Last night I began my first forays into roleplaying with my seven-year-old stepson Joseph. My blog for the next few, well, however long it takes will chart our adventures together and hopefully give some of you gamers with kids out there ideas on how to engage your own children.
I didn’t start Joseph out with anything hard-core. Heck, I didn’t even start out with D&D, which my fiancée might have taken exception to. There were no miniatures or dice or maps involved. There were no character sheets or stats. There weren’t even any rules. If anything, it bore more in similarity with a choose-your-own-adventure book (which I loved as a kid) than a standard roleplaying game.
Baby steps, baby steps. Build it, and the D&D will come.
So last night when I tucked Joseph in at 8:30 for bed, I sat down next to him and told him we were going to play a game. I’d tell him a story that he was going to star in, and he could interact however he wanted in the story. At the end of each night (about five minutes or so), he would be offered a major choice or have to make a major decision. He’d decide which he wanted to take, and we’d see the consequences… THE NEXT NIGHT! (Du-duh-DUH!)
The scenario began with the end of his day at school. Joseph goes outside and sees than neither his mom nor I are there to pick him up. He asks his teacher, Mrs. Nicholson, what he should do, and she offers to drive him home herself.
She drops him off at home – he didn’t say anything when she just left him there, very un-Mrs. Nicholson – and he goes inside. The door is unlocked, which is weird, and the house appears to be empty, which is even weirder. He calls for his mom and me, and his voice echoes unanswered through the house.
I had planned for him to try calling us on the phone to see where we were. He knows our phone numbers by heart. He didn’t think of that, so no dealing with that possible outcome. I chalk that omission up to getting used to the game.
Our very adorable and very stupid Cockapoo Darby runs up and greets him, licking his face and yipping at his feet. However, our much smarter, much bigger Standard Poodle, Ella, is nowhere to be found.
Joseph also failed to ask why Darby was not in his cottage. We have to pen him up while we’re gone because Darby goes a little insane when left home alone. The only time I left Darby out by accident, he mauled my full-glove potholders for no clear reason. But Joseph didn’t ask about Darby being loose, either. It would have just been one more mysterious thing about the situation if he had.
Joseph heads upstairs to investigate the bedrooms. He peeks into the main bedroom, also empty of his parents, but our black Persian cat Cleo watches him from the cat tree, cleaning herself nonchalantly. He is about to leave when Cleo straightens up.
“What are you doing home?” She asks. “Have you gotten rid of those accursed dogs yet? Praise Buddha.”
A little backstory here. I have taken the liberty, in our daily life, to give our pets voices and personalities. Cleo talks like Apu from the Simpsons, and is endlessly disdainful of us all. It’s her house, and she lives for the day that the dogs are removed from her premises. She ends most statements with “Praise Buddha.”
Appropriately, Joseph’s eyes go as wide as dinner plates when the cat actually starts talking to him.
“Um, It’s 3:30,” Joseph says, very surprised his cat is addressing him in English, and with an Indian accent. “I get off school now. Where is mom and Reid?”
“I do not know. Hopefully getting rid of those heathen dogs. I have packed their bags, they are ready to go.”
At that moment, our black-and-white cat Frass rubs against Joseph’s leg. “Hey, what’s going on? That Cleo, she’s kind of annoying, huh?”
Frass – short for Rassafrassa, or what Yosemite Sam says when he gets mad – is colored like a cow and talks like Gilbert Gottfried. He is not the sharpest tack in the box; it’s a running debate whether Darby or Frass is dumber. However, Frass has occasional delusions he was in ‘Nam and that he’s General Rassa McFrassa.
Joseph thinks it’s old hat that the pets are talking to him now. He looks under the bed. “Where’s Li’l Buddy? Does he talk too?”
Li’l Buddy peers silently out of the shadows under the bed, remaining quiet and watching Joseph as he runs around the room.
“He doesn’t talk,” Cleo says. “He just hides under the bed all day.”
Li’l Buddy is our black medium-hair cat. He’s very shy and has never had a voice. Joseph has yet to find out about his silent – almost ninja-like, maybe? – qualities in this story.
Frass gets down to business, as Frass is wont to do. “Come on, Joseph, we have to find your parents! No one knows where they went?”
“No we don’t,” Cleo says coolly. “If they’re not here, we can do whatever we want. Besides letting the dogs out to play – I’ve told them how fun it is to play in the street – we can have as much dessert as we want! You can play Rock Band and Wii whenever you please. Let’s go play!”
Faced with this crucial choice, Joseph makes up his mind quickly. “We’ve gotta find my parents!”
Cleo harrumphs and starts cleaning herself, but Frass bounces beside him. “Great! Let’s get moving and find your parents!”
And thus ends installment one! Next time: Darby’s voice, and the weird portals in the office!
I was light on interaction and crucial decisions this first time. I figured it would take him a bit to get into things. The next sessions will have more interaction.
After I hugged him good-night, Joseph said “You knew I would pick to find you guys?”
I told him yes I did, because he’s a good son. I did assume that would be his choice, but I didn’t admit that I figured there was only about a sixty percent chance he’d look for us. He underestimates the power of having whatever dessert he wants, whenever he wants.
I’ll reinforce the consequences of that choice when he asks for dessert tonight. Because I’m father of the year.