Intro music is some of Wintergatan – Marble Machine. Exit music is some of Thunderstruck – 2Cellos.
I’ve been playing an RPG with my kids set in the Archipelago of How to Train Your Dragon. As a prelude to writing about the play itself, here are the rules I’m using.
A Risus variation for How to Train Your Dragon Adventures
And of course Risus, by S. John Ross.
The Basic Rule
When dice are rolled, rather than adding up the results, each 4, 5, or 6 (4+) is counted as a “Success.”
Discard rolls of 3 or lower. In addition, sixes always “ace:” each six not only counts as a success, it is immediately re-rolled, with a 4+ result added to the success total (and continuing to ace as long as a six is rolled; the beloved “exploding dice effect.”)
Swap the “Inappropriate Cliché” rule for “Imaginative Use”: If you can explain how you use your cliché, you can try it. In combat, Imaginative Use of a cliché deals +1 damage.
“Round peg in a square hole”: If you’re using an inappropriate cliché in a test simply because you have no better option, and can’t (or choose not to) come up with an Imaginative Use, your opponent rolls two additional dice, or the number of successes needed increases by 2.
How It Works
Simple Skill Check
Instead of rolling against a target number, a certain number of successes are required to achieve a desired result, generally adhering to the following difficulty scale:
Easy: 1 / Tricky: 2 / Hard: 3 / Heroic: 4 / Legendary: 5 / All But Impossible: 6+
The process used to determine the difficulty rating in Risus — by figuring out how hard the task is in the context of the cliché’s relevance — is used the same way here, as is the idea that the degree of success or failure may affect the overall result.
As a general rule (because I like PBTA games) – getting some successes but not enough successes is a good time for a mixed result: you get some of what you want, but at a cost, or with complications.
Both sides roll the appropriate number of dice for their respective clichés. The side with the most number of successes wins. Ties can either be rerolled or go to the side who rolled the fewest dice (Goliath rule) or most (respect the skillz), depending on the group’s preference.
Multiple-round Contests (Combat)
Each round, both sides roll the appropriate number of dice for their respective clichés. The side with the most successes wins, resulting in the loss of one cliché dice (or more, depending on the situation) for the loser. Ties can be handled as above.
Note: In combat, the ‘success counting’ die mechanic means differences in cliché levels aren’t as huge a deal.
Team Ups During Contests
In team-ups, a leader is chosen for each team (leader role can change between rounds, if it makes sense). The leader gets to count all the successes from their rolled cliché. Everyone else on the team rolls their clichés as normal, but only count sixes as successes toward the team’s goal. (Sixes from helping characters can still Ace, with the Ace rolls counting as success on 4+, as normal.)
When a team loses a round, the leader takes cliché damage.
If a team member is taken out of a conflict due to sustaining injury or being unable to roll any dice in a round due to accumulated penalties, the character’s status will be determined after the conflict by the winning side.
(Players should remember that in single-action contests and combat, opponent’s dice can ace, as well.)
Too Many Dice
Sometimes characters, teams, or (most often) their opponents will have access to clichés of greater than six dice. Don’t roll more six dice; if a cliché is higher than six, every two dice over six simply adds a success (round down). So a Unstoppable Red Death (20) would roll six dice and add seven successes.
Funky dice can still be used in this system, if you want (not sure I do, but…) If you want to use them, have ALL results of Six or higher ace. Obviously, the odds of acing on a 10 or 12-sided die-roll are pretty good.
Character Creation Options
Allocate ten dice to your clichés, as normal for any Risus character. Humans are the baseline in this setting.
Lucky Shots can be purchased as normal in the Risus rules, if you like.
Sidekicks and Shieldmates from the Companion rules can also be purchased, and should be; they work perfectly for dragon companions, as well as particularly useful, rare, or high-quality gear that is better than what you would already have as tools of the trade for your clichés.
Generally, build your dragon companion by taking away 1 die from your cliché pool to make a 3-dice cliché for your dragon. Strike Class dragons (being more rare, intelligent, and powerful) can be built with 6 cliché dice (at the cost of two character dice), but still shouldn’t have any clichés higher than the character’s highest.
Dragons can usually team up with their rider during contests, can act on their own (or at the command of their rider), and can act entirely on their own with their rider rolling to help them, if it makes sense.
Example One: Brega’s dragon companion is Moonshade, an indigo-scaled Deadly Nadder. She invests 1 die into her dragon as a Sidekick/Companion, and buys “Moonshade: Over-protective Nadder (3)” as a cliché for the dragon.
Example Two: Most dragon riders do not wear much in the way of armor (or at least the basic armor they do wear (shoulder guards and the like) rarely seem to matter for most viking clichés). Hiccup, on the other hand, as a pretty cool shield, and decides to buy it using the Sidekick/Companion rules, which allows it to help (sixes count as additional successes) on any rolls where such a crazy shield would help (though it might also work against you in some cases…)
Gronkle-iron-reinforced “Utility Shield” (3)
(Once you start tallying up Toothless, Hiccup’s Shield, Wingsuit, and other crazy gear, you start to suspect his actual clichés might be… kinda crap.)
Optional: Skills within Clichés is probably fine, though maybe let that come out during play of the character.
Humans are definitely not the biggest things in the world. The progression of size scale goes something like:
- Terrible Terrors
- Humans, wolves, speed stingers
- Smaller dragons (gronkle, et cetera)
- Most dragons
- Larger Dragons (Screaming Death, Catastrophic Quaken)
- Very large Dragons (Typhoomerang, Eruptodon)
- Red Death
- Little dragons
- Most dragons
- Really Big Dragons
- Insanely Big Dragons
There are a number of different ways to handle difference in scale. Off the top of my head:
- Larger creatures in a physical conflict get 1 ‘free’ success for each level of scale they have above their smaller opponent(s).
- Funky Dice. In physical conflicts, the two scale spots directly above people use d8s; the two above them use d10s, the two above them use d12s, and Bears and Moose either use d20s, or allocate (still terribly imposing) cliché values to different parts of their body.
- Beyond the scope of dice: most creatures have cliché ratings, but for the truly imposing, they might perhaps be better handled as natural phenomena, rather than mere animals. The same might be said of large groups of lesser animals (a flight of dragons, for example, or a big pack of speed stingers).
- All of this largely pertains to physical confrontations – social/mental conflicts would hit different clichés which would only rarely use funky dice.
(So… I made the mistake of clicking on Google Drive while editing a g+ post, and lost a meaty actual play and an hour of my life, because fuck-you, Google+, you joy-stealing bundle of 20% hacks.)
So, short version: despite planning on Masks (and making up a team of four cool heroes with the girls, my son, and wife), my oldest daughter and niece ended up actually playing World of Dungeons: Breakers during our vacation (since neither son nor wife could reliably participate), BUT due to my niece's unfamiliarity with the inspirational source media for Breakers, we stepped back from wacky Ghostbuster-style-dungeon-crawling, and went for a creepy horror game (niece's request) inspired by The Secret World MMO. (Start off by pretending the events in TSW make coherent narrative sense from start to finish – a conceit Breakers easily provides – and chuck everything that doesn't support that connecting tissue.)
It worked, it was cool, and we got to fight zombies, a wendigo, and barnacle-encrusted horrors from the unknown watery deeps.
Relative links include the Breakers rules (http://onesevendesign.com/breakers_wodu_turbo.pdf), the random table of plausible character backgrounds for Breakers (https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1F_elby4nOucw0F6MwKHMtGxsCNQJ0O6JXhQ7LqB2fLk/edit?usp=sharing), and the attached map.
Had a fun evening that ran a little later than expected, doing something I haven't done in a long time.
Or ever, depending on how you look at it.
I did a group dungeon run in an MMO. Haven't done that in a long time.
I did it with two of my kids, so… yeah. That's new.
The vehicle for this bit of virtual heroic was a perennial game around our house: Pirate 101.
Now, we've been playing stuff from Kingsisle Entertainment for quite some time – http://randomaverage.com/index.php/2010/04/my-daughter-the-wizard/“>Kaylee played Wizard 101 for the first time back in 2010, before she turned five. The game's in-house popularity comes and goes (personally, I enjoy it, and there's enough going on with the pop-culture jokes, storyline, and card-building combat system that I don't get bored), but it's installed on our machines far more than not (and it runs on everything but the tablets and chromebooks, which is nice).
A few weeks ago, Kaylee started making noises about how she missed playing Pirate101, which shares the same basic setting as Wizard101, but with different classes, and more tactical, turn- and grid-based combat system (sort of a big-pixel version of X-Com combat, with cool animations when it plays out), and I was getting a leeeeettle tired of Sean's obsession with Overwatch, so I stuck both Wizard 101 and Pirate 101 back on, and let the kids go to town.
![Move-planning grid.](https://s.blogcdn.com/massively.joystiq.com/media/2012/08/pirate101-board.jpg "Move-planning grid.")
![Resulting animations.](https://edgecast.pirate101.com/image/free/Pirate/Images/Slideshows/combat3.jpg "Resulting combat animations!")
Sean enjoyed watching his sister rock the Pirate thing, but spent most of his own play time as Sean Bearhammer, young wizard.
…until a few days ago, when he decided he wanted to try out the Pirate side of the Spiral – where there's a bit more action in combat, and EVERYONE has a crew of cool anthropomorphic animals fighting on your side. Yeah. Hard to see why THAT was a draw.
It took him a few days to really figure out the combat system (and I have to force myself not to watch him play, because he make sub optimal choices GAHHHhhhh…), but by yesterday he was caught up to where Kaylee and I had gotten on our main guys, if not just a bit ahead.
So, in lieu of regular bedtime activities, we teamed up (Sean as his combat-heavy Buccaneer, Kaylee as her magic-hurling Witchdoctor, and me playing a sort of support & tactics Privateer) and headed to a (if not THE) lost city of gold, where we fought a lot of dinosaurian bad guys and, a BIT too late into the evening, decided to take down the final dungeon.
So… yeah. That was the evening – dungeon raiding with my kids for sweet loot and new skills.
It was pretty great.
We're heading out for a family vacation next week, my niece (13) is coming along, and she wants to do some gaming. (I've talked about gaming with Kaylee and her cousins in the past. It's a thing.)
Anyway, her only request was something "spooky" or suspenseful. Beyond that, "you and Kaylee pick something."
After some thinking (and considering what I'm going to be willing to pack), I've decided on Breakers (which is a hack/upgrade of World of Dungeons, which in turn is a hack of Dungeon World). – http://onesevendesign.com/breakers_wodu_turbo.pdf
The magical realm of Kyvr'ax has collided with Earth, shearing the dimensions and creating a mashed-up borderland between our reality and the monster-infested domain of the wizard Kai Shira Kai. You play working-class heroes who explore the twisted Break seeking fame and fortune. But don't stay too long, or the Cloud of Woe will surely find you!
Basically, it's an excuse to play modern-day characters dungeon-crawling like it's an ordinary job. Sort of Torg crossed with Inspectres? Sure. 🙂
Anyway, because it's Monday and I've got other stuff I'm supposed to be doing, I decided to come up with a table of Breaker origins/backgrounds. Just in case, you know?
Last night, we started a new Dungeon World game with the regular Tuesday night group. As I shared yesterday, I've been pretty excited about the game, as have the players, and it went about as well as I'd hoped.
But that's not what I'm posting about.
Normally,isn't around on Tuesday nights, but she was last night, and in lieu of doing some Overwatch matches with her (which is what normally happens if she's around and has no homework), I asked if she wanted to join the game.
Now, Kaylee's played quite a few RPGs with me, her cousins, and even with Sean, but she's never joined in on a 'regular' play group, and after I asked and she said she was in, I had a few niggling worries because… come on: she's eleven. She didn't even know two of the guys in the group. What if she ending up being the "super annoying kid of the GM?"
I may be (probably am) biased, but really I needn't have worried. She was focused, polite, thoughtful, inventive, and just all around a positive contributing member of the game – I was particularly impressed with her answer to the question I asked each player: "This land is beautiful/desolate, because…" (here: https://youtu.be/ML-LUfjNgas?t=1h10m26s), but all of her play showed so much thought, I worried people would think I'd coached her.
(She told me after that game that during the owlbear fight, she'd been googling "how to take down big monsters in fantasy games" so she'd have a good action to take when it was her turn.)
Nerd-gamer-me was proud as could be.
(I found this in a text snippet, as though I meant to post it, but as near as I can tell, I never did, so here it is.)
Say what you are: a crystal lady, an adventurer, a princess with a big cat.
When you face trouble, roll your two dice. If what you are helps, add 2 to the result.
- On a ten or higher, you do it amazingly.
- On a seven to nine, you do okay, but something else happens.
- On a six or less, you might do it, but you’re definitely in trouble!
Track ‘damage’ on your “courage” bar.
Courage: O O O | O O O
And… thats it.
Lucky isn't a real stat – it's a non-replenishable resource that gives you an auto success. The five stats should total +3 or so. Having a skill means you can't totally fail that thing. I'm still working out what all the special abilities do, especially "Force is with Me", which isn't automatic for anyone, even Jedi.
And… that's about it. PCs have six hit points, and damage from weapons is a static 1 to 4-ish.
(5 and a half) wandered into my office, pulled out the NTYE box, opened it up, and told me it had been too long since we played.
We dusted off "Ado, the Sneaky Creature who Runs Like the Wind" (and his Invisible Friend with Big Ears, Ryan), and Ado announced he wanted to visit The Hive (from the land Into the Closet).
I flipped through the various enemies available while Ado Ran Like the Wind toward the Hive, spotted the PERFECT-looking Argle Bargle enemy, and by the time he got there, Ado was greeted with an eerie silence: no bees buzzed around the Hive. He snuck inside and found out they'd all be caught in their own honey (which had magically become alive and evil – the reskinned Argle Bargle).
Ado leapt to help his bee-friends, taking a huge delicious bite out of his enemy. He got honey-walloped in return, but a distraction from Ryan and some speedy running left the evil honey mastermind too dizzy to keep fighting. Victory!
The queen, once freed, rewarded Ado with honey cakes, a gold coin, and a big party.
She got a 7 on her Defy Danger, trying to rush by some guards and get to the big bad, and it's time for Ugly Choices.
(And yeah, I know this sort of scene is pretty bog-standard and not full of the angst and internal turmoil you can get in PtbA games, but for an 11 year old, this choice is plenty ugly enough.)
Man I like running this game.
Originally shared by +Doyce Testerman
Kaylee (10) made up her character for No Thank You, Evil! about a week ago (Laurelai, a Sneaky Kid who Reads Great Books), but I've been traveling for work, so we haven't had a chance to play or get a character set up for Sean (5). We finally took care of that today.
As in any Cypher system game, NTYE characters are defined with a pretty simple sentence: [name] is an [adjective] [noun] who [verbs], and each of those elements have mechanical effects. The only real difference in this version of the game is that the sentences become simpler the younger the players get. So very young player might only be Name and Noun, while a moderately complicated character might be Name, and an Adjective/Noun.
And they all have a wacky companion of course, because why not?
The other extremely kid friendly thing NTYE does is provide you with a set of well illustrated cards for each of 'pregen' Noun options you can use right out of the book. Sean had already carefully scoured these options, and knew he wanted to play a Creature, with a Robot Lizard Dog companion (named Oscar). Easy!
We went through the list of provided adjectives to decide what kind of creature he was, and he immediately latched onto Sneaky.
This is when things got fun.
"So Sean," I said, "are you a kid who pretends to be a Creature when you're on an adventure, or are you a Creature who pretends to be a normal kid?"
He didn't even hesitate. "I'm a creature, and I pretend to be a kid."
"Cool. What's your guy's name? "
"Well," he said, "he needs a name that will convince everyone he's a normal kid, because I'm Sneaky." I nodded. "So… His name is 'Adolescent.'"
I blink. "Adolescent?"
"Yep. To trick people." He thinks. "Sometime just Ado."
Because seriously what else do you say to that?
My daughter and I have played a lot of RPGs together, but nothing in recent memory has gotten her psyched up like Laurelai, a sneaky kid who reads great books – the character she just made up for No Thank You, Evil!
The character concept fired her imagination, as did all of the conversations she's already imagining between herself, her "I Gotcher Back" pack, and her animated stuffy companion/invisible friend, Knuffle Bunny.
This is also the first time she's read a rulebook cover to cover in one sitting; the great design and great art has my five year old calling for his turn making a guy.
This game has the potential to be a big win in a house with stiff competition.
Last night, I swapped out normal bedtime activities for a little RPG fun with Sean and Kaylee, as I have been known to do.
For some reason, I always seem to ‘find the time’ to do this sort of thing on a night when I have a hard stop looming (in this case, a Star Wars game at 8pm), but we did manage to get the evening sorted out pretty quickly, giving us close to an hour to play.
Since we’d last played Mouse Guard (using a variant of the Risus rules set), I’d done a little shopping, and picked up a couple cool, custom Mouse Guard lego figs from crazy bricks – mix them together with a some weapons from Brick Arms, and we had pretty good minis for Conner and Laurel.
Do I need minis for this game? I do not. Not at all.
Did I want them for the kids to play with anyway, so they can gave Mouse adventures whenever they want? Yes I do.
So we grabbed our dice-rolling frisbee (hot tip: have smaller kids roll their dice in a frisbee or something similar – it really keeps the dice-chasing down to a minimum), the index cards on which we’d scribbled character sheets last time and, with Zoe tucked in and Momma running some evening errands, sat down to play.
“So, in case you don’t remember…” I began.
“We really need to figure out what happened to that postmaster mouse from last time,” said Sean, fiddling with his minifig. “If we can’t find him, there’s no way for Elmoss to get mail.”
I mean, seriously: the kid is five, and we haven’t played in two weeks. He can’t remember where he left the socks he had on five minutes ago, but this… this he remembered.
“I’m impressed, Seanie,” Kaylee said. She looked at me. “All I remember from last time was talking to those robins.”
“Right?” I said. “Okay, let’s investigate that house where the postmaster was attacked.”
Laurel (redfur, purple cloak)
Experienced scout guard mouse (4)
Animal spirit-talker (4)
((Falcon, my monarch butterfly companion (3))
Lucky shots: 0 0 0
Laurel travels light, with a narrow-bladed sword, a few daggers, and small pack of supplies.
Conner (brownfur, red cloak)
Sneaky guard mouse (4)
Heavily armed fighter (4)
(Buzzer, my dragonfly buddy (3))
Lucky Shots: 0 0 0
The two guardmice, with the assistant post-mouse in tow, went to the head postmouse’s home and started investigating. Windows were damaged. The front door was torn off the hinges, and the inside was in worse shape.
“I think I know what it is,” intoned Sean, as Conner. He looked at me, face serious. “Blood-eyed owl!”
“Please no,” Kaylee whispered.
“Well, I said,” something like an owl couldn’t get into Elmoss without people seeing it, and probably couldn’t get inside the house. It was definitely something bigger than a mouse, but not huge. What do you want to check out?“
The mice did some digging, and discovered some footprints in the flour scattered around the kitchen. Laurel (Kaylee) was able to identify the prints as weasel tracks, and Conner (Sean) realized they led down into the cellar.
Right about here, Zoe (two and a half) decided she wasn’t ready for bedtime, and showed up at the edge of the table, staring wide-eyed at the dice.
“Can I play? Pleaaase?”
Yeah, I’m not going to say no to that.
“Zoe, do you want to play a butterfly?” Kaylee asked, pointing out her sidekick to me.
“It’s okay,” I said, pulling my youngest onto my lap, “I’ve got an idea. Zoe, what do you want your mouse to be named?”
Emilie (brownfur, blue cloak)
Jumpy tenderfoot (4)
Assistant Postmouse (3)
(Stinkystripey, my bumblebee friend (3))
Lucky Shots: 0 0 0 0 0 0
“I- I’m c-coming with you,” said the assistant postmouse as the two guards headed down into the cellar.
The three mice got into the basement (some confusion here, as Zoe thought we were supposed to pick up all our things and go down into our real basement), and found a tunnel dug through the side of the cellar, behind a big shelf.
“What would a weasel want with a postmouse?” Laurel wondered. “It’s just strange.”
They followed the winding tunnel (hand-dug, but seemingly not that new) until the air began to change, becoming dustier and more mildewy… then it opened into a much broader space: the many-pillared spaces of Darkheather!
Laurel was astonished – she had no idea Darkheather extended so far under the Territories.
The mice looked for more tracks and, while they found none, spotted a light in the distance and crept toward it as quietly as possible (something Conner excelled at and the other two… well…)
As soon as they could make out voices and the sound of flowing water, they stopped. The weasel and the mouse where talking, and they didn’t sound like enemies.
“This bag is full of nothing but papers!” the weasel hissed.
“Those ‘papers’ are every message Lockhaven’s sent through my offices in the past year,” the postmouse explained. “With that, you’ll know everything they’re planning.”
“RRRRrrrgg,” the weasel growled. “I’ll take this to my masters, but if it isn’t as you say, I’ll be back here for our gold, and the next attack won’t be false.”
“Fine,” said the mouse. “I’ll be gone, in any case. I’m dead here – off to a new town and a new name. I’ll be in touch once I’ve settled in.”
“Can we grab that mouse?” asked Kaylee.
“Sure,” I said, “but the weasel’s in a kind of canoe in the waterway, and he’s already got the letters, so…”
Her eyes went wide. She turned to Sean. “Get. That. Weasel.”
Laurel moved to pin down the postmouse (working with her companion), while Conner charged straight at the weasel.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“I’m going to jump right at him and chop his nose into pieces!” announced Sean, and he did… something with his mouse figure that snapped the blade right off his little plastic sword. Oops.
Kaylee rolled enough successes (we’re counting 4, 5, 6 as successes – part of the Risus Guard rules I’m using) to pin down the postmouse, and Zoe had her bumblebee buzz right at the weasel’s head to distract him.
Sean came in, rolling his four dice, and got two sixes and a five.
Now, in this system, sixes explode, so he can roll two more dice and count them.
Two more sixes.
Six and a two. The kids are howling with glee.
“So… that’s… seven success… on four dice.”
“Daddy,” said my wife, who’d been listening in from the next room. “I think he got him.”
Taking Sean’s minifig mishap as inspiration, I described Conner leaping out at the weasel and chopping the sword down into the weasel’s nose so hard it went right into his head and stuck, breaking the blade off before the weasel tumbled into the water. It was a real “Lieam versus the snake” moment.
Flawless victory. The mice retrieved the letter satchel, turned the traitor postmaster over to the locals, and prepared to head back to Lockhaven to report to Gwendolyn.
Zoe did great! She loved rolling however many dice I asked her to roll, and could even sort the successes from failures easily by focusing on pulling out the 1s, 2s, and 3s. Time to order a third mouse guard minifig…
Sean’s ability to keep track of everything from session to session impresses me, especially because he never seems to be paying attention until right when he needs to roll dice (don’t know where he gets that from…)
Kaylee, at 10, is much more interested in the larger mystery, and she’s so supportive of her siblings, even though it slows things down a lot and means we don’t get as much covered. She said something like “all I did was pin a mouse down in the fight, but… Sean’s roll was so awesome, it made up for it.”
And, just to reiterate: Roll dice in a frisbee or something similar – it really keeps the dice-chasing down to a minimum.
So: good game, good fight, good night!
Last night, I swapped out normal bedtime activities for a little RPG fun with Sean and Kaylee. I’ve done this in the past, and I’ve even done stuff with Kaylee and Sean before, but it’s been quite a while since we’ve been able to find time (blame moving, swim practice damn near every night, too much homework, and a two year old who’s neither ready to play, go to bed, or leave the big kids alone).
I didn’t have much time, but I’d kind of promised a game of some kind to Sean, Kaylee allegedly had her homework done, and dammit I wanted to do something.
That something, somewhat unexpectedly, turned out to be Mouse Guard.
Last week, Kaylee was poking around my gaming shelves. She pulled out a copy of the Mouse Guard RPG, asked what it was, and basically lost her mind when I told her it was a roleplaying game based on Mouse Guard. This reaction was unexpected; we’d been pitching game ideas for the last couple months and hadn’t really hit on anything that totally thrilled both of us, and I knew she and Sean both liked the comics, but Mouse Guard simply hadn’t occured to me.
So: setting and story solved — all I needed was a system.
Now, I’ve run the official version of the game in the past, and it’s fine – parts of it are brilliant – but it’s not something I’m going to play, these days. I wanted something lighter, something five year old friendly, and aside from all that something I personally wanted to run.
I got pretty excited when I found Mouse World – the author mentions the documents aren’t quite done, and he’s totally right; but while they may need an editing and reorganization pass, they are absolutely playable, and Kaylee and I took a few minutes this weekend to make up a guard mouse scout named Laurel. I love the PtbA mechanics, and I already know Sean can handle adding a couple d6s and a stat. The fact the MW hack uses checkbox conditions rather than hitpoints is another pro-kid vote in favor.
I’m looking forward to running the game at some point, but that didn’t end up being what I ran last night.
When push came to shove and I was moments away from the forty minute window we had to play, I decided on Risus, with a few optional rules added.
Risus has been around quite awhile, with a very dedicated fan base, and has a deserved reputation for being light and easy. It also has a rep for being a silly, comedy RPG (partly due to the author’s undeniable humor in presentation), and while it can certainly do comedy, I’m quite sure it could do lots of other stuff as well. I’d already been thinking about it for Star Wars, and had refreshed myself on some of my favorite optional rules, so I grabbed three six-packs of d6s for me, Kaylee, and Sean, some index cards, pencils, and headed downstairs.
Risus characters are pretty straightforward. You get ten dice to allocate to character-defining cliches (and a few other things), and when you want to do something, you pick the cliche you want to use, roll as many dice as the cliche has for its rating and, in the basic rules, add them up and see if the total is high enough. Here’s what we came up with:
Laurel (redfur, purple cloak)
Experienced scout guard mouse (4)
Animal spirit-talker (4)
((Falcon, my monarch butterfly companion (3))
Lucky shots: 0 0 0
Laurel travels light, with a narrow-bladed sword, a few daggers, and small pack of supplies.
Conner (brownfur, red cloak)
Sneaky guard mouse (4)
Heavily armed fighter (4)
(Buzzer, my dragonfly buddy (3))
Lucky Shots: 0 0 0
Any Risus-heads will recognize the optional rules we’re using so far: Sidekicks (trade in one die for a three-dice rated companion who can help you out sometimes), and Lucky Shots (trade in one dice for a pool of three renewable dice that can be added to any roll (one per roll) as a boost).
The only other optional rule I decided to use that’s pretty close to the rules for Simpler Risus. (I don’t know if that name is accurate, to be honest, but it’s something I wanted to try out.) Basically, instead of rolling your dice and adding them together, you count the dice that come up >3 as Successes. There were two main reasons for this:
- I generally like success-counting combined with ‘success at cost’ for failed rolls.
- Sean can certainly add up a bunch of dice (he started rolling and doing exactly that as soon as I handed him his set), but I knew from playing Hero Kids that at his age it’s much faster to have him separate the dice into high and low piles after a roll. Whenever we play, time is the big limiting factor to play, so this was a no-brainer.
Also, at his reading level, a *World character sheet isn’t going to fly. I needed something he could read.
(I may do something like Mouse World conditions, rather than the Risus diminishing dice pools, but it didn’t come up in play this time, so who knows?)
Why didn’t you just run Hero Kids, with mice, like you’ve talked about doing before?
I couldn’t find the books. 🙁
I think they’re still in book boxes until our basement is finished. (Just a few more weeks!)
Blah blah blah, rules-nerd: What happened in the GAME?
Right. Time to play. We now have 30 minutes.
The spring thaw has come, and with it, Gwendolyn’s first missions of the season. Laurel and Conner are dispatched to Elmoss with a satchel of mail. (Normally, she’d send at least three guard mice, but as Laurel is an experienced scout and grew up in Elmoss, it’s just two of them.)
I started off by asking Laurel to check the weather and plan their route. I told her she’d need a lot of successes to do a perfect job (4), because success-at-cost at that point in a mission is fun, but she shut me down with a perfect roll of four successes on four dice. Nevermind, then.
Basic route charted, I let the kids decide who was going to be the trailblazer (finding the best route forward, on the ground), and who would be the lookout. Laurel was the trailblazer, since she’s a scout, and we figured Conner was good for roaming lookout, since he’s sneaker. In this, both kids rolled, and came up with a few successes each. Laurel guided them along well enough, and things are going smoothly until they hit a wide, fast-moving stream that isn’t supposed to be there – spring runoff has cuz them off and left Laurel scratching her head on a muddy riverbank.
Meanwhile, Conner catches the sound of some birds approaching. He can’t find them in the overgrowth, but sneaks back to Laurel without alerting them. The mice hear them coming, and not knowing what kind of birds they might be, take cover.
Turns out it’s a couple ruffled looking robins, who drop in next to the stream, drink a bit of water, and start pecking around, looking for worms in the muddy bank.
Laurel decides this might be just the help they need to get past the stream and steps out to hail the birds in their own language.
(Once success, needed two.)
Unfortunately, it’s been quite awhile since she’s spoken Robin, and she’s rusty. Adding to that, the robins are grumpy, rattled (they were just chased by a falcon!), and hungry. When Laurel asks if she can trouble them for a lift over the stream, they say they’ll do it for food: about about those two big bugs the mice have with them?
“Well don’t be greedy, little mouse… you can’t eat both of them yourself…”
Laurel calms down and suggests the two guard mice can help the robins find more appropriate food and, once the birds have their fill, they can carry the guards over the stream.
What this means is the mice do a lot of digging and mucking around in the muddy river bank, hauling out nightcrawlers for the ravenous robins. By the time they’re done, they are muddy, grumpy, and tired, but the robins are happy and carry them over the rushing water with no more problems.
The mice continue to Elmoss, are hailed and recognized by the local militia, and enter the town. Laurel knows the way to the post office, but (very low roll) once they get there, they find only a weepy assistant, and no master postmouse.
Apparently, just the night before, something terrible happened at the postmaster’s home; the whole place has been wrecked, with doors and windows broken and off their hinges, and no one seems to know what to do.
Can the guard mice help?
Tune in next time to find out!
All in all, a fun little session, and this morning, Sean said the nicest thing I’d ever want to hear about one of our games:
“Can we play it again tonight?”
Absolutely, little man. Absolutely.
Originally shared by +Rob Donoghue
Have started refining the ruleset I want to try with the little dude. Would have done it this weekend, but we played "Spy or Die Trying" instead (and it was fun!). Tellingly, the rules are refined enough that the real lifting is going to be on the actual game part of it. 🙂
Ok, based on the previous post and some conversations on G+ with Bryant Durrell, I’m starting to crystallize this system in my head, starting from the Above the Earth concept. I’m going…
… just killing some time, making up a character with my daughter.
Nothing to see here. Move along. Move along…
- Togruta Bounty Hunter with annoying morals
- Too honest for some people
- I’m my family’s best hope for freedom
- Never trust a Hutt
- No money, more problems
- Leader: +1
- Explorer: +1
- Tech: +2
- Fighter: +3
- Scoundrel: +2
- Scholar: +0
Aspect: Modified Aka’jar-class long-range shuttle
Protection: 1; Demanding (Tech roll +2 to get underway)
Aveza: the pilot
Aspect: “We’re partners, or YOU can try flying this hunt of junk.”
Professional 2 (Tech +1, Explorer +2), Resilient, Sturdy
Troubling Aspect: “Fortune and Glory, in that order, please.”
Aspect: Walking Arsenal with a Jetpack
Protection: 1, Exceptional (enter/leave a scene instantly)
Flaw: Demanding (Explorer +2 roll to access enter/leave scene ability)
Character Refresh: 2
Current Fate Points: 2
It’s been a little while since I’ve had a chance to play any “of your cool games” with my niece and nephew (see here for the last time), but my family was coming out, and I’d been informed that they definitely wanted to play SOMEthing.
They didn’t really say what, so I talked it over with Kaylee and after some back and forth, we figured we’d go with Fate Accelerated if they really wanted to play using the same system we’d used last time, and Dungeon World if they didn’t have a preference. (Kaylee was keen to do Dungeon World in a freeform setting, rather than the Dragon Age game we played about twelve sessions of this summer – she thought that setting would be “too rough.”)
Unlike last time, I’m not going to get into an actual play, because this time wasn’t much like last time.
For starters, we didn’t get nearly as much time to play as we did during the last visit; last time was during the holiday break, my sister was out for most of a week, and our two youngest kids were at daycare for several of the days, so we had all kinds of uninterrupted free time. This time, we had eleven people banging around the house, only two evenings where the kids were all staying in the same house, and we weren’t able to even talk about the game until about 9pm, both nights.
But WITH THAT SAID, I am still really impressed with the background and story Malik, Jadyn, and Kaylee were able to put together in very little time playing Dungeon World – a game meant to represent a genre my niece and nephew knew only as “pretty much like The Hobbit.”
We basically started from nothing, with no background at all. The kids picked out characters to play from the stock list. Once we got to the part where everyone defined Bonds with each other, I started asking questions, and their answers created everything about the situation and the world we were playing in.
I could go into some detail, but the upshot is that after maybe a half hour of Bonds-related questions, we had a bustling, cosmopolitan city ruled by a noble class secretly infected by vampirism over the last decade. Our heroes (a former-noble thief, bard with expertise in the undead, and priest of secrets, magic, and mayhem) were dead-set (heh) on exposing the vampiric nobility to the masses and bringing down the secret regime.
This from a 10, 12, and 16 year old – two of which don’t have any real exposure to the genre, at all.
Many of the newer RPGs out there suffer (in my opinion) from a kind of assumption of familiarity from the players. In some (worse) cases, the assumption goes further, figuring the players will not only know the genre(s), but get the irony of the game/setting/mash-up — in most cases, it makes the game uninteresting or unplayable for my young family members.
In this case, I was pleasantly surprised to see a game that could take real newbies and help them get a solid game going.
We didn’t get enough time to play – not a fraction of ‘enough’ – but we certainly wished we could, because the game we’d come up with (thanks in no small part to the way Dungeon World is set up) was engaging and exciting and, put simply, fun.
Five of five stars, will definitely play again.
After Kaylee voiced her concerns with the way things were going during the last session, we started off this session by immediately addressing what was going on in her other brother’s rooms – to address Kaylee’s concern about Elana’s little nephew being killed.
While her mother wailed and beat her breast a bit, leaning on the splintered doorway and urging Elana to “just look away”, Elana looked closer, and realized that neither the woman nor the boy on the floor had the right hair color for her sister in law or her nephew. A Discern Realities confirmed the victims were the two guests of her sister in law, and that Oren and his mother must be somewhere else.
Elana figured that, if they’d realized something was going wrong in the castle, Oren would have hidden and since Elana had been his default playmate/babysitter for the last few years, she had a pretty good guess where he might have gone (actually, she had three good guesses, and checking out Oren’s hiding spots would take some sneaking about the castle).
With this information in hand, Elana and her mother set out to look for Oren and reunite with Elana’s father (hopefully).
Along the way, I had Kaylee Defy Danger to get through the castle without running into more Howe guards while she checked a few of Oren’s hidyholes. She got a mixed success, at which point I threw a couple panicky castle servants in her path. They were freaking out and wanted to run for their lives, and Kaylee wanted to calm them down and get them to stay with her and her mother. Sounds like a Parley move. Kaylee got a mixed success, so she needed to arm the servants before they developed enough backbone to stick around – this, she accomplished by backtracking to the dead Howe guards outside the family suites and taking their weapons.
Having expanded her little group, I then had a small patrol of Howe guards stumble into them (mixed success on that defy danger, after all), and we had a bit of a skirmish, which they handled fairly well (Kaylee was much less inclined to take a hit to protect a servant, but luckily for him it didn’t come up.
They eventually made their way to the main hall of the castle, where Ser Gilmore and few men are in the process of being overwhelmed by an equal number of Howe soldiers, plus two archers and a circle mage. Kaylee wanted to get the drop on the mage, so I asked for a Defy Danger (the danger being the mage spotted her and lit her up like a votive candle) – she got a complete success, which allowed her to use her Ranger “called shot” move on the mage: in this case, an automatic hit, with enough rolled damage to take him out in one shot as she and the others surged into the room. It was a brief, fierce battle, but with Wolf mucking up the archers and the servant and Elana’s mother flanking the soldiers, most everyone came out in good shape.
Ser Gilmore sent his men to reinforce the main doors (already being pounded on from outside) and hurriedly reported Teryn Cousland had headed for the servants’ entrance to keep (in the kitchens) to secure it for his family’s escape. Duncan the Grey Warden had gone with him.
Elana wanted to go her father, but wanted Ser Gilmore to go. Parlay did not work out for her in this case, and Gil stood his ground, saying he’d hold the gate until the family could escape, as was his duty. Elana nodded, resigned, and Gil ran off to the doors.
Elana and her mother headed for the kitchens, and found the halls oddly silent. The kitchen, by contrast, was a warzone – Howe bodies everywhere, in what must have been a massive melee. Elana followed a blood trail into the pantry, and found her father propped up against the intact bags of flour. Duncan was nowhere to be seen.
Father, mother, and daughter had a quick reunion, and Bryce confirmed that Oren and his mother were already out in the stables, hiding. Whew. Elana wanted to get him up and get them all out of there, but Bryce shook his head.
“I’m afraid I would not survive the standing…”
Duncan (who had been chasing down the last Howe soldier from their previous fight) returned. Bryce asked the Grey Warden for his help in getting his family to safety, and Duncan said he would, with conditions: he’d come to Highever to claim a recruit, and he and his duty demanded he find that recruit if at all possible. With Ser Gilmore unavailable… he looked to Elana.
Bryce closed his eyes and nodded. “If you get the rest of my family – my grandson and his mother and my wife away, then yes.” He looked at Elana “our duty is to protect Ferelden and then our family – in this new service, you will be doing both.” Elana nodded.
They got ready to depart, but Elana’s mother refused, saying she wasn’t going to leave her husband behind.
Kaylee’s response was a shouted “Aww come on!” and she tried to talk her mother into going with them, to take care of Oren, if nothing else. I called for a Parley, and she blew it (earning the last XP she needed to get to level 2).
“It’s your time to shine, my daughter. Tell Fergus what’s happened. Tell the King. Get away from here, and I will buy you time.”
Elana and her father had a few more words, which I’m a bit proud to say had us both smiling sadly and a little misty eyed. It was a sad scene, but a good one, and cemented Arl Howe as a long-term bad guy for both Elana and Kaylee.
She and Duncan got the stables, took up Oren and his mother, then snuck out of the the castle and into the city of Highever. There, Duncan led them to a “potential recruit” named Ser Jory – a big man with a farmer’s face and a very pregnant wife. After some talk, they came up with a plan for Ser Jory and his wife to head to Denerim (the capital) with their new “maidservant” and Jory’s new “son”, there to wait for word from either Elana or Fergus.
With that, Duncan and Elana headed for the city gates.
“Horses can wait,” murmured Duncan. “For now, we need to get away from here. Stealth first, then speed, then Ostagar.”
“And the king,” said Elana. She had much to tell him.
The title for this post doesn’t have anything to do with the story of what happened in the game. It has everything to do with what happened with me and my player.
“Lines” and “Veils” are terms originally used in this context with Ron Edwards’ Sex and Sorcery, a supplement for Sorcerer. The basic idea is there’s a line that marks subject matter that isn’t allowed in-game, and a “veil” behind which lie events with are allowed, but not described in detail.
I try to be the best dad I can be, but sometimes I miss the mark. It should come as no surprise to those familiar with Dragon Age that there’s some subject matter that doesn’t suit everyone, either because it’s a bit too graphic, or (more often) because it plays hardball with the emotions, and sometimes I don’t successfully identify what those elements are, and need them pointed out.
It’s like this: every time I’ve run any tabletop game based in Thedas, someone at the table has teared up. Once it was over a dog, and I stuck to my guns. Once it wasn’t, and I realized I’d missed the mark.
This time, I flubbed up or nearly flubbed up a couple times, so by all means learn from my mistakes.
Before we played, I made a few notes about the main NPCs in this part of the story, and what they wanted, so I could act accordingly. The two main ones:
- Arl Rendon Howe – wants to “reclaim” the seat of Highever that his family once held (many generations ago). He will stop at nothing to accomplish this, up to and including the murder of innocents. He has orchestrated a situation in which he has the overwhelming advantage, playing on the trust Teryn Bryce Cousland has in him.
- Duncan – needs a strong Grey Warden candidate to bring back to Ostagar. He has several options within Castle Cousland, and won’t leave without one of them, unless staying means the failure of his whole mission.
In the night, Arl Howe’s “delayed” troops reveal themselves and attempt to seize the castle. This force vastly outnumbers the skeleton crew of Cousland guards within the keep, and it’s only through the quick thinking of one (now deceased) guard that the Howe forces don’t take the castle and kill everyone in a matter of minutes: most of the attacking troops are still outside, trying to bash their way through the keep’s heavy portcullis and front gates, both of which have been secured with deadman weights that take a dozen men to lift.
Although she went to bed early, Elana does not sleep well. Her rest is troubled by a disturbing dream in which she relives the earlier conversation with her father, while the face of a simpering Arl Howe transforms into the narrow, long-nosed mask of one of the fat grey-bodied rats she fought in the pantry.
It’s almost a relief when Wolf’s ferocious barking wakes her. Normally, she’d try to keep him quiet, as her quarters connect via a large common room with the other family apartments (one suite for her mother and father; the other for her brother, his wife, and their son), and she’s gotten in trouble for her furry companion’s noise, in the past.
She shushes her pet, but he won’t be entirely silenced, and continues to growl menacingly at the door to her room. Elana remembers both the pantry and her “Arl Howe as Evil Rat” dream, and both things prompt her to action: she eases out of her bed and over to a chest where she’s tossed her armor and other weaponry.
Finally, she shushes Wolf properly, and prepares to pull open her door to see what’s going on out there.
Kaylee doesn’t know why yet, but this action triggers a Defy Danger move, and I have her roll.
No one, least of all the two soldiers on the other side of the door, were expecting the result.
She nails the roll, and pulls open her door just as the soldier outside was about to kick it in. He sprawls in the doorway, doing a painful split, while his companion (holding a nocked bow), gawps.
To her credit, Elana’s first instinct isn’t to run a helpless man through. She demands to know what’s going on, but the only response is the man on the ground scrambling back and getting to his feet (she notices the emblem of Arl Howe on his shield), and the other man growling “kill her!”
Kaylee pulls a nice little tactical move, drawing back to the right and hard against the wall, so the archer has no angle on her and the closer soldier will have to come partway into the door to engage her, blocking his ally.
After some goading, the guy with the shield surges in, head on a swivel, and he locks in on Elana.
Unfortunately, he forgot about Wolf, who rushes him from the side, and with that distraction, Elana is able to run him through, just above the neckline of his armor.
This was the first point where we hit a slight disconnect between Kaylee’s expectations and the fiction. She’s played tons of games with me, but they’ve almost all been supers genre, or inspired by stuff like Avatar: The Last Airbender or pulp adventure. In short, they may have a lot of action, but generally, no one’s dying.
Basically, this more brutal fantasy setting was a surprise to her, and she hesitated more than a little when she realized her character had actually killed someone. It didn’t freak her out, exactly, but it set her back on her heels a little bit.
The archer had pulled back further into the common room, and Elana didn’t have any desire to charge a drawn longbow. Much better to engage in kind. Elana’s bow was still on the chest, on the other side of the room, so Elana dove across the doorway to get to it.
I called for a Defy Danger + DEX, and Kaylee blew the roll (and got a point of XP!). I asked her if she was going to get hit, or if Wolf was going take the damage for her (and be out of the rest of the fight) – the bow sang, Elana pushed Wolf ahead of her, and the arrow went halfway through her calf muscle. OW.
Kaylee’s character actually got the crap beat out of her during this and the next session – by the time it was all done, she was down to single digit hit points and I was skimming the “Last Breath” move.
Another side note: There’s actually a Ranger move that lets your animal companion soak a hit for you, then recover later. I wasn’t using that move (Kaylee doesn’t have it), but simply giving her a hard choice on her failed roll. Kaylee really doesn’t like her pet taking a hit in her place (also, he really does help with the fights).
Elana gets her bow while the bowman taunts her. She readies her arrow, holds Wolf back by his collar, and then whispers “Go.” Wolf charges through the door, and Elana steps out (onto her good leg) and Kaylee rolls Volley + Dex, getting perfect boxcars. The archer wastes his shot, missing Wolf, and drops before the war hound even reaches him.
Elana calls the dog back immediately and scans the large common room. Two more guards are pounding on the double doors leading into her parents apartments, making a great deal of noise (they’ve almost gotten through and are shouting threats at whoever’s inside). They haven’t noticed what’s going on on behind them.
Kaylee wants to sneak out and surprise them with her bow, and a successful Defy Danger lets her do a called shot and take one guy out before they realize she’s there. The other guy dies before he can reach her.
She rushes to the door and calls out, and her mother responds, then forces the door open. She’s donned armor as well, and has a well-worn (if not recently worn) sword in hand. Her eyes go wide at the arrow sticking out of her daughter’s leg, and tears up a sheet to make bandages while they catch each other up. Elana’s father never came to bed – he was up talking with Arl Howe, and he mother doesn’t know if he’s even still alive. If he is, he’s probably in the main hall, defending the main entrance into the keep. Her mother, once shown the Howe blazon on the soldiers’ shields, is livid and swearing a blue streak.
Her mother then has Elana bite down on one of her own arrow shafts while she works the other shaft out of Elana’s leg, bandages the wound, and tells her they need to get to the main hall.
Heading back down the common room, they see the door to her brother’s rooms, broken off its hinges, and two bodies on the floor within – one woman, and one child.
We stop there for the night.
On the whole it was a good session, and Kaylee was really into the scenes and the tactics of it, but a few minutes after she went to bed, she called me in and told me she wasn’t sure if she wanted to keep playing.
I asked her why, and she told me that she wasn’t used to the kind of fighting we were doing. I’d been going into lots of detail about what was going on the fights, but thing is, I was going into the wrong kind of detail – stuff she wasn’t comfortable with. I told her that I could be more vague about certain things – saying “he goes down” or “she out of the fight” to kind of soften things up (put it behind a “veil”), but the setting was the sort of thing where people were going to die, so we needed to be at least okay with that, or we should stop.
She was okay with “vague death,” but then went on to say she really wasn’t okay with what looked like her character’s six year old nephew getting killed. This was much more of a “lines” kind of conversation, and I reassured her that while things were pretty grim in her brother’s room, they weren’t as bad as they seemed, and if she’s trusted me to do another session, we could work through that.
So: some stuff goes behind veils, and some stuff needs to be behind a line and just not get touched. In hindsight, I should have guessed all that ahead of time, but I got wrapped up in (a) getting the narration to work with and for the rules “right” and (b) the setting and the story. My bad. I have to say, I came away from the after-session conversation very impressed with how Kaylee was able to articulate exactly what bothered her and what she wanted to do about it.
And the next session ended up being pretty darn awesome for both of us, even though…
I promise I’m (almost) done mulling over game systems and talking about what might or might not work.
Instead, lets talk about the game and what really did or did not work.
Character generation in Dungeon World is dead simple, and gets even simpler when you have only one player, because you won’t run into a problem where two players want to play the same character class.
At least, that’s theory I went in with.
The problem is, Kaylee can’t decide between the Druid (animal shapeshifting is a big draw) and the Ranger (animal companion is almost as good as shapeshifting, plus some cool stuff with bows and dual wielding). She also takes a hard look at Wizards, but isn’t ready to with the extreme social stigma mages suffer in this setting, first hand.
Eventually (and I do mean eventually) she settles on Ranger, and after a bit more dithering, decides to be a human. Female dwarves don’t appeal at this point, and the elves backstory is (like the circle mages) a little too oppressive to be attractive.
I sell her on having Mabari Warhound as her animal companion (she names him “Wolf” to make my future narrations extra confusing), which probably indicates that she’s either very lucky, a noble, or both. She writes down a bond with Wolf (he’s smart enough for it to be relevant/changeable).
We talk a little more about where she wants to start out, and between that and the history bits that she likes, I decide to save myself some time and start out with something a lot like the Human Noble origin from the video game.
Welcome to Castle Cousland
“For generations, your family, the Couslands, has stewarded the lands of Highever, earning the loyalty of your people with justice and temperance. When your country was occupied by the Orlesian Empire, your father and grandfather served the embattled kings of your land. Today, your father and elder brother once again take up House Cousland’s banner in service to the Crown——not against the men of Orlais, but against the bestial darkspawn rising in the south.”
Blah blah blah. I get Kaylee caught up on what’s going on in Ferelden right now: rumors of a rising darkspawn presence in the south of Ferelden has been confirmed, and a royal decree has gone out from King Cailan: All knights, banns, arls, and even the two teryns of Ferelden are tƒofo lead what forces they can muster to the ancient Tevinter fortress of Ostagar (originally constructed as a barrier to barbarian raids from the southern wastes); there to unite as one army to wipe out the darkspawn and stop a new Blight before it has even begun.
(It’s possible the King was raised on a few too man heroic tales as a boy, and wants his reign to be marked by thrilling heroics, one way or the other.)
More importantly to our young Elana Cousland, her father and brother are soon leading Highever troops south to Ostagar, her father’s highest-ranking Arl (Rendon Howe, of Amaranthine) rode in today, and her father has sent for her.
The thing is, Howe is here, but his troops aren’t. The tardiness of Howe’s men is being discussed in the main hall as Elana enters; Howe is all apologies and general swarminess, but Kaylee is playing Elana especially polite and obedient, so she doesn’t say much. Her father explains that due to the troop delay, he’s going to hold his departure, but send the Cousland forces ahead with Elana’s older brother Fergus; he also informs Elana she’s going to be left in charge of the castle until the two of them return (heady responsibility for someone only just turned 16). While they talk over particulars, something Elana asks about the fight reminds her father (and me) of another visitor at the castle, and he sends for Duncan, the leader of the Grey Wardens in Ferelden, who is passing through Highever on a final recruiting search before joining the King at Ostagar to face the Darkspawn.
I wasn’t sure how Kaylee would react to the Grey Warden showing up – maybe eagerly volunteering? Who knows?
Turns out, while Kaylee is very into the Grey Warden thing, Elana isn’t so excited, and gets a little bug-eyed when Duncan gently jokes “I’m sure your Ser Gilmore is a fine candidate, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that your daughter would also make a fine Grey Warden…”
The Teryn shuts this down – he’s not eager to send all his children into war, and jokes that if he did, his wife wouldn’t let him see tomorrow – and this is what actually gets a rise out of Elana – she’s not eager to jump into the fray for no reason, but she’s even less happy about other people making decisions for her. She and her father politely snipe at each other about this (“I bet I could convince mother…” “I’d take that bet, and sell tickets…”) until her father begs off and Elana bows and heads out.
During this scene, I also mentioned Arl Howe doesn’t seem comfortable with grey warden showing up, which leads Kaylee to some actions that trigger a Discern Reality move that Kaylee maxed out – she picked up a few interesting bits from the conversation: Duncan didn’t really expect her to say yes, but felt he had to at least ask, Arl Howe is actually quite nervous at the unexpected arrival of the Grey Warden, and her father is proud that Duncan asked after her as a warden, even though he refused the request.
As a side note, I want to draw attention to the way I worded the previous paragraph: Kaylee took some actions that triggered a move – one of the ‘basic’ moves in Dungeon World that anyone can do.
This is familiar territory for Dungeon World or really * World players in general, but it bears calling out here, explicitly: there are a fairly low number of ‘moves’ available to players and their characters, and the dice mechanics for them (really the only dice mechanics in the game) are very simple: roll 2d6 and add the bonus from a relevant stat (STR, DEX, CON, INT… you get the drill). You’re awesome when you roll high, and results get progressively more interesting the lower you roll (really bad rolls also get you experience points – failure is the best teacher).
Now, the tricky trap here is that the GM does not just say “Okay, to do [whatever it is you’re doing], do a Strength check.” You could certainly play a game that way, ad-libbing your way through a series of stat checks (it’s probably the easiest way to add non-combat skill-like rolls to basic DnD), but that game is not Dungeon World.
In DW, there are no ad hoc stat checks like those I’ve described; there are a set list of basic moves, augmented by special case and character-specific moves, and each of those moves have very specific criteria that make each move available: the fiction/play needs to (1) show the character taking specific sorts of actions in (2) a specific sort of situation. Those two things then trigger the move, and allow dice rolling.
What this means is that the game system needs the players to describe what they’re doing, how they’re doing it, and needs the GM to provide “sensory feedback” for whatever they’re doing, or the dice system kind of falls apart, or at least gets really boring. Now, This rolls into another one of those rules-that-just-look-like-advice: “moves must flow from the fiction, and the result of a move should be more fiction” (I’m paraphrasing). You never say “I’m going to hack and slash” and then roll – you describe your attack (what you’re doing, and how), which then triggers/justifies/allows a Hack and Slash roll, which results in more description.
In short, in order for Dungeon World to work, you need to play (and run) it a lot more like Amber (where the fiction is pretty much all you’ve got) or classic DnD (where you only have a combat system, so everything else was usually narration/fiction), and a lot less like a tactical mini-game (modern flavors of DnD).
I mention this because I did it correctly here, in this scene, and totally screwed it up a bit later, when we got to a fight. (In other words, I screwed up the element of the game where, over the years, I’ve picked up the bad habit of allowing the game system to stand in for coming up with cool narration.)
Mischief in the Pantry (Kill Ten Rats)
Where were we? Right: Elana makes her excuses and leaves Duncan, Arl Howe, and her father to talk.
She doesn’t get very far before Ser Gilmore finds her. Gil’s a good friend, only a few years older than her, and they grew up sparring together (against her mother’s half-hearted protests); Elana was more than a bit jealous when he was knighted two years ago. Gil informs her he’s on a mission from her mother: Elana’s dog (the Mabari war hound I mentioned) is in the massive pantry of the castle’s kitchen, Nan the cook is hot enough to boil water, and mother wants her to fix it.
Elana heads off to do so, with Gil tagging along (“to make sure it’s done, before your mother can find me again”). She gets to the kitchen, where Nan is threatening to skin her dog, and the kitchen servants are flat-out refusing to go into the pantry with “that beast” going crazy in there.
(Luckily, Kaylee and I know very well what a loudly barking dog is like – my imitation of this sound brings our own war hound racing into the room, quite confused.)
They head into the pantry. The dog isn’t chewing anything up or eating a prize roast – he’s sort of pacing, growling, and randomly barking his head off. He settles down somewhat when Elana gets there – less barking – but actually gets more anxious and antsy. Elana tries to figure out what’s going on, and a Discern Reality roll tells her that her dog’s body language is “Oh good, someone who understands me is now here and can FIX THE THING,” and that Wolf’s main stress seems to be focused on the back wall of the pantry, where there are a bunch of flour bags stacked up vertically. (“Like bowling pins,” is how Kaylee summarized it.)
Elana pulls one of the bags out of the way, and it comes apart in her hands; it’s been chewed through in the back, as have quite a few of the other bags, and the culprits – massive rats, “grey-bodied and fat, like ticks” – first cringe back and then burst into the room, swarming toward Elana.
Combat, as they say, ensues.
So here is the bit where I kind of screwed up. The introduction of the rats was suitably tense and creepy and really got Kaylee invested, but once the fight actually got going, my GM-ing muscle memory defaulted to something like “okay, it’s your go, roll hack and slash…” which is kind of terrible.
One of the main reasons it’s kind of terrible is because the GM doesn’t roll anything in DW – it’s all player rolls. If you do hack and slash, an awesome roll means you hit the guy and shut his offense down, a decent roll means you basically trade damage, and a bad roll means it’s all bad guy damage, incoming. So… if there’s little to no narration going on, it’s literally just a series of rolls by the players until the numbers on the paper all hit 0. Terrible with a group of players, outright horrible with only one player.
Luckily, I didn’t fail with the fiction more than a few times, because the dice system pushed me to come up with stuff on mixed results and failures anyway, which is FANTASTIC, because it forces the GM to figure out the fiction and come up with interesting failures, even if their default is kind of lazy “okay, your go, roll” stuff.
During the fight, I used mixed successes and failures to put some hard choices to Kaylee, including:
- You can get the rats off you, or get them off your Dog. Who’s getting clear and who’s taking a hit? (She protected her dog. Good girl.)
- You can leave yourself open to danger from behind, or cover Gil from the rats on the shelves he doesn’t see. (Again, covered her ally, not herself.)
The rats were wiped out (I made a ‘kill ten rats’ joke that Kaylee didn’t get, because I’ve failed as a father), Gil bandaged her injuries (“before your mother sees”), they calmed down the kitchen staff, and headed out with Wolf in tow.
After that, it was a bit more roleplay with Elana and her family members (Father, Mother, her brother Fergus, his wife, their son (her nephew Orin, ten years her junior and often her babysitting responsibility) and their “casual” noble guests (a friend of Elana’s sister-in-law, and her son, about Orin’s age).
Then Fergus rode out of the castle with all but a few of the Cousland guard with him, and the rest of the family had an early night.
Took awhile to talk about it, but the session was fairly short (as most of ours are, since we squeeze them in where we can), and we picked up in session two with a bad dream, and Wolf waking Elana up with some godawful loud barking in the middle of the night.
It was only after Kaylee was off to bed and I was replaying the session that I realized what I’d screwed up during the combat and, knowing what sort of things the NPCs were going to be trying to accomplish in the next session, I made a mental note to really go big on description/narration, so Kaylee would (a) follow suit and (b) have something to work with for her own narration.
This was absolutely the right thing to do, but (as I’ll share in the next post), there were some problems with going too big with narration – a “lines and veils” issue that I had to sort out with Kaylee, and which almost killed this game before it properly got going.
So I’m pondering Dungeon World with only one player, but player characters in DW need bonds with other characters, and maybe I can solve this with… companions? Persistent NPCs the player’s character can interact with in depth? This tickled something at the back of my brain – a region scientifically known as “that bit that makes me give BioWare too much money.”
As I’ve mentioned, I like Dragon Age (the RPG) and that’s at least partly because I love the setting for the Dragon Age video games – Thedas is a rich setting, and more than that it manages a potent mix of fresh invention and classic tropes – one might almost say cliches – of the genre; in many ways, there’s nothing especially new about the world BioWare presents in Dragon Age. Rich history, countries VERY OBVIOUSLY AND DIRECTLY based on real-world cultures, a rising evil, and a hero leading a motley band of misfits to save the world. It has, to put it lightly, been done.
But BioWare does it really, really well (most of the time). Then they do it again, then again, then again…
In short, it occurred to me that if I wanted to front-load some kind of heroic fantasy “thing” in a world with which I was quite familiar and which I already associated with the kind of “hero plus a double handful of role-play-linked NPCs”, I could hardly do better than starting with Thedas.
With that said, there are all kinds of potential red flags with using this sort of solution with Dungeon World, mostly having to do with the fact that the game expects a lot of world building to emerge in play. But I had a pretty solid counter argument to that:
“Fuck it, it sounds fun.”
Still, I needed to make sure Kaylee agreed, so one evening we sat down and I went over the setting from roughly -6400TE to Sometime Yesterday Afternoon to see if anything in there sounded cool.
Result: LOTS of stuff sounded cool to her. The challenge then shifted to narrowing down to one or two places (both physically and temporally) that really grabbed her. We eventually winnowed it down to:
- The Qunari arrival in the lands of Thedas (Zen-Communist Utopia Warriors invading evilish wizard empire).
- The Grey Wardens (secretive organization dedicated to stopping the recurring arch-demon-led “Blights” that rise up to wipe out all life – who seem to know the only way to stop the Blights, with members from all sentient species and all disciplines).
We also talked about the various countries, and she really seemed to dig the reverse feudalism of Ferelden (where a noble’s job – one they can easily lose through incompetence or negligence – is essentially to protect local land owners and other civilians from predation, in return for… you know, payment).
So knowing she was into Grey Wardens, thought the Qunari were pretty cool, liked the idea of fighting a Blight, and liked Ferelden, it seemed pretty obvious we could basically start off in the same time-frame for Dragon Age: Origins, and then see how far we can blow those events to smithereens and do our own thing.
Thinking on it some more, I came up with a basic list of things to watch out for, and how to deal with them.
- Don’t let the game run on video-game rails. This one is pretty obvious, but luckily it’s also pretty easy to deal with. The thing with Dungeon World (and, conveniently, my own play style) is that rather than some kind of meta-plot of events, you want to focus on people (well… “people”), what they want, and what they’re currently doing about it (see also: Towns in Dogs in the Vineyard). Anyone who’s played Amber with me knows that my between-game prep was basically just flipping through a complete deck of trump cards for all the NPCs (and places) and thinking about what they were doing either on their own or in reaction to whatever happened in previous sessions, and then playing accordingly in the next session. This is pretty darn close to how DW suggests managing the game’s “Fronts,” and conveniently, after mumble-hundred hours playing DA:O, I’m familiar with the various Fronts in that storyline, what they’re up to, and what they’re planning to do to get what they want. Out of necessity, the video game presents this stuff linearly, with set points in the story where interference is possible, but I can just wash all that cruft away and let the thing live and breathe. Spend a few evenings sketching out Fronts in the Dungeon World style, and I’m prepped.
Don’t try to map every event directly. Or: “don’t try to play through every single fight in DA:O.” Again, obvious, but worth keeping in the back of my mind. I want to focus on important social and martial conflicts, focus on the fiction, and focus on what my player is doing.
No custom playbooks to match the setting exactly. This may be something that makes both Dragon Age purists and *World hackers shake their heads a bit. In short, I’m just going to use the “classic” classes presented in Dungeon World – the ones pretty much any fantasy RPG player knows: Fighter, Cleric, Thief, Wizard, Ranger, et cetera – and shoehorn them into the roles presented in the Dragon Age fiction. There will be some tweaks made to Paladins to focus more on anti-magic stuff (since paladins will be templars) and basically all other magic-users (from Clerics to Wizards to Bards to whatever) will, within the fiction, just be different flavors of Mages (either Circle Mages or Apostates), and I’ll probably tweak the settings on multiclass moves so the lines between the spellcasting classes are a bit fuzzier, but otherwise, that’s about it. Dwarves won’t be clerics, and I might drop clerics entirely in favor of Circle Mages who use a move to learn spells from the Cleric list, just to keep magical healing roughly in line with the setting as presented.
But mostly, I don’t think I need to customize things. As much as I like the Dragon Age RPG, there are lots of different game-system ways to present Thedas, if you focus on the fiction.
“Focus on the fiction” is one of those tricky rules-that-don’t-look-like-rules that tend to crop up in Lumpley games, and it kind of tripped me up in our first session, which I’ll write about next.
My gaming with Kaylee is fairly well documented and, in general, we’ve been pretty happy playing Fate or Fate Accelerated. It’s the sort of game that let’s me play pretty fast and loose with prep, and Fate Accelerated in particular gives us the flexibility to run pretty much any weird genre mashup Kaylee comes up with. All cool.
With that said, I’ve had an itch to try some different games. There are a few reasons for this.
- Famliarity. While it’s easy to get excited about a new setting or story, it’s a little more difficult to get excited about the game system, since she and I are both quite familiar with Fate at this point.
- “Same-Same.” Part of that familiarity brings along a sense that all of the obstacles and in fact the characters are a little bit… similar. Five aspects. Same numeric range on the same six approaches. Same numeric bonuses from the same number of Stunts. We can mix that up a bit by going for the more detailed Fate Core version, or something like Atomic Robo, or something even just a little more detailed like Jadepunk, but there’s an increase to overhead in there that doesn’t appeal to either of us at this point.
- Tiny bit more crunch. I don’t like the way Fate “extras” are written, and Gear is gone in the current iteration, so if I want “stuff” that doesn’t just feel like a couple more aspects and stunt to keep track of, well… It’s hard to have them not feel like that, because in Fate that’s what they are.
- Better failure incentives. Fate actually has decent incentives for failure. The problem is, the incentives for success (and the fuel – in the form of Fate Points) are stronger, and the mechanics are such that (at least in my experience), if you fail, it’s almost always because you let the other side win, like someone’s uncle “racing” their five-year old nephew across the backyard. Success is super easy, the instinct to win is natural and strong, the ability to do is right there, so while failure is often more interesting, it’s just as often disappointingly rare.
So, in short, we’re looking for something a little different not out of any lack of love for Fate, but just to shake things up a bit, ignite some excitement for a new system to go along with a new game, and maybe get a bit more “classic crunch” in there.
Now with that said, it’s no easy thing to just grab some other game, because I’ve got some counter-criteria.
- Relative Simplicity. Kaylee can easily deal with any game system out there, I think. Certainly, something like 5e wouldn’t be a problem, but there’s always the chance Sean will pop in and want to play. I want to make that happen, and as I’ve explained before, my guideline for relative rules simplicity is “can a four year old manage it?” (This is one of the other reasons Fate Accelerated isn’t working really well right now: the +/- of the dice, subtraction that can go into negatives, et cetera definitely does not work for someone in Pre-K One.
Low Prep. I have the time and ability to prep a game at the point, I suppose, but I’d really rather have something that’s 25% prep and 75% happening in the game, at least in part because playing with Kaylee is extremely hit or miss: She might be tired, I might be tired, something might get in the way, and it might be weeks or even months before some big-prep thing actually sees the light of day. The return on investment for heavy prep is just not there.
Two-Person Friendly. – A whole bunch of RPGs want a handful of players, minimum. I could pull out DnD 5e (and I’d be happy to do so) and run Princes of the Apocalypse, but at that point either Kaylee is running three or four guys (with minimal attachment to any of them), or I’m using a spreadsheet and rebalancing the whole thing for one character which… no. No, I’m not doing that.
So, the mix of all these things eliminates a lot of games I’d normally be quite happy to run or play, under other circumstances.
- DnD 5e. I like a ton of the stuff I’ve seen and read and heard about this game, but both prep and rebalancing encounters for a single hero is non-trivial.
- Burning Wheel. I’ve read some great “solo hero” actual play reports, but again the prep (for someone not entirely familiar with the rules, due to lack of playing) strikes me as a way too much. Lots of stats for everything means a lot of prep. No.
- Mouseguard. Hits a lot of the necessary criteria (prep is a dead-cinch, I know the system, I know what I’d change, and the mechanics and setting are Sean-friendly), but it’s a bit too far the other way in terms of interesting failure – solo MG would be brutal, and frankly that’s not what I feel like doing right now.
- Dragon Age. I like the rules, and the simplicity, and the stunt system. Honestly I just like this game a whole bunch, but balancing to one player seems like an exercise in frustration, even more so than DnD.
I toyed around with The Strange a little bit, but Kaylee didn’t seem to find the premise very interesting. I’m not confident the Heroquest dice mechanic would be very… approachable. The One Ring is great, but again I don’t think the game is really balanced for solo heroics.
I kept coming back to Dungeon World (rulebook’s been sitting on my shelf since the kickstarter shipped ~mumble~ years ago), a fantasy adaptation of Vincent Baker’s Apocalypse World. The system is light and fast, and while the dice mechanic isn’t as simple as “count how many high dice you rolled”, adding three small numbers together is doable for any potential player in my household. Its fans trumpet the ease of prep, and in one GM’s words, running and playing the game is kind of like “a diceless game that sometimes go to dice” which, to put it mildly, fits pretty well inside my comfort zone.
It all seemed to work for what I needed, except that the characters need to have Bonds with other player characters. However, I thought I might be able to make that work, assuming I could provide Kaylee with a rich array of persistent NPCs to interact with – a band of companions or something, but without the overhead of “the GM is basically playing a half dozen other fully-statted PCs.”
A band of companions…
That gave me an idea.
For those of you unfamiliar, this is an RPG specifically designed for “kids from ages 4 to 10” – says so right on the
tin cover. It’s been on my radar for some time, but I hadn’t done anything with it (including read it), partly because Kaylee and I have been entirely happy playing Fate [^And, in fact, I need to write up our most recent game using that system], and partly because I (incorrectly) thought it was some sort of “Pathfinder Lite” set of rules, which I had absolutely no interest in.
Luckily, after running across a few good actual play reports, I gave it a proper read-through, and decided it might be just the thing for getting Sean involved in our games.
This isn’t to say we’ve never done RPG-like stuff with Sean before – we’ve had quite a bit of fun with his Imaginex DC Heroes figures and a superhero hack of a game Cory Doctorow made up for his daughter. The trick of color coding the dice (so that a d12 is “the purple one” not “the d12”) and simply rolling and reporting the number worked out pretty well.
But that option didn’t provide much story – it was really just a way for Dad to muck up otherwise frictionless superhero make-believe. I wanted something with a little – just a little – more oomph, but at the same time it had to pass the four-year-old test.
The Four-Year-Old Test
Some recognizable names in tabletop game design have been debating “the most intuitive dice mechanics” for the last several weeks. I haven’t paid much attention to these discussions, so I don’t know if I agree or disagree with any particular person. This is my take on it:
Intuitive directly correlates to A Four Year Old Can Manage It, Without Help.
By this guideline, Hero Kids is the most intuitive dice mechanic in any RPG I’m aware of. You roll a few six sided dice and find the biggest single result. Done.
- No adding numbers together (he can do it, but finds it incredibly amusing to shout the wrong answer at the top of his lungs)
- No counting successes Shadowrun/Vampire/Mouseguard style (which, while not beyond him, is marginally more complicated than “find the biggest number you rolled on a single die”).
Roll. Find biggest. Done.
It’s excellent, and combined with the utterly charming artwork provided for each of the (massive pile) of pregens provided, allows a kid to sit down, pick out someone who looks cool, and play. (And the fact that all the maps and paper minis in each module can be printed and prepped in a few minutes makes GM play setup a breeze.)
If they can’t read yet, they just focus on the icons and art, and the rest falls away.
And, not for nothing, the rules can easily be reskinned into a light version of damn near anything. Kaylee put together a very passable Hulk-like character for “super hero kids” in about four minutes.
So, About the Actual Game…
The premise for the Hero Kids setting is wonderfully simple: all the Hero Kids live in a small town that would be idyllic, if you ignore the fact the place is constantly threatened by calamities both great and small. The kid’s parents are (in general) adventurers of the first water, and often called away for big problems, elsewhere, so it falls to the kids (who’ve been getting adventurer training since they were out of diapers) to deal with any troubles at home.
Anyone who thinks this setup is too silly or contrived to be engaging hasn’t been following current popular animated show and book trends, like Ever After High – my kids loved this simple premise for putting them in the hero-seat. [^You also needn’t worry about clichés or over-used tropes, because they aren’t jaded forty-year-old gamers; it’s games like these that introduce them to the tropes other modern games and books are playing for meta-irony that goes right over a kid’s head.]
As the game started, the two player characters (Swerver and Ashlee, a water/ice wizard and healer, respectively) are enjoying their weekly family dinner at the town’s tavern (the kid’s decided their characters were sisters).
There’s a crash in the kitchen, and the owner of the inn runs out, shouting that some HUGE rats just abducted her son Roger from right out of the kitchen.
The girls look at their parents, who cluck their tongues disapprovingly and murmur something like “Mmm. That’s too bad,” and return to their creamed corn.
“Aren’t you going to rescue Roger?”
“Oh… I suppose someone should, but not us.”
“Goodness no. It’s our one day off.”
“Why don’t you girls handle it?”
“Why not? You’ve certainly been training long enough.”
The kids look at their parents, each other, then exchange the very highest of high fives and race each other to the kitchen.
Kill Ten Rats
What followed was a (predictable, if you’re a jaded old gamer, but amazing if you’re them) descent into the inn’s basement, thence into a warren of tunnels beneath the inn, fighting a series of skirmishes with giant rats until finally facing off with the King Rat.
I’m not going to describe the whole thing, but I am going to hit some of the highlights.
- Sean picking out a girl character, all like “Whatever man, I’m a girl; get over it.”
- Kaylee both picking a healer and maneuvering her character to take more of the damage to ‘cover’ her little brother. Best big sister ever.
- Sean dealing with a ten foot high barrier in their way by instantly coming up with “I’m going to make a big water stair and then freeze it.” So awesome. [^We really need to watch Avatar: the Last Airbender and Legend of Korra with him, now that he’s old enough to remember it.]
- Kaylee leading them into a ‘side cavern’ away from the main plot, and using her “searing light” as a way to see into series of stalagmites in which she could dimly make out… something. Turned out that “something” was four lost villagers, which she and her sister then freed and sent back out of the caves. Awesome.
- The one rat who escaped every fight and kept retreating until he was finally beaten during the boss fight.
- Sean spotting the King Rat paper miniature sitting by my notes and trying to convince me to bring him in during every. single. fight. we did.
“What are you going to do, Sean?”
“Well… I think the King Rat shows up now.”
- The look on their faces when the rats in the last room used rat-sized tunnels to basically teleport around the edge of the room and sneak up on them.
- The high-fives when King Rat went down.
- Sean taking the King Rat paper mini with him, to bed.
This morning, seconds after he woke up, Sean came into the kitchen.
“Daddy, do you remember the game we played last night?”
“I sure do, bud.”
“With King Rat?”
“I think… we should play that again.”
“Yeah. We should play that again. Maybe… we should play it now?”
So… yeah. It was a pretty good game.
My family’s getting caught up on Avatar: Legend of Korra, which has unsurprisingly led to my daughter broaching the possibility of a Fate “Avatar” game.
Normally, I don’t do these sorts of conversions, but…
Anyway, here’s some random stuff I’ve come up with so far.
I’m seeing, ultimately, a mix of basic FAE stunts and the Assets from Ryan Dank’s Jadepunk, but for right now I’m just focusing on basic stunts, and (of course) figuring out bending in a way that doesn’t break everything when someone who isn’t a bender comes along.
- Benders need a Bending aspect. Doesn’t matter which one, really, though High Concept would be the obvious one, and Trouble aspects would be… very fun.
- I’m a strong proponent of ‘always on’ Aspects, in terms of narration and whatnot, so…
- In other words, you don’t need Stunts to bend, you just need them to reflect the stuff you’re notably good at or where you break the rules a bit.
What’s a basic Bender look like, then?
For that, I worked out ‘default training’ for your typical benders in the four disciplines, based on the martial arts styles that the elements are each based on. It worked out like this:
- Earth Benders are initially trained to favor Careful attacks (listen, then act) and Forceful defense.
- Water Benders are initially trained to favor Sneaky attacks and Careful defense.
- Air Benders favor Clever attacks and Quick defense.
- Fire Benders favor Flashy attacks and defend with… well, more Flashy attacks. It’s not a very defensive style.
Once that was sort of mapped out, I started coming up with… I guess “the first Stunts a bender-in-training would learn.” So:
- Because I was trained to Listen, then Act, when I Carefully Attack during a Duel or Fight, any aspect that I created or discovered via Create Advantage can be tagged for +3, rather than +2.
- Because I am trained in traditional Earth Bending, I get a +2 to Forcefully Defend vs. Flashy, Careful, or Forceful attacks.
- Because Water is a Subtle Style, I get a +2 when I Sneakily Create Advantage with my bending, during a Duel or Fight.
- Because I am trained in traditional Water Bending, I get a +2 to Carefully Defend vs. Careful, Sneaky, or Clever attacks.
- Because Air Means Freedom, I get a +2 when I Cleverly Overcome obstacles with my bending.
- Because I am trained in traditional Air Bending, I get a +2 to Quickly Defend vs. Flashy, Quick, or Clever attacks.
- Because Fire is the Art of Power, I do +2 Harm when I successfully use my Bending to Flashily attack.
- Because Fire is Hard to Control, I get a +2 to Flashily Overcome obstacles or aspects created by other benders.
The idea here is that a trained-but-not-yet-masterful bender is predictable – which can’t be said for either the completely untrained or the real masters.
What that means is, with a bit of study and knowledge, a skilled combatant (even or especially a non-bender) can find the holes in a typical bender’s style and take them to pieces (Ty Lee in A:TLA, or The Lieutenant in the first season of Legend of Korra). It also means that more advanced benders (thinking of Toph and Iroh as prime examples, but there are many others) are much more dangerous, because their personal styles have expanded past traditional bounds. (More stunts that essentially plug their defensive holes and give them bonuses to different kinds of actions.)
That’s the basics. That’s about where I’d start.
Beyond this, I’d probably start getting into Jadepunk-style Assets for animal companions (naturally), as well as weird stuff like Ty Lee’s nerve strikes (which basically bypass Stress and go straight to Consequences).
Due to unexpected fallout from last session, Nataly’s brawl with an alien gargoyle got her and her new family put on a blacklist that seems to have made it impossible to find a home in Mercury Bay. Things were looking grim as Matthew and Marilla pondered hitting the road yet again, hoping for better luck in another city.
But they got a surprise a few days later when the motel room’s phone rang. The woman on the other end of the phone spoke for a minute or so with Marilla, who sounded first suspicious, then surprised, then handed the phone to Nataly.
“Hello, is this… Nataly?”
“Hi Nataly. You probably don’t remember me, but we sort of … met. I mean… you…” Nataly hears a deep breath, then: “You flew in and stopped that boy who stole my purse, then flew off before I could really thank you.”
“Oh!” Nataly pauses. “I’m sorry, I didn’t know I should have stopped.”
“And I was too surprised to say anything, then. So…” Another pause. “Thank you.”
“Nataly, I was talking to your mom.” Nataly looks confused, then glances at Marilla, who looks away. “I heard through the grapevine that you were looking for a place to live. Actually, I gather you were looking at one of the apartments in my building, when you came to help me.”
“We’re… having some problems with that.”
“I heard that too,” the woman replies. “I wanted to invite you and your folks to come back over and take a look at that apartment again.”
“Really,” the woman says. “I’m sure we can work something out.”
“The fact is, Mike and I used to date,” the woman – Patricia – confides to Marilla as she walks the trio through the slightly-too-pink apartment again. “We don’t even talk anymore, really, but sometimes he brings people by to see any properties the building has open – I think he thinks he’s doing me a favor.” She shakes her head. “I don’t even own it; I manage it.”
“I’m surprised you had us back here,” Marilla comments, “what with the warnings that have apparently gone out.”
“I said we used to date,” Patricia says. “I’m long past the point where I care much for what that man thinks I should or shouldn’t do. And in any case -” she smiles at Nataly – “how could I not help out?”
The place isn’t perfect: the kitchen isn’t very large, the wiring is a bit dated, and there’s not much room for Matthew to work on projects, but it’s theirs if they want it.
“If you need to keep busy,” Patricia adds to Matthew, “there’s a huge workroom in the basement… that comes along with a handyman position I’d love to find someone for.”
“Well…” Matthew glances at Marilla and Nataly. “I think that’ll do just fine.”
Things settle down into a comfortable routine. Their new home – The Marquis – is a six story building built in the sixties, originally with thirty-six apartments (six apartments per floor, with three on either side of a central hallway/stairwell) but (after fifty years of modifications and tenants merging two or three smaller units) now boasting 26 of varying sizes. Nataly and her new family are on the fifth floor, in a “trio” condo (three old apartments, combined) that takes up all of one side of the floor. All the balconies from what were once three apartments have been combined into one.
(After a week, Matthew’s list of things to fix in the building is enough to ‘keep me busy until the girl graduates high school… if nothing else ever breaks.”)
Nataly starts attending the local public school, and makes friends around the neighborhood (most of the kids don’t know she’s any kind of superhero, and the ones who do (Patricia’s oldest son, a year younger than Nataly) keep it to themselves.
As a matter of fact, no one seems to be that bothered by the idea that there may be a part-time superhero in their midst – a few are especially friendly, most everyone is blandly neutral, and those that don’t seem to like the idea (Mr. Higgins, 1B) simply glare and stay away.
Patricia turns out to be a big help – she’s a bit of a pillar in the community (she *does* partly own the building, after all), well-liked, and a bit of an activist for good schools, walkable communities, and public green spaces.
And the school isn’t bad. Nataly makes a few friends fairly quickly (Kaylee has fun naming and detailing all of them), and things get familiar very quickly. It’s a nice neighborhood, and fairly quiet.
Which makes the sounds of approaching fire engines all the more notable.
The kids in Nataly’s grade were on the playground as the fire trucks approached, and everyone crowded toward the fence to watch them pass.
Except Nataly. She was looking at the skyline, and what she saw worried her: it looked like the smoke was coming from the direction of The Marquis.
Since no one’s looking her way, Nataly ducks under the slide, puts up her force bubble, forces it to the light-bending transparency that makes her all but impossible to spot, and takes off, heading for the fire.
For this, I stole straight from the Jason Morningstar’s “Fight Fire” chapter in Fate Worlds, Volume 1 (one of several game settings in the book – this one designed for playing teams of fire fighters – brilliant). Specifically, I borrowed and modified the set-up for a ‘fire incident’ in an apartment building, from page 101:
Aspects: Mid-sixties construction; Not up to code; Reinforced ‘safety’ doors.
People and Circumstances:
- Crowds in the street — residents desperate for their homes to be saved and most of the neighborhood as curious onlookers.
- Nobody can find Mrs. Lupo from 6-B.
- Miguel Flores is trying to break into his ex-wife’s apartment, 6-C, because his 11-year-old daughter Inez may be alone inside (home sick with an ear infection).
6-A (Void fire)
Situation Aspects: Cheap framing, Locked doors and barred windows
Skills: Good (+3) Spread, Fair (+2) Smoke, Average (+1) Burn; five stress boxes
6-B (Ignition site, Open fire)
Situation Aspects: Cheap framing, Family treasures, Broken fire escape, Locked doors and barred windows
Skills: Superb (+5) Burn, Great (+4) Spread, Good (+3) Smoke, seven stress boxes
6-C (Smoldering fire)
Situation Aspects: Cheap framing, Dripping roof tar, Locked doors and barred windows
Skills: Great (+4) Smoke, Good (+3) Burn, Fair (+2) Spread; six stress boxes
So with a little cribbing from an entirely different setting, we have one of those classics of comic book hero challenges: the burning building. I’m quietly pleased.
Nataly does a quick inspection of the building from the outside, from high up, while the fire trucks are setting up and trying to push back the crowd. The fire seemed to be focused on just one side of the sixth (top) floor. These apartments are some of the least expensive (read: smallest, sixth floor walk-ups, and no balcony except the fire escapes… one of which probably couldn’t safely be used as an escape in the first place). All the apartment windows on this floor are barred (why, this high up, Nataly can’t guess), so she enters the building through a window that opens onto the hallway that runs down the center of the floor.
Through the haze of smoke, she can see Mr. Florez at the end of the hall, trying to break open the reinforced safety door on 6-C. She approaches, and he’s so distracted that he doesn’t see her until she’s standing next to him. He’s not making any headway on the door.
He tries to get her to leave.
She blasts the door off its hinges, and he shuts up in a hurry.
The two rush into the room. The smoke is thick (Nataly takes some stress), but the gush of new air into the space luckily doesn’t cause the fire to flare up. Inez (age: 11, “one grade ahead of Nataly, but nice to younger kids”) is crouched in the bathroom tub, but otherwise okay. Nataly gets them both heading downstairs as fast as they can.
Now would be an excellent time to leave, but while circling the building, Nataly had heard several people mentioning the missing Mrs. Lupo, and knows she has to check her apartment before she can go. She does the trick with blasting the door down from the hallway again, but this apartment is a much different situation: the source of the fire, the apartment crawls with flames that reach for Nataly as soon as the door opens. Her force shield barely holds, and this is from the doorway.
Still, she tries.
The apartment is small, and doesn’t take long to check – Mrs. Lupo isn’t there, pretty much the only thing not on fire is an old piano in the living room, covered in framed photos.
Nataly is almost out of stress, and is coughing violently from the hot air (Minor consequence), but decides to take a few more seconds and at least save something from the fire. She scoops up all the photos into a second bubble and knocks out the nearest window to escape. The rush of air gives the fire new life, however, and the heat is more than Nataly can withstand – she flies through the hole on fire, barely under control, and (shouts and screams echoing from the street below) crashes onto the roof of the building across the street, still cradling the photos in a force bubble and her burned arms (moderate consequence).
The fire fighters take it from there.
Nataly requires some medical attention, but she’s reported as ‘a child trapped in the fire,’ and no one asks too many questions. Around the Marquis, no one needs to. Flowers, small gifts, cards, and “irresponsible piles” of candy (in Marilla’s words) appear at their apartment door. Mrs. Lupo (who’d been visiting her sister across town) comes by every afternoon and helps Nataly keep up with her homework.
Mr. Higgins isn’t any nicer, but that’s just Mr. Higgins.
And now you’re all caught up to where Kaylee and I are, so far. We have Nataly set up in a new home, with a base of operations, friends and family, and things to fight for. I love the way this has played out so far: it feels a bit like the apartment block in the new Hawkeye series, mixed up with a little Runaways and maybe Zita the Spacegirl.
I tell you, I just don’t know where to start: there’s just so much cool stuff we can do.
At the end of our last session, the hunt for a new home in Mercury Bay hit a snag when Nataly, Matthew, and Marilla (plus the realtor) were attacked by a creature that basically looked like a stone gargoyle and seemed to be looking for (and angry with) Nataly.
Nataly, of course, has no idea why.
There isn’t a lot to write about this session as it was:
- Fairly short.
- Mostly the fight between Nataly and the gargoyle creature, which I didn’t take notes on to the point where I can recount it round by round.
Unbeknownst to Nataly, this creature is actually a recent arrival in Mercury Bay – specifically, he arrived via that weird geode meteorite that came down a few nights ago (early last session). The fact that the thing hit the ground a few hours after Nataly and the M’s arrived in town is not a coincidence.
For stats, I basically stole an entry on The Nebbishter Glee on Fate SF (which has posted some really great Warhammer 40k stuff for FAE). My version looks like so:
- High Concept:Waist-high semi-intelligent demons
- Trouble: Vulnerable to mind-affecting and magical attacks
- Aspect: Greedy opportunist
- Aspect: A propensity to replicate
- Aspect: Cat-ape-dog-demon hybrids
- Careful: +1
- Clever: 0
- Flashy: +1
- Forceful: +2
- Quick: +2
- Sneaky: +3
- Easy to Overlook: Take a +2 to Sneaky to be mistaken for statuary.
- Remix: Once per session, I may sample the DNA of another living creature and produce another of my kind with a unique Aspect and Stunt inspired by that sample.
- Replicate Servant: Once per session, I can produce a mook minion via replication.
- Tough Little Critter: Once per session, I can become immune to a Forceful attack that would otherwise damage me.
This little DNA-thief had one goal in this fight: bite the telekinetic space princess.
The fight made… a bit of a mess. Nataly told Matthew and Marilla to get the realtor into the back room, and tried to keep the gargoyle thing in the front rooms (not difficult, since it wanted to bite her anyway), but between the thing’s strength and mass and Nataly’s tendency to use hurled balls of telekinetic force, about sixty percent of the apartment was “remodeled into an open concept layout” in just under a minute. Oops.
The fight ended when the thing (having successfully given Nataly a Minor Consequence from a bite) leapt back onto the balcony and skittered off down the wall (they can’t actually fly… yet).
The realtor was, putting it mildly, upset and shaken by these events. They didn’t realize how shaken until they tried to get in touch with him the next day and were informed he’d filed for a retraining order against the three of them. They sought someone else to help them find a home, but no one would talk to them: the realtor had been busy calling everyone in the real estate business in Mercury Bay (both realtors and those with property available) and urging that Nataly’s family be black-balled.
We ended the session as Marilla hung up the phone, turned back to them, and said “We may need to move. Again.”
Note: During this session, Nataly finally got her fifth aspect, which (I think) will be darned useful (for both Kaylee and me) in the future.
Aspect: Matthew and Marilla are always there for me.
Almost all of the RPG gaming I’ve done recently has been with kids 14 and younger.
All, in fact, of the face to face gaming; only my google+ gaming has involved adult majorities at the table.
After wrapping up the Supers game I ran with my daughter, niece, and nephew, I scribbled down some notes, combined them with some thoughts I’d already had after playing solo with my daughter, and… well, here they are.
Bar none, one of the best pick-up game systems I’ve played or run. As I demonstrated in the “Escape from Brainiac” scenario, you can quite literally sit everyone down with blank character sheets and begin playing immediately, teaching the game and building characters as you go. I think the basic outline for the game went something like this:
- First Scene: The Golden Rule: “Describe it first, then we figure out what to roll.” Set High Concept. Use (and set) first (and maybe second) Approach. How do dice work. How are roll results determined. First Stunt. Different action types explained, as they come up, determined by The Golden Rule.
- Second Scene: Trouble Aspect. First Relationship Aspect.
- Third Scene: Second Stunt. Working together (Create Advantage). Using Aspects with Fate Points, the basic idea of Boosts as ‘flimsy aspects.’ Consequences. Second Relationship Aspect. Additional approaches rated.
- Fourth Scene: “Personal Goal” aspect. Character basically complete, barring final stunt. Recharge Fate Points.
- Fifth Scene: Dealing with opposed rolls. Overcome checks. Dealing with the concept of Armor.
- Sixth and final scene: Everything comes together in one big scene.
And, despite being “light and quick,” it’s satisfying. The six approaches are quite broad-stroke ‘skills’, but Aspects and Stunts give the characters lots of individual flavor and impart the sense of growth. Also, it’s worth noting that having only a few Approaches means that those +1 bumps to an approach every 2 or 3 sessions feels like a really significant ‘level up’, compared to the same thing in Fate Core, where looking at a character with ratings in 10 skills out of possible 18 makes the +1 feel good, but not quite as huge.
The Golden Rule is Especially Critical
Most uttered phrase in any FAE conflict with me and my daughter: “Just tell me what you want to do.”
The Golden Rule in Fate is ‘Figure out what you do and then figure out what to roll.’ For kids, this goes double-triple-quintuple times. My daughter loves the rules for Fate and FAE, and tries to grapple with them for every action she wants to take – it hampers everything going on in the story, including her enjoyment of it. (And mine.)
When we remember “Just describe what you’re doing, make it cool, and then we’ll figure out what to roll,” things are fantastic.
To be honest, I find that’s a very good thing to remember when gaming with adults as well – it makes the play much better – but experienced adult gamers will do the imaginative heavy lifting in their heads, on their own, if necessary, because they’ve learned they usually have to. New players and kids won’t have learned that, so their enjoyment of “announce action, roll, announce action, roll…” is much lower.
Which is good: it enforces the need for the Golden Rule – a good rule for any system, really.
They’re Going to Get Hit More, Hurt More, Bleed More
New players/kids don’t hit Aspects quite as much, don’t Create Advantages as much, don’t make use of existing ‘free’ aspects or Boosts as much. They just don’t. They’re less likely to use Fate points aggressively, and (from what I’ve seen) tend to keep them on hand to reduce the effects of a bad roll or getting hit hard more than to buff up one of their big hits. As a result, they’re characters fail more than (in my experience) most experienced gamers do when they play Fate, simply because they don’t invoke Aspects with the same aggressive abandon. (1)
((1) That means, by the way, the kid’s games are generally more enjoyable and exciting than Fate games I’ve played solely with adults, because failure – especially failure in Fate – is cool and interesting, as are Stress and Consequences. In my experience with Fate Core and FAE, failure is almost always a thing you have to let happen to your character, and most adult gamers don’t, which is a shame.)
All of this is fine, but there are a few things you’ll have to take on as the GM that you normally wouldn’t need to when running a game of Fate with more experienced players.
- Reminders to be awesome – let the dice fall where they may and then ask whoever rolled if they think one of their Aspects would give them a bonus to what happened. Because of the sorts of board games that kids are familiar with, the idea of tweaking a die result after the fact will be unfamiliar – they’re used to rolling and taking their lumps, good or bad.
- You’re the one who games probability curves. You as the GM probably need to take on the decision on whether or not to use an aspect invocation for a bonus (do this on any roll -2 or better) or a reroll (if the dice came up -3 or -4).
- You Must Remember Compels – most experienced gamers really engaging the Fate system will remember their Aspects and suggest compels when the opportunity is there – they like getting Fate points. This is great for a GM, because you don’t have to keep track of 5x+y aspects. Kids and new gamers, on the other hand, generally aren’t looking for ways to screw their characters for a few Fate points, so you need to help them with that. Keep an eye on everyone’s stack of Fate points and when someone starts getting low, glance at that PC’s aspects and figure out a way in the current or next scene for them to earn a FP with a compel. Repeat this continuously – in my experience with kids, this will probably remain your job – most won’t aggressively do the work for you for a long time, though they’ll quickly become more accepting of the basic idea.
- You Are the Acting Hand of the Golden Rule. They will never tell you they want to Create an Advantage. Ever. Never ever. Make them tell you what they want to do, and YOU determine if something is an attack, overcome, or creating an advantage some other player can then exploit.
Remember: They’re Kids, and Kids Will Drive You Crazy
I think it’s clear that I love gaming with these guys, but still… yeah, it’s exhausting. My wife and sister thanked me dozens of times for ‘handling the kids’ over the holidays, because (a) playing Fate was pretty much the only thing the kids wanted to do when they had free time and (b) the other adults could see it wore me down over time.
Don’t get me wrong: they’re amazing, clever people, and consistently brought a steel-melting level of enthusiasm to the table. I love that.
But they’re kids. There’s certain inevitable consequences of that fact.
Focus (especially when it’s more than one kid) will be a huge, frustrating issue: more than once I announced (or said to one or another individual) I was going to go do something (anything) else if they couldn’t pull it together and show some respect for the game we were all playing.
Player Bravado is another thing I’d forgotten about. All that stuff you may or may not remember from gaming AS a kid with other kids the same age? You didn’t imagine any of it, and it wasn’t just you and the other idiots you played DnD with in high school. Arguing with the other players about whether or not their guy could beat the other player’s guy… bluster about which powerful NPC would leap to the attacked PC’s defense… randomly announcing they were going to join the bad guys once they got off the ship…
… that last thing was pretty cool, to be honest. But whatever.
And not all of the ‘kid’s habits’ I remember from my youth are terrible: I was able to make use of one the day after we wrapped up the Brainiac scenario.
Everything Can Be a Game
One of the things me and my gaming group (really: my best friends) did back in high school is stat everything.
And I mean everything. Cool movies. Bad movies. TV shows (they were all bad, I think). Characters from books. Character from comics. Every single person we had to read about in the history section of Social Studies. We statted EVERYTHING… then we argued about it.
And I think that was a good thing. We understood the system(s) better, and it helped us start to deconstruct both characters and stories analytically (something I find more than a little useful today).
So, the day after we wrapped up the game, we got to talking about how characters really work in Fate, what Aspects are supposed to do, long term, and I got the bright idea to give examples from books and movies they knew. Both Malik and Jadyn are huuuuuge Hunger Games fans, and if there’s an easier modern YA novel to stat out for a game, I don’t know it. High Concepts. Trouble Aspects. Relationship Aspects. Personal Goals. Gear. Conditions. Compels.
And, as we talked about it, even though they’d been playing Fate for the last three days, you could see new lights going on – new understanding. New ideas.
The Point Is…
The point is, there’s “kids” stuff you handle (focus), stuff you just ignore or ask them to waste time on later (that bragging nonsense), and stuff you can and should engage. I think it’s all an inevitable aspect of new/young players and a game they’ve just learned to love.
And they do love it.
And it’s so worth it.
And I would absolutely, instantly, jump in to do the whole thing again.
I’ve been remiss in my actual play reports.
As you may or may not recall, soon after (suspiciously soon after) Nataly found a strange bracelet among her personal effects at the orphanage where she lived, the orphanage was visited by a man named Matthew who was interested in adopting the young girl. His paperwork was entirely in order, his references were – frankly – amazing, and before long Nataly was off to an idyllic childhood in the countryside with Matthew and his sister, Marilla.
It was not to be.
After an afternoon in which Matthew and Marilla encouraged Nataly to explore the farm (and the powers that had appeared when she first donned the bracelet), the farmhouse was set upon in the dead of night by strange mechanical spider creatures that proved remarkably resistant and quite… numerous. The trio fled the farm and Marilla (who seemed entirely familiar with the creatures) muttered something about how, in hindsight, it was obvious something like that would happen. “There’s no way you could miss the girl out here in the middle of nowhere – we need to go somewhere where there’s more interference – where she’s less likely to stand out.”
Matthew nodded, and turned onto the interstate highway that would take them to the coastal city of Mercury Bay.
Nataly’s new guardians put them up in a low-rent hotel the first day arrived, but started talking about a ‘proper home’ as soon as they’d unpacked. They seemed to have a budget that would allow them a decent place, even in the heart of the city, though Nataly couldn’t figure out how they earned the money: neither seemed to have a job.
As a matter of fact, neither seemed to be that surprised by the fact she could fly or hurl blasts of pure force… Hmm.
Nataly grew somewhat bored with the conversation and stared out the window at the dusk-shrouded city in the distance. She had a front row seat for the streaking falling star that seemed to crash into the ground somewhere between their motel and the city.
“I’m… going to go for a fl- walk,” she said.
Matthew didn’t like the idea, but Marilla was more sanguine. “Go ahead, girl. Be careful, of course, and don’t stay out too long.” To Matthew’s look, she replied. “She can’t stay locked up in a tower; that’s how everything went wrong in the first place.”
Nataly frowned, but left without asking any questions.
Once out of sight of the room, she took to the air, wrapped herself in a force bubble that would diffuse and distribute light, and headed toward the site of the meteor impact.
She wasn’t the only one. Dozens of emergency vehicles surrounded the area, their lights flashing in the gloom, and a number of emergency floodlights were focused on the small crater at the center of the chaos. The object that had fallen appeared to be stone of some kind: melted to slag by the heat of reentry, and cracked in half but (and this was very odd) apparently hollow, and lined with crystals, like a geode.
It’s interesting, but not something Nataly can do anything about right now – her force bubble makes it hard for people to see her, but she’s not invisible – someone would notice the strange visual distortion hovering over the geode if she gets any closer, so she heads back to the motel and goes to sleep.
The next day, Matthew and Marilla start looking for a new home and Nataly, a veteran of hours and hours spent watching HGTV in the orphanage rec room (their activity leader pretended it was good for the kids), is ready to offer her studied opinion on curb appeal and ‘must-have features’.
In fact, the girl actually sits the two adults down and makes them itemize a list of things they want, before they meet with the realtor so ‘we’re all on the same page and don’t end up looking at things we don’t want.’
[It *could* be Kaylee has seen more than a few dozen House Hunter shows herself, and that her GM specifically built this bit of the session to play to that. I need to see if I can dig up the ‘shopping list’ she put together at this point.]
The trio meets with Mark, a slightly oily but earnest realtor, who pats Nataly on the head and then generally ignores her. Looking over Matthew and Marilla’s somewhat homespun attire, he takes them first to a lower income neighborhood and a roomy but fairly dated (and pink) condo on the second floor of a four-story building. I describe the neighborhood as quite similar to the area of Queens where Kaylee and I have been many times. Nataly points out the items on the list where the ‘apartment’ fails (galley kitchen, no work space for Matthew’s projects) and steps out onto the balcony.
… where she can hear someone shouting, then shouting for help.
She glances back into the room, sees that the adults have wandered back into the private rooms, and leaps into the sky.
The situation is simple and straightforward. A woman in her late thirties, with a baby stroller, has apparently just had someone run off with her purse. Nataly barely slows down as she takes them in, then tears off through the air in the direction the woman is looking. A few swerving corners and she sees the (young) man running down a narrow street.
It isn’t even a fight. Between one step and the next, Nataly encases him in ‘basically a giant hamster ball’ and lets it bounce down the street until the guy inside is all but unconscious. She then picks the whole thing up and carries it through the air in front of her as she flies back to the woman.
By the time she gets back, there’s a sizable crowd (the woman is apparently well-known in the neighborhood), and while people are surprised to see a ‘hero’ in street clothes, no one screams or faints. A few even clap when she dumps the thief and the purse in street in front of the stroller. The woman gives Nataly an awkward hug, as though unsure if she should, and Nataly takes off, suddenly self-conscious and aware that she’s been gone long enough to be noticed.
Which Marilla certainly did. She gives Nataly an arched eyebrow as she lands on the patio. Matthew is keeping the realtor distracted with talk of old wiring and fire concerns.
House number two is far roomier, with a nice backyard, but is far from the city and (muttered by Marilla) “nowhere near the activity the girl will need to keep from being noticed.” The realtor can’t understand their reluctance, and spends quite some time trying to sell the adults on the house. Nataly heads to the backyard and, poking around, is surprised to hear a voice from behind her, almost repeating Marilla’s words.
“You need to work a little harder on not being noticed.”
She turns as a man vaults over the backyard fence. Dressed in cape, mask, and cowl, he could not look more out of place in this bland suburban area, but somehow he’s too serious to look ridiculous.
Nataly stands her ground. “I don’t know what you mean. And who are you?”
He ignores the question. “Hovering over the crash site last night. Dropping off a purse snatcher in front of fifteen witnesses with five actively recording smartphone cameras.” He crosses his arms, and she notices a pair of batons at his waist. “Unless you’re trying to draw attention or lure someone into a trap, you need to start thinking about lowering your profile.”
Nataly, not sure what to say, remains silent.
He doesn’t seem to expect this, and squints at her. “Are you trying to lure someone into a trap?”
He tenses. “Who?”
She says nothing, and he snorts and nods. “Fine. Still…” He reaches into one of the dozens of pouches on his belt and pulls out a swatch of black something. “It won’t hurt to keep your identity under wraps, unless you want your… guardians… to inherit your trouble.” He hands her the item.
She unfolds it and stares at the soft black domino mask.
“What -” she looks up, but the red-and-black suited stranger is gone.
In the distance, she hears a motorcycle engine roar to life.
Home #3 is yet another wild departure from the previous offerings – the realtor doesn’t seem to know what to make of this odd family. It’s a well-appointed condo on the thirtieth floor of a high-rise overlooking the city’s titular bay. Fancy, to say the least, and while it doesn’t have any place for Matthew’s ‘projects’, it easily ticks off the other boxes on Nataly’s list.
Everything is looking good, until a shadow darkens the french doors leading onto the patio and something crashes through the glass and skids to a stop in the middle of the (furnished) living room.
A squat, ugly, stone gargoyle unfurls its wings as it rises from its crouch, points a gnarled, clawed finger at Nataly and growls “YOU!“
First, a disclaimer: I’m not very good at Fate.
There are players out there who can wave their hand, summon up ever-folding images of the Fate Fractal to illustrate off-the-cuff google+ posts, and write up detailed hacks for the core rules three times a week.
That’s not me. I’m running these supers games using nothing but the rules in the book(s), without any variations.* I basically ignore things like the “Extras” chapter in Fate and FAE, and mentally summarize the whole chapter with “Sometimes you’ll want the game to do something a certain way that is different than anything else in the book, and if so, that should cost something.”
(* – No variations that I’m aware of – it’s possible that stuff from older versions of Fate have crept in, but if so I haven’t noticed and didn’t do it on purpose.)
The reason I bring this up is that, in this section of the game, there were a couple of situations where I wanted specific effects, and set up stuff in a way to make that happen. In hindsight, I can see ways I could have elegantly applied existing rules to accomplish the same thing, but the actual solutions I came up with on the fly aren’t lovely crystalline matrices – they’re rickety Rube Goldberg machines that held together only so long as I kept thinking about them. I don’t recommend replicating some of the stuff here, verbatim.
Unless you think it’s cool. In which case, go ahead.
Now then, where were we?
We we last left our heroes, they’d just recovered most if not all of their memories of abduction by Braniac’s troops, and now knew that if they didn’t get off this ship soon, their friends and families were probably dead (or digitized and deleted, which amounts to the same thing).
Grim and determined, they ask Oracle for a new destination – someplace they can go to stop the digitization of their home neighborhood.
Oracle does a bit of searching – really all she seems to be able to do inside Brainiac’s system right now is find information; her access is too limited for serious hacking – and gives them a new direction to head: a control center located near the center of this section of the ship.
They proceed, and hit their first barrier in the form of an Automated Security Checkpoint in the next Junction Chamber.
Junction Room [Ugly Ver 1]
Characters need to make Good forceful overcome rolls to act each round (roll at the start of the round). If they don’t, they can’t move (defend, whatever). This is because of the Robotic Brain in the center of the room. The brain’s in an invulnerable forcefield and can’t be harmed.
At the start of the second round, three-unit squads of sentry-bots start showing up (3 stress for each squad, +2 at the stuff they’re good at, -2 to stuff they aren’t good at). They don’t have to make Overcome rolls to act.
If, in any round, all the heroes managed to overcome successfully, the Brain shorts out for a bit, and the forcefield drops for a round. The brain has 4 stress and, if destroyed, stops summoning patrol squads.
Or, you can do it this way:
Junction Room, [ver2]
Zone Aspect: Immobilizing Telekinetic Field (Allows Brain to forcefully Defend against any enemy action in the room.)
Brain in a Jar
Aspect: Telekinetic Construct
Stunt: Forcefield – Armor:4 versus all physical and most energy attacks. Does not work if Brain has Aspect: Shorted Out. If I am defeated “with style” on an Overcome vs. my Defend, I gain the Aspect: Shorted Out for one round.
Stunt: Summon Bots – Because I am a security construct, once per round I can summon a security bot patrol to the room.
Security Bot Patrol
Stress: 3 (Collective for group of three)
There are probably better ways to do it, but whatever.
Anyway, the trio enter the room. Due to her native telekinetic abilities (and related stunt), Angelia is able to forcefully overcome the telekinetic field immediately. Anna struggles but manages to keep moving by focusing on rescuing her parents (fate point and her new aspect), while Mikenna is basically immobilized.
The doors across the room open, and a trio of security bots march in and open fire. Angelia deals with them while Anna tried to freeze the metal Brain in the middle of the room on a pedestal (to no avail).
Angelia clears two of the three bots, but the remaining soldier gets reinforcements as three more bots rush in through a side entrance. Anna hurls ice at them to help out Angelia, but the girls are clearly struggling. Mikenna still can’t move.
On the third round, the bots are building up, and Anna is struggling to keep moving against the telekinetic force blanketing the room. Mikenna musters everything she’s got and manages to break free of the telekinesis. This added resistance shorts out the Brain for a few seconds and Mikenna takes that opportunity to turn the gold-plated bit of machinery into a non-functional pin-cushion. The telekinetic field drops, and the kids make short work of the remaining bots.
Alarms start sounding, and a stentorian voice starts droning about escaped prisoners needing to be stopped – converge on the control rooms – et cetera.
The kids battle toward the control room, moving fast so that resistance can’t get organized, and storm inside. Oracle has explained that, based on schematics, she thinks there are four ‘connections’ between the ship and a shield generator that, if disabled, will allow her to send reinforcements to them via Boom Tube (whatever that is).
It turns out that the four ‘connections’ are a bit more robust than that: four giant bolts jut from the floor in the large room – all of which need to be destroyed. They’re about this big:
Also, there’s a big combat-grade command bot in the center of the room where Oracle’s schematics say a “control unit” should be:
Finally, while they entered from the ‘south’ and jammed the entrance, the other three walls in the room are deep alcoves that basically look like teleporter platforms – looks like a great way for reinforcements to arrive.
“So, what do you do?”
At this point, they group tries a number of things, but the situation quickly stabilizes to a number of key facts.
- A squad of three patrol-bots (same stats as the Junction Room) shows up on each of the three teleporter pads, every round.
- The Command Unit (+3 to everything relevant, 3 stress and full consequences) has a force field basically as tough as the one around the Robot Brain from the Junction Room. (Armor:4, but only active if the Command Bot’s declared action for that round is a Defend, otherwise it’s down). He can basically be ignored for now.
- The big bolts are very difficult to damage.
The kids decide the reinforcements need to be dealt with.
Anna puts up an Ice Wall covering the ‘mouth’ of one of the teleporter alcoves. (I just made a … thing … Barrier? that the bots had to destroy to enter the room, with stress equal to Anna’s successes. That’s old-Fate thinking, probably: should have just made it a means for her to active defend against them entering the zone.)
Angelia blocks a second alcove with a force wall.
Mikenna fills her alcove with arrows and mows down the reinforcements there.
Anna ices over the alcove that Angelia had before. Mikenna keeps firing on her alcove, and Angelia tries to unscrew one of the massive bolts with her telekinesis… unsuccessfully. (I decided to do some kind of ‘gradual success’ thing here, and didn’t have time to look up to see if that’s a thing that exists in Fate Core, so I just give decided on a total number of successes she needed to accumulate to totally unscrew the thing.)
Anna ices over the third teleport node. Mikenna takes pot-shots at the Command Unit, but does nothing. Angelia keeps twisting.
Anna and Mikenna team up to freeze and damage another bolt. This kind of works, but… reinforcements are slipping into the room through the shattered ice walls.
Anna reinforces the ice walls while Mikenna cleans up the bots that got through. Angelia gets a bolt loose and starts on another.
Anna, from this point on, is basically playing a game of ice-blaster whackamole with the ice walls, reinforcing whichever ones seem closest to going down. It keeps the others clear to act.
Mikenna finishes breaking the damaged bolt.
Angelia makes major headway on the third bolt.
Angelia gets the third bolt free and turns to the fourth-and-final. Mikenna is assisting Anna.
The Command Bot drops his shield and starts powering up a MAJOR blast at Angelia’s back (one round to build up an Advantage first). Mikenna fires a couple shots at it.
Angelia has the bolt loose!
Mikenna defends Angelia from the Command Bot’s blast, taking the hit herself for a Moderate Consequence (burned torso).
Oracle hollers “Shield is down! Reinforcements incoming! (pause) I can get into their servers! *gleeful cackle*”
Round 10 (and after)
A boom tube opens, and through it comes Wonder Woman, armed with sword and shield, armored in red and gold. She takes in the room at a glance, nods to the three holding back Brainiac’s troops, and says:
“We must hold this control room until Oracle has done her work.”
She leaps across the room and buries her sword in the chest of the Control Bot, then turns.
“Will you fight with me?”
Yeah. Like she needs to ask.
The rest of the battle is a blur. Mikenna runs out of arrows and resorts to hand to hand. Angelia is smashing swaths through the incoming troops with the shattered halves of the broken bolt. Anna freezes robots solid until there is literally no more moisture left in the air to crystalize.
And still they come. And die, and die.
Finally, they hear that same voice – Brainiac’s voice, they now realize – call for a retreat. Announce evacuation. Flee.
Wonder Woman tells them they can’t use the Boom Tube to exit the ship (Watchtower security clearance only), but helps them hurriedly clear a teleport pad that Oracle has commandeered.
Its destination? Their home neighborhood – the massive shield unit, tumbling from the ship, destroyed the magnetic jar below the ship, freeing their friends and family.
They arrive in the middle of the street, covered in ice crystals, sweat, blood, grime…
… and drowning in the cheers of those who know them best.
Every one of us, sitting at the table, is grinning from ear to ear.
It’s a good day to be a hero.
In the last session with my niece, nephew, and daughter, the three young heroes were sneaking through the ship on which they’d found themselves following some kind of abduction they couldn’t remember.
Thanks to Angelia, they’d slipped out of the main corridors and into access passages that helped them avoid most of security patrols. Talking with Oracle (the voice on their earbuds) about what they could and couldn’t remember, the kids were able to recall they’d kind of known each other ‘before’ (and pick up Aspect to match this knowledge), but that was about it, so far.
They found their way to a choke point in the ship’s construction – a large room they needed to get through to reach the ‘transport’ section of the ship and, hopefully, escape. Stealthily scouting the room, they could see it was some kind of ‘trash reclamation’ chamber currently crowded with “Overseers”: a sort of commander-level robot that, according to Oracle, would be a challenge even if there were only one.
Meanwhile, Angelia had noticed that there were a couple warning lights blinking on the control terminals in the room. After working out what the lights are supposed to mean, she Cleverly deduced all the trash delivery tubes for the room are currently locked, and the supply of various kinds of trash were building up in the massive tubes overhead.
“What’s in each of the tubes?” Jadyn asks me.
I work out a quick list of tube contents.
- Tube 1: Rotting and liquid food waste.
- Tube 2: Automobiles and other large mechanical devices.
- Tube 3: Scrap metal.
- Tube 4: Chemical waste.
- Tube 5: Pillows and mattresses.
(Tube 5 got a muttered “Seriously?!?” from my niece as she peered at the list.)
This room wasn’t really meant to be a fight, or even a point to engage the dice – it was more of a puzzle solving challenge in which pretty much anything would work and the GM (me) was just curious what they’d come up with. Basically, anything they decided to do to clear out the Overseers would work if it made any kind of sense at all – the main question was what sort of consequences (Aspects) would they have to deal with in the room, afterwards, when they tried to cross it.
After some debate over the use of the Chemical Waste (and a few ideas in which they tried to use every tube, no matter what), they decided to empty the tubes onto the Overseers in the following order:
– Tube 3: Scrap metal.
This would introduce a lot of sharp ‘stuff’ that could damage the bots.
– Tube 2: Automobiles and other large mechanical devices.
They saw the main value here as being the weight of the stuff: dropped on the bots, with the scrap metal already in place, would, they felt, either puncture or rupture their outer casings. Then…
– Tube 1: Rotting and liquid food waste.
It was a toss-up between this and the chemical waste, but in the end they went for this tube because (a) it would be likely to seep or pour into the damaged bots and cause shorts and (b) while gross, wouldn’t turn the whole room into a chemical hazard they had to get across.
The tubes were opened, stuff fell with clangs and crashes and lots of sloshing and squishing, sparks flew, and the room was full of the smell of rotting garbage and fried wiring.
The kids made their way through the piles of junk (or over and around it in the case of Angelia and ice-sliding Anna). Oracle assured them they were almost to the hangar. Anna keyed the switch for the big door leading out of the room, which slide open to reveal a Master Overseer coming to investigate the disturbance.
The kids scattered, Anna throwing up a quick ice shield and rolling to the side as the Overseer let off a series of plasma blasts.
Stunt: Because I can make snap-freeze shields, I get a +2 to quickly defend against physical attacks.
The overseer stomps into the room, coming about halfway through the hatchway, and blasts out an order that all prisoners surrender immediately.
Angelia, already used to throwing around heavy objects, tried to hurl the thing to the side, but the Overseer was braced and clinging to the deck and couldn’t be moved. Mikenna tried a few exploratory bow shots, but couldn’t get anything through the Overseer’s defenses. Anna slipped past the Overseer and into the hallway beyond, verifying that the nearest hangar was only a few hundred feet further along, but couldn’t figure out how to get her friends into the passageway, past the giant robot.
What followed was a few rounds of the Overseer proving Oracle right – it definitely was not the sort of thing the young heroes wanted to fight, if they could help it. Mikenna, dodging nimbly, was still unable to entirely avoid the thing’s plasma blasts and picked up several Stress hits and a “twisted knee” Minor Consequence. Angelia’s force fields handled the blasts a bit better, but she was still accumulating Stress. Anna avoided the worst of these attacks, but working on her own, her ice couldn’t do anything significant to the Overseer.
Once again, the kids ran through their (choose who goes next) initiative in such a way as to allow the Overseer the last action in a round, followed by it giving itself the first action of the next round. It took advantage of this by (first) blanketing the room in withering missile fire (successfully creating an advantage on Angelia of “pinned down”) and then Blasting her with everything it had. The force bubble held, but Angelia was driven straight down into trash and waste, sinking into and being swallowed by the muck.
Given the not-so-subtle example of the benefits of Create Advantage, the kids started working together.
The most memorable bit in the rounds that followed was Angelia rising up out of the trash with a MASSIVE ball of muck and gunk over her head and burying the Overseer in the stuff. Anna froze the whole mess solid, then both Mikenna and Angelia shattering pieces of it.
The end of the fight came as Anna and Mikenna were taking turns freezing and shattering pieces of the robot while Angelia used her telekinesis to ‘Pin Down’ the bot: it looked like it was going to get another big attack, but Mikenna managed to get an attack success JUST big enough to be impossible to handle with a combination of Stress and Consequences – the Overseer collapsed and shorted out. The kids managed to make it out with Stress and only Minor Consequences, though it was touch and go for a bit, and all three were completely out of Fate Points (I was treating the whole ‘escape from the ship’ as a single scenario, so breaks between play sessions didn’t refresh their pool).
Anna and Mikenna also picked up their last Relationship Aspects.
– Anna is too young to be put in danger.
– I will prove (to Mikenna) I’m a hero, just like everyone else.
The trio made their (limping) way out of Garbage Disposal and down the hallway, with Oracle telling them that the ports up ahead should give them a good view of the ship’s nearest hangar.
Unfortunately, the hangar was occupied.
Specifically, it was occupied by rank upon rank of the smaller “security” bots, larger humanoid combat models they hadn’t encountered yet, and dozens of overseers.
“That must be the whole invasion force for this ship,” said Oracle.
The Classic Flashback
This is where we pulled away the last remnants of the amnesia. They all remembered these forces. They remembered what had happened.
Ships had appeared, months ago, over many major cities through the world. New York. Chicago. Gotham. Central City. Mercury Bay. And, of course, their own home of Metropolis. Sections of each city were surrounded – encased, actually – in weird energy fields: gigantic forcefields that not even superheroes like Wonder Woman seemed to be able to do anything about. Worse, if the bubbles stayed up for too long, they would fade away and the area they’d bottled was just… gone. Erased. Deleted.
The news called them “jars,” and said that the attacking force was run by someone called Brainiac.
Still, it didn’t seem to matter that much from day to day. Even the areas in Metropolis that had been encased were far away from their home neighborhood – those were wealthy, important parts of town, and they lived in a low-income project – not even an invading alien would care that much about them.
Then something happened. The news started talking about new heroes showing up – helping the well-known heroes with the defense of Earth. People started noticing friends and neighbors with strange new abilities.
Then a bottle swallowed their neighborhood, followed almost immediately by Brainiac’s troops, dropping out of the sky like a storm, ordering everyone into the streets for ‘inspection.’
Everyone was scanned.
The kids remembered the scanners beeping when they were pointed at each of them. The light on top pulsed – the Collectors said something like “exobyte detected”… and everything went black.
They’d gotten powers.
And those powers had called Brainiac right to them — had dropped a jar over their friends and families — had started a timer ticking. Very much longer, and the only home they’d ever known would just be… gone.
I pointed to the last blank on their character sheets and asked each player to write down an Aspect that covered their reaction all this.
Angelia, the natural leader, started working on a plan:
– Aspect: We’ve got to get that Jar down before it’s too late.
Anna was more personal:
– Aspect: I will get my parents back.
Mikenna, thinking about it for longer than the others, rejected the personal or tactical for big and angry:
– Aspect: Brainiac needs to pay.
The mood at the table changed dramatically. They weren’t scrambling for an escape route anymore: they were looking around for something to break.
Needless to day, I was very impressed with how each character had come together. Treating the whole flashback as a refresh scene, I told all three players to reset their Fate Point totals to 3 and clear their Stress and Minor Consequences.
“Okay,” they asked Oracle. “How do we stop this?”
[Not a lot of dice rolling and no fights in this one, but good character building stuff.]
When we last left our heroes*, they’d just beaten down three guards and escaped from the “science tube” room where they’d been held in some kind of suspended animation. Rather than going out through the main exit that their mysterious ‘voice in the ear’ benefactor had provided them, however, they’d slipped out through a maintenance hatch that Angelia (Jadyn) had discovered, and were now crouching in a narrow passageway, next to an access terminal.
(* And we the players did actually leave them for awhile – this game took place over the four days my niece and nephew were in town. After the first fight, everyone crashed for the night and just left everything where it was on the gaming table. Being able to do this is, in fact, why we *have* a dedicated gaming table.)
“I wasn’t expecting you to find another way out of that room,” says the voice in their ears. “Heck, I didn’t even know there was another way out: the schematic I’m working with only shows the public corridors – it must be something they use for the patrol and security robots, so there’s a good chance the guys with guns don’t have any idea where you are right now. That’s good news, since it means I can get you a lot closer to getting off that ship without alerting more guards.”
“We’re on a ship?” Mikenna asks.
“Of course we’re on a ship,” Anna pipes up. “Can’t you tell? We’re probably in deep space right now.”
“Actually…” says the voice on their ear buds. “You’re not, though you are pretty far up – directly over one of the…” There’s a pause. “Is… any of this ringing any bells? We’ve had problems with amnesia from some of the people we’ve freed in the past.”
No on says anything.
“Riiiight,” the woman on the other end says. “Well… is there anything you *do* remember?”
So we talk a little bit about what the characters know about themselves and what they know about each other. I encourage really sketchy levels of detail. The kids determine that Angelia (Jadyn) knows both Mikenna (Malik) and Anna (Kaylee); Anna knows Angelia, but only knows of Mikenna; Mikenna recognizes Angelia, but doesn’t know Anna at all.
Anna is eight, Angelia is 14 (a freshman who’s been taking high school classes for the last two years), Mikenna’s a junior.
At this point, we stop to talk a bit more about Aspects and what they do. Once that’s covered, we talk about the High Concept aspect they all already have, and what the other Aspect ‘slots’ are for.
- High Concept (already covered)
- Trouble Aspect
- Relationship with Other Character 1
- Relationship with Other Character 2
- Something I’m not talking about yet.
I ask the players about Trouble Aspects and if there’s any sort of Aspects of their character that, while sometimes useful, tends to cause them problems more often than not. The kids, perhaps unsurprisingly, immediately get this concept. Kaylee already has one written down (Bites Off More Than She Can Chew, another expression of the character quality at the core of her first stunt), and with that example, it’s pretty easy for the other two kids to come up with something.
Angelia: “Wait a minute, let’s think about this…”
Mikenna: Good with crowds, bad with people.
I’m really happy with all three of these as Trouble Aspects. To be honest, they’re probably the best examples of these types of aspects that I’ve seen, let alone gotten to play with first hand; they’re absolutely doing their “first job” of giving me an easy level to pull that will reward the player with fate points, but they’re also actually useful – every one of them can be used to legitimately provide benefit in certain situations, and that’s so often not the case with Trouble aspects.
We also take a look at the information they came up with earlier about each other, and look at relationship aspects. Jadyn already has one written on Angelia’s sheet (I look out for Anna), and based on that the girls decide that Angelia babysits Anna sometimes.
From that, Kaylee writes down her first Relationship aspect: “Angelia is like the big sister I never had.”
Malik and Jadyn talk about their situation a little bit more, working out that Angelia is one of those kids that kids her own age don’t like because they’re taking advanced classes, and that older kids don’t like because the younger kid is showing them up. The kids work out that Mikenna is getting secretly, informally tutored on math and science by Angelia.
None of them really remember what happened, or how they got where they are right now, or much about anything or anyone beyond the people they’re looking at, but they remember a little.
Malik writes down: “I trust Angelia with the ‘brainy stuff.'”
A fascinating dynamic develops out of this, in that Angelia (the ‘middle’ kid, both in the game and at the table) is essentially the leader of the group.
I’m happy with getting the trouble and the first relationship aspects down at that point, so when the kids struggle with their second relationships, I wave that off for later and move things along.
“Okay, this is Oracle again,” say the voice in their ear buds.
‘Oracle?’ mouths Mikenna. Angelia shrugs.
“I’ve been going over the schematics for the tunnels you’re in, and I think I’ve found a way to get you closer to one of the hangars, which should be the best way to get you off the ship.” The maintenance screen they’re crouched next to light up with a map, and a series of passages light up. “Follow this route, and that should get you almost all the way there without you needing to go back into high-traffic areas.
“Almost?” asks Mikenna.
“Yeah… there’s a little bit of a problem, but let’s get you moving for now.”
The trio heads out, and traverse a fairly large distance without any problem (bypassing about a half-dozen rooms I’d sketched out encounters for and now discard, unmourned). Oracle brings them to a room with a round shaft leading down.
(This is something I’ve put in place to encourage the players to come with some kind of ‘movement power’ for their guys.)
“You need to get down to the bottom of their shaft,” says Oracle, “but it’s quite a ways down – don’t just jump.”
“How about we slide?” say Anna, and creates a kind of ice platform anchored to the side of the shaft, steps onto it, and starts building the platform down like a large spiral slide. Pretty normal ice-guy thing, but new to the players, so we do some rolls to control the descent and keep from descending at an out of control speed.
Meanwhile, Mikenna has pulled a line out of her utility belt, and is using it like a abseil/zip line, while Jadyn describes Angelia getting down by holding onto the walls of the shaft with her telekinesis and lowering herself that way.
I point out that anyone looking at Angelia would think she was just flying down slowly. Jadyn says “I can fly?!? Cool!” and Angelia’s movement accelerates rapidly.
We roll some dice to see how everyone’s new method of getting around works, and given the opportunity, all three kids decide to accent their ability with a Stunt. Jadyn can’t think of one yet, but knows she wants one.
- Because I can make ice-slides, I get a +2 to flashily overcome movement-related obstacles.
- Because I have a zip-line, I get a +2 to cleverly overcome Physical obstacles.
- Clever +2 (Despite leaving ‘the brainy stuff’ to Angelia, Mikenna is quite smart herself – she just doesn’t apply it much of the time, apparently.)
The shaft opens out into a utility control room, and we’re sort of back to a room vaguely like a scene in the DCUO tutorial.
“Okay,” says Oracle, “the good news is, you’re almost to the hangar. The bad news is, they know you escaped from the holding pods, and they’ve put guards on all the choke points that might let someone off the ship. That’s the next room – it’s marked ‘waste accretion’ on the schematics. Take a peek in there and see what kind of guards they have posted.”
Anna (stealthily) creeps up, and reports a half-dozen “really big spider robots.” Basically these guys.
Meanwhile, Jadyn has noticed that there are a couple warning lights blinking on the control terminals in the room. After working out what the lights are supposed to mean, she Cleverly deduces that the room next door is supposed to be where “Earth trash” is accumulated and destroyed, but all the delivery tubes for the room are currently locked, and the supply of various kinds of trash are building up in the massive tubes over the robot’s head.
“What’s in each of the tubes?” Jadyn asks.
And therein begins a plan.
I could write about this game for a week. It’s possible I might.
There’s so much to take out of this experience, both in terms of game design, game running, game playing, and just the experience of playing with new players, that I probably need a few days just to organize my thoughts, but I don’t have that kind of time – I’m on a plane in 24 hours, and soaking in wall-to-wall busy for the next two weeks.
So instead, you get a series of slightly disorganized actual play reports. Hopefully that’ll work.
Right. Here we go.
The Most Wonderful Time… Of the Year
My sister was coming out to visit for the four or five days between Christmas and New Years. In tow, my nephew (14) and niece (10), and it was pretty much assumed that while everyone was out, Uncle Doyce would be playing games with the kids.
No Experience Required
Although neither niece or nephew do tabletop gaming regularly, I’ve played quite a few games with them in the past. Pilgrims of the Flying Temple went well, as did Happy Birthday Robot, though Dread was probably the biggest reigning hit – my nephew ended up writing a play about the events of that game session (and a proper ending, since we didn’t actually finish the story). At some point, I’ve also run something that required full sets of polyhedrals, but neither they or I can remember what that was. At any rate, they didn’t have a lot of gaming experience, and I needed to keep that in mind.
My daughter, by contrast, has done quite a bit more gaming with me, most recently a Fate Accelerated Edition “supers” game, very loosely set off the beaten track in some backwater DC Universe (I called it Earth-23). When I mentioned I’d be running something when Malik and Jadyn were in town, she got very excited at the idea that she’d be able to play some version of Fate with her cousins.
Note: I didn’t say “Fate” at any point; that was her assumption, and any hint that it might not turn out to be true was met with lukewarm enthusiasm at best. No surprise, as she clearly likes the game.
I didn’t feel like arguing, and at any rate I had some decent ideas for what I could do with a supers game.
So this is what I have:
- Nephew, Malik, 14. Little gaming experience. Passing familiarity with ‘supers’ thanks to the Batman “Arkham” console games.
- Niece, Jadyn, 10. Little gaming experience. Very little if any supers familiarity.
- Daughter, Kaylee, 8. Some gaming experience, almost all Fate or FAE. Has watched Young Justice, JLU, and Justice League series straight through, several times.
Clearly, I can’t just jump in and assume that everyone knows what’s going on with either the game or a setting. Forget “does everyone know who Solomon Grundy is?” – in terms of tropes, I can’t assume most of the people at the table will be familiar with common superhero powers, let alone how you’d express them in Fate or any other game.
So, what I need is a good introduction both to the setting and the system.
The best example I had of this sort of thing was The Demolished Ones, a really fabulous Fate scenario that scratches about every gaming and story itch I have. Unfortunately, the tone and concept are more than a little dark for young/new gamers, and it was too long to wrap up in any kind of satisfactory way in the time we had. Still… the “you start out with amnesia” thing…
I’d asked Kaylee early on if she wanted to play Nataly (her girl from our solo game, about which I still need to write about three or four more blog posts to get caught up), or make up someone new for her cousins’ visit, and she opted to make up someone new, because she likes making new characters almost as much as playing them. (Don’t we all?)
Knowing that, I chucked the “Christmas Gone Amuck in Mercury Bay” concept and focused on the idea of a group ‘origin story’, which brought me back around to something I’d been toying around with a few months ago – basically using the premise of DC Universe Online as the starting point of a tabletop supers game.
They Call It a “Tutorial”
See, the terribly useful thing about the start of most MMOs is that they set things up with the assumption that the new player is somewhat interested in the game, but doesn’t know that much about it – the character is a bit in the dark, and so learns along with the player. Also, a good tutorial at the beginning of the game like this starts out with simple concepts (this is how you attack) and slowly adds mechanics to the experience (this is the room where you learn to use your movement power) until, by the end, you’re doing all the ‘stuff’ you need to do to play the rest of the game (barring more esoteric activities like crafting and whatnot).
This sort of idea is easily (but, sadly, not often) mapped to an introductory scenario for a tabletop RPG like Fate.
Combine that with the amnesia stuff from The Demolished Ones, and good things start to happen.
As you’ll see.
You Wake Up In A Tube
I sat down with my players, an FAE book for each of us, lots of Fate dice, and blank character sheets.
I start with Jadyn, describing a dream her character is having in which she’s swimming around a coral reef, but in her normal street clothes, and she can breathe just fine. As soon as she realizes she’s dreaming, however, she starts to wake up, and finds herself inside some kind of glass tube, breathing mask and other wires strapped to her head, floating in some kind of liquid roughly the consistency of hair gel.
A female voice crackles in her ear (and in those of the other two players who are in similar tubes). “Right! I found you! Give me just a second and I’ll get you out of there.” Probably another minute passes and then the glass front of the tubes starts to roll down like a car window, spilling the goop out onto (and through) the metal grating floor of the large room. The goop flow carries all three of them out onto the deck as well, coughing and trying to squeegee the muck off their arms and faces.
Now’s the time to borrow from The Demolished Ones.
To Jadyn, I say, “You look over at Kaylee’s character. What is the first and most striking thing you notice about her appearance?”
She tells us that the girl has perfectly white hair, and I have Kaylee write that down on the back of her sheet.
I then repeat this for the other players, having each dictate a noteworthy physical feature of the person to their left at the table. Malik’s character has shockingly blue eyes. Jadyn’s character’s eyes are all black, with white pupils.
We do a bit of roleplaying and “what do you do first/next?” type things as I get them talking with each other for a few seconds – there are a lot of these suspended animation pods (immediately dubbed ‘science tubes’ by the players) in the room; most are empty, and those that aren’t contain people that have been in there so long their limbs are skinny and weak, their hair is mostly gone, and their skin has gone ‘water wrinkly’ all over and so badly their faces can’t easily be made out. They may not even be alive. Eww.
Once everyone gets a chance to actually roleplay themselves, I ask each player to tell me the first impression of the personality of the person on their right. Kaylee’s character is a “worrier,” Jadyn’s is “a nerdy expert,” and Malik’s is “an all-star athlete with attitude.”
My “tutorial” goal for this room:
- Get (and explain) High Concept aspects
- Get (and explain) at least one Approach for everyone
- Build a stunt (if they need it) and explain them
The voice in their earbud returns. “Okay, the good news is, I can get the main door to your room open. The bad news is, there are guards right outside. Are any of you good with weapons?”
Malik says “What have you got?” and some kind of weapons locker opens in the corner. I tell him that it has whatever it is that he’s hoping to find, and he finds a bow and quiver of arrows and some random ‘utility belt’ stuff. No one else even checks the thing.
The door opens and a trio of ‘guards’ turn and then rush in. These guys:
I’m basically using the initiative system from Marvel Heroic, with just a touch of Doctor Who, so I ask if anyone is planning to do something that involves just talking.
Jadyn says she is, so I have her go first. She shouts “KEEP THEM BUSY” and runs off into the rows of “science tubes.” I ask what she’s doing, and she informs me she’s looking for a different exit.
Here, of course, is where an MMO disappoints you and a tabletop game (especially Fate) shines. I say “that’s very Cunning” and have her roll her dice and add her rating for the Cunning approach.
“I don’t have a rating in Cunning,” she replies.
I explain she can give it a rating at either 3, 2, 1, or 0, and how many of each rating she has to use, and she gives Cunning a 3, rolls, and easily adds the aspect “Concealed Maintenance Hatch” to the room.
“That’s what you’re doing while they keep the guards busy,” I say. “Who’s going next?”
She hands off to Malik (character: Mikenna), who uses his bow not to shoot the robots, but to burst a pipe and fill the area they’re standing in with steam (interesting choice, that). During this, he picks his +3 approach, writes out his High Concept, and picks up the first Stunt of the game
- High Concept: High School All-star Marksman
- Quick: +3
- Stunt: Because everything moves slowly to my eyes, I get a +2 to Quickly create advantages.
Malik gives the turn to the robots, who have to overcome the passive steam obstacle to shoot, and end up not only missing, but giving both Mikenna and Anna (Kaylee’s character) a boost for their Defense success with style.
Anna is last. She’s scrambling for cover from the plasma blasts of the robots, shrieks, flings her arms out, and freezes… well, pretty much everything. The steam in the air, the water condensing on the bots, the bots themselves… pretty much everything. Two of them are taken out, and the last one is damaged, with ice stuck in its joints.
- High Concept: Sub-zero Super Hero
- Trouble: I bite off more than I can chew (didn’t come up here, but Kaylee already had it written down)
- Flashy: +3
- Stunt: Because I don’t know my own strength, I get a +2 to Forcefully attack multiple targets.
Kaylee starts off the next round by handing initiative back to Jadyn, who reappears out of the stacks just as the last robot rounds on Anna, gun leveled.
Her character (Angelia) shouts “Don’t you DARE!” and slams the robot into the ceiling… then the floor… then the wall.
- High Concept: Telekinetic Science Nerd
- Relationship Aspect: I Look Out for Anna
- Clever: +3
- Forceful: +2
- Stunt: Because I’m better at lifting heavy things, I get a +2 to Forcefully overcome obstacles. (Didn’t get used in this conflict, but the player really wanted it right away.)
“Come on,” she says, while the other two stare at the smashed robot. “I’ve got a way out.”
… and we’ll stop there… for now.
Next Up: “What Do You Mean, ‘Spaceship’?”
- Sneaking through access tunnels I didn’t even know were there.
- A little memory returns, leading to…
- Relationship Aspects, Trouble Aspects, Scene Aspects
We picked up the action from Session Two the following day. Hooray for weekends and little brother’s naptime.
Matthew Cuthbert drives a beautifully preserved old pickup that purrs down the highway like a sleeping lion. Inside the cab of the pickup, the old man and young girl are quiet: Matthew seems a bit uncomfortable with small talk, now that he’s on his own, and the Nataly has always been comfortable entertaining herself — she pulls out several of her comic books once it’s clear Matthew isn’t going to spend the drive quizzing her, and dives in.
After a half-hour or so, he clears his throat and asks what she’s reading.
“Just… my comic books,” she says, looking at the covers as though she wasn’t sure the covers matched the contents.
“Ahh, I see…” he mulls that over. “Which, ah… which ones are those about?”
She shrugs. “Superman. Captain Spectacular. The Clue. War Witch. The Inspectre.”
“Well, now…” he says, smiling a bit, “I’ve even heard of some of those.” He frowns. “You know… it’s a puzzle. There’re superheroes out there, and there’s superhero comics, but a lot of the comics you mentioned are made-up people, instead of the real ones. I wonder why that is.”
[Note: I had not talked this idea over with Kaylee beforehand — we were just roleplaying through the car ride and I lobbed this at her to see what she’d do.]
Nataly considered for a few seconds, then shrugged. “People read the comics to have fun. If they read something that happened to a real superhero, that’s just… news. Nobody likes news.”
Matthew pondered that, then nodded. “I reckon that’s so.”
[The next day, I asked Kaylee which of the superheroes she mentioned were ‘real’ and which were ‘just comics’ in Nataly’s version of the world. The answer she gave told me that we’re in somewhere in the DC multiverse (I’ll call it Earth-23), albeit with a few unfamiliar names in the headlines. I suspect this is at least partly because she’d rather Nataly meet Robin than read about him.]
The drive was a long one — her new home wasn’t anywhere near Clearwater Campus, and Nataly wondered how her new family had even heard of it, let alone her. She asked about her new home, but Matthew didn’t know much.
“We just moved in a few days ago,” he said. “Marilla – my sister – picked it out, while I was coming to get you. Have you ever lived on a farm?”
Nataly shook her head.
“Me neither,” he confided. “I guess we’ll all figure it out together.”
“What did you do before you moved?” Nataly asked.
“Well, now…” he thought it over. “I suppose we were just… looking around for the right thing.”
Nataly dozed for awhile, and Matthew woke her when they got close to their destination.
“Now, Marilla is… really excited to meet you,” he said, “but she gets stern when she’s nervous, so don’t hold her first impression against her. She warms up over time.”
Nataly nodded. A veteran of uncounted “family interviews”, she had no fear of meeting new people.
The farm house looked as though it hadn’t been lived in for quite awhile. It was nice, just a bit run-down.
“We’ll have lots to work on,” thought Nataly.
A woman about Matthew’s age was waiting in the yard, and Nataly got out and walked over right away to shake her hand.
“So,” said Marilla, “you’re the girl.” She tried on a smile, though it didn’t look especially comfortable. “Good.”
Marilla and Matthew give Nataly a tour of the rambling old farmhouse, and she’s encouraged to unpack, but that really doesn’t take very long. The two suggest she ‘do a bit of exploring around the place’, which she does, though she purposely does not do any experimentation with her bracelet at this time, her reluctance explained as a desire to have at least one day go by at the farm with nothing going wrong. Supper and bedtime are pleasantly uneventful, and Nataly dozes off while (re)reading comic books.
The next morning, after helping with breakfast, Nataly is directed back outside for more ‘exploring’, and her own meandering and boredom eventually get the best of her and lead her to more messing around with her bracelet. This goes quite a bit better than the previous morning’s misadventure with Kendra, and after a few hours she finds she’s able to fly reliably and even get up a kind of ‘force bubble’ semi-reliably — it seems to be more of a flinch reaction when she’s about to smash into something hard.
She’s surprised to realize that flying is hard work: something that leaves her quite as winded as she would be from a long run or a series of sprints — it’ll be in her best interests to continue to ‘exercise’ her new abilities.
She returns to the house at lunchtime, washes up, helps lay food out, eats enough for three grown adults, chattering the whole time, and then actually falls asleep sitting in her chair. Matthew carries her up to her room and she naps for almost three hours, then helps her new family unpack and organize the house. Marilla doesn’t think much of her comic books, but does have a surprisingly broad selection of science fiction novels that Nataly has never heard of and which Marilla seems eager for the girl to read.
Nataly wakes in the middle of the night unsure what’s jolted her from sleep, but doesn’t have to wait long — the strange skittering across both the roof of the house and the floor of her room answers that question quickly enough.
She’s still trying to decide if she should go and explore or call for someone when a large, clicking, metallic spider-creature-thing jumps onto the foot of her bed.
Nataly, never a big fan of spiders in general, much less big robo-spiders the size of dobermans, lets out a shriek, shoves at the thing and… blasts it back off her bed and right through the wall, leaving a gaping hole between her room and Marilla’s.
There’s a moment of stunned silence, then Nataly shouts:
Just as Marilla shouts:
“Matthew! They’re here!”
“Who’s here?” Nataly hollers, and jumps out of bed.
“Get downstairs!” is her only reply, and she does so, stopping only long enough to grab her backpack.
The outside of the house is crawling with spiderbots.
Metal Shell, Spindly Legs
+2 to Creepy Spider Stuff
-2 to everything else.
No stress boxes.
Four of the ‘bots leap down, a silvery web spread out between them like a net. Nataly throws a force field up that’s too big for the web to surround, the spiders themselves hit it and bounce away. Matthew tries to grab one and smash it, but it crawls up/wraps around his arm and grapples with him.
Marilla emerges from the house carrying a bag that would intimidate Mary Poppins and snaps at Nataly to get to the barn, but the girl isn’t going to leave her new friends… family. Whatever. She drops her own force field and creates shields around Marilla and Matthew instead, which give them more than enough of an edge against the spiders to do some damage. Matthew peels his loose and smashes it against a second one, destroying both, while Marilla’s arm seems to… fold apart, revealing a very large gun barrel that spews bright blasts of energy that make short work of several spiders (though they also damage the house and start several small fires).
Matthew, at least, is willing to listen to Marilla, and heads to the barn to get his pickup out so they can get away.
Nataly’s a bit traumatized by her brand new home being on fire, but Marilla’s grim determination helps her stay focused. Marilla’s unexpected offensive has the spiderbots reeling. [Rather than going for damage, she created an Advantage for Nataly to exploit, and the dice were very kind, giving Nataly two free +2 aspect invocation bonuses to use against the enemy.]
Nataly takes advantage of Marilla ‘grouping’ the stunned spiderbots into several large clusters and tries to repeat the trick she did to the bot that jumped on her bed, hurling several ‘balls’ of force energy at the clusters of spiders.
[[Between the two free invokes, the +2 bonus she gets from one of her stunts, Kaylee’s insistence on using a Fate Point to invoke her ‘bracelet’ aspect, a good dice roll on her part and a bad dice roll on my part, she ended up with something like fourteen (!) shifts worth of damage to dole out amongst the ‘bots. Not enough to take them all out, but more than enough to cut their numbers by half and give her and her family plenty of time to drive away.]]
It’s quiet in the cab of the truck. Nataly is looking out the back window at her first real home, burning, dwindling in the distance.
“Well…” Matthew finally says. “I’d guess you did a bit of something or other with your bracelet today?”
Nataly doesn’t know what to say, or how he knew, so she simply nods. He nods in return, glancing at Marilla, who’s mouth gets tight.
“It’s our own fault,” she says, “this foolishness about living out in the country. There’s no other anomalous energy signatures out here — anything the girl does will stand out like a spotlight.” She shakes her head.
“I’m sorry,” Nataly’s voice is small, sure that this is all her fault.
“Oh, girl, don’t be silly. We should have known better.”
“I could… just…” she swallows “…not use the bracelet?”
“Well, now…” Matthew drawls. “That won’t do, I don’t think.” (Which is a great relief to Nataly.)
“No it will not,” Marilla agrees, primly. “The problem is being out here in the open.” She considers. “What a body needs is camouflage — the more strange things going on around us, the less likely anyone’s going to notice the girl.” She looks at Matthew.
“City it is, then,” he replies, and spares a smile for Nataly. “Best you get some sleep. It’s a long drive to Mercury Bay.”
I didn’t get a chance to really see it, though. Kaylee snapped it up (and the accompanying bookmark+rules summary).
Then she tried to talk me into running another session before bed.
Nataly wakes up in her room at the Clearwater Campus, her head foggy and filled with that nagging feeling you get when you can’t remember a dream you’re sure you really want to remember. Something about flying?…
[Amusing note: Kaylee has never felt, so far as she knows, that “can’t quite remember a dream” or the “I can’t remember what I was going to tell you” sensation, so explaining what Nataly’s head felt like took a lot longer than expected, and wandered off into an interesting discussion about memory.]
Nataly frowns at the ceiling, trying to remember why she feels so odd (and why she’s laying on top of the covers, fully dressed) when there’s a knock on the door. Nataly hops up to answer it, and notices the bracelet on her wrist. Her adventure from the night before comes back all at once – at least up to the part where she found her treasures box and opened it. She hides the bracelet in her bedclothes and opens the door.
It’s Kendra, literally hopping up and down with impatience. She slips inside as soon as the door opens more than a crack. The girls exchange notes, with Kendra doing most of the back-filling. Nataly put the bracelet on, started glowing and floating, and didn’t answer Kendra at all. The guard was patrolling past Mrs. McHevy’s desk, so Kendra closed the storage room all the way and doused Nataly’s glow by throwing a quilt from one of her treasures boxes over her — pretty good ghost costume, apparently.
Once the guard had moved on, Kendra tried to wake Nataly up, then gave that up and just pulled her through the air back to her room, “like a big party balloon.” She’d moved Nataly over her bed and, with nothing else to try, left her there.
Nataly finds this whole idea of floating very interesting. She retrieves the bracelet from her bed, slips it on, and tries jumping off the bed as high as she can and flying. No joy. A few more attempts (with Kendra providing commentary and suggestions) do not improve the situation.
There’s another knock on the door. Kids aren’t supposed to have anyone but them in their rooms, so Nataly hides both Kendra and the bracelet under the bed, and answers the door.
It’s Mrs. McHevy, who first asks if she heard “someone” jumping on “someone’s” bed, which is strictly against the rules. Nataly looks hangdog, but Mrs. McHevy can’t keep her stern expression on, because she’s excited: it seems a new adoptive parent just showed up at the Campus, just this morning, with all paperwork in order and asking specifically for Nataly! Interviews are normally on Saturdays, never on Sundays, but with this parent’s fine references – really quite remarkable references – exceptions were made, and Nataly should really get dressed up right now to go meet him.
Him? Why yes. His name is Mr. Cuthbert, and he’s filled out adoption (not foster, adoption!) papers on behalf of himself and his sister. A bit of an unorthodox family arrangement for an adoptive family, but their references were very good. Now get dressed!
Nataly moves quickly, just to get Mrs. McHevy out of the room before she notices Kendra, and they go to meet Mr. Cuthbert, who is waiting with the Principle.
Mr. Cuthbert, who insists (well, quietly and politely requests) that Nataly call him Matthew, seems like a very nice man — a bit older than people in most interviews, but still not old old. He doesn’t seem put off at all at Nataly’s rather hesitant answers during their chat, and they agree that Nataly should go pack and “take some time to say goodbye to all your friends.”
Nataly rushed back to her room to tell Kendra the news, but Kendra isn’t there, and neither is the bracelet!
Nataly rushes around, looking for Kendra, but finds Jolene instead, who first snarks about not seeing “your so called friend” and then shows shocked disbelief that Nataly is being adopted, before her, and not even on a Saturday.
Nataly finds a quiet spot to try to think through the problem. (Time to roll Clever.) She thinks of Kendra giving her frustrated instructions on how try to fly, and thinks her friend probably went to try it herself. She thinks of places she would go to do that, and checked the gym and playground before rushing to the roof, through a door that Kendra herself had once showed her didn’t lock properly.
Sure enough, there’s Kendra, on the edge of the room, trying to screw up her courage to the point where she’s ready to jump off a four-story building. Nataly tries to get her to come down, but Kendra is determined, and prepares to jump. Nataly rushes to her and manages to grab her arm before she goes over. She grabs her by the wrist/bracelet, and in her struggle to pull her friend back from the fall, the two shoot up into the air.
Nataly knows several moments of stunned wonder as she soars out over the lawns around the campus… and then she and her friend start falling in a long arc.
Nataly tries to (Carefully) think about what she had been trying to do when she flew off into the sky, but she can’t (too many distractions from her friend screaming and clawing at her arms). The ground rushes at them, Nataly flinches —
And they bounce, the two of them inside some kind of bubble force field. One massive bounce takes them into the woods, where they ricochet off the trees like a pinball until the bubble ‘bursts’ and they crash into a big bush.
[Another weird disconnect: Kaylee has no idea what a pinball machine is. This must be rectified.]
The girls limp home (Kendra ended up with a very tender ankle), and Nataly arrives back at her room grass-stained, scuffed, dirty, with twigs and leaves caught in her hair.
The principle and Matthew Cuthbert are waiting. The principle actually facepalms, expecting the Trouble Magnet to ruin her best chance at adoption.
Nataly sheepishly explains she was “just saying goodbye to my friend.”
Matthew looks the girl over, his eyes lingering for more than a few seconds on her bracelet, and says “Well, now, it seems the best thing for you is lots of open space and room to explore.” He turns to the surprised principle. “If everything’s all square with you, Nataly and I should probably be going.”
Observations: The game is going well! The only real challenge is the fact that Kaylee really likes to grab narration and just say whether various things are successful or not, or what others-besides-nataly are doing/saying/thinking. I’m generally fine with the input on setting and color stuff, because it tells me what kind of story she’s interested in, but I did remind her that (a) I’m playing too, and pretty much all I get to do is make stuff up, so she should try to leave something for me to do 🙂 and (b) when there’s some kind of conflict, the dice decide whether something works, not us. This second point was much easier for her to get when I compared it to the MMOs we play together (Wizard or Pirate 101, frex) where she decides what she’s going to do, but the game decides if it works.
It’s Saturday afternoon, just after lunch, and Nataly Smith is lying on the bed in her small room at Clearwater Campus (a combination orphanage and elementary) reading one of the few donated comic books she hasn’t worn the covers off of already. Her eyes are wide, drinking in the four-color heroics — she’s a million miles away.
She’s also late.
A loud knocking jolts her upright, and the door opens before she can answer. Mrs. McIntyre, Principle’s Assistant, bustles in, demanding to know why Nataly isn’t dressed for her interview yet — why she isn’t in fact at her interview, as the appointment was scheduled to start five minutes ago. It seems the girl forgot that she was supposed to meet with a potential foster parent today, and she rushes around under Mrs. McIntyre’s frazzled glare, pulling on her best jumper (“just a little bit frayed along the hem”) and rushing out the door.
Another child might have rushed into the classroom where Principle Sanchez was waiting, or lurked outside, trying to eavesdrop on his conversation with the potential foster parent, but Nataly simply knocked and waited. The principle called her in, and she — a veteran of many, many interviews, walked quietly over to the heavyset older woman sitting primly in an undersized chair and came to a sort of schoolyard-grade attention, hands clasped behind her.
The woman was not impressed.
“Skinny little thing,” she said through pinched lips. “And I thought you said she was older. I need a strong, reliable girl.”
Principle Sanchez’s mouth twitched. “Nataly is one of the oldest girls currently living on-campus. I believe she’s ten.” He stroked his mustache. “In any case, while our girls have a fine sense of responsibility, we don’t normally rate them by their lifting capacity.”
The older woman gave him a sharp look, but his expression made it impossible to take offense. “You know I take care of anyone I foster, Mister Sanchez.” She turned back to Nataly. “Ten, then?”
Nataly nodded. “Yes…” She waited, then. “Ma’am.”
The woman sniffed. “You seem pleasant enough for some barren little suburban couple to’ve snapped you up — how is it you’re still here?”
“I… haven’t been very lucky,” Nataly said, eyes downcast. Which was true, though it didn’t really tell the whole story. Nataly had been taken home with – literally – dozens of families on a trial basis, but something always went wrong.
The woman seemed to sense the evasion. “Not lucky?” Her eyes narrowed. “Are you some kind of trouble maker?”
No, I’m a trouble magnet. Nataly thought — a phrase she’d heard the principle, Mrs. McIntyre, and most of her teachers use at one time or another — but she clamped her jaw shut to keep from saying it out loud.
The woman scowled. “Well? Speak up? Are you a trouble maker?” The principle started to say something, but she held up her hand to him, palm out. “I want to hear what the girl has to say.”
But Nataly froze. Trouble magnet echoed around her head, driving out any other possible reply she could have come up with and, knowing she couldn’t say that, she said nothing.
The silence dragged on, until the woman sniffed, sat back, and shook her head. “No.”
Principle Sanchez cleared his throat. “Perhaps –”
“No,” she snapped. “Two minutes into the conversation, and she’s already gone obstinate and locked her heels? I won’t have it. I’m too old and there are plenty of other girls.” She nodded her chin at Nataly. “You can go, girl, and good luck finding a family that will put up with a little bullheaded creature like you.”
Nataly’s lower lip moved just a bit, but she locked that down as well, managed a brief, automatic curtsy, and walked back the way she’d come.
It hardly surprised her anymore, when an interview went poorly. But it still hurt.
A hour later, Nataly was still sitting on the bed in her good jumper. She’d tried moping for a while, but she couldn’t really get her heart into it, and her eyes had fallen on the comic book she’d left behind. She was just picking it up when a shadow darkened her doorway.
It was Jolene.
“I just wanted to stop by,” said Jolene “and tell you how sorry I am that your interview foster parent thought you were terrible.”
Nataly glared. “That isn’t what happened.”
Jolene, only nine, raised an eyebrow in a way you normally only saw on bored adults. “Well, she didn’t take you home, did she? Something went wrong.” She tipped her head. “But something always does go wrong with you, doesn’t it?”
“Away?” Jolene frowned. “But I’m in the hallway, not your room. There’s no rules against being in the hallway.”
“What. Do you want?”
“I just wanted to tell you how sorry I am,” replied Jolene. “I mean, I’m moving in with a real adoptive family next week, and you can’t even find a foster family to take you. I feel terrible.” She sighed. “At this rate, you’ll be eighteen and kicked out of here as completely hopeless before you even see your treasures box.”
“I won’t –” Nataly’s eyes narrowed. “Treasure box?”
“Treasures box.” Jolene’s eyes lit up, sensing a new weak spot. “Oh, I suppose you don’t know about those, since you came here as a little abandoned baby no one wanted. It’s the box where they put all the valuables you had when you came here, that you might lose.” She tilted your head. “Then again, since came here as an unwanted baby, you probably don’t even have –”
Nataly slammed the door.
“I’m never going to get adopted,” Nataly pushed at her food with a fork, her chin resting on her fist. “Everyone says I’m too skinny.”
Kendra, her one friend at Clearwater, gave her look. “Is that why you punched Jolene?”
Nataly’s head snapped up in surprise. “What? I didn’t punch her. I just slammed the door in her face.”
“Oh.” Kendra glanced across the cafeteria at a distance table full of giggling girls. “That’s too bad. She needs a good smack.”
Nataly grinned, but thinking of Jolene reminded her of something else. “She said something about a Treasures Box. Was she making that up or –”
“Nope, we all have those — all the stuff they don’t trust kids with.” She squinted into the middle distance. “Mine’s actually three boxes I think, and a key for a storage garage — all the stuff my grams left behind when she died, I think. They keep em all in a big storage room behind Mrs. McIntyre’s desk.” She looked at Nataly. “You didn’t know?”
“I never get to help in the office,” Nataly said. “And I’ve always been here. I probably don’t even have a box.”
“I bet you do,” Kendra said. Then she got the smile that was why she and Nataly had always been friend. “In fact…”
Nataly caught the grin and felt it spread to her own lips. “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”
Fifteen minutes after lights out, Kendra knocked on Nataly’s door, and the two of them scurried through the campus, eyes peeled for the security guard that walked the hallways at night, tapping his stick on the radiators. Kendra claimed to know his wandering pattern, and she must have been right, because the girls didn’t see him all the way to the storage room door in the hallway behind Mrs. McIntyre’s desk.
The door was locked.
“How…” Nataly stared at the handle. “Can you pick locks?”
“No.” Kendra shook her head as through Nataly had just asked if she could breathe water. “Who knows how to pick locks?”
“Lots of people,” Nataly said.
“Lots of people in comic books, maybe,” Kendra muttered. “We need the key.”
“Well who –” Nataly’s eyes widened. “The janitor! He’s got every key to the whole building!”
“But they’re either in his closet, which is locked,” Kendra said, “or he took them home.”
“Maybe…” Nataly shook her head, thinking, but Kendra grinned and snuck back toward Mrs. McIntyre’s desk. “What are you doing?!?”
“I bet she’s got the keys in her desk.”
Nataly hurried after. “That’s private!”
Kendra stared back at her. “We’re breaking into a whole private room.”
She had a good point. Nataly joined the search, and found a ring of keys in a coffee cup full of loose change. Nataly went back to the door and started trying keys when Kendra stopped her.
“I just heard the security man hit a radiator!” she whispered.
The girls rushed back to Mrs. McIntyre’s desk and hid underneath. The guard walked slowly up and actually SAT on the desk for awhile, muttering to himself, sniffing loudly, clearing his throat, and generally just taking a load off in that way people who think they’re alone do. He even farted a couple times, but the girls bit their lips and stayed silent — probably the greatest test of their will in their short lives.
Finally, he stood up and wandered off. The girls hurried back and kept trying keys until the door opened and they slipped inside.
Only then did the giggles take them.
There were a lot of shelves and a LOT of boxes. It didn’t take Nataly long to figure out how they were organized, but when she went to where her box should be, there was nothing there, so she was forced to go shelf by shelf, reading each box label, one at a time. They did find Kendra’s boxes (there were four), at which point Nataly had to search by herself while Kendra went through them, holding up one small treasure after another.
Finally, Nataly came to a pile of boxes near the back of the room, each one labeled with names she didn’t recognize. She started moving them to the side and spotted hers near the bottom of the stack.
“Nataly,” Kendra hissed. “I think he’s coming back!”
Nataly kept moving boxes, finally pulling out hers — no bigger than a shoebox, dusty, and taped shut.
The young girl pulled at the tape, barely hearing her friend. Something inside the box had shifted and thumped when she’d picked it up. She did have a treasure!
“Nataly, he’s coming!”
The tape came away, the lid flipped to the side, and Nataly stared down at… a bracelet. A beautiful silver bracelet set with blue gems each the size of her thumbnail.
Hers. She knew it, somewhere deep inside. Always meant to be hers. She put it on.
“Nataly!” Kendra whispered as loudly as she could. “We need to–” She turned away from the door, and her eyes went wide. “…Nataly?”
Nataly floated in mid-air, arms hanging at her side, eyes wide open and glowing – glowing – blue.
And that’s where we stopped. (Amidst cries of “Wait!” “No!” and “Really, Daddy? Really?!?”)
Can’t wait to play again.
So my daughter’s back from grandparent camp, she’s been briefed on the Fate dice mechanic, and we’ve been talking about games to play. Tinkerbell has been mentioned. Also: pirates, wizards, ninjas, Mouse Guard, and Skylanders. (This conversation went on for a couple days on car rides.) We finally settle on superheroes for the first game of the summer, mostly because that’s the topic she kept asking to go back to, once it came up.
I steered things away from game-talk for awhile and asked the classic “if you could have any super power…” question. Good discussion. She hits me with “force fields” as an answer, which I thought was interesting and unexpected. We talk some about what being able to make force fields would let her do, and she comes up with the obvious protective benefits, plus making little “force field balls” to throw at people, and “it would be cool if, like, I could go invisible because of the force field, if I wanted.”
To my knowledge, she’s never heard of the Fantastic Four. 🙂 She does have some unexpected DC Universe knowledge, because her friend is a Teen Titans fangirl. So while munching dinner tonight, I give her a list of the six FAE approaches and we talk about them in terms of which you’d want to use for different types of gymnastics, or bowling, or soccer, or math homework; all of this is just so I know we’re clear on what they each do.Then I ask her to rank them with a 3, 2, 2, 1, 1, 0 scheme for her force field girl. She goes for Forceful, Sneaky, and Clever for the top three. “I’m really not very careful”, she opines.
Dinner’s over, and we sit down and talk about aspects. I give her an example of an Aspect, and she says “oh, they just describe something”, and I allow that that’s true, except they usually have an upside and downside, so they’re more interesting, and we start working out her girl’s backstory and from that what the Aspects would be.
The result: an orphaned alien princess, hiding on Earth in an orphanage. She never finds a good family, because trouble always seems to find her and mess things up. She’s in fifth grade now, but appeared on earth when she was a baby. Her powers mostly come from a Sky Sapphire Bracelet (her: “Because I don’t want it to be like the Green Lantern ring.”), although she knows she CAN fly without the bracelet, which makes GM-me suspect that the bracelet is more of a focus than the source of power.
Finally, we get to the sheet. I filled out the first Aspect, just so it would fit in the box, and I wrote out the first Stunt, but after that she figured out the rubric and wrote out the second two stunts on her own.
“I can fly,” she says, “but I’m not good enough to get a bonus. I’m so-so.” I feel like she understands Stunts.
End result: sort of a Superman/Green Lantern/Invisible Girl/Megan Morse thing. Pretty cool.
I’m looking forward to playing. So is she, though she doesn’t think we’re ready until she’s written out a proper description and done a drawing.
The sheet so far.
I know I said I was going to write my next post about games that use “pushing” and “sacrifice” a big part of getting what you want, but not yet. Today I’m going to talk real quickly about Wizard101.
This game has been on my radar pretty much since it came out in 2008, and I’ve poked at it a very little bit before, but my experience with it can pretty much be boiled down to “I know some people who play it” and “I put it on my nephew’s laptop, and he really likes it.”
That was, until yesterday.
Yesterday morning, Kaylee and I were thumping around the house, looking out at the rainy day, and I figured “eh, why not?” So I downloaded the Wizard101 install and set it in motion.
(I guess I should stop here and explain that Wizard101 is a charming, free-to-play, multiplayer online game in which you play a young apprentice wizard in a magical school in Wizard City. Combat is turn-based, and you cast spells based on the cards in your deck, most of which summon magical critters to fight for you (there’s some generic wand-shooting cards too). On the whole, it’s sort of combination of early Harry Potter, Pokemon, Cardcaptor Sakura, and the old, much-loved PS2 game, Legend of Legaia.)
Kaylee’s been riding along with me while I play MMOs since… oh, I dunno. Infancy, let’s say. She listened to the sound of City of Heroes in the womb. She’s been providing input on the games for the last couple years, and on several occasions I’ve logged a higher-level guy into Lord of the Rings and let her ride my horse around the Shire where she can’t get into any real difficulty.
Anyway, we got set up and made up her girl. (An ingenious process where you answer some personal questions and the game suggests a good match for you from the various schools — it’s not wholly unlike those online quizzes where you can find out if you’re be Slytherin or Ravenclaw.) We ran around a bit, with her doing about half of the steering and most of the combat and stuff like that. We got up to level 2. There was some celebrating.
Then Kaylee and Kate took off for a couple hours and I was left looking at this shiny, colorful game. Sooo shiny.
So I made up an account for myself and, because I’m a big fucking pushover for my daughter, poked around in the “real money” online store and bought both of us a very small cushion of in-game currency to buy cool stuff.
By the time the girls got home, “Dylan Bearheart” was level 5 and had a pet magma spider named Mister Dexter, and Kaylee’s “Melissa Tale” was waiting for her with a collie-sized baby unicorn pet named Sassy… and a pony to ride around on.
Yeah, I bought my daughter a pony. Sue me.
After lunch and a nap, Kaylee pretty much hit the ground at full-speed “I want to play my girl again pleeeeease?” mode. I had anticipated this, and had installed the game on her clunky old laptop. She sat down with a grin and got going.
I watched for a bit. I gave her a few pointers. I reminded her to just go where the Big Yellow Quest Arrow was telling her to go. And then, because I couldn’t take it anymore, I logged in my guy, got us into the same ‘world instance’ of the game (Wu, in case anyone’s curious), made “friends” and teamed up with her to help her with her quests.
We fought ghosts and skeletons and dark fairies turned evil through the power of necromancy. We did some victory dances. I kept the bigger critters busy while she healed us both.
We teamed up on an MMO.
Those of you who don’t know me super well will probably be like “huh, that’s cool”. Those of you who know me a little better will guess how cool this was for me.
Those of you who’ve known me since I played on The Forest’s Edge MUD back in college… you know. Yeah.
We didn’t play for too long before “follow where the arrow tells you” got to be too much to deal with and we packed the laptop up for the day, but it was a good time. A really good time.
Before I’m accused of painting my daughter as some kind of genius, I want to make it clear that there’s a LOT of stuff she doesn’t get about the game. The storyline is, at best, sort of a rough sketch in her head. Obviously, she’s not reading the chat windows or the quest dialogue — she’s only reading the short words at this point, and all out of order. But the combat system she TOTALLY GETS. And she can steer around and follow the quest arrows.
And (I say with a big dopey grin) she loves playing alongside her daddy. It was a pretty good day.
 – It was released during the 2008 MMO deluge and remains one of few successes – and bright spots – in what turned out to be a year typified by releases that were disappointments or utter disasters.
 – Ingenious little direction-to-your-goal indicator that doesn’t just point as-the-crow-flies, but steers through through doors and around buildings and the like. Genius. All MMO quest guiders should work that well.)
 – Not just for that reason — there was a podcast interview and playtime down at the Y with Kate, and a trip to “Old McDonalds” and a photo shoot with Kate — but I’m being honest: the highlight of the day was my daughter shouting “Let’s get that dark fairy queen, Daddy! We can DO it!”