Trollbabe: a six-year old plays Story Now

Started by droog, June 09, 2008, 08:51:05 AM

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Hi, all. I'd like to report on the game of Trollbabe I have recently been playing with my daughter, who I'll call Jemima (since that's her name). She is seven in July, and for several years I've been pondering whether I ought to introduce her to RPing or not.

I should say that my primary aim in this game is not my own pleasure. It is an exploration of how a child can enjoy structured collaborative storytelling, and an opportunity for me to spend time with my child and possibly have conversations about values. As it happens, I have had some fun, but it's not uppermost in my mind.

The first of my games Jemima ever took notice of, a couple of years ago, was TB. She asked me what it was, and when I said it was a sort of game she asked if she could play one day. I said she could, as you do. Eventually she was able to read and asked me once again about the books and the funny dice. So I decided that I would give it a try and set about choosing a game.

For various reasons I settled on The Princes' Kingdom, but it was a bit too complicated in the dice game when we tried chargen and the first struggle (though she did enjoy the process of collaborative imagination). Also, I was hoping to get her mother to play, but she was busy with study. So after a week or two of waiting, I decided to try TB.

I hadn't used TB from the beginning for one big reason: my wife is uncertain about the cover. She understands the levels involved herself, but was concerned that Jemima might interpret it problematically (are we teaching our child cheesecake?). Personally, I think that accusations of cheesecake in TB are in the eye of the beholder, and I'll point to my daughter's chr as an example.

I know that Ron made this game for 'the gamer girlfriend', but I wonder if he realised that he was also making a great game for a little girl. Jemima had very little trouble with the concept and took only five minutes to finish her chr.

"You don't play a child in this one. You play a grown up woman with horns. Like that."
"You have to play a girl in this one. You can't play a boy."
"That's good!"

I'll note that J's fantasy influences at this stage are probably mostly Disney and Studio Ghibli, but that she has also read an eclectic mix of children's classics (Tove Janssen, Maurice Sendak, Paul Biegel, E. Nesbit, Andrew Lang and various others). She recently read The Hobbit with my help and she is starting in on the Narnia books. So I'm interested in seeing what comes out of this mish-mash, and TB presents a good template for her to project her ideas.

This is the character she created:

Number: 4

Fighting 1-3 (Athletics)
Magic 5-10 (Troll magic)
Social 1-4 (Perky)

Equipment: A patch of magic collie fur; a small white china cat.
Appearance: Curly brown hair, silver sparkly horns, a pink dress with real leaves growing out of it, red shoes with black soles and a curve at the front.

She decided to start the game in Witten's Holm, and we agreed to play again soon. By the way, Ron, this is just compulsive simminess, but where the heck is the Witten's Holm map located on the larger world map? I can't place it with any certainty...or is that the point?

AKA Jeff Zahari


For a few days I put Jemima off when she asked me about playing TB, but eventually she caught me at the right time and we sat down to play.

It started a bit wrong. I presented J with the sample situation in the book about a troll who is kept as a sideshow freak. But she was apparently overwhelmed by the situation and couldn't decide what to do. So I segued to a walk in the mountains, thereby bending the rule that says that a trollbabe is supposed not to leave the adventure. Instead she got a new adventure: a white cat crossed her path running from hunters.

It's probably a no-brainer that a six-yr-old girl will choose to help the little white cat (and Jemima said he looked like her china cat). Structurally the game then consisted of three major conflicts: getting past the hunters, getting past a patrol of the chief's men, and stopping the chief and his men from taking the cat-boy from his village after tracking them back. It wasn't planned that way, but that's how it evolved between us.

The conflict system worked simply and intuitively each time, and I suppose it might have been a good thing for her first time that she won each conflict. I simplified things still further where necessary. I chose to gloss over the rule about snap-shot magic in order to simplify J's choices in the conflicts. I've also kept it to one roll per series by default for the time being.

In the end she turned the bad guys to lumps of rock (with a green wind) and saved the cat-boy and his village, which was great fun for me. She wanted to play again immediately. But – most interestingly for me as a parent – she then asked me if we could return to the story about the troll in the cage.

"Can we play the one with the troll in the cage? I know what I want to do. I'm going to let it out if it promises not to eat people."

"That's a great idea, but let's wait until we play to talk about it. It'll be more fun that way."

AKA Jeff Zahari

Ron Edwards

Hi Jeff,

I am awed & honored.

Also, as I play with my eight-month-old daughter, I realize that she is, apparently, already a little trollbabe, so I need to be prepared.

I think your flexibility about the scenario in question is totally appropriate, especially since Jemima wants to return to the original proposal.

I'm interested in your wife's current reactions, if any.

The bottom map on page 6 was drawn without reference to the other maps, and so slotting it into the world map is a matter of interpretation. This was sort of on purpose, and I like the way it worked out to provide a bit of ambiguity about the maps in general. I usually interpret it to be located on the northwestern corner of the continent that includes Utgarth.

Best, Ron


Ho there, Ron.

My wife seems to have lost her misgivings after seeing that Jemima had made over the visualisations in her own image: Leafsparkle could be out of some kid's cartoon. Now we discover what happens when Vaughn Bodé meets Hayao Miyazaki.

When we returned to the captive troll (and I'll note that I've kept it light on names since J doesn't remember them easily), I framed the scene at the 'circus'.

"Have you got a picture of it?"

"No, you'll have to imagine it."

"I can! There's a big tent."

She got excited when I told her that Leafsparkle was taller than everybody else in the line, and got up and towered over me. But she told me not to do funny faces and voices because they made her laugh. "Daddy, you don't have to say what they actually say!

Briefly, Leafsparkle had a conversation with the troll and found she didn't eat people, saw a two-headed freak glaring at her, and decided to return that night. But Two-Heads was lying in wait, and the conflict system came out again. I now introduced the idea that magic was too slow for this situation, and J decided to go with Fighting.

This time, she failed the initial roll and a re-roll. I like the way TB gives the player a narrative bone here, and J took to narrating her failures easily. The re-roll system seems to work very well for her thinking; in fact she said she wanted to roll again before she knew it existed. She almost gave up at the second failure, but decided to try again and came up a winner. J likes her flashy magical effects--she set the poor two-headed bloke on fire with a Remembered Spell.

I had intended to play again last weekend (L is off to the volcanic islands in the corner of the map), but other things got in the way. But J is keen. She asked me: "What happens when we play all the stories in the book?"

"Then you make up more."

"You mean you can make up anything you like?" She wondered visibly at this.
AKA Jeff Zahari



I want to thank for the inspiration.  I've started my three children roleplaying and while it isn't difficult to engage the two boys in Star Wars, my little girl isn't as excited.  She still enjoys it, but her excitement level isn't quite as high as the boys'.  I had forgotten all about Trollbabe.  I'll dig up my copy and see how she responds. 

I like the cat idea, maybe I'll incorporate something similar for her. 



We played again yesterday. I'd like to report on it because the system threw up something that I hadn't expected yet.

Leafsparkle made land on Frostfire Island and found that the people were all going to a town meeting. At the meeting, they discussed various things and asked the visitor about herself. Then one man asked L. for help. It seemed his old granny was refusing to move into town, and the family were very worried about her as the trolls were becoming problematic (Ron may recognise this as a suggestion he once made). So L. said she would help by casting a spell to make the old woman want to move.

Off she went to the old woman's cottage, and tried talking to her first. The crone angrily said that she wasn't going to move. So J. decided to return at night and cast the spell from a distance.

Here I decided to throw in a complication: a troll was stealing some goats. So J. tried to stop it. She rolled on Fighting and rolled a 9. Then she re-rolled, got another 9, and decided to let the troll go.

So she began a magic ritual to make the old woman leave. She rolled a 2. Definitely injured here. I suggested that the magic was doing strange things to her head and she accepted that. She decided to go one more throw, and pulled in the cat-boy as a sidekick. Another 2!

So she passed out, and woke tied up in the troll lair, with them discussing the human problem. Then they left and she got free of the bonds. She returned to the scene of the ritual to find the cat-boy lying there.

When I said that she found the cat-boy lying on the ground her eyes went very, very wide. When I said that he seemed to be dead, she hid most of her face behind the coffee table. I felt a wrench. Very carefully I asked her about whether Leafsparkle felt sad "Yes." "Do you feel sad?" "Yes."

Anyway, L. tried her ritual again, and rolled 9. Thus the old woman decided to move back into town. I asked Jemima whether she thought that was okay.

"Of course it is. At least she's safe now."

"Do you think it's better to be safe or happy?"

"It's better to be safe! At least she won't get eaten by trolls."
AKA Jeff Zahari

Arturo G.

Was J. aware of the consequences of failing a re-roll using the cat-boy when she was injured? It seems she was surprised to find him dead.


Hi, Arturo. No, Jemima didn't know. I take full responsibility for that, as it was an issue of trying not to drown her with rules and procedures. Whether it would actually have stopped her from using the cat-boy, I don't know.

She has read several books, most recently The Hobbit, in which principal characters die. I can't decide whether it's a salutary lesson or not.
AKA Jeff Zahari

Ron Edwards

I think the foundation of love and caring that's already evident in your posts is sufficient to support what happens in the game, and how it'll be processed.

I'll save other points for private correspondence if you're interested, Jeff.

Best, Ron


I would be interested in whatever you have to say, Ron. You might like to know that Jemima asked me about playing again today, so evidently it hasn't put her off.
AKA Jeff Zahari