Ramblings of a Girl Gamer

Posts tagged ‘kids roleplaying’

Tales from the Kids Track Part III

So it’s been a while since I last wrote anything. But SCARAB time has come around again, and I feel the need to report. The convention overall went very well. We had upwards of 300 people. The Kids Track was a roaring success. I GMed for at least 7 new kid players, in addition to our regulars from the previous two years, and the children of the con staff. (That’s at least 16 kids total – though lucky for me they never all tried to sit down at a single gaming table at once!) I ran 12 different game sessions, in 6 different game systems. All of my tables filled except for one (which I then ditched to go play a game myself – yay!) Four of the children (all girls – the future of female gaming is safe, y’all) GMed their own games, and all of their players left the tables happy. Oh, yeah, and a teenager took 3rd place in our Iron GM tournament. (I played in and judged her game, and it was loads of fun.) Oh, and in the middle of all this I still found time each night to run home and feed my cats. So that’s one more year down. I can’t wait for next year!

In case anyone is curious or looking for some good kids game systems, here’s some info and links.

First of all, I debuted a system I wrote myself, called Pathfinder Jr. Actually, I can’t take very much of the credit. It was a merger system. I used the base mechanics from the Shadows system (By Zak Arntson: http://www.harlekin-maus.com/games/shadows/shadows.html ). I have written about this game before (see Tales from the Kids Track Part I). It is simple and story driven, and relies on two things. First, the idea that each character has a Shadow, an invisible monster that wants to get them in trouble. The player states two outcomes, what they want, and what their shadow wants (something that will get them in trouble). Then they roll two dice, one for their outcome and one for their shadow’s, and whichever rolls higher is the outcome that happens. The other part is a token mechanic where the players spend tokens to let other players (but not themselves) reroll their dice. I simply took these basics and added a few things to make it more like Pathfinder/D&D. I added hit points and damage, and created a character class set with a “specialties” system tied to the token mechanic. Nice, simple, and awesome. It worked in play exactly they way it worked in my head, and I was thrilled. I will definitely do it again next year.

I also ran Wushu, an action-adventure RPG. The downside of Wushu – it only does combat. The upside – it’s really fun and easy. Players have pools of attack and defense dice, and describe what they are doing, getting more dice for more detailed descriptions. We had an anime-style mecha tournament. I am still trying to figure out the best way to implement this system, but I count this one as a success. Here’s the system (it’s free, but you can buy awesome splat books): http://danielbayn.com/wushu/

I ran PDQ, of course. It is still my very favorite system for kids and adults. We did The Zorceror of Zo (fairy tales), Truth and Justice (superheroes), and I was planning to run Swashbucklers of the 7 Skies (pirates with flying ships!), but that was the game I ditched because they needed an extra judge for the Iron GM contest. Zo and T&J are available at http://www.atomicsockmonkey.com/products.asp and S7S can be found there and also at http://www.evilhat.com/home/ I also ran my first Fate/Dresden Files game for the kids track. My GMing of this system needed a little work, but we had a good time.

The kids played several sessions of Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple, which I have reviewed before on this blog. Not exactly an RPG, but a creative storytelling exercise of awesome fun. It’s also available on the Evil Hat website.

Finally, I ran Og! The Caveman RPG. The title says it all. Also, one of the main game mechanics is that your caveman character only knows 1d6+2 words, so in-character conversations are a riot. It comes from Firefly games, http://www.firefly-games.com/

My AMAZING kid GMs ran 12 game sessions between the four of them. Emma and Trinity ran Faery’s Tale (also from Firefly games). In this game, players play tiny magical faeries. These two girls wrote their stories themselves, and did a great job. Trinity also ran a kids Savage Worlds game titled “Guys, I Shrunk Our Parents”. Was it a rip off of an old Rick Moranis movie? Yes, but she wrote it herself including creating stats for all the giant bugs and stuff, and her players loved it. Dee ran 3 sessions of Hero Kids (a cool system with D&D-like stories and very simple mechanics – rules and modules can be found at http://herokidsrpg.blogspot.com/ . She also ran this game in the Iron GM tournament and won 3rd place. I was so proud of her! Finally, our youngest GM, Bethany, ran Warriors, a game about cats that protect the forest, based on the books by Erin Hunter: http://www.warriorcats.com/warriorshell.html Bethany wrote her own story and created her own characters. She also ran Argyle and Crew: Soppet Adventures, an RPG about sock puppets. The best part? The kids actually made sock puppets! See http://trollitc.com/los/ for the game. Short version? I am super-proud of all our Kids Track GMs. They are an awesome group of girls.

More SCARAB reports coming soon.


Tales from the Kids Track Part I

So a few weeks ago, I was at SCARAB, a local gaming convention here in Columbia SC. I run the Kids Track at SCARAB (a fact I am rather proud of) so I mostly run games for children. Having done both, I find that GMing for kids is in some ways the same as for adults, and in some ways different. Kids can work in a shared imaginary space, and can act out roles, and engage in dialogue as well as adults can, sometimes better. Especially this kids I GM for, most of whom have gamer parents. I prefer to use simplistic game systems, so that mechanics and math skills are not a hindrance. But kids don’t always think about problems in the same ways adults do, their reasoning skills are not the same, and often they are not affected by the preconceived notions that most adults have when presented with familiar story scenarios. So sometimes they do things that are silly, or illogical, or just plain surprising. GMing for kids is about being willing to be flexible, go with the flow, and embrace the chaos.

So its the Sunday morning of a convention that started on Friday, so my players and I are a bit sleep deprived. It’s me, the 13 year old daughter of our con director, our friend’s 11 year old son, and another 11 year old girl who is a regular at SCARAB events. We were playing a game called Shadows, which is an awesome kids game with a very simple premise: Everyone has a Shadow, which is an invisible monster that wants them to get in trouble. You play with two dice of equal sides and different colors. One is for your character, and one for their Shadow. You declare what you want to happen, and what your Shadow wants to happen (something bad), and roll, and whichever die is higher, that’s what happens. It puts a great deal of plot control in the hands of the players.

This particular scenario, which I titled “Choose Your Own Adventure”, started out with the characters asleep, and they wake up to find that there is a little boy that they do not know playing in their closet. I asked my players what they were doing. Two of them put a lot of description into how they were finding weapons for themselves. (“Do I have a baseball bat? A metal one? Maybe I better get a wooden one instead – I could kill someone with a metal one, and I don’t want to kill anyone.” “Do I have a nerf gun?” and so on.) The oldest girl, though, stated that her character was leaping from the bed into the closet to tackle the little boy, yelling “Super Rainbow Ninja of Darkness!” Clearly, she had not had enough sleep…… After a moment of staring at her like she was a lunatic, I conceded, and we moved on, with me narrating that the little boy disappeared through a door in the back of the closet that had never been there before.

The PCs emerged simultaneously into a long hallway with endless doors. When the players went through a door, I let them decide, via a roll, what was on the other side, and since the older girl was the first to state that she was going through, I let her choose. I was taking a chance there, since she had already shown herself to be less than sane that morning. “I want it to be a world made of rainbow,” she said, and my eyebrows raised a bit, but I nodded. “And my Shadow wants it to be a gloomy, gray world.” She rolled. Rainbow world. OK. So I describe it. Fields of flowers, orange sky, purple sun, different colored trees. It was weird, but the players were smiling like it was kind of cool. Great. Now time for an encounter. I turned to the boy, and asked him to declare who they would run into. I forget what his other possibility was, and which was good and which was bad, but the one that won was “Darth Vader”. So now I faced a choice. I could tell him “no, pick something else” and nip the silliness in the bud before it got completely out of hand, or I could let it happen and see where it led. So I had to stop and think, “what is my goal here?” Was I there to create a realistic, focused story experience? Or was I here to entertain kids? What the heck. There’s nothing like a little rampant chaos to get your energy flowing in the morning.

So the PCs looked up and saw, in the distance, the Death Star floating over the hillside, with its energy beam sucking all the color out of the landscape. They meet a pencil-sharpener smoking a pipe (something the younger girl chose because she had seen it in a dream) who gave them directions to the Stormtrooper basecamp. The two girls took the teleporter up to the Death Star, while the boy stayed behind, stole a blaster, and sniped at Stormtroopers from the roof of a building. They got caught, of course, and were rescued by Lady Rainicorn (someone from a TV show I’ve never seen, but the kids knew who she was and thought it was hilarious) and the flying Unicorn Army, who were mad at them for starting the rebellion early.

And the story got weirder from there. I let the kids declare whatever they wanted, and tried to keep it, if not logical, at least flowing smoothly from one scene to another. They went to a world where all the people were made of food. (Yes, anthropomorphic food people!) The less-than-sane older girl started a riot in a fast-food restaurant (food people eat paper and cardboard!) and they had to flee to the next world. They ended up in a giant’s refrigerator and had to rescue the little boy who started the whole thing from being eaten in a giant carton of leftover Chinese. They got the kid safely back to the Hall of Doors, and went home to live happily ever, after or something like that.

So I guess the moral of the story is, not all game stories are created equal. Some stories are serious and focused. Some are about deep emotional soul-searching, some are about wild, campy action, and some are about flights of imagination that don’t need to be hindered by logic or reality. Creativity comes in so many flavors. As a gaming group, you have to decide what kind of story you and your players want to tell. Have fun, and do what you want to do, even if it is just really silly.


PS:  For rules for the Shadows RPG, and more awesome games, see http://www.harlekin-maus.com/games/shadows/shadows.html


LARPing with 4-year-olds

A little while ago, I went home to visit my parents and my 4-year-old adopted brother Teddy.  (I only clarify that he is adopted because, as a 31 year old, when I tell people I have a 4 year old brother they give me funny looks like they’re doing math in their heads about my parents’ ages.)  Teddy had been watching “How to Train Your Dragon” obsessively, and was absolutely in love with anything related to vikings or dragons.  So one afternoon he wanted to take me dragon hunting with him.

The first thing to do was to properly equip ourselves.  Being a little boy, my brother collects sticks, and he had claimed the very best stick in the whole yard as his own.  It was about an inch and a half thick and shaped like a question mark.  It was his dragon-slaying axe.  I wanted to use a whiffle-bat, but Teddy did not approve of that weapon, and I was handed a stick.  He wasn’t quite satisfied with my stick, and kept finding me new ones as we went along.  “Here,” he would say.  “This is a better sword.”

My parents own a small farm in East Tennessee, so there were a lot places to look for dragons.  We went down by the creek, to the big tree by the back porch, and fought a few dragons in each place.  (By which I mean we hit tree branches and bushes with our sticks and yelled a lot.)  We stopped by Teddy’s “house ” (a pile of logs), went into the “dark woods” (a strip of trees and brush above the garden), got on a “boat” (the filbert tree, which is really more like a giant bush than a tree), and into a “sea cave” (under the same tree, we just went around it once to change locations!).  In each location there were new dragons to fight.

I don’t live in Tennessee anymore, so I don’t get to spend much time with my brother, so that afternoon was really special.  To be honest, I probably had as much fun as he did.  And my parents encourage Teddy to use his imagination, but I don’t know how much they actually join him in games of pretend.  I’d like to think he was thrilled to have somebody around who knew how to play!

It got me thinking about the real roots of gaming.  We all learn at a very early age how to create imaginary worlds around us, and if we are lucky enough to have playmates, how to bring them into our imaginary world or go into theirs.  I have been told that one phrase RPG designers use for this is “Shared Imaginary Space.”  It is how a group of people at a gaming table can all be imagining the same thing (or close enough to the same thing that they can interact with the imagined world and still understand each other).  As adult RPG players we use a lot of verbal descriptions to make this functional.  So we may not be so aware of all the nonverbal cues that we also use.  This covers everything from pantomime and hand gestures, to the voices we use as our characters, to subtle things like posture and eye movement.  For example, one of my characters was a shy teenager, so I would hunch when I played her and avoid eye-contact when speaking in character.  Another example: Jason, the GM, is introducing an NPC to us and he says “so this really big guy walks up to you, and wow, he’s really tall!” and he looks up, as if he’s looking at the guy.  And we’re all looking up too, because Jason has just told us, not nearly so much with his words as with his eyes, exactly how tall this guy is and where we must look to make eye-contact with this giant of a dude who exists only in our shared imaginary space.  Favorite example of shared imaginary space:  We’re gaming, and our characters have found this widget (I can’t remember now what it was, or in fact, what we were playing –  Earthdawn maybe).   So Jason’s character has it and Myles wants his character to hold it so he can make some kind of roll to get more information about it, so he says, “Here, give me that.”  So Jason pantomimes passing it to Myles.  But the thing is, they are on opposite ends of the table and can’t physically reach each other, so Chris, who is in between them, without missing a beat and just as instinctively as if there had been a real object there, pantomimes passing the widget from Myles to Jason.  At this point, our GM (who shall be spared by remaining nameless) flips his wig.  He swears he has never seen anything like that.  He’s been gaming for years, but not with us, and I guess his other gaming group wasn’t as comfortable with shared imaginary space as we were!

I’ve done a fair amount of LARPing (that’s Live Action Roleplay if you don’t know), where interacting physically in a shared imaginary space is how you play the game. How much of your environment is real and how much is imaginary depends mostly on what kind of locations your group has access to and how much money, time, and talent they are able to dedicate to setting, props, and costumes. I’ve played in the Camarilla (a White Wolf / World of Darkness LARP), where we played pretty much anywhere they would let us, including various University buildings, parks, bars, and for a short time, an aparment lobby. Some of us had costumes and some didn’t, and weapon-like props, no matter how unrealistic, were banned. The GM’s pretty much had to describe everything that was happening around us. I have also played in the Shadowmoor LARP (SOLAR), where costumes are mandatory and the plot team really goes all out on settings and props. We take over part of a state park, and run around in the woods whacking each other with foamy “weapons” (some of which look really cool!). In a way LARPing requires less imagination than table-top roleplaying, since you are really acting out what your character is doing and its not just all in your head. But in a way, it takes more, since you really have to know what is going on all the time and everyone will see if you don’t as you do something completely inappropriate. You can’t zone out, look up unrelated info in a rulebook, or (gasp!) play with your phone under the table.

Teddy is only four, and while he communicates pretty well for a little kid, he just doesn’t have the vocabulary to properly describe the things in his imagination. So we had to fall back on all those nonverbal cues. I found myself, without really thinking about it, following his movements, his hands, his eyes (and his stick!) to tell me where the dragons were, and I know he was watching me in the same way. It made me realize something else. The most important element of roleplaying is trust. Teddy didn’t ask me if I saw the dragons he was imagining. He didn’t ask me if I believed that the filbert tree was a boat, and he didn’t ask me if I understood that my stick was a sword for stabbing dragons. He just trusted that I was playing in the same imaginary space as he was. As adult roleplayers, we do the same whether we realize the importance of it or not. We trust that we are all imagining the same things, and that everyone will accept what you say your character is doing as valid. You have to trust that everyone is playing the same game. It’s when players stop trusting each other that things break down. Little kids know that. Why have some grown-ups forgotten?

So at the end of our adventure, Teddy was talking about the movie.  (If you haven’t seen “How to Train Your Dragon” I highly recommend it!)  “Hiccup had to make a choice,” he said.  “He had to choose what side he was on.”

This is actually a pretty important turning point in the plot of the movie, and I was impressed that Teddy was paying attention to the plot and not just watching the dragons.  “And what side did he choose to be on?” I asked him.

“The right side,” Teddy said proudly.

Wow.  He was paying attention.  So I tried to challenge him, to see how far I could push our little game of make-believe.  “So what about us, Teddy?  What side are we on?”

“The left side.”

Oh well.  I love my baby brother.  He makes me laugh.