We gathered at the table, dimmed the lights…turned them up again as no-one could see their character sheets…and prepared to play.
It finally happened. Sunday, December 4th, 2016. I sat at the table and rather than pulling a board game from the shelf, I instead span stories and tossed tales for those present. On Sunday, I donned the robes of the Dungeon Master!
On this night said robes consisted of a pair of comfortable jogging bottoms and an ancient tee-shirt grabbed from the bedroom floor, but you get the gist.
What lay before us was a first step into the fantastic worlds offered by the Pathfinder RPG, or more precisely, the Pathfinder Beginner Box. I figured baby steps would prove crucial in this becoming a long term gaming plan.
I have to be honest, as I sat there with a rough idea of the rules of engagement, a rougher idea of what each room of the soon to be pillaged dungeon held, and almost no idea what effect the things sitting within these dank stone walls would have when disturbed, I was a little unsure how this would play out.
We gathered at the table, dimmed the lights…turned them up again as no-one could see their character sheets…and prepared to play. I felt as though I was standing on the knife edge of a mountaintop, on one side was a fall into the doom of tabletop RPG’s enjoying any further time at the table. On the other, a new rich and rewarding addition to family game time.
Then something pretty magical happened. I handed out the character sheets to three of my children. Holly, the Elven cleric, Harrison, the Dwarven fighter, and Dylan, the Human rogue, then suggested they introduce themselves to one another prior to undertaking the adventure ahead. Without hesitation, Holly, sprang into action, immediately questioning the reasons for Dylan and Harrison to be going with her into the depths of the dungeon like Sherlock Holmes on a caffeine overdose! It was awesome, and as I watched Dylan and his little brother squirm uncomfortably as they tried to answer the crazed Elf before them, it was the moment I knew this might just become another string to the bow of quality family time.
For those that have not yet encountered the tabletop RPG, it’s basically like playing The Witcher 3 but with more laughs and worse graphics. I had watched from afar quite regularly before actually deciding to run a session, but it was the seemingly user-friendly approach of Pathfinder that grabbed me and eventually pulled me into this other world.
Ahead of the inaugural session I had put everything neatly into place. Maps, little figures to depict the action, a bowl of something crunchy, some dice, and a neat Bluetooth speaker to deliver some beautifully atmospheric background noise…apart from that one moment when, just as the players were entering the bowels of the goblin-littered dungeon, the spell was broken by the tones of Homer Simpson blurting from the speaker, “Visitors, better put on pants!” Damn you Simpsons Tapped Out! But, niggles aside, the stage was set and, surprisingly, worked like an absolute dream.
The Pathfinder Beginner Box is a true little treasure trove for first time, or returning after a long break, dungeon masters. It takes what at first glance can appear ridiculously daunting and complex, and makes it wonderfully straight-forward. The opening adventure in the manual is set out in such a way that it almost holds your hand from encounter to encounter. It still leaves room for some lyrical flourishes from the dungeon master in describing the sights and sounds of the fantastical and frightening land, but it makes every tentative step feel like it’s being taken with the benefit of a safety net below. This is crucial in my opinion. One of the biggest worries when running a game, or even when recommending a boardgame to the table, is that it is fun for all involved. Take fun away from the action and you might as well be doing homework, or playing Monopoly…sorry, couldn’t resist.
I did feel quite under pressure to deliver a game that would play at a good pace, one in which I could quickly allow the action to unfold and explain the consequences of each player action without prolonged dips into the rulebook, and one that most importantly would hold attention and prove brilliantly fun! Just a little pressure then. After only a quick read though the Pathfinder manual I felt at ease. So simple are the explanations of how this weird world works, that I immediately felt ready to take the reins and deliver some serious adventure.
We ended up playing for around two hours on that first night. We covered perhaps fifty percent of the ‘Black Fang’s Dungeon’ adventure and every step was filled with great chatter and even greater dollops of fun. The adventurers began to take shape and flesh was quickly added to the bones, and numbers, of the character sheets. We realised little innocent Holly was actually a treasure crazed lunatic with barely a thought for her companions when anything glittery shone into view. This was best highlighted after Dylan had finally seen the Goblin King to Death’s door after what can only be described as a brutal and bloody battle, and little Holly scampered over and looted the King’s body. She would have been there sooner but had been off in the corner of the room opening a chest whilst the others were exchanging blade and blood with a group of goblins.
The entire adventure, or the fifty percent we completed, was peppered with great moments. Watching the trio figure out how to bypass devilishly fiendish traps, or understand the meanings behind strange artefacts dotted with intricate runes, or witnessing Harrison change his character’s name from Billy, to Sunny Da Best, and then eventually to, Moo Moo, always making me smile and etching into me just how great it could be to throw RPG’s into the tabletop playing mix! And so this evening, as the light begins to fade from the day and the twinkle of the Christmas tree casts its gentle glow across us, we’ll once again gather at the table, unleash the dice, make sure The Simpsons Tapped Out is switched off, and dive into the further adventures of, Kataryna, Ezio, and…Moo Moo, a very serious dwarf, with a very serious battleaxe and a mild case of identity crisis.