Saturday, February 5, 2011

Playing DnD With Tween Stars

I mentioned the other day that I ran a 6-hour Dungeons and Dragons session for my son's 12th Birthday party. Here is a photo of that gaming session.

One of the important responsibilities of the Dungeon Master is to know his/her audience, and tailor the adventure to the interests of the participants. In preparation for the DnD session, I was coursing around for a suitable adventure to use. I struck upon the idea of mining some of the Disney and other animated movies, as source material for the adventure, but work and household responsibilities left me with little preparation time. As the day of the birthday party loomed, I had about 40 pages of notes and no prepared adventure.

Pre-packaged adventures to the rescue!

I decided to run an adventure that had been calling to me, ever since I bought it several months ago: Tower of the Stargazer, by James Raggi. I find that adventure attractive because it appeals to my particular style of game-play. I like exploration and tricks/traps, and generally distain combat-oriented adventures.

I ran Tower of the Stargazer for 7 participants: my son, eldest daughter, and five of my sons tweeny friends. All but two of his friends had played DnD before, and after rolling up characters (a ghost, baby dragon, three fighters, a wizard and a na`vi) we got down to the adventure. That is where things went sideways. While I presumed the tweens would like an exploration and problem-solving game, most quickly got bored, one throwing himself down a set of stairs to kill himself, another wandering off to the food table, and three others engaging in some in-game hi-jinks. Only two were interested in the exploration, having a great time playing with the equipment at the top of the Stargazer`s tower. After two TPK`s, we took a 15-minute break to sing Happy Birthday and eat some cake.

Back to the table, we rolled up some new characters, and played The Dark Vale adventure instead. The Dark Vale is published by Dark City Games, and is designed for the Legends of the Ancient World game, a The Fantasy Trip (TFT) clone. It is combat-heavy (at least half of the events are combat-only), which gave the tweens lots of opportunities to roll dice, experiencing the highs of timely hits, and the agony of misses. It`s also a straight-up scavenger hunt, with the players given explicit instructions at the beginning of the adventure about the four items that must be gathered to complete it. This seemed to work better for the tweenies, rather that the open-ended, non-explicit goals of the Tower of the Stargazer adventure.

I`m still very fond of the Tower of the Stargazer adventure, but i`m going to have to find a different audience for that adventure, one that has more focus and inquisitiveness, and is less enamoured with dice-rolling.

I was happy to hear, from the parents of several of the attendees, that the kids had a great time, and the two tweens who never played DnD before have been begging their parents to buy them more DnD game materials. While we sent all the kids home with a miniature, a Swords & Wizardry whitebox players handbook, Mike's awesome S&W reference sheets, a set of dice, a deck of Piazo item cards, pencil, eraser and character sheets, they want more materials.

The tweens left the party on a high-note, as they had located one of the four items needed to complete the adventure. All of them expressed interest in continuing the game, so hopefully we can gather those kids up again and finish it.


John Williams said...

Kids love to roll dice. I think that exploration style adventures are better suited for experienced players who are familiar with the campaign world.

A Paladin In Citadel said...

I remember being that age, there was something almost mystical about the experience and results of die-rolls.

I whole-heartedly agree with your analysis.

Zak S said...

'Whatever, man, I bet those aren't real twelve-year olds, you just hired some midgets. I want my money back.

A Paladin In Citadel said...

Zak S said...
'Whatever, man, I bet those aren't real twelve-year olds, you just hired some midgets. I want my money back.


JimLotFP said...

While I do include some nasty fights in my adventures, they are indeed on the whole not "action-adventure."

Especially so for the beginner adventures - the characters are not all that tough and if you have an out-of-the-way adventure location, a badly wounded or dead PC becomes a logistics problem. A heavy combat adventure makes that come up a lot. Keeping people in the game by emphasizing atmosphere and environment is how I handle that, but it does require player buy-in to the idea.

LotFP - Not For Kids (for several reasons)! ;)

A Paladin In Citadel said...

Absolutely. On all scores. I'm not worried about using my current copy of the LotFP boxed set rules with the kids, but your planned copy will definitely be on the top shelf of my gaming bookcase.

I like both the Stargazer and DFD adventures, and i'm gonna run those with a more mature crowd, that can better appreciate the atmosphere and menace.

Aplus said...

I had a similar experience with Tower of the Stargazer. My little cousin (age 9) left the table before they even got to the tower door!

Luckily, the rest of the group bought into it, and we even had my uncle that never played before cutting open mattresses looking for loose coinage! Hopefully we can complete it at the next gathering.

That sounds like a really great party you had for your son. Wish I could get a gift bag like that!

A Paladin In Citadel said...

That's great about your Uncle, talk about ingenuity! That\s why I love playing with new players, they can completely surprise you.

Anonymous said...

James & I just ran a D&D birthday party for seven nine-year-olds. It's great to see your experience! I agree that more dice rolls works better; we did wilderness exploration where the kids built a landscape using Heroscape hexes, built a castle with wooden Kapla blocks, and then flew their griffons/rode their unicorns (two teams each under a separate DM) to search for treasure and capture Pokemon. This was fun because letting the kids roll their random encounter checks kept the action moving, and the hands-on building and toys helped keep kids this young focused. At the end we used Crossbows & Catapults to knock down the castle they built, which had been captured by a bunch of D&D minis. We sent kids home with dice and their PC and unicorn/griffon mini; item cards, and character sheets & rules are a great addition.
- Tavis

A Paladin In Citadel said...

The S&W character booklets only cost me $4 a piece, the dice, $5 for each complete set, the minis were from my son's stash. The Paizo item cards were the high-ticket item, at $10 per deck. The kids had a great time trading between themselves to build their possession lists.

Sounds like your party with the 9-year olds was a great success! During a break, the kids went and played with my son's Heroscape set, I hear that Heroscape has been cancelled, which, if true, is too bad. This is the fall-back game for my son and several of his friends.