A Tale of Two Failures: Kid’s Stuff

Last post, I talked about my failure with adult gamers. Now let’s look at kids.

I have two (awesome) daughters, aged six and eight. They have progressed through Lego Heroica, to the Castle Ravenloft board game, to actual D&D. When D&D 5E came out, I got the Starter Set specifically to test drive it with my girls. They loved it, and so we embarked on our own campaign.

Side note: D&D is still known as “Starter Set” by my girls. “Daddy, are we going to play Starter Set today?” I don’t even bother trying to correct them.

Okay, so things were going great, that is until last session. It kind of crashed and burned. We ended up on the couch watching Clone Wars together instead . . . which I generally don’t consider a bad outcome, but not an auspicious ending to a D&D session.

So what happened? I can think of a few things.

My immediate sense was it was due to my lack of enthusiasm. This was absolutely a contributing factor. I can get my girls to engage in anything as long as I am there participating. Practice piano? No problem if I say “I want to listen to you play piano.” Math? “Can you show me what you learned with these questions?” Really anything. So part of getting them into D&D, I am sure, was daddy’s enthusiasm. It wasn’t there on Sunday and they noticed. They started getting distracted and talking about other things – which they generally don’t do.

I lacked enthusiasm because I was tired; possibly still hung over from an epically stupid night of drinking on Friday. Yes, I am old enough that the effects of a night of drinking can span two days. In any case, I was tired and couldn’t work up the enthusiasm to properly run the game. I’m usually very engaged when we play, figuring out funny ways for them to fail or silly things for the monsters or bad guys to do. I didn’t do that. I am proud to say my eight-year old tried to take my place narrating the failures, but she had a small collection of funny outcomes that wore out from use. To keep them engaged, I need to be on the ball – that’s true with just about anything, honestly.

But I think the biggest part is that I forgot what I loved about D&D when I first got into it. I was older than they are – I was about eleven or twelve when I started, I can’t remember exactly – but it wasn’t great overland adventures and epics quests that got me into D&D. Those came later. What got me into D&D were dungeons. My friends and I went through all the early standards. My intro was the Keep on the Borderlands, about which I still have a huge amount of nostalgic love. There were lots of others for which I have fond memories – Tomb of the Lizard King was a favourite; and Against the Giants and then Vault of the Drow, which kind of led into our inclusion of more story elements, like politics and influential NPCs. It was the dungeons that I loved. I’m putting them into the kind of game I would run later in high school or in university. Kind of like the other failure due to complexity, I’m trying to do too much when all I really need to do is take them through some dungeons.

And then introduce them to some dragons, of course.

We’ll see if my suspicions are correct. I’ve downloaded a couple of Dyson Logos’ maps and next episode they’ll be able to free their kobold friends from the dwarves by seeking out the kidnapped dwarven family – taken by the nefarious goblins hiding out in their cave complex!

Wish me luck.

You can find out more about Lego Heroica here.

You can find out more about the Castle Ravenloft board game here.

You can find out more about the Starter Set here.

You can find out more about D&D here.

You can find Dyson Logos’ maps here.

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A Tale of Two Failures: Adult Content

I’ve been running D&D 5E for my girls and we had a poor session last game. I think I know why, but while ruminating on it, I remembered another failure I had trying to introduce someone to role-playing. I’m going back to the first failure then next time I’ll talk about my problems with running D&D for my daughters.

A few years back, when I was still running True20, I was running a Roman campaign for one of my work colleagues. He and his friends were RPGers back in high school, but hadn’t played since. Once he found out I gamed, he mentioned this and I told him I would run a game for him and his friends, and they happily complied. We had a couple of really good games, then this colleague said his wife wanted to be included. I was all for this, but he was concerned because it was a bunch of guys playing in a basement. I found two other female colleagues – one who was a RPGer and one who wasn’t, but was interested – to join us and we were on.

Things didn’t go well, and it actually ended the campaign. We didn’t game again after that, which was a shame. I made some major mistakes that I recognized in retrospect and I hope I learned from these.

1) The story was too complex. Two of these people had never played RPGs and knew nothing about Roman history. Instead of trying to introduce them to the game, I tried to introduce them to both. The consequence was they got lost. I could see it during the game but couldn’t identify the source. The thing was it wasn’t one source, but two. I was not only asking them to learn about True20, but also about Sarmatians, border forts, legionaries, and the foreign policy of the Empire. What I should have done was put the Roman campaign on hold and worked on introducing them to True20 in an agnostic setting. Do a straight up dungeon crawl or at least a straight-forward generic fantasy adventure. I should have focused on illustrating why RPGs were awesome, and once they were comfortable with that I could have expanded the story.

2) Learning RPGs is not necessarily easy. RPGing is intuitive in one sense – most of us played make-believe as children – but not in another. For those who have played boardgames, they try to bring that experience to the table. They are trying to figure out how the rules constrain them. We need to remind them that they just need to blurt out what they want the character to do and then walk them through the mechanics of doing it. Depending on the system, there may be plenty of constraints, but those systems also tend to be complex and more difficult to learn. Focus on character actions rather than rules. Focus on getting them to use their characters to do fun things.

I think it was much more problem one than two. Once the new players were faced with acting as Roman spies into barbarian territory dealing with possible traitors and trying to sort out who among the barbarian chieftains were loyal to Rome and who were not, learning a system even a simpler one like True20, was a bridge too far. The new players got confused and flustered, it was too much for them. They didn’t have fun.

If I had done this right, I could have had another excellent crew of RPGers. It worked out for me in the end as I have my Ottawa Warband which is an excellent group of RPGers, but who doesn’t want to have an excess of cool people with which to game? And who doesn’t want to bring more people into the hobby.

My failures with my daughters were somewhat connected to this, as I’ll explain next time.

You can find more information on True20 here.

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More Tunes to Create By

Music is an integral part of my creation process. I think I have conditioned the creative side of my brain to music. Recently I was working on edits for Nefertiti Overdrive which included creating more content. When creating content I was looking for new music to use. My standard playlist includes a bunch of soundtracks, including Black Hawk Down, Gladiator, Man of Steel, Tron: Legacy, and Tears of the Sun.

I’ve got a new soundtrack I’ve added to the playlist: Edge of Tomorrow scored by Christophe Beck. I should probably write a review of the movie, which I really enjoyed, but for now, I’ll focus on the soundtrack. I was really pleasantly surprised. The impact of the score wasn’t as obvious to me as I watched the movie. I had that experience with Man of Steel which made me go grab the soundtrack soon after I finished watching the movie. I was going through possible additions to my music folder, and out of the corner of my eye I saw the album cover for Edge of Tomorrow. I tried to remember the score, and realized I really had liked it. Specifically, I remembered the scene of the invasion (the first time). So I went and listened to the samples provided, and I really dug it.

I listened to the soundtrack a lot as I worked on Nefertiti Overdrive. It certainly got the creativity going, but it’s not exactly perfect for that game. Nefertiti Overdrive is exuberant and loud. The Edge of Tomorrow soundtrack is dark and foreboding while also throwing in excitement and thrills. I think it would work good for an actioner set in a rather dark era – not necessarily future as in the movie, but even a more action-oriented Sword Noir game.

In rotation, it works perfect. It blends really well with the other soundtracks on my playlist, distinctive when it plays, but leavened by the music around it. I can see this helping to inspire some darker action moments as I listen to it, either for RPGs or fiction.

You can learn more about the Edge of Tomorrow soundtrack here.

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Give the People What I Want

I have a lot of ideas – ideas for games, ideas for adventures, ideas for fiction – so when it comes time to choose, I sometimes have problems. What should I work on? How should I do it? Who is it for?

This is easy in with my home group – whom I call the Ottawa Warband, since its inception was with the Viking adventure that led to the creation of Kiss My Axe: Thirteen Warriors and an Angel of Death. With the Warband, I can have them vote. I give them the kinds of games that are banging around in my skull, and they vote on which one they want to play: majority rules. So far, this has not cause any problem. The biggest problem is that I regularly change up my games (always chasing the bright shiny object).

Skydiver by Dean Martin

Skydiver by Dean Martin

When it comes time to release games to the public, I am faced with the same problem but lacking a clear solution. I can’t really get the public to vote. The one mechanism that is available for that – Kickstarter – is really its own beast. I suppose I could try a Kickstarter that offered a choice of games, but that’s going to run into problems as people might be willing to pay for an RPG mash-up of Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers and James Cameron’s Aliens but not for a military special operations RPG.

So here I am, getting a game ready for release (once Nefertiti Overdrive is delivered) and honestly uncertain if this is the game on which I should be spending my time. It’s not just the system, it is also going to be a collection of adventures. The investment is only time – I’m using stock art I have from the Spec Ops line of SEP products and I’m doing the layout myself – but this is also the flagship for a new enterprise and business approach, so picking the wrong game could be a problem.

Still, it’s always a gamble, and I understand there is no way I’ll be making mad cash in this industry.

More on this new approach later.

You can find out more about Kiss My Axe: Thirteen Warriors and an Angel of Death here.

You can hear some of the adventures of the Ottawa Warband here.

You can read about Heinlein’s Starship Troopers at Wikipedia.

You can read more about Aliens at IMDB or Wikipedia.

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Fiction? No. Inspiration? Yes.

I’m working on a chapter outlining inspirations for one of my games, in the sense of media inspirations rather than mechanical ones. It’s interesting how much non-fiction inspires me. Granted, in almost all cases, it is in conjunction with fiction – movies, comics, and novels – but non-fiction is a huge well of ideas. Think of the Game of Thrones. I honestly don’t know enough about it to comment on George R. R. Martin’s actual inspirations, but to me, it seems like at least some of this is coming from the English Wars of the Roses.

For fantasy and even steampunk, we’ve got history. For modern games, we’ve got documentaries, and newspaper and journal articles about different communities and activities – such as Black Hawk Down, Jawbreaker, or Generation Kill. If you want to find out how something might be done or if someone is already doing it, the information is generally out there and its almost always interesting and inspiring.

There is an area in which I don’t rely on non-fiction, and that’s science fiction. That seems normal, right? Science fiction tends to defy the use of non-fiction, does it not? Well, not exactly. I think that someone with a better grasp of science could put it to use. There are likely lots of ways in which space exploration and astronomy could influence one’s ideas, even if one needs to disregard some or all of what we understand about physics – or find some way to neatly side-step them – in order to have intergalactic adventures.

So what’s the point? No real point. It’s just an interesting little quirk that might explain some of my results for both game design and adventures.

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Designing the Design

Some discussions have erupted in places I frequent regarding adventure design. I find the discussion fascinating, especially since I have recently struggled through preparing two adventures for publication – one in the Nefertiti Overdrive Quickstart and the second for the successfully Kickstarted Nefertiti Overdrive.

My biggest problem with adventure design is that my natural tendency as a GM is to use minimal prep with a page or two of ideas/resources and let the game go where it will. This does not a good published adventure make. My GMing has diverged dramatically from a course that allows it to work as a foundation for designing adventures for publication, and so such design takes a lot more time, effort, and thought that it used to.

I’ve folded much of what I use to direct games in an improvisational nature into my game design. Nefertiti Overdrive has both Drivers and Pivots, two signposts that tell me what my players want to include in a game. If someone’s Pivot is to find a brother’s murderer, that subplot needs to make an appearance every now and then – which is frankly awesome, because it allows me to weave a character into the metaplot in an unexpected way. “Your brother was working for who?!!?” If a character’s Driver refers to protecting the innocent, you know there are going to be some doe-eyed children threatened somewhere along the way.

It makes it easy to just throw out an opening scene and go.

Advancing through the foliage

In The Foliage by Dean Martin

I don’t think anyone is going to pay any kind of money for a published adventure that does this.

I will be publishing some adventures – along with some new systems – in the near future, so I need to put together the notes and resources I used and try to come up with an elegant and simple way to present the adventure to an audience.

This could be interesting.

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Accidental Pairings in Nefertiti Overdrive

In working on another adventure for Nefertiti Overdrive (for the backers who pledged for a game over the internet) I realized something about the characters that was cool but totally unplanned.

Each pair of characters has a female and male component: the Princess & the Etruscan, the Spartan & the Amazon, and the Misfit & the Serpent. None of them are romantic pairings – one is familial, one is professional, and one is friendship. Also, they are opposites but linked – the Princess is about the nation while the Etruscan cares about one person but both are defined by duty and loyalty; the Spartan is infantry while the Amazon is an archer but both are heroic soldiers; the Misfit is bright while the Serpent is dark, but both are seeking redemption. Also, in the first pair, the female is the leader. In the second, the male is the leader. In the third, the two are equal.

I wish I could say I planned this, but I didn’t. It’s pretty awesome with the way it all worked. Is this my subconscious? I have no idea, I’m just very happy how it all turned out.

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