Friday, September 25, 2009

Daughters, DMs & Henchmen

For those who might be able to read between the lines, I have a daughter. She turns 21 years of age tomorrow, Sep 26. She is quite happy about it.

Because I have been playing D&D so long, she grew up in a household where it was played every weekend by both her parents. I played as serious a game in those days as I do now, and I had a firm belief (still have) that the game really was not for children. This is not because I feel it is inappropriate, or that it damages minds ... I don’t believe any of that nonsense when it comes to children. I don’t believe in censorship of ideas.

My rejection of the notion of D&D for tots instead derives from my strong belief that the game requires a considerable amount of experience and knowledge in order to be played properly ... and that early play will only incorporate bad habits – such as the sort of habitual simplification which becomes a kind of crutch for some players.

I feel vindicated in this belief, and I will explain why.

While I did not sit my daughter and her friends down to play when she was very young, I did discuss the game whenever she asked questions. Any questions she asked I did my best to give her the full answer, even if this took considerable explanation. My daughter was used to that from me, just as you are used to reading it on this blog. Thus, my daughter grew up comprehending the game, although she did not play it. This may seem strange to some, but she did not resent this. There are many things which, as a child, we learn are the province of adults ... and as long as we are given the privilege of these provinces once becoming adults, we recognize there is a right order to things.

There was never any question that my daughter would play someday. The someday I set was her eleventh birthday.

I did not know, when I was running every Friday night, that my daughter was sneaking forth from her room to lie very quietly in the laundry nook near the dining room, in order to listen to her mother and I, plus our friends, go through the campaign. My daughter did not tell me about this until about three years ago. According to her, she would listen for hours. This would mean, of course, that she heard all the roleplay, all the hacking and killing, all the squabbles over treasure, all the swearing and catcalling and pissing contests invariably going on among players – a complete education, indeed. Note please that it was also a voluntary one. She could have stopped listening whenever she chose. She certainly knew that any sound that gave her away would have resulted in her immediate return to her bedroom, and an increase in vigilance on our part. She was a most capable thief in that regard.

As it happened, before her eleventh birthday, my daughter’s mother had a medical condition which would destroy the family unit we once possessed. To obtain the care she needed, mother and daughter were forced to live with her parents – this is a long story and not a happy one; I have outlined parts of it on my other blog and don’t wish to do so here. As it happened, however, my daughter and I did not live together afterwards. We remained, and remain, extremely close ... which I shall also further describe. But we’ll keep things chronological for the moment.

Because I was not there, and because for some years after ’97 I did not run any campaign (I half-heartedly continued to work on D&D), my daughter did not learn to play by me. She learned instead to play among her peers, just as I did. A bit earlier than me, as she learned in Junior High School ... but the game did not exist in my part of the world when I was in J.H.S., so I can’t be blamed. My daughter learned many things – she began with 3rd Edition, for that was what was popular. Then she played 2nd Edition for a year with some resolute players, by the end of which she begged me to introduce her to 1st Edition. She brought some players, to which were added other players, which today amounts to the campaign I’m running off-line.

From what I hear from her, and the various connections she has made apart from me (she’s been to conventions in the past ten years), the youthful generation (her and those younger than her) craves OD&D, in any form prior to the introduction of 2nd Edition. Craves to the point of frustrated desperation. It is the older generation, the one between her and I, that loves 3rd Edition ... a system which, my daughter tells me, her generation spits on. And 4E ... well, 4E is a belly laugh.

Anecdotal as that is, I find it reassuring.

Before I can move onto the next part of this narrative, I find I have to explain something about my world. I went and searched my blog and am stupefied to discover that I have never said anything about my henchman system. This seems a glaring error.

For some years when I first played I could not help sympathizing with players who were forced to play a two-year-campaign as a single class ... a situation which no doubt encourages rules for the acquisition of skills and all the evils that come with those. In and around 1985, I conceived of a system which I still play. It is quite simple.

Upon achieving 5th level, a character’s natural power and confidence encourages some local noob first level in the first population centre encountered to immediately wish to devote their life to the player character in question. This is done by having the player roll up the henchman, as a 1st level, and to choose the henchman’s class and interests, as another character for the player. The henchman is considered to be absolutely fanatic in terms of wanting to serve the principle character.

This also happens as the original character reaches 7th level, and 9th level, and every two levels thereafter.

Such henchmen receive half experience from combat. They are not allowed to obtain more than half the experience of the main character from treasure gained; thus, if the main character takes 400 g.p. from the chest, and tosses the 230 g.p. gem to the henchman, the henchman’s gains 200 x.p., no more. He can be given more treasure, but he can’t get experience for it.

Seems simple enough, nyet?

Now, if it so happens that that henchman reaches 5th level ... then yes, I break all the rules that most DMs would impose and allow that henchman to gain a henchman of his own. Ad infinitum. As the main character develops, his henchmen gain henchmen who gain henchmen, and so on and so on, until a veritable army is marching forward to adventure.

Well, not quite. There are rules.

Let’s begin with the main character, and call him Albert; let’s make Albert a fighter. He gets to 5th level, and gains a cleric as his henchman, Barjin. If we make a few calculations, we know that it will take 17,000 X.P. for Albert to get from 5th to 6th level. Half of that is 8,500 ... if Barjin gets all 8,500, we know that Barjin will be about 4th level when Albert hits 6th.

This means that Barjin will hit 5th level before Albert reaches 7th (it takes Albert another 35,000 to go from 6th to 7th). This means, when the player’s characters increase, it will be Barjin’s hench who joins. Let’s call Barjin’s hench Beren.

In terms of relationships, Beren Is fanatical about Barjin, and therefore must recognize Albert’s influence in Barjin’s life. Therefore Beren is just as fanatical ... as long as Barjin lives. If it so happens that Barjin dies, then Beren very kindly thanks Albert for all his kindnesses, and then goes. Very cruel, that. But Beren never did give his fealty to Albert in the first place. Now, it’s possible that Beren might stick around, as an NPC, but that’s the best Albert can hope for. Just the same, with the loss of Barjin, Albert is still entitled to a henchman, so he rolls up a brand new 1st level.

In terms of treasure division, Beren gets half of what Barjin gets ... so, a quarter of what Albert gets. If Beren is a paladin (let’s say he is), he’s going to go up levels quite slowly.

All right then ... Albert hits 7th level and rolls up his henchman Cailwainn – a thief. At this point, assuming all combat experience and treasure is perfectly shared, Albert has 70,001 x.p.; Barjin has 26,001 x.p. and is very nearly 6th level; Beren has 6,500 x.p. and is 3rd level; and Cailwainn, of course, has none. I will leave you to check my math, if you care to.

Let’s discuss relationships again. Cailwainn and Barjin are both fanatical towards Albert ... and therefore will work very well together when Albert is present. However, they will not work in tandem by themselves! Where Albert is not involved, the player must choose either group B or group C.

In digesting this, consider the death of Albert. In such an instance, I am ready as DM to allow the player to continue playing Barjin OR Cailwainn – but not both. If the player should pick Barjin, he gets to continue playing Beren as well; but Cailwainn must be retired.

You can see from this how a single main player can eventually develop a complex collection of different characters who can then split off to participate in different parts of the campaign. The high level characters can gather together in some location and put down roots ... while the second or third-tier characters can go off on adventures and self-determined quests. As a DM, I can then pick at the beginning of the running or at the end of the previous running who we will be playing. If I need time to design a vast army to attack the A Party’s fortress, I can run party B in the North African campaign for a month or two.

My parties have consistently loved this idea, since its creation. They get to play a lot of different characters, and to pick additional classes to augment their own plans and tactical needs. One player’s 8th level mage, for instance, is taking exclusively fighters for henchmen, and building up a fair little army with NPC men-at-arms included.

As all the members of the party are 7-8th level, they are all running four or five characters.  These are distrubuted in various campaigns.

Which brings me back to my daughter, and our recent plans.

My daughter has expressed a desire to a) learn better how to run as a DM; and b) how to run my world, specifically, as she would like it if it didn’t disappear with me. She’s been running other parties for years, but not in any established campaign nor in any established world – she only runs the occasional module and has participated as a DM for tournaments.

Naturally, I’m pleased. My plan would be to have all the players roll up new characters for her campaign, which would then go on somewhere in my world (the real world, so what’s the difference?) ... but she and the rest of the party has decided against this. They don’t want to roll up new characters. Rather, they would like to run their C-level characters in my daughter’s campaign. In turn, they would run their A and B levels in my campaign. My daughter’s C-level characters would remain as support for her higher level characters, and I would roll a 1st level character to run in her world.

So I may play for the first time in 15 years. We’re set to begin this experiment in two weeks. Only –

Well, I won’t be rolling up that character just yet. For the first few runnings, my daughter has asked that I don’t run, but rather that I sit over her shoulder and give her suggestions and hints on how to get her campaign going. This will be tricky – I can’t push, but I have to be quick with suggestions. We’ll see if this works as a tutoring model. If it does, it could mean interesting possibilities for the future.

If it was anyone but my daughter and me, I’d be worried. But we are awfully alike.