Wil Wheaton teaches his son to slay dragons

Wil Wheaton is leading a kitchen-table game of Dungeons and Dragons with his teenaged son and some of his son's friends, and documenting the campaign in his blog. This is absolutely charming, a heartwarming tale of our proud geek heritage being passed down through the generations.

D&D was the first thing to capture my attention as thoroughly as reading had. I remember just falling head over heels for it -- the miniatures, the painting, the storytelling, the dice, the paraphernalia, the social circle. It was all I could think about for years. I haunted the downtown D&D stores like The Four Horsemen and Mr Gameway's Arc (which had a full-scale replica of the bridge of the Enterprise on the top level!), and hoarded graph-paper like it was going out of style. Reading this brings it all back to me.

As John Rogers notes, "They are, in the end, about a father sitting down at a kitchen table, for hours, teaching and telling stories with his son."

He looked up at Nolan and their other friend. "If I get behind her, I can get out of reach of her claws, and I do all kinds of cool stuff when I'm flanking someone."

Yeah, this kid is really into being a rogue.

They agreed that he could go for it. I decided that this was incredibly difficult: DC 20.

"Make an athletics check," I said. Then, "are you sure you want to do this?"

But the die was out of his hand. It rolled across the table in front of him and landed at the edge of the map: 19.

"What's your athletics bonus?" I said.

"Plus 1," he said.

"Well, I can't believe you pulled it off, but you did it."

"YES!" He said, with a major fist pump.

"Let's see if the Dragon hits you, as you leap away," I said. She rolled a four.

"As you crouch down to leap away, she looks down at you and snorts contemptuously. She slashes at you with her left claw, but when it snaps closed, you've already lept through her grasp! You lock your hands around the neck of this statue, and spin around it, tucking your feet in and avoiding the wyrmling's bite. You let go of the statue, somersault in the air, and land on your feet behind her."

"That was so cool," Nolan said.

His friend and I both nodded. I realized that I was having a lot of fun visualizing the action in my head, and describing it to them all as evocatively as possible.

and so the campaign begins... (Part I)

and so the campaign begins... (Part II)

and so the campaign begins... (Part III)

and so the campaign begins... (Part IV)

a few thoughts and lessons learned from behind the dm screen


  1. Just as cool is hearing him shift from swearing like a sailor to reciting prayers in elvish with the guys from PvP and Penny Arcade on the Wizards of the Coast podcast. Not only is it highly entertaining it’s also a nice introduction to the new mechanics of 4th edition.

  2. I can’t be arsed searching but has Wil ever been a guest blogger on BB ?

    Ah I did a search and I see he’s posted the occasional comment but never been a feature player.

    Come on chaps give him a run out.

  3. This is mega cool! I voted for Will to be Geek Sect’y of State, and this is exactly why he deserves such a worthy title. D&D and other rpgs are great not only for sparking kiddos’ imaginations, but also offer decent help in practicing math. Good Job Wil!

    /Cory, there’s a typo in the first sentence ‘Dungeos’

  4. I love Dungeos! The breakfast cereal 9 out of 10 DMs recommend! I love the prizes in every box, but don’t forget to check for traps! ;D

  5. My older brother introduced me to D&D around 1990. The campaigns served not only as a way for us to spend more time together, but also as a way for me to hang out with his friends. I learned that he had learned much about D&D through our youthful uncle. Now that he has two ankle-biters, I wonder if the pattern will repeat itself.

    Good stuff. Why this isn’t incorporated into some educational forum is beyond me. Statistics, logic, team-building, language arts, creative thinking/writing, public speaking, art, math, geography, topography, architecture, history…


    Someone was poking fun at me for playing D&D way into my adult life and one thing they said was “What are you, eight?” It struck me that as an eight year old there was no way I was going to understand the rules behind the game.

    People just don’t bother to understand, I suppose.

  7. Playing pen-and-paper rpgs is a great way of spending time with kids and it teaches them all sorts of stuff that the now completely dominant computer gaming lacks. I’d say that the foremost of those is the ability to make up your own rules and take actions which aren’t pre-programmed – in essence each player is a “programmer” of the game (especially if the game master is flexible and imaginative). In my younger days I spent more time and had more more fun re-designing the rulesets and making my own adventures than actually playing them. Additionally it is an excellent exercise in imaginative visualisation (which gets stunted with visual overload from today’s PC games and TV).

    A friend of mine, who is a social worker dealing mostly with 8-14 yr old children, uses RPGs as an almost a daily tool in his group work. As soon as my daughter gets to the right age (I’d say 8 :) I plan to start a D&D campaign with her and her wild bunch. :)

    This is such a far cry from the dreaful “D&D is a tool of SATAN” craze that I grew up with that it makes me want to laugh and cry at the same time… Where are those media sickos now?

  8. My 9yr old son and 11yr old daughter have both had a lot of fun playing D&D (3.5, not this watered down 4 stuff. :)

    My daughter’s learning ratios and minor statistics in class, and my son’s learning to graph and read maps. It’s simple to incorporate their day-to-day learnings into an entertaining game, and show how it can be used. Throw in the excercised imagination, and it rocks.

    The only downside is that we get so involved, we’ll sit at the table for a good 8 hours. When it’s done, they’re a bit burned out for a while… I need to work on having shorter mini-battles.

    We tried Spirit of the Century, and had a lot of fun; fewer rules to keep track of, more fluid, and more compelling imagination. A highly recommended game system with a downloadable PDF!

  9. My first D&D group was led by my friend’s father. Having an experienced DM (who also happened to be a professional educator) made for an amazing time. I don’t think I truly appreciated how much we could learn from him until he passed the torch over to his son, and started playing instead.

    Ahhh, good times.

    Go Wil.

  10. Mister Science – similarly, my sister in law was complaining to me about the Yu-Gi-Oh cards my nephews beg her for, and I said “shhhhh, it’s actually math.”

  11. Being a second generation geek is pretty awesome.

    Dad DM’d a great campaign when we were teens. We coded an MMO mod together; I wrote the server, he wrote the client. He’s got the best Dance Dance rig in town. And once every couple of months, we bring Rockband over to his place and ‘jam’.

  12. There are some great games out there for roleplaying with even little kids. We started my daughter on Faery’s Tale when Gygax died and we were trying to explain what a RPG was, and why we were sad about some guy we’d never met passing away. By the third session, she was ready to run her own game. Did a pretty good job, too – the story had an actual plot and everything. She had a bit of a Monty Haul problem – we were rewarded with a castle for a pretty minor quest – but hey, she’s five.

    Now we’re starting a homebrew FUDGE game based on a certain mouse-emblemed company’s new fairy mythology. (Did I mention she’s five? Fairies are vital.) It was a little surprising how much of the work said company already did – classes are well-defined (although not really balanced – there’s one that only hands out fairy power to all the other classes. Not terribly exciting to play) and there’s a rich setting all ready to go.

    Next step – getting her to run games for her friends so I can watch and go, “awww, cute!” from the sidelines.

  13. Mrscience:

    “The only downside is that we get so involved, we’ll sit at the table for a good 8 hours.”

    You are winning at life. I don’t know that I spent 8 hours total doing anything with my dad when I was that age.

    My pre-schoolers love to look at the monster manual and pick out their guys.

  14. #23: “I don’t know that I spent 8 hours total doing anything with my dad when I was that age.”

    Yeah, tell me about it. I terribly jealous of Wil’s kids.

    * * *

    I learned about D&D in high school.

    No, let me rephrase that: I learned about D&D while I was attending a suburban high school, from a cousin who went to school in Manhattan. In my high school, admitting you played role playing games would be like . . . well, first you’d have to explain them, and in 1977 not even the bible thumpers had latched onto them . . . so I put paper covers on my three little D&D rule books so no one would know what I was reading. I got my RPG fix by taking a two-hour train ride to a college in another county.

  15. Oh, the memories! I got my own start on D&D back in the 70’s, as a boy not quite 10. I never gave up the habit entirely, and when my daughters became interested in it, I was ready.

    But none of that new 3.5 edition for me (don’t even mention 4th, though so much evolution isn’t totally bad), we played old school 2nd ed.

  16. @24

    “…so I put paper covers on my three little D&D rule books so no one would know what I was reading.”

    Man, that takes me out of my reality to nostalgia land. I used to do the same thing in middle school with my Dragonlance books. Funny how such a tiny thing, like enjoying fantasy, made you counter culture before you were old enough to know what the hell counter culture actually was.

  17. By some amazing cosmic chance of fortune, I fell into the D&D group through football, of all things.

    The linemen all played in middle school and we mostly stuck with it (football and D&D) throughout high school. I think this happy consequence molded my incredibly fortunate teenage life.

    Only in Austin, folks (I hope someone proves me wrong).

  18. vote for wil to guestblog, too, if he can squeeze it in. i’ve been reading his blog daily for ages (before his first book), and i’ve been enjoying these D&D posts immensely.

  19. I hate to bring down the geek buzz of the room, but the version he’s playing is 4th, which should not really be mentioned in relation with prior versions. Hasbro/WotC threw out basically everything that made earlier D&D distinctive (what remained, at least, from 3rd edition) and created what many (well, I certainly, and a good number of others too, I’ve not really done a census though) consider to be a much inferior game.

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