I was lucky enough to be invited camping with my friend's friends. This is the third time, but I'm still getting to know them. While they read and there is some college experience among them I would consider them more doers-- drinking, physical fun, pop-culture consuming-- than folks that enjoy sitting around navel gazing like myself.
I would never imagine them to have played D&D (and turned out to be right. They don't really even have any video games experience). In fact, like most of the population, I would expect them to mock D&D players (which they did when it was brought up). I was surprised when they knew what LARPing was, but then was less so when it was followed by "lightning bolt, lightning bolt, lightning bolt." So, LARPing was the easiest niche of our hobby to know because it is easiest to mock as a YouTube video.
Because of all this I would never have suggested playing D&D while camping with them. They had plenty to do, with hiking, fishing, swimming, and eating good food. But my friend Jeff who invited me shook things up a bit.
He's played with me before and knew I had a dungeon with me (the one he died in on the trip up). So he suggested to them that we play sometime during the trip. I was also inspired by the way he printed up lyrics for sing-a-longs around the camp fire even though he's still learning to play guitar. If he was willing to get up there and perform in front of everyone why shouldn't I?
Several days of camping passed. Fishing and hiking was done. We cooled of in a small pool with a waterfall, drank, and sang songs. On the last night we ended up in a situation where there was nothing to do but wait for a tri-tip to cook and the idea came up that we play. So we did. And it was a great success I think. Here's what happened:
When I asked who wanted to play I was very surprised when Jeff's 66 year-old dad said yes. He's a stoic, no-nonsense kind of guy. I think he said yes because when I asked his girlfriend right before him she had enthusiastically said yes.
Later, when I was trying to establish classes he said he wanted to be King Kong. I hesitated a bit and said "King Kong won't fit where you're going, do you want to be a gorilla?" He said "yes." "Do you speak? Are you a talking gorilla?" He said "yes." She wanted to be The Green Mosquito. I wasn't sure if she meant like a fairy or a tiny super hero but I asked her if she could fly. "Yes." Ok.
There were seven players in all. My buddy Jeff, his father and father's girlfriend, another male-female couple and two ten year olds, one female one male.
I knew that, because six were brand new to the whole concept of D&D, and we were basically playing in the dirt that I would have to keep things simple and get them moving as quickly as possible. I hadn't brought any character sheets, but was able to bum one of the song lyric pages. I folded that into 9 parts and tore it apart. I wrote a space for "Name," the six stat abbreviations, "life," and "armor" on these before handing them out. I didn't have enough writing utensils (In the future I should get a handful of those Ikea sized pencils).
I only had three six-siders and the cardboard bottom from a case of water bottles to roll in, so bless Jeff Rients for giving me the tool of party-style stat-rolling. Although, since I didn't have a lot of dice (or even a table) I just let them put the stat wherever they wanted rather than randomizing as he suggested. The first few rolls were good, a 15, a 14. A lot of folks ended up with high strength and dex because they didn't really understand what stats were for and put the first rolls in the first stats. But not all of them, the Green Mosquito put her 15 in intelligence. The last few rolls were not great, a 6 and 5 if I remember correctly.
I told everyone to put a +1 next to stats with 13 or higher and -1 next to 8 or lower. This was very confusing to all. They thought it was a math equation that was altering their stat ("You mean I add one to my strength?") Next time I'll just say "put a plus sign/put a minus sign."
Class choices were my regular Fighter, Wizard, Cleric. I almost eliminated Cleric to keep things simpler, but was afraid of cutting the game down so much it didn't resemble itself anymore.
The Green Mosquito chose MU as well as the 10 year old girl. The young couple both chose clerics, Pandora and Parsifal. Somewhere around here Pandora's player seriously asked "Wait, if you don't know what you are going to be until you roll, how do you know what kind of costume to wear?" To my exasperated "Arrgh, we don't wear costumes!"
The rest of the folks played fighters. I thought the crew was big enough to not mess with hirelings. As much as I was tempted to try out my new simple mental powers sub-system, folks were having enough trouble taking everything in as it was. I didn't even want to mess with equipment and armor. I just told everyone but the MUs that they had chainmail and shields and what to write next to "armor." (Yeah, chainmail was probably too much. I could have made it leather, but it was a snap decision and since I was denying them choices in choosing equipment I erred on the side of their safety) No messing with equipment. I just told the MUs what spells to write down. I gave the clerics the little booklet with miracles and told them they could ask for anything but these were some ideas. I didn't even mention weapons until the first combat, because this was all taking long enough. They kept asking me things like: "Are we all on the same team?" "What are you playing?" "How do we win?" I tried to answer these as briskly as possible (don't die, find the treasure) because I wanted to get rolling.
I will say that I didn't expend as much energy as I normally would trying to make sure the two younger players got spotlight and understood everything. They both had some comprehension issues, I didn't realize until much later that the girl was having language issues- English not being her first language. I think now that she didn't know what "cast," "spell," and maybe even "wizard" meant. I didn't know that then. I was also thinking that these 10 year olds will have years to try D&D again, but these older, D&D mocking folks, I had to win them over.
The final crew:
Old Long Johnson - F (played by Jeff, the only one with experience)
.com - F (*inside joke)
Big Black - talking gorilla F
Parsifal - DP
Pandora - DP
The Green Mosquito - fairy? MU
Opal - MU
I asked the party for a marching order and explained that those with higher life should probably be up front. Also a good rear guard. They entered the dungeon. I had seen that the nearly identical barracks rooms were confusing to Jeff when we played on the way up, so I gave each a unique carved mural theme this time: mountains, forest, mountain lake, foothills.
They pretty much followed door priority, choosing open hallways over doors. The second room held Sol's corpse and two little naked gopher things eating on it. Those won initiative and both preceded to miss. The Green Mosquito was quick to want to cast sleep. I told her she could, but reminded her it was like a shotgun shell, she only had one. She held off and the two toughies in the front rank, Old Long Johnson and Pandora, engaged. They both hit. Then I asked "What weapon do you see yourself having?" Battle axe for OLJ, though I reminded him it couldn't be two-handed if he wanted to use his shield, and machete for Pandora (yeah, not a blunt, sue me, I was trying to make it fast and exciting). I described back to them how they sliced the little buggers in half. Everyone seemed engaged and happy about that.
We broke there for tri-tip. I'm guessing all of character creation and play up though that first combat took close to 30 minutes. I was pleasantly surprised when after dinner people were eager to get back into the game and see what would happen. I think the natural curiosity of exploration is an easy one to take advantage of.
They didn't really investigate the brass mech suit. They continued on until they opened the door that held two ratipedes devouring Sol's dead hireling. The creatures got initiative, attacked, and both missed again! This time the front two pcs missed, though, and two other players got to cut these things in two, Parsifal and .com getting their first ever rpg kills.
At this point OLJ with his 5 intelligence suggested they search the body, because Jeff knew she had the magic ring on her. I know some DM's might be a stickler about preventing this kind of meta-game information use, but I think it is kind of amusing watching the player try to come up with some in-game justification for why we should do this thing all of a sudden. Also, I am sympathetic with players because there really isn't any way for them to purge that meta knowledge. They found the ring but no one tried it on.
Oh, also something I forgot from Jeff's run through of the dungeon. When he, and also Pandora in this excursion, encountered the ring's inscription he asked if he could read it. I asked him, and Pandora now, "Is Latin a language you want to know?" And they both thought about it and said something to the effect "yeah, as a priest I would probably know that." This would mean more if we had a continued campaign, but I liked handling languages that way.
The party found a storage room and decided to get some tools. It was interesting to see these total neophytes limiting their own encumbrance; "You're strong you can carry a pick. I'll carry a shovel."
After some confusion about which way to go the party had some excitement at finding a secret door, only to realize it led into a room they'd already seen. They ended up heading down a hallway with a stench like wet dog. They encountered a long piece of scat with what looked like a fingerbone in it (this and the smell was me trying to warn them that they were getting closer to something dangerous-- the troll). Pandora decides to taste the crap. I loved it, here was someone who'd mocked D&D and yet instinctively got the fun of goofily interacting with stuff in the world. Going along with my desire to tap in to player experiences and memories I asked her "What is something that tastes really nasty to you?" She eventually said, "cottage cheese." I said "Ok, it tastes like cottage cheese . . . and there's a human toe nail in it." hehehe.
By this time it was getting late and I knew the encounter with the troll was going to end our session one way or another. I didn't imagine they could take it out, but hoped someone might be able to flee and survive. On encountering the troll, the party managed to get initiative. Both clerics asked for miracles to command the creature, first "Stop", then "Go," Neither miracle was answered. Opal tried casting Sleep on it, nothing happened. OLJ tried to hit and missed. Next the gorilla attempted to grapple and succeeded. Hmm, I thought, maybe they will manage somehow to survive this. The Green Mosquito cast Charm Person. And here I'll probably be stripped of my DM certification. I hesitated, is a troll a person? In my world I consider them able to speak. They are smart enough to be cunning and are humanoid in shape (hey, the 1e version works on lizardmen, troglodytes, and hobgoblins!). I decided to let the spell work on it, but warned her that it had a chance to shake it off. The troll failed its save. It became friendly toward the Green Mosquito. She asked it to lead them to the treasure and they would feed it.
So, the troll, did just that, hugging the walls past pit traps, going through secret doors, heading straight to the old Dwarven treasure chamber. The whole time I was trying to creep them out with improvised dialogue, and acting like each secret door was a dead end. Finally at the chamber, they found nothing but a pile of cinders. A little discouraged, they started to dig through it to find beautiful, glistening diamonds.
When requested, the troll led the party back to the entrance room. Pandora finally searched a pile of trash in that first room to find a warm, pink potion ("It's Pepto-Bismol") and drank it. She was shrunk to 6". Finally Big Black tried the ring, but nothing seemed to happen. Pandora but it around her neck to the same effect. The party left the dungeon. Everyone lived.
There were some comments about how it was easy. I tried to explain to them how lucky they had been; that the troll could have killed them all.
Pandora's player was really intrigued about what I had written down and what I was improvising (I had so little in front of me). The younger players were fascinated by the map and my little encounter book with silhouettes. I heard Parsifal's player say "That's not how I'd imagined D&D to be at all," and several folks say "I'd play that again." Cool Deal.
I think I like playing with first time players more than anything. I like introducing them to how fun and easy this game can be, especially when they have negative preconceptions.