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46709 Posts in 5588 Topics by 13299 Members Latest Member: - Jason DAngelo Most online today: 71 - most online ever: 843 (October 22, 2020, 11:18:00 PM)
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Author Topic: Looking For Structure - These Kids Need A GM!  (Read 5886 times)

Posts: 99

« on: May 05, 2008, 01:23:59 PM »

So, I’m not really sure where I want to go with this…maybe I just need a chance to de-compress.

Had my “nephews” over this weekend (the children of our friends, who we watch when their parents are out-o-town).  The kids are boys, aged 14 and 10, healthy and active in sports and used to playing a lot of video games (they each have portable consoles, which they didn’t bring, and then they have a Wii , an Xbox 360, and a couple other consoles).

Anyhoo, they really like coming over because my wife and I are super fun and own so many “cool games.”  This weekend, I figured I’d get a chance to expose them to a few more of those wacky RPGs (they’ve previously played InSpectres, and liked it so much they purchased it).

It turned into a bit of a marathon.  In between play time with the dog, eating, and going to see Iron Man, and the mandatory Warhammer 40K battles, we had a chance to play (in order):

Once Upon a Time
“Grave and Watery” (from Pantheon)
Capes Lite

All these games have a mix of narrative and gamist creative agendas.  All these games have strong drama and resource/karma elements…Capes is the only one that uses dice.  I thought that I had them timed in kind of an evolutionary order (from most free form to most rules crunchy).

It was a rough haul.

My brother sat in for the Once Upon a Time session; he had never played the game and I had only played the game once (a 3 minute game in which one player simply emptied his hand in a rapid fire fashion…in other words, an unsuccessful session).  Our game went pretty good, with everyone getting a chance to add to the story and hilarity often ensuing. In terms of a cohesive story, it seemed tough to pull it all together, with me doing much of the “structuring,” trying to narrate disparate elements into a cohesive whole.  An example might suffice:

-   Adam, age 32: “There once was a THIEF who lived in a far-off kingdom. The thief had fallen in love with the beautiful PRINCESS.  But the king did not want the two to be together and was HINDERING THEIR LOVE.”
-   Spencer, age 10: (interrupts Aspect) and so the thief ran away to look for a FAERY that could help him.  But what he instead found was a vicious WOLF that chased him and bit his arm off!  So he decided to go hide in some RUINS.
-   Zach, age 14: (interrupts Place) and in the ruins he finds A DOOR. Behind the door is an ENEMY.  And the enemy happened to be an evil PRINCE, and now he was going to kill him.
-   Me: (interrupts Character) You see the reason why the prince was his enemy is that  the thief was actually the brother of the prince…triplets had been born to the Queen of [random name] but she had given away two of them as she felt she would only able to raise one child. Gill, the youngest child was given away to a circus and may not come into this story again, but Bill,, the now-one-armed-thief was the oldest child of the triplets.  The prince alone, being raised by the king and queen, knew the whole story and realized that as the 2nd son he would stand to lose everything if the eldest heir came forward. This is why he had chosen this moment to strike. (SOMETHING IS REVEALED)

I should note that during my narration I would throw in lots of different things in case someone had a card that could interrupt me.  But I was also trying to tie the disparate elements together and give an “out” to our one-armed friend should he ever try to get back with the original princess.  Honestly, I don’t remember how the story ended…I do remember the two brothers making nice and going into the boat-building business together, but there were no trees or something.  It was fun and funny, but that’s about it.

Grave and Watery was just me and the kids. Zach, wise to the convention of the genre, decided to choose Jodie (the female sub pilot and 2nd in command) figuring he was most likely to survive, though his initial impulse was to take the Navy Seal (he wanted to go in locked and loaded).  I chose Ted the scheming corporate exec because I figured he would be fun to play (like Paul Reiser in Aliens). Spencer took Gordy because he likes the engineer characters.

It took us a few rounds to get into the “one turn, one sentence, include your character” turn order, but once we got the hang of it, it was pretty easy.  Knowing what we were playing towards (as far as genre, endgame) added structure to the narrative but our roadmap for getting there was a bit bumpy.

Here again, the kids seemed to follow my lead, which makes me feel responsible for too quick of a reveal for the monster.  I narrated hearing something skittering in the shadows and engineered the death of the Navy Seal in my 3rd or 4th turn…however, once that happened the monster(s) had visible screen presence in every turn from then on. The other NPCs all died pretty quickly (and in gory fashion) without anyone bidding to save them.  In retrospect, I suppose I could have thrown out some more challenges to push the creature back into the shadows (as had been my original attention…just a silent stalker) and prolong the scenario, but once they started getting guns from the armory, I figured it was just a matter of time.  Plus everyone was having fun blowing holes in things.

In the end, Jodie ended up killing herself (I think Zach was getting tired) rather than letting the creatures kill him. Gordy died after a pretty vicious bidding war that had the ghost of Zach still contributing beads. I ended up getting to narrate a 4-5 sentence resolution that somehow allowed my character to escape with the creature, only to be killed or assassinated later by my own company.

The point scoring was pretty low, for all of us.  Zach and Spencer missed most (if not all) of their character specific bonuses; getting caught up with survival they didn’t really play towards the story.  Again.

Finally, we played Capes Lite which has already been posted on the Muse of Fire forum.  Here it became readily apparent that a diet of video games, while good for the imagination, doesn’t do much towards the independent formulation of goals.  I created the first goal “Vainglory Kills the Hostages.” Zach had the goal “Tony Stark gets a girlfriend.” Spencer created the goal “Vainglory dies.”  The hostages did end up being saved and my villain (“Vainglory”) did end up dying.  But tying abilities to narration and applying them to how it affect the goal...well, it was a bit of a stretch for the kids.  I got a lot of “I use super strength to hit him! Again!”  My character was a lost cause, and I played strategically and ended up getting four story tokens despite being double-teamed…but since we only had the chance to play one scene, this was small consolation.

I don’t know if this post sounds overly-critical; it feels like it may be.  I had fun with all these games, and so did the kids, but it didn’t feel nearly as good as our previous time gaming when we did InSpectres and I was acting as GM.  In the GM-less structure of these games, it felt like something extra was needed to keep a shape to the game, as my fellow players weren’t concerned with the whys and the hows so much as the “what happens next?”

I came away feeling, maybe I am introducing them to the wrong games…maybe I should be breaking out the old school D&D (the current D20 version has a bot of a steep learning curve) and running them through some dungeon encounters.  As a pet project I am working on a revision of an earlier (non-D20) version of Gamma World…a project I originally started with these kids in mind.  I should probably make a push to finish this up.

I thought that I might be stifling their innate creativity by breaking out a game with too much structure and too many rules, but these kids seem to have total gamist agendas anyway.  The question that often arises is “which is the best/strongest/most powerful” seen most often when playing Warhammer (though also asked when playing InSpectres and when choosing abilities in click-locks for Capes).  I don’t know if this is an attitude that arises from a video game perception (turn on the game and accomplish objectives, push button and shoot, whatever) or if “story now” oriented game play is simply a more advanced form of game play and thus a skill these kids haven’t yet acquired.

Maybe I just need to play with “kids” my own age…if only I could find some….


Arturo G.

Posts: 333

« Reply #1 on: May 06, 2008, 05:42:03 AM »

Interesting report.

It is impossible for me to try to evaluate the reasons of your nephews gamist attitudes. Perhaps it is what they are learning due to most games they have around. But my experience is that people who have not been previously exposed to role-games tend to grasp very easily in narrative dynamics.

From my experience, narrative oriented games are definitively not more advanced. But people should go to the table knowing the kind of experience they should expect.

Did you clearly explained them that the objective of the game was a different thing? I think that perhaps you just need a game with a clear lack of winning conditions. Explain them that it is a different type of game. Explain them what they should do in that game to get fun. I think they will probably do a really honest try.

By the way, I have the feeling that in Once Upon a Time the win condition imposed by ending your hand of cards is an incentive to invest, but at the same time a hindrance for coherent story-development. All depends on the players attitude.

Posts: 1049

Don't Panic!

« Reply #2 on: May 08, 2008, 10:04:33 AM »

  I think there are two things you can try to help remedy this situation:
1) Give them a go at GMing, it will be rocky at first, but once they get the hang of improvising and deciding major story elements, a lot of your narrative game issues start to go away
2) Give them a chance to play a few narrative games that include a GM so that they can get a feel of adding part of the story element without having to take on the full boat all at once. Games like Donjon and Otherkind come to mind. In fact, a session or two of Otherkind might be exactly what you need to find out what is important to them to narrate. When they put a high dice on narrative rights, perk up and try and figure out why so that games like Capes and others go more smoothly with an understanding of what they think it is groovy to narrate, you know?
  I don't think narrative games are more "advanced" but it is a skill you have to learn, just like anything else in roleplaying.

Dave M
Author of Legends of Lanasia RPG (Still in beta)
My blog
Free Demo

Posts: 99

« Reply #3 on: May 09, 2008, 07:26:25 AM »

Thanks folks!


When we played InSpectres, Zach (the older brother) DID try his hand at the GM wheel for two missions...but remember that in InSpectres the players are adding most of the "story elements" through their successful use of skills.

I actually just acquired a copy of Otherkind actually, so that's certainly a possibility (though actually I got it to see if I could rip anything off for a new game I'm working on...).

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