Wednesday, November 21, 2012

D&D Next Playtest (Part 1): My Girls Make Their Very Own Player-Characters

I finally got a chance to sit down and start teaching my girls Dungeons and Dragons over the weekend, and before we get too far into it, let me just spoiler the ending a little here and admit that we had a blast playing the game.  Now, I’ve gotta admit up front that my girls have a little advantage over someone coming into the game cold because we’ve played a couple of the 4th Edition-lite board games, Wrath
of Ashardalon and The Legend of Drizzt, and both of those games involve basic concepts that are fundamental to the full version of D&D.  Still, those games are definitely board games, albeit board games that involve to-hit rolls and Armor Class, and so I knew going into this that there were going to be some growing pains.

The Legend of Drizzt is a terrific board game for D&D newcomers.
I have two daughters—Hannah, 9, and Emma, 7.  Emma is by far the more interested in all things geek.  She likes comic books, and she likes dragons, and last year when I home-brewed my famous Icefire Penguin  for my long-running Play-by-Post (PbP) game The Sellswords of Luskan, Emma was sitting right there next to me, telling me what she thought an Icefire Penguin ought to be able to do. Still, seven is a young age to be learning D&D, and I was a little concerned with Emma’s ability to grasp the mechanics and the choices that lie at the heart of the game.  Hannah, on the other hand, worried me less because she has shown a very strong grasp of the mechanics of the D&D board games.  Plus, I was about her age when I taught myself to play D&D out of the now-famous Red Box, and Hannah is so much like me in so many ways, that a lot of times it feels more like she’s my female clone than my daughter.  Moreover, both girls understand the idea of rolling to see if you hit with an attack, and based on that, it was easy to teach them the idea of rolling for damage based on that attack.  That, at least, was a good start.

Creating Characters
I needed an Icefire Penguin because I was
planning to run the 4e version of Against
the Gianst
, using a primordial Fire Cult as
the adventure hook.
The first thing I did was to sit down with the girls and help them create characters, a process I knew both would love.  I let Emma go first, and I’ll admit that I spent a lot more time with her, both because I thought that she was really, really into it and because at that point I didn’t realize how long it was going to take.  As it happens, we wound up spending about an hour and a half, and at the end of it, Emma had an Elven Wizard (Illusionist) who pretends to be a princess but who is in reality just a kind of sneaky magical con-artist.  This was not at all the character that I’d thought Emma would want to create, but like I said, she was really into it, and as she would show when we played, she knew exactly what it was that she was trying to achieve.  Emma wound up naming her character Elaina Emboo.

I’d thought before that Hannah would want to be an Elf Princess and a Cleric, but she surprised me, too, by putting together a Halfling Rogue—a Thief where I’d have sworn she’d want to play an Acrobat—that she named Sneakatara “Sneax” Boatman.  The upside of this character was that it didn’t take long to put her together, which was good because by this time I was running short on time in general, but I made a mistake because where I spent a lot of time with Emma picking out spells and discussing the different mechanics involved with At-Will and Daily spells—and these were mechanics that she’d seen before via the D&D board games—with Hannah I spent time discussing Skills and the mechanics of Stealth, but I glossed over Maneuvers and Expertise Dice.  At the time, I figured that we’d cover it once we actually started trying to walk through our first encounter.  As it happened, however, that proved to be difficult to do, and the magnitude of the mistake was compounded by the fact that Maneuvers and Expertise Dice are new to D&D Next.  The kids had seen spells, and they got the concept of skills checks quickly enough, but I still haven’t succeeded in getting across Maneuvers and Expertise, and this after our first full combat run.

We did all of this one night while my wife was out selling Arbonne, and I should note in passing that I exchanged a few texts with her while we were doing it, enough to establish that she’d rather play a Cleric than a Fighter or a Monk, and that she’d rather be a Cleric of the Sun God than a Cleric of the Battle or Trickster gods.  So I adapted one of the pre-gen characters for her out of the Playtest packet and named her character Melora Moonstone.  I then built myself a Monk, whom I named Jaxon Jackson, and I printed off the Dwarf Fighter from the pre-gen packet whom I named Thorin Battlehammer.  I then stuck both characters in my folder for later.

All of that worked fine, save that Sally is super-busy, and D&D hasn’t exactly been at the top of her priority list.  So at this point, both of my kids now know the game well enough to play it and have fun, but my wife, if she ever actually manages to sit down with us, is gonna be utterly mystified.  What’s worse is that she’s playing the Cleric, and Cleric is most assuredly the most complicated of the classes in the Playtest packet.  But she seems committed to the idea of being a Cleric, so… 

Well, bottom line, I’m not sure how that’s all going to play out.  Still, there’s probably a 50/50 chance that it’ll never even come up, so at this point, I’m not overly concerned.

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