Last week my middle school crew (now sans crazy halfling cleric / wolf-lord) continued with their 5th edition D&D game while elsewhere in the school library the usual Strategy Games Club goodness continued. Notable among these other games were two separate tabletop role-playing games each created by 8th grade girls and each featuring player character monsters, PvP combat, super powers, and maze-running smack downs!
Frankly I'm intrigued and if either of the young writers would care to comment with details about her design or the inspiration for her game I'd love to share. Maybe I can get an interview together at some point as a way of capturing some of the unfettered creativity and fun they've got going on.
Meanwhile the player of our dwarf cleric announced to the group that he'd been doing some reading online and that he knew all the details of the dungeon that the group was about to enter.
That took me right back to my own middle school days when, part way through a session of hacking and slashing AD&D, Curtis Neff announced that A.) he had to leave early B.) he had read the module we were playing beforehand and knew how everything was going to go anyway, rattling off some choice details about key monsters and locations on his way out the door. I think we were playing The Isle of Dread ... anyway, it felt like a big cheat and I had to scramble to recover the momentum of the session.
Fortunately, these days I couldn't begin to stay on a script if I wanted to, so it was child's play to throw in a wrinkle that would significantly alter the published encounters while maintaining the challenge level. An ambush by giant frogs soon followed and as the adventurers probed deeper into the cave in an effort to find signs of the fate of their patron, Sildar Hallwinter. Signs of battle revealed where goblin defenders had been overrun by spear-wielding bactrians!
We ended the session as the group scrambled up a side tunnel. Throughout their brief crawl they had managed not to split up, avoided targeting party members with area effect spells, and exercised some basic discipline with both marching order and attacks (concentrating their fire). It may just be a fluke, but I'm hoping that a few of the key tactical lessons are finally starting to sink in a bit.
It's also apparent to me how a dungeon setting is the perfect training ground for this sort of thinking -- dungeons, by their nature, limit and focus options and present challenges in very immediate and concrete ways. I wonder how things might have gone differently with this group if we had started their first session at the entrance to a cave rather than on the road to Phandalin.