Battling Goblins Grade Three Style
I’ve GM’d two sessions with my eight-year-old’s group of friends and I have determined two things: 1) they are the silliest players I have ever run a campaign for, and 2) they are by far the most fun.
When I wrote up Dragons for Dinner I intended it as a simplified version of D&D or PathFinder. I took out all but the barest character stats, weapons and armor, to make the process of creating and trackig a character easier.
I realize now that I made it much too hard. Not that the kids couldn’t figure it out, they could. Kids are a lot smarter than most adults give them credit for. It’s just that they didn’t want to and in the end it didn’t matter.
Here’s how our last session ended: in a cave with the 5 PCs fighting 5 goblins. Talk about a standard, dull as dishwater. If that isn’t the first fight in every uninspired dungeon delve I’ll eat my hat (note: don’t ever offer to eat your hat or perform any other ludicrous act when you’re within earshot of eight-year-old boys, they will not understand that you’re speaking metaphorically).
The party wanders in and finds an empty guard room. One of the players drinks some rootbeer he finds in a tankard on one of the tables. I tell him he gets goblin drool all down his chin from the goblin who drank out of it last. He doesn’t care. Everyone thinks this is hilarious so I tell him he’s currently drinking goblin backwash. He laughs and chugs the whole tankard.
Now the goblins appear and charge into battle. Quick aside: when I realized the players didn’t really care what their stats were I decided instead to give them something they would care about. Each of them now has something special that helps them either in battle or while adventuring.
As soon as the goblins charge, Vulcan’s sword (I’m going to use the characters’ names instead of the kids’ names for privacy reasons) screams blue murder and starts yelling at the goblins. Vulcan has a sword that can speak. Actually, he has a hard time getting it to shut up. Normally, it chats about the weather, the plants it sees, its part in historic battles (real and imagined), and other such nonsense. Sometimes what it says is useful, a lot of the time it’s just pointless jibber jabber. Also, it is deathly afraid of enclosed spaces and the dark, so Vulcan can never sheathe it unless it’s a sleep, and even then it wakes up screaming to be let out.
Where was I? Sorry, long tangent… we have a lot of those in this game. Right, the goblins appear and the sword startsscreaming. It turns out the sword HATES goblins. I don’t know why yet. Vulcan will have to figure that out as he goes along, but for now, the sword is going absolutely insane. “Come on you stinky, smelly, booger-eating, mush-brain losers. Come get me. Vulcan isn’t afraid of you. All of you attack him at once. We’ll show you. Yaaaaaaah!!” and so on.
This has got half the kids at the table on their feet yelling out stuff the sword is probably screaming, so I settled them down (a bit) and have Vulcan roll. He gets an 18 (on a d20, could not have worked out better). The goblin, I say, charges at him and misses wildly, stepping past him (I act this part out in the kitchen) as he swings his still-shouting sword in a 360 degree arc, slicing its head clean off.
As the head flies through the air the goblin’s last words are “Hey, that was a bit rude…” The sword meanwhile starts hollering at the rest of the goblins, “Oh yeah! How you like me now? Come on!”
On to the next kid’s turn. In RPGs each player is supposed to get his turn in the spotlight. With kids I find it’s best to turn the spotlight into an over-the-top comedy cabaret moment. So, the next kid acts. It’s my son, Snake. He’s a necromancer and his special starting thing is that he has a pet owl (his familiar) whom he has trained to regurgitate into his hand. Owls cough up the indigestible parts of their meals (fur, bones, etc) as balls called pods. Snake carefully stores these pods in a pouch on his belt. Gross and awesome. The key to a great character.
So the next goblin attacks Snake and hits him with his sword. Snake is cut but lunges forward and stuffs two owl pods down the goblin’s shirt, under his armor. He then steps back, mutters the magic incantation, and animates the contents of the pods: a skeleton mouse, and a mishmash of two kills the owl made that comes out as a skeleton with two heads and five legs. Both start tearing at the goblin who backs away yelling, “Augh! Get them off of me, get them off of me.”
At this point, half the kids get out of their chairs and start mimicking the goblin. “No, he’s doing this…”, “Yeah, but they go down his pants…”
Now it’s Fuzzball the one-foot tall gnome’s turn. Fuzzball has a terrible medical condition. After holding his breath, he farts. The longer he holds his breath, the more explosive the fart. So for his turn, Fuzzball holds his breath. Beside him is the fighter simply known as Mister. Mister has a Cloak of Ultimate Disguise, which lets him take the appearance, sound and even smell of any other creature about his own size. He has recently used it to impersonate a goblin in order to sneak into the cave.
Normally, Mister is a huge, hulking man with muscles even in his mustache, but the side effect of the Cloak of Ultimate Disguise is that when he stops disguising him, it reverts him not back to his own appearance, but to the exact opposite of his disguise. So after he was done being a goblin, just before this battle, he removed the cloak and turned into a female hobbit. I wasn’t sure how one of the boys would take to being turned into a girl, even temporarily, but I was pretty sure that if anyone could have fun with it it would be Mister. I was right.
The moment Mister realizes he has turned from a smelly male goblin into a pretty female hobbit with a pink sword, he looks at me and says “Yeah, and my sword has butterfly stickers all over it too.” Yes. Absolutely it does. And you have a tiara on your head. He’s ecstatic.
So now it’s Mister’s turn in combat and he makes the most creative decision I’ve ever seen at a gaming table, a decision that only a kid could think would work (so at this game it will absolutely work). He decides to pick up the gnome and throw him at the goblins. Awesome! The question of whether a hobbit could throw a gnome flits through my head briefly and I dismiss it. There is no way I’m telling this kid his character can’t throw the gnome. He rolls and gets a 6. Oh well, I tell him he heaves Fuzzball toward a goblin but its a short throw. Now I tell Fuzzball to roll. He gets a perfect 20!
“So,” I say, “You throw him but not very far, but as he flies through the air another goblin comes charging past headed for Silver Hawk the sorcerer. The goblin is shouting a war cry and Fuzzball, you land right on his face with your bum on his open mouth.”
Fuzzball is out of his seat now and he and Mister are trying to re-enact the scene. Fuzzball shouts, “I fart!” Every kid starts shouting and laughing, and Vulcan starts making huge farting noises on the palm of his hand. I settle them down then say, “You fart right into his open mouth. It’s a huge fart and it goes down into his belly, swelling him up like a giant balloon. He stays like that for just a second, then BOOM! He explodes all over the room. All that’s left of him is a skeleton. The necromancer immediately wants to animate the skeleton and have it turn on the rest of the goblins but it’s not his turn.
We’re running out of time. Parents will be arriving in the next few minutes to collect kids so the remaining three goblins are in serious trouble. Silver Hawk the sorcerer tries to shoot the one in the middle with magic fire from his Waypy Ring. He rolls but instead of a regular blast, the ring shoots a huge meteor swarm that completely vaporizes the remaining goblins (just as the first parent arrives).
The Waypy Ring has two special powers. Besides making Silver Hawk’s magic more powerful, it occasionally shoots out a giant meteor swarm. It also, from time to time, causes the wearer to punch himself in the face (Waypy is an acronym for Why Are You Punching Yourself?). Which it does now. I tell the kids that Silver Hawk shoots a huge burst of flame, destroying the remaining goblins, then while he’s looking at what he’s done with pride, he suddenly punches himself in the face and knocks himself out cold.
And that ‘s the end, for now. Next week we’ll see what lies deeper in the cave. I learned from this session that the kids don’t care about the numbers or the stats. They just want the game to be believable (good roll means they hit, bad roll means they don’t), to have fun, to be amused and entertained, and most of all to be awesome. What awesomeness is varies from kid to kid. A mundane longsword does not make a character awesome. Exploding farts do.
The game runs smoothly when the GM stops taking orders from the dice and just lets the story go where the players want it to go. The players defeat the monsters. Later on there will be set backs, I’m sure. I might even kill a character if I know it will go over well with the player and provided I have a way for that player to carry on in the game as something even more awesome. I’d be willing to bet some kids will lose interest or have swimming lessons that day and need to drop out. I might kill off their character in some fantastic way if that happens.
Kids live in the moment, and creating amazing moments is the way to GM for them.
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