Adventures in DungeonMastering


So, I run a small Dungeons and Dragons game at our home each week. Talk about your homegrown game– four of the players are my own kids, with my daughter’s paramour filling the final seat. We’ve been playing now for two months or so and it’s definitely an adventure, although maybe not in the way the game designers intended.

We’ve been playing through the initial adventure that comes with the new Starter Set for 5th Edition D&D.  Since all of us were pen and paper newbies, we’ve had lots of flubs along the way. Mostly this was related to the ruleset– no one can keep skill rolls straight in their head, so every time someone has to roll for a stealth check or a spell saving throw, it’s a quick argument about the rule and a check in the Player’s Guide.

The bigger flubs, of course, have been around the very basic essentials of roleplaying. To wit, I couldn’t get them to actually play their characters for any extended amount of time. So I created a polymorphed copper dragon who was poking his nose into their business. With a few prods here and there (and a few extremely annoying acts by Merc the dragon), they gradually started to get into the RP more and more.

After all, it’s pretty startling to be fighting orcs and hear applause out of the darkened woods nearby. Anybody might call out “Who’s there?”

Our biggest problems have stemmed from the reality that 5 year olds are not exactly ready for extended battles and long discussions of “what to do next”– five year olds want action and treasure and glory, preferably every two or three moves. So we’ve had a lot of “bored kindergartener rampaging around the table” incidents. And our 7 year old player didn’t start out with much tolerance of things not going his way. Something as simple as rolling a miss would send him into hysterical weeping.

Gradually, though, those problems are being resolved. The 5 year old decided he’d rather go play computer games, only dropping in once in a while during a combat and taking a swing at something. (This means we have, essentially, a NPC druid following the party around, shapechanged, until he decides he wants to play for a bit.) The 7 year old has learned that a miss is not the end of the world and saves his crying for the inevitable time that the teenagers ignore his wishes. Nothing like a little hysteria to distract the dungeonmaster while they are trying to play an NPC.

This week, one of our younger players decided to light a candle on the sideboard that’s just behind our play-space. Naturally, he burned the crap out of his thumb and index finger. Then, freaking out and shocked by the pain, he started vomiting all over the hallway that abuts the dining room. Vomiting CHILI, I might add. So, yeah, that was lovely.

But there have been several great moments where everyone burst into laughter, a few epic battles with good choices and lucky rolls, and lots of trudging through mud, figurative and roleplayed.

The biggest problems (besides 5 year olds on a tear) have been battles over snacks. Just an FYI for anyone pondering such a game night– don’t get anything TOO good, because then the players will spend all their energy fighting over, say, the Jelly Belly jellybeans or the Skittles in bowls. Chocolate is just bad for your miniatures, and pies and cakes take too much space with their plates and forks and whatnot. Chips are standard but also hard on your dice and minis. Look for easy cleanup and moderate enjoyability. Really– breaking up a fistfight over jellybeans is no fun.

We’re going to have to take a two week break, due to holidays and general busy-ness, but I’m hoping we maintain the momentum afterwards. It’s fun to spend time with your kids while engaged in imaginative play. So often that ends once they get to be teens– it’s no longer “Watch me, Mom, I’m a cowboy/ninja/superhero.” They shuffle off to their bedrooms and hide from boring old Mom and Dad. This gives me a space where we can play together again. And that’s worth the investment.

(It wouldn’t be nearly as expensive if the little kids didn’t insist we needed maps and miniatures in order to play. Older kids just need their imaginations, but the littles want to SEE their character take on that orc horde.)