The third session of our Lost Mine of Phandelver campaign actually started to actually follow the book a bit. But first, we had to remove a few players, retcon a few shananigans, and get JJ back into George’s shoes.
Our vacation and family reunion is long gone. We’re all home and back to our regular schedules now, but JJ and Ghoti were still interested in playing more of this campaign. Ghoti still enjoys playing Hero Kids, of course, but he did enjoy the openness of Dungeons and Dragons, and Flash-o the rogue seems to have resonated with him more than a little. So, we found some time on a weekend a little while back to get another couple of sessions in with JJ on Skype, Kim and Ghoti in the living room, and a slightly strange setup with a three-way Skype call: Kim, Ghoti, and me at a table on the Xbox; an external webcam on my laptop aimed at a playmat on the table; and JJ at his house. Like this:
A screenshot of the Skype window as taken from my laptop
Accordingly, the party was a bit smaller than last time. We now have:
- Ghoti as Flash-o, the lightfoot halfling rogue
- Kim as Raelshel, the high elf wizard
- JJ as George, the human fighter folk hero
Before we got started, we had to rewind a bit. JJ understandably wasn’t too keen on picking up where B left off with George’s progress as a good-aligned hero who had been kicked out of their plot hook. (Read about that in part 2, here.) So, I worked out a reason that only required a slight backstep in our story so far; let George keep his money instead of paying a fine; and, most importantly, allowed George to remain in good standing with the local leadership of Phandalin.
In our adventurers’ second foray into the town of Phandalin (you can read about part 1 here), we had some additional heroes, and one with an extremely different personality. The kids enjoyed the time they had to play Dungeons and Dragons, and really wanted to play some more. We had some time at the end of the week where pulling a few more kids aside while preparations were being made for a big family gathering that evening would actually be helpful, so we gathered the kids around the table, set everything back up, and made things much more complicated.
This time, we had the following players:
- Ghoti reprising his role as Flash-o, the halfling rogue
- Kim popping in and out as Raelshel, the high elf wizard, when she wasn’t helping with party prep
- P, still Fred, the noble human fighter
- B (another 6 year old) taking over for George, the human fighter folk hero
- C (about 9 or so, I think) joining the group as a hill dwarf cleric who had a name so secret I’m not sure anyone knew what it was.
Yes, we removed one grown-up (JJ was still at work, so he didn’t get to be George this time), had the other grown-up helping tend to party preparations a bit more than the game, and added two more kids. Absolutely nothing was about to go as planned.
A few weeks ago, we went to Kim’s oldest brother’s house for vacation and a bit of a family reunion. A few of the grown-ups in the family enjoy Dungeons and Dragons as a common interest to various extents: I play every other weekend with some friends; Kim and I both watch Critical Role together; her youngest brother, JJ, plays a few types of tabletop games, including formerly being Dungeon Master for a D&D group. A few of the kids that were at the house were interested in playing for the first time as well. JJ had recently bought the D&D Fifth Edition Starter Set which comes with an adventure, The Lost Mine of Phandelver, which I had just finished playing through with my group, so we figured it would be fun to give some interested family members their first D&D adventure. I volunteered to be the DM for these sessions since I was already somewhat familiar with the content (from a player’s point of view), and because Kim’s brother hadn’t played 5th edition before and was interested in being a player, anyway. We knew we wouldn’t have the chance to run the entire campaign on vacation, so we went into it as a one-off adventure that ended up having a second session as well.
We divvied out the pre-made characters, gave the adults and kids a moment to read over the characters’ abilities and backstories and pick one to play, then we got started. Our first session consisted of:
Ghoti (6 years old) Flash-o, a lightfoot halfling rogue
JJ (I dunno, 20-something) George, a human fighter and folk hero
Kim (A lady never tells) Raelshel, a high elf wizard
P (Like 12 or so) Fred, a human fighter of noble background
Last time, our Hero Kids completed a hectic quest in a Minotaur’s cave. They wandered its labyrinthine darkness, made mushroom soup, defeated a variety of monsters including the Minotaur and its surprise scorpions, and retrieved untold treasure. This time, the kids would boldly go where no Hero Kids have gone before: Into the mind of a six-year-old. This time, our own Ghoti worked with me to create this campaign from scratch. He and I spent some time mapping it out, designing the encounters, and introducing a new mechanic to the game. When the time came to play, he was the DM while I acted as his assistant and occasional advisor.
But, first things first…
With Ghoti and I working as collective DMs and Bubba still uninterested in prolonged play, Mom and Pincess were the only two kids that were going to be heading on this journey. Since things were different, the ladies considered switching the characters they used. Pincess decided to switch to the female Warlock—suddenly being a water bender was very important. Mom decided that it might be a good idea to keep a Healer with them, especially because they had no idea what Ghoti had planned for them.
When we last heard from the Hero Kids, they had just rescued their families from a ship full of ghost pirates. They befriended one of the human pirates, conquered the ghost captain, and returned home safely. Their next quest would take them to a mysterious cave where each twist and turn could hide untold danger: the Maze of the Minotaur.
More Heroes Than Kids
This session was a bit different. We did our entire adventure as a longer-than-normal one-shot adventure and had some of our adventuring party come and go during the evening. Most importantly, we had two extra players with us: my parents; we’ll call them Grandma and Grandpa (probably not their real names). They were in town visiting and wanted to see what it was like to be Hero Kids.
Ghoti, Pincess, and Mom selected their usual characters, the Warlock, Hunter, and Healer. Bubba also picked the same character he did last time, the male Warrior, but didn’t actually play at all.
Grandma and Grandpa were given a quick rundown of the rules and handed a pile of character sheets to peruse so they could choose the character they wanted to go into the adventure with. They made their selections somewhat quickly. Grandma liked the look of the female warrior. I think the axe-wielding character resonated with her Viking heritage. Grandpa ended up selecting the same character that Bubba played with on the kids’ first adventure, the knight, because he liked the idea of that character’s ability to take damage on behalf of other players.
As our hero kids gathered together after clearing out the lower deck of the mysterious pirate ship on which they awakened, they took a short respite to heal and get ready to take on whatever was up top.
There’s Something Strange on the Upper Deck
Rather than charge in, Pincess decided to sneak a peek up the stairs for some reconnaissance to see what awaited them. Carefully crawling up and looking around, she saw that the ship was seemingly far out to sea and that a thunderstorm had just moved in. Rain was just starting to fall and there was lightning in the distance. Suddenly, to her surprise, a few pirates walked by, unaware of her presence. She realized something was off about one of them. It didn’t look right. On closer investigation, she noticed it was actually a skeleton dressed as a pirate!
She came back down, and reported back. They talked to Davy to understand what she saw (and to see if he was actually a skeleton or something, too). He said that most of the crew was regular pirates and mercenaries, but many of them were actually skeletons. He promised he was just a (human) hired hand and that he tried to avoid the skeletons as much he could. With this knowledge, the kids didn’t want to rush in to take on whatever else was up there. They decided to try to lure as many pirates down below as possible so they had more control over the combat. They convinced Davy to call for help when they were ready to start fighting. Before the action started, Ghoti and Pincess decided to hide in and under a few of the piles of cannonballs near the bottom of the stairs. Mom helped them get hidden, and even decided to braid Pincess’ hair to look exactly like a rope to help with the disguise. With two of the kids well-hidden and Bubba sitting back with Davy, Mom was ready to distract whatever pirates (or “pirates”) they could bring down to take them out as quickly as possible. Bubba and Davy pretended to fight, and Davy called out, “Help! They’re escaping the brig! We need help down here!”
Quite some time after our first adventure—about a year—all of the kids agreed it was time to take on another adventure in Hero Kids. So, I got out the next adventure I had planned, Escape from the Ghost Pirates. Things were a little different this time around. For one, the kids were a year older. Pincess and Bubba were more interested in playing than they were the first time we played. Additionally, Mom and I were deep in the middle of catching up on all the past episodes of Critical Role, a web series in which professional voice actors play Dungeons and Dragons. Critical Role was Mom’s first real exposure to actual D&D, and she was really enjoying it. It helped foster some way-over-the-top creativity in the coming adventure.
To get started, we had to form the party. Ghoti and Pincess wanted to keep the same characters they played with the first time, which made their setup really easy. Bubba decided he wanted something different and rather quickly decided on the warrior for this adventure. Mom was ready to try her hand at being one of the party and was worried about what I’d do to the kids this time, so she decided to be the healer.
Basement O Rats was the first Hero Kids adventure we ran with the kids. It’s the one that comes with the starter kit. I am writing this over a year after we did it because Reasons, so I’ll be lighter on the specifics of the encounters than I hope to be in future posts. I’ll also be using nicknames for the kids because their actual names have essentially no bearing on these tales.
A Party is Formed
First, the party had to pick characters. Fortunately, this was a mostly quick process. I printed out the different pre-made characters and presented them to the kids.
Ghoti (our then 5-year-old son) immediately gravitated toward the fire-wielding warlock. The Totally (Not) a Firebender aesthetic was right up his alley. Before we could even get started, he was ready and willing to incinerate everything that got in his way.
Pincess [sic] (our then 3-year-old daughter) also found her RPG soulmate without hesitation. The picture of the female hunter’s extremely long hair coupled with fact that her ranged attacks are actually performed with her Rapunzel-esque hair was all she needed to know.
Things were harder for Bubba (our then 2-year-old son). He understandably had a hard time deciding what to do because this was all a little too abstract for him. He eventually settled on the knight because he wore a pot on his head which he thought was silly.
Mom (not her real name) was initially planning on playing her own character, but opted to pair up with Bubba and try to help move the players’ team along.
About a year ago, I lamented on Facebook that I didn’t know of any tabletop RPGs that were super-accessible for young children (mine were 2, 3, and 5 at the time). I had some friends chime in with a few suggestions, one of which was Hero Kids. I looked it up and liked what I saw. In it, the kids are the heroes. They’re not just kids playing adults; they’re kids playing kids. Additionally, the rules seemed like they were wisely simplified in ways that allowed plenty of freedom to get creative with those rules as appropriate for the group.
We tried the introductory campaign, and my two oldest had a mostly good time. We hadn’t played traditional tabletop RPGs before, so figuring out how to properly DM to keep such young kids motivated was tricky. It took two sessions to get through the initial campaign, but it was fun. It took a (really long) while for the kids to collectively want to play again, but we’re working on our second full campaign and having a really good time. I thought it might be fun to catalog our exploits in hopes that they entertain somebody else.