I run a D&D campaign for my children and my nephews, using the BECMI rules. Our goal is to go from level one to epic level and to explore, as much as we can, the D&D multiverse- Planescape style.
My children have only played D&D twice and already their passion for dice rolling & role-playing is burning brighter than a light spell pimped-out on metamagic. My son Dan (aged 11) is playing Aragorn the Orc while my daughter Mandy (aged 9) is playing Selena the elf.
As the Dungeon Master, I’m only having half the fun my children are, as I can only provide half the fun of D&D. Having only a fighter and a fighter/magic user, Sword & Sorcery is the most Dan and Mandy can achieve in my campaign. I could never post a hobgoblin sentry on the corner of every corridor in a hobgoblin fort, as move silently and backstab is unavailable to my players. An adventure set in a catacomb crawling with wights would be suicidal, as none of my players can turn undead. Forget the Big Boss battle at the end of each dungeon level, as Dan and Mandy have no cure wound spells to heal massive damage.
What’s missing from my campaign is Stealth & Divinity. What my campaign needs are two more players to play a cleric and a thief. So I ask my two nephews, Zak and Jeremy, if they would like to play in my campaign.
There is only one game to rule them all, as far as my nephews are concerned, and that one game is the video game. Ever since a control pad could fit comfortably into their chubby toddler hands, my nephews have helped Mario rescue Princess Peach or Crash Bandicoot smash up boxes. This pen & paper, tabletop RPG that their uncle speaks of, what is that? My nephews have never heard of Dungeons & Dragons. So they conclude that it must be a board game as the name alone reminds them of Snakes & Ladders.
The real reason- the only reason –my nephews say yes to joining my campaign is because D&D is an excuse to get them out of the house and away from their parents for a day. I’m just pleased to have two new faces at my gaming table. But, who will play the thief? Who will play the cleric?
When playing his X-box 360, Zak (aged 13) is button mashing X, Y & B to run, jump or fight his way through Assassin’s Creed, Fable or Skyrim. Zak is all about sneaking up on the enemy to stab them in the back. Or to one shot kill them from a safe distance. It is this game style that makes Zak the perfect candidate for the thief class in BECMI.
To maintain the party balance, I offered the cleric class to Jeremy, who is aged 10. But how will I explain the Cleric arch-type to someone who regards the fantasy genre as an airy-fairy waste of space? I have no idea. I tried finding an example of the Cleric in the Fast & Furious movies that Jeremy enjoys. No such luck as all the characters in that franchise are all chaotic neutral. They do whatever they want, whenever they want. I guess the D&D equivalent to Fast & Furious would be Barbarians driving fast cars.
To explain the cleric- to have Jeremy truly understand the cleric -I will have to use, as an example, the closest thing we have to a cleric in reality.
“Well . . . um . . . a cleric is . . . “
“You see Jeremy . . . ah . . .”
“Okay, it’s like this. You’ll be playing a priest.”
“What? Will I have to perform wedding ceremonies?”
“Um . . . well. Oh! A cleric can heal diseases and injuries. How cool is that?”
“I’m playing JESUS? You said I was a priest.”
I give my nephew a reassuring pat on the shoulder.
“If any of the other players give you grief, refuse to heal them.”
The next game session in my campaign, no time is wasted on introducing two new characters to the story or explaining why the new players and the old players would want to team up together. Aragorn the orc and Selena the elf encounter Hudson the thief and Bobby the cleric and they be like:
Just like that, the heroes of my campaign have gone from a dynamic duo, like Ratchet & Clank, to team awesome like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. My enthusiasm for my campaign lit up like a light spell pimped-out on metamagic. All of the Big Four were now represented in my game: Sword & Sorcery, Stealth & Divinity. Any obstacle I could imagine, the player characters now had the tools and the talent to overcome it. As the Big Four level up, I can throw at them every monster the game has to offer, confident they will survive. Once I had the players discover and loot Drizzt’s dead body, my adventure hook was on the runway and my campaign was ready to fly- up, up and away.
Thirty minutes into the game session, I noticed how quickly Zak was adapting to the game mechanics- no not adapting, he understood all of it, as if he had been playing D&D his whole life. Then I understood why. Ever since he could mash buttons on a control pad, Zak has been playing D&D- he just wasn’t aware of it. That’s because the concept of levelling up and hit points, featured in every adventure game on a PC or a console, was inspired by D&D. Without D&D there would be no World of Warcraft.
An hour into the game session, I felt fear clamp down on my thoughts every time Zak asked me if his thief, Hudson, could do this or that. Yes, I was afraid, I was very afraid as I realized that Zak had come to the realization that, while D&D and Skyrim share a lot in common, the one major difference between the two is that the gameplay of D&D has none of the restrictions or limitations that Skyrim has.
Go to any shop in Skyrim and you have two choices when interacting with the shop keeper: buy or sell stuff from your inventory- because they are the only two choices programmed into Skyrim.
When fighting a fire breathing dragon at Riverwood, always use the front porch of a wooden building as a shield to deflect blasts of dragon fire. The wooden buildings are your friends; they will always protect you- because wooden buildings were never programmed to burn.
Is playing Skyrim making you feel bloodthirsty? Well don’t just aimlessly explore the open-world. Go to Whiterun, meet and greet the locals and cut them down where they stand. Except the children, don’t bother raising your sword or your axe against the children as they’re immune to your weapons- because the children of Skyrim were never programmed to die.
All those years playing all those Xbox games with their limited programming and now here was Zak, playing yet another Adventure RPG with the same Xbox principles, only this time the tools for gameplay are different. The TV screen is the DM describing the world and its inhabitants to his players. The gaming console is the core rule books and the polyhedral dice. The game engine is the creativity of everyone that is playing a character, their imaginations endlessly building and shaping and defining the campaign world.
The constellation of joy sparkled in Zak’s eyes. Anything he can imagine his Player Character can do. Only bad dice rolls and common sense could stop him. Yet, with enough level up power and magic, even common sense could be broken. Zak’s grin stretched from ear to ear. Oh, the fun he will have. Oh, the things he will do. All the actions unavailable to him when playing the Xbox, he could have Hudson attempt in D&D.
I hide behind my DM screen, my face burning up as I struggled to breath. Am I having a panic attack? Why yes I am, as I realized that by inviting Generation X(box) into my game, my campaign world and every NPC who calls it home were all doomed- as in doomed with a capital D.