Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Mini Murder Hobos AKA Running A Game For My Little Siblings

So, for the past few months, I've been running a game of Castles & Crusades for my 11 and 9 year old sisters and two 8 year old brothers.  They were all adopted, and since my biological brother and I bonded over D&D and Star Wars D20 in junior high and high school, I figured I'd bring them into the nerd fold (my biological sister is far to practical, down to earth, and busy camping and kayaking to bother).  Now, those sentences sound wonderful, fun, possibly tedious, and slightly like a twisted version of a Norman Rockwell painting done by Edvard Munch.  It's not.  It's absolutely terrifying.  There have been countless articles and comments written about the culture of murder hobos in Dungeons & Dragons-like games.  I can tell you with utmost convictions that my little siblings make your most hack and slash players look like upstanding citizens.

Now, when I say I'm running Castles & Crusades, I mean I took the most rules light version of D&D I could find, stripped it down even farther to the point where basically they just roll to attack and damage things (and the spellcasters do spell damage), combat rounds are fluid, and basically it's just freeform with occasional excuses for them to roll the pretty new dice I bought them all.

The party consists of:
Little sister 1: Tarca Dyron the female Dwarven Wizard who I have been informed does not shave ever
Little sister 2: Tiki Wiki Miki the female Hawaiian Elf Monk
Little brother 1: Honkanog Rooly the male Half Orc Fighter
Little brother 2: Bowser Sharp Turtleback the male Half Orc Fighter/Monk

They named their characters.  I had no hand in that.  Tarca Dyron rolled an owl on the random familiar table, and it has been expressly stated that it is a snowy owl named Hedwig.  Because it's Harry Potter's owl.  It's not named after Harry Potter's owl.  It's the same one, and she stole it.  There is also issue with Bowser's class.  See, playing just one character is a problem for him.  He wants to change characters every session.  For now at least, we've settled to just multiclass so he can do a little of everything, although he still asks to play a dragon at the start of every session.  He's also informed me that he wants to run the game so he can try to kill the characters for a change.

I quickly realized that there would be no roleplaying when the four of them proceeded to slaughter a town after the stablemaster told them they didn't have enough money to buy horses ten minutes into the first session.  The concerted outrage and tantrum after one of them fell below zero hit points made me realize that there was no enforcing negative consequences.  They now ravage the lands as a terrifyingly focused murder band, slaughtering travelers and monsters alike and making things out of their body parts like tying vampire bat skulls to their boots (to stab people when they stomp on them) or braiding a dead giant's armpit hair into a whip or sticking needles through eyeballs so they can shoot them as spiky rocks from a slingshot.

Usually, I am able to exert control of my players.  Sure, there have been some groups that have felt like herding cats, but try wrangling four high energy primary school kids who fight like cats and dogs on a regular basis.  It's unlike any gaming experience I've ever had.  All of them tend to be sugared up when we play, and playing in their home means there are an endless array of toys to distract them at the drop of a hat.  Complaints about Monty Python quotes and cell phones at the table somehow seem minor at this point.

This group controls me.  If one of them decides they want to kill tarantula people and the other three join in, by God, we're fighting tarantula people and now.  The entire game falls apart until some arachnid folk feel their steel and sorcery, and they can make outfits out of the body parts.  Of course, the game is falling apart while they're finding, killing, and constructing exoskeleton gear too.  Someone is always grabbing someone's dice, character sheet, getting in someone else's space, touching someone, or just deciding it's time to run off screaming for absolutely no reason.

I've tried to make it a more focused game.  I've used randomly generated dungeons, drawn up dungeons, tried sandboxing, tried plot training, tried just about everything.  It doesn't work.  They are not interested unless they have something to murder.  If I announce they've run out of spells or hit points, the tears start until I give them spells or hit points back.  They need to be invincible.  They are second level and want to kill dragons and giants.  They don't want to fight them.  They want to kill them (and make stuff out of the bodies, have I mentioned that?).  Leveling up?  Psshhhh, who needs that?  That's something their big brother does for them between sessions.  Rules?  Whatever, he'll just tell us what dice to roll and what to add to it (and probably do the math for it if we pretend not to know how to add 12+4).  We're hitting this snake person in the face with a club made out of the bones and teeth of the goblins down the hall.  Bonus points if you hit it in the nads or if the big brother does voices for it pleading for its life.

So why do I do this?  Why would I ever subject myself to this torment?  Because they absolutely love it.  They beg to play, plead even.  The second I go over to my parents', I am beset by small people shaking clear Chessex boxes full of rattling seven die polyhedral sets and asking if we can kill stuff today.  I play in the hope that they will mature and learn to love aspects of the game other than killing.  I live for the moments when all four of them are staring up at me chanting for me to roll low so that they can get initiative and kill the monster before it can hit the back.  Even though it's so hectic I can only play for two hours tops (usually our sessions run about an hour), I know I'm helping them build memories of their big brother and introducing them to a hobby that has made my life so much richer.  Maybe in about six or seven years, I'll be sitting across the table from one of their DM screens as they casually toss about a D20 that holds my character's fate in its pending roll.

But for now, my little murder hobos are far more terrifying than your murder hobos.

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