I wanted to buy Shadowfell. I wanted to give my wife a bit of a break in her day. So I took my seven-year-old son with me to buy Shadowfell.
"Can I play this game, daddy?" he asks.
It don't get much better than this.
He peered at the outside of the packaging all the way home, then gleefully opened the package once we were at a table. We flipped past the rules summary, and he fixated on the character sheets. "Are these all mine?" "Yep, they're all yours." "There's nothing written where it says Name. Do I get to name them myself?" "You get to name them yourself." "AWESOME!"
He named the Fighter Pieter (pronounced "Pighter"), the Cleric Eric, the Rogue Mogue, the Wizard Mizard and the Paladin Morn. Because, really, the Paladin is DragonBORN, and my son (no dummy) immediately shyed away from trying to find something to rhyme with "Paladin."
We don't have any authorized D&D miniatures, but we have boxes full of Lego mini-figs. I color-copied the sheets from the quickstart book and handed them over to my son (hereinafter, "D") who pored through all of the legos on-hand in order to mimic the character portraits as closely as possible. He's got a little human wizard with an occult-book-tile in one hand, and a burst of flame in the other. He's got a rogue halfling with stylish hair and a jauntily held crossbow. He spent, maybe, an hour all told getting these guys right. I have pictures.
Then we went through the first encounter. D immediately grasped the use of the abilities, got the distinction between At-Will, Encounter and Daily, and was fairly careful about hoarding his resources. As he started running low on enemies, he started looking around for places to usefully apply his Encounter powers, if only to get some bang for the buck. For those who worry that there's too many powers, and that it will flood people and take them out of their enjoyment: A seven year old can run five characters simultaneously, without breaking even a light sweat of exertion.
After one Attack of Opportunity upon him, he grasped the consequences of AoO. He got Mizard the heck back from the combat, and put Eric in a choke-point between oncoming forces and any access to Mizard. He started moving his characters around the edges of any enemy contact-zone, then came in from a diagonal, often to the back corner, in order to leave more room to give other guys access to move straight up if the occasion warranted. I mention these things because I was quite surprised to see them cropping up with no explicit instruction. But, then, he's played Memoir '44, so he may well be importing knowledge. There's also the kobold shifting ability, which makes it all but impossible for the PCs to take advantage of AoOs ... dunno whether I'd consider that a bug or a feature, in an introductory adventure.
D was very pleased with Minions. I am very pleased with Minions. The first minion to come in contact with the group got smacked with a magic missile in no time flat. I tipped the little mini-fig over, then for good measure I pulled off the legs and head, leaving the dismembered little legos in the middle of the road. "YAY!" D cried.
D didn't really seem to think that the kobold shifting ability was all that deadly ... which may very well be because I didn't know how to use it to best advantage. In retrospect, I look at it and say to myself "Ah! I see what I needed to do there ... I needed Minions combining their movement-shift and their ability-driven free shift in order to flank right the heck around someone without suffering AoO, in a way that would force PCs to shift back from the Dragon-shield warriors ... that would let them use their Dragonshield training to shift in response, and I could either (a) maintain the flank or (b) get huge mob bonusses on an unexpected target nearby in the battle." So ... fodder for the poor, foolish adults who dare try to take me on :-)
But in this run-through, the shifting was mostly "Oh man, give me a chance to get the heck away from these guys," only there was no central group of kobolds left for anyone to run to. The delight D expressed as each minion was summarily dispatched made it really hard for me to conserve them. And that's without D ever getting a good to-hit roll when he tried to use Cleave, which (with its potential to take out two minions in a single shot) I'm convinced would have become his favorite attack if it had ever happened to land. The lack of minions meant that even once the dragonshield warriors got some open field to maneuver in, there was no way for them to make anything happen. Don't even talk to me about the poor kobold slinger. It's not happy to be outranged (by, specifically, magic missile) and driven out of cover.
About halfway through the battle, we turned over Mogue the rogue's character sheet. "Sneak Attack" should NOT be on the second page of the sheet. It is the rogue's primary ability, and the major factor that should inform his strategic use in the game. I'm just sayin'. D heard the phrase "Plus two d-eight" and his eyes got a misty, far-away look of delight on them. "Two d-EIGHT," he said, with a mix between avarice and reverence. Once that incentive was clearly in place, D immediately started using Mogue as more of a skirmisher than a line fighter. He kept clear of unattached foes, keeping his mobility (and staying out of range of AoO zones) until he could trap some poor kobold between Pieter and Morn, at which point Mogue would drop down into a flanking box, and butcher his target.
D was very into healing abilities. I told him how to use Surges, and he popped one on Mogue (who had taken some early ambush hits), but he was much more entranced at the idea of Eric making an attack that both damaged the enemy and healed his friends. That ability is a winner, I think, on purely emotional grounds.
D definitely noticed the impact that AC makes. Those Dragon-shield guys earned his respect. Mind you, I was deliberately describing that they were using these giant scales from some sort of lizard to turn aside swords and spears, and I think that visual image caught in his brain. Partway through the battle, he said "Oh! Oh! Daddy! Those scales come from a DRAGON! You know how I know? Because, daddy, the name of this game is Dungeons and DRAGONS, see? That's why they're so hard!"
All in all, we had a terrific time with it as a tactical war-game. There was plenty of roleplaying, in the form of us bending the little lego-figs arms in order to swing swords and axes, and to bop opponents over the head. There was some dialogue, in the form of "Gah! Get away from me you little lizard thing! I'll kill you!" on D's part and "GGRRHRHRR! SSSSSS! Glibble-glaggle ffft! AAARGH!" on mine. Naturally, with one person playing all five PCs, there wasn't very much in-team banter ... D isn't that schizophrenic.
D was extremely interested to get to Winterhaven (which we had to put off in order to do dinner). He was very insistent ... "Daddy, we have to go there! We have to! I don't even know what those things were, and if I find out what they are then maybe I can talk to them. And what about my guys teacher? He went to Winterhaven, and we have to find out what happened to him. Daddy, can we do it now, pleeeeeeeasssssse?"
That said, when I sat down with him to play Winterhaven, he immediately said "Hey? Where's the map?" I explained that some parts you just imagine. "There's a little walled village," (I set up a shoe-box) "With some guards on the walls" (lego mini-figs) "and farmhouses here and there in the valley below the hill."
This did not satisfy him. "But daddy, WHERE are the farmhouses? I have to know. How do I know if I can move to them, if I don't even know where they are?"
"Sweetheart, this is just a village. You probably won't have to fight here, and if we do then I'll make up a map on the spot."
"No. I need to know now. It could be a monster village, daddy. You. Never. Know."