The Caverns of Chaos Part 1

This is an adaptation of a Dungeon World gaming session I ran with my two older children (9 & 6) and wife. It isn’t a perfect accounting of the events, but it definitely is in the spirit of the adventure. I don’t pretend that this is well written or even well conceived. I’m not aiming for positive reviews or a career in writing speculative fiction. Just attempting to capture some of the essence of our antics.

Up to this point Hawke, July and Raven had been seeking adventure with absolutely nothing to show for it. All other attempts had been fruitless and no one in their right mind would hire adventures that didn’t have any experience. That is until they found someone who may not have been in their right mind. He hired them to retrieve a stolen item of his which he believed was held in the Caverns of Chaos. Their employer only described the item as “You’ll know it when you’ll see it.”

But before they made there way the Caverns of Chaos they managed to become surrounded by 5 Ekeks, which is a type of creepy Bird/Human hybrid.

Hawke, a human fighter, and July, a dwarven fighter, charged with their shields knocking aside the Ekeks. In the scuffle Hawke dropped his shield, but held onto his ancient sword. Raven, a ranger with an eagle companion named Ellie said, “Seriously, I always have to pick up your stuff.” Although, she didn’t actually pick up the shield. Instead she used the room the two fighters cleared for her, to loose an arrow at their attackers. But in the panic of the attack she missed. Close by she could see something enormous beneath the surface of the water. Something that seemed much more dangerous than their attackers.

Hawke and July continued their battles. Each slayed and an Ekek. But in the process the monster Raven had glimpsed started coming out of the water, one giant leg at a time, before the head of the beast emerged. Raven recognized it as a Dragon Turtle.

The three adventurers abandoned their struggle with the Ekek’s and turned their attention to this monster. Raven successfully struck the beast with an arrow. It slowed the beasts progress but it started breathing fire. Hawke, braved the flames to get into close proximity to strike with his sword, but he slipped and only struck the beasts toes.

One of the Ekeks went for reinforcements. Raven remembered hearing a rumor that the troll clans were meeting in the swamps to unite. At the time she had dismissed it but she felt more certain of it now.

Another Ekek attacked Hawke, who successfully injured the feathered monster but dropped his sword in the process.

Then it came to July, who unlike every other dwarf in the realm valued keeping his armor and weapons shiny. He charged the Dragon Turtle with his bright shiny sword and struck a deathblow to the terrible creature.

Hawke once again attacked an Ekek, but didn’t have any success. July learned the hard way that the swamp’s ground was not to be trusted as he fell waste deep into mud screaming , “Not my shiny armor!”

This distraction gave Raven and Ellie a chance to attack one of the Ekek’s together. Their attack wasn’t enough to stop him, but certainly it was enough to slow him down.

The odds were more even now. 2 Ekeks (one injured) against 3 adventurers. On reflection, Raven knew her fighters were not going to be as effective. One was practically immobile and the other hadn’t even picked up his sword or shield yet. It was up to her. But she needed some time to think.

Thanks for reading. Future installments of this adventure will be posted under the “Caverns of Chaos” tag. Well, we’ll see. My track record for doing anything consistent on this blog is not great. But you know what life is inconsistent, so I’m good with it.

 

 

 

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First Dungeon World Gaming Session

Last post covered my interest in introducing my older children (ages 9 and 6) to role playing games as a way to gain a window into their imaginative play. After researching the RPG options (so many options) I landed on Dungeon World.

After two gaming sessions the results are in, and they are impressive. One of the primary reasons I chased this idea was to gain a window into my children’s “solitary imaginative play”. Not only did I get that window, but I also got to see their problem solving skills and for about 30 – 40 minutes there was no arguing, tears, whining… just smiles and laughing. Smiles and Laughter people!

One factor for this success is the game itself, which focuses more on collaborative storytelling by reducing the complexity of game mechanics of the more complicated RPGs. Most outcomes are on decided by a player rolling 2 six sided dice, or 2d6 in rpg terms. The outcomes are adjusted by a modifier which corresponds to an ability. The modified rolls are segmented into 3 categories describing the outcome:

  • Complete Success (10 or higher)
  • Partial Success (7 -9)
  • Failure (6 or lower)

That’s pretty much the game, everything else is there to guide the Game Master to setting the foundation of a good collaborative story…

…which is harder than it sounds.

Which became another motivator for me to research the art of being a Game Master and the potential anxiety that surrounds it. It really wasn’t anxious for me, worst case my kids would have been bored and I was out the $10 for the pdf of the rule book.

But there is some good advice out there, and the absolute best advice was to find out each player’s expectations. Here’s what I learned from my wife and 2 boys.

  • One wanted to fight trolls
  • Another wanted to be ‘a little man’
  • The third did not want any of the player characters to die

There is a lot more useful advise for new GM’s on the interwebs, but there is next to none for new GM’s running a game for young families. So here are a couple of things I found useful.

Have an Adult Player

I worked with everyone individually to build their character before our first gaming session. Both my boys also wanted to be fighters, and they loaded up their abilities on strength and constitution. Which you would expect for a fighter. So I advised my wife to play a ranger and be the brains of the group.

This was not the last time I would ask her to participate in a specific way. Like identifying other solutions rather than just hacking and slashing.

Every family is different. Some don’t have two adults and those that do might not be able to have them play. But I strongly encourage including an adult.

Early Challenges To Learn Game Mechanics

Originally, I had intended to create plotless scenarios to teach them game mechanics. My thought was to do this individually with each player.

But, one of the players really wanted to jump into a full game. So we didn’t get to do this, but I included it anyway because it’s an idea worth trying.

Set Ground Rules for Character Creation

The rules I implemented were:

  1. No magical characters.
  2. Characters must at least have a neutral alignment, and preferably aligned to good.

The game was going to be challenging enough for me to run, I didn’t want a wizard casting spells I wasn’t prepared for.

The alignment thing is really a way for me to remind the boys about their character’s inherent motivation. And so that their characters won’t fight each other.

Roll the Dice

A lot of the imaginative fun does not involve dice rolling. And in my family’s second session, we had a lot of fun with very little dice rolling. When it ended, my 6 year old went from having been all smiles to practically being in tears. All because he didn’t get to roll the dice. It was quickly resolved by promising  him he could ‘go first’ next time.

The lesson for me is that the kids need to roll the dice at least once a session. It might seem weird, but consider that our sessions are shorter than most. More on that later.

Let Them Be Silly

This one is important for me, because my motive is to see their imagination in action. If it doesn’t fit with my setup, so what. I’ll try to adapt it for next time.

Short Sessions

An RPG gaming session can be somewhere in the ballpark of 4 hours. That doesn’t work for our family. Our first one was 40 minutes and the second one was 30. We clearly communicated the amount of time we would have to play at the start. Shorter sessions allowed me to be on the spot less as GM.

It also allowed me to do a soft unnoticeable reset to the game early on. This is similar to how a sequel will retrace an earlier installment and add in a few details that weren’t there originally. Had we gone on for several hours, I don’t know if it would be as engaging without those extra details that I was able to come up with inbetween sessions.

My advice would be sessions from 40 to 60 minutes. 30 minutes resulted in one of the characters not rolling the dice.

You Will Miss Something…

…so make it right when you start the next game/session. I managed to miss that they were not marking experience points for all their failure rolls. When the second session started I granted everyone 2 experience points.

They Will Miss Something Too…

…so mention it when you start the next game/session. The first game has so much going on and new information that they are bound to forget a character move or special ability.

A Few More Tips, But Not Related To Children…

Print Character Sheets & Info Sheets on Card Stock

This was really useful in a subtle way. While playing the game the players are trying to think quickly. Thin copy paper can distract in a number of ways: having to find something to write on, reading bent over on the table, or hold it up carefully without creasing the paper.

That might not be how we consciously think, but some portion of the brain is dedicated to thinking that way. And that slows down the part that is trying to think about what ‘Leverage’ they may have to successfully ‘Parley’ with a Non Player Character.

You Only Think You Have a Plot

Maybe not a plot, but an objective with obstacles for the party engage in. Here’s the thing, I was unprepared for how few times the players rolled a complete success and how many times they rolled a failure. That lead to the large monster appearing before I had intended. Now as GM, my intentions aren’t really important, but my preparation is. And since I hadn’t intended for the big monster to appear so early, I was unprepared for what happened next. They started rolling complete success on their attacks against it, while still struggling with partial success or failure with the other creatures.

To be clear, the fact that they were able to slay such a huge monster early on was huge for them, and a worthwhile part of the experience. It just made it more challenging for me, since a big portion of what I had prepared was annihilated in the first 10 minutes of the game.

In the second session I created what I would call a ‘wider’ set up. Meaning, more Non Player Characters, locations and dynamics. It was broad enough that the players could interact with these story elements in any order and under favorable or unfavorable circumstances to advance towards their end goal.

Just like the first session, the characters behaved and had outcomes different from what I had expected. But I felt that I handled it better, because there wasn’t a sequential order that events needed to happen in for the game to ‘make sense’ as a story.

I’m still learning though, so I’m sure there is advice here that is less than optimal. But if I don’t write it down now, I may never get around to it.

 

 

Role Playing Games

Over the past several months my older son has been increasingly spending more time in what I call “solitary imaginative play.” People may disagree with me, but I believe it’s good creative fun.

The trouble here is logistics: it’s hard for him to find space where his younger brothers don’t intrude. And then there are the times I interrupt, however briefly, to ask about what he’s imagining. I don’t get much of a response, which is understandable. He just wants to continue on whatever adventure I had inadvertently pulled him out of. Believe it or not, I get it.

So really, I desire 3 things:

  • A chance for my oldest son to have awesome epic level adventures
  • Him to play with at least one of his younger brothers and genuinely enjoy it
  • A window for me to see into those epic imaginary adventures without distracting him.

Which is where the idea of introducing Role Playing Games started to come in. Then during this year’s Free Comic Book day, we visited a shop that had an extensive RPG section. This year the boys were more curious about the RPGs, but not so curious to ask me to explain it to them. Which is good, because I couldn’t. I participated in exactly 1 rpg session when I was 14 and I had to leave early. So clearly I know more than someone who has never sat down at a table to play, but less than someone who has stayed through one complete session (which may not even be the end of the adventure).

But hey, there’s the internet which makes anyone an expert. Even me. I watched a couple of youtube videos, and showed my two older boys (even though they didn’t ask to see them). And they were really excited about the idea. I was honestly not prepared for how much my six year old was excited for the game.

These Pathfinder videos and I eventually came to the conclusion that Pathfinder is awesome… for someone who knows what they are doing and is at least 13 with a high IQ. It is safe to say that you want someone who has played more than a fraction of 1 game 2 decades ago to be the Game Master.

Someday we’ll play and when we do, I will not be running the game.

So the quest was on (ugh! Dad pun) to find an RPG that met the 3 criterea from earlier, plus these two:

  • A six year old can understand it enough to enjoy it
  • Its level of complexity is one that I can manage

After less then 30 minutes of research, I landed on Dungeon World [Wikipedia]. It has several of the same elements as Pathfinder (and D&D), but is more focused on creating a collaborative story.

The boys were on board and all we needed was dice… the rule book… character sheets… pencils… and wait I have to prep this game? All of which I’ll get into next time. Maybe.

Featured Image came from OpenClipArt.Org

Bargain Bin: JLA

Once I shied away from superhero titles, but now I’m on a quest to stretch my comic book budget further… (for a summary of that journey see this post.)

The Acquisition

I picked up 6 issues from a 50 cent bin at a used book store and won an auction of 10 issues for around $8. Lastly, I bought a single issue of the JLA at a comic book store for about $2. But it was accompanied by 3 free books from the 50 cent bin so, I view it as a 50 cent purchase.

So 17 issues for around $11.50 That’s around 70 cents an issue. On a good day $11.50 could be 3 new issues at the current prices.

I felt pretty good about the acquisition. Until I realized that the auction I won was for JLA Classified, which is different from JLA. Classified featured stories of the various iterations of the Justice League, but wasn’t tied directly to the 6 issues I had originally purchased. But since these were also acquired for about 70 cents an issue, I don’t feel too bad about my mistake.

Between the two JLA series the acquisition looked like this:JLA issues 17 – 26 (7 issues) and JLA Classified 1-10.

My Familiarity With the Title

I’ve read some digital editions of the Justice League, which is different. I didn’t recognize one of the characters (Zauriel) and didn’t recognize Superman in a few issues because he looked like he was a mutant smurf (this was one of the more radical costume changes for the character).

Grant Morrison and Mark Waid wrote the JLA issues (Waid was backup). From talks with other fans and perusing the internet, these two writers seem to be at their best when they write DC characters.

How were the Issues?

There was some great material in these issues, but there was also some stuff that didn’t sit right with me. I intended to read  the issues than loan them to a friend’s son. The friend does not read comics, so I looked with a critical eye.

The 7 JLA issues were fun, but I also think the phrase “far out” also applies. I feel like these are a great set of issues for someone new to comics to read, only because it has the potential to draw a very bright line on what someone finds appealing.

JLA Classified was also fun, but had a few moments that kind of soured it for me.

Classified had an arc that reintroduced Guy Gardner. I’m not really a fan of him, but I also haven’t read anything with him in it. In any case, his treatment of women was terrible. It seemed like it was intended to increase the “anti” part of his anti-hero role.

First he assaults Mary Marvel, while she is in her adult powered form, but still for all intents and purposes is a young teenager, if not a pre-teen. The actual touching part takes place off panel, but it is clear that there was contact and it was uninvited.

Now some might argue that it’s a situation that would be impossible to happen in real life because she’s a child in an adult body. True. Children don’t become super powered adults by using magic words. But there are adults with cognitive disabilities which have the mental capacity of a 10 – 12 year old child.

In short, not something I want my children thinking is acceptable, nor a friend’s child.

Mary eventually beats him up and he straight up apologizes. It did nothing for me as a reader. Stories with protagonists (anti-heroes) can be an intense and compelling read. But the way Guy Gardner is written doesn’t make him an anti-hero. It makes him a jerk who assaults women.

I thought I could get away with lending out the other issues from Classified, but in the next issue Guy Gardner is tempted to assault Power Girl… while she is asleep… and I’m pretty sure he was the one who magically knocked her out.

Both scenes were totally unnecessary. The plot would not have collapsed if these pages had been removed or included less disturbing content.

There was also a moment when Blue Beetle asks Booster Gold what his older wife sees in him. Nothing was said, but it was clear that it was physical. But it might not be clear to my friend’s 11 year old son. And I can only imagine him asking his Dad about it and then it just goes down hill from there.

I should point out that these issues were approved by the Comics Code Authority. It was towards the end of its existence and clearly long past it’s effectiveness.

Also, the books were not the greatest in bringing new readers up to speed on what was going on, which lead for a few moments of confusion.

Other than that (and I know that is a heavy bit of dissatisfaction), the books were good. The arc with Guy Gardner was actually pretty hilarious (absent the terrible things I just wrote about ).

Definitely worth the 70 cents an issue.

Will I read it to my children?

No surprises here. But I try not to over do it with censoring what they read. They’ll be able to read when they’re older and it will come with a conversation about what is wrong about how Guy Gardner was written.