Top 10 Dungeons and Dragons Lessons Learned

D&D players handbook
D&D players handbook
Dungeons and Dragons Player’s Handbook is a great place to start to learn the game

One of the best things about running a Dungeons and Dragons adventure is never, ever being able to predict how a group of characters will react to any given situation.

However, some things should have been predictable. Here are my top 10 Dungeons and Dragons lessons learned about running adventures for 12-year-olds.

  1. They need a mentor non-player character to help them out, to inspire them in some cases, to guide them to their next adventure, and to explain what may or may not work, without taking them out of the story. It’s why Gandalf is there with the hobbits, why Moiraine arrives to talk to Rand Al’Thor, why Dumbledoor advises Harry Potter. I goofed that one up.
  2. They are completely uninterested in learning about the backstories of the people in the world, the politics in the town, or the greater world as a whole. Maybe this will change, since a ton of stuff was thrown at them on the first day, but right now, it’s ‘where do I have to go and what do I have to kill?’
  3. Sugar intake control is vital to playing a successful game. Too much too soon, and they become like Vikings bent on looting and pillaging everything in sight. Or, to use the new Dungeon and Dragon adventure terms, they become murder hobos. Kill everything. Take everything.
  4. Fighting rats is not fun. Gosh, why didn’t I see that one earlier. Sure, they are tough, and, statistic-wise, a pretty good challenge, but who wants to go home talking about killing rats. To be fun, the players needed to overcome something with swagger, something they can brag about, something larger than life. Doh!
  5. To simulate healing potions, I bought small vials, washed them thoroughly, and filled them with Gatorade. When the boys had to heal themselves from wounds in battle, I thought, hey, wouldn’t it be cool to have them drink the Gatorade vials? However, what I should have foreseen is that they like Gatorade and so would take damage just so they could drink the Gatorade. (sigh)
  6. Never let the characters damage each other. In the game, when the players roll a ‘1’, something bad happens, but if you let that ‘something bad’ be hit another player, then that player wants revenge and pretty soon they’re swinging swords at each other. It’s funny, for a second, then the whole party dies and everyone is mad at everyone.
  7. A good fart noise goes a longer way with 12-year-olds than with adults. Ok, wait, no, it goes a long way with adults as well…but be careful, if you let one boy make a loud fart noise because one failed ‘1’ roll, then they all start wanting ‘1’s so they can make that noise. Over and over and over and over again… and, perhaps to no one’s surprise, sometimes those noises are not faked. Never make this a farting game. Ever. No.
  8. I stressed and stressed about painting miniatures for the boys. I spent hours making sure their characters looked amazing, but, being nearly blind in my old age, and with shaking hands and a rather feeble ability to paint small things in the first place, I wasn’t able to really do anything to a pro-level (despite watching 200 YouTube videos). However, it didn’t make any difference. The boys were so excited to have painted miniatures of their characters and didn’t care that I’d not been able to paint a microscopic belt buckle.
  9. Food matters. There’s a post on what happens when there’s too much sugar, but not feeding them is a bad idea as well. Balance is the key here, and I don’t mean lots of carrots and celery sticks, no, just better management of pop, chips, candy and, for supper, pizza. Failure to properly control the food results in an alien-like transformation of good kids into scary, drooling monsters.
  10. They knew nothing about the rules but what I told them. I was so used to running dungeons and dragons adventures with people who knew more than I did so I had studied hard for these sessions, but it really wasn’t necessary. So what if I forgot about ‘opportunity attacks?’ So what if I goofed up how minor illusion worked? So what if I didn’t quite get how ‘sneak attack’ works? I will make sure it to make it fun, first and foremost.

Session 3 Dungeons and Dragons Adventure Pt 2

dungeons and dragons fighter bandit
In every Dungeons and Dragons Adventure, there should always be a villain and if there’s a villain, there are henchmen. Meet “Ogre”. A Blackskull thug of great strength and brutality.

The Dungeons and Dragons Adventure was about to come to a head.

Even having seen how well the boys, (Leroy-the-Ranger, Sherlock-the-Wizard, Brad-the-Rogue, and Honor-the-Paladin) had defeated the Blackskulls in the forest or cleared the ancient, dwarven dungeon below his home, Devon the halfling feared they would not be able to defeat the men inside his home. Even with surprise and magic.

All it would take is for one of the evil doers to be alerted to their presence and Devon’s family would die. All it would take was one mistake and the party would be overwhelmed and killed.

Undaunted, Honor eased the trap door into Devon’s home. There was no one in the storage room, though the Blackskulls had drunk all the wine stored there and smashed the bottles. Carefully moving the glass out of the way, the boys entered the room one by one, the smell of stale wine and hops from the barrels of ale heavy in the air. In the distance, they heard singing, and detected the smell of cooking meat.

Quietly, they crept into the next room, a food storage room. Horrifically, the Blackskulls had killed Devon’s dogs, skinned them and strung them up for meat.

Devon’s fear from his family turned to anger. “I’ll kill every one of those bastards,” he vowed, red blotches appearing on his face.

Easing the door to the kitchen open, they saw the singing Blackskull stirring a pot of stew, unaware that the boys had come in through the trapdoor.

They closed the door and came up with a plan. Using Sherlock’-the-Wisard’s illusions, they would distract the Blackskull cook while the sharpshooting Leroy and the deadly archer, Brad, shot him dead.

But like all plans in all dungeons and dragons adventures, it fell apart the moment the door opened.

Sherlock cast his spell, but Leroy-the-Ranger’s shot went wild. As did Brad-the-Rogue’s.  Even with the element of surprise. Even with taking a moment to aim properly. They both missed.

The Blackskull cook turned.

Everything depended now on how quickly the boys could reach the Blackskull cook because if he shouted out a warning, everything would go ‘pear-shaped,’ as my dad used to say.

As fast as he could, Honor-the-Paladin thundered towards the Blackskull cook, while Leroy notched another arrow, Brad ran to stab him and Sherlock cast another spell.

Before the cook could say a word, could even really open his mouth, the boys zerged him and he fell down about as dead as anyone could be dead, stabbed, frozen from a spell, and full of arrows.

It was an impressive takedown that any SWAT guy would have been proud of.

Then they planned an ambush for the others, using an illusionary voice to lure the other guards into the kitchen, shouting, ‘food’s ready!’

It almost worked.

In fact, it would have worked, but as Derrek Quickblade came into the room, two boys hidden under the table, two more hidden in the storage room, he didn’t fall for the illusionary cook by the pot and noticed the blood on the floor.

He drew his sword. He turned to the huge man behind him

“You know why Scar put me in charge, Ogre?”

“You’re a smart one, you is, Derrek. As smart as one of those book readers.”

“Right. We’ve got visitors.”

And, like that, it was on.

The two Blackskulls raced into the room, Ogre raising his huge axe, ready to cleave one of the boys in two, Derrek whirling his blades around like a guy who was seriously comfortable with sharp objects.

Brad, the nearest, dove out from under the table and threw chairs at the giant of a man, Ogre, running as fast as he could away from that axe. Leroy, shifting under the table, aimed and fired at Derrek’s legs, but missed. Honor, seeing his friends in trouble, roared into the room, his sword drawn, his shield at the ready. Behind him, Sherlock began to weave a spell.

dungeons and dragons fighter bandit
Every dungeons and dragons adventure needs a big bad. Meet Derrick Quickblade

Ogre split the table in two as he missed Brad, and Derrek spun away from Leroy to battle Honor. Like two legendary warriors, the two began to fight, Derrek faster than any warrior Honor had ever faced.

Faster. And more deadly.

Within moments, Derrek’s sword danced past Honor’s shield and drove deeply into the Dragonborn paladin, nearly killing him. Staggering back, gritting his sharp dragonteeth, Honor struck back, but Derrek moved with blinding speed, dodging Honor’s blade.

The two battled with brutal intensity, Derrek more skilled, but Honor brave and unyielding.

As the two fought, the last Blackskull ran into the room, but LeRoy spun and put a crossbow bolt in his leg. Brad lept out from under the table, tripped the Blackskull and drove his daggers into the man’s back.

While Honor continued his epic battle against Derrick, the other three heroes focused on the massive man called Ogre who seemed to take every cut from a dagger, every wound from an arrow as if he felt no pain.

Finally, Sherlock was able to get behind him and unleashed a firebolt that caught the man’s fur armor on fire. But even burning, screaming, he fought on like something out of a story told to frighten children,

But in the end, the fire consumed him and he fell to the floor.

With that, the others raced to help Honor, who could barely stand, fighting against Derrick with fury. However, so fast was the fight, the two warriors spinning, dodging, blocking, attacking, that LeRoy couldn’t get a clean crossbow shot and Sherlock’s magic failed to find the mark.

Honor took another terrible blow, Derrek’s sword slicing deep into his side, but he had watched how Derrek moved, learned the man’s martial dance and took the wound, deliberately, so he could get his own opening.

With all his strength, he slashed as Derrek’s leg. A deep, crippling strike.

Derrek staggered. Surprise twisted his face. One hand, instinctively, went to his leg.

And that was when Brad struck, coming in low. One dagger took Derrek in the thigh while the other drove deep into Derrick’s stomach.

Derrek fell to the ground, dying. Pain contorted his face. His hands held onto his stomach.

He looked at Honor and before he died, he said, “You think you have won? Death will not stop us.”Death… is… not… the end.”

The boys had won!

They had beaten the Blackskull thugs and saved the hobbits! They had completed the first chapter in what I had hoped would be an amazing dungeons and dragons adventure.

How little did they know what Derrick said would come back to haunt them?

 

3rd Dungeons and Dragons Session pt 1

D&D, gandalf, balrog

Dungeons and dragons adventures should always be epic, gandalf, balrog
Climaxes have to be epic! In dungeons and dragons adventures, this means more than just giant rats

This session would define the game for a long while.

In video game terms, it was the boss fight. In movie terms, the climax. In Dungeons and Dragons adventures, it’s a moment where failure could mean death.

Led by their halfling guide, Devon, the boys (Leroy-the-Ranger, Sherlock-the-Wizard, Brad-the-Rogue, and Honor-the-Paladin) had entered a secret entrance into Devon’s home. They hoped to save the halfling’s family from villainous villains (called the Blackskulls) who had threatened to murder Devon’s family if Devon didn’t do what they wanted.

Unlike that last adventure, this one started off well enough. With candy under my complete and utter control, I was able to get the boys focused fast.

They made a plan- clear the dungeon, sneak into the hobbit’s home, rescue the innocent. You know, hero stuff.

Unlike the last session, the boys moved quickly, coming under attack by a purple mushroom that killed Sherlock’s familiar, a cat.  Luckily, though, the cat had unlimited lives since it was the ultimate Scholander’s cat, (existing only when called), so no one felt bad for the loss, (though Sherlock did wonder, “does it feel?”)

Using ranged weapons, they shot the unmoving fungus in one of the mushroom-growing rooms so it couldn’t damage them. It was over quickly and they raced further through the underground rooms, only to be surprised by a big ass spider that managed to entrap the powerful Honor-the-Paladin in a sticky web.

With their main fighter trapped in a web, the rogue, Brad, found (much to his horror,) that he was face-to-face with the spider, Brad wearing only light armor and fighting with daggers.

Shaking with fear, he stabbed at spider’s eyes, hoping to blind it and flee. Despite his fear, he wounded the spider badly, making it scream a terrible spider scream, and as it tried to flee away, wounded, blind in one of its many eyes, Leroy-the-Ranger shot it dead with one well-placed crossbow bolt.

They found nothing in the spider’s web, though, except the desiccated bodies of more than a few giant rats. Sherlock-the-Wizard, (knowing alchemy) harvested the spider’s web and its poison glands for future use.

Dwarven runes needing an answer to a riddle to open are fun in dungeons and dragons
A good staple of any dungeon in Dungeons and Dragons adventures is a dwarven riddle door

Then they were confronted by a thick, metal door with Dwarven runes carved onto it.

Translating the runes, they realized it was a riddle, because, you know, dwarves love locking doors with riddles. It’s their thing. That and drinking.

Their guide, Devon thought he knew the answer, but guessed wrong and took a massive jolt of electricity. The boys, however, were smarter.

They read the riddle.

Power enough to smash ships and crush roofs. Yet it still must fear the sun. What is it?

After a few guesses, and using Honor’s resistance to electricity, they solved the riddle and opened the door.

Answer: “ice”

Even their incorrect guesses were good or at least funny: A vampire. Water. Leroy’s pee.

The room beyond the riddle door held a good selection of alchemic supplies, including a book that could teach Sherlock-the-Wizard how to make a potion of climbing and an antidote to some poisons. Sherlock gleefully collected everything and would have read the book had they not been pressed for time –

Who knew how much longer it would be until the evil Blackskulls realized that Devon had betrayed them and murdered his family?

However, the boys were blocked by another riddle door. Who works when he plays and plays when he works?

Without hesitation, they answered ‘a musician’.

And the door opened.

They raced through the room beyond the riddle door, past looted supplies that Devon recognized as belonging to someone in the town, and past the crispy body of a human who had clearly failed to answer the riddle correctly.

They reached the staircase leading up, a rickety thing that Devon had built himself and seemed oddly proud of.

Honor-the-Paladin took the lead, slinging his shield onto his back, and unsheathing his sword. Although the least stealthy of the companions, they feared that if someone was up there, waiting, ready to ambush them, better to have a huge, dragonborn paladin enter the room first.

From Devon, they knew there’d be at least 4 blackskulls inside. Two of them were greatly feared in the village, one a giant of a man called ‘Ogre’ and the leader, a cruel man named Derrick Quickblade.

Honor reached the top of the stairs and reached for the trap door as the rest of the party shifted on the creaking staircase behind him, ready for battle.

Honor eased the trap door open.

The dungeons and dragons adventure will be continued!!!

2nd D&D Session

D&D NPC character

D&D halfling NPC
Devon, their halfling guide.Why would anyone want to kill this cute little guy? 

Phandalin Adventure

Day 2

Once, again, I couldn’t wait to start my D&D adventure with the boys. I’d done my prep, printed out my handout, (even a very cool ‘weathered’ map), and bought enough munchies to feed an army of starving goblins.

But therein lay my first mistake, and it may very well be why this session didn’t go as well as I’d planned.

To recap, they had been told by their hobbit guide, Devon, that bad guys held his family hostage. Now that he told the group about last session’s ambush, he begged the group to help.

But as I set up the music and sorted my paperwork, the boys voiced thoughts of killing their guide, Devon, the one person they were supposed to help!!!

 Why? I have no idea, it seemed to come out of the blue, but then I had to start the session out by telling them what they couldn’t do. Or at least trying to dissuade them for doing something evil.

Then they tore into the candy like rabid dogs. Before their characters even reached the hobbit’s home,  they’d began to vibrate in their seats. Then they bopped up and down in their chairs. Then, I had to take a break so they could literally run around.

It looked like getting them to focus on the game would become, well, a bit of a challenge.

Their mission though was simple enough. Rescue the hobbit’s family by sneaking in via a secret entrance. But, they were told, the evil guys were expecting a rescue and would be watching the doors and windows, ready to kill the hobbit’s family.

Their hobbit guide, Devon, led them to the secret entrance beneath his home, (an old, underground dwarven forge, long abandoned), that the hobbit used to grow mushrooms – Lots of tasty mushrooms fertilized by the finest poo in the county.

Only one problem – The boys didn’t want to do go through the secret passage.

Full of sugar rage, they wanted to charge in and attack the evil, nasty bad guys. No matter who dies!

D&D NPC character
Buttercup, Devon’s oldest child, a girl. Why would they not want to save her?

My hobbit was horrified. His family would die.

However… The boys didn’t care. Like Vikings, they wanted to fight.

NOW!

Battle, battle, battle, battlebattlebattle, BATTLE!

But I, (playing the hobbit), managed to convince them to try to sneak up on the evil, nasty bad guys, and that’s where I made my second mistake.

Running a game like this means you give the players as much leeway as possible to do whatever they want, and I’d railroaded them into going one route.

Had they gone their route, it’s not likely the little hobbits would have lived, and that’s a consequence that maybe they needed to have.

But forcing them to do something makes it harder for them to be invested in the game. However, NOT forcing them would lead to the death of little kids, and in story-telling, that’s a HUGE no-no.

I was in a pickle. Or ,rather, I’d pickled myself.

Not super interested in their choice, it took an hour for the boys to focus on killing 5 giant rats.

An.

Hour.

With their usual outstanding grasp of tactics, they defeated the rats quite quickly once the fight happened, but it soooooo wasn’t exciting for them. I could see that.

As soon as they won, though, they were hit by a sugar crash and acted like slow-motion turtles eating a leaf.

The session ended without a sense of major accomplishment.

That’s never good.

Would they run home and tell their parents, mom and dad, guess what, we killed rats, OMG it was amazeballs, rats, mom, rats. How cool is that?

No. Not cool at all.

Dammit, I’d goofed.

After I dropped them all off back home, I vowed to do better. However, being nearly impossible to predict what would actually happen in any given adventure, all I knew was that I needed to do 3 things better.

  1. I needed to control the sugar intake a LOT more than I did.
  2. I needed to find stuff they would care about, something magical and fun. Not fighting rats.
  3. I needed to create those epic moments they will talk about for weeks. Or at least hours.

Next week would be critical. I had to be a better DM.

 

D&D The Mines of Phandelver pt2

D&D main character

D&D Adventure  – The Bandits

D&D halfling NPC
In D&D, it’s always good to have a guide. In D&D, you can’t trust everyone.

The D&D adventure took on a darker tone.

The 4 boys, Honor-the-Paladin, Brad-the-Rogue, Leroy-the-Ranger, and Sherlock-the-Wizard were on their way to pick up their inheritance. Not far into the journey, though, they realized their guide, the Irish-accented, Devon Havenford was hiding something.

They pressed Devon mercilessly and he confessed that he was to lead them into an ambush. Evil men known as Blackskulls had taken his family hostage – His wife, Daisy (“as beautiful as the flower she was named after”), his children, (Buttons, Brandywine, Barlow, and tiny, wee Buttercup who hasn’t even eaten her first sausage!)

He was to drug them as they slept, then the Blackskulls would come for them.

At first, the boys debated allowing themselves to be captured but realized that presented too many problems and too many consequences they couldn’t predict.

So, they laid their own ambush. Brad-the-Rogue climbed into a tree and took out his bow. Leroy-the-Ranger cranked his crossbow to maximum pain and hid in a thicket. Honor-the-Paladin, pretended to sleep outside the tent. Sherlock-the-Wizard hid behind a rock, and being so small, it wasn’t a particularly big rock.

At a little past midnight, the moon obscured by clouds, the ground wet from a recent shower, Devon added green powder to the fire, signally the boys were subdued. After a few moments, 6 bandits came out of the forest, confident, their clubs or swords held low.

Then the boys struck or at least tried to strike.

Brad-the-Rogue, tried to find a better shot at the bandits, but slipped and fell out of his tree.  Sherlock-the-Wizard forgot which spell to cast.  Hey, it was the first time he’d fought anyone anywhere. It’s understandable.

And Leroy-the-Ranger somehow managed to miss his first shot. He was deeply ashamed.

But Honor-the-Paladin, battle-trained bellowed his defiance and spat lightning at the bandits, (cuz he’s Dragonborn and can do that!). His lightning scorched nearly all the bandits.

The smell of burnt flesh and leather filled the air. So did their screams.

As the bandits tried to sort out what was happening, I mean, this was supposed to be an easy job, just grab a bunch of yahoos and bring them back to the boss, Brad-the-Rogue recovered and shot his first man. He killed one bandit instantly, while Leroy-the-Ranger took very careful aim and shot the bandit leader in the throat with a crossbow bolt. Sherlock-the-Wizard, doing what gnomes do best, created an illusion of a bear beside the bandits.

(Ok, at first he wanted to create an illusion of a rock and throw it at them, then I said, “No, wait, think bigger,” and he said, “Ok, I’m making it a huge boulder.” I laughed. “No. I meant think of something that might scare or distract the bandits.” Hence, the bear).

Surrounded, pelted with arrows, a bear appeared behind them, and still smoking from being hit by a lightning bolt, the bandits reeled, as stunned as the Soviets losing to the Americans in hockey.

Unsure what to do, they did what bandits do, and attacked the only two they could see, Honor-the-Paladin and the quaking Devon-the-Guide.

Devon fled as fast as he could, leaving Honor to stand alone. But Honor was heavily armored and well-trained. With shield and sword and his heavy armor, he blocked every blow, allowing the others to continue to shoot the bandits down.

D&D bandits.
The ambushers got ambushed. D&D bandits were no match for the party

Another fell with a crossbow bolt through his neck. One fell to Brad-the-Rogue’s arrows, one more fell as Sherlock-the-Wizard called magical missiles down upon him, and Honor hewed one in half.

Fearing for his life, the last one tried to leave, but Devon, with a shaking hand, threw his dagger and caught the man in the leg. Stumbling, the bandit couldn’t take two steps before a bolt from Leroy-the-Ranger and an arrow from Brad-the-Rogue sank into his back with sickening thuds.

The boys had won.

Without taking a single wound.

Good lord.

But instead of celebrating Devon, still shaking, stared at the bodies. “We have to get to my family before the Blackskulls realize what’s happened.”

*****

For anyone interested in guides, check out these sites.

Rogue guide

Paladin guide

Ranger

Wizard

1st Day of D&D

The D&D 5e Adventure Begins!

I hide behind this D&D screen.
Their quest – the chest.

The D&D day had finally arrived.

I picked up the four boys after school and brought them to our place. The-Youngest and I had transformed the rec room into the new D&D room. We had chips for them. We had pop and candy. We had chairs that weren’t going to collapse and The-Youngest had taped off areas on the table so everyone knew how far they could spread their stuff out.

We were about as ready as possible.

When the boys arrived, I had to let them settle down. 12-year-olds have energy I can only remember, that kind that makes it impossible to sit still, to not talk quickly and loudly, or focus on any one thing. It was awesome to see, actually. That energy meant they were excited

After a short while, they calmed down a bit.

D&D, being a complex game with many, many rules, created my first challenge. We’d gotten together before this first session to roll up characters, (a ranger, wizard, a paladin, and a rogue), so we didn’t have to do that, but there was still stuff they needed to know if they were to play.

To speed things along, I filled out their character sheets and reviewed changes. (For the nerdy folks, that means weapons and damage, armor and armor class, skill bonuses and equipment).

Their miniatures were given out and they were wow’d. I’m not a super good miniature painter, but having a little rogue, ranger, paladin and gnome made the game come alive.

From there, like any good film, we started with the big picture. Let us begin with the world. So let us start there.

The realms are at peace, a peace that has lasted eighty years. The Six kingdoms are united under the All-father, the king of kings, an undying ruler who governs with benevolent grace, bringing prosperity and harmony to all the peace-loving people of the land.

Or at least that’s what has been taught in the schools, in the cathedrals of the Holy Light, and in the great halls and homes of men.

But ask the Dwarves, at what price did this peace come, their kingdoms smashed, their once-proud nation reduced to clan-enclaves in mountains or crafting halls in the hills and towns?

Ask the elves when men came to cut down the trees for lumber, when they slaughtered the fey and treants out of fear, and then when the Elves fought back, burned the elven treehomes.

Ask the Halflings why they are wanderers or relegated to the poor quarters, thought of only as dirty thieves and bringers of bad luck. Ask them if they know peace.

Indeed, if you are not of mankind, you might have an entirely different opinion of this peace and prosperity. 

After conquering the last kingdom, the All-father destroyed the old orders, tore down ancient fortresses, built churches of the Holy Light in every village, and set up puppet rulers to govern his lands. While most of the conquered kingdoms fell into line, the last Kingdom never fully bowed to the All-father’s will, and nearly a year, ago, as repression became harsher and harsher, many of the old races united to rebel.

Against the All-father, against his Red Legions and Wizards of Flame, against the martial might of the Order of the Holy Light, they didn’t have a chance. They were slaughtered.

After the rebellion, the Purity Laws came into effect. No non-human could hold a position in government, could not attend any of the Arcane Academies, and could not hold title to land. Travel was restricted and there are rumors that the All-father may soon offer a bounty on non-humans.

It is into this world that our players find themselves.

Thus began the adventure for the boys.

  • Sherlock – a gnomish wizard.
  • Leroy the Ranger.
  • Brad Armpit the rogue.
  • Honor the Dragonborn paladin.