Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Playing an OD&D Solo Game with my wife - Session recap

Last night, my wife and I were able to squeeze in about 60 minutes of play before we had to break off for the evening. That's the good thing about solo games - you can take advantage of odd moments and be very flexible on when you can play, but it also means that you might not have the time to do some RP'ing above ground and head to the Underworld (and back) in the same session.

Based on the fine comments of Mr. Maliszewski about his secrets to successful campaigns, I came armed to this session with many NPCs fleshed out and the small city of Westport became a bit more "alive." Each NPC has a "one sentence" (or more) backstory going with them. I also wrote up a quick "developments" page to center my thoughts about where things were at and help keep the story into motion.

Still, I found myself ad-libbing during the session, right from the get-go. As we opened up, Aeli (my wife's character) was rising from a well deserved rest after fighting off spiders and goblins to gain some treasure. Unfortunately, she hadn't taken any healing magics with her, so the two hirelings that had died from the spider were still lying cold on the floor in the dungeon. This just screamed "opportunity" to me all week and just as Berlbur, the forgetful (but singing) innkeeper came to her door, it hit me.

Thus Tyrana, the ageworn woman and now widow of the late Bieb-the-man-at-arms stood behind the innkeeper, demanding to know why Aeli had left Bieb's body down in the dungeon, when he should have been brought up for a proper burial. Now his soul was going to wander the ruined tower of Zenopus forever and that wasn't the way it.was.to.be.

The look on my wife's face was worth the ad-lib, because now she had a problem on her hands. Aeli tried to pass it off as a "party decision", to which the widow retorted that everyone else said she was in charge. After a bit of back and forth, and some foot shuffling by the innkeeper, Aeli reluctantly agreed that she would bring the bodies back.

- I am really happy that I followed my instincts to add this on-the-spot. One, it gave me an opportunity to enrich the environment around Aeli. Although hirelings/men-at-arms are usually Red Shirted security officers, they are people too, with lives and interests. This gives my wife a bit of an eye-opener that she's in an environment where actions have consequences and although the bashings and beatings will happen, there may be Prices To Pay. Secondly, it helps to give me some opportunities to talk about alignment and "role playing" for the future. I hope all of my ad libs go this well!

After a quick discussion with Berlbur, who not only confirmed the Westport tradition of burying their dead at sea so that their souls would be free to move on, but also that word had -again- spread quickly of the party's adventures, Aeli made her way downstairs to meet the recurring NPC mage, Tironell.

The party had found a mysterious vial with an unknown liquid inside, so there was a discussion about this. Tironell tasted the liquid, and offered it to Aeli to taste. She roleplayed her character well in being suspicious of the offer, but she did taste it, which tingled her tongue, had a very different taste to it, but nothing happened. This gave me the hook for Tironell to take Aeli to see another NPC, the sage Nickodemus, a dandy man who is also a magic shop owner.

Tironell also related that rumors were flying about the possibility of other townsfolk and maybe even other adventurers wanting to find the secret entrance to Zenopus's Tower, now that treasure was being found, but that the deaths of two hirelings had also given people room for pause - and probably driven up the prices of hirelings.

With that, Aeli and Tironell made their way to Nickodemus's shop. He's a very confident, very proper dandy who took to Aeli immediately. He offered to identify the contents of the vial for 100 gold, and as well, sell Aeli two potions of healing for an additional 100 gold. Some negotiating happened, and Aeli agreed to trade the potion (of growth) in exchange for the two CLW potions. Nickodemus also slipped in some advice about trying to heal people even when they've been injured to death.

Aeli then visited Thumbold, the one-eyed dwarf smith who repaired her bow (string broke from a fumble) and gave her some tactical advice based on rumors coming back from the hirelings on how combat had went. She likes Thumbold because he's crass, to the point and gruff.

- This also introduces a possible way for her to ask questions of tactics without having the NPCs 'lead the way' or to get some suggestions and constructive criticism without it seeming like I'm telling her what to do. One thing I do not want to do is to make her think I'm telling her how to play the game. I'd like her to learn by doing, but also give her some things to think about.

Aeli then went back to the Inn of the Dancing Sea and negotiated with the existing two hirelings (Nodwig, the bearer - and yes, he's a fainting coward who complains about his back, and Torim, the surviving MaA from the previous game who now wants a bit more treasure to risk his neck.) She also met two grizzled looking Men-at-Arms, Turchao and Rather. They work as a team, and they wanted 3 days up front pay, plus a bit more of the share of loot than the other hirelings had asked for. Clearly, rumors of danger and higher rewards was driving up the pay a bit!

- At this point, my wife seemed a bit overwhelmed and unsure why the hirelings were asking for 3 days up front, when in the previous two games, it was a day by day proposition. I took some time to talk OOC about to think of it like free-lance contract work and risk/reward. I thought it was important that she see that there is a way of how things work, that its not arbitrary, and I'm evolving her knowledge of how things work and how she'll have to make choices and balance her resources. I want the game to be fun for her within the necessities of outfitting and preparing a party, so I tried to take the time to explain it out for her.

At this point, with having gone through most of the coins she found in the previous dive (1000 copper, 500 silver and some gold), I hand-waved the storage of her treasure, although I did tell her that if she gained a lot of loot, she'd have to start thinking about how to store that much treasure.

And with that, we were getting late enough that a dungeon dive and required exit would take us far later than I wanted to be on a weeknight, so we suspended play for awhile.

Am I holding her hand too much? She is enjoying herself and she doesn't think so, but I want to make it a good balance between "teaching" her some tricks of the trade and give her some options, while not making it overwhelming. The Tower of Zenopus is a good "Hall for Noobs" adventure, deadly, but not so deadly that she'll die instantly - she'll get in some roleplaying around Westport and she'll gain some experience. She's almost at second level and hasn't yet almost died, so I hope I'm not being *too* soft - she's faced ghouls, bandits, goblins and a giant death-dealing spider. There is more to come in the tower, but I have a feeling she'll hit second level very soon.

We're having fun, so I think that's all good. I've got a great background story from her, I've got plenty of plot hooks running around for her to latch onto and certainly, she's now heard about the Mayor/Patriarch and the high priest of the local temple, so I think we've got some good directions. She enjoyed the back and forth with her and the NPCs, so this all bodes well for the future.


Randall said...

Are you holding her hand too much? I don't think so. I think you are just using NPCs well to impart info that the character should know or the player would soon pick up from other players in a multi-player party.

Even in a party of three or four newbies ideas would get bounced around as different players have different bits of knowledge. A party of one newbie and no other players only has NPCs to bounce ideas off of.

ze bulette said...

Again, I'm really glad to see this type of article - my players have never played an RPG before, and gently conveying the reality that they have near infinite freedom in choice of action can be tricky and subtle. I'm with you in that I definitely don't want to be telling them how to play. Throwing doors widely open without warning in a dungeon, for example, can lead to surprise - not necessarily one in the party's favor though! Part of the fun of playing is watching these players evolve ("hmmm, maybe we should listen at the next door first"), and in knowing that I nurtured this process. In that respect it reminds me of parenting (or mentoring).

Michael S/Chgowiz said...

@bulette - Right, which is why I allow the NPCs and hirelings to act in their own best interest and give feedback when she's going off the ranch. At the same time, I'll let her fumble around, as it should be a learning experience.

ze bulette said...

Tonight was my wife's first play, and she really was at a loss. It was up to my 8 year old nephew to rescue her from this - the root of the problem was that she really, truly felt she didn't know "what to do" - they were at the very beginning of an adventure, just settling into a tavern scene which I'd briefly sketched out as the result of the two of them meeting due to (largely) needing employment (we'll skip their individual backgrounds here) and journeying to the same town of any size in their area in search of same. I thought it ironic yet understandable that my 8 year old nephew (perhaps as the result of playing in Nintendo's Zelda worlds) took quite naturally to the gameplay environment. He quickly saw the potential and need for hirelings, as well as listening for rumors/lore. I'd assumed that my wife would rise to the role of "caller" so to speak, if not that of at least mapper, but now see that her younger may well show the way!

Afterwards, I asked her how she felt about her first opportunity to play, and found out she was really bewildered about what she should and could do. I had to explain to her that some of the awkward silences during actual gameplay was due to me simply refusing to hint or guide her in any way to anything that might move the narrative forward... I've said it before I believe on my blog, but the sheer infinite number of choices available to a player can be overwhelming, and the idea that they might have to elucidate specifically what they're aiming for with a given action can be at first shocking to the players! I really do think this is a hump quickly overcome though, esp. as the consequences of running on auto-pilot become obvious!

I hope to blog at some point about tonight's insights at further length, but thought you might find of some interest...cheers

Michael S/Chgowiz said...

@bulette - great writeup!

Yes, the "what can I do" paralysis has hit my games, but interestingly, it hit my 11 year old daughter when she first played in my D&D games. She wanted a video game array of choices, no railroad, but some direction.

I've found that by leaving 2 or 3 hooks that are a bit obvious, and many that are waiting for interaction, that seems to work. Right now, there are about 5 different hooks or other areas that my wife could go down, but she's on her own track.

It sounds like it was a great game and it made me smile to hear that your 8 year old was playing! I can't wait for the next 6 years when my granddaughter is 8 and I can introduce her to Vale...