The Legend of Cherry Pie

Inspired by James’ post on The Legend of the Boss, and hoping to inspire him to do one for Immortus as well, here is the saga of Cherry Pie.

At nerdNYC’s great Brooklyn gameday Recess, I’ve been running a series of “Old-School Excursions” using the OD&D rules. At the first of these we left the walled town of Hruhrudingfallor to explore the Outdoor Survival map; this was arguably the first White Sandbox game, making Greengoat our oldest player (unless Mike is grandfathered into the title, having played Father Reynaldo & Obscura in previous AD&D games of mine). One of the players was a tween boy who decided to play a gnome, although I don’t think I was explicitly giving people the choice I do now: “You can be a human, a hobbit, a dwarf, an elf, or anything else you want to make up.”

He must have had a good time because he came to the next Excursion, for which I was using Paul Jaquays’ Borshak’s Lair, and played a kobold who was later replaced by a minotaur. This time he brought his little sister, who I’m guessing was maybe 9 or 10. She decided that she wanted to be a goblin magic-user named Cherry Pie.

Now, judging from the reaction to the New York Red Box thread in which I mentioned the events of this game, the essential appeal of the legend of Cherry Pie is that someone played a goblin called Cherry Pie. Everything else I might say is inessential and you are welcome to stop reading now. Nevertheless, I feel compelled to do some exegesis on what made Cherry Pie awesome.

1) The unquestioned assumption that this is a game that lets you be what you want to be. This is the essence of awesome, although of course you get extra points if what you want to be is a goblin magic-user named Cherry Pie. (I think her brother said all her PCs were named Cherry Pie; whether this makes it more or less awesome is open to discussion). In this game & every OD&D session I’ve run since, during character creation I make a point of offering players the chance to make things up. In my experience very few adults take advantage of this, preferring to go with one of the pre-defined choices. Kids seize that creative control whether or not they’re told it’s on the menu.

2) Reliance on imagination over rules. During character creation for this session, I took everyone through the steps that apply to all PCs but forgot to cover the ones that apply only to spell-casters. Folks who were familiar with some form of D&D or another filled in that blank, but for the first half of the game Cherry Pie had no spells at all. I didn’t notice because she did so well with no mechanical support for her character whatsoever. It was obvious to her that a goblin was small, so she could hide behind Jaquays’ ever-present curtains; that a goblin could see in the dark and was at home underground, so she could freely roam around the dungeon; and that a goblin could speak to other monsters and would be accepted as one of them, so that she could strike up conversations with all the guards she met, learn what they were up to, and sow confusion amongst the enemy with impunity.

3) Freedom from pre-conceptions about play. The most noticeable of these was that Cherry Pie’s player paid no mind to the adage “never split the party“. More generally, she didn’t assume that D&D was a game about fighting. For her, the dungeon was like a big funhouse where you could discover cool stuff, spy on the grown-ups, and get into and out of trouble. She was perfectly happy to wander off on her own, poking her nose into things. Even when the rest of the adventurers were in mortal danger it didn’t apply to her, both because the monsters typically accepted her as one of their own and because she never attacked anything. She asked questions first, and ran away second when necessary – which was surprisingly infrequent.

I’m hoping to see this family again at Thanksnerding, in which case I will try to get a character sketch of Cherry Pie.

6 Responses to “The Legend of Cherry Pie”

  1. 1 chgowiz
    November 5, 2009 at 2:59 pm

    I’ve noticed that as well – my recent Swords & Wizardry demo had the younger boys (maybe 12) making up all sorts of stuff.

    What is it with silly goblin names… Enu, No-took and now Cherry Pie. Awesome stuff!

  2. November 6, 2009 at 8:25 pm

    Tavis, I’m learning so much about how to encourage fun play reading about your old school games! I love the thing you do where players can pick a semi-undefined power for their characters. And this “play whatever you want” thing is great.

    How do you handle odd-ball requests like playing a minotaur? Do you run ’em like their nearest approximate class (fighting man, m-u, etc) and add extras as they come up (seeing in the dark, talking to monsters). Has anyone ever run one of these characters long enough that you’ve had to sort out advancement?

    Cool stuff. Your White Box game makes my Red Box game seem rules-bound and staid by comparison. :)

  3. November 6, 2009 at 9:13 pm

    Re: your staid Red Box game, one of the players who’d only done Eric’s Glantri played in a White Sandbox game for the first time and reported “That’s not nearly as weird as reading the forums makes it sound!” I think there’s a collective will to play D&D and a pretty tight understanding of what that means; even if I like to emphasize that there are robots out there in D&D land, I’m just pointing out that this has always been the case and no one so far is driven to make it part of the foreground. I’m also pretty rules-bound; I think there’s a productive tension between the desire to go wahoo and to follow the rules faithfully so that we can understand & emulate what the old school set out as guidelines.

    What I do with oddball races and classes is to run down what the class features of the Big Three are, to give the player a sense of what the baseline is. Then we figure out which of those is closest to use as a model, what of its abilities they want and which they’re willing to give up in exchange. For example, we had a dwarven sapper who gave up a fighter’s ability to wear plate armor for trap-setting and demolition.

    Advancement is an issue that I haven’t really tackled, although now that John Fighter is pushing 5th level (up from 3rd) I should bite the bullet. For new classes, we usually agree to choose one OD&D progression or another as part of the class feature package. The rub has been characters, like Ookla the Mok, who are bringing in AD&D-classed characters. I gave Ookla’s player the choice of advancing at the same rate as a fighting man and just having the same degree of special ability as other fighters, or moving at the AD&D slower progression and having more abilities to match. Arguably I should just go for a uniform progression, esp. since I’m not following OD&D hit dice progression (everyone starts with 3 HD at 3rd level and gains another at 4th).

    I should also probably draw up a class-creation worksheet, esp. so that I could keep it on hand to remind me of what we decided about how a sapper, an alchemist, or a marksman works! (Although kids take the lead in inventing races, we have seen a fair amount of adult creativity re: classes).

  4. November 7, 2009 at 12:26 am

    Tavis, have you noticed any correlation between adult players creating new races/classes and whether they’re also DMs?

  5. November 7, 2009 at 9:59 pm

    I don’t know enough about who is normally/historically a DM to be able to draw that correlation. Among folks who I know are active DMs, James has been playing Arnold/Zolobachai M-U since the beginning, same for I.O.’s John Fighter, and you’ve played a cleric and a marksman – so that’s like 75% traditional classes, 100% traditional races, but too small a sample to draw conclusions. I hope to kill Arnold soon so we can see if James will indeed play a balrog next!

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November 2009

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