This weekend saw one of my daughters over for a visitation, as well as my eldest step-daughter over to be with her child, so we had a regular gaggle to join in with my wife in her solo game. I can't tell you how immensely satisfying it is that I have a shared story with my family through Dungeons and Dragons. I sat back and listened to them riff and chat with things that have happened before and the shared excitement and it just made me smile the biggest of smiles. I can think of no better way of carrying on Gygax's and Arneson's legacy than this type of shared family experience.
In my haste to get things rolling, I missed an opportunity to broaden the rumors for my daughters' characters. Aeli (my wife's character) was in the farmtown of Vale while Mysteria (the elf) and Shimi (the fighter) were in Westport. I handwaved a job of caravan guard for the two to join Aeli, awarding them a gold piece, but I forgot to really mention why guards were needed for a simple one day trip. Ah well, I don't think they noticed, but my DM-perfectionist-critic was giving me an earful last night.
So the party gathered - a regular army of 3 PCs, one NPC, 2 henchmen and and 5 hirelings. Aeli didn't have clear directions written down on how to get back to the tower which provoked some prompting from Tironell, the NPC mage, and a big negative modifier on the "Get lost" roll. The dice favored the party and they found themselves facing a familiar stone door in a hill which led to a familiar ancient room, now filled with the stench of rotting and hacked zombies.
After a brief episode with one of the henchmen becoming paralyzed from a poison needle trap on the door, the party faced the first really interesting puzzle of the dungeon. Take a corridor and put a door at the end of it. Divide the corridor with a deep, sure-death-if-you-fall crevasse in the middle, and a rickety, swaying, single person abreast wooden bridge over it. Put 4 skeletons in full chainmain and shields with spears at the end, able to bring 3 to 4 spears to bear on the single person who crosses the bridge to the other side. Mention that it looks like that a person could be easily knocked off the bridge and then enforce the "blades do half damage and arrows do 1hp of damage on skeletons" rule. Sit back and watch the party work.
The party tried launching arrows, and the skeletons formed a shield wall. The party tried launching flaming arrows which resulted in a bit of damage, but no sure solutions. Stepping on the bridge found the skeletons moving into a killing zone setup on the other end. The party hemmed and hawwed for awhile, then decided to investigate the other branch of the trail to see if it led to a part of the hill that would go around the skeletons. This really made me happy - not only that they tried several things, but that they're looking for a way around the danger rather than entering a meat grinder.
The party did indeed find the ruins of a tower, but Shimi and her dog unwisely entered by themselves and poked around as the rest of the party was deciding what to do. Skeletons started erupting from the ground and she found herself down to 1 HP after both skeletons hit her. The party poured through the opening into the tower and a melee was on with skeletons that kept pulling themselves out of the ground. Fortunately, Shimi survived, but my 11 year old daughter was not a happy player - she kept asking if she would need to roll up a new character and the impatience of youth had her practically on the edge of her seat while the rest of the party prosecuted the battle. The day was won, but time got away from us so we ended the game back in Valetown.
The best line of the game was one that was not said. All day, my wife was grumbling about the loss of control over her posse. She has been learning how to run a tight ship, party-wise, but the inclusion of our young fun loving daughter and our goofy son (who stepped in to run a hireling just to play) led to a few times when her plans went out the window due to not a little bit of kidlike silliness. At one point, my son decided to run through a rotted door just to see what would happen. Aeli reached out to try and grab him, but missed the "to hit" roll. My wife and I joked later that had she hit, the next round's stated intentions would be "I @#$! slap my son!". For that, PrincessWife earns 1 imaginary XP!
One small DM technique that I'm sure most of you are already using - the "waves" versus the "big group" of monsters. As the rounds wound on, and more skeletons kept pulling themselves up out of the ground (which in and of itself is a nice effect, thank you old horror flicks!), the players kept groaning and worrying. My wife's brow was furrowed as she tried to plot the best battle strategy, my elder daughter was fretting that she was surrounded by 4 skeletons and my youngest was going on about how she was going to die. I think that's a battle they'll remember for awhile, having managed to survive it. My wife is already plotting how to carry clubs and maces now... ah, 30 years of bashing skeletons has found another victim learning from experience. Sweet, sweet music to my ears.