Thursday, December 23, 2010

DMing the Folks

I've been seriously toying with the idea of running my father and stepmother through a session of old school D&D (pretty sure mother and stepfather are a lost cause).  As I get older it seems sad to me that my family really has no conception of this game I love thinking about and playing.  When I talk about blogging and the satisfaction it gives me they listen patiently, nodding their heads as if my hobby is body modification or building a time machine in the backyard out of auto parts.

But, they are pretty conservative protestant types and anything reeking of creepy or demonic is only going to confirm their worst preconceptions about the game.

But how would they get a thrill from exploring if there are no threats?  I've been thinking almost as if I were going to play little kids, something Christmas-themed with elves, misfit toys, and snow.  But that feels a little condescending.

I was just thinking maybe the key is to push the tone from creepy to alien.  If creepy is unsettling because the threat seems wrong to you and it knows it's wrong (like little men stuffing a dead monk with cherries).  Alien might be threatening at no fault of the threatening object (like an ivory statue of Justice walking slowly, inexorably toward you). I'm not sure-- this seems a fine distinction and could be dangerous to get wrong in this context.

Another focus could animal threats-- I've always been a sucker for ants as foes, maybe wolves.  Or the environment-- heights, lava pits, water filled rooms.

Apart from figuring out a threat, I have a craving to make some kind of wondrous machine.  Something like a big laboratory console with buttons that do cool stuff when manipulated in different sequences.  Maybe the promise of wonder is enough to pull explorers forward in lieu of threats?


  1. Giant ants and a crazy wizards laboratory/mad scientists lab sounds like the start to a great welcoming intro adventure!

  2. Fairy tale D&D might be a way to go. Minimal violence, heavy on dialogue and symbolism... good luck!

  3. try to include something they know and like. maybe something from an author they read or a movie they saw. something from a story they told you as a child might be perfect.

    recognizable stuff is helpful, especially if the new players are a bit sceptical about rpgs in general. it helps getting them involved.

  4. I agree with David; giant ants/rats/bugs/etc. in a mad wizard's lab is accessible and not off-putting. I understand your concerns. When I run games for my grandson, I'm always making sure the bad guys are BAD and the threats severe. Don't want violence to seem like a casual, easy solution.

  5. Last Thanksgiving my niece the Dungeon Mistress ran a big family D&D game that went over pretty well. I think there were two main ingredients to the success.

    First, it was heavily fairy-tale oriented. We were on a quest to find two children lost in the forest. There were some Hansel & Gretel overtones in the beginning before it got really weird. The game ended in an infinite house with hissing children crawling on the ceiling attacking us. I thought it was awesome and was totally proud of my niece, but the end may have been a little too bizzaro for my sisters.

    Second, she kept it very rules-light with a heavy emphasis on RP.

    Incidentally, last Spring I took my mom, who's in her mid-70s, to a LARP con and she joined in a Vampire LARP run by Mark Rein-Hagen himself. It was a little too heavy for her, but she was a good sport for trying it out!

  6. Thanks all, you've got me thinking of the Wizard of Oz as something fantastic but also mainstream in addition to fairy tales.

    @cyclopeatron: You're cracking me up, hissing, wall climbing babies is right down my alley, and exactly what I'm trying to avoid here, haha. Also, the fact you took your mom LARPing is fabulous.

  7. Would you mean like the Machine of Lum The Mad?

  8. I almost made that very comparison in the post. I think I hesitated because a) the Machine of Lum The Mad always seemed to be an organ to me, and being a non-musician, an organ, especially one that isn't physically present to poke at, is mysterious and frustrating, and b) it always seemed random. I'm more interested in an "Alien Machine" which is more like a toy; something not too hard to figure out and fun things can then be done with it.

  9. Are you sure you aren't thinking of Heward's Mystical Organ? The Machine of Lum The Mad says: "Perhaps this strange device was built by gods long forgotten and survived the eons since their passing, for it is incredibly ancient and of workmanship unlike anything known today. The Machine was used by Baron Lum to build an empire, but what has since become of this ponderous mechanism none can say. Legends report that it has 60 levers,40 dials, and 20 switches. (but only about one-half still function). Singly or in combination, these controls will generate all sorts of powers and effects.

    The Machine is delicate, intricate, bulky and very heavy (5,500 pounds). It cannot be moved normally, and any serious jolt will set off and then destroy 1-4 functions of the artifact which can never be restored. It has a booth of suitable size for 4 man sized creatures (4' X 5' X 7') to stand inside, and if a creature or object is placed therein and the Machine's controls are worked, something might happen. You must matrix the 60 levers, 40 dials, and 20 switches showing which will perform functions. You may opt to include powers and/or effects of your own devising."

  10. Whoops, yeah, I was conflating the two, nix the musical part, the random part still stands.

  11. True, though you could do something clever with it. It's probably easier to just base something on it though.