I work with children. 8th graders, so like around the 13-15 age.
I was talking with a student the other day at recess and I was shocked to hear that he had created this awesome sword for his Dragon 5 game. He said it was so broken, it soaks up the souls of slain demons and then grants immunities. Then he said it can be troubling because it negates crits to half damage and gets rid of other hits flat out.
I asked him if it was fun, h said “Kind of, but we were fighting [famous 5 headed dragon] and after my barbarian crit it twice in a row the monk killed the dragon with a barrel of bananas!” At which point one of his fellow players came up and had to help explain the magic banana launcher.
Kids have great imaginations, and while I was pretty sure he was about to tell me that the sword made it less exciting because of his hit points never getting chunked into. But then again probably not..
There is a culture around power gaming that has taken over with that dungeon game. I know it’s not new, but the kids nowadays seem to really bend towards that. I ran a small game last year for a group of three kids that slowly turned into one and then none. I used Trollish Delver‘s rules Dungeon Gits (a great simple game with plenty of flavor and only two stats). A simple rules set with two stats and a focus on old school gaming. The kids enjoyed it but got sucked into the super hero fantasy down the hall with the other teacher running the dragon 5 game. I was running Winter’s Daughter. We managed to complete the game with the one player but they never returned for our new session, but continued to go to the other teacher’s sessions.
Where did I go wrong? Was it me? Am I that bad of a referee that not even my adoring students would leave me?
I think I know the answer and it will probably not surprise you that the flash of that Dragon 5 game kept them from me. There were dragons to kill and you got to level up in a way that makes you super powerful. The students wanted to be told what to do and led through an adventure. There was not as much desire to explore the space within the story, but there was a desire to be railroaded through the dragon cult module of the Dragon 5 game.
That other teacher has left and I am looking to give these troves of kids that used to play his power gaming fantasy world, but does that mean I need to sacrifice what I love about the hobby to give them what they want?
Am I supposed to cave and start running the dragon game for these kids to keep them interested?
Should I keep trying to run weird games that no one has ever heard of now that I am by myself in this endeavor?
Do I sell my soul to the big wizards company to help the kids find love in this hobby?
I know I will cave and do it but it feels like I’m not holding true to my beliefs that these other smaller games should be shown to kids so they can learn to love something other than level 20 magic banana kickers (I forgot to mention earlier that the method of delivery of those bananas was kicking).
Low fantasy has a home and maybe it is just in my home, give the children what they think they want. Give them interesting puzzles and let them solve them with a skill check instead of their brains…
Let me know if you have any thoughts on the subject. Should I be tryin to indoctrinate these kids with some old school sensibilities or just give them their cake and let them eat it too?
Derek Bizier, the Halfling Master
Update: Since writing this article I was able to run a non dragon RPG for the above mentioned students. I ran There’s Something in the Ice by Micah Anderson and I was happy with the students’ reactions. They had a great time with the rules light nature of the game and I felt great running it! Highly recommend the game if you’re interested in playing a game that resembles The Thing! At some point I’ll write up a quick summary of the session.