On a recent trip, my wife and her friends wound up teaching classes during the day. I spent a few days exploring the city, but also spent a couple of afternoons gaming with their teenage sons.

It’s been a while since I was a teen; I admit that I remember the endless hours for gaming with a great deal of nostalgia. So it was neat to get to play with them. I was forewarned; on the plane flight I whipped up an adventure based on memories of a few Eureka plots. (Predominantly Blood Bound on page 70.) We were going to play D&D 3.5e; through a version of telegraph, I heard that they were only interested in 3.5. I was traveling light, so I stuck to monsters accessible through the hypertext SRD; though I made sure I brought along a copy of the Player’s Handbook.

Beginning to Game

Though we were in a beautiful, foreign location, we were all eager to game– even though it meant spending a couple of afternoons inside instead of exploring. Their mom didn’t understand the appeal at all… isn’t that the way of most moms?

One afternoon the boys made up their characters. I established that the world wasn’t one of the stock high fantasy worlds, that it was a sketchy homebrew. They quickly invested the world with flavor; their characters were named Rodrigo and Mattaes, giving the country a very latin flavor. Their Dad joined us and had a different vision for his character; Ishiro was a Cleric devoted to the Tao and wearing lacquered armor. We decided to have him be a visiting priest from a distant land. The characters began at third level, which surprised the players a little. (I think they expected a crawl from level one, even for a one-shot.)

Their Dad was into the game, but was distracted with other responsibilities and he wasn’t very familiar with the current edition of D&D. His sons guided him and helped him equip his character. They did a good job of helping him pick feats and equip his character; I mostly helped them figure out how to treat his eastern equivalents. We derailed into a philosophical discussion of Tao and tried to figure out which Domains matched.

Quick Character Links

I borrowed a bit from Diaspora to link them up. First I had them explain what great deeds they had accomplished to earn their way to third level. Rodrigo vanquished bandits plaguing the roads, dumping them in the lake. Then I had the player to their right explain how they helped that come about. I got a fun tale of Mattaes attacking the bandits the night before, wearing them down and making it easy for Rodrigo to find them. I then asked how they had crossed paths with the other character; Ishiro was having trouble navigating the court, but Rodrigo so enjoyed his philosophical talks that he mentioned him to the king when he was rewarded for his bravery in confronting the bandits.

This was a fun tool– and one that often stumps groups when they first encounter it. It can be a bit tricky to come up with your character’s heroic act, particularly when you’re imagining from scratch. A blank slate is often hard to face, but throwing out some examples led to the players seizing some ideas and elaborating. They were a little hesitant at first, but really got into it when I cheered on their actions and encouraged them to describe their heroism cinematically.

The Adventure Begins

A couple of days later, we started up again after lunch. The seemed impressed that I had some notes for the adventure. They went interesting directions during their investigation, splitting up and roleplaying the interactions well. They did a great job of descending into the city and talking to everyone that evening, and came up with some interesting approaches I hadn’t anticipated at all. When they got their lead, they picked the swiftest boat– but were willing to wait for the packets to be offloaded to disrupt the kingdom less.

They chewed the scenery well and really enjoyed getting to a good, violent confrontation when their ship was forced aground. They did a great job of adapting to the unusual circumstances of their fight in the shallow water, keeping in character and fighting effectively. Then we ran out of time, but it had been a good session.

Beyond the Game

In between playing, we walked to the laundromat and took care of chores they’d been assigned. We talked about their home groups, the campaigns they’ve played in and run over the last year or two, and their play experiences. They were tweaking 3.5 for a less magic heavy experience– but hadn’t heard of Iron Heroes.

Even these game enthusiasts don’t read much about games online. I thought that free might have sucked them in, but their days and nights are filled with other things, it seems.

They haven’t had a chance to read or play other games; it reminded me of designing based on my reactions to AD&D in high school. (Don’t we all try it?) It was nice to get to discuss games; they enjoyed tales of play in other systems. They had heard about 4e, particularly the negative first impressions around its release, but were willing to let me talk about my experiences. It sounded like they wouldn’t have minded trying it out… if only we’d figured that out before we left.

Their campaigns sounded a little meandering; they had a lot of “wrestling over whose character to follow” (spotlight issues), and lack a lot of good tools to talk above the game level.

I was envious though; in the last year they’ve had time for a couple of long campaigns and several short series and one shots. They’re also quick to abandon a game that goes off the rails, which has encouraged them to experiment and try out some incredible story lines.

How about you?

Are any of our readers teens? Or have you played with teens recently? Please share your experiences– and any differences it’s important to keep in mind.

[Edited to add: If you’d like to read about a game club with 16+ teenagers, playing games like 4e, Inspectres, Mouse Guard and Dread, check out MJ Harnish’s site.]