I’m sure that there are some of you out there who read the by-line for my blog, Raising the Next Generation of Old School Gamers and think “Oh yeah, Daddy G, where’s anything relating to that? You’re all mouth and no trousers. What about the kids?”
Well, grumble no longer. Because for the past few weeks, I’ve been gaming every weekend and during the Easter holidays twice a week with a group of four or five youngsters, aged 8 to 10 who are exploring a megadungeon that is growing as they go deeper, sandbox stylie.
Wowser, I hear you cry. That’s impressive. How did you achieve this?
Well, it started small. Junior Grognard had a friend, henceforth referred to as F over to play and during the visit, we mentioned D&D and what it involved. We’d been playing the D&D Top Trumps and he was getting used to the concept of monsters (this is recommended as an intro for kids and D&D – it seems to work very well so far). F sounded interested and so I drew up a simple three-level sixteen room dungeon that was light on fatality (after a chat with Mummy Grognard who outlined her worries that F might not be able to cope with full-on dungeon mayhem including death). She agreed to play a MU in order to keep the boys on track and ensure that they behaved themselves.
So, I had two boys who wanted to get into action straight away and I did not want to delay this through having to explain the rolling up procedure, choosing a character class, rolling the money and buying the equipment etc, so I decided to go down the route of pre-gens and did five sheets, one for each character (each player would run two characters except Mummy Grognard who would be running the MU and doing the admin) - two fighters, a thief, a cleric and a magic-user.
The initial set-up was a small (quarter of A4) character sheet with just four numbers on
with the armour and weapon pre-selected. All very basic, easy to understand and follow.
No requisites were rolled up to begin with. I figured that they were not needed to start playing and could be rolled up at the point at which they were called upon, sort of “Oh you want to bend the bars? Okay, we need to roll up your Strength, and that will tell us what you need to bend them”
I decided to give the cleric four Heal slots per dungeon day and the MU would get four Spell cards to be expended on a selection of 10 spells from the 1st level spell list in the PHB. I made small cardboard tokens for these, which were given to the relevant players and they would hand them to me when they used one of the Heals or Spells. No cards meant no more magic. This was a tactic that I have since expanded to cover arrows and oil bombs.
I also ruled that being reduced to 0 means unconsciousness rather than death (although I have since qualified that a little). This means that the emotional upset of having a character die on the first adventure and - for kids of this age, to all intents and purposes, losing - was avoided)
Now, I was fully prepared for the two lads and their adult mentor to game on until they got bored. But then, just after lunch, another friend (who we’ll call K) from across the road turned up purely by chance to see if Junior Grognard wanted to play. We dragged him in and asked him if he wanted to join the game. Seeing the dice, the figures and the floorplans out on the table, I guess that curiosity got the better of him and he was in. We had a high old time with kobolds, goblins and an underground river down which the MU dived, using it as a helter skelter and we called it a day at that point. K went home and to be honest, I was not sure if we’d see him again.
How wrong I was. Mummy Grognard, who does volunteer work at the local school was busy working away on my behalf, taking every opportunity to mention D&D to the kids there. We got another boy, T, the next week who joined in and although he was a quiet soul and rather reserved (although anyone would be quiet compared to Junior Grognard) he came back again for another session, as did K. Although family commitments meant that F was not present for all gaming sessions, his dad seemed to buy into the gaming experience quite quickly, getting his son a new set of dice and printing off OSRIC in its entirety (that’s what I call dedication). We got another friend, M, to join the group which now numbers five (or six if F is available). As it was T’s birthday a week or so ago, we bought him his own set of dice and a bag in which to keep them, which he has brought to each session since. It’s a ritual that we intend to continue as the birthdays keep coming. We also had K stand up and receive a round of applause when he was the first to level up.
Of course we now have a problem in that Mummy Grognard’s efforts on publicising the game have borne fruit to such an extent that we have more interested children than seats at the table. I’d dearly like to give them all the opportunity to dungeon-delve but DM capacity is limited. Perhaps an emergency training programme for DMs could be instituted. I don’t know. I don’t want to waste the enthusiasm that’s been generated but I can’t see a way past this.
After discussion with Mummy Grognard, I also found and downloaded the Labyrinth Lord character sheets as they are clearly formatted and legible enough for the boys to use without getting things cluttered and having to write very small. They’ve been using them for a few weeks now and I was delighted to find that they were all filling in their character sketches during a break in the action for some banana milkshake.
Next time I’ll be recounting how we moved from a simple sixteen-room dungeon to something that has grown and grown until it has taken on the dimensions and complexity of a megadungeon, along with the expansion of the rules we’re using to bring things closer to the way that I used to play 1e.
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