Wednesday, July 24, 2013


A few months ago, I attended GaryCon down in Lake Geneva WI, and while I was there, I picked up issue number one of Gygax magazine. For those who haven't seen it, it looks very much like a retro clone version of the old Dragon magazine, and I appreciated the lengths to which they went to bring home the feeling of picking one of those old copies off-the-shelf.

After finally reading it through a month or so later though, the content within didn't really quite live up to the hype or the hope.  Most of the articles seem to be reminisces or celebrations of grognardia (and not in the good way). One article in particular as I recall was about "putting the magic back in magic" which basically amounts to ways to ensure the wizard in your party has even less fun on game night by making his abilities only work randomly about half the time - and such other fun ideas that treat game balance as a foe of imaginative roleplay.  Oy.

One article that did catch my imagination though was titled "DMing for your Toddler" by Cory Doctorow, in which the author essentially describes his efforts to set up a battle using his plastic pre-painted minis and some of his daughters' stuffed animals.  The premise of a simple to understand rule set, using the items already at hand which your child wants to play with struck a big chord with me and I had been thinking on it ever since.

My daughter R. and I discussed it for a while and kicked around some ideas and finally one recent Saturday we were prepared to undergo our first attempt at, "ASSAULT ON EQUESTRIA!"

To begin with, we assembled teams.  She used eight of her ponies, including the core 6, Princess Celestia and Miss Cherilee.  I gave her the choice of defending her castle, or trying to recover it post-invasion.  She chose to defend.  (Even at age 5, she displays a level of tactical genius which G.A. Custer could perhaps have used a smidge more of...)

In This Corner...
As the attacker, I selected six of my DDM dragon minis, including a wyvern.  The non-wyvern dragons all naturally had dragon breath as a weapon option.  I thought my experience and the advantage in having more ranged attackers and fast movement for all of my "troops" would offset my numerical disadvantage.
The evil invaders
The ruleset was as follows...  We would each act in turns.  On a turn, each member of a team would choose either to move, fight, or use a magical ability.  Every character was assumed to have 8 stamina, which when reduced to 0 would result in them being knocked out.  We used pennies by each figure to keep track of damage (but only after they actually did get damaged).

Movement rate was determined by rolling a d12 each time and moving up to that many inches.  For having wings, we allowed the pegasi, Princess Celestia and all the dragons to add two inches to their movement rolls.
Let slip the ponies of war!

Fighting consisted of a melee attack and was an auto-hit situation as long as one was reasonably adjacent to the target.  Just roll 1d6 damage, except in the case of the wyvern (which had a stinger instead of dragon breath) and the extra-tough earth ponies (who needed something to offset the lack of wings or magic).  These could all roll 1d8 damage in melee.

Next to be addressed were the magical abilities, used by the unicorns and Princess Celestia.  I followed the suggestions in the article and initially we agreed on two spells, fireball and "zap" (or magic missile).  The theory was that fireball was easier to hit with but did less damage than zap.  In reality though, fireball was never used, and we ended up using the zap guidelines exclusively for any magical attack, as well as for dragon breath.  To do damage, we first needed to hit on a d20 attack roll, throwing greater than or equal to the target's range in inches.  A hit did 1d6 damage.

Lastly, the magic users could choose to spend an action healing other characters.  This could be done at any range and restored 1d4 stamina.  We didn't keep track of negatives; once a pony or dragon hit 0 they just fell over and we took the pennies away.  So waking up knocked out characters was easy.  I chose two of my six dragons as captains who would also have this healing ability.

As with most minis games, the first couple of turns moved slowly while I crossed the open plain approaching the castle.  I thought she was in trouble when she forsook her defensive advantage to rush out of the front gate and meet me head on.  But that assessment was dashed once my front line got a face full of Applejack and Pinkie Pie...

Pinkie Pie takes the fight to the wyvern
In retrospect, R. was quite in the right to blunt my advance with melee fighters while keeping her casters up on the castle ramparts.  Blind luck or masterful strategy, it kept me acting on the defensive, in spite of my role as aggressor.  Also, the disparity in numbers was a lot heavier in practice than originally anticipated, and once dragons started dropping, the shrinking economy of action limited my available options dramatically.  By contrast, whenever I landed a shot lucky enough to fell a pony, it was not difficult at her at all to find a spare unicorn to heal her right back up the next turn.

Long story short, I got my butt handed to me big time and R. is raring to go for another round asap.  I think next time we will look to set up better number parity (sorry, Miss Cheerilee) and will simplify the magic options and rules a bit, cutting the chaff we didn't bother to use.   

Additionally, I would love to have some better ideas for scenarios or storylines we can add to mix up the games and make them not become a monotonous dice-rolling exercise.  Maybe a rescue or a capture the flag type plot for next time?  Or once the dragons become passe, maybe I should assemble an army of elementals, demons or goblins or the like. 

The beginning of the end for the legion of wyrms...


  1. I have to agree with Mike this is very cool. Thank you so much for sharing your adventure! I am glad that you found something useful out of the first issue. The magazine is about is bridging the generations and celebrating the gaming family. This is a great example of how to do that. - Susan Silver, Community Manager Gygax Magazine

  2. This is great! I forwarded your blog to Cory to show him how his rules are playing out with other dads.
    Drop me a line at the magazine (It's jayson at and I'll send you the new issue, I think you'll find a lot more of the content you're looking for.

    Would you be okay with us sharing your blog post on our Facebook page or Tweeting it?

    -Jayson Elliot, Gygax Magazine

  3. Hi folks... Thanks for the positive feedback here. My head is gonna swell now...

    Apologies if I seem to have come down too hard on the issue overall in the entry above. But it's definitely worth noting that I did really enjoy it on the whole, and was actually just checking around last week to see when #2 will be out.

    We're trying to plan our second smackdown currently here, and I am trying to figure out a way to get Batgirl and/or Wonder Woman involved too this time...

  4. You have forever changed my life. Thank you.

  5. This is a really great way to get your kid into the gaming hobby! I started this way with my son (then age 5, now 19 and a game designer himself) using G.I. Joe and Pokemon figures. By the time he was 9, he was running pretty solid RPG scenarios by himself. Your daughter may one day be the terror of the wargame table if she keeps on playing!

  6. madgael

    You're not THAT good at this.

    Head swelling solved ^.^ Rock on!

  7. If this was the show, they would have just blasted the dragons with their orbital friendship cannon. Or had Celestia use her god-powers to kill/"Take care of" all the dragons. Although I might actually try something like this with my brother... time will tell. Great idea though. You got on EQD :

  8. I love this! I have a 4 year old who would love to be able to join Mummy & Daddy in their Gaming. And she has more than enough ponies to populate her Equestria :)

  9. Its early evening and the ponies get ready for bed ,but suddenly *you put a teddy bear on the map* a Ursa Mayor attacks.Can the ponies defend Princess Celestia until she can raise the sun,which will drive the bear away?

  10. I just wanted to share with you how much love this is getting in the world of Google+

    Thankyou for sharing this story :)

  11. I love this. Someone above said "this is a good way to make her a gamer" which I think misses the point: this simply is a fantastic way to spend time with your daughter.

    I want to ask how old she is, because sometimes the maturity level of dealing with games can vary with kids.

  12. Me and a friend a few years older than her came up with “Lego Warhammer” it was simple rules as in the articles so more fun for our age and nothing out of Games Workshop will ever equal the coolness or actual working cannons (which just like in the “grown up version” tended to end up killing the crew but through unlikely ricochets rather than bad dice roles)

  13. Another idea:
    A parasprite invasion.
    You place two skittles at opposing ends of the map.That are your sprites.One hit and they are taken out and eaten by your girl and they have no attack,every round you can decide between moving or placing another sprite nearby.She wins when no more sprites are on the battle field,or she can't eat them anymore.You win when you have 20 sprites on the battle field.

  14. For anyone who can have fun with Munchkin...

    Munchkin Dungeon Crawl

    Grab a really big stack of Munchkin cards and an old 'dungeon-crawl' map.

    Stack monster/loot/etc. cards for each room (or the DM deals out cards at each room).

    DM plays all the critters in the room as one "lead" plus all others 'helping' and uses the buff/debuff cards.

    If players run away from monsters the monsters might catch up later on, or the party can find them if they 'go looking for trouble'.

    The players pick a lead character for each encounter and others help.

    If all the players hit 10th level before the crawl is over the party wins (adjust if needed).

    If not, the DM wins.

    Tweak this concept as needed.

  15. [Smacks self in forehead] All this time I could've been gaming with my daughter instead of suffering through tedious tea parties.