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A n00b unleashed - My wife's first game

Started by Jason Morningstar, June 13, 2005, 01:28:34 PM

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Jason Morningstar

I've always thought introducing a new person - particularly a family member -  to gaming can be touchy.  You want to be well prepared and use a good system that supports the kind of play you encourage.  Of course, when I got the chance, I didn't have any of that going for me.  It kicked ass anyway!

My wife is a youth services librarian and she's running a medieval-themed "teen Tuesday" summer reading program.  She roped me in to do an "Introduction to D&D" event, even though I haven't played any flavor of D&D since 1980 and generally dislike it.  Her feeling (and I concur) is that "D&D" may get teen's attention where "Fantasy RPG" or "well-designed alternative" won't.  She's always been supportive of my gaming but expressed a strong opinion that it was *my* thing and that she had less than no interest.

On Saturday I borrowed a friend's third edition player's handbook to see WTF I had gotten myself into.  "Since you'll be facilitating the event," I said to my wife, "Why don't you make up a character with me, so you'll know what's going on?"  She readily agreed, and we made up a bard and a fighter.  She named her bard Jenna Friedman.  I could see wheels turning, and when she'd fleshed out her character, she asked, "So what do we do now?"

She didn't have to ask me twice.  I winged a simple adventure involving a ghost in a crypt, and scheming brigands hiding gold in a casket - pretty much a Scooby-Doo episode with chainmail.  She played both characters we had made, with an emphasis on Jenna Friedman, bard extraordinaire.

It was really interesting to watch her grapple with the mechanics of roleplaying.  I anticipated her taking author or director stance and would have been fine with it, but she never did, instead at first looking to me to describe the setting and offering a few choices.  As she grew more comfortable, she started asking for specific things - "I want to talk to a village child", for example, and I'd introduce a new character to support her interest.  The child I brought in she found particularly resonant, and she said, "I want her to come with us."  I said OK and she had another character to run - sort of half PC, half NPC.  

She easily got into her role and we had character-to-character dialogues.  Outside of these, it was "Jenna goes to the crypt...", narrating at a remove.  I tried not to prompt any particular mode of play.    

She loved actually playing - she was totally engaged and excited at each turn of events or reversal of fortune.  I had the brigands send her a threatening note to lay off, and actually wrote it out and handed it to her, and she was thrilled and very worried.  She enjoyed scouring her character sheet for skills and abilities to use, often inventing uses that were not quite kosher but very creative, which I enthusiastically allowed.  And she liked rolling the dice.  Where I didn't know the rules (like her bard magic) we just made it up.  The rules, extremely complicated by my standards, were not an impediment.  It was, literally, the first time I have ever run D&D.  

At one point I asked her for a spot hidden check, which she failed, and I said, "you walk right by the two men hiding in the bushes, furtively observing you and biding their time."  This confused her, and we had a digression into in-character and out-of-character knowledge.  

One of her characters was badly hurt, and she was concerned about him dying.  She immediately "got" the weird contradictions of the traditional GM role, where I wanted her to succeed but also wanted to  challenge and threaten her plans.

She was completely engaged in the story and eager to "find out what happens next" - often genuinely excited.  It was unbelievably cool and inspiring to watch her explore this totally new way of interacting.  Later, she told me that the rigid parameters D&D imposes were actually helpful to her.  She liked the gamey bits, like gold pieces, experience points, and particularly shopping for equipment.  I think we both had more fun than my regular gaming group has had in years!

--Jason

Kesher

This is a great post; thoughtfully analyzed.  That said, let me also say I'm a bit envious that your wife was willing to play; mine has expressed a desire at some point to be a fly on the wall, as it were, but beyond that, yeah, it's "my thing".  

However, this not being exactly a thread about wives,

Quote from: Jason
Later, she told me that the rigid parameters D&D imposes were actually helpful to her. She liked the gamey bits, like gold pieces, experience points, and particularly shopping for equipment. I think we both had more fun than my regular gaming group has had in years!

I had a similar experience recently with a group of teenagers for whom I ran several sessions of Tunnels & Trolls (which you can read about here if you like.)  At least half of them had never gamed before, and even those who had (with the exception of one student), had had a very limited exposure.  They loved ALL of the details, and were very serious about them, even down to choosing additional languages, etc.  They agonized over weapon and armor choices on a limited budget and, once we got going on the adventure, carefully calculated experience points at each saving throw and foe-defeat.  

They too changed how they played over the course of three sessions.  At first they let me do a lot of explaining, really assuming it was more of a passive experience.  Then they started "trying" things, with no real agenda (characters just "forging ahead" without the others, busting through doors, grabbing shiny things, etc.)  Finally, however, they locked into the environment and really got excited and nervous when they heard strange noises, discovered footprints in the dust, etc.  It was a blast when we really got rolling.

Jason Morningstar

It was refreshing to have my assumptions demolished.  I think there can be a lot of cynicism and baggage people bring to the table after playing RPGs for a while, and my wife had none of it.  Sounds like you had a similar experience!

The villagers promised her 100 gold pieces to clear out that crypt, and she was all about dividing the loot and buying more stuff!  The other interesting thing was that she had some intrinsic understanding of "level", and was eager to get to second level without (I think) knowing specifically why that was beneficial.  I suggested we just bump her character up so she could see what that was like, but she was very adamant that she had to earn it fair and square.

Callan S.

Quote from: jasonmAt one point I asked her for a spot hidden check, which she failed, and I said, "you walk right by the two men hiding in the bushes, furtively observing you and biding their time."  This confused her, and we had a digression into in-character and out-of-character knowledge
Despite the prob there, can I just say it was cool that you contributed to the game, despite a failed roll?

QuoteI suggested we just bump her character up so she could see what that was like, but she was very adamant that she had to earn it fair and square.
Cool! It's like the divide between sim and gamism illustrated in one moment "Hey, lets see what it's like to be second level!" "No way, I'm going to see what it's like to earn second level!"
Philosopher Gamer
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Mike Holmes

You seem surprised by the performance of D&D here. Some deride D&D, but people really wouldn't play it if it weren't possible to have fun with it. It's strong gamism element is something that new players can easily associate with.

I'm interested - why did you wait so long to try your wife out on RPGs?

Mike
Member of Indie Netgaming
-Get your indie game fix online.

Callan S.

He didn't try her out so much, as she tried it out herself. Remember he said to her she should make a character, since she was part of the event? And after making a character SHE said "So what do we do now?"

She initiated a game! Golden moment! Yay gamist design!

Jason, could you ask her what was on her mind when she asked that?
Philosopher Gamer
<meaning></meaning>

Jason Morningstar

I definitely have a bias, although recent experience is eroding it.  In fact, I just got back from running D&D for nine kids at the library and it was an absolute blast.  None of them had the slightest idea what they were getting into, and they took to it like ducks to water.  

My wife has always been pretty adamant about compartmentalizing my gaming and not getting involved, and I always made it clear she was welcome to give it a try but never pushed her.  I hope she'll be more open to it, because she really did enjoy our impromptu session, and it is so much more fun with a group.

Jason Morningstar

Just a follow-up - the library game this post was predicated on happened last night and it was insane.  We all had a great time - kids, GM triumvirate, and one very gamist mom.  

Pictures here.

MarkMeredith

I've seen a lot of cool things... but that... is AWESOME! Wow. I wish I could pull off turning a bunch of kids into gamers. Was that your wife there in the last picture?
---
I Burn Wheels.

Jason Morningstar

Thanks, Mark,

I'm not sure we converted anybody to the gaming path, but there were a couple of serious, quiet ones who gave the whole thing a hard look.  And honestly, they all had a good time.  And that's my friend nothing_ruler posing in triumph!  I was glad she came along, because 7/9 of the kids who showed up were female.

Mike Holmes

I like the big red arrow to:

CHAOTIC EVIL

Mike
Member of Indie Netgaming
-Get your indie game fix online.

Kesher

I personally like the count-off to the dead dragon; that's the way to come out from behind the screen!

I might have to get me a flipchart next year...