Posted on March 12, 2019
D&D For Kids: The Sanctuary of Elwyn
As I mentioned late last year, I have started running Basic D&D for kids (specifically, my kids, two of their friends, and one of their friend’s dad, who is a gamer too). The ages range from 8 to 11. We play in short sessions (approximately 2 hours), fortnightly. After our first 3 sessions, we just finished our first dungeon, The Sanctuary of Elwyn the Ardent as it appears in In Search of Adventure. I’m posting here a few of my “lessons learned”!
B-Series Modules are HARD
Personally I like that these modules are truly dangerous, but they’re hard for adult players, let alone kids. In The Sanctuary of Elwyn the Ardent the party of brand new level 1 characters fought a black dragon, and several monsters which could only be damaged with magical weapons (only one of which they found in the dungeon prior to defeating the eponymous Elwyn). These are not appropriate challenges for the typical level 1 party in Basic D&D! I needed to allow the party to damage the monsters even without magic weapons, and more or less ignore the damage the black dragon’s breath needed to do, just to allow the party a chance of progress. There was still a casualty, and plenty of things which should have been casualties, which leads me to…
I let anyone who rolled a 1 or a 2 on their hit die re-roll their hit points. I also didn’t declare characters dead at 0 hit points – instead, they just fell unconscious at this point, and if they could be healed at the end of the combat back to positive territory, they survived. Finally, I allowed characters on 0 hit points to recover 1d3 hit points after being successfully treated with a successful roll under the Intelligence of the character giving first aid (basically borrowing something like the Healing skill from Rules Cyclopedia). By the book (1991 Black Box Basic D&D), I should have done none of these things, but if I didn’t, nobody would have survived.
Any character who is proficient with plate armour who can afford the measly 60gp it costs when they create their characters should buy it. Demihumans are all proficient with heavy armour. The few player characters who started with lighter armour despite their proficiency with plate instantly bought plate upon their return to Threshold at the end of the first dungeon.
The Adventure Flow Chart may be wrong
While all the B-series modules are tough, as mentioned above, The Sanctuary of Elwyn the Ardent includes some monsters which a brand new party literally cannot hit. This despite the fact that it is the first dungeon in one of the pathways on this flow chart:
I’ll bear this in mind for future adventures!
Does Old = Old School?
When I think of old school play, I think of freedom, exploration, meaningful choices, and of course dangerous dungeons. The Sanctuary of Elwyn the Ardent ticks the last one of these, but as a dungeon it is entirely linear – it is just a spiral of rooms and connecting corridors, bringing the characters closer to Elwyn after funneling them through encounter after encounter. The main trap involves the party exploring a particular area which they will only explore if they find a treasure map showing them to explore that area. There’s no way really to get the treasure without falling into the trap, but it is not too deadly a trap anyway. The whole experience is very linear and there are not many meaningful choices for players to make. This is why the inclusion of so many monsters which can only be damaged by magic weapons is frustrating and simply has to be ignored by the referee – there is no way to avoid fighting most of these monsters!
Most irritating of all, the module includes a number of secret doors on the map but tells you not to allow the party to detect them otherwise the dungeon will be anticlimactic. This is true, it would be anticlimactic, and it is easy to fudge failed rolls searching for secret doors if you are rolling behind a screen, since this is always a type of roll which the referee should be making anyway. But it just irritates me – I have players who created characters with the ability to detect secret doors and they are being cautious and searching for them. This is really the only element of player skill to the dungeon exploration component of such a linear dungeon, where even mapping is more or less redundant, but it’s completely nullified by needing to fudge the rolls. I ended up allowing the party to detect the secret doors when their rolls indicated they could, because it just felt wrong otherwise, but then I ruled the doors were locked and could only be opened from the inside, so they couldn’t short cut straight to the end, but I still found this deeply unsatisfying. The players, being kids, didn’t seem to mind too much though, they all had a lot of fun.
There’s a lot of treasure to be found in this dungeon, and a lot of treasure in the way of rewards offered to the party by the Church of Karameikos. Even only giving XP for the former and not the latter, there was enough treasure for all 5 player characters to level up. The cleric even reached level 3 (oh, this reminds me of another way I broke the rules – I allowed the characters to level up during the dungeon since we played across three sessions). That’s a lot of gold they can spend back in Threshold!
Old school DnD was a little more dangerous intentionally. The one magic weapon in this adventure is intended to be the only key to beating the enemies with weapon resistance. The dragon is supposed to be beaten by wits rather than brute force. And PCs are supposed to die. The church can resurrect PCs as reward for services rendered.
This adventure teaches new players (or new PCs) that running away is sometimes a good plan because the world isn’t perfectly balanced for fun.