Sunday afternoon, about three o'clock. All the books were out, the dice bags were ready, two shiny new sets sent to us by my good buddy Old 4 Eyes, and my trusty set, no two alike, carefully kept over the years and now ready to roll again. My son, Junior Grognard (hereafter referred to as JG) had his character sheets, pencil and figures out.
I had written the following introduction for him, setting the scene so that the notion of the VR Training Dungeon would be explained. In the end, it didn't get used, because I judged that he was eager to get into the dungeon and reading this would slow it down. I include it here for interest.
You are villagers and peasants in a small settlement a few days' travel from the city of Stonegarth Hold, which some of you have visited once or twice on the great market days. The city is a cross-roads for travellers from many lands, warriors and mystics, magicians and priests, barbarians and - on rare occasions - elves and dwarves.
You have seen adventurers pass through your settlement on many occasions, but these tough and hardy fighters and magicians seem to come from another world. They have no time for ordinary folk like yourselves - their minds are filled with tales of monsters, danger, treasure and mystery. Stories that they tell at the local tavern, where you have eavesdropped on those rare occasions when you could get away with it tell of lost temples, brave knights, dragons from thousands of years ago, something called The Empire of the Snake (everyone shushes anyone who mentions that), mighty wizards, treasures worth thousands of gold pieces, things that refuse to die and stalk the distant lands. If nothing else, these stories give the adventurer who tells them a round of free drinks. You and your friends play out these stories for days afterwards, all the time wondering if they are true, and what the life of an adventurer is really like. It must be more exciting than endless days of sheep shearing, milking cows, ploughing and weeding, watching another year go by.
Then one day, on the eve of the autumn fair, when tinkers and traders, knife-sharpeners and apothecaries, vagrants and would-be workers come into the village to do business, you see a battered wagon, a tent beside it and the sign that reads
"Enter an exciting world of sorcery, monsters and treasure"
You cannot help but wander over. An old man is busy reading from a musty old book while a curious crowd looks on. Nearby whispers about him mention Stonegarth Hold, wizards, dangerous spells and even mention of Palintor, supposedly the greatest city in the world. It's said that anyone can buy anything there - if they have enough money. All you have is a handful of silver pieces, saved over the weeks in case there is anything good at the fair.
This looks good.
The old man glances up at you. He asks if you're interested in finding out what it's like to be an adventurer. He can see by your reactions that you would. He tells you that there is no need to worry - he can show you what you want to know and you won't even have to leave the village. You look down glumly at the silver coins in your hand. He smiles and tells you that whatever you have, that's how much it'll cost.
You and your friends glance at each other. It has to be more exciting than watching old Gilessa and her boring conjuring tricks or Ref the tinker and his so-called singing dog.
He invites you into the cart, where there are several dusty old chairs, and gestures for you to sit down. Then, from a cupboard he takes a bundle, wrapped in black cloth. You wonder what it is. He closes the door of the cart and tells you to get ready for adventure. Then he takes off the cloth. He holds in his hand a glowing orange gem the size of a child's head. As you look at it, the light gets stronger. You cannot pull your eyes away. Suddenly, there is a flash and when you can see again, you find that you are no longer in the cart, but on a hillside. Nearby is what looks like the entrance to a tunnel, surrounded by old and moss-covered stone. You look at your friends, who are now wearing armour and strange robes, carrying backpacks and swords. Dream or illusion, magic or whatever - it feels so real and you decide to see what is inside the tunnel entrance.
Not going with that, I quickly laid out the first corridor. The party set off from the entrance and soon reached a crossroads. They turned right, towards a large room. This was keyed as being the haunt of a band of goblin raiders but a die roll indicated that they were out and had left only a small, 4-strong presence. JG wanted to steam in and attack, but I had Alia the MU mention that she had a sleep spell and thought that would be better to take them out. Which she did - zonk, down they went. Alurax ran in and killed all four.
He was delighted when I informed him that he had garnered 20gp of coins from the mattresses and sacks scattered about the room, less so when he realised, after I had pointed it out, that there were mattresses enough for 21 goblins and they had only encountered four so far. They returned to the crossroads, went straight across and this time headed down towards a smaller room, where they found a metal grille in the floor and noticed that something was glinting and glittering below.
They took so long trying to work out who was going to try and open the grille and how it should be done that I decided to do some wandering monster rolls and sure enough, a group of 5 kobolds came marching up the corridor from deeper into the dungeon. Alurax and Akurath, the dwarf with the sword launched into the attack. It didn't take long - I think JG rolled a 20 on his second roll of the attack dice and Akurath's rolls were similarly good. The dwarf took 4hp of damage from a determined spear thrust by a kobold that had dropped to 1hp on the first round but had hung on in there and refused to die. He fell eventually.
The party made its way down the way the kobolds had come to another turn-off. I noticed that they seemed to have completely forgotten (in the excitement of their first melee) about the glittering gems below the metal grille. The spiders will have to wait for their dinner.
They arrived at the turning, and saw two doors down the side passage. The party chose the further of the two. Lannius checked for traps and found none - Alurax then kicked the door open to be confronted by an old man in chains. As they came towards him, he fell apart and his hands and skull launched their attack. Alurax dodged and struck and one hand was shattered into its component bones. Unfortunately, even with AC2, Lannius still got hit by the second hand and his CON started to drop. Meanwhile, the skull headed for the door, keen to get in on the action. Outside were Hruthnor and the hobbit, Zhastar. The latter cast a protection from evil and the skull decided it wanted a taste of dwarf instead. Hruthnor was having none of this and swung his battle axe, scoring a hit and doing 8 points of damage. As the skull only had 6 to begin with, it was well and truly shattered. Alurax then managed to get a hit on the hand fastened around Lannius' neck but not before the thief had lost another point of CON (down to 11) The hand succumbed and the party withdrew to congratulate itself and regroup.
Behind the other door was a manacled skeleton, wearing the remants of stout adventuring gear. This provoked immediate suspicion, considering what they had just faced, but it swiftly became apparent that there was no danger. With glowing eyes, it rose up and explained that it was the mortal remains of an adventurer that had come to the dungeon seeking the treasure hoard at its heart. But death was his only reward and in return for the party swearing to give his bones a proper funeral so that his spirit could move on, he told them that they needed to gather four tokens, currently scattered around the dungeon. Only these would enable them to claim the treasure.
After this, the party headed off down a long tunnel, down which a strong wind was blowing; their torches blew out and they were plunged into darkness. Elise the Cl/Mu cast light and this guided them to the turn-off to amother room. As they approached the door and tried to open it, there was a voice from inside, saying 'Stay back or we shoot!'
This was like a red rag to a bull for JG and the door flew open to a determined shoulder from Hruthnor. At once, the sturdy dwarf took 5hp of damage from two magic missiles. Our doughty adventurers returned fire, and the 3rd level MU took damage from a crossbow bolt and an arrow. He was preparing to web Alurax and Hruthnor but this spell was spoiled by the hits. As the bow has a rate of fire of two per round, I ruled that Alurax got his second shot in at the end of that round. He rolled great die rolls and the MU thudded to the floor, a veritable pin cushion. The dead magic user's companion, a thief had been firing at Hruthnor without success and as the party swarmed in, he dropped his weapons and surrendered. JG wanted to kill him but I explained that NG characters do not kill unarmed prisoners. He grudingly accepted this but cheered up when I revealed more gold pieces and a magic book were amongst the pickings from this particular encounter. Since there are three MU or MU multi-classed characters in the party, there could be some resentment at the fact that Alurax has claimed it. Were this a multi-player dungeon, the party dynamics could be quite intereting.
With the captive thief in tow, they filed out into the wind tunnel again. By this time, the light spell had expired and they were in darkness again, but of course the wandering monster rolls decreed that two giant rats were approaching from behind. Alurax, being an elf had infravision and launched into an attack, using his bow and killing one, whilst Hruthnor took out the other in a couple of rounds.
At the end of the wind tunnel, the party relit their torches and headed left, down towards a doorway. They made it with no further encounters and realised that it was an empty store room. As it was approaching six by now (real time) I suggested that the party should use this as their base for recovery and regrouping, which was accepted without demurral.
I was delighted that it had gone so well; I could have made a right fudge-up of the whole thing and put JG off D&D for life, but he seemed to be hooked.
Reflections - JG picked up the concepts well, although I noticed that handling seven characters was overwhelming him with paperwork, so for next time, I suggested that he should have uppermost only the character sheets of the two at the front. I had to help out a few times, pointing out things on the character sheets, and occasionally correcting him when he picked up the wrong dice for damage (the fact that his seet was all the same colour was a disadvantage here as I couldn't say 'No, the D8 is the blue one'). He got rather demoralised when Hruthnor took the 5hp of damage from the magic missiles (assuming that the doughty dwarf was going to die), but the death of the magic-user seemed to cheer him up.
I thought that the three hours we played was a good length for JG and his concentration. Considering that his teachers tell us he has problems concentrating in class, I found this an encouraging sign for the benefits of playing D&D.
I am including some links to forum posts on Dragonsfoot, where other parents have been running their kids through adventures. It was reading logs such as these that convinced me that the time was right for JG.
Also, if anyone knows of a way to import pdf images into a blog, could they advise? Or how to convert pdf to jpeg? Thanks, otherwise I can't see how I can get the maps in.