This prompts something of a Dad strop last night. 'Why does Daddy always have to play all the bad guys?' I fume. (I am already in a Dark Souls induced frump, the sort where you hate the game forever until five minutes have passed, you have a new idea and you plunge back in.) 'It's like I'm always the DM and I never get to be a player!'
'What's a DM?' asks Sabrina.
'Well,' say I, alert to the possibility that The Time Is Nigh, 'there's a game we all used to play called Dungeons and Dragons...'
Three lines into my explanation, she yells 'I WANNA PLAY IT!'
Oh God, what have I done.
I ask her mother if this is a good idea. Her mother gives me one of those you-dug-yourself-into-this-hole-dearest-h
To my mind, the difference is that there are Rules. It's not just freeform improvisation, unlike the stories Sabrina and I make up together (what happens when Wheatley from Portal II takes over Willy Wonka's chocolate factory, does Captain Jack Sparrow know Ariel the mermaid, what sort of house would we live in if we had a gazillion pounds and why do Daddy's houses always have disco floors). In D&D, you can choose to TRY to do something, but whether you succeed or fail isn't wholly up to you. It's the living flesh of imagination wrapped around the rigid skeletal structure of system, and that, my friends, is how the magic is made.
We can't find the polyhedral dice. We can't even find a six-sided die. No matter. We shall use the toss of a coin as our conflict resolution mechanic.
'The first challenge is to choose your character class,' I explain, lying on the sofa like some recumbent dictator. 'Fighter, magic-user, cleric or thief?'
'I want to be a witch,' says Sabrina, in a move that literally nobody could have seen coming.
'Right. Okay. As a witch, you can cast four spells,' I improvise wildly. 'Magic missile, light, spider climb and web.'
Sabrina jumps up and down with glee.
'And you have a dagger for fighting with. And some money. And a cloak.'
'Can I have a helicopter?'
'No you can't.'
Adventure begins, as so many do, in a tavern in a village. Sabrina sees a sign that reads 'ADVENTURERS WANTED' and goes in.
Me: 'The bartender glowers at you. "What'll you have to drink?"'
The bartender explains that a terrible troll, twice the height of a man, has moved into the nearby abandoned tower and is stealing all the village's grain and milk and lemonade every night. Would Bean please go and deal with it?
So off she goes into the woods.
Bean: 'Can it be dark?'
Me: 'er... I suppose so, why?'
Bean: 'I want to cast the light spell.'
Bean comes to a fork in the road. One path is wide, has flowers on it, and looks easy to walk down. The other is narrow and full of thorns. Which path do you choose? Muhahaha.
Bean (instantly): 'The narrow one with the thorns.'
Me: 'Oh. Well, that was the right choice. Congratulations. A trap goes off on the other one, and you see the skeletons of all the people who thought that the easy path would be the right one to choose - '
Bean: 'There's ALWAYS thorns round baddies' towers. Dur.'
Bean comes to a stream. There are slippery-looking rocks that she can jump on. Or she can try to swim the river. Which does she choose?
Bean: 'What are the options?' (She loves saying this.)
Me: 'I just told you the options. Unless you think up some other options of your own.'
Bean: 'Okay, I go on the rocks. Whee. I made it.'
Me: 'No. No. This is where you have to do a check. Toss the coin. If it's heads, then you made it. If it's tails, then you fell in.'
Me: 'Those are the rules.'
Bean: 'Right.' (Flings coin at the ceiling as if she meant to shatter the Artex.) (Coin lands.) 'Heads!'
Me: 'Congratulations, you made it. You get some experience points. You are now a level 2 witch.'
Me: 'You can now choose a new spell. Fireball, Lightning Bolt or Levitate.'
After I explain what they all mean, she chooses Levitate, to my surprise...
Me: 'It is now very dark, but your light spell is still working. Toss a coin to see if you notice something coming up.'
Bean: 'But what if I don't?'
Me: 'Then you don't see it.'
Bean: 'Oookay... it's tails. Daddy what happens? Daddy?!?'
Me: 'You walk down the path, and...'
Bean: 'IT'S THE TROLL ISN'T IT?'
Me: '... and an orc jumps down from the tree, taking you by surprise!'
Bean (suspicious face): 'What's a orc?'
I explain what a orc is. It's ugly, has a club and metal armour. It's going to attack. 'What are you going to do?'
Bean: (despairing) 'I don't know what to do!'
Me: 'Well, you have your spells, and your dagger, or you could run away, or...'
Bean: 'WEB! I CAST MY WEB! Glooooooosssshhhh!'
Me: 'Okay! The orc has a chance to dodge -'
Bean: 'NO HE DOESN'T.'
Me: (remembering Gary Gygax insisting 'always give a monster an even break') 'Yes he DOES. He has to get heads on a coin toss TWICE. Okay?'
Bean: *sigh* 'Okay.'
Me: *flip* 'Tails. He fails! The orc is stuck fast in the web. "Oi! Witch! Let me out!"' What do you want to do now? Do you want to attack him, or -
Me: 'The orc begs for his life. "Don't nobble me, witch! Spare my life and I'll tell you something important about the tower of the troll!"'
Bean: 'All right then!'
Me: *frantic improvising* 'The tower door is a bit damp, and gets stuck a lot.'
Me: 'But you mustn't shove it because there's a huge pit behind the door and you'll fall in.'
Bean: 'Okay! Thanks!'
Me: 'So on you go through the woods. There up ahead of you is the Tower of the Troll! You can see a deep moat full of water. It might have pirahnas in! There's also a bridge, with a huge black knight standing on it. He has a sword as tall as he is.'
Bean: 'Daddy this is a bit scary now.'
Me: 'Okay. We'll stop.'
Me: 'Right then. What do you want to do?'
Bean: 'What are the options?' (I swear, if more D&D players just asked this, sessions would go a lot more smoothly.)
Me: 'Well, you could walk up to the black knight on the bridge. Or you could jump in the moat. Or you could run away. Or you could do a little dance. Or...'
Bean: 'I cast levitate!'
Bean: 'I cast a levitate and I fly over the moat all the way to the door.'
Me: '... right. Fine. Okay. You land at the door. The black knight watches you cross. "Oh," he says "I never got to ask her my riddle."'
Bean: (Pinkie Pie voice) 'La la la la la.'
Me: 'Right. The door is in front of you. Doors. Huge oak doors leading deep into the Tower of the Troll. What do you do?'
Bean: *thinks* 'The orc said not to shove the door open...'
Me: 'Going to have to hurry you.'
Bean: 'Are there any windows?'
Me: *momentarily flummoxed* 'Um, yes, I suppose there are, because it's a tower.'
Bean: 'I want to cast my spider climbey spell and climb up to the window. Can I do that?''
Me: *GLOW OF PARENTAL PRIDE* 'Yes, dear. You can.'
Lucy: 'Darling it's nearly time for bed.'
Me: 'NO WAIT THIS IS IMPORTANT.'
Me: 'You are inside the Tower of the Troll! A huge spiral staircase leads down into a damp cavern, and up the other way to a small door. Which way do you want to go?'
Bean: 'This is a bit scary now.'
Me: 'Do you want to stop?'
Me: 'Okay, what do you do?'
Bean: 'I go up to the door. IS THE TROLL IN THERE?'
Me: 'The door creaks open...'
Bean: 'AAAAAHHHH' *hides face*
Me: (quickly) 'It's a kitchen! There's food everywhere. This must be where the troll keeps all the things he's stolen from the village. There's huge barrels of lemonade and sacks of grain, and roasting on the spit in the middle of the room is, er...'
Bean: 'A chicken.'
Me: 'Yeah, a chicken.'
Me: 'What do you want to do?'
Bean: 'What are the options?'
Me: 'Well you could go up, or go down, or rest and get your magic back, or you could sing a song, or jump out of the window, or...'
Bean: 'I rest and get my spells back.'
Me: 'Okay, but I'm going to toss a coin. If I get heads, a wandering monster finds you, and you don't get your spells back, and you have to deal with the monster. If I get tails, nothing happens. Are we clear on that?'
Bean: (dubiously) 'Okay.'
Me: (flips coin)
Bean: 'DADDY DADDY DON'T LOOK AT IT! Oh. It's tails. Yay.'
Me: 'All your spells are refreshed. Congratulations. What do you do now?'
Bean: 'What are the options?'
(I need to get this on a T-shirt. Or a tattoo.)
Me: 'The spiral staircase runs up to a trap door. Or you could go back the other way. Or you could drink all the lemonade, or make a sandwich...'
Bean: 'I go up to the trap door. IT'S THE TROLL. HE'S UP THERE. I KNOW IT.'
Me: 'Are you sure you want to?'
Me: 'The trapdoor creaks open. Up there, with his back to you, sitting in a chair reading a book, is a troll twice the size of a man...'
Me: 'He has a hammer on the floor next to him. He hasn't seen you yet. He doesn't know you're here. On the other side of the room is a case with a witch's wand in it. What do you want to do?'
Bean: 'Can I sneak?'
Me: 'Yes you can. But if the troll gets a heads on a coin toss, he's heard you moving about. Are you okay with that?'
Bean: *thinks about it* 'Yes. I want to get the wand.'
Me: 'Okay, you sneak across the room. Let's see if the troll hears you.' *flips coin* 'It's... heads. He hears you.'
Bean: *BURSTS INTO TEARS*
(At this point I feel like the worst dad ever and am imagining hammering on my door at 3 AM from small child having nightmares about trolls.)
Me: 'It's okay! You have a chance to do something. His hammer is on the floor. He hasn't got it yet.'
Bean: 'DADDDDYYYYY I'M GOING TO GET HAMMERED I KNOW I AM.'
Me: 'Do you want me to talk about the options?'
Bean: 'I CAST WEB!!!'
(tears INSTANTLY vanish, btw)
Me: 'Okay! You cast Web. The troll is engulfed. "Oi! What do you fink you're DOING?"'
Bean: 'Ha ha ha.'
Me: 'Now the troll is very strong, so he's going to try to rip his way out. He needs to get two heads in a row. Okay?'
Bean: 'What does the wand do?'
Me: 'It's a wand of Polymorph, and that means it turns things into frogs.'
Bean: 'I TURN HIM INTO A FROG.'
Me: 'Let me see if he escapes the web.' *flip*
Me: 'Tails. He fails.'
Me: 'The troll gets turned into a frog. Well done. You are now a level 3 witch and can choose a new spell. Oh, and the room is full of treasure.'
We rounded the session off with Bean going back to the village, waking them all up by banging on their doors (it was the middle of the night after all) and being hailed as a hero. There was lots of lemonade for everyone. Also, she got to move into the tower and live in it.
Bean: 'Daddy can we play Dungeons and Dragons.'
Bean: 'JUST MAKE SOMETHING UP DADDY. A dragon in a cave. There. That's a story.'
Me: 'A level three witch couldn't take on a dragon all by herself.'
Bean: 'Fine. A vampire in a cave.'
Me: 'Your mum should play a character next time.'
Bean: 'She can be the Princess of Oreos.'
On that note, ladies and gentlemen, I am off to play with my daughter, who has been reading this over my shoulder and making corrections as I typed. Thank you all very much.