Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Gaming with kids - part two

Following on from my previous observations about role-playing with your kids, this post is all about fun.

This I believe should be a major part of kid orientated games.

But what makes fun? To be honest, I'm not entirely sure, however my wholly inaccurate list is:

This nebulous concept is as good as useless, but almost sums up the whole 'fun' ethos. For my part this involves keeping the story going, putting on voices for NPCs (which serves me no embarrassment whatsoever for kids, different for adults), sound effects (whether made personally or music files) and making all the die rolls as exciting as I can make them. I have even tried a campaign theme tune (not had much opportunity to really put this to test, but it seems to have worked for the second session I did).

Avoid obfuscation
Adult players struggle with a convoluted plot, kids? Keep things simple, black and white works best, until that one time you really need it, and then BAM! it has the resonance you really wanted.

Almost part of the above, but kids sometimes need a helping hand. However, unlike with adults you can be pretty blatant about it, 'why don't you talk to that merchant?' and not suffer backlash, kids need focus, one clear goal followed by another.

This will be provided by the noises you make should you follow the atmosphere advice, but this also incorporates comedy characters who are almost there for no other reason. My kids love R2-D2 and C3PO, they laugh at the derided Jar-Jar Binks and the antics of The Clone Wars Battle Droids. As much as you may personally detest these elements George knew what he was doing.

Set pieces
You know when you are in the cinema and the good guys do something incredibly cool, or you see the massive scale of the enemy ship or the space battle, the moments that make you smile. These are the moments that your kids want to experience, they want to see the sweeping vista, hold power, enact things they never can, RPGs allow this happen so we should allow them to see and do them.

I love props, I love the ology books that allow you to see and touch spy documents, or spell components, or ancient mysteries. We can provide these too, with modern technology 'realistic' looking documents are only a matter of time (and FontSpace!), we can raid toy boxes and cupboards, and all of those other things you have collected along life's journey. Need a map? Grab an out of date OS map for next to nothing, need to search a suitcase for clues? Well who's to tell you what to do!

Two of my favourite and most simple props are poker chips and dice. In my Danger Patrol game white chips represent Plot Points (Fate Points, Luck Points, call them what you will) and Blue, Red and Black represent levels of injury, very simple and a tactile wy of knowing how a character is doing.

For my kids I also ordered a set of polyhedrals in their favourite colour, they are their dice, and it's nice to know they know where they are at all times (well almost). This was one of the reasons I chose Danger Patrol too, as it utilises all of the dice except the d20, one day I will buy them multiple d6 too but we are enjoying are gaming (when we can) so see no point at present.

This will be the point where I lose people I think, but I find my kids love miniatures. I have allowed them to choose rennaisance/piratical minis and spy-fi/sci-fi ones at present, and they are extremely happy with them. I have yet to paint them but that does not seem to phase them at all. Chuck in some terrain, cardboard, resin or whatever you have and they will respond to the action, in my experience more than when I did a pure 'talk-y' session. And if your first thought is that that seems expensive my kids are equally happy with paper miniatures.

I am planning a post on paper miniatures very soon, so stay tuned for that.

However all of the above is blown away by far by the most important element - setting, which is why I will discuss that in my next post.

Until next time Steve

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Gaming with kids - part one

I thought I would share my thoughts and experiences of gaming with children, that is having players as children, not using them as some sort of miniature.

I'll start off by looking at rules, not specific ones, just a few general guidelines and what to look for from my experience.

I think there are two camps here, one is that with a competent GM the rules make no difference whatsoever. The second camp says that the rules should be simple enough to enable children to understand and play them.

I can see both viewpoints, in the past I have been a great GURPS fan (since I was about 15, give or take). I could easily give my kids a GURPS character and run them through an adventure. I'm sure they'd have a blast but I'm not sure they'd understand all the nuances of a rules heavy game (paticularly the maths which advances quite quickly in Secondary Schools here in the UK).

From the above it is probably clear that I fall into the second camp, that easier rules are better for kids. This may also be aligned with my move towards simpler systems, I'd say not, but you may see a natural bias.

To justify this decision I have the following comments.

First, character creation, a simple character is usually simpler to create (not always though!).

Children in my experience often suffer from analysis paralysis, give them too many choices and they find it really difficult to pick one option. On the other hand you want children to be able to express their ideas and so I find a simple list of skills, templates or archetypes (which includes classes) is often the way to go.

However simple character can also suffer from this paralysis, let's look at Risus.

Risus characters look very simple, usually 4 clichés arranged in the 'classic countdown', lets take Steinhoff as an example:

Northern barbarian of Kodran the Colourful's tribe exiled for flatulence [4]
Wine, women and song [3]
Outdoorsman [2]
Smart ass [1]

Now clearly I've made him as a comic character, but look at the variety of clichés. The first is extremely verbose, and the third and forth simple one/two word phrases.

It is the whole freeform nature of Risus characters that is difficult for those new to role-playing to grasp immediately in any meaningful way. This is why having a small skill list, or relying on an archetype, I believe is the ideal.

As my comparison I suggest Danger Patrol. I'll use the standard rules for now, players should choose a Style and a Role. This gives special abilities and the character's 'peak skill' which is represented with a d12 (all target numbers are 4). Players can then assign the other polyhedral dice to the remaining 7 Roles (that is d10, 2d8, 3d6 and a d4). This is simple enough to be done by anyone but still leaves room for player differentiation.

My second set of observations are on mechanics.

It doesn't always follow that a simple character means simple game mechanics, and I believe that mechanics need to be understandable, for example if everyone knows a static target number then they know whether they are succesful or not, and they can judge the probabilities better.

So, here take D&D, just for the record I have not played D&D since the 80s. D&D characters are fundamentally very simple, basically revolving around a single class (this ignores the added complications introduced later). I would never run D&D for my kids, Armour Classes, To hit modifiers, the whole panoply of thief rolls etc. either fail to make sense or are just complicated.

I can run fast and loose and spit out target numbers, sure, but why should I? Why not start with fast and loose in the first place? Will my kids grok the system whan I am spitting out 'you need a 12 to hit' and moments later 'give me a roll against 67%'? Ultimately I believe this means a simple core that varies little.

This is somewhere that games like Fudge could excel, the whole no numbers required aspect could be an incredible selling point but it seems to have never met this potential and is being overtaken by Fate.

I love Fate, it is very clever, but 3 seems to be adding unecessary complication and stunt based rule twists which seem to serve as things that get forgotten (at least to me).

Maybe at some point I could mould Fudge/Fate into a truly starter friendly version (yeah, like I have that time!).

This again is one of the reasons I picked Danger Patrol. Broken down to its core there exists a static target number of 4. In my adapted version I do away with the whole Danger mechanic, relying solely on the 8 Roles and a new, much simplified, damage mechanic borrowed from Fate 3/Cartoon Action Hour 2.

My next installment will look at that all important factor - fun!

Until next time Steve

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Card based dungeon delving

OK, so I wanted something simple to use for my dungeon delving with Steinhoff/Risus. In fact I didn't really want any choice either so you won't find any multiple exits or t-junctions here just a linear passage from entry to objective or dead end.

It is not very original as it references Ricardo's Fantalonia blog and the THW blog.

OK, you start with a shuffled pack of cards Jokers left in, but one Ace pulled out for now.

Roll 1d6 and put this to one side, this is an indication of the possible size of the dungeon.

Take the d6+2 cards and then add the Ace to the bottom, so if I rolled 3 I would take five cards and the Ace, this is the Dungeon Hand.

Now deal out the top card, if it is a numbered black suit it is a Corridor. Roll another 1d6 and if this exceeds the card's value you need to determine an event. Use whatever system you want for this event. If it is equal to the card value you have encountered a trap. Lower and it is nothing.

If however it was a numbered red card it is a Room, roll another d6 and if it is lower than the card value you have an event, equal is a trap as before and in excess nothing.

If it is a Joker then you have reached a Dead end and cannot continue. This dungeon reveals nothing.

If it is a picture card then you have encountered Stairs, take another d6 cards and put add them at the top of the Dungeon Hand. So I would take another 3 cards, the die remains static.

The picture cards have separate values of Jack 3, Queen 4 and King 5. Black and red as before, so a black King would need a 6 for an event etc.

Finally, you are after Aces, anytime you turn over an Ace you have reached the dungeon's objective, again determined however you  want.

For my part I am using the tables from the Risus Companion for the events and objective, The Random Bad Thing and Adventure Matrix to be precise.

As an added option when you roll the event die, if you get an even number then it is a combat or physical encounter, and if it is odd a mental or social one.

OK, so after the jump is a worked example, using my above options.