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Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Bobby the Barbarian lives again...

Those of a certain age will recall the cartoon series of Dungeons and Dragons that graced our TVs in the late Eighties. I can recall at the time cringing as a hobby with an already ‘weird’ reputation was dragged down a few more notches. It was especially irritating as a Dungeon Master to have kids at school chuckle with the idea I donned red robes and a bald head wig (and shrunk about three feet).
The aspect that really got to me was that I sniffily thought at the time that DnD wasn’t a game for children, at least not of the age that would be impressed by a cartoon. No- our game was far too mature, far too violent and far too intelligent for ‘kids.’ After all, the illustrations in the 1st Edition Monster Manual and Deities and Demigods had bare breasts every other page!!
So twenty five years on and I’m digging the books out of the garage, sitting up until the early hours drawing on graph paper and chuckling at my latest traps without another adult in site. Contrary to popular belief I’m not playing the game with an array of delusional constructs from my fevered cranium.
No, now my kids play it.
Eeek, kids playing it. Am I consigning them to a lifetime of drooling insanity and devil worship? Well, no, that’ll be the Xbox360 ultra-violent games at age twelve that do that. Will my son be stripping to the waist age sixteen, running around with a sword in MacDonalds dodging police snipers and screeching, “Crom!”? Possibly, although that’ll be the product of Heavy Metal records on his i-pod, or at least that’s what I’ll tell his mum.
The kids began pestering me to play DnD about a year ago. A mate at school had been reading the Fighting Fantasy books and from there had got into Labyrinth Lord—a refashioned version of Basic/Expert DnD. Charlie was eight then and Evelyn six and I dodged the issue of playing with them and instead gave Charlie some of my old FF books (which I had stowed in the TARDIS-like garage).
I used to love those books. Warlock of Firetop Mountain was my first movement into fantasy gaming—I bought it when there were only the first three on the market. Over the following years I bought most of them and the off-shoots like Sorcery and Lone Wolf. They got me, along with the ubiquitous mate with older brother, into RPGs which really boomed in the Eighties.
But as with me, it wasn’t enough. So we embarked upon B2: Keep on The Borderlands, with six characters and some brand new dice. And they loved it. It took them a week or two to get their heads around role-playing and combat but both of them are full-on into it. Evelyn enjoys the role-playing more—she is constantly creating her own back-stories to her characters and trying to devise romantic story arcs with the NPCs (should I be worried...?). Charlie likes the fighting, the silly bits and most of all the experience points and achieving levels.
Every so often I have to get over myself and remember I’m playing with my kids. They don’t always take it seriously—but then who ever did? They squabble like only siblings can and we avoid playing the day after a late night lest Charlie give Evelyn a +3 thump to her arm. I tread carefully on the violence and random slaughter—we had floods of tears when a trap sliced an insane gnome they had befriended in twain. Yet even when their characters have died (only one so far) they coped with it well. I’ve started putting in logic puzzles into trap rooms for Charlie to solve and role-playing scenarios in for Evelyn and they love those bits.
And most of all it’s a special time that we share where they use imagination and create along with me. It may be a flash in the pan, but I hope not. After all I’ve got White Plume Mountain, Tomb of Horrors, the Giant series and D1-3 tucked away to play.
So with due deference to Bobby the Barbarian, Eric the Cavalier and Uni the Unicorn, you were right. It can be for kids too.

I did not look like this in the, perhaps


  1. This is a great post. DnD....ah the memories!

  2. Thanks, Joan. Its a real high point of the weekend now and gives me an excuse to be like a kid again!!

  3. Great post. Your kids don't know how lucky they are. My daughter is 4. I figure by 6 she'll be ready for Tomb of Horrors. ;-)