sure, gold is nice, but when it comes right down to it, it's the experience and the things you learn that let you grow as a person.

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Rumor Mill -- Using rumors to develop new PCs.

I've recently started playing a retro-clone game called “Adventurer Conqueror King” from Autarch. It's a great new take on old-style D&D, and I'll review it more in-depth later. Right now I want to share something I did in our first session as an example of what you can do to quickly build depth into new characters, only five-minutes into the game.

So we've got a shiny new group of adventurers. They area all currently live and work in the same geographic location (in this instance, a small town) and, if not friends, they have at least heard of each other. I take all the PC names and write them on slips of paper. I shuffle the names up and pass them pack to the players. I have the players look at the names but don't show anyone else. Any player who get's the name of his own PC should swap with the player next to him until everyone has the name of a PC that isn't theirs.

Now we go around the table. I look to Destiny's player.
GM: “Whose name do you have Destiny?”
Destiny's player: “Valmar's”
Valmar is a Neutral Human Mage.
GM: “Tell me a rumor that everyone has heard about Valmar.”
Destiny smiles; Valmar looks nervous.
Destiny: “Back when he was a teenager, Valmar killed his uncle with black magic.”

Now this rumor is established! People have heard this rumor, it exists, and there's nothing anyone can do about it. But, we turn to Valmar's player.

GM: “Valmar, is this rumor true? And if not, what's the true story?”
Valmar (lighting up): “I DID kill my uncle with magic, but what nobody knows is that he was killed then resurrected by an evil necromancer. He was a zombie when I blasted him!”

Excellent! Now, not only do we know a bit more about Valmar's past, we have an idea about what the community thinks about him, plus we have the seeds for a new NPC, an evil Necromancer with ties to Valmar's family.

I reward both players. Destiny gets 250xp for creating the rumor. Valmar gets 250 for accepting and/or clarifying the rumor. If they were higher level, I'd give them more XP. If we were playing QAGS, I'd give them Yum Yums. If FATE, Fate Chips. Reward your players in whatever currency works best for your game.

We continue around the table this way. Eventually every player should be rewarded twice. Once for creating a rumor, and once again for clarifying a rumor about their own character.

This worked great for my group, and within 5 minutes, before the game had even started, we had personality quirks and vague background stories already established for a fresh batch of PCs.

Give this technique a try with your own groups and let me know how it works!