Growing up, I always had a distant fascination with Dungeons and Dragons. However, due to a number of reasons, I never really had the opportunity to interact with it until I was in highschool, and it took years of sifting through bad DMs, problem players, and long term campaigns that ended after a couple sessions due to life reasons, before I was actually able to fully enjoy the hobby. This story is not about that journey, but rather about the one experience near the beginning which showed me that it was one worth pursuing despite the pitfalls I already knew would lay ahead of me.
I had actually just given up D&D, having had a particularly bad experience, when a friend in that group asked if I would like to join a group he was putting together to play a different RPG which he really wanted to try out. He said it was a much simpler system that D&D 3.5, and he could easily help us all create our characters shortly before diving in. This was also when LAN parties were really big, and this was going to be tacked on to the end of an afternoon and overnight jamboree which included everyone bringing every bit of hardware they could muster, so I may have agreed more because of that.
I don’t remember exactly how many people showed up for the LAN party, but it was a decent size. The 10pm potluck dinner marked the transition of activities. Some went home, a few retired to sleeping bags, a few more continued duking it out on games like Homeworld and Company of Heroes, leaving just 5 of us along with my friend who invited me who was our GM. That’s when he introduced “Little Fears” to us, a game where children fought the monsters under the bed. While we ate, we each were able to create magical items which he, the GM, would rank how powerful they were, which would determine how often we would be able to use them. Without going into too much detail, the older we were, the more physical capabilities we had, which would be useful in performing stunts and beating down the monsters, but we would be limited in how much “belief magic” we had. On the other hand, the younger we were, while being more frail we also had more “belief magic”, which meant we could use our items more and do, well, magic-y stuff, which was crucial for actually killing the monsters.
We had two older kids who were essentially a fighter and monk, two weaker kids who were essentially a wizard and bard, and then the last was… um, something else. Unfortunately, this was some time ago, and I don’t remember that character being super engaged in the whole affair, so my memory of them is particularly fuzzy.
As we all dumped creation points into our abilities and justified how our magic items worked, it was heavily emphasized that this game was about children between the ages of 6 and 12, and the more we acted our age and got into the mindset of our characters, the better the system worked.
Finally, it was time to play! The GM started with that it was winter break, and much to all of our dismay, we had not seen a single snowflake all season. However, on this fateful day, we pass by a friend of ours (an NPC) who has a nasty bump on their head, and when we ask what happened, she shugged and said she slipped on some ice. We quickly went to her house to investigate, and indeed found a patch of ice, currently melting on her driveway. I was the youngest kid in the party, and had dumped all my resources into abilities for knowing, finding, and figuring things out, and with some decent rolls discovered there was actually a trail of ice patches leading away from our friend’s house. We decided to see where the trail went, and followed it through backyards and allies until it ended at a storm drain.
The GM announced that because of my incredibly high check, I could tell that this was the end of the trail, and that the beginning must have been at the friend’s house. He then began explaining how we all turned to go back to the house, but one of the other players stopped him. “Wait, why would he go back to the house?” The GM blinked back at him, confused for a moment. “…To see what’s at the beginning of the trail?” All five of us look to each other and immediately see we are all thinking the same thing, and begin laughing. “Dude! We’re a bunch of pre-teens. We don’t care about what’s at the beginning of the trail. We want to see what made the trail and poke it with a stick!” The GM laughs with us, flips past several pages of his notes, and tells us to proceed.
Kids we may be, but we aren’t the stupid-stupid kind, and decide to aproach with caution. Thanks to the survival backpack of one of the other players, which magically had exactly what was needed at the time (based on a die roll), we discover the secret way through the drain into the magic (and might I add horrifically gruesome) world of monsters. Slowly and carefully, we begin exploring the tunnels. One of my magic items was a pair of glasses that could show me exactly what I needed to see, and modified by my excellent investigating skills, I was able to help keep the party from encountering any dangerous traps.
I don’t want to spoil this little adventure for anyone who may decide to try it, but we reached the end of the trail, learned a few things about why winter was missing, and then decided it was time to leave and fix things. We got to the way back to our world, and realized it was way too high for us to reach. We began devising a plan where we would make a human pyramid to lift my character to the top, as I was the smallest and lightest, and then tie a rope to something and let it down. None of us noticed the GM’s giddiness as we did this, but we all noticed how crestfallen he seemed when we decided on a much simpler plan. For, lurking in the shadows, was the monster we had been tracking and we needed to defeat. It attacked when we were at our most vulnerable, but we managed to fight it back, and finally the eldest kid managed to strike a home run with his trusty bat on the monster’s head!
As the battle ended, we all cheered and celebrated so much, that the people still doing the LAN party looked over to see what was up, and some of the GM’s family came to make sure everything was ok (it was something like 2 in the morning at this point). The DM closed his notes and congratulated us on finishing the module so quickly and efficiently. He began listing off all kinds of things that could have gone differently, from some of the info that we could have learned in the couple chapters we skipped, to some of the deathtraps we avoided while wandering through the tunnels. The ending was completely different than he was anticipating, and told us how the monster was also listening to us planning the human pyramid escape, and was thinking how satisfying it would be to knock us all over.
The game itself was fun, but hearing how differently it could have gone based on even just a few slightly different actions made me fall in love with RPGs. I will forever be grateful for my friend who GM’d this game for introducing it to me, and in a later conversation, for agreeing with me that my experience in the game prior to this was indeed a bad one, and that I just needed to find a group that fit me better. I am a little sad that it took me becoming a forever DM to finally find those groups, but if that’s what it takes to enjoy this amazing hobby, then so be it!