Adventures in Viridistan, part 2

8/11/16 session:

Back at the Rusty Shield, the party talks with Yorus, Linnek’s contact in the criminal underworld.  Learning that Linnek is calling in his favor, Yorus agrees to procure a map for the PCs (showing them the route through the undercity from the Rusty Shield to the edge of Natchai territory), and to come back in a few hours to get it.

In the meantime, the group heads up to the north part of town so BENJI can talk with Telgus the Scholar.  Telgus shows Benji a strange artifact that recently came into his possession, a 2-foot-long stick that looks like ancient, frozen driftwood covered with strange protrusions.  Purchased from a caravan merchant, who claimed it had been found in an area of the Starrcrag Mountains once known for its gold and sapphire mines, the item has mystified Telgus and his Guild fellows.  Benji’s task is to investigate the source of this artifact and see if he can find others like it or clues to its origin.

Returning to the Rusty Shield, the group claims the map from Yorus, who warns them of bandits and monsters that roam the undercity, and sets off to brave the depths and rescue Yasmeena from the Natchai…

The first major obstacle on their journey through the undercity is a broad, slow-flowing canal that is missing its rope bridge, which has fallen down on either side.  Shadowy forms swim in the slow-moving, murky water, and over the dull drone of flowing water the party hears croaking sounds that echo weirdly through the enclosed space.  As they work to find a way across, two froglings climb up the far bank and shout “give us food,” “give us the small one” (pointing at Benji), and so on…  Distracted by their interactions with the pair of creatures, the adventurers don’t notice more of the froglings stealthily climbing up on the near side — the party is flanked on both sides!


Adventures in Viridistan, part 1

A summary of the last few library sessions:

Arriving in Viridistan, the party set off to pursue their business in the city, knowing that Voort’s business would keep the Dart in harbor for a week or so.

  • A ragged young woman begged the PCs for protection from her pursuers, a group of armed thugs led by a sinister, green-skinned man in crimson-and-black robes.  The PCs opted not to fight (fearing the intervention of the city guard), but before the maiden was carried off she asked the PCs to tell her father, LINNEK THE SMITH, that she was still alive.  The group learned that her captors were of the Natchai — followers of Natch Ur, the chaotic evil “god of deep earth” whose worship demanded human sacrifices, and decided to do what they could to help free the girl from such a grim fate.
  • A visit to the Archivists’ Guild yielded little information about the Black Ziggurat or their erstwhile patron Ghaelus.  Hoping to join the guild, BENJI scored well enough on the initial written examination to reach the next stage — a field mission.  He was told to visit the scholar TELGUS, whose villa could be found in the northern part of the city.
  • The group hired an urchin to lead them through the Maze (a labyrinthine slum) to Linnek’s shop.  Unfortunately this particular urchin was not trustworthy, as he led them into a blind alley where they were accosted by ruffians.  A fight broke out, in which one of the would-be robbers was killed.  YEE-MUN created an illusion of a dragon that soared over the alleyway, which not only scared away the remaining robbers but also caused a panic in the streets.  Aware of their criminal behavior (fighting and “unlawful use of magic”), the party took advantage of the chaos in the street to flee the scene.
  • After finding the shop, Linnek thanked the party for delivering the message.  Lamenting his daughter Yasmeena’s fate, the smith was grateful for the group’s offer of aid.  To help them, he directed them to Yorus, a thief who owed Linnek a favor, who could draw them a map of the route through the undercity to the territory of the Natchai, where they would hopefully be able to rescue Yasmeena before it was too late.


Today is my first day of work at the Main Library…

…So the Library Game is officially on hiatus until I can talk to my branch contacts and set up some volunteer time.

I’m approaching a Y-junction in the corridor…

I was recently offered a transfer of sorts at work.  Instead of subbing in the branches, I’d be at the Main Library.  There’s a smaller substitute pool at Main, so I have a good chance of getting more hours, plus I wouldn’t have to travel all over the city to work.  I’d have a chance to get some experience in Art & Music and Special Collections, library departments of particular interest to me.  All signs indicate that this move would be very good for my career.

On the flip side, all the relationships I’ve begun to cultivate at branches will be cut off.  I’ve been working the branches for 1.5 years, and just in the past few months I’ve felt like I’ve started to develop a rapport with some of my branch colleagues and patrons.  I’d be sad to see that go…

Followers of the Library Game, take heart!  A change in work location would not spell certain doom for the Library Game.  A transfer to Main might even provide an  opportunity to share my “games at the library” ideas and advocacy gospel with some heavy hitters.  I could still run White Box at my “gaming branch” on a volunteer basis, which is ok by me.   About the only down side to the whole thing is that I won’t be able to brag anymore about getting paid to run roleplaying games! 😉

So it seems I have a decision to make.  Prayers and good vibes are much appreciated!

“old school” gaming in the children’s library setting

I’ve read a few articles and some great blogs on running tabletop RPGs in the library, but most of those seem to be aimed at teens.  Nothing against teens, but I’m much more interested in introducing elementary school kids (4th-7th grade) to the joys of RPG play and encouraging their creative participation.  Perhaps my personal experiences with gaming are the bias here – my buddies and I started playing D&D in 4th grade with the Moldvay Basic Set.  While we may have been a bit slow understanding some of the mechanical nuances of the system, we grasped the creative and social aspects of RPG play immediately.

Last Saturday’s game at the Mission library got me thinking again about D&D and kids in the library, filtered through the lens of old vs. new mechanics and playstyles.  I’ve mentioned elsewhere that Matt Finch’s Quick Primer for Old-School Gaming absolutely floored me, and that that the work has assumed an almost manifesto-like status to some of us in the “retro” gaming community.

When opportunity first knocked for me to play games with kids on “National Gaming Day at the Library,” I had the choice of running OD&D (in my white binder) or the free “Introduction to 4th edition D&D” box set my colleague received at a convention.  I chose to run OD&D.  Not because I’m an old-school enthusiast (I hesitate to use the term grognard though, I’m too young).  Not because I have an aversion to Wizards of the Coast (true) and a dislike for the direction D&D has taken on their watch (true).  I ran OD&D simply because I knew the system, and that it had a certain minimalist simplicity allowing for the rules to fade into the background:

  • Characters:  Even with 5th graders, character creation took 5 minutes because there weren’t a ton of options for “customization” that required explanation.  The character sheet fit on a 3 x 5 card.  For most of the time in play, the kids just needed to know what kind of equipment and spells they had.
  • Rules: Because there aren’t many mechanics, there’s no need to burden newbie players with potentially-confusing details of how abilities x, y, and z functioned or the need for min-maxing their character.  I directed them to roll dice at certain times with a brief explanation of why they were rolling (to hit, damage, avoid falling in a pit, etc.)  I left my reference sheets open on the table, and didn’t have to open the binder once during the entire game.
  • Zen Moments: The one-two combo of “Rulings, not Rules” and “Player Skill vs. Character Abilities”  in Finch’s Primer resonate a lot here.  It keeps the kids’ focus on the imaginative, creative aspect of the game instead of on rules, numbers, and the paper in front of them.

Someone more well-versed in 3e or 4e could probably make reasonable arguments for the merits of the newer editions.  That’s fine, I’m not out to crucify their system or anything like that.  I’m sure that a relatively rules-light 3e/d20-based game, such as Castles & Crusades or a Microlite variant, could work equally well.  Teens who (hopefully) possess longer attention spans and better critical thinking skills will probably be more open to crunchier, more option-driven rules like 3rd or 4th edition D&D, but I can’t picture it with younger kids – at least not the ones I know…

More on this later.

Games at the Library, part 1

Apologies for the belatedness of this post.  November 15, 2008 was (arbitrarily?) declared to be National Gaming Day at the Library.  I had no idea until I arrived at the library and was expected to run games:

As part of the initiative, this branch’s children’s department received a bunch of games including two copies of the 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons Roleplaying Game Starter Set.  The other librarian on duty knew I was a D&D player, so she said I should just run some D&D games today for kids.

I didn’t have time or the inclination to read and use the newfangled 4th Edition intro rules (I openly confess an aversion to post-TSR versions of the game), so it was a good thing I had my binder with the OD&D (1974 White Box rules) printouts in them and some extra dice in my bag…

I had two groups total — one at a time, morning and afternoon. Morning was 1 girl and 1 boy, and after the girl left the boy’s dad sat in and played her character. The boy and his father had played some 3.5e previously, so they were familiar with how rpgs run and they really got into it.  The second group was 3 boys. I asked them if they played any rpgs online (Runescape, Guild Wars, etc.); their familiarity with classes, attributes, etc. really helped when it came to rolling characters and explaining the game. At first they seemed somewhat hesitant, but soon they got into it and we played for about 2.5 hours, winding down when two of them had to leave.

The adventures were 100% improvised, with some consideration given to the various dungeon tiles included in the 4e intro box set. (I used a mix of tiles and paper sketches to help describe the adventuring environments.) The first one was more structured – a quest to defeat an evil wizard, modeled on the 5-Room Dungeons format. The second was more in the exploratory, freebooting spirit of OD&D – “you have heard of great treasures in this ruined monastery, but beware of the foul monsters and strange enchantments therein.”  I ran both games in keeping with the “Four Zen Moments” presented in Matthew Finch’s excellent Quick Primer for Old-School Gaming, especially the emphasis on “Player Skill, not Character Abilities.”  Character creation was under 10 minutes.  The kids rolled their own character stats (3d6 in order) and chose their classes, then I quickly gave them their equipment and spells and dumped them right in front of the dungeon door.  Both games ran smoothly in terms of mechanics; I was able to handle feat- and skill-like actions easily with a mix of attribute checks and spot rulings.  I didn’t crack the binder open once during the entire game, only referring to my page of combat tables and saving throws.

The other children’s librarian on duty (completely unfamiliar with RPGs) was blown away by the kids’ enthusiasm and the potential value of RPG play in the library. Now she wants to learn the game so she can run sessions at her regular branch once it re-opens. Based on our experience Saturday, I’m hoping to run workshops for librarians interested in hosting regular RPG sessions for kids and teens at their branches. I’ve been working on an outline for the workshop (short lecture, followed by a session of actual gameplay and some Q&A); the wheels are turning, and it looks like the workshop will happen as early as sometime this spring.