This afternoon Tavis and I played a home-brewed version of D&D with ten 8 year old children at an afterschool program in Manhattan. Let me front-load with the cute stuff:
- Two of my five players were girls. One of them, Joan, ended by saying, “That was AWESOME. That was, by far, the best game I have EVER played.” We loaned her a copy of the new 4e Starter Set to read this week – God knows what she’ll make of it. So at the end of the session, a copy of D&D ended in the hands of an enthusiastic new (and female) player, which is what this is all about. I am awesome (Tavis is more awesome, but gets second billing on this).
- Joan initially was disappointed that there were no “normal girl” miniatures, but at the end of the session said, “I wish I could keep this, I LOVE her” in regard to her black-leather-clad dual-wielding female Doomguard.
- “Okay, as you’re travelling along the old bridge road, you see a strange little lizard man, about 3 feet high. He is astride a giant weasel, and looks to be having a nap in the saddle. What do you do?” “Kill it! “Um, kill it.” “Ooh, ooh, I attack it and then kill it!” “Let’s just kill it!” “Okay . . . Roger, what do you want to do?” “I guess . . . I chop off its head, and then kill it.”
- In the process of killing it: “I chop out its eyes!” “Whoa cool!! It can’t see!!” “Nice one!” “Yesssss!” (twenty minutes later) “In the dungeon, you find Sir Justin. The monsters have chopped out his eyes, leaving him blind.” “That’s horrible!!”
- All of these kids were 8 years old. They showed strong ability to do D&D-type reasoning: “It sounds like this route is very direct, but dangerous. Let’s try an indirect route and get there a different way. . . . Let’s stick together so the monsters don’t get us . . . This key probably unlocks a dungeon cell, let’s take it along with us. . . . This monster invited us to dinner: it must mean he’s planning to eat us!” So all of these signals from the DM are immediately understood correctly. I delivered these signals in a slightly exaggerated fashion, but the children had no problems understanding the big idea and how stuff fit together entirely on their own.
- RaQuel said, “My second sword is also a cell phone.”
The idea is that we’d get a whole bunch of kids at the elementary school to role-play, using the Dungeons & Dragons brand as a bait-and-switch. The idea would be to teach newcomers that these types of games exist, and Dungeons & Dragons is a fun thing to do. And for kids who are already D&D players (there are a few in this bunch), we’d show them how to do things in a more Old Skool kind of way–which is to say, just imagining stuff and having fun, without worrying about “builds,” rules, feats, and other stand-ins for status-mongering.
Some of these kids are new. Several of them that I was playing with had no prior role-playing experience, and were very frightened and worried about trying something totally brand new. So I did a lot of work reassuring them that, “This is a game that is fun. It helps you imagine.” We would play as a team (“Yes!! I’m so glad we don’t have to compete!”) and while unexpected things might happen, you’re never out of the game.
Tavis home-brewed some super-simplified version of 4e which was still too complicated for me to understand, much less teach. My bunch played pretty fast and loose: roll + stat bonus = hope for the best. Basically, my version of it was a D&D 4e Skill Check type system, just without skills, and 5 kids managed to accomplish 5 encounters (with 2 combats) in just over 40 minutes.
Maybe some day soon I will post up the little adventure I drafted, if I can figure out how to do it.