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.