Sunday, July 13, 2014

My DM is a Seven-Year-Old

Today we took a short break from our Homeguard B/X D&D campaign for a one-shot run by my seven-year-old.

As we finished making our four level-two characters (the elf, dwarf, fighter, and cleric each fit on the front of a separate index card) our intro was a railroad worthy of a Ravenloft module: "Many people have been going in.  You are always looking for danger. In the old building and the rumor is that The Beast's pet lives below.  You guys are really eager to find it ... whatever the pet is ... and The Beast!"

All aboard the plot train!
Okay, I can get into this ... we're doing Brotherhood of the Wolf, but directed by a seven-year-old.

"This button hurts my nose."
We got a bit more exposition as the first few tiles were laid out: "It's in the side of a hill.  This cave is under a hill.  There are trees leaning over it and down here [west of the dungeon mouth] you see where some adventurers may have packed; set their stuff before they went in.  There's a horse tied to a tree."

We took a little time to scout this camp and noticed that there were four bedrolls.  Keeping a sharp eye out, we met a halfling lookout standing watch nearby.  We hailed her and learned that she was called, "Sweets".  Wary of treachery (don't laugh, kids can be devious), we still agreed to go into the dungeon with Sweets to meet up with the rest of her group.  Once inside, we followed the halfling's lead to circumvent a trap (pressure plate on the floor) and a tempting red lever in order to meet up with the rest of her party. 

Following Sweets

Eleanor the Elf and an unnamed dwarf indicated that they too were investigating rumors of The Beast and that "Our party has been down here before."  

"Hey, there were four bedrolls outside at the camp, but only three of you, so ... ?"

"Our fighter was swallowed up by a giant -- well, he's a troll or an ogre or something like that.  We're going back in to find its pet".

Cool.  Though still not completely sure we could trust them, we joined up with these guys on the basis that we could use some meatshields, especially if there really was a troll around.  Then came a bit more spontaneous exposition: 

"This building used to be a church but the forest over grew and the new town was built far, far away from here.  Monsters came in.  They left [ the church] behind.  That's why outside you can still see bricks poking up through the grass."

Cool.  We now had a bit of setting.

Despite comments from the newly-met NPCs that they had already cleared most of the half-dozen rooms near the dungeon's entrance, we set about methodically checking rooms so as to avoid leaving monsters behind us that might cut off our inevitable, panicked retreat.  Behind the back wall of a small, bone-strewn tomb, we heard a munching sound.  Judging the situation shrewdly, Kalarel the Younger, our cleric of questionable orthodoxy, used a rope to tug the tempting lever from the entry passage and, sure enough, the floor plate sprang up to expose a catapult-like spring trap while a secret panel rose, revealing a giant spider slurping on the remains of some hapless explorer.

Nothing could possibly go wrong ...
Some flaming oil quickly solved what could have been a deadly encounter (it was a "save vs poison or die" creature), we recovered some gold, haggled over the treasure with the NPC group, and then it was off to another room to tangle with a squad of five spear-chucking goblins. 

Though we took a couple wounds, the goblin's soon took enough casualties to surrender.  We placed one under a charm spell before disarming the rest and sending them packing.  

The ensorcelled goblin, who turned out to be surprisingly well spoken, was a wealth of information about the dungeon and The Beast: "I really would prefer it if you don't call him 'The Beast'.  He is a giant and his name is 'Gulln'."

"The goblin's are Gulln's servants -- they aren't his slaves, he doesn't hit them with a whip or anything -- they work for him and are his servants."

About that time Kalarel the Younger randomly revealed a personal detail: 

"I take a skull from every dungeon I visit as a souvenir."

"What if there isn't one?"

"I take a leg bone instead!"

Ah, kids.

Still under our spell, the goblin helped us avoid a nasty encounter with some semi-trained wolves and loot part of his master's treasury.

"These must be the Bea ... Gulln's pets, right?"  

"No, his pet lives down below."

Smoked a spider and by-passing the wolves.
Notice the sweet index-card character sheets.

Following the goblin's lead we crept down a back stair and ... came face-to-face with the giant.  Hasty negotiation followed:

"Where are my other goblins?"

"We told them that they could take a break for a while."

"Why are you here?"

"We heard some guys talking in town, and they said that you didn't have any kind of pet and I said you did and they kept saying you didn't, so we came to prove them wrong."

"Nobody is allowed to see my pet slime beast!  If anyone tries to see him then I will turn the monster loose!"

Then Sweets revealed something we hadn't been told yet ... it seems that there was a big reward being offered to anyone who could discover the real name of the monster kept by The Beast.  Hmm ... wheels were beginning to turn ...

"Yeah, I knew you had a slime beast, that's just what I told those guys.  I said 'The great and mighty giant has a slime beast named Gulln'.  I knew I was right!"

"It's name is not Gulln.  My name is Gulln.  I don't like anyone saying my name."

"Oh, that's your name?  Then what's your pet's name?"

"I'm not going to tell you!"

Then Kalarel the Younger suddenly spoke up:

"I bet you don't even have a slime beast.  I bet you just made that up.  I bet you just have a worm back there.  Your pet isn't anything but a little worm."

"What?  You don't believe me?  Here!"

Kalarel was scooped up by the giant and carried off to the deepest part of the dungeon where, behind a heavy door, in a dark pool the slime beast howled and snarled.

"It has the voice of everyone it has ever eaten."


Kalarel was dumped there, I guess to be dealt with later, and Gulln returned to menace the rest of the party.  Left alone for the moment and thinking quickly, the cagey cleric became imperious with the gibbering slime beast:

"I am the great Kalarel!  Tell me your name or I will destroy you!"


Okay, wasn't expecting that.

While we keep Gulln talking ,
Kalarel tries to bluff "Scratcher" in the background.
As the rest of us tried to keep Gulln talking (and bemoaned the fact that he was way too tough to be laid low by our sleep spell), Kalarel came dashing back up the passage, whipped past us, and sprinted for the entrance to the dungeon.  We all took to our heels with Gulln in hot pursuit and, in a fleeting moment of brilliance, we remembered to hug the left hand wall on the way out.  The furious giant hit his own spring trap and was catapulted over our heads and down the valley to his doom.

So ... not too bad for a seven-year-old, but even better was the beauty of what I saw with my teacher-vision(TM).  Over the course of a couple hours this rising third-grader:
  • Stayed on task taking two breaks when needed and returning to the table (intellectual resilience)
  • With prompting, skimmed several paragraphs of informational text to check rules on morale and surprise
  • Created a hand drawn sketch of the dungeon and annotated it in advance with monsters, traps, and treasure (planning and synthesis)
  • Placed tiles to replicate the contours of the map and adapted when a perfect fit couldn't be found (spatial relationships)
  • Read three separate charts accurately
  • Used an index to find information four times
  • Played by the rules equitably, while still making rulings at appropriate times (e.g. the goblins made one morale check, but after taking more losses it was ruled that they surrendered without making the second check)
  • Used descriptive language and dialog to hold the attention of (older) peers and create a coherent narrative
  • Retained details and kept them consistent throughout play (names, characters, dungeon layout remained static)
  • Imagined the reactions and perspectives of dungeon inhabitants and had them respond appropriately (at one point we made a lot of noise and we heard creatures start howling, though we hadn't yet discovered that there were wolves in the dungeon)
  • Received feedback graciously after the game was over, even asking, "Okay, but what did you not like that I could make better or change in the game?"
Yeah, so that's a win.

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