Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Newbs in the Wilderlands

As I indicated in a recent post, some Facebooking had led to a former co-worker and friend of mine, Roman, to inquire about perhaps learning the ins and outs of RPGs. We arranged a little get-together for yesterday, and Roman brought along his friend Jon, who was similarly curious about this thing called "gaming".

And so I ran some D&D for the lads. And they loved it. And so did I, come to that.

I've introduced a fair number of people, directly or indirectly, to RPGs in my time. This was the first time I had two initiates sitting in at the same time. It lent the whole session a rather wild air, and I felt a frisson of excitement that I haven't experienced since my similarly topsy-turvy school days, when gaming was still new to me. That's the thing about bringing in new blood: their enthusiasm is infetuous and a perfect cure for that inevitable feeling of jadedness that can settle over even the best of us.

We had the luxury of a nice, long afternoon, so after an hour of chit-chat and a general overview of what an RPG is, how it's played, and a tour of my game shelf (accompanied by many appreciative "oohs" and "ahhs"), we got down to character creation.

I decided to just go ahead and jump in the deep end, using my "AD&D"-style houserules and the Wilderlands. This was in part because I've been working on using Haghill and its environs as a campaign base for any and all forseeable Wilderlands adventures, regardless of who's playing, but it was also because I've found that in the past oversimplifying things for newcomers doesn't do them any favors. Oh sure, I didn't dump all my house rules or the multitude of character options at their feet. I kept things pared down to the core races and classes (in the end they made a half-elf ranger and half-orc druid), but at the same time I didn't oversimplify things. For example, when it came time to buy equipment, I gave them each a copy of the Equipment List and let them sort through it themselves. Were they overwhelmed? A bit. Did they buy everything they needed to? Of course not! But I was there to answer questions, help them with monetary conversions, and give gentle advice. I also explained that a detailed equipment list and resource management were a couple of the core features of D&D, and that most other RPGs tended to downplay or gloss over equipment entirely. This seemed to reassure them, and it also got them obsessing over their equipment during play, like any proper D&D player should.

I had mapped out several likely locations for ADVENTURE prior to yesterday's game, and let the players take the reigns in terms of digging up rumors at Haghill's taverns. It was interesting to see them figure out on their own what to do and how to go about doing it. Around dinnertime we took a break for food and, during their run down to the corner market, they were talking excitedly about what the best strategy would be in terms of how to proceed from Haghill. Their initial instinct was to join a merchant caravan returning to Byrny from the City State, but quite on their own they changed tack and decided instead to explore some ruins they'd heard about. ::steeples fingers:: Ex-cellent. Naturally, as players are wont to do, they decided to go for one of the dungeons that I was only partly prepared to run... (The recently destroyed monastery of the Iron God [or, as I decided for my purposes, Mitra] for those keeping track at home.) At least they had the sense to stay the hell out of the Troll Fens for the time being...

Time was on my side in the end. After an exciting trek through 15 wild miles in the Howling Hills (in the course of which they avoided a small group of orc outcasts and successfully defended themselves from a wolf attack in the night--the druid making excellent use of his entangle spell)--we broke for the day with the intrepid PCs (plus a hireling they picked up from the merchant caravan--the guy figured he could make more cash by tagging along with a couple fool-hardy adventurers) descending into the crypts beneath Mitra's destroyed monastery.

I think next time we'll flesh out backstories a bit more before continuing on with gameplay. This process had already started during the first session as the players gradually (and with no prodding from me) got more "in character". They started play without names for their characters, but soon came up with them as they interacted with the residents of Haghill. They also, with little to no encouragement from my side of the screen, fleshed out a rough backstory of their characters and how they had come to adventure together. We left off for the day with two new "converts" and promises of continuing on with the story ASAP.

It's quite remarkable how quickly the core RPG experience comes together. Obviously, one has to play multiple sessions to begin to appreciate the appeal of the campaign, but otherwise I'd say we addressed most of the essential elements of what it is to play an RPG in just that one afternoon.

(I also have to admit a bit of satisfaction in having introduced new players to "old school" D&D straight off the bat. I knew things were going to go well when I busted out my GM screen, which has several Frank Frazetta pictures on the player's side, and Jon exclaimed, "Cool! I love Frazetta!")

Regardless of what ends up happening in the end, between my brief hiatus and yesterday's fun, I'm definitely back in the GMing saddle. I'll be restarting my BRP Banestorm campaign with Des, and whenever Roman and Jon want to start exploring the Iron God's Tomb, I'll be ready for 'em.
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