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?

 

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.

 

Playing D&D Part 1

The First Great D&D Adventure

All players need a place to start

I don’t think anyone in the universe prepared for a first adventure as much as I did.

I won’t lie, I was nervous about running a pack of 12-year-olds through a 5E D&D adventure.  I hadn’t played this new-fangled version of the game, and being a DM (the guy who ran the game) meant I had to know my rules.

So, being me, I turned to the internet and found a great collection of YouTube videos on line that taught me the rules and gave me some advice on DMing.

Gosh, there was so much that was new, but after 2 weeks, I felt like I had a handle on most of the rules and I wasn’t shy about making it up if worse came to worse.

All I had to do was make it fun.

Easy, right?

Well…. Not always.

Now, for those few people who have never played D&D, the basics are actually pretty simple. It’s a table-top role-playing game, played in person, with real people sitting next to you and tossing Doritos at you. To quote the designers of the game, “The core of D&D is storytelling. You and your friends tell a story together, guiding your heroes through quests for treasure, battles with deadly foes, daring rescues, courtly intrigue, and much more.”

One person ‘runs’ the game. That’s the Dungeon Master or DM. That’sa me. It’s my job to make sure the players have fun. I’m the guy behind the curtain (or in this case, the DM screen.)

And those are the critical words there. Have. Fun.

It’s not a game that pits one player against another like Risk. No, it’s cooperative, and that’s what can make it so much fun, but if the DM sucks or has to spend a ton of time looking stuff up, no amount of great story-telling will make it fun. It’ll be a disaster.

See, the stakes were high for me. I really wanted the boys to like D&D, to play it for years, maybe even meet their love of their life while playing, and form nerdy friendships that last forever. Heck I met my first wife, Margot, and my best friend through D&D.

I know I set a high bar for myself, but for me, I’d been known as a good DM 400 years, ago, so I wanted to keep my rep intact.

So, like I said, I prepared. (NERD WARNING!) I bought a DM screen, printed out maps, made maps on graph paper, created character backstories, researched all the character’s abilities, finished off the boys’ character sheets, made initiative cards, found pictures of the monsters and characters, made monster cards, made ‘condition’ cards, bought miniatures for each boy, painted the hell out of them, sealed them with indestructible sealant, made potions from bottles bought by my friend and fellow nerd, Sheila. I bought coins to be used as special tokens, I bought trees that could be used on the tabletop. I wrote out a world history, a local history and even, whew, a history of one of the pivotal non-player characters.

I even read through the Monster manual to find the best monsters for them to fight, read through the DM guide to find the perfect treasure rewards, and bookmarked the Player’s Handbook, so I could find things quickly.

OMG.

I bought snacks, set up a table, moved all my D&D books to our new D&D rec room, set up lamps for better light, moved my painted minis to a shelf in the D&D rec room, fixed chairs that were broken, found more miniatures to use as villains, printed out pictures of all the non-player characters so the boys could put a face to a name, and found a jewelry chest that would remind players what their goal was.

Ready to go! Got my minis. Got my Rubbermaid container of dice. Got my character cheat sheets.

Yes. I had prepared. I wanted to have a lot of visual aids because I felt the boys wouldn’t be keen on me talking for hours about a chest or the world or Buttons the halfling. I wanted them to see the battle, not just imagine it, to move their miniatures through a forest to fight the evil Blackskulls who terrorized the area. When they went to drink a potion of healing, I wanted there to be a potion that they actually drank.

After all, these boys were coming from Fortnite, GTA or Assassin’s Creed. They had been brought up on visuals so I needed to make it as visual as possible. Heck, if I could have programmed holographic maps with 3D characters, I would have done so.

But after two weeks of preparation, would it all pay off? Had I been overthinking this? (not that I ever do that.) Would the boys have fun? Would they become life-long players?

Well, at the risk of creating a spoiler, let me just say that, as if typical when you design and run an adventure, nothing quite goes as planned.

So, hey, if you want to check out more pictures, see the instagram account or check out the pinterest page.

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