Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Kids Role Play the Darnedest Things

My buddy Adam recommended this topic.  These are the top 10 things I've seen my kids do in RPGs that I've never seen my adult friends do:

10.  Purchase spare trousers, with an eye toward having a variety of colors in one's wardrobe.
9.  Jump into water.  My friends know that it is always bad in my games to wind up "in the drink," as we call it, whereas my kids are still learning this the hard way.  As of today, they still joyfully leap into turbulent, subterranean rivers.
8.  Float downstream in an umbrella. Heck, even purchasing an umbrella is something you don't usually see.
7.  Loudly proclaim their royal heritage within earshot of armed thugs.
6.  Defecate outdoors.  With adult games, elimination is always assumed and never discussed.  My kids, on the other hand, very deliberately relieved themselves in the bushes before entering the Tomb of Horrors, and discussed the logistics of keeping lookout before doing so.
5.  Quietly remain hidden to allow a band of goblins to pass by unmolested.  No opportunity for a fight is passed up by my friends.
4.  Spend half their wealth having a dress altered from size Elf to size Halfling.
3.  Attempt to converse with a gelatinous cube. 
2.  Google the elven language to learn a variety of phrases for the express purpose of insulting the dwarves in the party.
...and the top thing my kids do that my grown-up friends do not:
1.  LARP.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Thinking Outside the Box

A scene from Saturday, before the Oogma encounter:

The river races faster and faster, disappearing over an edge where it plummets to unknown depths.  Four adventurers are in the water, struggling just to stay afloat as the current pulls them inexorably toward the falls.  Just above the falls, though, a rope bridge extends all the way across, just barely reachable from the water.  Ratfolk archers line the banks on either side, preventing the heroes from reaching the banks.  Unknown to the adventurers, the Ratfolk have a huge net extended just beyond the edge of the falls to catch anyone who goes over.  Their intent is to sacrifice captives to appease Oogma.

Elerisa the elven princess lunges for the bridge and catches hold.  Wren the elven druid reaches for it too, and she grabs it.  Then it's Fiona the halfling druid's turn.  Her player announces she is too short to grab the bridge.   I am about to let her lunge for it just like the others, but since she doesn't seem alarmed, I allow her statement to stand.

"I reach for Wren's waist so I can hold on to her," she says.  She rolls well and succeeds.

Then it's Pinky the dog's turn.  Pinky is being played by a girl down the street who doesn't normally join us.  She decides to latch on with her teeth to Fiona's leggings, and she succeeds.  We end up with two elves holding on for dear life to the bottom of a rope bridge as the river tries to pull them over the edge of the waterfall, while a halfling and her dog form a chain clinging to the weaker of the two elves.

Elerisa climbs up onto the rope bridge, then starts firing arrows into the Ratfolk.  They respond with a volley of arrows that knocks her unconscious.  She falls from the bridge and into the water, where she is caught by the net as she goes over the falls.

Wren attempts to pull herself up onto the bridge, but the weight of Fiona and Pinky, plus the powerful pull of the river, is too much.  She can't hold on much longer, and Fiona and Pinky are getting pounded by the current.  The Ratfolk prepare to fire at Wren to force her to let go.

Fiona:  "Can Pinky hold onto Wren's leg instead of mine?"

GM:  "Sure."

Fiona:  "Pinky, hold on to Wren's leg.  I'll help you."

Pinky:  "I switch to Wren's leg."

GM (handwaving the roll):  "Ok, Pinky, you're holding on to Wren's leg now."

Fiona:  "Can I hold on to Wren with my legs instead of my hands?"

GM:  "Sure, but you'll be upside down with your head in the water."

Fiona:  "Ok.  I do that.  What do I roll?"

GM:  "Roll a d20."  (scrambles to decide what the target DC should be, and what kind of skill check it should be)

Fiona (rolls):  "19?"

GM (relieved because it's a very high roll so I don't need to decide after all):  "Yep, you succeed."

Fiona:  "With my free hands I cast Entangle on the Ratfolk."

GM (chuckling at the revelation of where this plan is going):  "The river makes it difficult to concentrate.  Roll a concentration check, and beat a 20."

Fiona beats a 20.


And so it was that the halfling druid, while effectively being waterboarded, successfully cast a spell that entangled several of the Ratfolk.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

The Fall of Oogma

Today the characters faced off against the Ratfolk, their shaman Riktokka, and a creature named "Oogma."  Oogma was a hive-mind colony of worms linked together and coated in filth;  a hulking, amorphous mud beast.  The Ratfolk worshiped this creature as a god and were about to sacrifice some of the characters to it, but the rest of the party burst in just in time, while the normal rats, slaves of the Ratfolk, cut through the bonds that held the captives.  A battle ensued, and the characters and their rat allies emerged victorious.
My wife's handiwork, Oogma, on short notice.

The session was fast and furious, covering a lot of ground in a short span of time.  We only had an hour and a half to play, so I was determined to keep the game moving quickly.  We almost had a full house, too; six of the seven players were present, and they were a boisterous crew.  It's a challenge to keep them all focused.  And when you consider that there were 30 Ratfolk, Riktokka, Oogma, six PCs, one NPC, and 40 rats,  you can see my work was cut out for me.

The combat took four rounds, and despite the odds, we knocked it out in only half an hour.  I give credit to the tent cards approach I recently wrote about, and the way I hand-waved the exchanges between the rats and the Ratfolk.  These two groups largely neutralized each other in the battle, except for about eight Ratfolk who were free to engage the characters.  Credit also goes to the kids who, for whatever reason, chose today not to bicker with each other.

The remainder of the hour was spent role-playing, exploring, and of course, the action leading up to the battle.

Here's a quick and easy stat block for Oogma:

Oogma the wormy mud beast

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

How We Got Started

I was reorganizing my file folders when I came across a document that I read aloud to my kids the first time they ever played an RPG.  This was back in June 2010.  It contains both an overview of RPGs to set expectations, and an opening scenario to get the game started.  I've copy-pasted the contents of that file here to give you an idea of how I introduced them to the game:

Dungeons & Dragons is about writing a story together.  As players, you will be playing the roles of the three main characters in the story:  Elerisa Celerna the Elfin sorceress, equally gifted in the arts of magic and war; Norma, the Dwarf woman, crafty and dangerous; and Fiona, the diminutive Halfling adventurer, wise and true.  These are the "player characters," or "PC's," because they are the characters controlled by you, the players. You will act out the parts of these characters as they seek adventure, and your decisions will impact their story in exciting and unexpected ways.  
As the Dungeon Master (or "DM"), I will be narrating your story.  Although I am responsible for creating the world your characters live in and the adventures they find there, I don't know how the story will play out because I don't know what actions you will choose for the characters to take and what decisions you will make. My job is to create places for the characters to visit, treasures for them to find, and people and monsters for them to interact with.  These people and monsters are called "non-player characters" (or "NPCs") and often have a personality of their own.  I will be role playing these NPCs, or acting like them, to make the story seem more real so you can become immersed in it. 
Dungeons & Dragons also has a lot of rules governing how certain events play out:  the order of combat during a hostile encounter, whether or not the characters or monsters are surprised, how successful you are at climbing a wall, locating traps, or lifting heavy objects, how well you can ride a horse, etc.  The list goes on and on.  As the DM, I will be adjudicating these rules and explaining them to you for your benefit so that you can learn the game and maybe be a game master yourself one day. 
During our time playing the game, when I say "You," I really mean your character.  Similarly, while we're playing, you'll use "I" to refer to your own character.  For example, I might say, "Fiona, what do you do next? " And Nora might reply, "I cast a spell on Norma to heal her wounds."  As the DM I'll check the rules and perhaps roll a die or two to see how much of Norma's wounds are healed by the spell.  For those situations that aren't covered by the rules but should have a chance for success or failure, I will have to make up a rule on the spot and determine how we can decide the outcome using dice.  I will always try to be as fair as possible.  Remember, my job as DM isn't to slay the characters:  it's to help create the story.
This is a story that takes place in your imagination, and we use words to describe it.  Occasionally, though, a given game situation becomes too complicated to describe without the use of visual aids.  When we need visual aids, we'll use miniatures to show what's going on.  This will be especially useful in combat. You should be careful, however, not to let the miniatures obscure the mental image of the story playing out in your imagination.  After all, this is a story we're creating together, not a simple board game.  The better you are at imagining yourself within the story, the better you will be at finding creative solutions to the problems you'll be faced with.
Now that we've covered how we're going to play the game, it's time to get into the story.
Each of you has just awakened at the beginning of a new day.  Unfortunately, you have no idea where you are!
You are awakened by the crowing of nearby roosters.  You feel a little bit stiff and achy this morning, probably because instead of finding yourself in a bed, you are lying on hard dirt outdoors, propped up against small wooden buildings in what appears to be a village square.   The air is crisp and cool but not too cold; it feels like mid-Spring.  You can see a few humans preparing their stands for market, displaying berries and breads, dried goods such as jerked beef, clothing, trinkets and the like. The smell of eggs cooking somewhere nearby sets your stomachs to growling.  A scrawny, gray cat casually crosses the street, mewing at anyone who happens to pass by.  Maybe he's hungry too, but he'll have to wait awhile longer for his meal, for a plump woman shoo-shoos the stray along with her broom until a pack of three mutts comes through and chases the cat around a corner.  
You do not recognize this village, nor do you recognize the types of buildings or styles of clothing that you see there.  Fortunately you can understand the language being spoken, as it is a fairly common language.
Nobody seems to have noticed you yet, but you have noticed each other.  As you stir and sit up, your eyes meet from across the narrow streets. Elerisa, you see a female Dwarf, stout but groggy and grumpy looking, rubbing her sleepy eyes and eying you distrustfully, and across the way, a type of creature you've rarely seen before, proportioned like a human woman but only half as tall.  She is yawning, and a wild looking dog  is stretching himself awake by her side.  Norma, after you have cleared your eyes you see an Elfin girl, alert and inquisitive, observing you with a wide, unnerving gaze, and the halfling woman is observing you as well, and in her face you see wisdom.  Fiona, you also see both the Elf and the Dwarf, and you're the first to realize that you're all in the same situation together, you're all in an unfamiliar place.
Norma, you know that your homeland, Dwarforia, is located far away to the west...or at least you think it's west, it's hard to be certain.  You have traveled long in search of your enslaved brother, going so far as to traverse a great inland sea.  The boat on which you sailed was ravaged by a storm for days on end and dashed against the rocks, depositing you in a strange wilderness.  You wandered aimlessly through that wilderness for weeks, then were caught in a great flood and washed down a river, clinging for your life to a log.  It is no surprise that you have become completely lost.  You are wearing a brown hooded cloak tied with rope over woolen undergarments, high stockings and low, soft boots.  You have no weapons or armor (the weapons were washed away, and you had to shed your armor when your boat was smashed or you would have drowned).  Your clothing is looking pretty ragged, and you've acquired a bit of an unpleasant odor.  The only thing you've managed to keep is a little pounch with some coins.
Fiona, you and your dog have been journeying from the Lonely Mountain, which is far away to the east.  You are in search of adventure and, hopefully, more halflings, because there are only three remaining in the Lonely Mountain.  Perhaps when you find such a place you can return to your family and guide them to a new home where the other halflings live.  You have been following the roads but keeping out of sight, for you have found that not all humans are friendly.  You are tired, hungry, and you've run out of supplies, and you stumbled into this village late at night, looking for a meal, and collapsed against the hut.  You are dressed similarly to Norma, and although you're not quite as rank as the dwarf, a warm bath and some hot tea would not be unwelcome.  You also have a small pounch of gold: the last of your life's savings.
Elerisa, your situation is perhaps the most bizarre.  The last thing you remember is packing a lunch for a picnic in the castle gardens, but a sudden drowsiness fell upon you, and you sat down for what you thought would only be a moment to rest and recover.  When you woke up, your surroundings had dramatically changed, and you found yourself here.  You still have your fruit and dried meats, but you're wearing a beautiful, flowing gown that's quite out of place in this new, unexpected setting.  Unlike the others, you aren't so fortunate as to have been carrying around a purse with coinage:  in this village, you are broke except for your food.  The matter of how and why you came to be in this place is a vexing one indeed, and the sooner you can get back to where you belong, the better.  But where to begin?
A sudden commotion distracts all of you from your thoughts.  A boy, not quite a teen, comes running into the village square with wet hair and dressed in nothing but damp undergarments, shouting for help.  A woman, apparently the boy's mother, comes from a shop inquiring into the matter.
"It's Seth," cries the boy.  "He's in the tower!  He's trapped!"
This announcement creates quite a stir among the villagers, and people start to gather around the boy.  His mother addresses her son.
"Nonsense, Thomas," she says.  "Don't you be spreading lies."   
"But he is, he is!" replies the boy frantically.  "I dared him to go in, and he did it, last night, he really did it!  He said--"
The woman cut him off.  "You've been out all night?  You snuck out!?"
The boy looks trapped between getting in trouble for breaking curfew and helping his friend, and  honorably plows on.  "I know it was wrong, Mother, but--"
"No 'buts!'" raged his mom, grabbing him by the wrist.  "It's lashes for you, boy, a dozen at least!  I've warned you too many times--"
Just then an elderly man steps up and interrupts the woman.  "Martha," he says quietly, laying his hand gently on her shoulder to calm her, "Perhaps we should hear more about Seth's predicament first.  There will be time enough to mete out punishments later."
Martha sees the wisdom of this, and Thomas tells his tale.  It seems that Thomas and Seth snuck out of their respective cottages sometime after midnight.  The dare was something that had been cooking for some weeks, and much planning and preparation had gone into it.  From what you can gather, "the tower" is a small, simple castle keep belonging to the local lord, whose name is not mentioned by the boy. The tower is about half a mile away to the northwest, built upon a long island in the middle of the river.  For some reason the lord and his men are away for an extended trip, and the castle has been locked up.  The pontoon bridge normally used to get to the island from the banks of the river has been disassembled and stored away, so the boys had to cross by boat, a feat that shocks the avid listeners when they hear about it due to a danger they refer to in whispers only as "the Thing in the River."  The boy explains that they first went upstream and crossed to the north side of the river at the rapids, far away from the Thing.  This also was a bit of a scandal, and grumblings about the dangers lurking in the wilds of the north had to be hushed before the boy could continue his tale.
Once on the north bank Seth and Thomas walked back downstream and built a raft to cross to the island with.  Repeated trips over several weeks were required to complete the raft.  Their thinking in building on the far bank was that the distance to the island was shorter than it was from the village side, and since the north fork of the river was known to be shallower than the southern fork and full of tall water reeds for cover, they figured they might avoid the Thing altogether.  It was a terrible risk, but it seems they were right, or perhaps the Thing hunted elsewhere last night, for the boys did indeed make it to the island alive.
The tower is all locked up and the portcullis down, so Seth, being an excellent climber, scaled the seventy feet or so to the battlements, taking with him an unlit torch and some flint to light it with, and hoping to find an open trap door on the top through which to enter the keep.  After all, who enters a keep from the roof?  The boys figured the lord wouldn't be anticipating threats from above and might leave such a hatch unlocked.  Seth reached the top, lit the torch, and signalled to Thomas that he had made it to the top.  The next part of the plan was for Seth to drop down through the hatch, find his way to the gate, and find a way to open the portcullis to let Thomas in.  
The hatch was obviously unlocked, for a few minutes later Thomas saw light from Seth's torch illuminate one of the tower's higher windows from within.  That, however, was the last Thomas saw of his friend, for almost immediately thereafter he heard a faint scream, and the light from the torch went out.  Thomas called frantically for Seth for some time, and even tried to climb the wall after him, but he did not have Seth's knack for climbing.  Soon the pre-dawn sunlight colored the sky, and Thomas could wait no more and decided to go for help.  Worried that his friend was in immediate need of aid, he decided to go straight across the southern fork in the river in a straight line toward the village.  The raft was difficult to manage alone, but such was his excitement that he found the will and the energy to make his way with some haste.  Unfortunately, 3/4 of the way across, he heard the awful cry of the Thing in the river, and saw behind him by the dim crimson light a rising mound of water and a lone leg.  He had no time to lose and stripped down to his underwear.  When the Thing was upon him and its toothy maw opened to seize the raft, Thomas dove off the far side, trying his best to kick the raft into those awful teeth and distract the fiend from its true prize.  Thomas swam for his life, and so vigorous was his effort those last dozen yards that he could not hear whether the monster thrashed the raft to bits behind him or left it alone to pursue squishier prey.  Thomas made it to the river bank, hauled himself up on land, and not daring to pause even long enough to look back, ran headlong into the bush to bring his news to the villagers.
While this tale was being told, another woman, presumably Seth's mother, arrives and becomes worried.  After the details are out, the villagers' reactions are mixed.  Most dismiss the story outright as a prank played by the boys on the villagers, while others speculate that Seth has pulled a fast one on Thomas and is alive and well within the tower.  A few exchange nervous glances with each other but decide it is somebody else's problem.  Everyone is leaving.  Thomas' mother Martha grabs her boy by the ear and hauls him off to give him his lashes.    Soon the only one left is the elderly gentleman who calmed Martha, and Seth's mother who has become quite distraught.  As folks are leaving she is spinning around anxiously, going from person to person, trying to get anyone's attention, begging for help to retrieve her boy.  Everyone brushes her off, shaking their heads, avoiding her eyes as they leave.  
"Isn't there anyone who can help?" she cries.  The old man looks on sadly.  "Please," she begs, falling to her knees.  "Can't someone please help me?"
You are the last ones there.  What do you do?

The Tuning Room

Entrance to the chamber:  an iron door.  If the characters spend time examining it, they will note that it becomes very hot to the touch, then 30 seconds later very cold to the touch, then back to hot 30 seconds later, etc.  Listening at the door will also reveal a repeating pattern of five low-frequency musical tones.

Created in OmniGraffle.
Inside the chamber:  The room is 15' wide near the entrance, then there's a 5' bottleneck, and then it expands again on the far side.  The ceiling is high, maybe 40'.  The target treasure is on the far side (see diagram).

Near the entrance on each side is a statue:  one statue of a red dragon, and one of a white dragon, both facing the door.  They seem to leer at the delvers as they enter the room, grinning.  Once every minute, the red dragon statue spews a blistering cone of fire, and the frost dragon blows a biting cone of frost.

Beyond the statues, where the room narrows, a stone slab 4' tall blocks the way.  The slab is hanging from the ceiling, supported by five thick steel cables of varying thickness, starting with the thickest on the left and the thinnest on the right (similar to what one would find under the hood of a piano or on a guitar).  Higher up, out of reach, mechanical hammers strike the steel cables to create the pattern of musical tones.

If the characters look closely, they'll see that the stone slab is already a few inches off the floor, but this doesn't leave enough space for them to crawl through.  Also, the cables are thick enough and grouped together closely enough that characters cannot squeeze between them to climb over the slab.

A stand with the next magical instrument they must collect is clearly visible on the far side.

Solution:  Careful examination of the statues will reveal that the heads are not fixed into place; they can be swiveled around and aimed.  Aiming the red dragon head at the cables will cause them to expand, lowering both the pitch of the musical tones and the slab of stone, not helping the characters at all.  Aiming the white dragon's head at the cables, however, will cause the cables to contract, thereby shortening their length, causing the musical tones to rise in pitch, and raising the slab of stone to a height sufficient to allow the characters to crawl under it.