After I decided on Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition for my first RPG campaign with my son Marty and his friends (as I wrote about the last time around), I still had a lot of work to do. Although I'd written an adventure for the game, I'd not yet had a chance to play it. There's a vast difference between writing about something and actually doing it.
This summer, I asked around and tried to figure out what I needed to have to play 4E properly. I got a lot of answers, but they mostly boiled down to the three core books, plus a load of dice, miniatures, and map pieces - or dry-erase battle maps or Gaming Paper.
You can spend hundreds of dollars on various sourcebooks, many of which make excellent additions to the game. This seemed like a bit of overkill for such a young campaign, though, so I instead opted for a subscription to D&D Insider. This online service offers up a searchable database of every official 4E rule in print, access to online versions of the venerable Dragon and Dungeon magazines, software to help with creating characters and adventures, and all sorts of other goodies.
For our group, Marty invited four of his 5th-grade pals over: Hans, Isaiah, Roxanne, and Ryan. Because Hans's father Andy is an old D&D player, I asked him to join us too. Since I had an adventure at hand that I'd written for Game Trade Magazine - "Inn Peril," a PDF you can find on my website for free - I chose to run that. I decided to start the first session with creating characters, and I'd hoped to get those all finished and launch into adventure's first encounter.
I suspected that making the characters would take a good while with six players, but really I had no idea. Two and a half hours into the three hours I'd scheduled for the game, we still had a load of work to do on the characters, so I opted to forget about things like feats and equipment for the moment and dive right into actual play. We got through the first encounter and broke for the day just before we were about to enter the first combat. This kept the tension high and made the kids excited to come back for more of the game soon. Not coincidentally, it gave me more time to get everything arranged for the next session.
Two things about the session surprised me. First, the kids were great. At their age, I didn't expect them to be able to focus on the game for long, but they all stunned me with how dedicated they were to it straight away. I know many adults who wouldn't have been as patient with me as I fumbled through the rules. Fortunately, Andy was there to help keep us on track during those few moments when things threatened to devolve.