In which I encounter an entirely new table, and conquer it!
Tonight I arrived at the game store to pick up my specially ordered Dire Boar mini, and to run a D&D Encounter, the 11th of the current season, nearly the end of the line. I had been quite smug about my returning player ratio but that began to fall apart last week. This week I took a call at the store from a trio of players who were late but promised to arrive. They never did.
Instead, a young lad of 14 or so was waiting for me, a neophyte to the Dungeons and Dragons, though he had his own dice. He was soon joined by an even younger lad with his mother in tow. Mom sat in the corner with her Kingsolver book while her son bellied up to the table for his first D&D experience. Both chose fighters. Then the ladies arrived from last week, with a third friend as well. Suddenly we had five players, potentially eight if the others showed, and I was scrambling for enough characters and minis. Luckily I had enough stuff floating around my traveling kit. The third gal was also a first timer. That made the most experienced player a veteran of 5 sessions. They were all figuring their d20 from their d12.
The characters were an Elven Thief, an Eladrin Cleric, a Drow Hunter, a Dragonborn Knight, and a Dwarf Slayer.
I explained the game a bit, but didn't sweat it too much. "Roll your d20 and add the number. Use your red powers! Here's a damage die. Ok let's go!" I certainly didn't try to explain how an rpg works, rather I threw them right into it. I recapped the story a bit and asked for the players to describe their character's actions as they explored the ruined monastery in the last rays of the setting sun. They eased into it. I took a skill check from each and moved the narrative right into the fight. Who needs a skill challenge? This is just storytelling guided by dice. The dice were not particularly strong and so the heroes were ambushed.
As they entered the abbey, the Dark Elf Hunter was shot in the throat with a poisoned dart. Suddenly there were goblin-like Dark Ones with their goaty hooves, living Shadows grasping, and fiery Tar Devils attacking from all sides! The ambush was brutal, and although the cleric was attentive to her duties, handing out healing and extra saves, there were still a couple of near casualties.
Everyone had a great time and looks forward to the next week as we near the finale.
As a public DM, this was a particularly satisfying game for me, seeing the quiet excitement on the faces of the young boys, and the sort of silly fun the ladies were having was a real treat. The youngest kid just said, "I hit it with my axe," every time, but he said it with great enthusiasm. The older boy took his role as protector quite seriously and saved the thief with a natural 20 on a First Aid check. (I made them do their addition each time the rolled.) The ladies came up with rude names for their foes and cursed the dice that brought their side of the table a steady stream of 3 and 4s.
It was very different from playing with experienced gamers, less attention to rules, but a keen sense of that wonderment we all search for in these games of fantasy. This kind of experience may be closest to what I am personally looking for in D&D. It is like the best days teaching in a classroom, holding court with an enthusiastic and engaged audience, guiding the discussion towards it's logical conclusion. Fun times.