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[The Great Storybook] Brain dump & early mechanics

Started by daMoose_Neo, September 29, 2006, 03:27:06 PM

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Seems childrens games the thing these days, I'm seeing more and more of them around ^_^
This here is "The Great Storybook", a game I've actually spent the last couple years working on for a licensed property, only to have the deal recently fall through. Thankfully, not *too* much work had been done to incorporate the setting and property, so I still have my core game, and no actual agreements were signed nor my work divulged, so this is all mine. I plan on polishing it up, reworking some of it and putting it out myself as its own title, and we'll see where it goes ^_^
The mechanics are, for the most part, derived from my Imp Game and work on a very free-form level of play, with dice determining a yes or no response instead of D&D-like interpretation (This happened, and was a stellar/excellent/good/satisfactory/weak success). Primary goals of the rules are to encourage imagination, problem solving, and teamwork, which I think this does rather nicely.

Narrators are my "players", as they will be doing the bulk of the storytelling. Each "Narrator" is responsible for a main character in the story, the heroes. The Story Guide is the "Game Master", a parent, adult, or older player who is supervising the game to keep things reasonable- ideally, they'll play out extra characters for the Narrators to interact with, roll for bad guys or other situations, and make sure everyone agrees on things so theres little to no "I shot you!"/"Did not, I got an extra die!"/"Cheater!" type exchanges.
The stories I imagine being played are of the average "quest" stories; a leader asks a brave group to go forth and do something or retrieve a treasure, they have to go through a number of different areas, each of which try the characters patience but they ultimately persevere and reach the end goal. I will say this: I also see this as being the kind of game where the players win, often. There are no HP, no "Death", just setbacks and situations that should encourage creatively thinking of a way out. Less a matter of "if" and more of "When" and "how". At absolute worst, the players do not complete the quest for some reason.

Mechanics are simple: the game uses six sided dice, and several of them. To reduce complications, the basic mechanic will allow the Story Guide to roll X dice as appropriate, and the Narrators to roll X dice as appropriate and compare. Either the Narrator simply has to beat one of the SG's dice, or the highest single die wins (ties in favor of Narrators). For many encounters, it boils down to the highest single die anyway, as the SG will only get one die on average- Bad Guys will allow them to pull in more, however. I'm leaning toward the highest single/ties rule however.
Below is a bit of an overview, some of my notes/summeries on my rewriting:

"Character Creation"
Pick a "job"- what is it that the character does? Is he/she a knight? an inventor? A wizard? A builder? (This is going to generally be setting/era independant, though I'm writing my summaries & playtests with a standard, stereotypical fantasy setting)

Pick a "virtue"-
Honesty - The character is very honest, and knows when others are being honest or not.
Bravery - The character is very brave. This makes his or her friends feel brave too, and can scare away Bad Guys.
Imagination - The character is very imaginative and can find wonder in anything. The character can plan and build things very well.
Friendship - The character can befriend almost anyone, will do anything for a friend, and their friends will do the same.
*Free Spirited - The character is free spirited and fun loving.
*Kindness - The character is very kind to others, and others are kind in return.

(* = These are kind of "odd" for me right now. Kindness replaced one other that, I felt, was more closely tied with the property, but it could be a little too close to "Friendship" in use, whereas Free Sprirted is something else similar to the property, but I'm at a loss for the moment on how to exactly use it outside of the property...)

Starting Out -
All characters start out with a basic supply of items as appropriate to their "job". Knights start out with some regular armor and a sword, wizards start out with a spellbook and wand, inventors and builders start out with some basic tools, etc.

Doing Things -
If a character wants to do something, the Narrator has to first tell the Story Guide what it is they want their character to do, and why they think their character can accomplish the goal. This can be something related to the character's job or it can be related to the character's virtue. If the Story Guide agrees it is something the character could do, the Narrator gets one die for their character. Other Narrators can help, by offering their character's assistance in the same manner; if the Story Guide agrees that the other characters could help in that manner, the first Narrator gets another die for each character that offers to help.
For many normal actions, the Story Guide rolls one die, while the Narrator may roll all of the dice they recieve. After the dice are rolled, the Narrator picks out their highest die. If it is equal to or higher than the Story Guide's die, the Narrator wins the action! If they do not, they lose the action.
In the event of either outcome, the Narrator tells everyone at the table what happens because of the outcome. If the Narrator won, they can tell everyone about the amazing leap over the wall that they made or the forest monsters they scared off. If the Narrator lost, they tell everyone why their action didn't work; maybe a pin came loose on the catapault they were using to throw themselves over the wall or maybe the monsters were scarier than the Narrator thought and weren't scared by the character.

Earning Additional Dice -
Narrators may earn additional dice, on top of the dice they recieve from friends.
- If a Narrator chooses to make the situation more difficult and let the Story Guide roll another die, they get one die they can hold onto for later. Each Narrator can have one such die at any time, no more. This die is a "wild die", and can be used for anything the Narrator wishes, including performing a (reasonable) action the character otherwise couldn't (An amazing feat of physical nature for a knight, as opposed to performing magic) as well as boosting a normal action or helping a friend.
- If a Narrator can tell the storyteller something they know or learned about the situation they are in; such as cave creatures don't like the light because their eyes are used to the dark, the Story Guide may award the Narrator with an extra die.

Bad Guys -
Bad Guys are the opposite of the characters in every way. While the characters value and display the virtues outlined above, bad guys are the opposite.
When a bad guy is in the story, they are under the direction of the Story Guide, who makes all of their rolls and tells everyone what the bad guy does. If a Narrator chooses make a roll against a bad guy, the player can still tell everyone what happens, but if the bad guy wants to do something, the Story Guide tells everyone what happens.
Bad guys don't get help from friends because they have no friends, but if the bad guy can display anything that is the opposite of a virtue, they an earn a die to roll against the players. If a bad guy can lie and be cruel, which oppose Honesty and Kindness, the bad guy gets two dice. If the bad guy is a dragon and wants to breathe fire, they get a die for that too.
Bad guys can also "help" Narrators, by letting them roll an extra die so that they get a die they can use later, just like the Narrators.
To defend against a bad guy, the Narrator has to describe what he or she does. If the dragon is breathing fire, the player can hide behind a rock. If the player is a knight, they can also use their shield for extra protection, giving them two dice.

Ending a Game
This part should be fairly simple: complete the quest in some fashion. If a dragon is "menacing" the countryside, potential outcomes could include defeating the dragon in combat, finding out the dragon is "stealing" cattle because its lonely and wants pets, or whatever else could be thought of- this can go to the D&D end of "beat stuff up & take their loot" (remember, I'm avoiding "killing" in this) or it can go to the fairy-tale end and have some kind of moral or other, "unexpected" outcome.

My last contribution to the finished title is the one I'm the most excited about, which I find kind of funny. Its a collection of tips for different things parents or adults could do with the kids to make the experiance more fun or immersive. IE Going to the park if you're telling a story about being lost in the woods, giving parents the chance to talk about some real things in a real place, with fictional circumsances, or if a character is an inventor, keeping some sketch paper handy for drawing or, for more fun, shoeboxes, construction paper, and other artsy stuff so that they might be able to build a "real" version of their idea. I've also got some simple "science experiments", there's the classics like building houses, castles, pirate ships etc. out of cardboard boxes, and things that are just fun, things parents and kids could do together, and things that could add to the right story.

Now then, I think I have a reasonable grasp here on what I want and what the kids can deal with and what they will like:
- Light system, little reading, what reading is neccesary can be written in simple terms. This allows younger players to pick it up, and even run themselves.
- Freedom. I saw this this year in my Imp Game sessions (at least twice a day, we had a 5-7 year old player!), and Alan used my IG technique in his own runnings of the Big Night last year: kids don't like the word "No." Being able to tell everyone what happens, win or lose, goes over a lot better with the younger kids, keeps the spotlight on them instead of the adult player, and I think it also exercises the imagination more as they have to figure out why something didn't work for them.
- Low prep rules like what I use for my Imp Game means its not a big deal for mom or dad to play a regular game, and the reletively short game play (an hour, maybe an hour and a half to two for a long one?) means its not a huge commitment- just turn off the TV for a bit!

So, my question is: am I off base? Is this too simple, or too time consuming? Is there something (significant, this is just an overview at the moment) I'm missing? Any comments or crits about the system in general are also welcome~
Nate Petersen / daMoose
Neo Productions Unlimited! Publisher of Final Twilight card game, Imp Game RPG, and more titles to come!

Eero Tuovinen

Quote from: daMoose_Neo on September 29, 2006, 03:27:06 PM
Seems childrens games the thing these days, I'm seeing more and more of them around ^_^

Yeah, I have to get mine published soon or be left underfoot!

So, my question is: am I off base? Is this too simple, or too time consuming? Is there something (significant, this is just an overview at the moment) I'm missing? Any comments or crits about the system in general are also welcome~

Well, what age category are we looking at? What you have here seems like it would suit 8-12 year olds perhaps? I'll put up some impressions here:
- Greater situation focus would seem to be warranted. Even if the rules allow for "just adventuring", it would perhaps be good to have a fixed setting and basic situation, even if only a couple of paragraphs long. Something like saturday morning cartoon, perhaps. I'm reminded of Masters of the Universe: there's all these colorful heroes and recurring baddies, and every episode the baddies have some plan that the heroes foil. Just give some names to everything, and it should help everybody orient their expectations better.
- You seem to be surprisingly focused on character job and equipment, so much so that you have rules for them. Is this warranted? I could see the characters having colorful specialties (again, like He-Man: "I am Extendar, I have a neck that stretches!"), but character class and pre-defined equipment seem a tad harsh. Like, are you going to tell a kid that he can't cross the chasm with a rope because he didn't put it in his backbag previously?
- The game is surprisingly unstructured, I think. I guess I could pull off running it, but I don't know if my sister, a non-roleplaying mother, could. Somebody has to create the quest, and ostensibly (you don't comment on this) the SG has to create challenges and opposition for the characters. Is this something that people can just do? How do you ensure that the end-result is healthy and efficient imagination play instead of fiddling at cross-purposes?

I recognize that most of my misgivings would be allayed if the system was within the context of the licenced property, of course. Such a property would certainly orient anybody playing the game to the style and content that the game should have. Perhaps you need to create some setting, situation and characters of your own?
Blogging at Game Design is about Structure.
Publishing Zombie Cinema and Solar System at Arkenstone Publishing.


Hey Eero, thanks for jumping in! Should probably get yours in too,

1) Hm, didn't realize I was so focused on the jobs. Course, this isn't the rules text, so I can still explain my reasoning ^_^ Would a knight have rope? Likely no, but might an inventor? Good chance at that, cause they could use it in their devices.
The idea is less that "Okay, you have X, Y, and Z in your pack." at the start and more "You're a knight, so you have equipment befitting a knight, while you're an inventor, so you'll have a pack of items befitting an inventor." This ties into the explaining of what a character might do: "I want to cross that canyon." "How?" "I'm an inventor, I have some rope in my pack. I could borrow Joey's bow and an arrow and shoot it across to the other side." So, more like that He-Man specialty you're talking about.

2) You're quite right. The "Jobs" and "Class"-like features were intended to be tied to characters in the property.

3) If I do something, I would rather keep it rather generic. "The Kingdom", "The King", "The Village". I do something similar with Imp Game, so I could include similar information about generic fantasy, some generic quests, and even some fun anti-thisis stuff. Read a neat story once about a rather cowardly young knight, a brazen princess and "evil" dragon who really wasn't so evil...interesting & cute story about how "airplanes" first came to be- riding in a giant dragon harness.
I'd say load a section full of generic and not-so-generic ideas, probably go "fantasy" as your average person can pick up on stereotypical features of that, characters, and quests, and let players/story guides hash it out.
Nate Petersen / daMoose
Neo Productions Unlimited! Publisher of Final Twilight card game, Imp Game RPG, and more titles to come!

Eero Tuovinen

You guys got me to write about my own game with all this discussion of children's roleplaying. I hope it proves illuminative.

I'd especially like to draw your attention to how my version of "roleplaying for children" has a firm turn structure and by-default limited options for the players. This is an interesting difference compared to your game and Erik's Magic Backpack, which both seem to riff off an aesthetic of "just playing make-believe". I'm reminded of how Ron Edwards characterized roleplaying at some point: "an ocean of unstructured interaction, with islands of systematic action." This in contrast to boardgames, that tend to the opposite: clearly lineated roads, with waystations on the way providing free interaction within bounds.

The interesting question concerning children's play is: which approach is better? I'm betting on structure myself, because it seems to help with keeping the game focused better. My own early roleplaying experiences were problematic because of lots of cross-purposes actions by the different players most of all, so I guess this is an effort against that. In a no-structure game it seems clear that the authority figure has to provide structure, so you might as well have rules for it.

But, back to your game: do you have a reason for not sharing the name of the property with us? (I'm not bitching, I just don't have a handle on the shark-eat-shark world that is American culture.)  I'm kinda curious, because I've been thinking about mainstream-licences myself now and then. A Moomin roleplaying game is something all Finnish designers joke about, but nobody has the balls to try...

More importantly, I agree with you that the technical aspect of the book is the most interesting one. Is the name "Great Storybook" chosen with this perspective in mind? I can imagine it having some kind of back blurb about how it allows for bilateral storytelling, and the game text itself written with the parent or the nursing professional in mind. Start with the broad strokes of why and how, continue to practical applications and end with the rules. Illustrate with photographs of people playing, like some "How to play tennis" guide. Sounds reasonable to me. That why you shy away from predefined setting, situation and characters?

Even then, I'd include some kind of drama arc mechanics in your stead. For example, you could make it so that all the SG dice except the BG dice come from one big pool that's not replenished, so you know it's time to have the final confrontation when you don't have any dice left anymore. Even such a simple device would do a lot for helping the novice roleplayers fill the SG role.
Blogging at Game Design is about Structure.
Publishing Zombie Cinema and Solar System at Arkenstone Publishing.


Jeez, I guess I better get my kids' rpg off the backburner, too!

Some general thoughts that I've been playing with that might be usable for your game:

Levi Kornelson has been talking about the idea of presenting one core concept per page in a game layout. I think this might be a really useful concept, especially for a kids' rpg, where you are epecting children to read it themselves or for non-rpging adults to be able to pick it up and read it and "get" it. My own thoughts are moving in the direction of a landscape layout with situations ilulstrated within the body of the page, probably using  good bit of illustration.

Mad Libs:
Someone ( Ithink Paka on an rpgnet thread) was recently talking about using random chart rolls to create a character concept, and I've recently gotten a minis pulp game that uses something similar for adventure creation and title creation on the fly. I'm wodering if there could be soemthing similar that would be useful for a kids game, either by filling in the blanks Chinese menu style or even by random rolling, at least to get an adventure started.

Going outside of your character:
From my own experience with my daughter and my own blurry memeories of making up stories with toys as a kid, it seems like the constraint of playing with mainly just a single character is not the norm for non-game roleplaying. Man, that was clunky. What I mean is, it seems more common to play with stuff ( setting, story, situation, other characters) beyond a single character, even where the single character is much favored. That tends to be the opposite of most rpgs. I'm not sure how exactly to deal with that mechanically, but it seems like an important point to consider.

I'm pretty big on the idea of feedback ( warm fuzzies) for bringing interesting stuff ( characterization, plot twists, whatever) into the game. I also like the concept that those fuzzies can be given in a web of player relationships, rather than just between the GM-type and the players.

End Game:
What is the off switch? You guys talked about story arcs and ending the quest. What other ways could be used to indicate that the game was over, at least temporarily. My sort of current chunky solution is simply that everyone gets x number of turns to present a scene and play through it. With two players, each gets 3 scenes, with 3-4 players, each gets 2 scenes. Either way, the play simply moves around the table in a circle. Like I said, primitive but it seems to work so far.

Interaction/involvement of players:
How are you guys approaching the issue of keeping all players involved? My working solution as of now is simply that the person presenting  a scene must have at least one character in the scene for every player playing the game to use. I'm not requiring that each player play a character ( although it would be odd if they didn't), but the core concept is to keep all players involved. At minimum, I'd personally want to get across the "kibbitzing is okay" concept that I believe Vincent Baker has talked about. ( My understanding iof the concept is that it sort of flies against the older style, if your-character-isn't-present the player can't offer advice/suggestions/tactics  style of play of early dungeoncrawling).

Good stuff. I look forward to seeing more about this. Incidently, there is a yahoo group for kids rpgs. I don't know if you guys are aware of it, but it is worth checking out.
Robert Earley-Clark

currently developing:The Village Game:Family storytelling with toys


Well, I've kinda griped aloud on in a discussion with some other lisence-dealers there about how the whole thing went down. It was really annoying - the creator was all for my doing this, but the company that had the toyline was 100% resistant and uncooperative. I got no assistance or information to base any kind of projections on and their agent rejected my offer because the only information I could offer up was for the hobby gaming storefronts. I think a couple folks here know what I was up to, so suppose someone could drop a PM, but I don't feel like sharing after the discussions I've had about the whole ordeal. I'm not happy with the whole mess, but I don't want to shout from the rooftops either. Suffice to say, it was a bum deal. Mainstream is...interesting. Talk with Lee Valentine (Veritas I believe here on Forge) if you want to discuss lisencing- he was a huge help for me in all of this, having recently gone through the same in getting the rights to the Top Cow characters for a CCG of his design.

Regarding "whats best", this one I think will boil down to a matter of preference, just like everyone else regardless of age. As I mentioned, a number of my mechanics/approach come from my Imp Game, which fared well last year at GenCon, but this year we had a rather decent turn out of younger kids, all of which grabbed a hold of the system and ran like the wind with it. Though I will agree, more structure for the younger ones is a good thing. While it wasn't often, focus did become a problem at times for some. I recall one young player, the imps were terrorizing a town, and he said his imp kept "hearing things in the water", and we ended up bringing sharks, tyranasarus rex, dragons, and a bunch of other big beasties into the game. But too, dispite the "Got ya!"/"Did not!" arguements out there, kids generally play very well by themselves with no/little supervision or "rules interactions" so to speak. Theres a fine line I'd think between structure that focuses and structure that hampers/confuses (IE Candyland vs. Risk, in the boardgame category).

Regarding the book, you're right on the money. I walked into the lisencing discussions knowing full well I may not get it, so the design here was designed to work, on the whole, with or without a defined setting behind it. Somethings need tweakage at this point, but otherwise functions fine. Yes, the name "Great Storybook" was chosen with some care- its just befitting, for the most part, and for two it was picked to liken the game more closely with "storytelling" than with "roleplaying", so my actual marketing won't refer to it as an "RPG", but as a childrens storytelling game. The original intent was to take the game through mass market stores and I wanted something to appeal more to your average parent and "RPG/roleplaying" held a couple too many assumptions, the most concern to me dealt with complexity, assumed depth or theatrics, etc. whereas "storytelling" is reletively understandable and packaging/likening it more to bed time stories narrows it down a bit more even. And yes, you even hit the nail on the head there as well, with the product contents ^_^ The book would be written especially for the adult, contain as much helpful material as I could include (cause I do understand mom & dad don't have hours of prep time available to play with bobby for just one hour), and might even include a "childrens" version of the basic rules. If I would have had the property, I certainly would have included the children's version, "character sheets" would have been coloring book pages with spaces to write in their own, unique information, and I'd include a writeup for all of the major characters, places, etc. of the property, written with the kids in mind, so they could or the adult could read aloud and the child would have an easy time grasping (A lot of this is based on my own childhood, my mom doing a lot of reading to me and my brother, playing games, and even the aforementioned silly stuff of building forts out of furniture boxes- I wanted to use this as a chance to show others A) how much fun it really can be and B) how easy it is).
In the end, it is something of an introduction, but too, not all kids dig generic fantasy castles & dragons, etc. Someone might want to be an astronaught, or someone might want to be a super hero, a robot, or some other such. The book would be a guide to the adult on how to use the system to allow the kids to imagine together with some agreed upon basis, but I don't want to weigh down the options the kids have. Even the property I was working on would have allowed significant deviation, even in a "make-believe while playing make-believe" kind of way.
Nate Petersen / daMoose
Neo Productions Unlimited! Publisher of Final Twilight card game, Imp Game RPG, and more titles to come!


I had the other post all composed, so I'll respond to yours now Bob~

- Presentation - Hadn't gotten that far in thinking or layout, but yea, I can see where that is useful. Similar in nature to some school-like work books too, where you have one page thats all addition, one thats all subtraction, and build off that. Has its applications it does. And a big "HELL YEA" to the illustrations- for the adults it makes life easier to see it as well as read it, and for the kids it leaves a visual impression as mom/dad/whomever is explaining it. Works wonders it does. The lisence would have allowed for a lot of such illustrations, now I get to go commission my own ^_^

- Mad Libs - Interesting. I actually use that, to a degree, in my quest generation for Imp's Big Dumb Heroes, wherein you throw together a name, profession, a couple of dangerous sounding places, and a treasure, and there's your quest~ Not so "mad", but the mad-lib philosophy works ^_^

- 2 for 1 - Interaction, characters, and keeping everyone involved: The property was easy to deal with: there were always three, if not more, identifiable, useful, and desirable characters involved in their adventures and quests. My original scheme was to use them as the basis and add as needed for more kids, so there was at least one per kid. Rule was all characters were involved in some way, shape, or form, and players with specific ideas regarding specific characters could direct that character for the action provided it wasn't overpowering everyone else, and that the characters were equally shared. I recall notes in the draft that a guide might allow the characters to cycle out every "chapter" or scene, so that everyone got the chance to shine or play the character they wanted to. Without the property, this could prove a bit different, but the principle is still available. I definetly favor everyone being able to chip in. If everyone is able to chip in on an equal plane, then we solve everything you mention, really, in these two blocks. The primary purpose of the SG is to guide, hence the name, instead of direct. So the players will have a lot of leeway over what they have, can do, etc. as long as some reasonable thought is put into it. All of us at the table asked our monster-hearing youngster why a T-rex would be in the lake and we got a really good explanation of how this T-rex was different, with gills, etc. Little bit later, we did the same (as we did with everyone mind you, asking "And how, exactly, does that work?") for another of his monsters and even he said "Well, no, the monster couldn't do that".

- Feedback and rewards- As for a tangible reward, I'm not quite there yet. Imp uses Poker Chips, which young kids like to go for simply to collect them if nothing else, so having the tangible "I can hold this and it means I can do more than you" currency is a draw. I haven't found anything similar for Storybook. Bonus dice have been floated as an idea, and indeed accepted in making a challenge harder, in which the player making it harder would have to explain why it was so much more difficult than what the guide described. Otherwise, with this playing out similar to the Imp Game, players have a lot of control over what is introduced to the table (again, another reason I'm shying away from a definite setting- even the lisenced property had a lot of undefined traits that left players open to invent). For many of our younger players of Imp, aside from the chips, rewards for them have been simply being able to best mom or dad at something, to introducing something really cool that everyone at the table got into.
As far as relationships, the aiding mechanics should help with that. Again, I see it happen in Imp where two imps happen to be able to riff off of each other and the two do some awesome things one imp cannot. Storybook here somewhat formalizes it, by allowing a player to directly say "I help in this fashion", or even throwing in a hard-won bonus die. A player could roll 4 dice to a Guide's 1 in particular situations with assistance from a single friend, if not more. So, we have players helping one another to overcome particular odds which should help build relationships beyond the "we're traveling together".

- End Game, mechanically - this generic version currently lacks a definite "off switch". You have the "complete the quest", but not sure how to decide when we are there, since we're not mapping out every step like in D&D or other linaer adventure games. Working on that. Eero, if you noted, made a suggestion for a limited pool of Story Guide dice, which is a possibility.
Nate Petersen / daMoose
Neo Productions Unlimited! Publisher of Final Twilight card game, Imp Game RPG, and more titles to come!