D&D in the Age of the Lockdown

I’ve post­ed here before about play­ing Dun­geons & Drag­ons with my kids. We played a few nights togeth­er last Sum­mer, but most of our fam­i­ly game nights in the months since were spent play­ing board games or pok­er. But, as the coro­n­avirus forced us all to stay put far more often than we’d all pre­fer, we need­ed to think of more things to do. For­tu­nate­ly, my friend, Ted, has a son who has got­ten very inter­est­ed in all things D&D as of late. Ted and I had dis­cussed the idea of play­ing table­top games with the kids and I’d always thought it would be inter­est­ing to try a dig­i­tal table­top site.

So, about three weeks ago, we all got togeth­er via speak­er phone1 and on Roll20.net. I end­ed up pur­chas­ing a dig­i­tal pack­age of the same adven­ture my kids had start­ed (they for­tu­nate­ly had­n’t made it too far and you’d be sur­prised at the re-playa­bil­i­ty of an adven­ture with total­ly dif­fer­ent deci­sions). The kids all rolled up char­ac­ters based on what they want­ed to play: a tei­fling fight­er for my daugh­ter, a drag­onborne ranger for my son, and a halfling wiz­ard for Ted’s son. Ted just picked the clas­sic dwar­ven cler­ic out of the pre-gen­er­at­ed char­ac­ters. Don’t wor­ry if half of those words don’t make any sense; just know that this is a fan­ta­sy adven­ture where they’re all play­ing fan­tas­ti­cal races of crea­tures who fight the evil hordes to save a vil­lage and sur­round­ing area.

Roll20 Screenshot of Dads and Kids Game Night
The play­ers fight some orcs in the Roll20 dig­i­tal table­top

My kids are inter­est­ed in play­ing and seem to be enjoy­ing. Ted’s son is real­ly lov­ing D&D and is even run­ning his own game for some if his friends, which is awe­some! But it’s def­i­nite­ly a great way to be able to do some­thing with anoth­er fam­i­ly while still being togeth­er with the kids. All three of the kids have some inter­est­ing nam­ing schemes for their char­ac­ters, to be sure. We’re gen­er­al­ly keep­ing the ses­sions to about 2–1/2 hours each week. This ends being about two encoun­ters (read: fights with mon­sters) and the gen­er­al deci­sion mak­ing and role play­ing that comes along with the game.

As for being a dun­geon mas­ter, I can’t claim it was ever some­thing I was espe­cial­ly great at, but I’m hav­ing a real­ly good time doing it. I’ve learned a lot about 5th edi­tion D&D as well as the Roll20 plat­form (both are pret­ty great, if you ask me). I like to think I’m get­ting bet­ter as we go, too.

I hope it’s some­thing we can keep going, at least for a few weeks longer. Of course, at this point, it’s not at all clear how much longer coro­n­avirus response shel­ter-in-place orders will be in effect here (or any­where, real­ly). Of course, we could always just play in-per­son with our friends down the street should those ever let up. Imag­ine that, play­ing a pen-and-paper RPG togeth­er at the same table!

  1. My kids and I play togeth­er on PCs in our din­ing room while Ted & son play togeth­er in his home office. Though Roll20 has an audio chat fea­ture, it has ter­ri­ble feed­back in gen­er­al when every­one isn’t on head­phones. So, since we’re just con­nect­ing two house­holds, the speak­er­phone seems to work well enough for us. []

Family Game Night

We try to have a week­ly fam­i­ly game night. Usu­al­ly, this is a board game or sim­i­lar. The kids know that I have a bunch of old D&D books and are gen­er­al­ly famil­iar with the game. A cou­ple of weeks ago, a new D&D Essen­tials box set was released. This incor­po­rates a new mech­a­nism so that it’s eas­i­er for just 2 or 3 peo­ple to play (the game is typ­i­cal­ly best for 4–6 peo­ple and I don’t have that many kids). So I just off-hand­ed­ly checked that our Tar­get had the box set and asked if the kids want­ed to go with me to get it. I was sur­prised that my daugh­ter and my son were excit­ed to go out after 8pm to pick it up.

Yep, they’re def­i­nite­ly my kids.

They asked to play when we got home, so we stayed up until about 11pm rolling up some char­ac­ters and start­ing out on a first adven­ture (the one includ­ed in this boxed set). They did­n’t get a chance to fight any mon­sters but still seemed to have a good time. They’ve already asked to play again this week­end!

We Escaped!

Our nephew, Kei­th, invit­ed us to one of the The Escape Game adven­tures. These are real­ly pop­u­lar and I can see why. Any­one who was a fan of point-and-click puz­zle com­put­er games (like me) would love get­ting to be inside the game and that’s exact­ly what this feels like. My old­er broth­er, Stephen, and Kei­th’s fiancé, Jamie, joined us and we had a great team. We were able to divide up for dif­fer­ent tasks and fin­ished with over 11 min­utes to spare for our Mis­sion to Mars adven­ture. The entire facil­i­ty is real­ly nice­ly done and it’s easy to get caught up in the fun and pres­sure of try­ing to solve the puz­zles togeth­er in under 60 min­utes.

The Escape Game: Mission to Mars
We escaped!

Repairing a Kid’s Bed

As part of my goals for 2019, I am going to try to write about some of my DIY and mak­er projects. So, here’s an unex­pect­ed one to start off the year…

The oth­er evening, I heard a thud and an “uh-oh” from my 11yo daugh­ter’s room. Turns out, when hop­ping on to the bed to read that night, the bed rail snapped. The bed rail was made from press­board, veneered to look like the rest of the fur­ni­ture (which I think is of slight­ly high­er qual­i­ty). Our daugh­ter felt ter­ri­ble about break­ing the bed, but in real­i­ty it’s a won­der it last­ed for the 7 years it did. An aver­age size tod­dler could break this stuff, let alone an aver­age size 11 yo girl. The press­board had cracked in two pieces, right through one of the screw holes for hold­ing the slats.

We con­sid­ered pur­chas­ing a new IKEA bed or sim­i­lar, but she said she real­ly like this bed and would pre­fer if we could just fix it. Maybe that was part­ly her still feel­ing bad for hav­ing done it, despite my wife and I assur­ing her it was­n’t real­ly her fault at all. The only down­side to this was that I was going to have to pur­chase a full size sheet of ply­wood at the big box store to get the 6′-6″ rails out of them. I nor­mal­ly have the store cut the board along the short dimen­sion, so that it’s less than 7′ long as to fit into my Hon­da Pilot. How­ev­er, in hind­sight, I should have had them then rip down some strips to make it eas­i­er to man­age. A 6′-8″ by 4′ sheet of 3/4″ ply­wood is only slight­ly eas­i­er to man­age by your­self than a full size sheet.

Old, press­board rail (bro­ken) and new, improved rails with hard­ware

I did get to try my hand at edge band­ing the ply­wood. Edge band­ing is a nar­row, thin strip of veneer (almost exact­ly like the sur­faces of hard­wood ply­wood) that has a heat-acti­vat­ed glue on the back­side. You sim­ply iron-on this to the edge of your cut ply­wood.1 It’s actu­al­ly a lot of nice fur­ni­ture and cab­i­netry is made and it’s a pret­ty amaz­ing trans­for­ma­tion. Of course, it’s also how a lot of cheap fur­ni­ture is made, too, but that’s often a plas­tic veneer rather than actu­al hard­wood. I could­n’t find maple veneer at my big box store, so I took a trip to my local Wood­craft shop. There, I also got a self-cen­ter­ing drill bit. I’d always con­sid­ered one of those to be for some­one who makes a lot of fur­ni­ture or cab­i­netry, but it’s worth it to buy some even for DIY’ers like me. It’s a huge time­saver for mount­ing hard­ware and real­ly makes the process more accu­rate.

Using a self-cen­ter­ing bit made mount­ing the hard­ware a breeze

So, I ripped down the near­ly full sheet of ply­wood on my lit­tle band saw. Again, I should have had the store cut this down, because it’s just not easy for one per­son to do this on even a high-end cab­i­netry saw, let alone a my small Ryobi2. It result­ed in some not-so-straight cuts, but they were good enough for this as I was­n’t joint­ing any­thing. I straight­ened out some of the bend met­al slat sup­ports in my machine vice and then got all the screw holes drilled out.

I did a small test piece with the edge band­ing and tried using one of those spring loaded edge band­ing trim­mers. The band­ing went on easy, but the trim­mer was not so great. It end­ed up tear­ing the band­ing in a lot of places. I still tried using it one the first rail, which was a mis­take. When try­ing to sand every­thing, the orbital sander grabbed one of those tears and ripped off a huge chunk of the band­ing. For­tu­nate­ly, I was able to cut out that piece by re-heat­ing the glue and Angela helped me put on a patch. It end­ed up look­ing just fine for our kid’s bed, but I learned my les­son. For the sec­ond rail, I sim­ply flipped the piece over and cut along the edge with a box-cut­ter blade. I then light­ly sand­ed over the cor­ner with a sand­ing block.

I used a sin­gle (though pret­ty heavy) coat of wipe-on polyurethane for the fin­ish. The final step was to stamp the work and then it was ready for assem­bly this after­noon. The final clip slid­ing in to place was so sat­is­fy­ing! The maple match­es the fur­ni­ture, but of course it will have to dark­en over time with expo­sure to light to ful­ly match. But, I’m pleased with the final result and I’m con­fi­dent this will last longer than the orig­i­nal.

Stamped and in place
Like new again!
  1. If you want to know more about edge band­ing, Bob of ILTMS made an excel­lent “Bits” video on the sub­ject late last year. []
  2. It’s actu­al­ly my old­er broth­er’s table saw. He just need­ed a place to keep it and I need­ed one to use, so that worked out for us. []