Just about eight years ago, I wrote an essay for the venerable SF Signal titled, “Daddy, What’s Dungeons & Dragons.” In that piece, I talked about getting a copy of the 5th edition Player’s Handbook, and about my son, then five years old, asking me what Dungeons & Dragon was.
This summer, my son and my older daughter both attended a D&D camp. After the first day, they came home asking if we could play D&D at some point. Both had spent the day playing and both had enjoyed themselves immensely. They had created characters and began playing one of the off-the-shelf adventures. A councilor at the camp was the game master. Over course of the week, they continued to ask if we could play, and I agreed that we could. But I had some preparation to do first.
I already had the Player’s Handbook. I ordered a copy of the Dungeon Master’s Guide, as well as a DM’s screen, and two adventure books, The Curse of Strahd and Tales from the Yawning Portal. I spent the next week refreshing myself on the ins-and-outs of the role playing game. I went through the Player’s Manual and then the Dungeon Master’s Guide. I skimmed the adventures, and then decided that it would be best if we began with some kind of practice round so that everyone understood how to play, including me. A few years ago, we got the Starter Set. We never used it, but I pulled it off the shelf and began reading the started adventure, Lost Mine of Phandelver.
Meanwhile, hearing us talk about it, my youngest daughter, who is about to turn 6, decided she wanted to play as well. I prepared as best I could. I watched YouTube videos on how to be a DM. I added some useful community plug-ins to Obsidian to make it easy to take notes for the adventure. Then, I went through the first part of Los Mine of Phandelver and mapped it out in detail in my notes, including notes on how to do certain things, like ability roles, advantage and disadvantage, etc.
On Saturday evening at 6:30, the four of us gathered at our dinner table to generate characters for our new adventure. I had outlined the process for that, but even so, it took us nearly 2 hours to complete the process. I frequently had to refer to the rule books for various clarifications on things. My son generated a half-orc paladin, my older daughter a dwarf ranger, and my youngest daughter a gnome sorcerer. By the time we finished generating the characters, I was beat, and we decided to hold off playing until the next day.
On Sunday afternoon, at 2pm, we sat down to play. I had detailed notes for Part 1 of the adventure, but I had no idea how long it would take to get through that part. As it turned out, in the two hours we played, we made it through just the first goblin attack. It was a difficult encounter for the players, but eventually, thanks to my daughter’s sorcerer, they eventually defeated the four goblins. Later, in reviewing why it was difficult, I saw that the adventure was designed for 4-5 characters. We were using only three.
When we started out, I emphasized several things to my kids:
- First and foremost, we were here to have fun.
- The game is about making up your own story, roleplaying, being your characters. They shouldn’t worry so much about rolling the dice, they should focus on being in the world.
- This first time, things were going to move slowly because we were all still learning. I frequently had to pause to refer to thing in the books, despite all of my preparation.
- I would explain what I was doing and why each time we encountered something new, so that they understood the mechanics of the game. But I would only do this the first time. After that, I’d just let the adventure unfold.
Everyone had fun. My son was frustrated at times, because chance was not always on his side. Twice, his paladin was knocked unconscious, but twice, he managed to recover, with no “help” from me. It was the luck of the draw in both cases. My youngest daughter appeared to be the most engaged. She would jump up from her seat and act out what she was doing. “I’m going to run 19 feet,” she would say, pretended to run, “toward the goblin that fell on the ground, and then cast my fire bold spell on him.” If she rolled a hit, she jumped up and down in the same manner I do when the Yankees hit a walk-off home run.
My older daughter was probably the most level-headed of the group. She considered her turns carefully, gave explicit descriptions (“I’m going to jump behind the dead horse and then fire my long bow at the goblin behind the thicket.”)
Everyone, myself included, had a lot of fun, and we were all a little sad when we had to bring the session to and end, especially after making it through only a single encounter. However, we are all excited to play again soon.
Sitting there, running a D&D game for my three kids, I thought back to third grade when D&D first captured my imagination. Despite the creativity and inventiveness required by the game, I couldn’t possibly imagine that one day, I’d be playing D&D with my own kids. It was a wonderful experience for all us.
And to that five-year old who, eight years ago, asked me, “Daddy, what’s Dungeons & Dragons,” I could finally gesture to the books and characters sheets and dice spread across out dinner table and say, “This is Dungeons & Dragons.”
Written on August 22, 2022.
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