Nine-year-old Anna likes dance parties, having her hair done by my teenage daughter, and wearing a necklace full of her enemy’s tongues. As Dungeons & Dragons warriors go, she is a sweet little pixie that you don’t want to mess with. She also helps her father grow vegetables for those less fortunate than herself.
I introduced my kids and their friends to D&D during the pandemic. Their fathers are all part of our Kansas City Dads Group so many have known each other since birth. We’ve had a lot of adventures together during the last 15 years, but lockdown might have been the most challenging. I rely on my dads a great deal, and it was hard to be away from them for so long. My own kids felt the same. I realized it was as though they didn’t get to see their brothers and sisters anymore.
Trying to find a way to make Zoom meetups fun and interesting, I dug out my old Dungeons & Dragons books from the ’80s, bought some dice and figurines, and gave it a shot. Three years later, my little murder hobos have kicked me out of their D&D campaigns and now rampage through the imaginary lands without me.
I’m one proud dad.
A memory three years in the making
In the beginning, our “littles” had the attention span of barbarian goldfish. The group called them the Pixies, and they had special powers. When your need was great, you could summon a pixie to add an extra roll of the dice. The teenagers of the group used them with ruthless efficiency in big boss fights. Victory was snatched from the will of mind flayers and gelatinous cubes. When in doubt, call in a pixie.
The rest of our Dungeons & Dragons troops, which ranged in age from 12 to 15, often battle planned around the availability of the pixies. They took to my initial campaign with vigor, although not with the tactics I had hoped. For example, they hated talking and bargaining. Why bargain when you have a barbarian with an 18 Armor Class and a short temper? After a few sessions, it was clear that I could no longer lead them into innocent villages. My little imaginary townspeople were running out of tongues.
Eventually, the quarantine ended, and we had the final epic battle together. It took three hours, multiple visits from unpredictable pixies, and a lucky roll by a rogue — but the final boss was beaten. I thought they were done, and that it was a memory that made the pandemic a little bit better.
The next day the kids were setting up meetings on their own.
They started collecting dice and putting D&D books on their Christmas lists. They invested in spell cards, studied lore and rules, and took turns being the Dungeon Master. And when they were done, I would get to hear the epic battles and the impossible dice rolls. Sitting from my chair in the living room, I could hear them debate a tricky section of the rules. And they did it all on their own, my little harbingers of doom.
I witnessed firsthand how they learned to cooperate, problem-solve, and use analytical thinking. They asked me to explain plot points and inciting incidents. I heard the stories that they crafted and they blew me away. To see all of this happen was amazing to me, and more than I could have hoped for in the beginning.
From tabletop to the big screen
The minute the D&D movie — Dungeons & Dragons: Honor Among Thieves — was announced, I knew I had to take them.
I bought movie tickets and worked out all the details with their dads. How could I not? I introduced a hobby during a low point in all our lives in hopes that it would provide them with the connection they needed. The other dads and I joined in during those first early games as either a hapless wizard, a sly bard, or even role-playing an NPC to make this all happen. Honestly, I thought they would quit as soon as the pandemic was over. But to my joy, they kept playing.
I’m going to spoil them with popcorn, candy, and new sets of dice. We are going to cheer on the good guys, boo the bad guys, and probably secretly love the ones that are a little bit of both. For me, this is the culmination of that first campaign, when a little pixie asked if she could cut off the butt of a fallen monster.
“Um,” I said.
“I cut off his butt!” The pixies cheered, and the rest of the group laughed.
“OK,” I said.
“And I put it on my necklace!”
“Yeah, I think that is too much. Let’s not tell your mother about this.”
Often, I think about the long-term consequences of being a father. The actions that we take ripple out into the future, and sometimes mean more than we intend them to. An innocent act that can grow over years and transform into a core memory that they will keep for the rest of their lives. It occurs to me that a lot of my parenting wins are the result of me stumbling in the right direction.
Which is fine, as long as I can call upon a pixie to save the day.