In case you hadn’t noticed, I’m a great big, geeky nerd with a nerd’s hobbies. Getting to share those hobbies and interests with my children has been something I’ve looked forward to for… well, for a lot longer than I’ve had kids. Now that I do have a few offspring it can sometimes be hard to wait for them to be old enough to engage in (or be engaged with) my geeky pursuits.
One of those pursuits is role-playing games, the kind where you have to use a pencil and paper and roll lots of oddly-shaped dice. Actually, my favorite RPG just uses regular six-siders, but I do have the minimum amount of polyhedrals needed to play good, ol’ fashioned D&D. A few days ago, I dug those dice out when RU kept wanting to do more school after I’d exhausted the couple of lessons I’d prepared.
We started with the pyramidal four-sided dice, letting her count the sides and roll them a few times. One by one, she examined them in ascending order: the familiar cube-shaped d6’s, the d8’s, the ten-sided dice that are confusingly numbered 0 through 9, the d12’s, and all the way up to the big round twenty-siders. RU was very interested in them, seemed excited to turn them over in her hands and count the sides.
Following that, we each grabbed a die of the same size and spent some time seeing who could roll higher. We went through all the dice that way, though RU insisted on pairing up the d4’s and d6’s, rolling both and adding their values together.
Finally, we got down to adding a narrative element. I brought in her LEGO elf and a LEGO soldier from the Castles line.
“Let’s do some pretending,” I said. “Which one do you want to be?”
RU picked the elf. No surprise there.
“What’s her name?”
“Ummm. Can I give her a name that’s somebody’s real name?”
“You can name her whatever you like.”
“Okay. Her name is Lizzy.”
One of the hardest parts of character creation was now out of the way! Time to figure out some stats for her. I wasn’t using any particular system, just making up some very basic stuff as I went along. ”Okay. So, what’s Lizzy like? What does she do?”
“She likes to play soccer,” RU suggested.
“How about this: is Lizzie strong, or quick, or smart?”
RU answered right away, “Lizzie is smart. She’s smarter than me.”
“Well! She must be a very smart elf indeed, then! Does she have any magic? Or any powers?” RU and her little sister MeToo have gone from pretending to be Elsa and Ana with magic and ice powers to just pretending to have magic and ice powers in other identities and have recently branched out to pretending to have other kinds of powers as well. Between that and the way I already stereotype elves thanks to Tolkien and D&D, I had no doubt that Lizzie would be sorcerously-inclined.
But RU did the unexpected: “No. She doesn’t have magic. There are no bad guys where she lives so she doesn’t need magic.”
“So what would Lizzie do if one day a bad guy,” I picked up the LEGO spearman, “did come to the forest where she lives?”
“She would trick him,” RU replied. She didn’t even have to think about it; it was actually a little unnerving.
“Oh ho! She would trick him! Because that would be the smart thing to do, right? I like it. So, what would she do to trick him? How would she do that?”
“She would dress up like a bad guy.”
“I think that would do it. Very clever of her. I like how you came up with a solution that also avoided conflict.” That remark was over RU’s head, I’m sure, but I was quite impressed with her.
Okay, now I wanted to put that action in something like a typical fantasy RPG adventure scenario. One of those pencil finger grip things was lying nearby. I held it up.
“Let’s pretend this is some kind of magical treasure.” I sat it down on the table and placed the spearman next to it. My idea was that Lizzie would need to trick her way past him to reach the treasure. “This soldier is a bad guy who has come into the forest to find it.”
“But,” RU interrupted, “Lizzie knows where the treasure is. She put it in a box with a lock and she’s the only one who has the key.”
Ah. So it’s to be sort of a reverse dungeon crawl.
“Did she hide it somewhere?”
“Yes. She’s the only one who can find it. She has magic that can help her find it. She, ah, she has a magic shovel that she uses to find it.”
“So Lizzie doesn’t have magic powers herself, but she has magical things. Okay. Where did she hide the box with the treasure? In a cave or in the forest?”
RU established that the thing was in a cave in the forest, protected by magic so no one could find it. The soldier, I point out, has come into the forest in search of the treasure and he seems to have some way to locate it. He hasn’t found it yet, but he will if Lizzie doesn’t intervene. How, I ask RU, is he able to know where the treasure is?
“He, he has a magic spear that tells him where it is. Not right where it is, but if he’s going the right way.”
Now, at this point, I thought to myself that I probably should have tried to bring her into role-playing games through this kind of back-and-forth story telling. Introduce dice later on. However, I’ve built this up as a thing we will use the dice for. She’s enjoyed playing with the dice, and the tactile pleasure of rolling them is part of the fun of this hobby. Plus, maybe it’s best for her to learn early that the dice don’t always go your way.
So I said, “Pick out two dice of the same size. I’ll take one and you take one.”
RU chose the twenty-sided ones.
“Now, how does Lizzie find the bad guy?”
“She sneaks up on him and watches him.”
“Okay, let’s see if she can sneak up on him. Roll your die for Lizzie and I’ll roll mine for the bad guy.”
The dice clattered on the table. She rolled higher, so Lizzie approached him unseen.
“If you want to, you can now roll to see if Lizzie can convince him she’s a bad guy, too, when she approaches him. And, um, because Lizzie is Smart I think I’ll give you a bonus to your roll.” Not that I had any idea what would be appropriate; mostly, I wanted to make sure she’d succeed at her shrewd plan.
“What’s a bonus?”
“It’s a number you’ll get to add to your roll. Because Lizzie is Smart, whenever she does something clever you can get a bonus added to your die roll.” That seemed like sound game mechanics. But d20’s are so swingy! I still hadn’t decided what a good value for the bonus would be.
RU came up with her own solution. She picked up a d10 and said, “I want to roll this as my bonus.”
“That sounds like a great idea! Whenever Lizzy is doing something Smart, you can roll that one, too, and add your numbers together.”
She rolled her d20 and the bonus d10, beating the result of my lone d20.
“Good job! The Bad Guy thinks Lizzy is on his side. Now that she’s done that, how can she keep him from finding the treasure?”
“She’ll cast a spell! She’s got magic now.”
“Okay, that’s fine. What does her spell do?”
“It takes the Bad Guy home. It makes him think that he’s following his spear to the treasure, but he goes all the way back home instead. And he won’t know it until he’s back at his house.”
I chuckle. “Let’s roll to see if she can make that happen. Just your twenty-sided die against mine when she uses her magic.”
RU rolled a 20. “Yay!”
“You got a twenty! Critical success! That means you rolled as high as you can roll on that die. The spell works perfectly and the Bad Guy wanders out of the forest. He walks all the way back home without realizing it. He just finds himself in his bedroom and says, ‘What? How in the world did I get here?’ Nice work.”
RU laughed. Then she wanted to play some more.
And so did I.
(In case anyone cares about her further adventures, RU enlisted the LEGO spearman figure as a good guy named Roland. Roland and Lizzie got married (after having to overcome some obstacles on the way to the ceremony, which had to be performed that one day of the year — RU’s idea, I swear) and took in a pet spider. Something went wrong with the treasure and it began “leaking magic” which made scary illusions in the forest.
By the time MeToo woke up from her nap and came downstairs, the “leaking magic” had gotten the attention of a wizard who brought his bodyguard along into the woods. We wanted MeToo to join us and she picked out a princess (I’d broken out a few cardboard miniatures).
“Is she Strong, or Quick, or Smart,” I asked MeToo.
“She Strong like Sooperman.”
“What’s her name?”
“Ummm. I dunno.”
“Yeah, sometimes that’s the hardest part for me, too.”
This was the first actual combat we’d had. Lizzie and the Wizard faced off but he proved to be better at magic — getting to roll a bonus die when casting spells. Then it was MeToo’s turn.
“What does she do?” I pointed to MeToo’s princess figure.
MeToo picked up her princess and knocked the wizard’s bodyguard off the table with it. “She’s gonna smash the dragon!”
Yeah. I think my kids are born gamers. This is gonna be so much fun!)