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One Coin, Two Sides

Posted By Matthew J. Neagley On September 29, 2009 @ 1:23 am In GMing Advice | 13 Comments

Reading a post over on Story Games, I began to get a bit nostalgic for the days of my youth that I spent on Red Box DnD. The subject of the article I was reading was “Did we (indie game enthusiasts) enjoy DnD back then, and can’t now or Did we never enjoy DnD that much and didn’t realize it at the time?” and as someone who enjoys “indie” RPGs (which I define as games which give narrative control to the players and feature light rule sets, your definition may vary) I admit I’m not as enamoured with DnD as I was years ago. It just doesn’t grab my imagination and inspire me like it used to ages ago, but that doesn’t mean it’s not possible to enjoy it, and rekindling those memories made me want to play it again.

As I waxed nostalgic, I considered running a brief game for my wife and daughter. I initially discarded the idea, because my daughter (9) doesn’t “get” RPGs yet. While she’s very creative and very imaginative, she’s also very much insistent on including things inappropriate to the genre, or that no one else finds interesting as main focal points of shared narratives. Starting any given game, she will want to set the game in the world of Terrapinia, or go off searching for Pokemon, despite the purported genre or focus of the game. She also is very much a spotlight hog, and when prompted for some narrative input, will run wild, dictating much more information than asked for, altering other people’s characters, adding world elements, running amok, never pausing for breath. As of the last few times we tried to include her in games, we decided she wasn’t quite ready yet.

Thinking about the things that DnD and “indie” games do differently and the problems we were having playing RPGs with my daughter more or less concurrently led me to an interesting idea. Perhaps old basic DnD is the perfect game to start playing with my daughter. Perhaps it’s exactly it’s problems that made it perfect for us as children, and will make it perfect for her. Basic DnD is very simple. It’s very limited in scope, and it’s scope of where it is and isn’t malleable is rigidly defined. There’s no shared narrative control in Basic DnD. The reality of the game world is what your DM says it is. There’s no spotlight hogging in Basic DnD. You get one round of actions, then the next guy gets HIS one round of actions. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

On a larger scale is the lesson that we’ve all been told before. There are no BAD RPGs (No, not even FATAL). There are just different RPGs for different people, and if someone wants to play an RPG but isn’t enjoying it or “getting” it, chances are there’s a better fit out there for them.

So maybe we all loved DnD specifically because it’s problems allowed us to enjoy it. Maybe that’s no longer the case for some of us, and that’s fine too.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go re-read The Keep on the Borderlands. I have a game tonight.

About  Matthew J. Neagley

First introduced to RPGs through the DnD Red Box Set in 1990, Matt fights on ongoing battle with GMing ADD, leaving his to-do list littered with the broken wrecks of half-formed campaigns, worlds, characters, settings, and home-brewed systems. Luckily, his wife is also a GM, providing him with time on both sides of the screen.




13 Comments (Open | Close)

13 Comments To "One Coin, Two Sides"

#1 Comment By deadlytoque On September 29, 2009 @ 7:39 am

Why not just run whatever game you’d like to run for your daughter, but let her define her setting and goals? So if she wants to hunt Pokemon in Terrapina, let her. Also consider stripping each game down, rules-wise, to its most basic parts. and make sure she’s fluent with those before you move on to more complex rules.

That said, you’re probably going to find that you’re going to have shared narrative control playing with a child no matter what you do, and that’s good.

#2 Comment By Scott Martin On September 29, 2009 @ 9:21 am

For all the indie games I enjoy now, I know that I also enjoyed D&D and the many others then– and now. Our group’s 4e game Sunday was wonderful– it was great to be a part of a team that just came together. And another friend has hauled out red box D&D for nostalgia’s sake…

Good luck with D&D with your daughter. I was a little older when I started, but not that much. You’ll have to let us know if the additional constraints [the very clear rules] help. Does she have similar focus/distraction issues in board games?

#3 Comment By Patrick Benson On September 29, 2009 @ 10:57 am

That is an interesting definition of indie games. My understanding is that indie just means that the designer/creator is also the owner/publisher of the game. That the entire work is independent of any third party ownership and control.

That said, a lot of “indie” games do seem to focus on things like narrative control and collaborative storytelling.

I think that a significant portion of the gaming community is quick to forget and at the same time quick to criticize. Red box D&D was not a bad game for its time, and it is simple and fun to play. Comparing it to today’s choices is like comparing Frogger, Pitfall, or tons of other classic video games to Halo. The comparison is going to emphasize the differences, in which case Halo is obviously vastly superior. Yet the comparison is incomplete without consideration for the time at which classic video games came out. Frogger and Pitfall, hell – Pong for that matter, had never been done before and were incredibly new and fresh concepts for their time. Halo one can argue is just another first person shooter done with better technology, and it is not as groundbreaking in concept as earlier video games were.

So I say that gamers do forget how much fun those early RPGs were. They weren’t flawed, the rules weren’t broken, they were what they were. They are only “broken” when compared to more sophisticated systems available today.

BTW – Notice how people still talk about those old D&D games to this day? How many new and “better” RPGs are released every year only to fade away into obscurity within a year’s time? I’m not saying that all new RPGs are bad, just that we should keep in mind that some old RPGs still have strong followings of fans. That means that those games must have done something right, and we should recognize and respect that.

#4 Comment By Matthew J. Neagley On September 29, 2009 @ 11:40 am

@deadlytoque – It’s troublesome because she’s an only child, and the part she’s missing most is the social aspect of gaming, and the fact that playing with others means taking their interests into consideration as well. It’s not that her mother and I COULDN’T run/play an RPG revolving around the properties of her favorite toys, it’s that we don’t WANT to, and that as a social game, she should understand and respect that and find a middle ground we can all enjoy. I wasn’t really clear on that, I know.

Thus, something with less/no narrative control is better, in my mind, because it eliminates that contention. The onus of finding something that everyone will enjoy doesn’t fall on her. And ultimately, that’s what may have made DnD so great for everyone back then. We didn’t HAVE to come to the kind of consensus that we do with more narrative games. That burden fell on the game itself.

At least, I’m wondering if that’s a part of it.

#5 Comment By vestenraider On September 29, 2009 @ 2:09 pm

@Matthew J. Neagley – While I understand that you eventually wish to bring her to the RP table, based on your description I think she might really enjoy the card game Once upon a Time, where hijacking the story to one’s own desires is how you win the game.

http://www.amazon.com/Once-upon-Time-Storytelling-Card/dp/1887801006

#6 Comment By Lord Inar On September 29, 2009 @ 4:44 pm

I was inclined to take the “ah, you can never go back again” angle in my response, but if I really think back on it, we must have never been fully enamored with D&D, since we jumped ship (first to Arm’s Law and then fully into MERP/RM) at the first real opportunity.

As to kids, I found that a simple skirmish game with a mission (escort the messenger through the deadly woods) introduces a lot of the concepts without the wide open space that the freer-form RPGs allow. They WILL personify even simple premade characters, and I’ll repeat my valuable lesson – “When your daughter’s character gets killed in battle, it doesn’t really die, it just has to go to the bathroom.”

I used both D&D minis & The fantasy Trip to do this, both times with great success.

#7 Comment By Lord Inar On September 29, 2009 @ 4:44 pm

I was inclined to take the “ah, you can never go back again” angle in my response, but if I really think back on it, we must have never been fully enamored with D&D, since we jumped ship (first to Arm’s Law and then fully into MERP/RM) at the first real opportunity.

As to kids, I found that a simple skirmish game with a mission (escort the messenger through the deadly woods) introduces a lot of the concepts without the wide open space that the freer-form RPGs allow. They WILL personify even simple premade characters, and I’ll repeat my valuable lesson – “When your daughter’s character gets killed in battle, it doesn’t really die, it just has to go to the bathroom.”

I used both D&D minis & The fantasy Trip to do this, both times with great success.

#8 Comment By Lord Inar On September 29, 2009 @ 4:46 pm

Why am I double posting?

#9 Comment By Stormgaard On September 30, 2009 @ 10:29 am

Not to be boorishly obviously here, but it might not be a good fit for her because she’s a girl – or rather, a “girly” girl.

I have a young woman who regularly attends my Friday night 4e campaign and she has a great time – but I also have 3 daughters who will almost certainly never “get” their father’s hobby.

My wife doesn’t either (and believe me I’ve tried) – too much hairspray, too much Lifetime television, too much Grey’s Anatomy, too much “girly” girl. All 3 of the little ones are just like their mother. Not their fault, they just all came out that way.

As much as D&D (or any sort of tabletop “indie” rpg type game) is still considered “weird”, “odd”, or “dorky” by mainstream cultural standards it still is pretty much a “guy” type activity.

Swords, monsters, exploration, gold, glory etc. Most girls don’t respond to those sorts of motivators.

But don’t take my word for it…

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tovznQvqVok

#10 Comment By Matthew J. Neagley On October 1, 2009 @ 9:18 am

@Stormgaard
For some that might be the case, but my daughter is definately MY daughter, and even if she were very much her mother’s daughter, she’d still love DnD. She wants to play, she has a ball playing, she just doesn’t get the “social” concept. More on that in another comment in a moment.

For your wife and daughters, however, let me drop you a link to a book review that might serve you well:
http://geeksdreamgirl.com/2008/02/19/book-review-confessions-of-a-part-time-sorceress/

#11 Comment By Matthew J. Neagley On October 1, 2009 @ 9:57 am

So, here’s the play by play-
We rolled up PCs using standard character gen. Sara was Chris Elfine, a Neutral Elf. My wife was Shendra, the thief. They had a henchwoman, Sister Mungfish, a cleric, with them.
Now I was in the regretable position of having to decide who to spring traps on: My wife’s PC, my daughter’s PC, or my own GM PC… :(
We started with the classic module Keep on the Boarderlands. The opening scene was their arrival at the keep and talking their way past the gate guards.

Things did NOT go well. Chris Elfine immediately started things off by ratting out his shady companion Shendra to the gate guards, claiming that she was a theif and had lots of stolen property on her, and that she had murdered a gnome on the road to the keep, an act that her still-bloody sword would attest to. Of course, while Shendra was a thief by trade, the rest of these accusations were pure fiction. Of course, the gate guards didn’t know this, and insisted on turning out Shendra’s pack and carefully inspecting it’s contents for anything unusual, as well as checking her blade. While the only thing amiss they discovered was Shendra’s thieves tools, the wild tales and Shendra’s profession was enough to earn them a stern rebuke and a promise that the guard would be keeping an eye on them before they were admitted to the keep.

Once inside, Chris Elfine spent the rest of the day gathering rumors about the Caves of Chaos, which warranted him some extra rolls on the “rumors you’ve heard about the caves” table.

The next moring they set out in search of the caves of Chaos. Luckily, they started in the right general direction and after a day of blundering about in the forest, Chris Elfine had the idea to climb a tree to see if they could discover anything. While he failed to climb to the top of the tree, Shendra managed the feat and reported seeing a large clearing to the Northeast. Once there, they found a huge iron banded door, but had no luck opening it. Chris even tried digging through the surrounding rock with his sword, which went about as well as would be expected.

From this higher point on the hill, however, they climbed another tree and saw a tree-lined defile further to the northeast. Traveling there to inspect the ravine, it was obvious that they had found the caves of chaos! This was also when Chris Elfine thought it would be amusing to push Shendra into the ravine, but a stern look from the thief put a stop to his shenanigans.

They carefully entered the nearest cave. Despite making a racket in the strange echoing passage, they moved on, only to be met by a contingent of 8 zombies armed with cleaver-like axes. After the first round of combat, all of the party was greiviously injured and they hadn’t managed to kill a single zombie. They fought on valiantly however…

Next session we get to make new characters. We had a talk about tacticly what had been done poorly, what assumptions had been made incorrectly, and we had a long talk about Sara making her new character less of a jerk. We also discussed that maybe we’re going to do a few mini-encounters/adventures BEFORE they tackle the caves of chaos again, since they’re pretty brutal. Of course that was the way “old-school” dnd WAS, but there’s no reason we can’t tweak things a bit.

#12 Comment By Stormgaard On October 1, 2009 @ 12:58 pm

Lol! That was damn funny. “Digging through the rock with your sword”, “Pushing your party member into a ravine”.

I think I get it now…

#13 Comment By Matthew J. Neagley On October 1, 2009 @ 6:33 pm

Despite the brevity of the characters and the few incidents, this was actually MORE sucessful than our average game, so I count it as a success.


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