Last post covered my interest in introducing my older children (ages 9 and 6) to role playing games as a way to gain a window into their imaginative play. After researching the RPG options (so many options) I landed on Dungeon World.
After two gaming sessions the results are in, and they are impressive. One of the primary reasons I chased this idea was to gain a window into my children’s “solitary imaginative play”. Not only did I get that window, but I also got to see their problem solving skills and for about 30 – 40 minutes there was no arguing, tears, whining… just smiles and laughing. Smiles and Laughter people!
One factor for this success is the game itself, which focuses more on collaborative storytelling by reducing the complexity of game mechanics of the more complicated RPGs. Most outcomes are on decided by a player rolling 2 six sided dice, or 2d6 in rpg terms. The outcomes are adjusted by a modifier which corresponds to an ability. The modified rolls are segmented into 3 categories describing the outcome:
- Complete Success (10 or higher)
- Partial Success (7 -9)
- Failure (6 or lower)
That’s pretty much the game, everything else is there to guide the Game Master to setting the foundation of a good collaborative story…
…which is harder than it sounds.
Which became another motivator for me to research the art of being a Game Master and the potential anxiety that surrounds it. It really wasn’t anxious for me, worst case my kids would have been bored and I was out the $10 for the pdf of the rule book.
But there is some good advice out there, and the absolute best advice was to find out each player’s expectations. Here’s what I learned from my wife and 2 boys.
- One wanted to fight trolls
- Another wanted to be ‘a little man’
- The third did not want any of the player characters to die
There is a lot more useful advise for new GM’s on the interwebs, but there is next to none for new GM’s running a game for young families. So here are a couple of things I found useful.
Have an Adult Player
I worked with everyone individually to build their character before our first gaming session. Both my boys also wanted to be fighters, and they loaded up their abilities on strength and constitution. Which you would expect for a fighter. So I advised my wife to play a ranger and be the brains of the group.
This was not the last time I would ask her to participate in a specific way. Like identifying other solutions rather than just hacking and slashing.
Every family is different. Some don’t have two adults and those that do might not be able to have them play. But I strongly encourage including an adult.
Early Challenges To Learn Game Mechanics
Originally, I had intended to create plotless scenarios to teach them game mechanics. My thought was to do this individually with each player.
But, one of the players really wanted to jump into a full game. So we didn’t get to do this, but I included it anyway because it’s an idea worth trying.
Set Ground Rules for Character Creation
The rules I implemented were:
- No magical characters.
- Characters must at least have a neutral alignment, and preferably aligned to good.
The game was going to be challenging enough for me to run, I didn’t want a wizard casting spells I wasn’t prepared for.
The alignment thing is really a way for me to remind the boys about their character’s inherent motivation. And so that their characters won’t fight each other.
Roll the Dice
A lot of the imaginative fun does not involve dice rolling. And in my family’s second session, we had a lot of fun with very little dice rolling. When it ended, my 6 year old went from having been all smiles to practically being in tears. All because he didn’t get to roll the dice. It was quickly resolved by promising him he could ‘go first’ next time.
The lesson for me is that the kids need to roll the dice at least once a session. It might seem weird, but consider that our sessions are shorter than most. More on that later.
Let Them Be Silly
This one is important for me, because my motive is to see their imagination in action. If it doesn’t fit with my setup, so what. I’ll try to adapt it for next time.
An RPG gaming session can be somewhere in the ballpark of 4 hours. That doesn’t work for our family. Our first one was 40 minutes and the second one was 30. We clearly communicated the amount of time we would have to play at the start. Shorter sessions allowed me to be on the spot less as GM.
It also allowed me to do a soft unnoticeable reset to the game early on. This is similar to how a sequel will retrace an earlier installment and add in a few details that weren’t there originally. Had we gone on for several hours, I don’t know if it would be as engaging without those extra details that I was able to come up with inbetween sessions.
My advice would be sessions from 40 to 60 minutes. 30 minutes resulted in one of the characters not rolling the dice.
You Will Miss Something…
…so make it right when you start the next game/session. I managed to miss that they were not marking experience points for all their failure rolls. When the second session started I granted everyone 2 experience points.
They Will Miss Something Too…
…so mention it when you start the next game/session. The first game has so much going on and new information that they are bound to forget a character move or special ability.
A Few More Tips, But Not Related To Children…
Print Character Sheets & Info Sheets on Card Stock
This was really useful in a subtle way. While playing the game the players are trying to think quickly. Thin copy paper can distract in a number of ways: having to find something to write on, reading bent over on the table, or hold it up carefully without creasing the paper.
That might not be how we consciously think, but some portion of the brain is dedicated to thinking that way. And that slows down the part that is trying to think about what ‘Leverage’ they may have to successfully ‘Parley’ with a Non Player Character.
You Only Think You Have a Plot
Maybe not a plot, but an objective with obstacles for the party engage in. Here’s the thing, I was unprepared for how few times the players rolled a complete success and how many times they rolled a failure. That lead to the large monster appearing before I had intended. Now as GM, my intentions aren’t really important, but my preparation is. And since I hadn’t intended for the big monster to appear so early, I was unprepared for what happened next. They started rolling complete success on their attacks against it, while still struggling with partial success or failure with the other creatures.
To be clear, the fact that they were able to slay such a huge monster early on was huge for them, and a worthwhile part of the experience. It just made it more challenging for me, since a big portion of what I had prepared was annihilated in the first 10 minutes of the game.
In the second session I created what I would call a ‘wider’ set up. Meaning, more Non Player Characters, locations and dynamics. It was broad enough that the players could interact with these story elements in any order and under favorable or unfavorable circumstances to advance towards their end goal.
Just like the first session, the characters behaved and had outcomes different from what I had expected. But I felt that I handled it better, because there wasn’t a sequential order that events needed to happen in for the game to ‘make sense’ as a story.
I’m still learning though, so I’m sure there is advice here that is less than optimal. But if I don’t write it down now, I may never get around to it.