Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Whatever Happened to Iriadessa?

Among the stranger emails I get are those asking me for more information about either the characters in my Dwimmermount campaign or the players -- or both. As a general rule, I don't say much about my players beyond what they do at my table, since, unlike myself, they've wisely chosen to retain some semblance of privacy and I have no intention of violating that. With regards to their characters, I'll admit to some bafflement as to why anyone would care to know more about, say, Brother Candor or Dordagdonar, at least any more than I reveal through my session reports (which reminds: I'm two sessions behind on those and need to get cracking). But what I've discovered is that, thanks to those session reports, a lot of readers have come to care about these characters, after a fashion, and that's a testament to how well played they are by my players.

And, of course, as many of you probably know, one of my players is my nearly 11 year-old daughter, who plays a young magic-user Iriadessa. Several people have asked me recently why she's not been mentioned in recent session reports and I replied that I'd actually make a post about that sometime soon. "Soon" is a relative term, especially this month, when I'm more harried than usual, but I had a bit of time this afternoon and decided that now would be as good a time as any to discuss what's up with Iriadessa and why she's not been mentioned lately.

The short answer is that my daughter doesn't play in the Dwimmermount campaign any longer. She never came to me and said she didn't want to play any more; rather, she simply stopped coming to the table with the rest of the group when we began. Early on, I figured it was because she had other things to do. My daughter's always reading two or three books at a time, she writes stories, draws comics, plays with her younger brother, and of course has school work to do too, in addition to lots of other activities I can't recall right now. So, her failing to appear at the table wasn't something that immediately struck me as something permanent and I didn't think much of it.

After two or three sessions, though, I started to wonder what was up and asked her. Now, my daughter, much like myself, is inclined to be evasive when faced with questions that could hurt someone's feelings and I could sense that she was worried that her answering me honestly might do just that. I assured her that wouldn't be the case and she simply explained that she "wasn't interested" in the game anymore. Naturally, I wanted somewhat more specific answer than that and followed it up with some gentle prodding. After some effort, a couple of things became clear: her lack of interest had nothing to do with the game rules we were using but from the style of game we were playing. By this, I mean that she found the game a little too "tense" for her liking. Her character Iriadessa had never actually died, but she'd come close several times and many other characters, including beloved NPCs, had died and she wasn't fond of that. Iriadessa's cowardice and unwillingness to explore the dungeon were the source of much amusement in the campaign, but they reflected a very real worry on the part of my daughter that her character (or someone else's) might die.

What's fascinating is that, in the weeks since, when my players and I have discussed other games, she's expressed interest in playing them. We were, for example, talking about superhero RPGs, reminiscing about a Star Wars game, and musing about Mazes & Minotaurs and all of these struck her fancy. So, it's clear to me that my daughter isn't disinterested in roleplaying games so much as disinterested in the campaign I'm currently running. And I know that she's not disinterested in D&D, since I'd previously run a game for her and my wife that she liked a great deal more. Of course, that campaign was much more focused and "quest-driven," since, at the time -- she was younger -- I thought it important to provide an overt structure for her to latch on to. Likewise, a series of quests dispensed by others matched her literary inspirations for fantasy, making it much easier for her to get into things.

As I assured my daughter, I'm not disappointed she's dropped out of the campaign and she's of course welcome to return at any time she wishes, should her feelings change. I know she listens in on events at our table every week and she often discusses them with me after the fact, so her disinterest is of a very specific sort. I'm glad she's not forcing herself to keep playing out of a sense of filial obligation when it's not to her liking, even though I did enjoy sharing my world with her. Chances are I'll probably start up a new campaign for her that's more in the vein she enjoys, perhaps a lighthearted superhero game. Heck, my son might even join in on that one, so I'm taking this as an opportunity rather than a setback in the cause of introducing more people to the hobby.


  1. My daughter stopped playing in my regular games a while back, she just didn't care for the grind of a regular campaign with a bunch of older folks (three of the regular players are grandfathers). She does still play one-offs and boardgames so she isn't totally absent from the game table.

  2. I don't particularly care for lots of death myself. To be honest, since I run a lot of Star Trek and Superhero games of a 60's-70's 'Silver Age' vein, characters in my campaigns die about as often as they did back than. Basically, not often.

    This isn't because I am 'too easy' on my players or other such old school nonsense but because if the heroes of a story die the story is pretty much over. Either that or you say to yourself, "Wow, its only issue 3 of 'The Justice Fighters' and already 4 out of the 7 of them died. What a sucky team. I'm going to go read a comic team that can win."

    I'm simplifying it but what it boils down to is that I've noticed over the years they the deadly death fests of yore don't really appeal to the younger generations as much. It can be a very tough balancing act these days.

  3. Wow. That's the completely opposite thing then what I do. I made sure to kill off my kids characters early. Then immediately roll up a new one. Get into the way things go. Its a character, it happens. You don't get upset when Mario gets eaten by Bowser, you don't get upset when Pikachu gets trounced, you don't get upset when you are the one who did it in Clue, and you don't get upset when your 3rd level rogue dies. Death in RPGs happens, its part of the game. Now, they are much more adventurous, since they know that one character's story ended, but another is about to begin.

  4. really interesting post. my son (6 y.o.) really wanted to play d&d. and then I let him and he doesn't want to anymore. more than the threat of death (no one died, and the rules I was using made it almost impossible) he found just walking around dark tunnels hearing weird noises and seeing rats from the corner of his eyes way too suspenseful.

  5. This is perfectly normal, not everyone enjoys the same type of campaigns. It sounds like your games are rather dense (and tense) with investigations, intrigue, careful searching and discovery, etc, and sometimes people really want a hack and slash or more "high" fantasy type game. As you said a more light hearted affair might catch her fancy. My grandson is pretty young and the only thing he's really interested in is combat with monsters, the "cooler" and bigger the better. If a room is empty he's done with it almost instantly....

  6. Good for your daughter that she made up her mind to leave the game and stuck with it. It sounds like this was a relief for her.

    For me, I won't ask my 40+ year old players to spend their limited free time gaming with my 10 year old. I'm pretty sure they wouldn't want to flat out tell me no and I wouldn't want to put them in the awkward situation of having to. Not to mention we don't use the best language when we game and we often deal with adult situations in game that I wouldn't want to expose my kids to.

    When my kids are ready and/or interested they are free to use any of my D&D stuff with THEIR friends whenever they want. It's probably better to have my kids making age appropriate friendships that could last a lifetime and provide a lifetime of gaming anyway.

    I can't help but wonder how your other players felt about a 10 year old at the table. In the very few games were something like this has happened to me I know we (the players) had a very hard time with it. We did not think it was appropriate or fun to have a child at the table but didn't know how to approach the DM parent about it. We didn't want to hurt anyone's feelings so we did our best to bear it for a couple sessions hoping it would die out. Ultimately rather then broach the subject with the DM we tolerated it for a couple sessions and when it continued took a more proactive approach and organized the D&D around playdates with other children. The kid was never happier since he enjoyed playing legos with his peers and going to the park about a thousand times more then sitting around and looking at weird dice with a bunch of adults. Go figure.

    The worst part was that during the sessions when the kid was present if the DM asked if we minded we said no but when the DM wasn't around we all agreed we hated it and if it continued we would just end the campaign. Maybe we should have been honest to begin with but I'm sure you can see how that would have been difficult for us as well. It was a real rock and hard place situation.

    How would you have reacted if one (or more) of your players would have come to you and politely explained that they prefer not to game with children? Would you have been insulted? Would you have asked your daughter not to play or asked the player(s) not to play or just ended the campaign? Do you think any of your players felt awkward about having your daughter present and just didn't want to say anything?

  7. James, I suspect that your daughter might enjoy adventuring in Matthew Finch's module, The Goblin Fair.

  8. Cibet,

    I think it depends on the parent's expectation. If the parent didn't mind exposing their kid to corse language, adult situations, or whatever, I wouldn't have a problem with it. For me though, I love kids. They make everything more fun. What I can't stand are parents who like to protect their children. For me, its the protective parent and child pair that would make me cringe.

  9. Interesting. I don't mind kids at the table, especially my own. Frankly I don't *need* bad language and "adult situations" in my games. Honestly, I think we can play heroes and have exciting stories without all of that. If it's "more adult" to use coarse language, then I guess I can pass. Should my hero be torturing captives for information? And hopefully we don't feel compelled to play out sexual encounters of any kind sitting around a game table with friends.

    Now, sometimes I like a gritty feel, and when kids aren't present I might describe things in terms that could be a bit too intense for a young one. But the benefits of sharing the hobby with a new generation leads to better, more magical experiences for all.

    James, I've mostly played Faerys Tale with my little one. Nothing has to "die" in the game, you just lose your magical lifeforce until it's regenerated again (much like an arcade game). But since I try to keep the violence to a minimum, most situations can be resolved without sticking a sword through them.

    I love sharing my hobby with my daughter.

  10. Sounds like your daughter is more of a "Silver Age" or later style of gamer?

    I started gaming at the same age. Perhaps she'd like you to run a few games for her and her friends that are more geared toward their interests and level of intensity.

    I think it's important for players to develop a variety of tastes for gaming styles. Otherwise, we end up being too exclusive and it constricts our ability to play with others of differing tastes.

    @Mr. Infamous, your technique might work for your kids, but it may disinterest other kids. It depends on what their literary inspirations are (like James' daughter). What she reads will go a long way in informing what sort of adventures she wants to have. And comparing it to video games gets sticky. Having grown up playing J-RPGs on the console, you get used to very character-driven (and character-specific) storylines, where character-death can't just be random (see Aeris' death in FF7 for example).

    There's a lot of things informing a kid about fantasy and adventure, as well as telling stories. James' daughter developing her own tastes is natural, and perhaps they don't include a preference for old-school styles of play. That's life. I, for one, like and appreciate the OSR and old-school style, but it is not my most-preferred style, either. What's important is I can appreciate it and still have fun playing it.

  11. This reminds me of my wife - she used to hate the possibility her PC could die, so in Call of Cthulu she'd refuse to go into the haunted basement. In D&D she'd avoid the dungeon.

    Then she realised she only hated the possibility of her *female* PC dying, she identified with them too strongly. She started playing male PCs and suddenly could do all the adventurey stuff.

  12. One of the chaps in my group has a son who's quite into rpgs himself -- he takes the rulebooks to read at school, and he's running a Swords & Wizardry game for his dad -- and while we don't have him at the table often, as he's usually in bed by the time we start, whenever we have played alongside him, it's been great fun. There's something charming about that wide-eyed enthusiasm, that sense of discovery, that us oldsters have forgotten.

    Oddly enough, the only one of us who has to tone down his language during these games is the teacher. ;)

  13. A few months ago I watched my young nephew play some Nintendo game for an hour (not by choice) and he was constantly dying in stupid ways, such as falling into shallow looking pits and having mushrooms dropped on his head. I believe that, if you suggested to young people that they take their characters only a bit more seriously than they take one of Mario's lives, they could easily get into the spirit of old school gaming.

  14. The other main DM in our group also runs D&D sometimes for his wife and (just turning 13) daughter, and either or both have sat in on our games a few times. The daughter is smart, enthusiastic and a committed roleplayer, easily getting in character and improvising dialogue. That said, she is still a kid, and the tone of the game shifts a bit with her there. I think everyone genuinely enjoys playing with her, but I don't think we'd want her to be a regular part of that game, as it would impact what kind of plotlines and roleplaying we would want to include. OTOH, one of the other players was running a game for a while in which the daughter was a regular player, and from what I've heard that game was perfectly successful; in part because everyone knew from the start that it was going to be a bit more kid-friendly.

  15. I get the feeling your daughter would really enjoy the old WEG Star Wars game.

    BTW, you sound like a cool Dad. :)

  16. Here's a bit of a long winded story about why I think random death (and letting the dice stand most of the time) is important in gaming.

    Early in my 1988-89 campaign, the party ran into four bugbears. There were six PC's, each around second or third level, so it should have been an even fight. Instead all their dice rolls were garbage and mine were golden; within two rounds five of the six were down and bleeding to death (I was using the -10 rule) and the bugbears hadn't even been touched. That left the third level dwarf fighter - with platemail and a battleaxe - to face all four bugbears alone.

    Now if I had been known for fudging, the players would have expected me to have the bugbears capture them all if the dwarf fell rather than allow a TPK. But, even though I had never actually had a TPK (at least not in AD&D - Call of Cthulhu was a different story), they knew very well that they would all be bugbear chow if that's how the dice went. So the tension was high as the dwarf and I (as the four bugbears) squared off over the next six rounds. I would say the odds were against him, even though he had an AC below 0 with bonuses and probably 30 hit points. And yet... his dice were golden and mine (rolled in plain sight right on the table) were complete crap. In six rounds he mowed down all four bugbears, and they never even touched him. He was in time to save the character who had hit -9 and everyone else. I shook the player's hand and told him "Awesome job."

    As the fight ended and the party limped back to town, the players were jubilant at their luck and the prowess of their dwarven companion. The reaper had passed them all by, at least that time. It was a magical moment that I still remember 20 years later, and I don't think one that would be possible in a campaign where the DM fudged dice to avoid "random" deaths. They could have all died, but they didn't. That's what made it so glorious.

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  18. Crap: I just wrote out a very large reply and then it got lost in the ether.

    The short version: I run a mixed-age group of six players ranging from ten to forty-five (two are kids), and we handle lots of "serious" adult themes, have plenty of death and violence and gross stuff, and even bad language. We do avoid sexual elements tacitly (we've never discussed it but it's also never shown up, so I'm confident it won't), but I'm also not generally a referee who places much stock in major romantic/etc. elements in roleplaying. It's too hard to get right and can make people uncomfortable too easily.

    On the other hand, we had a wonderful moment a couple of weeks ago where the presence of the kids actually enhanced our consideration of one of the more serious themes of the game--the adventurers' mandate for violence, how far it extends, under what circumstances, etc.

    One of the kids' responses to a situation they were in forced a fairly long philosophical discussion between the characters about how incautious they were prepared to be in dishing out the pain even against bad guys, when innocent people might get caught in the middle, how much evidence of wrongdoing is necessary before you can treat someone with violence, etc. It was a fun challenge to the whole "might makes right" mentality that largely undergirds the adventuring enterprise.

  19. Thanks for posting this, James. I remember asking in a separate post what had happened to Iriadessa and also, in a larger sense, your thoughts about having your daughter play in the same D&D game with your other older friends.

    For my group, any kids are too young to play (they're all less than about two years old, with the exception of one guy who has older daughters but he doesn't really play any more). Anyway, it hasn't come up yet, but I was always curious if you thought it changed the dynamic of play.

  20. I'm simplifying it but what it boils down to is that I've noticed over the years they the deadly death fests of yore don't really appeal to the younger generations as much.

    I think that's a fair assessment. There are exceptions, of course, but I think a lot of it has to do with the types of fiction and other media to which young people are exposed in their formative years. I know that, for my daughter, death is something that happens primarily to minor characters, not the hero(es) and I suspect that has a lot to do with her uncomfortability with old school fantasy.

  21. Really enjoyed reading this.

    I'm glad to hear that. I'm usually very reluctant to delve too much into "meta" issues and talking specifically about any of my players, but this seemed a useful exceptions. I imagine I'll be returning to the issues raised by my daughter's experiences in future posts, as I think they're worth discussing further.

  22. I can't help but wonder how your other players felt about a 10 year old at the table.

    They were fine with it. My games are typically "PG" rated or, at worst, "PG-13," so it's not as if this campaign was being dumbed down or kiddified for the sake of my daughter, who's actually pretty wise for her years. Plus, she and my friends are very comfortable with one another. I mean, she's known these guys her entire life. Her involvement in the game caused not the slightest problem.

  23. James, I suspect that your daughter might enjoy adventuring in Matthew Finch's module, The Goblin Fair.

    I don't know this one. Where's it available?

  24. Frankly I don't *need* bad language and "adult situations" in my games. Honestly, I think we can play heroes and have exciting stories without all of that. If it's "more adult" to use coarse language, then I guess I can pass. Should my hero be torturing captives for information? And hopefully we don't feel compelled to play out sexual encounters of any kind sitting around a game table with friends.

    I feel very similarly, for what it's worth.

    I love sharing my hobby with my daughter.

    As do I, which is why I'll probably try to start a new campaign with her in a genre, like superheroes, that's more in tune with her preferences.

  25. Sounds like your daughter is more of a "Silver Age" or later style of gamer?

    Yep -- like most kids today in my experience. After all, they didn't grow up reading the same stuff I did as a kid, so their expectations for what constitutes a "good" fantasy story don't involve random and ignominious deaths. There's nothing wrong with that, of course, but it's very different than what I want out a fantasy RPG.

  26. Then she realised she only hated the possibility of her *female* PC dying, she identified with them too strongly.

    There's probably some of that going on with my daughter as well. She's very empathetic and finds it easy to feel even for imaginary characters, which makes it hard for her to accept death, especially random and senseless death, very easily.

  27. BTW, you sound like a cool Dad. :)

    I certainly hope so. There are enough un-cool ones out there already :)

  28. I agree that she might prefer Superheroes as a genre. I recommend Champions, as the PC's created are quite tough and are very hard to kill even in catastrophic situations (giving the GM plenty of leeway to put the PC's in whatever situation he wants without worry that the characters will actually, you know, DIE). Personally, I find HERO system to be the best system for RPG play anyway - the emphasis IS on game balance, etc. which I find makes all involved very happy...