This evening I attended a social gathering. My sister has just turned 14, and I had dinner with her and the rest of our family. It proceeded as family gatherings often do, which is to say that it wasn’t an experience I’d share on a gaming blog. Late in the evening, though, my sister commented that she’d like to join me in playing D&D someday.
“Want to play now?” I asked.
By happenstance, I had a set of 7 dice with me, and I always try to keep pens and paper handy regardless of where I am. I had everything I needed to run a game, and it was a perfect opportunity to try out an experiment I’ve been wanting to attempt for awhile. The experiment is simple: using whatever tools are on hand at the time, introduce a group of new players to gaming by making up a game on the spot.
The three siblings sitting nearest to me were all interested, so I wrote out the six basic stats on three pieces of paper. I told them all to roll 3d6 for their stats, in order, to roll 2d8 for their HP, and to write down one thing their character was good at. From there I figured everything could be handled by d20 checks against their stats, until I encountered a situation where they needed something deeper.
The process proved to be a little awkward. Not because any of my players had difficulty understanding my instructions, but because we only had a single six sider to share, and three people each needed to roll it 18 times. It wasn’t a quick process, and unfortunately the players weren’t even able to explore the first room of the dungeon before the rest of the dinner party agreed that it was time to leave.
I was disappointed. I could see their eyes lighting up as they just barely started to engage with the game world. My experiment was succeeding, I was creating fun out of nothing but experience-tempered improvisation. I didn’t have much to ruminate on, but I was at least encouraged that it was worth trying this again.
It wasn’t until the drive home that I realized I had wasted a lot of the game’s time. I asked the players to roll stats, and it took a good 8 minutes to get everybody’s rolling taken care of. And in the small amount we played, we never actually used those stats. It’s not hard to imagine that we could have gone 15 minutes or an hour, or even several hours without actually needing every single character to use every single one of their ability scores.
Instead, what I could have done is simply given each of them a piece of paper, and told them to write down one thing they were good at. Once that was done, I could have just started the damn game.
If in the first room there was a large rock, and one of the players wanted to lift it, then I could have told them to roll 3d6, record that as their strength, then roll a d20 against that strength score. The stats still exist, they just exist in a state of quantum flux until they are actualized by rolling a check.
Something I’ll try next time for sure.