Monday, February 16, 2009

Are you sure you don't want to search for secret doors again?

I was 7 years old the Christmas that my mother got two copies of the Dungeons & Dragons basic set. The family (my mom and my aunt and uncles) tried playing once or twice, and didn't really get into it. I, however, was entranced. I was 8 when I DM'ed for the first time. I was a very bright child, read far above my age level, and wasn't the random sugar-fueled-spaz that most kids are at that age. Just the same, an 8-year-old GM is a frightening thing to watch.

There was a mini-adventure in the back of the main rulebook, and it came with a copy of Keep on the Borderlands. But neither was good enough for me - I was all excited about being able to design my own dungeon. I didn't have graph paper, so I eyeballed the map and used magic markers, blue was for 10 ft walls, green for 20 ft, red for 30 ft walls, etc. I wouldn't be the least surprised if I had unintentionally created a noneuclidean maze that would have baffled the likes of Lovecraft, Escher and Bowie-as-Goblin-King. But, for me, it was simple - the solution was to just find the secret door in room number 3, the secret door that hid nearly 2/3rds of the dungeon.

So, of course, my players (my mom, aunt and uncle, and my grandma) defeat the orcs in that room, but don't think to search for secret doors. We'd all made characters together, and my pathetic 1st-level elf, who might as well have been named Mary Sue but instead shared my middle name, was with the party as an NPC. So, I announce that he's going to check for secret doors, which I hadn't done in the first two rooms, so it should have been suspicious. As an elf, he's got a pretty good chance, but I failed the roll. I was a sweet little kid, and the idea of fudging a die roll had not occurred to me. So, the group continues on via the mundane doors, missing all the best parts of the dungeon. They explore rooms 4-6, have a couple more fights with orcs, and get practically zero treasure for their efforts and wounds. Then they say "well, that seems to be everything, let's head back up to town."

I couldn't very well let them miss out on all the cool stuff I'd designed. The game was ending too early for my tastes (as it always does), too. So I contrived a way to get them back to room 3 and searching for secret doors - my "sophisticated" 8-year-old brain decided my Mary Sue would insist on going back and checking that room again. He had no in-character reason to do so, but my relatives got the hint. The whole group checked for secret doors. 6 people rolling d6s, and not a single success. Game over, man - they'd never play D&D again.

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