I introduced my seven year old son to D&D this past weekend. He had been aware of it for some time, and has done a couple of shared storytelling exercises, but hadn’t really been developmentally ready.
I had been thinking about running a 1e game, because I already have most of the modules and thought it would take less prep. So I started reviewing the old rules, and realized that, with all of its subsystems and descending AC, it was actually going to be harder to run.
So I ran it in 4e. I built a bog-standard Fighter (Slayer), which can be summed up as “hits hard”, “hits even harder once per encounter”, threw him in a procedurally generated dungeon and replaced the standard monsters with minions (since he was running a single character). I didn’t make him search his character sheet for bonuses, I just told him what to roll and what to add and away we went.
This was the first time I had played on a tabletop (rather than using a virtual tabletop) in nearly a decade, and maybe my second time ever using dungeon tiles. It was a bit of a challenge, but teaching him the software would have been an impediment, and he needs the practice doing his own math.
It was also a lot slower, but even so, in an hour and a half he managed to clear three rooms befriend a wolf and make a kobold ally, and it didn’t really slow down even when he was making decisions for, and rolling and adding the dice for, his two new allies. The last room saw 10 pieces on the board, with me running seven and my distractable first-time-player seven-year-old running three, and it went really quickly. I really don’t know why people think that minor skirmishes in 4e take forever to run – unless its that in 4e adventures, there is no such thing as a minor skirmish, everything needs to be some convoluted set-piece battle with three different types of monsters, each with different mechanics. Listen to me, 4e DMs! Sometimes the fight is the thing, but most times the fight is the obstacle to the thing. Simplify most of your fights, and include a few cakewalks, and you might get a lot more playing in.
One of the interesting things about the session was how determined my son was to make friends with a lot of the monsters. It occurred to me that he is a bit conditioned to do that, since he seemed to be treating it a bit like a Pokémon episode – wander around, befriend some animal or monster, go into battle with it. Which begs the question of why so many modern adventures are not social and do not include NPCs who are available to join the party, like Elmo and Terjon from Hommlet. Didn’t the last 20 years of gamers grow up on Pokémon and similar vehicles? Whatever happened to henchmen and hirelings, anyway?
Oh, and after the first couple of rooms he wanted to leave the dungeon and roam the countryside for a while, which sent me scrambling. Apparently I will need to have a hex crawl ready for next time.
Anyway, he seemed to really enjoy it, and complained when I had to end the session to get started on supper. I’m pretty sure we are going to play again in a couple of weeks.