Metagame

Groggy-eyed and pie-shaped, I blunder into the kitchen. I have eyes only for the blinking red light on the coffee machine. I have not showered. I have not dressed. I am a lumbering arabica-bean detector. By the time I turn around from the counter, the single sip of coffee has returned me to humanity, and I see my daughter sitting at the kitchen table. Or rather, I see who I assume is my daughter -- her head is completely concealed by a book as she absentmindedly slurps Puffins-and-milk.

The book is the Dungeons & Dragons Players Handbook.

It was perhaps the proudest moment of my life as a parent.

My adult life has been a process of delayed gratification. Once upon a time, I thought I'd retire and get caught up on a life of sloth and gluttony. But as it's become clearer and clearer that I will work until I'm dead, I've been trying to figure out how to maximize my escapism, rather than planning a second lifetime of leisure. My life has become a min-maxing exercise in delayed gratification.

My daughter, on the other hand, has seemingly endless resources with which to plumb the depths of the race-class array.

"I'm totally playing a Half-Elven Wizard," she declares.

"Really? Why?" I ask. I've always considered half-elves to be a bit of a pansy choice.

"Half-elves are great. Just ask Elrond."

The logic is irrefutable.

Several days pass. A random trip through Barnes & Noble leaves me with a copy of the Players Handbook 2, which I can now justify as a "gift." She disappeared to her bedroom with it, ignoring bedtime rituals -- no kisses on the hands, no tender bedside moments. Just a hurried 'I love you daddy' and a race for the reading lamp.

Morning. Father, stumbling towards coffee. Daughter, buried in book and cereal. "I changed my mind Daddy," she informs me, with a voice that implies she's renegotiated the Kyoto protocol while I was inconsiderately sleeping.

"About what sweetheart?"

"Gnome Bard. I'm totally playing a Gnome Bard."

"Really? Why?" I ask. I've always considered Gnomes to be a bit of a practical-joke race, and Bards to be be one of those almost-but-not-quite inventions of D&D.

"Well, gnomes are cool -- they can just sort of disappear out from underfoot. And bards can sing people to death."

"Really?" I haven't read the PHB2. I walk behind her and read over her shoulder. It turns out a first level bard in D&D fourth edition can in fact sing someone to death.

"Huh. Cool."

For the next thirty minutes we sit side by side, digging into the important stuff: Law vs. Chaos, the questionable parentage of the Half-Orc, the unspeakable importance of the ten-foot pole. I regale her with the death of my first character at the hands of a hill giant. I sing the praises of the Tomb of Horrors. She's startled to learn that the game has changed at all since I was 11, and seems both saddened that she's not walking directly in my footsteps, and excited that she's on the cutting edge.

Someday soon, we will sit across the long, felt-covered table in the basement. She doesn't know it yet, but the Lich who sits on the onyx throne will come out of hiding from the top shelf in the back corner of my office again. Her first level gnome bard will be no match, but the Lich will have better things to do. He will utter an epithet and depart in a puff of smoke, leaving minions to deal with the minor threat. Perhaps he will torment her for years to come. Or maybe the next day, my little gnome will discover boys or rock-climbing or astronomy or Britney Spears, and I will have to discover if the acquisition of lipstick will truly bar her from re-entering our own, private Narnia.

It won't matter.

Because it's the metagame that's the important part. It's the conversations about playing, about gnomes and bards, about the games of the past, and about the games we hope to play.

"Daddy, can we play right now?" she asks. I look at the clock. 8:05.

"Sorry sweetheart, you have to go to school." She looks despondent. Her eyes drop to the equipment list, where she's been considering the merits of ranged weapons.

"That's ok," she says. She gets up from the table, and puts the book in her school bag. "I can start working on her background in class."

Prodigy.

Comments

adam.greenbrier wrote:
wordsmythe wrote:
LightBender wrote:

Just be careful Rabbit - or you will have to have "that talk" with her when you discover the Book of Vile Darkness secreted away in her room.

Role playing always seemed a perfect way to actually impart some excellent life lessons without being too preachy. Plus, anything that pulls kids out of the basilisk-esq gaze of a computer or tv screen while making them use their brain these days is wonderful. (gasp!)

Yeah, I hate computers. I would never use them if they weren't such a conduit to so much awesome stuff.

I mean, if not for computers, I wouldn't be able to judge the grammar of front page articles or coffee grinders!

Aren't you responsible for the grammar of the front page articles? ;)

Yeah, they brought me in-house so that I could point out things before they get published. It was obviously a genius plan!

wordsmythe wrote:

Yeah, they brought me in-house so that I could point out things before they get published. It was obviously a genius plan!

This just goes to show that you should keep your friends close, your enemies closer, and have your grammarian friends bonded directly to your skin.

Or marry them. That's what I did.

adam.greenbrier wrote:

Or marry them. That's what I did.

We are infinitely lovable.

rabbit wrote:
Johnvanjim wrote:

I'll just have to make do with running D&D for my friends, who, oddly and often enough, behave very much like my 9 month old.

Holy crap man, your campaign rocks.

Wow, High praise from the founder of RabbitCon!

4.0 brought me back into the fold pretty hardcore, and having free reign with the tools and toys to make the game more immersive just makes me enjoy running it that much more.

As for the website, I swear it makes it easier to run the games. It's just a basic wordpress installation modified a bit to look D&D'ey. I compose my adventures as posts (hidden drafts) making it easy to post a summary of the game afterwards. As for the accoutrements, I love the simplicty of the Worldworksgames papercraft elements, to give it that great 3D feel, also, casting some items up from HirstArts helps with immersion as well. Add to that a little fun with photoshop to whip up some maps and player handouts. Basically I'm just using the campaign to exercise the dusty creative portions of my brain.

If you're interested, I've also got a google spreadsheet I use that makes it a snap to resolve a combat encounter.

Wow, I know I'm a little behind the times, but this was a fantastic article - I'm new to the site (relatively) but I'll probably be coming a lot more if this is the sort of quality I can expect. Well done!

Had to come out from behind the one-way mirror for this one. I have often fantasized about a similar moment with my own daughter. She is on the cusp of 4-5 years old right now...still early, but I am doing some things to set her on the right path. Once a week or so, instead of her usual lame bedtime stories, I take a pad of paper into her bedroom. I usually sketch out a park or a shopping mall...anything familiar to her. I sprinkle in some "stuff"...a kitten, her best friend, some bullies, a shovel and maybe even the partially eaten remains of the kitten's brother laying beside a small hole of undetermined depth. It is amazing to hear the stories that a 5 year old can come up with. I have to constantly redefine the laws of physics in order for her plans to come to fruition. However, I often find myself doing the same when DMing for my 38 year old friends. Awesome story....thanks for sharing it!

Tom

Jerrak wrote:

She is on the cusp of 4-5 years old right now ... the partially eaten remains of the kitten's brother laying beside a small hole of undetermined depth.

Umm ...

rabbit wrote:
Jerrak wrote:

She is on the cusp of 4-5 years old right now ... the partially eaten remains of the kitten's brother laying beside a small hole of undetermined depth.

Umm ...

More vividly worded, for effect in the post...but my daughter seems to be quite comfortable with good stories. Maybe we made a mistake by showing her The Wizard of Oz at 3-4...but that particular horse left the barn a year ago and there ain't no putin'er back. In any case, it was nice reading about another kid with a good imagination.

Tom

Jerrak wrote:
rabbit wrote:
Jerrak wrote:

She is on the cusp of 4-5 years old right now ... the partially eaten remains of the kitten's brother laying beside a small hole of undetermined depth.

Umm ...

More vividly worded, for effect in the post...but my daughter seems to be quite comfortable with good stories. Maybe we made a mistake by showing her The Wizard of Oz at 3-4...but that particular horse left the barn a year ago and there ain't no putin'er back. In any case, it was nice reading about another kid with a good imagination.

Tom

Man, the flying monkeys scared the crap outta me at age 6.. Your daughter must have some serious mental fortitude.

[/quote]Man, the flying monkeys scared the crap outta me at age 6.. Your daughter must have some serious mental fortitude.[/quote]

When I was little, The Wizard of Oz was on TV every year around Easter time. I know I wasn't in school yet by the time I had seen it. The monkeys didn't bother me, but that scene where the witch was contemplating how to kill Dorthy ("These things must be done deeeelicately...") hit me at a very primal level. I think it had something to do with the complete lack of control Dorthy had over the situation. Anyway, I was glad I had Mom and Dad in the room while I was watching it. I know games are just supposed to be fun, and not taken too seriously, but when I role play with Katie....I do see the opportunity to do a little teaching. Framing some of the more unpleasant realities of life in a safe, controlled context usually results in a good father/daughter conversation (like the one that arose from the dead kitty beside the rabid groundhog hole.) Katie is just turning 5, but she already comes home from pre-school with some pretty twisted misconceptions about life. She is starting to go to friend's houses....houses that have older siblings, DVD players, cable TV and parents who (while generally good people) may have different ideas about what kids should be exposed to at age 5. I love role-playing games, and Katie seems to also. I hope our little interactive story nights evolve into something that is a lot of fun, and also lets her talk to me about some of the heavier aspects of life that she needs to hear about (from me...rather than from HBO.) I don't know...maybe I'm screwing her up. Sorry for getting all philosophical. BTW...I just read that Dave Arneson died. Gygax and Arneson within a year I don't understand how these two died worrying about their mortgage payments after starting a billion dollar industry! Think about it...even a racing game these days starts with assigning attribute points to breaking, handling, acceleration, etc... And, you get more points to spend as you win races. That is D&D with a change of cloths! Most of what we play on the tabletop and on the computer started with these guys...and they drove 2004 Honda Civics. I don't get it.

See ya,
tom