“Hi! I’m here for D&D Encounters.” …insert a strong sense of déjà vu here.
After driving into Boulder to play in four Encounters sessions at Karliquin’s Game Knight, I was surprised to discover that Total Escape Games, my most local-est game store, was going to be starting up an Encounters group midway through Keep on the Borderlands: A Season of Serpents. I enjoyed the sessions I participated in at Karliquin’s, but those games were at 5pm on Tuesdays and I had to make a mad dash from work to get into Boulder in order to play. Total Escape’s sessions would be at 6pm on Wednesdays and since the store is literally right down the street from where I live, I wouldn’t have to rush straight from work to get there. So once again I found my introverted self nervously anticipating playing D&D with a new group of gamers.
I needn’t have worried, though. Four of us showed up to play that first night at Total Escape and Sheila Higgins (who owns the store along with her husband, Steven) went out of her way to get us situated and introduce us to Chance, our DM. Besides me, the other guys who showed up to play that night were a dad and his two sons. The dad had a story like mine— he had played D&D back when and was just getting into it again— and I think his sons (a 7th grader and a 9th grader) had played maybe once before.
We started out that night with Session 8: Saving Benwick and, oh man, did we get our butts kicked. Chance just missed a TPK by a hair. (For those of you who don’t know, a TPK is a Total Party Kill. Despite the PHB’s assertion that the DM “isn’t your adversary,” I suspect that most DMs secretly yearn to get a TPK every once in a while.) Right from the word “GO,” we were each just kind of doing our own thing and not working as a team. The 7th grader’s halfling rogue inexplicably went waaaay out by himself on one flank. He was still out there all by his lonesome when he went down midway through the session. Then, quite incredibly, he failed three death saving throws in a row and actually died. Chance said it was the first time he’d seen a PC actually die in two years of playing 4e. After that, the 9th grader’s human knight went down, too. That left Eldeth and the dad’s dwarf cleric as the only PCs still slugging it out with the two remaining lizardfolk. We promptly dispatched one of the bad guys, but then Eldeth was cut down (Nooooo!) and the cleric was left alone to face the last enemy combatant. Thankfully, the cleric took him right out and ended the ugly, sloppy fight with a marginal victory for the adventurers.
That was when I figured out that if you decide to play in Encounters, you need to be prepared to take a pretty uneven ride. I had been spoiled playing at Karliquin’s and I didn’t even know it. The other players there were all college guys (the University of Colorado campus is just a stone’s throw away from the game store) and extremely competent players. So sitting down to play with a 7th grader and a 9th grader at Total Escape came as a bit of a surprise. So did playing with the nine-year-old and eleven-year-old brothers who have showed up since then. But you know what? It’s all good.
The second week that the young brothers showed up to play, I happened to be sitting next to the nine-year-old and helping him throughout the game. I noticed that on his character sheet (which was done entirely in pencil, in a typical nine-year-old’s childlike scrawl), in the blank space next to character class, he had written: w-i-z-z-a-r-d. And we had already nicknamed his character “Moose,” so I got a quiet chuckle thinking of Moose the Wizzard. But as I watched that little kid playing D&D and being a hero & exploring a world & battling monsters, I got to thinking about how seriously we adults tend to take the games we play. Sometimes, sadly, we take them so seriously that we lose sight of the fact that games are supposed to be fun. As adults, we tend to view games as competitive contests in which we get a free pass to be quarrelsome, act rudely, and bully others as we seek, above all else, to WIN. I mean, just google something like “parents-fighting-at-kids-sporting-events” and watch some of the shocking videos that come up and you’ll understand exactly what I’m talking about.
After switching to the Encounters group at Total Escape, I have to admit that I was a bit put off that I had to play D&D with a bunch of kids, but now I’m truly glad that I’ve had the privilege of helping a young person who is playing the game for the first time. Watching a nine-year-old boy play Moose the Wizzard helped remind me that at the end of the day, D&D is just a game… and games are about having fun & enjoying the experience.