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Introducing RPGs To The Next Generation

While I haven’t been blessed with children yet, I have been given four wonderful nephews, the oldest of which just turned 12 years old. I have been waiting for this day for quite a while now, and with the blowing of the candles (so to speak) the time has arrived for me to play a part of being the most awesome uncle that I have been preparing for all my life: with the arrival of his 12th birthday, I am now introducing my nephew to tabletop roleplaying games.

Why now? I think it’s just the simple fact that it was when I was 12 that I was introduced to roleplaying games during the 7th grade; I was able to grasp the concepts of the game perfectly well by that point, so I can reasonable assume that my nephew, who I believe to be smarter at his age than I was at that time, will do so as well. He’s grown playing videogames that emulate and in some cases are influenced/descended from D&D, so I think that by now he’ll be able to put all those strands together into one thread and see how it all comes together. Lastly, that’s the recommended age on the box and hey, why not trust it?

After making the decision that it was time to begin the indoctrination, I went to Amazon.com and ordered him the new D&D Starter Set aka. the new Red Box. Why did I choose this boxed set above any other introductory product, especially considering how I’ve gone gaga over the Dragon Age RPG? Surprisingly (even to myself, I discovered), I went through a whole thought process to reach this decision.

First and foremost, nostalgia. Yes, I succumbed to it. I started playing with a red box with that same cover art and I’ll be darned if the lure of the past didn’t take a hold of me. That said, it wasn’t the most important reason by a longshot, but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t play a part.

When thinking of introductory sets I could send to my nephew to explore on his own until the next time I happen to travel to Puerto Rico, there were only two choices for me: the D&D Starter Set red box, and the Dragon Age RPG Set 1. Both of these games are meant for complete newbies to the world of roleplaying games, both come with all the ingredients needed to play inside, including dice, and both are boxed sets. Why is the box an important consideration? Because to someone who is not used to the idea of tabletop roleplaying games, the box presentation bridges the gap between what they normally think of as the packaging for a game and this new form of entertainment. While I can understand perfectly well that games need not come only in boxes, to the general population that is the way games are sold. By choosing a boxed set, I am making sure that I tap into this subconscious reasoning so they approach these books as what they are.

I keep writing “they” instead of “him” because even though I am gifting this to my nephew, I need to learn from my own experience and make sure that I also bring his family on board. My sister grew up knowing I played D&D and knows full well that I continue to game, so I have that on my side, but knowing about and knowing what it is from the inside are two different things. It’s also different when it’s your older brother and your oldest son that we’re talking about, so while my sister isn’t someone I fear in the least will get bent out of shape over this gift, there’s also no reason to exclude her from knowing exactly what I’m getting her son into. The more she knows, the more supportive she’ll be if my nephew bites the hook.

So once I decided that I wanted a boxed set, the choice was then between D&D and Dragon Age. I debated this in my head for about a day; they both have pros and cons that I needed to weigh in relation to whom I was giving the gift to, which is why in the end I went with the D&D red box.

I love Dragon Age, as anyone who’s been reading this or my Twitter feed or my new website, the Dragon Age Oracle, knows. Love it. I honestly believe that it is the best introductory product in the current market for fantasy roleplaying games. So why in the hell did I not get it for my nephew? It’s not like I have vast experience playing D&D 4e (I literally have one encounter of 4e experience, that’s it). The answer is simple: I considered the person that was going to receive the gift rather than the one giving it.

My nephew has been playing videogames since he was 2 or 3, and he’s played quite a few titles that I, personally, would not have allowed him to due to violent content (it actually ends up that I am a rather prudish parental figure), but those videogames are external stimuli: whatever is going on, is going on outside him and he’s just absorbing the information. It turns out that my nephew, when confronted with similar imagery that originates within his own imagination, is not as resilient to it. He has yet to finish reading the first Harry Potter novel because imagining the situations and creatures therein was a bit too much for him at 10. He’s gotten better over the last year, but it is something I need to keep firmly in mind. Dragon Age is a Dark Fantasy roleplaying game, and while he hasn’t played the videogame, part of the violence inherent in the setting does carry over into the RPG books. Looking at the cover image for both boxed sets made me realize this:

The characters are powerful but besieged by a horde of dark creatures. They are on the brink of defeat if they miss even one enemy. Will they succeed?

The warrior is facing the greatest enemy, a dragon, and he does so without hesitation. It's just him and the beast, and he's ready for the battle. Will he succeed?

Both of those covers inspire me to adventure, but the Dragon Age one is darker, both in colors as in theme. Elmore’s classic illustration should scare me as well–that IS a dragon after all–but what it really does is inspire me. I wanted to be that warrior so bad when I started playing D&D!

The Dragon Age world is a dark place and I don’t want to run even the slightest risk that the inherent darkness of that world will turn my nephew off from the game. I know D&D can be dark, but it has a more generic approach, which I’m using as a feature in this case.

Which, really, is a shame, because the big drawback to the D&D Starter Set is that it is a one-trick pony whereas Dragon Age is a door to a greater world. The D&D Starter Set comes with nice tactile bits in the form of tokes, which I know he’ll enjoy, as well as nice colorful character sheets and full color booklets (though I was unimpressed with the quality of the books). But the game is contained; the Player’s Guide runs like a choose-your-own-adventure, which in the end yields a completed character, an idea that I like a lot, especially considering I won’t be there to help him so he’s gonna be going into this on his own. Sadly, it doesn’t teach you how to create new characters any other way. The DM’s Guide covers all the basic information needed to run the game (I haven’t read it yet, this is just from looking over the sections covered) and includes a couple paragraphs about leveling to Level 2, but that’s it. Wanna play more? You gotta get the 320-page Rules Compendium. In contrast, the Dragon Age Set 1 contains the entire game and support for the first 5 levels of play, presented in two 64-page full-color booklets that allow for periodic growth of the game rules and the user’s game experience. Where the new D&D Starter Set is just that, a starter, the Dragon Age Set 1 is an introduction to the game, much like my version of the D&D red box in 1986 was.

I may sound like I regret my decision to buy him the D&D Starter Set, but I don’t. I think the more “vanilla” approach of that D&D product will be beneficial in the long run. The tactile, card-driven, videogame-inspired nature of D&D 4e will appeal to him on a visceral level, which I am hoping will be enough to get him hooked. If that happens, then Dragon Age Set 1 will not be far behind, because once he’s used to the concept of a roleplaying game and to the idea that the adventures are in his imagination, I firmly believe that Dragon Age Set 1 does a much better job of delivering a game in an easy-to-understand format that sets you up for more adventures once you have mastered the basics. Unless, of course, he falls head-over-heels for D&D in which case, once again, it’s all about the person receiving the gift, not the one giving it. We’ll see. Either way, I’ll be happy if my nephew gets started down this awesome road that I have been traveling for the past 25 years.

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Categories: Gaming Tags: , , ,
  1. February 9, 2011 at 12:57 PM

    PostScript:

    While I discussed this yesterday on Twitter, a couple of things came up that I’d like to add here but didn’t want to bog the main blog post down with.

    My friend JJ (@CinderellaManJJ) said that for his 12-yr-old son, the dark fantasy aspect of Dragon Age would be an asset, then added, “I wonder what that says about him? Or me?” My reply was that it says he’s in far more contact with his son on a daily basis and knows him well enough to know that dark fantasy would be right up his alley. I, on the other hand, live some 1000 miles away and get to see him only a couple times a year, so I’m not that involved in his day-to-day life, which means I need to proceed a bit more cautiously.

    A side conversation emerged about introductory roleplaying products and my friend Stuart (@RobertsonGames) asked why we were limiting ourselves to D&D or Dragon Age, i.e. two with mass-market presence? My reply was that to me it made a difference because brand recognition would help my job of introducing this new game a little easier to both my nephew and his family, and if he indeed wants to buy more products, I know those two should be fairly easy to find (which, actually, in Puerto Rico may not be so true, but that’s another issue). In the end, what I told Stuart is that I was discussing a personal case dealing with my decision concerning my nephew which then spawned another discussion dealing with the hobby market in general.

    Lastly, my friend Josue, whom I’ve been gaming year for almost those entire 25 years, tweeted the best comment in reply to me saying that I had picked up a copy of the new D&D Starter Set at Target:

    “Target? Pfhht! In my time we had books as hand me downs filled with love (vodka and fungus) and poorly made photocopies. ;-)”

    That is so true. Good times.

  2. Yehoshua Paul
    February 10, 2011 at 2:28 AM

    I have not played D&D for years. I also originally started out in D&D, and continued without until 3.5E, but I moved away from it the more I realized that there are so many better alternatives out there. My main problem with D&D and introducing D&D is that it has too many rules. When I play an RPG, I look to exercise my imagination, and the fact that I need to read the entire player’s handbook just seems overrated when considering all the alternatives that just allow you to show up to a game, pick up a character sheet, and start playing – no previous knowledge required.
    When I introduce others to roleplaying I prefer to take them to a freeform game, you get all of the fun experience, and less rules.

  3. Chuck
    March 3, 2011 at 4:05 PM

    I started gaming long after the publication of the Mentzer set, yet that has come to be the D&D I prefer! Too bad there is no longer an equivalent product. Maybe I’m selling the youth short, but even the starter version of 4th edition seems very complicated. I believe the lasting appeal of the original Redbox was the simplicity and completeness of those rules. Still, a very thoughtful gift and hopefully a life changing one!

  4. March 6, 2011 at 12:55 PM

    @Chuck
    I SO would love to go back in time to get a red box. That, to me, remains the best intro set ever.

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