Some of the best parts of tabletop role-playing are the creative ways players solve or avoid (or outright ignore) the problems and troubles the DM/GM/Storyteller sends their way.
One of the other best parts is coming up with those surprises to stump your players.
This afternoon, I sat down with the wife and kids to continue our D&D campaign. They’ve been steered (mostly by their characters’ needs and not by railroad tracks) toward tracking down a manipulative vampire clan. Members of the clan operate behind the scenes all over the realm, and it’s the heroes’ job to root these villains out.
They’re starting to travel all around the region, which gives me the chance to use a variety of settings.
I was going to use my copy of Dungeon Delve, with its pre-made adventures. But that would require getting tiles together, and I was looking for something with less prep required.
Good thing I had an unopened pack of GameMastery map tiles: Mines.
It’s 18 tiles that are made to mix and match, so that you can create a variety of tunnels to explore.
Events in the game led the wife’s and kids’ characters to a nearby mine overrun by goblins somehow connected to the clan. There are surviving miners… probably. Rescue is the main goal… as far as they know.
The intrepid heroes are ready to move in, and since it’s a dark mine, I lay out one Mines map tile at a time as they advance through the mine. I fanned out the tiles, blank backs up, and let the kids and Jami pick which one would be next. Then I came up with a brief answer for why that section of tunnel mattered. Sometimes it was tracks in the dungeon. Sometimes it was signs of battle to hint at what they might soon face. Once it was a vein of gleaming ore.
But even before all of that, right off the bat, their creative juices are flowing. I start off with a Dungeoneering check, as Beastly Tiger notices something amiss in the entrance of the tunnel. The goblins have prepared a rock-fall trap for unwanted guests. The kids discuss how best to deal with this, when I tell them their characters hear goblins chatting ahead in the tunnel.
The children gave me a pleasant surprise by remembering the idea of “holding action.” Basically, that means a character is ready to do a certain action if something specific happens. “I hold my axe up, ready to chop at the first goblin that walks through the door,” for example.
Deborah decides Beastly Tiger would make some noise to get the goblins’ attention, then she prepares to chuck a rock at the cords that will trigger the trap. Justin likes this plan, and declares that Clayface has his crossbow ready to shoot the cords at the other side of the tunnel, once the goblins are in position. Jonathan finishes up by “holding” a magic missile to hit any of the goblins who survive the rock-fall trap.
Needless to say, the battle went poorly for the goblins. It also went poorly for Jami’s new monk character, Lily-Ann, a halfling who is unfortunately about goblin sized. That explains why Beastly Tiger may have accidentally swung his hammer to smash Lily-Ann in the side of the head:
Deborah rolled a 1. We picked a fumble card, and it said “You attack your ally instead. This attack is a critical threat.” So Deborah rolled for her attack against Lily-Ann, and the die went off the table. She tried again, and rolled a 20. Murphy’s Law, I guess.
Even so, the heroes had little difficulty dealing with the goblins and some creepy-crawlies in the tunnels.
I needed a good hook to end with, and as we took a quick break, it came to me.
I’d been removing the old map tiles behind their characters in the mine, partly to save space, but more importantly, to set up the surprise.
They hit an intersection, determined a direction, and quickly came to a dead end with the section that has ore. They fought more beasties, then turned around to back-track…
And eventually they found themselves right back at the ore, even though they’d gone the opposite direction.
Deborah and Jonathan look at me funny. Jami asks, “Wait, what?” And then it starts to dawn on their faces…
Time and space are being shifted around in the mine. The path they took is now completely different. There is a monstrous creature in the cavern whose powerful twisted magic creates this effect, and they must find it and slay it in order to find their way out.
Jonathan’s eyes go wide, and he declares, “I like where this is going.”
Removing the tiles saved space and created a fun challenge.
The kids took off to play outside, since there was only a couple hours before sunset. But they made sure to ask, “Can we keep playing once we come back inside?”
It’s almost weekly game night with my wife and kids. Maybe I better post last week’s silliness.
Last week my wife and kids had their heroes continue a desperate attack against the goblins who took over their town. They had just finished clearing out the Town Hall when the last living goblin cried out, “Wait! I’ll tell you everything!”
So we began with that conversation.
The fearful goblin explains the mysterious jewel the goblins are seeking: it’s a magical artifact that can exert control over the goblins in some way. The band of goblins are part of a larger organization led by the enigmatic Kal, who no one has ever seen and lived to describe. Kal has allowed the goblins to keep the jewel as a sign of trust in their relationship, and the goblins have pledged their support to Kal’s unknown goals.
Further details are all well above the head of the pathetic goblin captive, so the party stops questioning him.
However, if his story is true, the goblins aren’t motivated to ransack or destroy. The heroes begin wondering if it’s possible for them to help the goblins find the jewel and thus end the invasion on the town.
They bring the goblin captive into the next underground tunnel and head for the smithy to attempt diplomacy.
The goblin is sent up the stairs with the offer of coordinated effort.
His corpse is dropped down the stairs a moment later, followed by a fireball.
Burak, the half-orc sorceror I control, takes a crit and gets knocked 15 feet down the tunnel. I’m fine with this. As I’ve said before, I like finding ways to get him out of the way. That way, we can focus on my wife’s character and especially my kids’ characters as heroes.
Justin’s rogue, Clayface, is the first up the stairs. The party already knows there are four goblins near the stairs. But I whisper to Justin, informing him that there are four more goblins at the far end of the room. One of them is the purple goblin the heroes have been looking for.
I don’t put down any pieces because I don’t want the rest of the party to know yet. They’re downstairs. They can’t see these extra goblins.
But I do tell Justin, “Would Clayface want to tell his friends anything about what’s up here?”
Justin thinks a moment, and ‘Clayface’ informs his allies, “Guys, there are goblins up here.”
Deborah looks at me with eyes and a smirk that say, “Duh… we knew that.”
Jonathan calls out, “Uh… okay! Thanks…” in a sing-song response.
Jami’s character is next up the stairs and finds out about the added goblins. She laughs about Justin’s well-meaning attempt at a warning.
Soon everyone is upstairs from the underground tunnel into the smithy (well, everyone but Burak). The fight is pretty intense, and almost all the heroes are bloodied, D&D 4th Edition’s term for “half-dead.”
On his turn, Jonathan decides that Killbot is mad about this.
He starts asking about rules for biting.
“I want to walk up and bite the goblin on the nose.”
I try not to laugh. “Your character is pretty big and these guys are small. Look at that picture of your character. If you bite a goblin, you’re probably biting on his whole head.”
“Okay, even better.”
We roll for grappling, as Killbot tries to catch and hang onto a goblin. Then we roll an attack for the bite itself. It hits but doesn’t do too much damage. Jonathan doesn’t care. He just wants the goblins to know that the Dragonborn wizard is MAD.
Then it’s Justin’s turn.
He has a habit of getting excited that it’s his turn and immediately rolling dice to see “how well I do.” He knows most things in D&D require the roll of a 20-sided die.
He rolls a 20, a critical hit or automatic success.
As usual, I have to ask him, “But what are you trying to do?”
“Shoot my crossbow at something that’s not dead that’s not one of my friends in the game.”
Killbot continues his toothy rampage. He grabs and bites the purple goblin on the head.
But the goblins score a lot of hits. Jonathan looks around and says, “I’m the only one in the party not bloodied yet.”
He says this as I calculate damage for an arrow that hits him and bloodies him.
The purple goblin and another goblin die in a scorching burst cast by Jonathan’s wizard.
The three remaining goblins get mad and start chanting, “Bursh nakh!”
Two of the three fall dead from Clayface’s crossbow bolts.
But then the wall shakes, splinters fly, and the last goblin rejoices.
Killbot grabs hold of the third goblin, and bites him. The goblin tries to break free but is held fast.
Then Justin decides he wants to shoot at it.
“Justin, your friend is holding the goblin… the goblin who is about to die.”
“You remember, your magic crossbow causes explosions when it kills enemies.”
“You might hit Killbot with your crossbow, or you might hit the goblin and make it explode. Are you sure about this?”
I try to throw him some rope.
“Let’s talk about delaying actions or holding actions. You can choose something you want to do, and say ‘if this or that happens, I will do this.’ So, maybe Beastly Tiger could stand next to a door and declare, ‘If an enemy comes through, I’m going to smash it in the face with my hammer and call it a hobo.’ Your character picks an action and waits for the right moment to do it. Does that make sense?”
“And you guys are in the same room. So you can talk about this. You can tell Killbot, ‘Throw that goblin toward me.’ Then when he does, you can shoot it and make it explode.”
“So… do you want to do that?”
“I want to shoot it.”
“Right now?” “Yup.”
I give Killbot a break and allow him a saving throw to see if he can react in time. You roll a d20, and on 10 or better, you succeed… so you have just over a 50-50 shot at whatever it is. He saves, and throws the goblin away just as the crossbow bolt hits it.
With the goblins defeated, the heroes have a moment to catch their breath.
Then they learn what “Bursh nakh” means, as the Dire Bear the goblins summoned bursts into the room like the Kool-Aid man.
My daughter’s neighborhood friend asked me this on the way home from church. She recently declared her faith–or perhaps her desire to go everywhere with my daughter, based on other experiences dealing with her.
I’m skeptical about this decision she made. I’d like to know more about what exactly she “accepted” and what she understands.
I’m not overly fond of “Yay, I made a decision and prayed a prayer, now I’m saved forever from hell and I live however I want because Jesus!”
But the question was a good one, regardless of how deep or sincere the faith may be that asked it.
It’s also a trick question, at least as far as Christianity is concerned.
There are a few passages that try to paint an image of God.
And the Ancient of Days took His seat; His vesture was like white snow and the hair of His head like pure wool. His throne was ablaze with flames, its wheels were a burning fire. – Daniel 7:9 NASB
2 Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne was standing in heaven, and One sitting on the throne. 3 And He who was sitting was like a jasper stone and a sardius in appearance; and there was a rainbow around the throne, like an emerald in appearance. – Revelation 4:2-3 NASB
So God is like white snow and surrounded by something like flames giving off light… He is like this gemstone… but like that one… but there’s this rainbow like a different gemstone all around… light and brightness and radiance and…
That’s not very helpful if I wanted to draw a picture of Him.
From the beginning of Scripture, God’s people are routinely commanded that they should make no idol or graven image.
“You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. 5 You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God…” Exodus 20:4-5 NASB
23 So watch yourselves, that you do not forget the covenant of the Lord your God which He made with you, and make for yourselves a graven image in the form of anything against which the Lord your God has commanded you. – Deuteronomy 4:23 NASB
Other nations had representations of their various gods. They could point to a statue and say, “That’s what Dagon looks like, see how powerful he is?”
The only thing Israel can point to is a testimony of what God has done for them.
They can point to a pillar of fire and a pillar of cloud that led them out of Egypt. They can point to signs and wonders performed by Moses. They can point back to provision and blessing through Joseph, through Jacob, through Isaac, through Abraham.
But they can’t point to a picture or an image or a statue and say, “Here’s what God looks like.”
Neither can I when I answer this young lady.
I know why I can’t point to a statue, but I leave it out of my answer to her.
My friends who are not Christians often point to God’s jealousy about idols and ask, “What kind of petty God has to be jealous? Is that really the God you serve?”
The writings of the Prophets in the Old Testament of the Bible often reveal God’s sarcasm and loathing of idols. They help explain a bit of why God is so jealous about this issue.
“I am the Lord, that is My name; I will not give My glory to another, Nor My praise to graven images.”
Isaiah 42:8 NASB
Later, Isaiah writes about the folly of idols. A man works and toils to fashion an image made of metal, and sets it up in his house. Then he falls down to worship the thing he just made, crying out to it for deliverance. Another man cuts down a tree and takes half the log for daily needs – a fire for warmth and for cooking. Then he takes the other half, carves an image, and says, “You are my god!”
That is what frustrates God: taking the created thing and making it into a god that competes for the glory due the Creator.
That’s nice to know, but it doesn’t answer the question of what God looks like.
For thousands of years, Israel goes on believing in a God that they cannot describe in a picture or represent in a figure. They can only point back to acts of God in their history, or moments where they believe God showed up in storming clouds over Mount Sinai, or in a fire from heaven, or in a powerful glory that filled the Most Holy Place in the Temple.
Then along comes Jesus, who says things like:
“I and the Father are one.” John 10:30
“He who has seen Me has seen the Father.” John 14:9 NASB
More than that, Jesus makes it clear that the reason behind His statement is because the people see Jesus doing what the Father directs Him to do. Again, seeing what God looks like is not about the physical representation, but about a testimony of what God did.
So the answer to the young lady’s question becomes, “Jesus!”
Typically, in Sunday School as a child, if you didn’t know the answer to a question, ‘Jesus’ was a safe bet.
Colossians 1:15 bears this out. “He [Jesus] is the image of the invisible God.”
John 1:18 adds, “No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He [Jesus] has explained Him.”
Sweet, so now we know that God looks like Jesus.
Problem: where do I find Jesus?
Seriously, if Jesus is what God looks like, that still doesn’t give me a present-day answer to the question. It’s not like He’s walking around today in Jerusalem. In fact, if you DO hear that He’s walking around offering Kool-Aid or inviting you to His church in Waco, Texas, run away.
We assume we can find Him in the Scriptures; we can learn what He said and read about what He did. In so doing, we get something of a picture for ourselves of what God looks like.
Jesus attests to this in His rebuke of the Pharisees:
39 You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me; 40 and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life. – John 5:39-40 NASB
But that’s very personal. That’s an internal concept of what God looks like.
What do we point to if someone else wants to see God?
For that, I would say:
Look in the mirror.
If Christ is in you, then you are-practically speaking-the visible image of the invisible God.
I have to caveat that in multiple ways, because religion leaves so much room for mis-communication. I’m not suggesting that everyone automatically reflects Christ. I’m not suggesting that every Christian automatically reflects Christ. I’m not downplaying the evil men do in the name of religion, nor am I attributing the blame for the terrible choices of men to a holy and just God.
Consider what these verses have to say:
No one has seen God at any time; if we love one another, God abides in us, and His love is perfected in us.
1John 4:12 NASB
18 But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit. 2 Corinthians 3:18 NASB
6 For God, who said, “ Light shall shine out of darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. 7 But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves. 2 Corinthians 4:6-7 NASB
20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. 2 Corinthians 5:20-21 NASB
The ideal, the intended result of your salvation is that you become a display case. You become a “vessel of honor” that is designed not for its own glory but to carry something worthy of worship.
You have been called, chosen, redeemed at a great price.
This was done for a purpose.
You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. 1 Peter 2:9
If ever you doubt your value, go look in the mirror and remember that God chose and crafted you and sent His Son to die for you, so that you could be His visible image for the world today.
No, I’m not thinking of the Brad Pitt / Morgan Freeman Seven(or Se7en, as it’s apparently called on IMDB)… although I do like that movie.
I’m thinking of this crazy guy…
Yesterday was Justin’s 7th birthday, and we got to celebrate with some presents from his grandparents and from us. We also nommed some cake and ice cream, and I also had time to sit and think about Justin.
More than any of the others, Justin is our “Family Circus” child. By that I mean I can picture him bouncing around and running around leaving some little dotted trail over furniture and walls and fences and cars as he unleashes his pent-up energy upon our neighborhood or house (or both).
But as is typical of children this age, he is serene while sleeping, and you can almost picture the glowing gold halo over his head.
Yeah, the one that morphs into horns and a pointed tail as soon as he wakes up.
I stopped in his room before going to work on Friday, to wish him happy birthday and spend a few minutes with him. Then I came home to ambulances and crashing and running around and insanity.
Then I added to it by giving him cake and ice cream and Lego sets.
But sure enough, bed time rolled around, and again, the spiral of destruction stops, the horns vanish, the halo reappears for a brief moment, and he crawls into bed, wrapped up in his blanket, grinning at the thought of playing Lego Batman 2 on the Xbox in the morning.
I played around on the piano a bit, trying to capture some of that transition throughout the day. I think the middle part could stand to be much more frenetic, to be true to the source of its inspiration. But I’m content with how it turned out.
Back to his birthday…
He is absolutely insane about Angry Birds, so we got him some pencil toppers with his favorite bird. That present was the distraction, because he could see that one through the bag when we brought it into the house a few weeks ago.
I don’t know why Justin latched onto Angry Birds, but he sure did. I think he has them bouncing around in his head, smashing through ice and wood and stones, and crushing green pigs. I mean, it’s his favorite thing, that’s cool… but it goes from “I enjoy this hobby” to “I can talk about nothing else” most days.
“Why did the chicken cross the road?”
“I don’t know, Justin. Why?”
“BECAUSE ANGRY BIRDS.”
It’s pretty much like that all day long.
He also loves Lego, and there’s a red Ninjago ninja named Kai that apparently is the coolest thing ever. Justin has been asking/begging/pleading for the Kai’s Motorcycle set for quite some time. For a while, it disappeared off the local shelves, and that worked out really well for keeping him in suspense. “I don’t know if we’ll be able to get it for your birthday, Justin. The stores don’t have it.”
Then we stopped by Target with him one day and they had about 80 of the sets on the shelf.
Still, we were able to sneak it past him by getting it on a different trip to the store while Deborah stayed home with the kids, so at least it was a genuine surprise.
He was ecstatic opening his presents, and Jonathan (11 years old) was picking on him, mimicking his outbursts. Jonathan’s too old to be all crazy about Legos or Angry Birds or any of that. You could almost hear the smug thoughts in his head: “Haha, look at the little brother freaking out about his favorite Lego set. Isn’t he quite energetic? How quaint.”
Justin ran off to put together Kai’s motorcycle, and came back with the included ad for other Ninjago sets, screaming, “AAAAH! They have a two-headed Lego dragon with THE GREEN NINJA!”
Guess who was rushing, wide-eyed, to take a look at this Lego set, and who flipped out when he saw that it was really a four-headed Lego dragon. “That set has Lord Garmadon and his son Lloyd Garmadon, who unleashed all the snakes. Look at that! They made a four-headed dragon out of all the other dragons, and it’s the Green Ninja’s dragon! That’s soooo cool!!!”
Yeah, who’s laughing now, bud?
Hint: it’s your Mom and me.
Back to Justin…
Justin’s favorite thing from his grandparents is this realistic model ambulance toy with lights and sirens and all that a seven year old needs. He was driving that all over the place when I got home from work.
Yes, my parents got him noisy toys for his birthday.
I have to figure out what I’ve done to offend them. (kidding)
It’s that time of the week when my wife and I try to get the kids to help get the house in order, so that we can relax and play some D&D. As usual, this is always more challenging than we anticipate, but we succeeded and sat down around the table.
Along the way, I start setting up, the kids work to finish their part of the chores, and Jami is keeping on them because they stop working every time “ooh shiny!”
And Judah escapes with a Dire Bear miniature that apparently he now loves.
He flips out when we try to take his new teddy bear, and immediately calms down once we return it to him. He doesn’t put it in his mouth, it’s too big to swallow, it doesn’t have any small parts, and we’ve got an eye on him. So he hangs onto the bear for a minute.
The kids and I take some time to review what powers their characters have… so far it’s been too easy to fall into “I stab him with my sword, I shoot him with my crossbow, I hit him with the one magic spell I know my character has.”
Every. Single. Round.
Since it was a long time ago that we made the characters, I think the kids forgot what awesome stuff they could do. Now they know, and I see their eyes light up. Deborah is happy to know Beastly Tiger has “powers other than asking everyone if they’re a hobo.”
Jonathan has other plans, too. He eyes the collection of miniatures I have on the shelf, and asks,
“Next time can we fight an elite?”
I laugh. He’s always been the one who wants to help DM. One of these days, I’m going to have to let him.
“Let me know what you want to fight, and I’ll see if I can work it in.”
But for now, it’s just a bunch of goblins. The heroes bust through the gate of the goblin-occupied town and begin the assault to return it to the townsfolk.
Deborah’s character, the acrobatic Beastly Tiger rushes to the first house and tries to spring up and pull himself onto the roof to engage the goblin archer up there. Deb rolls a 1, and I tell her she hit the overhanging rooftop with her head.
Jonathan’s wizard, Killbot creates a massive ball of fire that he moves around in order to burn his enemies. Justin tries to shoot through it at a goblin mage, and Jonathan and Jami both start asking if shooting through the flaming sphere will light the bolt on fire give any bonus to the attack. I want to encourage this kind of creativity, so YES. Yes of course it does.
I think Jonathan has been playing too much Plants Vs. Zombies and was thinking of the Torchwood.
I’m ok with that.
Beastly Tiger gets up on the roof and smashes his foe with that massive hammer. It’s a one-shot kill, and Deborah is satisfied at having gotten past that initial fumble roll.
Another wave of goblins rush to the fray, and the heroes slowly whittle them down. Jonathan declares an attack with his flaming sphere against a goblin, and he asks a great question:
“What does the roll have to be above in order for it to count as a hit?”
I don’t really feel like explaining attack bonuses plus roll versus whichever defense is applicable to the attack power, and-like I’ve said before in these posts-I’m trying to get more game than math going on for right now. So I dismiss the question with, “Just roll and I’ll figure it out in my head.”
He rolls a 20.
Math completed. The goblin is consumed in the flames.
Justin’s character, Clayface has a crossbow, the special item card he got from the NPC challenge last session. The card describes a stock carved and stylized to look like a dragon, with the bolt flying out of the dragon’s maw. So I figure this has some flame power that the characters haven’t identified yet, but I haven’t decided exactly what, other than a +1 to damage.
He attacks a goblin and kills it, and I decide that the magic power is that if a bolt from the crossbow kills a target, the bolt explodes and damages anyone next to the target. No one is around the goblin that Clayface kills, but I describe this nonetheless and the children decide that’s pretty cool.
Sure enough, my plans come back to bite me later.
Toward the end of the fight, three goblins remain. Justin shoots one and kills it. And of course it’s next to one of the other remaining goblins. Faithful to my word, the dead goblin explodes, and I roll an attack against the other goblin.
I roll a 20 against my own monster.
We’re using the Critical Hit deck, so I pick a card. The goblin is deafened by the explosion and takes double the damage I’d originally planned. He’s barely hanging on to life and his ears are ringing.
Now it’s my half-orc sorceror’s turn. As always, I try to leave him in the background. He’s there for comic relief or as a handy tool for explaining a concept by example if needed. So he casts a basic spell on the mostly-dead goblin, because certainly he can’t steal the spotlight with that.
I roll a 20 again.
The kids cackle with glee, knowing something horrible has happened to this goblin.
Double damage and knockback of 5 squares (25 feet). This guy would’ve been killed instantly by the spell if he was fine, but he was already down to almost no health. That and the knockback meant “explosion” in my mind.
I describe the devastation, and I lay out some gobs of meat–little red rocks I use to mark “bloodied” when a PC or monster has lost half its health.
Deborah quotes Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs:“You’ve probably seen a meteor shower…
“…but you’ve never seen a meatier shower than this!”
“Mom, Dad, I really want to thank you for spanking me when I was little…”
Actual quote, from… I’m guessing… it’s been a bit… I’ll just say early 90s.
I was out with my parents, and we witnessed a toddler throwing a fit and actually going so far as to hit his mom because she wouldn’t let him have his way. Her response? “Now, now! (hit) Mommy doesn’t like that. (hit) Please don’t do that. (scream) Now now, son… (swing and a miss) don’t– (hit) don’t– (hit)”
I am pretty sure I never even thought of taking a swing at my father, out of a healthy respect for the permanence of death. I never thought of taking a swing at my mother either, because my father taught me to respect his wife.
I am one of the lucky ones. When I was young, “deadbeat dads” and single-parent homes were not nearly as prevalent as they are today. There were some, of course. But most of the kids in the neighborhood had both parents at home.
Not all those parents were winners, sure. But at least they were present, and at least they seemed to be trying.
From a very young age, my brother and I would go with my Dad on his weekend errands (which almost always involved a stop at one or more of the local coin shops) or on long walks around the neighborhood. He would hide coins and gemstones and little odds and ends in various places along our usual routes, often in the bowl of a tree trunk where the thick branches separate and stretch to the sky. And we would check those trees — the ones we could easily reach, at least.
I wonder if that was a way of seeing just how much we were growing, or if it was just a silly game. Either way, that was part of our relationship for years.
My Dad also loves trains, and our walk would inevitably lead up the hill near our house to the train tracks that bordered the golf course. We would walk along the tracks (my brother and I trying to see how long we could stay balanced on a rail) until a train sounded its horn. Then we would plant a penny or nickel on the tracks and step off to the other side of the road to watch it go by.
Dad recognized all the names of all the railway companies, and he would always look for the uncommon emblems, like a kid with a pack of baseball cards hoping to find a rare star player. “Such-and-such Pacific… I’m surprised that made it all the way from California. And the old BS&P… and then there’s the Atchison, Topeka and the Santa Fe” (and he’d sing it as a little jingle, even though we’d never heard the commercial).
The train would pass, and we’d get back on the tracks or head down the hill, always looking out for those special trees along the way.
We would hold hands fairly often, too. Eventually my brother stopped doing that, and I didn’t know why, but it didn’t matter. Then I stopped doing that, because who goes for long walks holding hands with their Dad? So not cool. (This might have been around the heady days of “rad.” Holding hands was not “rad.”)
But we would walk and talk. That was alright. You could still do that with your Dad, and if anyone picked on you about it, it’s probably because they don’t have a Dad like yours to go walk and talk with.
Eventually, Saturday morning errands and weekend walks became a “take it or leave it” kind of thing for my brother and me. We had video games, or toys, or, you know, cool stuff to do.
But I think I was always the one worried about feelings. And I would picture my Dad going off by himself on errands or sitting around in his workshop instead of going on the walk he had in mind, and then I’d get this horrible sense of something between guilt at my selfishness and abandoned loyalty to my Dad, and I’d say, “You know, I’ll go with you, sure.”
I thought I was doing him a favor.
Looking back, I know I got the better deal. Hands down, by far, without a doubt.
I had a Dad who wanted to be with me, who liked me the way I was, who was interested in what interested me, and who was eager to share with me all the things that interested him.
Even back then, that was something special.
Dad would build Lego forts for my brother and I to use in our epic wars… my brother with his toys lined up and organized in tight formations, his war strategies all laid out based on whatever historic battle he’d most recently read about. My army was a pile of all the toys, with maybe four or five of my favorites off to the side in some soap opera relationship squabbles. (This was also done out of necessity. My brother was fond of kamikaze attacks with his expendable first wave. He taught me the definition of “fodder.”)
I never really thought too much about sleeping arrangements in our house. Essentially, I didn’t have my own room for a long while. I would sleep on an air mattress, or on the floor in my brother’s room. I slept on a spare bed for a few years, but I never really had a room that was mine to occupy (and trash).
One summer, probably just before or early on in high school, my Dad said we were going to build me a room. We went to a lumber yard and bought all kinds of 2x4s and some paneling sheets. And then my Dad laid out this plan and basically built this wall in the basement so that I had my own room. I would help him hold planks in place or hold up sheets so they could get nailed down, but really, the work was all his and the benefit was all mine.
And I never heard him complain about it. He wanted to do it.
I like to claim that I have no regrets, no “what ifs” that I would love to go back in time and change. But in my relationship with my Dad, I do have a few.
I remember how disappointed and hurt he seemed when he found out that my brother and I, wrestling and fighting, had put a huge hole in the fragile paneling of the wall he’d built to make me a room. I recall being really mad at my Dad during an argument on a different occasion, and just because I knew it might hurt him, I punched another hole in that wall while he was standing there watching.
And then there’s the alcohol.
I like the occasional drink. I set a limit of one or two, and I rarely drink anywhere but home because I’ve seen how drinking can destroy careers and lives in the military.
My Dad has a very different opinion about alcohol, based on his experiences growing up with an alcoholic father. Dad hates alcohol so much that I recall him yelling at TV beer commercials for painting such a false image of the life you’ll have when enjoying their products. He can’t stand alcohol, not one bit.
I came home on leave, and I had turned 21. We went out for Chinese food, and I decided, “Hey, I’m not driving, and I’m old enough, and I can do this. I’m ordering a drink, right here, right now, at the dinner table with my Dad.”
This started quite the discussion, and I grew more and more defensive. “I’m old enough, I’m an adult, I’m mature. I’m allowed to do this, and you can’t stop me.”
Hint: Maturity is just like leadership or authority; if you have to remind people that you have it, you don’t.
Seriously, as far as the offensive effect it has, I think drinking in front of my Dad is like saying the N word to an African-American, or making a Holocaust joke to a concentration camp survivor. My wife reminds me often that there are terms we can say which mean little for us, but bring up incredibly painful memories for others. Certainly actions can have the same disparate impact on different individuals.
And if I know that already, what kind of person do I have to be to intentionally push that shiny red button?
Yes, that’s something I would go back and change.
My Dad has regrets, too. As he considered how our relationship as a family has developed over the years, he has said things like, “I can’t claim we’ve done perfect. I know we’ve messed up a lot.” (He’d list specific examples, but the details aren’t important right now.)
I grew up healthy. I was educated at school and then those lessons were reemphasized at home by my Mom and Dad. I had my medical needs met. I had more than plenty of material possessions. More importantly by far, I not once ever had to doubt whether my parents loved me or cared about me.
When we conduct evaluations in the Air Force, part of the brief that we are required to give the examinee is to not let a mistake become a distraction. It’s easy to spot when we screw up, and it’s easy to get caught up in all the reasons why we screwed up, and how we could have done better, and what we shouldn’t have done, and so on. Examinees sometimes do this. They know they said something wrong or did something stupid, and it becomes a fixation that causes more mistakes.
I wonder sometimes if my Dad’s assessment that he’d “messed up a lot” is something similar. When I evaluate my life and think about the influence he’s had on me, I am so grateful to have had such a father.
This Father’s Day, I wanted to give my Dad some of the attention and praise he is due.
If you have an awesome Dad, I’d love to hear about it. Please comment and tell me (and anyone else reading) a little more about what a great Dad looks like. If your father is no longer with us, I’d still love to hear about what made him special.
And maybe you unfortunately didn’t have a father around. Sometimes, single moms or extended family or step-parents come in to fill that critical role in a life, and they’re just as worthy of praise. If you have someone who chose to be a father to you (yes, single moms included) and you’d like to share, please do.
1. noun. (archaic) an acronym for Non-Player Character, commonly used in Role-Playing Games. This character is one with whom the Player Characters (PCs) can interact in order to gain information, accept goals or objectives, or conduct business.
2. noun. (modern) A target or prop upon which the PCs attempt to unleash all manner of pain, suffering, and torture, without expecting any consequences.
The session in which the children accidentally all the NPCs.
(Grammar Nazi disclaimer: it’s a meme. The mistake is intentional.)
So, in session 2, the intrepid heroes created and controlled by my wife and children have successfully defeated a two-prong attack by goblins and a host of icky natural critters. As is always my fear and always the custom of seemingly all D&D players everywhere, regardless of what they face, the heroes attempt to capture the last surviving enemy in order to interrogate it.
One goblin remains and is questioned. He reveals that hordes of goblins are en route to the nearby town, bent on recapturing a jewel that was stolen from them. The heroes take their prisoner along in the hopes of using him as a bargaining chip.
Inwardly I laugh at the thought of goblins caring about one of their number held as a prisoner.
But that’s a surprise for a later session.
The plan for session 3 is mostly role-playing and interacting with NPCs.
This is one of the most fun parts of the game for me, because you never know what a player is going to decide to do to your NPCs. It’s usually good.
Session 3 begins with a recap, and then I describe the scene as the heroes return to their town (the supposed target of the goblin hordes). The townsfolk are camped out in makeshift tents like refugees, cast out from their own walls. The goblins have already struck.
I pick out one of the official-looking faces from the Urban NPCs deck, and now he’s the guard captain who meets the heroes and briefs them on the situation. He’s gathering together all able-bodied townsfolk for a counter-attack in the morning, and he needs the heroes to assist in the raid.
However, the rest of the people are giving the party the stink-eye.
And so I take a moment to describe skill challenges to my kids. “Now’s your chance to use some of these skills your characters are good at in order to figure out what’s going on, why the town is mad at you, and maybe get some info that will help you beat the goblins the next day.”
I also had a stack of those face cards ready for them to randomly choose, with a rough idea of who each NPC might be. They rolled initiative, but I had my half-orc barely-functional comic-relief character go first to show how an interaction with an NPC might go. He talks like Hulk, if Hulk was stupid. Or more stupid than whatever version of Hulk you might be familiar with.
I lucked out and got the crazy-looking guy. The conversation was devoid of anything useful, other than serving as an example of picking a skill to use to interact with an NPC, rolling a check, and seeing what happens.
Justin’s character, Clayface the rogue, was up next, and he got the innkeeper. Since the innkeeper was fairly friendly, all went well, and Justin used Streetwise to get some gossip about what took place.
Then my wife’s warlord, Bethrynivere interacted with a politician from the big city. The NPC was a total witch–no, not a magic-using witch, the other kind–and blamed the incompetent “countryside buffoons” for the failed defense of the town. But Bethrynivere was able to use History (her character’s primary hobby) to point out the unique and abnormal nature of the goblin attack in order to persuade the politician to help the party rather than hinder them.
She makes the guards bring out some of the salvaged supplies that have been gathered for the assault. I just let the players pick a total of five random cards from a Dragon Trove deck (or whatever it’s properly called… I’ll probably write a “Paizo is Eevil” post about it and offer a picture and link).
The warlord ended up with a special suit of armor. The rogue got a new crossbow. The hunter picked a heavy hammer. The wizard got a mysterious magic potion. And my “special” half-orc got a chainmail shirt he intends to sell for some extra gold.
So far, all has gone pretty well.
Jonathan’s wizard, Killbot encountered another wizard, a supermodel-perfect blonde-haired fellow who boasted proudly of all his awesomeness and ridiculed the so-called heroes for letting this calamity happen while they were out camping in the woods. I really tried to push Jonathan’s buttons by being as annoying as possible, but he calmly made a Diplomacy check to defuse the situation. Then the two wizards discussed the magic energy in the area, and Jonathan’s Arcana check helped confirm what this wizard suspected. The jewel the goblins were after was a powerful artifact that was changing the flow of magic around the town.
I was pleasantly surprised thus far. The kids were taking this pretty seriously, and kind of thinking about what their characters might do instead of how they personally would like to respond.
Then it was Deborah’s turn.
Actually, I’m pretty sure.
Deborah is smart, and she has a concept of what Beastly Tiger is like and how he interacts with people.
For one, he calls everyone a hobo. Sometimes he politely asks them if they are a hobo.
Because apparently old people are hobos, as a general rule.
Turns out Beastly Tiger is also a hobo.
Oh, now we’re getting some backstory here.
So Beastly Tiger encounters a monk, a servant of the Divine Aspect of Strength. And this fellow suggests that he is willing to offer a supernatural blessing to people of proven strength so that they might better defeat the goblins who have taken over the town.
“Show me your strength,” the monk says in my best Ian McKellen Gandalf impression, “and I will bless you.”
Deborah looks at the card for the hammer her character received, and grins.
“I could make you fly,” she threatens.
At this point, we have a conversation about consequences in-game, and how the townspeople might react to an attack on their number.
We also revisit the definition of Diplomacy.
Beastly Tiger re-thinks his plan, and the suggestion is that he can show off some martial skill with throwing knives.
Deb rolls low, and I describe the monk’s eyebrow raise in a question as Tiger’s knife nicks the side of a tree.
I almost went with the Miyagi line, “Wood not hit back.”
The monk is not satisfied and demands that Beastly Tiger try again.
So then Tiger decides perhaps a good demonstration would be to throw the monk into the tree.
Poor NPCs, objects of wrath and torment.
We discuss again the wisdom of such a decision.
Tiger finally decides to pound the tree with his hammer, sending splinters flying in all directions with the force of his mighty strike.
And that finally works.
Thank goodness, because I thought I’d hear the fateful words, “I attack the monk,” any minute now.
One “round” of NPC interactions has finished, and so I ask the kids if they want to do another round.
They’re loving it. “Yes!” they cry.
Again, my orc-sorc goes first. But DM PCs are notoriously horrible for stealing the spotlight, and I have eleven characters to play in this session already. So I want this out of the way quick.
I pick a random card and get a poor waif’s face.
I can picture her begging, “Please, sire, just a crust of bread to get me through the week…”
But Burak the sorceror is… sorely lacking in the People Skills department. It goes a little something like this:
My shout of “NO” is so loud and unexpected that my wife practically jumps and the kids’ eyes go wide. But then they start cackling, because once again it is proven that Burak is a moron.
“Surely no hero really acts that way,” you may think.
Yes, but players do it all the time.
I had a player show up impaired, we’ll say.
The session turned out to be quite odd, but never more so than when the heroes saved a villager from ruffians on his farm.
The Halfling comes running out the door of his farmhouse crying for help. The ruffians chase him, clearly intent on bodily harm if not bloodshed.
The heroes intervene and defeat the ruffians.
Then the player immediately says, “I INTERROGATE THE HALFLING!”
“Interrogate” is a word with connotations. It’s not just “ask how he’s doing” or “try to find out why the ruffians were after him.”
I questioned his chosen course of action at least three times, explaining, “That’s the Halfling you just rescued. You really want to interrogate him?”
“Shhh…” he whispered with a dismissive hand-wave. “It happened. It happened.”
Yes. Players do interesting and horrible things to NPCs.
So back to the game…
Now it’s Clayface’s turn, and he gets some beggarly-looking fellow with obvious fright on his face. I figure this is a contact of Clayface’s, someone with minor ties to criminal elements, someone who knows what happens in the back alleys of town. And Clayface wants to know what this guy knows, so Justin goes with Intimidation checks.
Last time, Justin’s character was represented by a “Human Bandit” miniature, with a big sack like Santa Claus slung over one shoulder. Thus, when it came time to question the goblin they captured, Justin’s plan was “I hit him with my sack.”
No questions, no demands. Just start beating the goblin until answers fall out, I guess.
This time, I gave him a miniature that looked a little more roguish. It’s an assassin with a flowing black cloak, jumping back as if parrying an attack with his shortsword.
Now Clayface’s intimidating plan is, “I whap him with my cape.”
Roll for a Humiliation check, maybe.
Naturally, he rolls a 20. (Pun intended.)
Capes can be pretty scary, I guess.
Soon, they’ve finished another round of chats with the friendly folk of the town.
They’ve learned about secret tunnels they can use to get the drop on the goblins.
They’ve learned about the jewel the goblins are after–that it’s probably an artifact of some magic power, that it’s affecting the area around the town in a bad way, and that it was seen in the hands of the merchant they rescued in the first session long ago.
They’ve gained some material and supernatural aid to help them own some goblins.
And they’ve been offered a few side quests from concerned citizens with interests in town.
It seems a good place to stop, and I’m left hoping that the players learned a little more about how the game works.
But I suspect that we’re going to have to talk about not beating on the NPCs again soon.
And I’ll be okay with that as long as I don’t hear “Shhhh… it happened.”
For the sake of writing some blogs related to D&D, I liked the idea of pointing out some of the awesome products Paizo has produced, calling them “eevil” as a joke, because DANG IT STOP TAKING ALL MY MONEY GIVE ME THAT NEW MAP PACK AND THOSE MINIS.
Today, as a favor to my two older boys, we went to www.Lego.com in order to sign them up for a free magazine.
One of them is obsessed with Ninjago — a fighting game with Lego men holding weapons on special bases that spin like tops.
One of them is the true Lego maniac, the boy who grabs me every day and pulls me to his room to show me the new robot / spaceship / pirate / helicopter / Firefly-class playset he’s built.
Yes, really. My son and my daughter cooperated to build themselves a Serenity playset.
Sooner or later, I’ll post about our attempts at Lego D&D, and I have several pictures of some of the pieces we used to make that possible. I’ve included one as an example.
Anyway, I made a horrible discovery on the Lego site.
The link is worth checking out, if you’re interested in the sets at all. They have videos describing the sets and all the special features meant to match the movies. The designers (some of whom seem hilariously out of their element doing that whole “trying to interact with people” thing) even take some time to play with the sets.
And again, Lego Gollum.
As if those weren’t enough reason to waste all my disposable income for the month, now I find that they’re going to be putting out a line of Lego Monster Hunters.
There are vampires, swamp things, mummies, ghosts, werewolves, mad scientists with stitched-together animated flesh creations (a la Frankenstein)…
And zombies, just in time for the Zombie Apocalypse of 2012. (Lego Bath Salts not included.)
And there are of course heroes ready to hunt these monsters and stop their evil plots (hence the name of the line). The heroes struck me as kind of “meh” but their vehicles and gadgets looked pretty sweet.
For the kids, I mean. They looked sweet to the kids.
Think of the children.
So, while tooling around the website, showing my kids all the things they will probably never own, my son points out the word “Video Game.”
Yes. LOTR has a Lego game coming out at some point.
And there’s Lego Batman 2, the mere sight of which was enough to explode my six-year-old’s mind.
And there’s a bunch of others that I won’t get into, because I haven’t looked at them yet and I don’t want to because that leads to using credit cards down at GameStop and children whining at me asking for the 360 controller so they can play while I “check out the game” as a responsible parent should, and then my wife has to intervene because “Why are the children crying and what happened to Justin’s birthday present–are you playing his game?”
Bad all around.
Of course, looking at these amazing sets coming out soon, I asked, “How much does blood plasma sell for and how much can I survive donating?” And I had the natural “old parent” reaction of, “You kids don’t know how good you have it! Back in my day, we never had stuff like this!”
I actually remember the very first Lego set I ever saw or paid any attention to: it was probably 1983 or so, and as part of some church function, there was a gift exchange. I received a sweet little Lego space set, from the glorious days before Lego even had actual horses with their Castle sets.
In my search for a picture of the model, I found Brickipedia, which was a sweet stroll down memory lane.
I spent hours at my friend’s house orchestrating the destruction of Lego City. He had a few of the huge building play sets, like the gas station, police headquarters, fire department, and some kind of house. We got together a bunch of vehicles and began plowing them into the buildings from a distance. The game was that you couldn’t simply smash the vehicle into a building. You had to roll it from a few feet away. Bricks flew everywhere, but those sets were built sturdy. It took quite some time to bring those buildings down.
I remember working really hard to earn a prize from Sunday School in 4th grade. The deal was that the winner would get a $25 gift certificate at Toys’R’Us, and this was when the Lego Castle sets with Robin Hood style minifigures first came out. I ended up getting a camouflaged fortress that looked like a small hill with a tree, but had a secret door and hatch you could open up to reveal the hidden shelter inside.
I recall seeing new Kingdoms sets at the Base Exchange a few years ago, with giant trolls and angry orcs and and skeleton armies arrayed against the forces of good. On top of that, there was a dwarf mine, with a pulley and a forge and a little track for a mine cart to roll on. My wife surprised me by purchasing pretty much every set, and we had them built on the coffee table for a little while until the kids destroyed them.
Lego has been a part of my life almost as long as I can remember.
So if I’m willing to call Paizo “eevil” because I keep buying their products…
Then Lego must be the Devil, sparkling like a vampire from Twilight, with a Hitler mustache and Rick Astley’s red hair, singing “Never Gonna Give You Up” while dancing the Macarena in Nazi jackboots.
And they’ll still get my money.
So how about you? What’s your first experience with those eevil little bricks?
Sooner or later, you’ll notice that I have a fondness for Role-Playing Games, and Dungeons and Dragons in particular.
A while back, my wife and I were chatting about what to do with our children, since we try very hard to make sure that we both get to be a part of any regular gaming group. (This eases tensions, it keeps her from being stuck at home with the kids she’s stuck at home with during the work day, and it keeps me from quitting groups in order to save my marriage. Win all around.)
Participation in any regular gaming groups means taking away significant family time from the kids, who usually end up on “game night” watching movies and playing games by themselves until bed time.
But what iftheywere playing the games?
About a year ago, we tried it out. I spent some time with the kids, helping them create characters and understand the basics of the rules.
Deborah had been given a half-tiger/half-man figure as a present, and she begged me to let her make a tiger-man. The beauty ofD&Dis, if you’re not taking it too seriously, you can do whatever you want. So that was an easy “yes.” Her tiger-man became an archer with the unique name of “Beastly Tiger.” (She has a stuffed bunny named Bunny. This is a trend.)
Jonathan wanted a wizard. But he had seen some pictures of 4th Edition D&D books, so he also wanted “one of those dinosaur guys,” better known as a Dragonborn.
Now if you’re familiar with 4th Edition, you will probably know that Dragonborn don’t make for ideal wizards. They’re more the burly fighter types, solving things with battle axes and brawn instead of balls of lightning and brains. But, again, we’re not taking this serious. And, quite honestly, in my head that gives his character something unique and interesting, a background story that raises questions (and creates opportunities for the DM). Why did this guy learn to use magic when the rest of his society pursues martial training?
What did he experience growing up–was he an outcast?
Is there something he hopes to achieve through magic that he knows he can’t accomplish by traditional means?
So the answer was, of course, a whole-hearted “Yes.”
Justin was about 6 years old at the time, so he didn’t have much attention span for this sort of thing. He was happy to create a “sneaky guy” and decided to name his character “Clayface” because Justin is an insane fan of LEGO Batman (where Clayface is a villain). Clayface has the power to make himself look like other people… and I can easily picture a stealthy Rogue who is also a master of disguises. So again, a definite “Yes.”
My wife made a character based on a previous campaign, a battle-captain named Bethrynivere who could inspire the others to better performance in a fight. And I threw in a favorite half-orc sorceror whose unique approach to problem-solving often made my kids laugh. So we had our party.
Things only got better once we started playing. After getting the feel for combat with a few bouts in the training arena, they pulled a shift of guard duty and were able to rescue a merchant whose wagon was under attack by goblins. Justin decided his rogue would do some acrobatics as well, jumping into a pit for cover while throwing knives at his target. Jonathan’s wizard cast a couple spells, and then decided he really wanted to run around the pit to crack some goblin on the head with the wizard’s staff (highly unusual behavior for a wizard, but it was still awesome). Jami had her elf spring up onto the wagon to fight the goblins, sending them flying off the back of the out-of-control vehicle. Seeing that the goblins were beaten but the merchant and Bethrynivere were about to be in a wagon crash, Deborah had Beastly Tiger leap up onto the wagon, grab hold of both of them, and spring off in a backward flip to save them from harm. (Borak, my half-orc, pretty much slept through the whole event.)
I love game night with adults — it’s always interesting to see what creative solutions (or attempted solutions) my friends come up with. But I never knew how full of surprises my kids and their characters could be. I’m sure there will still be some D&D nights where they’re stuck watching a movie or playing upstairs in their rooms. It’s great that there can also be some D&D nights where we hand them their dice, lay out the maps, and ask, “What do you do next?”
The home of David M. Williamson, writer of fantasy, sci-fi, short stories, and cultural rants.