[UtB] Under the Bed with Adolescents, pt. 2

Started by Jaakko Koivula, September 22, 2009, 08:54:24 AM

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Jaakko Koivula

Old thread about RPing with adolescents and some thoughts about the first session at http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=28602.0. Wanted to start a new more game-reportey thread for this.

Second session of UtB with the class. Another five students completely new to role-playing and me. This time I had more solid idea on how to pitch the game and explain the rules, which I think helped a bit. The group in general felt a bit more open to the whole idea than the last group. The last group had one or two people who made rather a point of not enjoying the whole business at all, which I think affected the situation quite a lot.

I didn't make nearly any notes about the session, so I won't propably remember that many characteristics etc. I'll still try to run you through the session and not just wonder about extra-gamey stuff this time.

I went a bit more GM this time and pushed through a 4-year old Child and starting situation Lost in the Woods. I wanted to get the story to a more light-hearted and magical direction, instead of toy-powered school bullying.

The Toys were:

  • Me - Mater the tow truck from Cars -movie(perceptive, etc)
  • Nanna - Goofy (passive, faithful, etc)
  • Mick - The Owl from Winnie the Pooh (reasonable, clumsy,etc)
  • Marty - Action Man (Contentious, Obedientetc)
  • Thea - Little My (loving, crazy, etc)
  • Hannah - Jacku (some murdering toy figure from a movie, Im told) (Violent, etc)

We start with the Child Jukka being lost in the woods, trying to find his dog. We go through some conflicts about how Jukka is trying to find the dog and gets track of it. Then it starts to rain so much that the tracks wash off and Jukka is nearly buried in all the falling leaves also. Basic stuff, not that gripping. Jacky -toy is lost in all the mess with the rain and leaves though and Hannah draws a new one: Frankenstein! (Thick, etc.)

Next Jukka gets to a swamp. He has to get over it, but! It has characteristics: You can't get around it and It's getting dark so you have to hurry. (If you know the song Lion Hunt, there's a passage about a swamp there. In the finnish version you can't get around it and you have to go through.) Jukka manages to slosh through in time with the help of Mick's Owl. Owl managed to deduce a reasonably safe path through and to his clumsiness, the mud really wasn't an obstacle. All the mud was just a drop of water in the ocean of his natural clumsiness.

Next Jukka came to a chasm! It's too wide, you can't go around it either! (Again Lion Hunt. It was great when half of the people at the table knew the song and they had so much fun at this point) Marty's Action Man rises to the challenge. Jukka commands him to get over the chasm and he Obediently does so. Surprisingly the player decided, that even though he beat the conflict, he still made Jukka fall in the chasm and break his leg(!).

This was the first time that the Child got stuffing knocked out of him in this game. We had played for quite a while and at this point in the last game the Child had had like ten conflicts about getting beaten up etc. Still, show must go on.

Marty's narrating the next conflict. Jukka needs to get up from the chasm, but it's Really deep and it's slippery because it's raining. Thea's Littly My tries to get out, but fails. Little My gets tossed away and Thea draws a new toy: Piglet (Sad, stupid, etc)

Jukka fails to get out of the chasm, because his leg is hurting so much, but he founds an entrance to a small dark cave. Marty narrates that it's really small so it's hard to get into and that it's also really scary, because it's so dark.

I get to face the challenge. I remember about whining how the toys never do anything (in this game it had been Jukka always doing the stuff too mostly), so I try to play Mater into the narration. He uses Perceptiveness to light up the cave with his front lights. Also he Disobeys Jukka and drives into the cave already, even when Jukka is still wondering if he dares to go in or not. Anyways, in they go.

I narrate: Jukka goes down the cave and it just keeps going downwards and downwards. Oddly, it doesn't get any darker at all. Suddenly he bumps into a large cavern, with some seven dwarves mining away happily. The guys are about the size of the 4-year old Child and get really jumpy about a human barging in on their mine. They are suspicious and surprised. Thea's Piglet seems so Sad that the dwarves pretty much cave in and decide that Jukka is no threat.

Thea narrates that Jukka wants to dwarves to heal his leg. Dwarves cock it up, because they just couldn't rise to the challenge or something, can't remember this conflict that well. Jukka decides to carry on deeper into the cave and leave the dwarves mining behind. Jukka is having trouble, because his leg is still hurting like a bitch and some other problem.

Mick's Owl clumsily bumps into everything and accidentally knocks Jukka's leg back in to place. It was just dislocated or something after all! Nice. Then Jukka runs into an elevator!

(Mick had a hard time to come up with anything. He is really, REALLY, quiet boy in general and for example, didn't say anything during the game when it wasn't his turn. But after you presented the narration to him in small pieces: "what's the next thing he sees? What direction does the elevator go?" he actually managed to cough up pretty nice stuff.)

Elevator takes him upwards, over the clouds. There he sees an aeroplane. Jukka needs to get into it, but the Door to the plane is locked and he hasn't got the key and the Doors of the elevator are really slow and the plane is passing him already.

Action man spring to action. Man! Jukka commands the Action man to do his bidding again and Action Man decides to forgo searching for a key and instead rips the door of the plane. Jukka enters the plane and finds it empty. After running out of fuel, he makes a successfull emergency landing onto a field.

Another muddy field, goddamn. Marty narrates that Jukka needs to get out of the field, but It's been such a long day and he's tired and It's really muddy. Can't remember who beat this challenge, but Jukka manages to get out and finds

Jaakko Koivula

(Right, accidentally clicked post. Thought I lost the whole post for a while. Learned my lesson, will write this in notepad and just paste it when it's ready, goddamn)

Jukka managed to get his way out from the field and finds a cottage. It's getting dark, so he decides to stay there for the night. But it's also really scary. Can Jukka make it through the night okay? He is Home-sick and the House if really moldy and rotted and might collapse at any moment.

Nanna's Goofy is so Happy that a little home-sickness doesn't mean anything. Jukka is also faithful to his lost dog, that he is out to find, so he has to make it through the night etc.

Nanna managed to beat the conflict, but at this point we ran out of time.

All in all, this session left me feeling pretty nice. People participated and the Child didn't get manhandled nearly at all during the story. I think this is a bonus and definately something I'll go after in the next game also.

The students seemed rather enjoying themselves this time around, which was really great. Wednesday is the last group of students, we'll see how it goes.

Jaakko Koivula

Oh, and forgot to mention that all the names have been obviously changed.

Jukka was Jukka, though.

Joshua A.C. Newman

I look forward to seeing how future sessions play out.

What do you think the effects of the spoilsports were?
the glyphpress's games are Shock: Social Science Fiction and Under the Bed.

I design books like Dogs in the Vineyard and The Mountain Witch.

Jaakko Koivula

Agh, glanced through my own writing and it's pretty horrible. Want editing back. But oh well.

Tonight's another session, will be writing a report on it tomorrow then propably.

Im not really sure how much the spoilsports really spoiled the sport for others also. In general the second group had a lot more accepting attitude towards the game, than the first. Which was a bit surprising really.

Even though some of the first group's spoilsports had propably told them that it would be stupid and boring, they still came to the game interested and tried to participate. The second group had maybe better team spirit to begin with. In addition, the second group had some very extroverted, barrels of fun -type type of people in it, who kept the situation jovial even when the game itself wasn't progressing that fast.

In the first group you pretty much lacked these clowns and instead had one person who pretty much looked offended that they had to participate.

That didn't wreck the session completely for all of the participants, but I still think that it had a surprisingly big, if subtle, impact on the atmoshpere. Didn't realize it at the time, but looking back I think that it really had. Got to be alert for this kind of behaviour in today's session and try to catch it in time. Remind the players that it's only up to them how much fun we all will have and all that :)


Interesting, I note this time you had both more engaged players and took more initiative for setting up the situation. I wonder if that would have helped with the last group, or whether letting them shift it more was actually what allowed them to keep playing. Bizarrely it sometimes seems to me that the players who are less engaged with the setting often create more detailed starting situations, perhaps because they have a specific overlap between the their interests and the game.

The lower age probably helped in another respect too, in that if people want to play a character closer to their own capacities, they will focus more on making the toys dynamic and active, because they can't reasonably get the child to do it. In that sense the empathy baseline might be more trying to look after their younger brother/sister when having been shrunk rather than imagining themselves surrounded by the toys.

Jaakko Koivula

I think that taking more initiative helped the players to grasp the game and actually start playing more easily. With experienced role-players you can get away with just explaining the rules quickly and expecting that everyone will start narrating like hell. It might even work.

With these guys it was a completely new situation and an experience and they had heard that it would be silly and nerdy etc. etc., so I guess they just would have needed more time to warm up than what I gave them at the first session. I should have tried to prepare them better, I guess. Might've helped, or then not.

But at least I think I got it nailed in the last session yesterday! And boy, it went well! I actually just plain enjoyed the game. No buts, no even ifs. It was simply a pretty nice game of UtB.

I again used a bit more time to give examples of play and emphasised the point that it would be completely up to them how much fun they would have during the session. I think this was actually pretty important. The players actually guessed why I said this and that some people from the first session had had some attitude problems.

I have crappy notes again, so Im just writing up the story and then offering some meta-game info or observations at times.

Anyways, we had a 5-year old Child called Kalle. I again went for a younger kid. Not sure if this group would have had the juvenile delinquent -problem, but played it safe.

The toys:
(clever, gentle, x)
  • Johanna - Dinosaur-plushie (violent, passive, peaceful)
  • Teela - Witch-doll (treacherous, determined, stubborn)
  • Fiona - toy-gun (disobedient, x, x)

Started narrating again by getting the Child lost in the woods. Their kindergarten was having a trip to the small forest nearby, but Kalle had seen a rabbit and decided to go after it. Kalle Cleverly makes a trap for the rabbit and then Gently lures him into it (Jack). Kalle spots a deer, decides that the rabbit isn't interesting after all and bolts after the deer. The forest is really thick so following the deer is difficult, but Kalle still manages. While hunting, Kalle finds his way into a clearing.

At the clearing Kalle finds a bear! Or bear finds Kalle. A wrestling match ensues. Kalle tries to fight the bear off by scaring it with the toy-gun, but the bear still grabs Kalle and lugs him into her cave. The bear had lost her cub earlier and now she took Kalle as a replacement, simple. Kalle is being watched closely at the bear's dark cave, but Barbie-doll bedazzles the bear with her beauty and creates a diversion for Kalle to escape.

Kalle unfortunately cocks it up and the bear eats the Barbie-doll. I get a new toy: http://www.made-in-china.com/image/2f0j00PeZQVMLshacDM/Speaking-Plush-Toy-Beagle-Dog.jpg. I had cowardly and then some dog-like characteristics and that picture is actually exactly like I imagined the toy to look like.

(I've decided that the person who starts the game by narrating the first conflict, also gets to solve a conflict on the first turn. Not sure what the rules say about this. I just think that it's pretty harsh that you could potentially have to wait 15 conflicts before you get to play again at all, if you get really unlucky with the hat and all the others beat their conflicts on the first round.)

Next Kalle tries to sweet-talk his way out of the cave. The bear Really needs to be loved and also Has a horrible migraine at the moment, so it is rather difficult though. But Kalle prevails and sneaks out while the bear is sleeping his headache off. Kalle wanders around in the forest for a bit and finds a rather dodgy-looking cabin. Kalle knocks on the door and the stakes of the conflict are if a nice or a nasty person opens the door.

(This got sort of meta-gamey. The toy and the Child obviously couldn't affect directly what kind of person would open the door, so the conflict was played nearly directly for the narration rights. The characteristics were used in more general sense and more about how they would fit into the story and less about what the toy was actually doing right now. This was pretty nice actually, as I had had a long talk about how we're creating a story together and big part of the game is just about playing for narration rights and who gets to take the story forward into his/her direction. Didn't realize it at the time and was wondering if this was a "good" UtB conflict etc., but it actually just was really in line with what I had been telling them about the game earlier. Nice!)

A nice old lady opens the door. She's really nice and asks Kalle to come inside and offers milk and cookies.. but she wasn't nice after all! The cookies are poisoned! Stakes: Will Kalle eat the cookies? Characteristics: Kalle is super-hungry already and The old lady seems really nice.

Happily Kalle had his witch-doll with him. Treacherous witch realized that the old lady was an evil witch also. Kalle on the other hand was so Determined, Stubborn and Strong that he didn't care about any wimpy poisons, but wolfed down the cookies any way. Then he nicely thanked the old lady for the cookies, took some for later and left the cottage. (This was just pure gold, brilliant :)

Soon Kalle met another kid from the kindergarten who had also got lost. Together they decided to hitch-hike a lift towards city. A greasy, smelly truck-driver picked them up. He locks them in the cabin, but the guys manage to escape when he stops at an ABC gasoline station and accidentally leaves the door open. The kids run like hell, but it's never a good idea to go running on the motor-way in the dark.

They nearly get run over by their friend's mother, but she manages to stop in time. The mother still didn't see who the kids were and Kalle ain't sure if he wants to get into that car. Even though he knows that she's Lotta's mother, Kalle has never liked Lotta. And the mother looks somehow dangerously giddy, Kalle's not sure what's up. Still Kalle and Pasi climb into the car and hope for the best.

(at this point Fiona had 4 tokens, and the game was obviously heading for an ending)

New round starts and the stakes of the next and final conflict are: Will Kalle get safely home? The characteristics: There's deers on the road and Lotta's mother is really tired. Fiona gets to solve the conflict. The deer-king was chasen by Kalle earlier in the forest and was so shaken about the whole deal, that he told the rest of the deer to stay put tonight, so there isn't any deers on the road, hooray!

On the other hand, even though Kalle makes a horrible racket, disobediently turns up the car-stereo and faithful to his horrible personality, shoots around in the car with his BB-gun, Lotta's mother still falls asleep on the wheel. The car goes tumbling into the ditch and an ambulance soon arrives.

(Fiona lost the roll and everyone was visibly shocked. All were ready for the ending, but it still didn't happen. We were soon running out of time and people were obviously more interested in wrapping the story up in satisfying way than about who would win. I agreed that the next conflict also should be "final". Not sure if the players realized that the rules had been bent a bit or if they just didn't care. There was so much concensus sloshing in the room that we should get the story to a nice ending, that there really wasn't any chance of us doing anything but final conflicts at this point)
Same stakes, but this time Kalle is really dubious about grown-ups in general. He has met stupid bears, stupid witches and stupid mothers for the whole day, so he isn't sure if he can trust an ambulance driver. Also Kalle has a bad reputation. He has pretty much been a horrible brat for the whole day and the ambulance staff ain't sure if they dare to get him on board.

The Witch-doll manages to smooth things out. Fooling the ambulance staff is easy and Kalle has had such a day, that at this point he really just doesn't care about anything. He has been kidnapped by a bear, fed poisoned cookies and driven into a ditch, so damn it all, he just wants to get home right now (stubborn, determined, strong, etc, nice usage of characteristics here).

Kalle climbs into the ambulance and goes to grow up to be a Stubborn, Determined, Strong and a Treacherous man. Propably a politician or a lawyer, as the guys at the table said.

Jaakko Koivula

I must say, that this game was really interesting and fun. We made a nice story and looking back, I realize all the weird and funny stuff that went on in the game, that I didn't realize at the table.

For example, what's the deal with Lotta's mother being somehow oddly happy and giggly while on the wheel? The Child is obviously taken aback by that, but it never really got mentioned what it was that made the mother so giddy. Then next it was toned down to her just being really tired.

I mean, all basic child-hood lessons are in there:

"Hitch-hiking will get you molested by a truck driver"
"Never take candy from a stranger"
"If you behave badly, everyone in the world will know and it will come haunting you" etc.

And I've got a feeling that this sort of stuff is something that UtB is supposed to be all about :)


Interesting, cool how someone seems to have put in veiled drunk driving, and it led to a crash. Maybe not a childhood lesson though!

Another interesting thing I noticed is that the "danger" stays regardless of the success in defeating it. I wonder if this is because of the concrete way that avoiding it has to be done; you don't just roll to avoid, you find a tendency that can mitigate the situation, and so it somehow retains it's force, rather than being wiped away.

I notice you got very in-fiction on this one, but how did these players interact? Did you find they were doing things differently/more confidently?

Jaakko Koivula

Yeah, realized that I wrote this one pretty completely from the story's point of view. Im thinking that it was because this time the story was actually interesting and everyone was really building it together. So it would have felt sort of unfair to write it up in terms of "Jack threw 4, 3 and 7 and beat the conflict. Next stakes were..." etc. I guess there's some middle ground there, but haven't found it yet.

Player interaction is a actually rather difficult question here. I think that we actually had less player interaction than in the other games, but more group interaction. Trying to explain it better:

There was less individual players trying to help another player come up with stuff to say, than in the previous games for example. Instead, everyone seemed invested in the story and sort of worked as a whole better. More macro-interaction, less micro? This might have been, because the players were more confident as a whole. No-one needed so much personal coaching and the game just flowed more evenly.

And Im not really sure where that confidence came. In this group we had one person who had done live-action role-playing before, so she pretty much knew what was up. But otherwise I was actually pretty scared about the last group, as I realized that I've put some very quiet and potentially spoil-sporty people in it. Then it just worked beautifully and I have no idea why. Maybe I really managed to pitch the game better and explain the rules more clearly, maybe the LARPper helped to set the mood more accepting towards the game, or maybe by freak chance we just had a bunch of latent RPGers at the table.

Propably it's a sort of mix of me getting better in selling the game and all the other reasons and the stars just aligning right that day.

And yeah, it was curious how often the danger in the conflict wasn't really negated or solved even when the toy won. Often it was just scaled down to survivable levels or the Child managed to weather the effects, rather than beating the odds and removing the opposition completely. I think it has something to do with the stronger story again. The Child was a little kid from kindergarten, so it would've been silly if he had wrestled bears into submission or stopped cars by punching them with his Strong hands or something. We had pretty subdued and symbolic use of toys again, so they couldn't pull of any deus ex machina -type of saves either. So solving the conflicts became more surviving and making the best of them, rather than making it all better.


Damn that rpg magic, it's always in the background when it works!

I think I know what you mean about it being less player based; it's a bit like the QCD/string theory dualism; when everyone is doing their own thing, or bumping into each other with defined roles it's easiest to talk about people interacting with clearly delineated borders. When everyone's blurring and bleshing and collaborating it's easiest to talk about the distinct patterns of interaction as the main thing.

After your experience of playing, any overarching specifications for teenagers become apparent? Or was it all too variable? Obviously that's completely backwards to the way you were doing things, but I thought it might be an interesting insight nonetheless.

Jaakko Koivula

Not sure if I follow, specifications for teenagers? Do you mean on how to game with them? It was rather variable, and can't say if I can offer any insight into teenage-gamers in general.

I think the single largest thing in this exercise, was that actually no-one had RPGed before. And I hadn't run any demo-games ever, either. So I had to learn how to pitch the game, explain the rules and then guide the game enough, so it kept moving, even when the players had no idea what was up. Even when the game was supposed not to have a single GM, I had to keep poking the story forward a bit I think.

I think that the fact that the gamers were teenagers really didn't affect the game itself that much. Older people could play a different kind of game, but then, all different groups play different kinds of games. I think the age of the players really didn't matter much, after all. UtB will most propably look really different if you play it with 7-year old children, or with 40-year old game designers, but Im guessing that it would work nicely in both cases.

Again, not sure if I got the question right, so just sort of rambled, sorry :D


Fair enough, I was vaguely hoping that with your new experience you could answer the question you started with. Both for future people who might wonder the same thing, and because I find that kind of reflection is a nice way to become aware of your own learning.

What do you think you learned most during this game, the intro bit?

Jaakko Koivula

Ah, ok.

Atleast I learned a ton about running UtB. First and foremost. Now Im sort of confident that I could get solid gaming out of that game most of the time. Which is already quite great.

About roleplaying and adolescents put together, Im not that sure. Roleplaying is a great hobby but it's really dependant on how fun you allow it to be for yourself? Naturally there's also skill involved and some people are more natural at telling stories and/or enjoying them. I think that the main stumbling block still is the teenage-tendency of not wanting to have fun when someone else is seeing, if you're not drunk. Especially if you are doing something geeky.

So that would be the first thing I'd try to consider next time I would try to game with a bunch of non-RPGing adolescents. On how to make the situation safe enough for all to throw themselves into the game, how to tackle the spoilsports, how to "reward" having fun, etc.

If you get all that right, I see no insurmountable difficulties about running most games with teens and it working ok. Sort of have to force/nudge the players to accept a game-friendly social contract, before anything else can happen.

...that looks actually pretty damn obvious when you put it like that. Oh well!


Quote from: Jaakko Koivula on October 12, 2009, 07:02:39 AM
I think that the main stumbling block still is the teenage-tendency of not wanting to have fun when someone else is seeing, if you're not drunk. Especially if you are doing something geeky.

I'd say that "being geeky" is pretty close to the core of that; I've seen so many teenagers stand at the side of a field obviously wanting to play football, but not being willing to in case someone ridicules the game. If a group of adults walk up and start playing football, then they may well join in, or look grumpy and jealous!

Not to get too psychological, but many teenagers are scared to commit to something because it could get laughed at and so by association they could, that "over-engagement" fear is a big part of why people don't like being creative or express strong love for stuff. In my experience the dichotomy "geeky vs cool", focuses mainly on the ability to restrain yourself, and mixes people's fear of committing to stuff with what they are learning about self control/smooth efficiency. Drunkness is an excuse, it's like privacy mode on a web browser, "none of what you do will be personally linked to you"!

Now how to make that insight useful? Well I have seen times when people start playing football and those two effects happen simultaneously; some join and some mock, and those who join look to the adults to respond to the mocking. I've seen a number of different responses to this, from parents, big brothers, trained youth leaders and myself, and I've seen a few different responses.

Ignore the criticism as if it doesn't exist, which doesn't really help the kids justify their current activity to themselves,

Devalue the mockers opinion to the people playing, by bigging up the game or just pointing out that the mockers are getting nothing out of it, (this can lead to issues if the person isn't able to leave, or has no-where to go as they will notice that no-one is taking them seriously and likely escalate their interference)

"Sell" the game to the mockers, which often doesn't work if they are disengaged for other reasons too (like they can't do it very well and are worried about looking unskilled and childlike)

Or just suggest they go off and do something else, sometimes by reverse psychology if they are being particularly combative. (tricky!)

An extra solution I just came up with is to suggest to the kids that joined that they are just mocking to have something to do, and encourage people to let them get on with it, which is sometimes similar to the second, but at the best times a mix of the second and fourth approaches. Most people I've seen do a mix of these actually.

Once you do get them involved, as I'm sure you know, whatever you do don't make too many (if any) personal inferences from how they are playing! That's like a gunshot in a bouncy castle. (Everything deflates and people scrabble around to work out who was wounded)

I'd also say it's often more about legitimising having fun rather than rewarding it, but if you can get them to chase a trail of carrots and it helps, then go for it!