Amazing Tales’ big day out

About a month ago my friend Juliette asked if I’d like to give a talk about Amazing Tales at the company where she works. I said yes, not just because I like talking about Amazing Tales, and because Juliette is a great friend, but because Juliette works for Lego.

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The brief was simple. Come along, be inspiring, tell us stuff about playing with kids that we don’t know.

Note: Simple is not the same as easy.

So early on Wednesday morning I boarded a plane for Billund, home of Lego, with a  bag full of books and a head full of nervous excitement. And before I knew it, I was there.

‘There’ turned out to be the Lego House. Lego’s newest visitor attraction. While Lego Land is a theme park the Lego House is a place for you to play with Lego, look at Lego, and learn about Lego.  It is very very cool.

In there I found all kinds of cool things, including King Tyrannosneak’s Lego counterpart, Technic Rex. At least, that’s what I’m calling him. He’s about 4m tall.

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After a few hours of looking round the Lego House it was time for the meeting. Held in this rather unassuming building. Unassuming, but important.

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Here it is again, next to a photo of the founder of Lego, Ole Kirk Christiansen. It’s in that picture because this is the building where it all started. Or at least the place where it all started. The original factory burned down three times in the early days of Lego.

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So, how was the meeting? What do you tell people who spend their lives thinking about playing with kids?

Well, first things first. After some introductionary stuff about me, and why I wrote Amazing Tales we addressed the biggest problem in talking about role-playing games. Most people haven’t played one, and they’re hard to explain. Of the six people in the room I was the only one with role-playing experience.

Hard to explain, but easy to experience. 

Fifty minutes later everyone in the room had played a role-playing game. We created a world, we generated characters and off we want. In a futuristic land of Ninja Pirates (Lego staff seem to be keen on both Pirates and Ninja) an emotionally unstable half-rhino space pirate, a cat ninja with an airship, a bicycle riding samurai and a psychic bartender found themselves caught up in a perilous adventure. They rescued a damsel in distress from a gang of unruly hounds, they flew a spaceship to a hidden island, navigated the perilous maze within and faced off against a gigantic cthuloid monster, eventually bringing it down with the world’s largest cocktail.

It was awesome. 

Strangely enough I’d never really run Amazing Tales for adults before, but I was delighted with how it went. The players got into it, came up with some great characters and embraced the game. I think it’s time to drop my personal idea that Amazing Tales as it stands has an upper age limit and start experimenting.

And then I tried to impart some wisdom. I won’t run through everything I said, but key points I talked about were…

If you like role-playing games you want to play role-playing games with your kids. And you don’t want to wait until they’re ten years old to do so.

Most children’s games are very boring for adults, and this can make it hard to live up to your goal of being a great parent. So a game which demands the parent work just as hard as the child, which balances the cognitive load on both players, is a welcome change.

Children really don’t like losing, so collaborative games are great for them, which is why the role of the Games Master in Amazing Tales isn’t particularly antagonistic. The GM never rolls dice, and so never ‘attacks’ the players.

Typical role-playing games are awful for children, they have huge rule-books, they’re complex, they take hours, they’re frequently very slow. Which is why Amazing Tales threw out everything that wasn’t essential to the experience.

Children are hard to organise, so getting a group of them together, at the same time, ready to do a group activity is hard work. A regular D&D game for kids could easily become an effort similar to organising a weekly birthday party, and no parent wants to do that. Hence the fact that Amazing Tales requires zero-prep and works with a single player, the most common, easiest to arrange scenario for gaming with a child.

Children don’t know much, particularly they don’t know about genres. They see no reason why there shouldn’t be a caped super hero in a story about dragons and knights, or why a space man shouldn’t turn up on a pirate ship. So let all that stuff happen, make it possible.

Those were the highlights. I got asked a lot of good questions and there was some great discussion. While I don’t claim to know exactly what problems Lego are working on I got the sense I’d provided some useful perspectives.

And what did I take away from the day?

  • Amazing Tales could easily be a game for grown ups
  • Tabletop Role-playing games are under explored as a mode of play for children
  • Trying a game is the best way to explain the concept of role-playing games

And that was the story of Amazing Tales’ big day out. I had a lot of fun and left behind a list of role-playing games to try for people who want to sample the breadth of the hobby. Who knows, in the future Lego might need to make a 20 sided brick.

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(spotted in the Lego canteen…)

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