The adventures of Sprax and Ivy begin!
Summer is here at stately Barnes manor, and the kids are on the loose. I ain't paying $400 a week to send them to papercraft camps, so I was looking for something to do for about an hour a day before I have to work. Last year, I rounded up several board games that I thought they'd like and we had some great times playing Azul, Bunny Kingdom, Mechs Versus Minions, and others. I had also bought the dirt-cheap D&D Starter Set, but kind of felt that they were a little too young for it so I didn't hazard turning them off of it by introducing it too soon. This year, I found that I felt differently about that and I decided to pick up the three D&D core books instead of the new Dungeon of the Mad Mage Adventure System game- I figured why not just go for it? So D&D Summer Camp was a go.
I started talking to them about the game well in advance. They already knew about the game incidentally, and they were already interested. So I got them thinking about what kind of characters they'd like to play. Somehow, they both arrived at Druid. At first, I balked, but then I cooked up a reason for them to both play "nature wizards"- they would be wards of the Emerald Enclave, a faction in Faerun dedicated to preserver nature and the natural order. They would be tasked with heading out to adventure to earn their Springwarden ranks, under the chaperonage of a Mountain Dwarf barbarian called Irinitis Stonebeard and a Turami scout called Zola Bilawa - their mentors in the faction. I'm playing these "DMPCs" to give them some guidance as well as fill out the party so we can run most adventures without scaling them down.
My 7 year old daughter immediately came up with a great backstory, practically without prompting. She said "I was born in an elf village and humans burned it down and I was lost in the forest when I was a baby. My parents couldn't find me, so I was raised by animals until the Emerald Enclave found me and too me in." I was kind of dumbfounded. My last characters from about 15 years ago, twin dwarf fighters named Morleck and Burzock, didn't have nearly this much backstory. Then she added "I was inspired by Bambi." She named her character Ivy Merine and chose spells that emphasized her relationship with animals. She has an aversion to humans, other than Zola, who she views as almost a surrogate mother.
My son, 9, wanted to do something heavily influenced by The Legend of Zelda. He's also an elf, sent to train with the Emerald Enclave by his parents. His Druidic focus is an elaborate wooden mask. And he's haunted by apocalyptic visions. He's also overly aggressive and ready to fight - and lead the party. Thus, Sprax Bortwood was born. His surname is a Simpsons joke we've laughed about a lot since we visited Universal Studios in LA a few weeks back.
So I decided to run the Lost Mines of Phandelver adventure from the starter set, and three sessions in I think that was a great move. It's really an outstanding module (I still use that word) because it is almost a sampler platter of classic and modern D&D gameplay. It kicks off with some light roleplaying leading to a goblin ambush and a mini-dungeon before heading into a town for some fact-finding and downtime activity. There's quite a lot to do, with lots of optional sidequests and plenty of room to improvise and customize.
Naturally, I modified some pieces of it so that it would make more motivational sense for the characters. The Emerald Enclave has sent the party to meet with Gundren Rockseeker to sort of approve of the reopening of the Phandelver Mine at Wave Echo Cave. You know, to make sure it is all on the environmental up-and-up. They are also delivering some medicinal herbs and other supplies to the market at Phandalin, which sets them up with the wagon and a simple, non-combat delivery goal with a concrete GP reward.
I was really surprised at how they got right into the game. At the ambush, Sprax realized without prompting that there was value in not killing all the goblins and instead capturing one to figure out what was up with the dead horses on the road. Ivy wanted to convince the oxen pulling the wagon to follow them to the hideout, but I nixed that idea as there were steep slopes they couldn't get over.
But once in the Cragmaw Hideout, Ivy worked out quickly that befriending the chained-up wolves in the kennel was a great idea, and once they were freed, the party had three wolves following them. They got to the encounter with the upstart Goblin sub-boss Yeemick, and parlayed with him to rescue Sildar- a human Lord's Alliance fighter who had met Gundren up in Neverwinter. So the deal was to bring Yeemick the head of his rival Klarg, the hideout's nominal bugbear chief. They made their way to Klarg's chamber after a couple of scraps with goblins (with Irinitis doing a lot of the killing) and after they took out his wolf Ripper, the bugbear tried to flee. Sprax hit him with a Thunderwave, and I decided on the fly to allow him to try to talk his way out of the situation. He agreed to take one of the wolves to replace his pet and leave.
But here's another place where my kids shocked me. They realized that they needed to have some evidence that Klarg was dead. Ivy rummaged through the stolen supplies and provisions in the room and found...a watermelon. They took a sack and dredged it in blood on the floor. And put the watermelon in the sack to present to Yeemick as Klarg's head.
As both a DM and a Dad, there is no way I wasn't going to allow that to work.
But I warned them that both Yeemick and Klarg might show up again later, which absolutely delighted them. And off they headed to Phandalin to continue the adventure. In the follow-up session, they wound up blowing all of their GP in town before sneaking into a manor being used as a headquarters for a gang of Redbrand Ruffians. They happened upon a drunken, gambling group and just totally beat the tar out of them, and they got the smart idea to disguise themselves in the red sashes and hoods of the baddies. The next room, they happened upon a group of three Bugbears tormenting a goblin. The disguise worked thanks to some great Deception rolls, and they said that Glasstaff (the manor's big bad and leader of the Redbrands) sent them to "bring the goblin up". But then the leader of the Bugbears said "hey wait, since when do they let kids into the Redbrands."
Without missing a beat, my son says in a gruff voice "It's alright man, we're halflings". I about died. He's a born player.
They are thrilled with it. About once an hour, I'm asked to play. My daughter is asking if she can run a game. They are drawing pictures of their characters and writing stories about them. They are excitedly telling mom what they did in the game. And I am able to play D&D every day with an excited and enthusiastic group.
Next time: How D&D ruined board games.