D&D little league
Level one can go bite itself
By: Glenn Bresciani
Most D&D players crave adventure, excitement, fighting, treasure, fighting, glory, fighting Ah, who am I kidding. You play D&D to fight. Why else would the game place as much importance on grids and miniatures as it does on dice rolls?
Writing an adventure for level one Player Characters, now that's a hard slog. So hard, in fact, that when I'm straining myself trying to get it right, it feels like my brain snaps in half.
Seriously, how is it even possible to create fight scenes for heroic adventurers with less hit points than fingers on one hand, and still have them survive combat?
For the monster encounters in my game, I've chosen the oil beetle. It seems like the level one thing to do: a minimum threat that does minimum damage. Besides, how could I go wrong with a monster whose main attack is squirting toxic oil?
Friday night is D&D night at my house. We gather around the dining table for the second game session in our D&D campaign. My eleven-year-old son, Dan, will be playing Aragon the orc, while my nine-year-old daughter, Mandy, will be playing Selena the elf.
I begin the adventure by giving Dan and Mandy the bad news:
"Oil beetles are nesting in an abandoned well next to your village. The queen has laid hundreds of eggs. Should you fail to destroy the nest, the eggs will hatch and a swarm of oil beetles will overrun the village. Everyone will die."
It's like Starship Troopers, but for a level one wimp.
Dan and Mandy have Aragorn and Selena run all the way to the abandoned well. My kids probably would have had their characters leap down the bug hole, that is, if there hadn't been an oil beetle guarding the well.
"Sleep spell!" shouts Mandy.
Yep, Mandy is straight on to it. Faster than you can say: "roll initiative," another monster is forced into an enchanted sleep by elven magic.
Mandy's smug smile stretches for a mile. D&D is awesome when it's all about her.
I hide my own smug smile behind my Dungeon Master's screen. No way am I going to let my daughter pull that "one-trick-pony" crap on me twice. This time, I'm prepared.
A second oil beetle scrambles up out of the well to defend its nest. Having used her one and only spell, Selena must now rely on elvish stereotypes to fight, launching arrows at the monster with her long bow.
Her first arrow jabs one of the oil beetle's many legs.
A second arrow ricochets off the oil beetle's thick carapace.
A third arrow misses by a long shot- and to think Legolas makes death by archery look so cool.
Finally, Dan gets to make his first attack roll. My boy is excited! He rolls a twenty-sided dice. It's a hit! Aragorn throttles the oil beetle with his club, each blow cracking, splitting and concaving the insect's shell.
Mandy throws her pencil and character sheet onto the floor. D&D sucks when it's all about her brother.
Dan may have scored a victory, but the damage his orc received during combat has knocked Aragorn's six hit points down to two. Dan's character isn't dead yet- thank Pelor -but what about the next monster encounter and the one after that?
Damn it! Why did I have to add logic and realism to my campaign? All I've done is set my players up for a Total Party Kill. There's nothing logical or realistic about level one Player Characters who constantly seek danger in monster filled dungeons. Mind you, monsters that are always trying to subtract a dice roll worth of damage from the level one Player Character's minuscule hit points.
C'mon, do the maths: it sucks being level one. It sucks even harder trying to keep a party of level one Player Characters alive when you're the Dungeon Master.
Even with only five hit points between them, Dan and Mandy still have their characters approach the well. Oh no! They're about to climb down the well.
No! Stop! You're going to die. I'm screaming inside my head. You will both die alone in the bottom of a well and it's all my fault.
Wait a minute. Why should the Player Characters have to die alone? There is a village just up the road. The lives of these NPC villagers are as much at stake as the lives of Aragorn and Selena. So, wouldn't it make sense to have all of them aid their champions in eradicating this oil beetle threat?
By having the NPC villagers arrive in the nick of time, carrying between them ladders, ropes, tools, and barrels of flammable oil, I prevent a Total Party Kill from bringing my campaign to an abrupt end. Like Red Cross all over a natural disaster, the NPCs aid the orc and the elf in their bug hunt.
With healing magic from a priestess, and a carpenter who can quickly assemble barricades out of everything in the village not nailed down, Aragorn and Selena survive the war they wage against the oil beetles long enough to reach the queen and her hundreds of eggs.
Flammable oil and a torch are the weapons of choice, to blow everything to kingdom come. Like a lobster in a cooking pot, the queen and her spawns are boiled alive in their own toxic bodily oils.
Aragorn and Selena climb out of the smoking well to applause and cheers from all the villagers. Men and women jostle each other to reach out and touch their saviors.
"I want a sword," says Mandy. She's had enough of this simple farmer's life. "I'm going to the Keep on the Borderlands to buy myself a sword."
Ditching her wooden club and her lifestyle, Selena turns and leaves the village that has been her home since she was a baby.
"I'll have a sword," says Dan, having his orc follow his adopted elf sister out of the village.
Hmm I think my players are ready for level two.
Level one can go bite itself.