Stan and Lawrence were just finishing up
their homework when Stan's little sister
Stephanie and her friend Vanessa
came home from tap dancing class.
"... but even if you play, that's only two of us,"
Vanessa was saying as the two girls came
into the great room, "and we need a party."
"What kind of party?" Stan asked,
turning to look at them.
"An adventuring party," Stephanie explained.
"Vanessa wants to play Kaverns & Krakens.
I said I would, but we don't have enough people."
"I'll play with you," Stan said instantly.
He was always up for a good game,
and he'd had fun with K&K once when
his friend Tyke had run an afternoon session
as part of his Game Design badge.
"Lawrence, what about you?"
"I dunno," Lawrence said softly
as he tucked a silvery lock of hair
behind his ear. "I haven't played it
in a long time. Back when I was thirteen,
I used to go to a gaming shop on Saturdays
and watch out for pickup games there,
but then ... stuff happened ..."
He was smiling, though, just
a faint curl at the corners of his mouth.
Stephanie saw it too, because she
held out a hand to Lawrence.
"Would you like to play with us?"
she invited. "Vanessa says it's best
if you have four to six players."
"Me too, me too!" Sloane yelled,
running into the room to tackle Stephanie.
"Can I be in your game? Please, please?"
Stephanie rolled her eyes.
"Way to go, Buttinsky," she said.
"You're really convincing me
that you'd be an asset to the party."
"Oh, let her play," said Stan.
"You know she'll just buzz around
if you say no. At least this way
she'll sit at the table."
"Fine," Stephanie said.
"So that's four of us," Vanessa said.
"Five," Lawrence said. "I'm in."
Stan grinned at him. "It'll be fun,"
he said. "Stephanie's great at games."
"I remember her cunning strategies
from Shadows Over Camelot,"
Lawrence said. "I believe you."
Stephanie preened. "Thanks."
"So you guys will need to make characters,"
Vanessa said. "I was a buccaneer
before my last gaming group fell apart.
I'll miss it, but I'm the only one who
knows how to run a game, so --"
"If you need a Kaverncaptain,
I'd be happy to help," said Stan's father
as he stepped into the great room.
"Yay!" exclaimed Vanessa.
"You're a gamer?" Lawrence asked.
"I didn't know that."
There was a lot that Lawrence
didn't know about Dad yet, but
Stan left that up to his father to field.
"Oh, I was quite the adventurer
in my misspent youth," said Dad.
"I spent many a weekend hanging out
at the local hobby shop -- wasn't like
I had much else to do back then."
Then he waved a hand at the kids.
"Vanessa, bring out your gamebooks.
Lawrence, pop the chessboard
out of the gaming table; we'll want
the water tiles for this, I think."
The gaming table was a vast, heavy structure
of dark walnut with drawers and bookshelves
underneath to hold the equipment.
Stan showed Lawrence how to
remove the insert of checkered wood,
which they replaced with smooth blue marble.
Meanwhile Dad had opened one of the drawers
and brought out a battered cardboard box
with a sailing ship on the top, from which
he took several black-and-white booklets.
"Oh my god, is that a first edition?"
Lawrence squeaked. "Autographed?"
"Yes, it is," Dad said with a chuckle.
"This is a hand-me-down from the
neighbor boy who taught me to play,
but I went to a convention myself
to get everything signed.
My lucky dice are in here, too."
They were horrid things, really,
the faces not marked by pressed numbers
but covered with fading stickers.
Dad still grinned as he tossed them
on the marble tiles of the gaming table.
"Does this mean I shouldn't use
my Krakenscale?" Vanessa asked,
showing a lucent blue disc.
The gizmo could be programmed
to roll any combination of dice
or to calculate gaming statistics.
"No, use whatever you like," Dad said.
"Are there dice for the rest of us?"
Lawrence asked, and Stan
pointed to the corner drawer.
"Man up," Dad said. "Vanessa,
do you have any character sheets?"
"Yes," she said, pulling out a folder.
"You'll need to choose classes.
I'm being a buccaneer again."
"I already called cleric,"
"Mage," Lawrence said.
"What are classes?" Sloane asked,
climbing half over Stephanie
to peer at the pages.
"Kinds of character," Stan said.
"They show what you do well.
I forget all the choices though."
Vanessa passed him a book
with the options listed.
"Paladin looks like fun," he said.
"Thief!" crowed Sloane,
grabbing the book from him.
"Hey, ask politely," Stan said.
"Sloane," their father said,
a warning in his voice.
"If you can't play nicely,
I'm sure your mother could
use help in the kitchen."
Sloane settled at once.
"Sorry," she said to Stan.
Stan peered at the sheet.
Last time, Tyke had handed out
premade characters to everyone.
Math always made him feel like
his brain was being slowly diced.
"Lawrence, this is all numbers," Stan said.
"Will you do up my guy for me?"
"No I will not," Lawrence said,
giving him a stern look
over the edge of a guidebook.
"If you want a great character,
you have to earn it by doing the math
yourself, just like everyone else.
I'll check your work when you're done."
Lawrence didn't hesitate to help
the younger girls with the math
that was too hard for them, though.
Stan grumbled but went through
the tedious process of writing down
all the little numbers and adding them up.
He had to admit it was more rewarding
than plain old math problems, because
he got a pretty cool paladin out of it.
Lawrence glanced over the character sheet
and then pointed with his pencil.
"If you swap these two, then you can
boost this bonus by two points."
"I thought you said you wouldn't help!"
Stan said, staring at him.
"I said I wouldn't do it for you,"
Lawrence replied with a wink.
"Never said I wouldn't give you a hint."
Lawrence was just like that.
Paper rustled as Dad leafed through
an assortment of old booklets.
"Okay, here's a quickie adventure
that I used to love playing," he said.
"If we have fun today, then I'll see
about putting together a campaign.
Vanessa, do you have any new monsters?"
"Yeah, but they're still in my vidwatch,"
the girl said, stroking her long dark ponytail.
Dad rattled off his email address
as he opened the drawer that had
the big gaming slate inside it.
"Send me what you have," he said.
"The rest of you, pick your equipment."
That required even more math,
but the equipment list was terrific,
and Stan dove in with more enthusiasm.
"Stan? Could you give me a hand?"
Lawrence asked. He'd picked his spells
and related materials, then gotten stuck
on the basic supplies and weapons.
Stan gave an evil chuckle. "Make your list,"
he said, "and then I'll give you a hint."
Lawrence stuck his tongue out at him.
Stan ignored it, turning to help
his sisters pick out their gear.
Sloane had all kinds of thieving tools
but had skimped on survival needs.
When Stan pointed this out, she said,
"But you've got all that stuff, so why should I?"
"What if we get separated?" Stan said.
"You know how Dad is. He'll push us."
Sloane huffed, blowing her red bangs
up and out of her face. "He's mean."
"He's listening," Dad said.
"Sorry. I'll repack," Sloane said.
By then Lawrence had laid out his list,
which only needed a few substitutions.
"You did a good job," Stan said,
just to watch the pink flush
race across his pale cheeks.
Dad had the adventure set up,
and off they went, hunting for glory
in the magical Kaverns that held
rifts between the dimensions,
allowing monsters and treasures
to collect within them.
There was no way to know,
until you went into one,
whether it was enchanted or
just an ordinary underwater cave that
would drown you if you weren't careful.
Adventuring was risky business.
Sometimes Dad passed notes
back and forth with different people,
just to be mysterious. Stan knew that
because his said, This is just a random note.
They skirmished with a few small monsters,
which was exciting -- Stan took the front
as their fighter while Lawrence hung back
and lobbed spells over his head.
Vanessa darted around them to
harry the monsters from all sides,
while Sloane gathered up the bits
of treasure that they dropped.
And pocketed it.
Stan made her share it out
after the fighting was over,
but she grumbled.
Stephanie healed the minor wounds
they'd taken in combat, and then
they were off again.
"The next cave seems to hold
an eerie violet glow,"
Stan's father intoned.
"What do you do next?"
"I cast Dezin's Distant Gaze,"
said Lawrence. "What do I see?"
"Inside the cave lies a Kraken
curled around a carven arch.
Atop the arch is a faceted purple jewel,"
Dad read from the page.
"I'm sneaking inside," Sloane declared.
"I grab her!" Stan said.
"Roll for it," Dad said.
Stan rolled, but Sloane's character
was faster than his and managed
to dart inside the cave before
they had anything like a plan.
So of course they all had to go in
and face the Kraken together,
so that she wouldn't get eaten.
Sloane was picking up treasure again,
which wouldn't have been so bad,
but then she climbed the arch and
started prying at the jewel with a cutlass.
"Hey! Is that my cutlass?"
"Now that you see it in action,
yes it is," Dad said. "She managed
to lift it off you at the last cavern,
and according to my secret roll,
you didn't notice her sneaky act."
"No stealing from the party,"
"It's not in the rules," Sloane said.
"I checked. I can if I want."
"This is exactly what broke up
my last gaming group!" Vanessa snapped.
She stalked away from the table.
"Oops," Sloane said softly.
Lawrence had that pinched look
on his face again, and Stephanie
was glancing back and forth
between her sister and her friend.
"What do you do now?" Dad asked
in the same even tone he used
for prompting adventures.
"Just ... hold down the fort in here,
would you please?" Stan said.
"I'll go talk to Vanessa."
Stan found her in the kitchen,
splashing water on her face,
with Mom offering a dishtowel
and looking pretty peeved.
"Sloane's idea of the new game
is a bit different from Vanessa's,"
Stan explained to his mother.
"Hey, Vanessa, it's okay.
Sloane wasn't trying to be mean,
she just wants to get attention."
"We just started playing
and it's wrecked already,"
Vanessa said, her lip wobbling.
Aw, nuts, if she started crying for real
Stan would have to bail out and
let Mom try to fix it. He wasn't as good
at fixing little-girl problems as game problems.
"It's not wrecked," Stan said.
"We all know Sloane and nobody's
going to quit just because she's cutting up."
"But won't it make people hate her,
and then they won't want to play?"
Vanessa said. "That's what happens,
it's real, I've seen it lots!"
"This is just a game," Stan said.
"It's great practice, but it's not real."
"I don't care," Vanessa said,
crossing her arms. "It's still
important to me."
"It's important to me too,"
Stan assured her with a smile.
"Come on, let's go back in the great room
so you and Sloane can work it out."
Vanessa followed him, muttering,
"She'd better apologize."
"Sloane is my sister and I love her,
but she's a stinker. She's always
gonna be a stinker," Stan said.
"This game is a safe place for her
to try out what works and what doesn't."
"Yeah, and when it all goes wrong
like it just did?" Vanessa said
as they turned the corner.
"Nobody's going to get hurt --
well, okay, if Sloane messes up
and hurts somebody's feelings, then
she might wind up doing dishes for a week --"
Stan said. Sloane gave an aggrieved groan.
"-- but nothing will get broken and
nobody's gonna need an ambulance."
Vanessa sighed. "But she's rotten."
"You got a little sister?"
Stan asked her.
"No," Vanessa said.
"Little brother?" he tried.
"No. I'm an only child,"
she said, scowling at him.
"Well then, you can borrow mine,"
Stan said. "Little sisters are pesky
so that older brothers or sisters
can learn patience."
Lawrence was laughing behind his hand,
drat him, now was not the time for that.
Sloane had burrowed up against his side
like she was trying to hide. Great.
"Sloane, have you got something
to say to Vanessa?" said Stan.
"Sorry," Sloane said.
"Vanessa, would you tell Sloane what
bothered you so much?" Stan asked.
"My last group broke up because
the thief stole stuff from the party,
and the assassin killed one of us,"
Vanessa said. "It was awful,
and I don't want it to happen again."
"I just wanted to see what it would be like
to be a thief," Sloane whispered.
"Well now you know," Lawrence said dryly.
"People get pretty mad at you."
"I'll give back all the rest of the stuff
that I took," Sloane said. "I guess
this prank wasn't as fun as I thought."
There was a lot of it.
She'd lifted Stan's dagger,
Stephanie's blessed rosary,
and one of Lawrence's potions
along with half the earlier treasure.
"No more running off, either,"
Stan said. "This time we're making
a plan before we go back into the Kavern."
Vanessa turned out to be quite good at teamwork
once she stopped glaring at Sloane and
started taking advantage of the thief's abilities,
which played well with her own buccaneer.
Stephanie put her head together
with Lawrence to figure out a combination
of magical and spiritual spells that would
boost everyone's prowess effectively.
The Kraken proceeded to cream them anyway.
It had eight muscular arms plus two more
that were long and skinny for grabbing.
That was more than enough for it
to bounce them off the Kavern walls.
"We're getting diced here!" Lawrence snapped.
"Somebody better think of something quick!"
"What fools dare to threaten
the Guardian of the Amethyst Kavern?"
Dad rumbled in the Kraken's voice.
"Do you not know what dangers
may come forth if you damage
the lock that controls the Gate?"
"Guardian?" Stan said
with a sinking feeling.
"Did anyone think to check
if the 'monster' is actually evil?"
"Whoopsie," Stephanie said.
"I cast Weigh the Stranger's Soul."
"You commune with your god,
and realize that this Kraken
is Honorable and Orderly," said Dad.
"Oh, crud, I'm going to be doing penance
for a month," Stephanie said.
Well, there was nothing to do but face the music.
"O great Kraken, we humbly beg your pardon
for disturbing your duties," Stan said.
"What will you do to make amends
for your error, tiny mortal?" said the Kraken.
"We ... could ... help clean up the mess we made?"
Sloane said with a hopeful look.
"I have some repair spells," Lawrence said.
"Might as well start my penance here,"
"Uh, I'm a pirate," Vanessa said.
"Not sure I have any domestic skills."
Stan's father made a burbling noise
that sounded amazingly like Kraken laughter.
"Are pirates not the best at handling treasure?
Your task will be gathering it and devising
a way to hide it from other intruders."
So they worked together to restore the Kavern
to the condition it had been before they entered,
keeping only the treasure -- now equally divided --
that they'd captured in the earlier fights.
At the end of the session, they were shocked
by how many experience points Dad handed out.
"But -- but we didn't kill the Kraken,"
Stephanie protested. "We didn't even
defeat it! That thing totally kicked our buns."
"You showed good initiative and planning.
You made mistakes and learned from them.
You used teamwork to good effect," Dad said.
"All of that counts as experience, and
you deserve a reward for it. Distribute
your points and improve your skills."
That was a little tricky, because
you could only improve skills that
you'd used during the session, and
Stan's favorite hadn't come up while
both of his next-favorites had, so
he had to make some tough choices.
Then Lawrence pointed out how
a skill that Stan hadn't even considered
would support his top favorite, and
that worked out just fine.
Sloane turned to Vanessa and said,
"I really am sorry for upsetting you.
"Mom's making sundaes for dessert.
You can have the cherry off mine.
Please forgive me?"
Stan wondered if Vanessa had any idea
how much Sloane loved maraschino cherries
or that she was only allowed one per sundae
because of the time she'd eaten a whole jar
and then felt queasy all weekend long.
"Yeah, okay," said Vanessa.
"Oh, good," said Lawrence.
"I'd hate to see the game break up too."
"You really won't quit?" Vanessa asked.
"No, I'm pretty stubborn that way,"
Lawrence said, but it was Stan
he was looking at, with
a certain twinkle in his eye.
"Me too," Stan said. "People can be
annoying, but some of them are worth it --
and you can learn a lot along the way."
"Go team," Stephanie said,
taking Vanessa's hand.
"All right, that's it for tonight," Dad said. "I'm proud
of you kids for working out your own problems.
Now go wash up; supper's about ready."
The girls scampered away.
Stan and Lawrence let them go,
staying behind to help put away the game.
"You know, the math still feels like
it's slicing and dicing my brain,
but I have to admit the paladin
makes a great payoff," Stan said.
"Thanks for helping with that,
and for looking after Sloane
while I talked to Vanessa."
"You're welcome," Lawrence said,
his gaze flicking from Stan
to Stan's father and then
toward the kitchen. "Thanks for
sharing your family with me."
"There's always room for one more,"
Dad said, pulling a startled Lawrence
into a quick sideways hug.
Lawrence was still smiling
when he let Stan lead him to supper.
* * *
Vanessa Byrne -- She has fair skin, brown eyes, and long straight brown hair usually worn in a ponytail over her right shoulder. She likes to dress in bold color combinations, often black and white accented with red or blue. Vanessa is friends with Stephanie Wood, and they met during tap dancing class.
Qualities: Good (+2) Math, Good (+2) Punctual, Good (+2) Tap Dancer, Good (+2) Teamwork
Poor (-2) Drawing
* * *
In Terramagne, roleplaying games evolved from pirate lore and fish-out-of-water stories. You can see the roots of Kaverns & Krakens in our world's Dungeons & Dragons, "Sturmgeshutz and Sorcery, or How Effective Is a Panzerfaust Against a Troll, Heinz?" (illustration by Greg Bell for article by Gary Gygax, The Strategic Review, Vol 1, No 5, TSR, December 1975) and Tunnels & Trolls.
Game Design is a badge carried over to Activity Scouts from Boy Scouts, with an elaborate worksheet for tracking progress.
Boris Buttinsky is a Floppit with shaggy reddish-brown fur. He is known for two things: butting into absolutely everything he sees, and being a hard worker who contributes a lot to a group once he's made himself a part of it. This teaches children that interrupting is rude -- but so is excluding people.
The gaming table looks something like this. It's about 7x5' total with a 6x4' gaming surface, plus drawers and bookshelves underneath for storage. The inset top has tiles for different games including a checkerboard, backgammon, square and hex grids, and various plain backgrounds. The water tiles are blue marble.
Early dice are often cheap crummy things. The D&D Basic Set came with polyhedral dice that were uninked, so you had to color the numbers with a crayon; there are better ways to ink dice. In Terramagne the cheap version used blank dice with stickers, which tend to fade. You can get cubical or polyhedral blank dice, and even semi-pro ones that are inset to protect the stickers.
The Dragonbone was a very handy random number generator. Rolling a few dice is fun; rolling more than a handful is a pain in the tail, and they're not always as versatile as you wish. A Krakenscale offers a fully customizable dice emulator, along with certain types of calculation commonly used in tabletop games, in palmtop size.
D&D has used different methods to make character stats, and you can see the math behind them. Know how to create a character.
Game functions teach math and science. Anydice shows the output of different types of dice. There are ways to teach children math using tabletop RPGs, even toddlers. Lawrence is right in encouraging Stan to do things for himself that will have a real payoff.
Underwater games include Blue Planet, Mermaid Adventures, and others. There are resources for undersea realms and aquatic campaigns.
The thief who steals from the party, and the assassin who kills another player character, rank among the most famous cliches of roleplaying games. Remember that the first rule of roleplaying is to have fun, which means respecting fellow players.
Interplayer conflict is one of the most common things that break up roleplaying groups. There are tips on how to start a roleplaying group, with attention to players and gamemasters. You also need to know how to settle arguments, because some amount of conflict is inevitable -- especially with young players whose people skills aren't all grown in yet. Sloane isn't a bad person; she just needs to learn to think first before pranking people.
When things go wrong, it's important to notice that someone is getting upset. Know how to soothe an upset child, friend, or stranger. There are ways to calm yourself down too.
Apologies and forgiveness are essential skills for relationship repair. Understand how to apologize and teach kids to apologize.
Annoying people may share common traits such as being impulsive and self-centered. There are ways to deal with difficult people.