Over the Thanksgiving holiday, I had an opportunity to continue a D&D 4e adventure we started a year ago. With this particular group, we have now met three times in 12 months and only worked through about 2/3 of the dungeon so far. But that’s not the fun part…
The fun part is that the group ranges in age from 8 to about 17 and then 40 and over. That’s right, it’s kids and parents. My best friend and I have been gaming together since college… about 25 years now. Sure, there were gaps. But he and his family moved nearby a few years ago and we knew we wanted to try and pass along our love for the hobby. Though they might do it on their own, we thought we’d jumpstart the process. So last year we talked about it and decided we’d put a 4e game together.
What did we want to teach our kids about gaming? The usual… Problem solving. Working cooperatively. Strategy. Tactics. Playing by the rules. What have we still left to teach them? Actually role-playing.
The first session was rough last year. Why? Partly because I hadn’t GMed in ages and was learning how to use Masterplan. Partly because most players were learning new concepts or dusting off old skills they hadn’t used in a decade or more. Though I had pre-created characters for each player based on their input and we didn’t do character creation as part of the first session, it was a challenge to figure out how to interpret them. And then translating the stats from their sheets to virtual movements in an imaginary world took a bit as well.
I started out with printed maps and markers, but quickly abandoned that approach. Too many people figuring things out as they went with too many pieces scattered across too big a physical space. So Masterplan plus an external monitor for my laptop worked out really well. Though they could see everything, that was more of a boon than a bane and we were able to visualize things more concretely from spoken actions to showing things on a screen.
The second session worked better. It was only a few weeks after the first session, so we weren’t starting from scratch. We moved through a few more encounters more easily.
And then we put it away for nearly a year. Literally. Our first session was in November 2012. Our last session was in December 2012 or January 2013.
Now it was Thanksgiving week 2013. Dusting it off on Black Friday took some doing. But we found all the pieces. Added a new player. Dropped a player or two (both Moms left us for different reasons). It was still a full table. And we quickly got back into the swing of things. If everyone had showed we would have had 11 players. As it was we had 8. That was plenty!
In this session we picked up where we left off and continued through two more combat encounters over the course of almost 4 hours. Once got into the swing of things, it moved pretty smoothly. Having the computer help with initiative order, tracking damage and states (like being knocked prone or being slowed) made a big difference. But I had to re-learn Masterplan and the laptop I used last year finally quit (it’s ancient now and doesn’t owe me a thing), so I ended up using my wife’s laptop… but it all worked.
Players were tracking HP, arrows, location, and movement pretty well. And I think they managed the difference between melee and ranged actions fairly well by the end also. I only almost killed (i.e. knocked to negative hit points) one PC in each of the two major battles and nobody died outright, so I think the battles were fairly balanced.
But at the end I was left scratching my head a bit. Did we accomplish our goals from a tactical standpoint? Yes. Were we role-playing? Not really.
If we complete this adventure at some point, I’m wondering if I need to create almost a lesson plan for true role-playing and specifically design an adventure with the mix of story, character, and combat that encourages not only acting at the table but role-playing in combat. It’s difficult with so large a group (I would rather have 4 or 5 players max, not 8-10), so I’m not sure how to do that without slowing gameplay down to nil. But it’s something to explore.
So I have some goals for next time:
- Encourage players to describe their characters to one another. What do they look like? How do they act?
- Encourage players to come up with goals for their characters. What do they want? How will they get it? How does that conflict with other PC’s goals?
- Encourage players to not only role-play in non-combat encounters (which I need to add more of) but in combat encounters as well.
Boils down to character views and motives. Not sure how I can work either of those into the adventure we’re running now, but can definitely look at doing more if we continue in the future. At the pace we’re going (one or two sessions a year), I have plenty of time to ponder how to handle these goals going forward.
I may add back in the concept of “brownie points” that can be used in various ways in my games. I used to have them back when I GMed a ton in the 1990s and basically they worked in a way similar to “Fate Points” where you could earn them for particularly good role-playing, problem solving, or anything else I deemed appropriate. They could then be used to re-roll an important die, ask for things from the fates or a character’s deity, or otherwise affect the situation at hand. Perhaps that would be a reward system for the kids doing more role-playing during a particular session.
All I know is that as GM I have to “take charge” of our situation a bit more, but as a parent I need to definitely encourage more than just combat thinking. Sure, they’re all over the place age-wise, but playing pretend is something I hope they never outgrow!