Sunday, December 2, 2012

Adventure Time with the Girls

Got to play some adventures with the girls today. Rockin' good fun. It's honestly way more fun than playing with adults. Here are some of the highlights:

  • The basic premise: It's been raining cats and dogs for many days. An old half-crippled wizard comes to the girls and explains that the weather fairy, who keeps the weather in order in the Land of Ooo, has been trapped by the Ice King in a giant block of ice in the middle of the spooky forest. They must rescue her!
  • They encountered a mud monster, sprayed him with fart spray, and sent him floating away on a giant bubblegum bubble. He landed on the Ice King's porch with a splat. The Ice King determined he was a pile of poo (what would you think a big pile of mud soaked in fart spray was?) and had his minions hose down the porch, destroying the monster.
  • On the next encounter, I rolled two story dice and got a bee and an envelope. I decided it was a giant killer bee that was also the mailman. The girls decided to pack some garbage into envelopes and mail it to the Ice King. They really enjoyed terrorizing the crap out of that guy! Even though the characters were hundreds of miles away, I played out the Ice King receiving his packages so they could get a nice payoff for their dirty tricks. There was immense laughter at the table.
  • One of the players made good use of the magnifying glass item she chose at the beginning of play, closely inspecting the water in a magic fountain to ensure it wasn't harmful. Also, just for good measure, she had her cat test out the water first.
  • After rescuing the weather fairy, I told them they had completed their quest. They said they wanted to go take on the Ice King anyways, to ensure that he didn't commit any more mischief. They really had it out for the guy!
  • After defeating (knocking out) the Ice King in an epic battle, I asked what they wanted to do with him. Tying a large rock to him and dropping him into a volcano was discussed, but in the end they decided to jail him in the dungeons of the Candy Kingdom - with a hungry grizzly bear as his cellmate for good measure.
We all had a ton of fun, and it's really rewarding to see little kids adding up simple figures, and coming up with creative solutions to challenges. I highly recommend doing this if you have any kids around.

It just so happens that this week is also Teach Your Kids to Game Week, and while I really appreciate the spirit of it, there are a few things about it that I think could be better.
  1. More free games. I've purchased a number of non-free PDFs of "RPGs for kids", and they tend to suffer from a sort of identity crisis. On the one hand, if you're going to charge money for something, there should be some meat to it, with lots of material and options presented. On the other hand, if it's a game for young kids, it needs to be very simple and open-ended. So what you end up with is something that is either too complex to really be a kids' game, or something that is so simple that you feel dumb paying money for it. I certainly haven't seen every offering out there, and I'm sure there are exceptions, but this has been my overall experience with these types of games.
  2. More support articles with stories and tips about playing with kids. It seems like this is not much more than "here are some game PDFs". I think this is easy enough for people that are currently into RPGs, but what about the guy that hasn't played for years and wants to try it out with his kids. There should be some help available for that guy.
So now since I feel mildly uncomfortable about criticizing a thing meant to be good for kids, I hereby offer my payment of the Joesky Tax - a complete list of the resources I used to run my game today, complete with explanations and examples.
  • A few printed copies of my TOON hack character sheet. Game rules included on the sheet. I believe this game to be suitable for any type of adventure gaming one might do with young kids. For any rules not listed on the sheet, make something up that is fun and reasonably fits the situation at hand. That is the key. We honestly barely even used these rules, and could probably get by without any rules at all. You will have way more fun making stuff up as you go than you would going over some list of predetermined options with a child. Don't limit them! Just go with the flow!
  • A pair of six-sided dice for each player. Preferably different colors to make d66 rolls easier.
  • Pencils. Dixon Ticonderoga is preferred.
  • A map of the Land of Ooo. Just looking at this map gives lots of ideas for adventures. Or you could just do a google images search and easily find another suitable map.
  • A magic 8-ball for answering those crazy questions kids inevitably come up with. (Thanks to Jeff Rients for this idea. I've gotten a ton of mileage out of this thing in all my games.)
  • Some story dice. These are just to get your brain moving to help you make stuff up. Playing with kids is all about making stuff up. Our crusty adult imaginations need all the help they can get!
  • Some random charts from the original TOON game, or any other random charts with fun things on them. I don't have anything available to share at the moment, but I'll see if I can get a few scans of some of the charts up on my tumblr in the near future as examples.
As you can see, you don't really need to buy much of anything. The story dice and the 8-ball are totally optional, and if you spend a bit of time beforehand, you can make up your own random charts or find some online. In a pinch, you could even get a little kid's ABC book and flip to a random page to give your brain a starting point. Use toys on the tabletop to play out scenarios if you like. Make up your own clever uses of stuff you have lying around to add a bit to your game. The sky is the limit really, and it's very liberating!

Finally, I think a lot of people fall victim to the idea that kids can't start playing these games until they are 8 or 10 or 12 or something. Nonsense, I say! Sure, they might not be memorizing the AD&D Weapon vs. AC To-Hit Adjustments tables, but that is a far cry from not being ready to enjoy the essential elements of tabletop adventure. Again, just forget about rules systems. Go ahead and even ditch the dice and pencils and paper. Even just a verbal exchange can be a great start.

I now leave you with these awesome character sheets.

Character played by Penelope, age 3
Character played by Bella, age 4
Character played by Sophia, age 6


  1. Surprised this didn't get any comments!

    I've found that using story dice (oddly, purchased at WalMart) has become something of a go-to activity for me in my therapy sessions with kids. You are right in saying that the dice help crusty imaginations but it seems to me the kids are sometimes bound by the concrete images on the dice instead of using them more as "themes". With practice and adult guidance, you could be developing your kids' brains in an awesome "ahead of the curve" manner

    This is a developmental thing and doesn't come easily to many kids until somewhat later. When my spawn arrives in August, I think I will have Adventure Time queued up and ready to watch.

  2. Yeah, the story dice are just for me - to help me come up with adventures on the fly instead of beforehand.

    Your observations match my own as far as prompts for imagination. My oldest daughter has a set of these "story cards", and we use them to make up bedtime stories from time to time. She tends to treat the cards as a be-all end-all sort of thing, rather than a basic idea upon which to build. Sometimes she even goes as far as scolding me when I make stuff up. "That's not on the picture, Daddy!"

    Congratulations on the future baby! Kids are amazing creatures!


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