Sunday, July 31, 2016

#RPGaDay Pre-Gaming with Judge John

#RPGaDay starts tomorrow, but I figured this topic was big enough that I could encroach on the rules for the hashtag and start the celebration a day early. 

If you take issue with this, blame Apple's marketing... or Microsoft's incompetence.

Remember the "I'm a PC.  I'm a Mac" commercials from a decade ago?   Justin Long (Dodgeball) played the sometimes pretentious Mac and the affably nerdy PC character was comedian John Hodgman. 

While Long has used his fame to star in such masterpieces as Tusk, the Alvin and the Chimpmunks trilogy and Britney Spears' masterpiece, Crossroads, Hodgman has kept a lower profile, writing books, working as a correspondent for The Daily Show, and popping up on random shows from time to time. 

I recently discovered that he has a podcast, Judge John Hodgman where he "acts like a judge, adjudicating real-life disputes within a fictional courtroom setting."

He also has an advice/humor column by the same name in the New York Times Magazine, it's all extremely light-hearted, but one thing got me motivated.

In an earlier column this month,  a reader wrote in inquiring about another parent's questioning D&D as appropriate for a five year old, plus the social stigma attached to it. 

Hodgson agreed that the other parents were snobs, but honed in on the dad's desire to play D&D with his son, perhaps a geek version of "playing catch" that is far more important to him than it is to his son. 

Per the column:
"Five-year-olds don’t need a lot of hex paper and dice to imagine that they are warriors or elves (or cyborg mermen with rainbow breath)... ....but for now I order you to simply let the children play."

While I understand the advice, and similarly sense the motive of the writer, I must heartily disagree with parts of his thinking.   

Introducing D&D, and role-playing games in general, to your kids can easily be done, if you meet their expectations, rather than your own.

I have been actively playing organized (rules and dice) games with my kids for the last five years. 

They are currently 5 and 7 years old.

At this point they have active "normal" imaginations expected of them, fed by a healthy diet of books, television, and an uncanny ability to sneak downstairs and bingewatch Disney shows on Netflix.    Dad's games are just something special, and a little different.

We didn't start with D&D.   All but the most basic of characters are too complicated, math and organization-wise for most children.   Kids at a young age don't want to map out a dungeon and inventory 1,269 copper pieces, 2 small gems, and backpack full of furs on their character sheet.  They want to move a lot of stuff, stay active, and roll a LOT of dice.

So we told stories via wargames....

When I got back into wargaming, I decided on an era to focus my grown-up energy (19th Century Colonial), but I had also picked up Gnome Wars, a quick, fun rule set with figures that had great figures to paint up and simple rules to play.  My wife was seven months pregnant with our first daughter, Maja, when I came to this realization, and over the next two years I slowly accumulated forces...
Counter-Attack on Longido Mountain, 1914 - Using Gnome Wars
It didn't always need to be an elaborate production.  Only showing her the latest purchase usually ignited an impromptu game.  Figures, dice, and her input on the story was all we needed.

Rescuing the Princess - Using Gnome Wars
Ultimately, we started into collaborative stories at bedtime and soon I sketched out T.I.A.R.A. (Toddler Interactive Adventure Resolution.... ADVENTURE!!!) to run smaller games.
Rescuing the Ruby Princess using T.I.A.R.A.
The original incarnation of TIARA used some odd "stop light" d6s  and dice pools.    The dice disappeared (I blame the dogs, they were wooden.  The dice, not the dogs) and I started using polyhedral dice and three stats: Muscle, Agility, and Heart.  It was a princess game, and all princesses had big hearts!
Gaming terrain changes when you have little girls.
We still kept the wargaming side of the Gnomes going, but always had to mix in new bad guys/good guys, all the while keeping it fast and frantic.

And usually historical....
Maja commanding the Chicka Zulu at Rorke's Drift - Gnome Wars
All the while we've made every part of my gaming hobby a series of normal and fun activities....   When I left to visit with my friends to game, they told me I was going on a "playdates",  arts and crafts time was an excuse for Daddy to break out his paints, and maybe some old cowboys and Indians.  I had a captive audience, if I could keep up with their energy. 
Painting the "No-Nos" and a few houses for them to live. 
But back to the role-playing.  Funny thing about kids.  While some want to wade into a crowd cute crowd of Penguin pirates with a katana thirsty for blood, a good number of kids I've played with want to avoid fatal combat. Oh, they'll get their characters into a tussle to help a friend, or recover a stolen basket of strawberries, but they only wanted to hurt the bad guys if they were really bad.

Or a Stinky Kangaroo... I may have raised Odoriferously Bigotted Children.
Belle's Birthday Brawl - Using TIARA

The role-played dance party after the brawl... using TIARA

Princesses survive the angry chicks, but their entourage is not so lucky

Attack of the 50-Foot Princess - Using Steve Jackson's OGRE

The Battle for the Hair
I certainly can't forget my youngest daughter, Millie.  She may have been trapped by a high chair for the first few games, but she's been a willing participant, and sometime instigator of the games.  Even where I can play a little more "sophisticated" with Maja, Millie needs a lot of stuff, a lot of action, and a lot of dice to keep herself interested.
Field Marshall Millie and her Invasion of the North Pole
Maja has become my navigator and sidekick to some of the cons.  The good news is that Mepacon in Scranton (the closest con) has a fantastic kid's activity track.  I know I can leave her in safe hands, she'll have a great time, and come back to the table where I'm running my game.  I may try and go for broke by taking both Maja and Millie to the next one in November.  My wife is definitely overdue for a well-deserved spa day...

Kobolds Ate My Baby:  The Preferred Game of Four-Year Olds Nationwide

Millie's intense game of Pony Diplomacy with my friends.

We recreate the Battle of Hook's Farm from HG Well's Little Wars

If a mouse and pony can't fall in love and get married, then this is a world I don't want to live in!
Now, to go back and lend some credence of Hodgman's opinion, we have played 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons.  We ran four games out of the introductory boxed set when the girls were three and five.  It ran... okay.   I did draw out and color the maps, and we decided upon using ponies as characters. 
Hasbro Love - D&D using My Little Ponies!
The visual appeal was there, the ponies were exciting, but the mechanics left the girls bored, even with their penchant to add or subtract by shouting at the top of their lungs.   Despite Princess Twilight Sparkle's eventual kidnapping by goblins, neither wanted to continue the game. 

And I can't blame them.  Apple Jack as a cleric was getting her Cutie Mark handed to her in every combat.

We even tried the D&D for Kids scenarios, but outside of the badge of honor, the action was pretty stale to them.

We fell back into more gnomes, with a few jungle safaris mixed in for good measure.

Catch and Release Hunting Parties
One role-playing game we did have immediate success in The Village on a Hill.  It encourages cooperative storytelling, the mechanics to determine if things work/fail is d6 high good/low bad, and the kids are encouraged to draw their characters.  It doesn't matter if it's Kami or spirits in the rules, the girls now know it as "The Helpful Fairy" game and we're overdue with another round of helping villagers.

Millie and her Gnomes at Isandlwana
Between growing tired of my ever changing nature of TIARA, and Maja's fascination with all things Egyptian, I looked for an alternative, and was shocked when I discovered Savage Showdown, the minis rules for Savage Worlds.  Lo' and behold the latter versions of TIARA were simply a stripped down version of Savage Worlds! 
A scorpion battles "The Mexican" during a treasure hunt. Using Savage Showdown
The "Egypt Game" has a rotating cast of characters that revolve around our heroine, Maja Millie, two-fisted archaeologist.  As each session advanced, we've added a few more stats, then a few more rules, until the characters have come to life on the road of treasure hunting.  After our last session, we officially transferred the main heroes to Savage Worlds character sheets, added some hindrances that were developed in play, and spent experience.  Maja Millie is nearly a veteran character!

Millie with Nils Lingonberry, Swedish Adventurer
Oh, and that kind and gentle play style I mentioned before?  It's still there... in a way.  As the heroes fell to the predatory and dishonest practices of a crooked sea captain and his crew. Maja (the player) coolly said, "Daddy, I stab Captain Skippy in the heart," and after a series of exploding dice, the Captain lay motionless in the town square. 

However, as zombies descended upon the town, she still showed mercy towards his crew.  "Daddy, only Captain Skippy was a bad man.  His crew deserve a second chance." 

And thanks to that revelation, the escape by our heroes played out a little differently than I had planned.
"Daddy, I stab Captain Skippy in the heart!"

The Rescue of Nils Lingonberry on Easter at Kisi Rushwa turned strange
The summer schedule of swimming, activities, mixed with oppressive heat has slowed down our games.  I've done some strictly wargaming sessions with the girls, teaching them when and where to use the wonderful world of cover (even in a Pulp game, it's a wise thing to know) and we did play a fun animal rescue scenario going back to TIARA.
I Noah guy....
Savage Worlds is delayed as the next few adventures require me to complete a shoebox city of Middle Eastern buildings that I haven't quite finished.   Hopefully over this weekend, I can get another game of Village on the Hill done, if for no other reason I love to hang the character drawings on my walls at work. 

I do have a some Reaper mouslings that need adventure, and two girls that love the Mouse Guard books.

As soon as they can speak and count pips on Monopoly dice, kids can be introduced to role-playing games.  It's not going to be the start off as the beginning of Stranger Things (especially when you need a 14 to cast a fireball *sheesh*) but it can be an ever-evolving activity that your kids will enjoy, and if your nice to them, might let you play too. 
...and they lived happily ever after.

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