After sports today, I finished the last of the PCs vs. the kobolds in the ruins of the Abbey of Géh. We stayed in combat time from our last special session, as the sorcerer-lady of the kobolds fled wit the child and her three body guards clashed with the PCs.
The PCs had in fact leveled up at the end of the last session last week, and one of my players bought a Player’s Handbook over the weekend. The cat was out of the bag, and so all my players had a chance to figure out what they could do — where they could spend skill points, what different weapons did, and so on. The combination of that, plus nature at close range, made it a difficult session.
One child constantly had his head in the new PHB, asking irrelevant questions about different weapons, tool use, and water and trail ration use in the middle of combat! Control of the books of the game makes a real difference to the quality of play in this age group. Having their own books means, again, a complex trade-off. They will read the rules, which is a good thing — but then they concentrate more on the mechanics than the story. Last night it was all about defeating the right monsters now, and not interacting around the table. Will this change after break? I don’t know.
I did arrange for the kobold sorceress to depart with the kidnapped child in tow, and to pull the ceiling down in the tunnel behind her. As the last of her bodyguards died, he said to one of the PCs, in Draconic, “You have destroyed our tribe, but the Fire King shall have the girl.” This got them very excited, but also very worried — none of them really wanted to face Father Theo back in the village, to tell them they had failed. They also understood that this was a ramp-up in the story.
All of the kids are pretty clear now on the basic mechanics of D&D combat: describe your action (+2 circumstance bonus), roll a d20, compare with armor class of your target, roll damage, the GM describes the outcome. I’d made the kobold warriors they faced last night a level 4 sorcerer, a pair of level 2 warriors, and a level 3 fighter. So some of the characters had 4 or more HD and were thus immune to the effects of spells.
So, I began, slowly, to introduce things like flanking, attacking from behind, and so forth. It was OK, and very slow, because there were a lot of new issues that kept cropping up.
However, I didn’t give them very much equipment (a mistake, clearly, though I also didn’t want a lot of loot falling into the players’ hands) and I forgot the awesome effects of a sleep spell at close range. One of the bodyguards fell right away, and it became expedient for the sorceror to slip away immediately with the child, so the kobolds didn’t get the advantage of a spell-caster at all. I also rolled very badly against them — even with levels, I regularly rolled five or six points under what I needed to hit the PCs that were close enough to hit. More manuevering was needed.
I then told the players out of the context of the game, that this would involve their tracking and searching skills in the wilderness. They were excited, but now the design of the wilderness becomes a major design goal for me over Christmas break.
One of the most interesting parts of the game is that the mother of one of the players arrived early for the concert last night, and she wound up hanging out in the apartment while we played. Part of me was very nervous about running a D&D game in front of her. However, she was clearly approving — She had bought the Player’s Handbook for her kid, because it was the first book he’d ever asked for, and he was clearly reading it. She was also pleased with the increase in his mental agility as a result of being asked to describe his character’s actions over the course of the game. So one parent, at least, is on board with the idea of playing. This is not so bad, and may even be good in the long run.