Monday, December 22, 2008

Playing an OD&D Solo Game with my wife - third game

Friday night, my wife and I, along with my visiting 10 year old daughter, sat down to continue the exploration of the ruins of Zenopus's Tower. It was a really fun game, and one where I saw my wife and daughter achieve something that a lot of gamers take for granted - solving a puzzle. I think that can be one of the hardest, most frustrating experiences for new gamers, but when they achieve it, there's an "AhHA!" moment that they'll not soon forget - and they can use that for future reference.

I've tried to RP with my daughter before, and she didn't enjoy it so much. I had tried to give her a game where there was a very obvious story, but she didn't want to do it. She also didn't want to just explore the town. I think it just wasn't something that caught her imagination, and I think she didn't like playing solo. In talking to her, it seems like she likes to be part of a group, so she doesn't like having to make the decisions by herself, but she also definitely doesn't want a railroad type of story.

I had a few pregenerated characters, so she picked the very strong dwarf. Both her and my wife were happy that I hand-waved the character introductions and just dropped her in the party. My wife wanted to get back to the dungeon and bash things, and I think my daughter didn't want to do a lot of RP'ing herself.

When we last played, my wife had done a lot of interaction with the townsfolk of Westport and had found out that hirelings had lives too - the widow of a dead hireling wanted his body back for a proper burial! So that was job 1 for Aeli, get the bodies back.

My wife is starting to map now, which caused some interesting discussions because the map she had didn't match the descriptions I was giving her. I was describing what she saw, and she replied "That's not it..." so that was a quick gentle reminder that yes, I am describing what she saw. I need to remember to remind her that maps are general guidelines, and they might get confused, but that I'm not going to change things to mess her up.

So they trooped through the goblin room, with dead goblin bodies, and back into the spider room, where the door was closed, of course. Aeli and Yakimi (my daughter's dwarf) grabbed the bodies and started lugging them behind, at the rear of the party. Reopening doors to head back, they come face to face with wandering monsters, more bandits!

Then began another standoff - "Get out of our dungeon!", "No, you get out!" and combat was had. Aeli and Yakimi were boxed in behind the hirelings as the fight was at a doorway, and I now realize that I did a big no-no; I had a fight that didn't have the PCs participating much. One of the hirelings fell from a huge wound, so Aeli was able to step in, and the other gave way to allow Yakimi into the fray. Two bandits fell, two routed and that was it.

The party healed the hireling with one of their healing potions, put the recovered bodies near the stairs and decided to head to a new section of the dungeon. They entered an extremely dusty room with cobwebbed niches - of course something was going to burst from them, 4 skeletons!

Thus began bash #2. Aeli and Yakimi dashed towards the skeletons and the hirelings... well, they taught my wife a new lesson in combat tactics - the fighting circle! She saw that they grouped up in the middle of the room. She said "Hey, where are you guys going!?" and one of them retorted "We're being smart and forming a circle!". The skeletons, being mindless automatons, attacked what was closest, two on each single PC!

Although the battle was short and sweet, it was good to see my wife start backing up back into the circle. She's playing a good headstrong "bash 'em all" fighter type, but she's also seeing some tactics in action and in ways that don't force her to do what I think she should do. Sure, go ahead and run into the middle of the bad guys... but you see your hirelings doing smart things? ;)

An exploration of a few empty rooms, which always serves to heighten the tension, led them to what I saw as the highlight of the evening.

The party came to a door that was very different from the rest of the typical wooden/iron-banded/ring-in-the-middle doors they'd run into. This door was finely crafted, with scrollwork on the doors. It also had no ring to open it, but smoothly and *quietly* opened to the touch. It swung all the way open on it's own, then swung shut. Aeli could hold it open, but she could feel a pressure that wanted to shut the door. Yakimi could see a statue of a figure with a distorted head, and horns (a demon looking figure) facing the door, with an outstretched hand towards the door.

So all of the party went in, with Aeli holding the door. After seeing that there was nothing else in the room, except for doors in all four walls, Aeli followed and allowed the door to shut. I then mentioned how each door fit flush into the wall. You probably see where this is going, but my wife and daughter didn't... until they tried to exit another door.

"We push the door open."
"It doesn't push open. It's flush into the wall and doesn't move when you push it."

They realized there was nothing to grab onto to open the doors, and they couldn't pry them open. The whole room was finely crafted, well built and hardly the worse for wear. The statue was on a pedastal.

My daughter tried bashing open the doors with her hand-axe. Each stroke resulted in just sparks from the axe hitting the door. Eventually, her axe broke, because she said she kept hitting the axe on the door.

My wife tried pushing the statue. I rolled a d6 to see if a hint would happen, and she got a 6, so I told her that she felt "something". Repeated pushes, which she described as pushing to try and topple the statue, lead to nothing. My daughter's dwarf climbed on the statue, pulled on it's arms and head, but nothing happened. I had them describe to me exactly what they were doing, and tried to determine if anything would help, but they weren't doing anything that would solve the puzzle. My daughter proclaimed "We're dead!" and her dwarf proceeded to take a nap because she was bored with trying to figure it out.

I could see that my wife and daughter were getting a bit frustrated, and this was a dangerous point. I did NOT want the NPCs to "stumble" on the secret and give it away, and I did NOT want the solution to come to a dice roll. Tironell, my mage NPC, did mention that it didn't seem magical and that all we had to work with was the doors and statue, and this probably wasn't meant to be a death trap.

After a bit, and my NPC asking Aeli "What else can we do to the statue?", she started trying to move it in all directions, which then I could say "The statue twists slightly on the pedestal." That was the "AHA!" moment at which my wife started moving the statue, since it rotated in one direction only, the hand points to a door and it silently swings open and shut. Since the party was starting to run out of torches (my wife now is starting to learn that resources are NOT infinite), it was time to go the way they came.

A quick foray into a "garbage room" and a really quick fight with rats - one of my hirelings stabbed a 1 HP rat through the middle, held it up and proclaimed in his sidekick voice "Rat on a Stick. Yea." (Turchao and Rather are two "brothers" who are Men at Arms together. Turchao is the talker, all Rather says is "Yea." after everything, so this speech was surprising to everyone. I love dropping in things like that.) The party found 50 platinum pieces and a silver dagger. They left the dungeon and called it a day, as we have a bit of RP'ing to do when Aeli takes back the bodies to the local temple and meets the cleric of the town for the first time. He's going to have a reaction to her that will tie into her story, but we'll save that for later.

My wife admitted later that the puzzle room had been hard, and that it had been frustrating, but I pointed out (and awarded XP) that she had solved it, and that she did it on her own. The nice thing is now she's learning that not everything is going to be in front of her and that creative thinking may be needed.

My daughter had a blast and couldn't wait to play again. Unfortunately, the way the weekend went, my wife didn't feel good and so we've put off the next game till tonight. I'm really happy she had a fun time.

OD&D/microlite74/Philotomy's Simple combat is quick, fun, and not overloaded with a lot of rules. I varied off the m74 rules a bit and allowed a bit of movement and melee in the same round, if it was a short movement. Playing with miniatures helped, although they did distract my wife a bit in terms of the marching order, but we got it all sorted out. I'm trying to remember to be descriptive and give each thing they do some sort of sense-cue, without overdoing it. Random sounds, wandering monsters, they all make this a way to introduce a sense of "oh crap, what are we doing here in the dark..."


Anonymous said...

Most excellent :D

Spike Page said...

Good game! And it sounds like you managed to get the PCs out of trouble without having to resort to the Signpost NPC.

And if your daughter comes round to liking the game, that's even better!

Michael S/Chgowiz said...

@greywulf - thanks!

@Spike - That was a huge relief, because I did NOT want to give her the answer. My wife is extremely competitive - I should tell the story about the Othello game sometime - and I knew that if I gave it away, her enjoyment would plummet. I was sweating though... she was getting frustrated in a hurry. Now that she's experienced such a puzzle, and solved it, she'll have some confidence for the next thing she runs into.

Randall said...

I think the puzzle room went very well considering it was the players' first puzzle and there were only two players to think of things.

As for allowing movement and action in a round, I do as well. However, I limit things in the rules because that keeps the rules simple. If the rules allow movement and action, many readers will expect detailed rules for what can and cannot be done. I expect most GMs who use the rules for more than a few sessions will quickly house rule this area.

Michael S/Chgowiz said...

@Randall - That's true - I wonder how those will work when we go back to solo play. I'll have to keep that in mind - that's why I did the "you feel something" when she did her first push on the statue - I was trying to give her a hint (based on if the dice allowed it).

That makes a lot of sense about m74, and I'm glad to hear other people houserule that way as well.