My friend Andy’s wife, Sheri, asked me to do her a favor. Run an RPG for six kids (average age around 10) so she could observe as part of a presentation she is doing about creativity and problem solving of gifted children (I’m sure it is not so simple as I put it but alas I am not a gifted anything). As someone who is a strong proponent of passing on the traditions of gaming to anyone willing to learn, I jumped at the opportunity.
I decided to run the kids through a Dungeon Crawl Classics game I am running at GenghisCon. I had just finished it and needed to try things out, and it has plenty of traps, puzzles, and ways to get around the obvious combat situations.
Out of the six kids three had played some form of tabletop gaming before. Andy and Sheri’s eldest son, Robert, was the most experienced player. He is a smart kid (obviously) and had a firm grasp on what it is to be a gamer. Robert is well on his way on becoming a Game Master himself if my hunch is correct. Three of the kids had no previous exposure to a Roleplaying Game. These are clean slate minds that I have not run across since I was ten.
After a brief explanation of what the game entailed I started the adventure. I gave them a fairly typical introduction: a village is being terrorized by the horrible creatures from the ruins to the north. I would go into more detail but that is boring and,like I said, I am running this in a few days. No spoilers.
The inexperienced kids looked at their character sheets and started tossing out suggestions. One child, the Cleric, announced he had the spell Protection From Evil and that he would simply cast that on the village. Problem solved! After explaining how that spell worked and that the idea just wouldn’t quite do what he thought it would, they went back into troubleshooting mode. It wasn’t until I had an NPC suggest that perhaps these brave adventurers could go to the source of evil to solve this problem. They all took to this unsolicited advice and set forth! This is the last time they trusted a word out of my mouth.
When they entered the dungeon they came across several obstacles, that secretly held an assortment of traps and gotchas. The child playing the thief read on his character sheet that he had skills to check for traps and disable these dangerous pitfalls. They immediately went into the classic, “Don’t trust anything here…the DM is trying to kill us.” mode.
Let me back up a moment to explain that I had used parts of older games to build this current one. Rooms, traps, creatures, etc. This game is a spiritual sequel to another game so there was some recycling. This means I had already playtested parts of this adventure for adult/veteran gamers. And most of the adults (whom are not stupid people, just ask them) set off a lot of traps and did a lot of damage to their own party.
These kids (aka our future overlords) took their time, thought things out, and blamo! They avoided and worked out how to get by a lot of the devious devices I put into play. Not a single trap was sprung.
Sure some of the kids had been through an RPG before, but none had been through this kind of situation I presented them. This was old school dungeon crawling. The experienced children in this group were used to the GM being a friend and the guy who just made a cool story. And the new players? They were acting like they had been in the Tomb of Horrors several times and they knew not to trust the very walls of the dungeon.
The entire session was recorded for the presentation. I have since listened to it and tried to pinpoint the moment that they became typical gamers who knew the DM lies. It started as soon as they hit the first room of the dungeon, it’s like a switch flipped on. I was happy to witness it, for it is rare to get a chance to truly introduce someone to gaming and these concepts within. And it was wonderful to see these kids have so much fun and just get it. I truly hope those kids had enough fun to get into the hobby themselves, much like I did when I was that age. I also hope to get another opportunity to see a brand new gamers step foot into that mysterious dungeon and just get it.