Developer Diary: Amazing Heroes

A few weeks ago I made a start playtesting what you could think of as an advanced version of Amazing Tales. I’m calling it Amazing Heroes, and I’m planning to publish it along with a superhero setting. The intention is to provide a game that lets you play through an episode’s worth of superhero TV – think Arrow or The Flash – in no more than two hours.

The game will remain simple enough to play with kids, with a target age range of 7+, but I want it to have enough depth to it that it can run an enjoyable game for adults.

While my usual in-house playtest team (Lisa and Ruben) have been helping me get things right for the kids I’ve enlisted my regular adult gaming group to test it out with grown ups.

What am I adding?

As I’ve said a few times in interviews, the challenge with Amazing Tales was taking rules out. It’s a very simple game and it doesn’t include some elements that people have thought of as essential to the role-playing experience. I want to keep that minimalist philosophy going forward, but I do want to add some things. In particular…

  • Characters should be able to develop over time
  • Characters should be able to take damage, and even die
  • There should be limits to what characters can do, bringing a degree of consistency to a chosen setting

Design Philosophy

Trust the GM

Because it has so few rules Amazing Tales relies on the GM to do a lot of work. And that’s fine with me. The human brain is an amazing, creative thing, and when you get several of them working together – for instance playing a role-playing game – great things can happen.

So in a lot of the areas where other RPGs might have rules, Amazing Heroes will have GM advice.

Talk with the players

I’m currently part of a playtest for a new edition of Omnihedron Games ‘Duty and Honour’ (If you like the Sharpe books / TV series, check it out) and seeing Neil Gow’s collaborative GMing in person has been great. Effectively starting each session with a mini session zero where you can talk about what you want to get up to in the next couple of hours is a great technique.

I’m not sure I’ll be adopting it wholesale, but building more conversation with players about the game is going to be part of the advice.

Keep it simple

Amazing Tales works because it has very few rules, and what rules there are are very simple. While I want Amazing Heroes to have rules for more things, I want those things to be kept as simple as possible.

How’s it going?

Playtest notes: Character Generation

My first big note here is that I need to take more of my own advice. While everyone managed to create a character and people had no trouble getting a wide variety of concepts to work I wasn’t strict enough on the guidance that characters should all have at least one personality trait and one physical trait. This led to some odd rolls during the game as skills found themselves filling in for what were essentially defensive rolls.

For the second playtest session I added some structure in the form of character sheets that forces structure onto the players.

Something else we’ve tested is having some characters begin with fewer traits than normal (three rather than four) this was to accomodate their subsequent development of superpowers. This seemed to work OK, characters with three well chosen traits can function just fine for a session or so before their powers kick in.

Something for a future test will be starting heroes with additional powers. The default character in Amazing Heroes has a single set of related super-powers. Letting heroes start with a variety of powers such as super-strength, laser-vision and flying, will lead to a very different game I think.

Playtest notes: Difficulty levels

In Amazing Tales you normally need to roll a 3 or more to succeed at something. When I playtested with the kids I raised this to a 4, and for the sessions with the grown ups we started out using a ‘gritty’ setting of 5.

This turned out to lead to a lot of failure. Sufficient failure that it began to change the behaviour of the players. After a bit of thought I’ve changed to flexibile target numbers with ratings of 3, 4 and 5 for tests that are easy, normal and hard. Of course there’s no legislating against this kind of die rolling…

Playtest notes: Plot Matters

I went into the playtest with a relaxed ‘I’ve got a whole background drafted and I’m playing Amazing Tales, I can freewheel this’ kind of approach. And that might have worked for some styles of game, but since I wanted the players to be uncovering a conspiracy and learning secrets about the world as they went that didn’t really work out too well.

So – I guess I’ll be including some plot guidance in the game when it’s done!

Next steps

There’s one more session in what will have been a five session mini-campaign, and it is feeling like we’re reaching a natural break in the plot. The heroes have developed powers, done some dramatic stuff and learned a lot about the nature of the world. Now it’s time for them to wrap up their origin story and find a stable way of being heroes in their world.

It’s been fun, and I’m looking forward to doing some more thinking, some more writing, and then having some more superhero flavoured fun.

What makes an Amazing Adventure?

When I wrote Amazing Tales one of the things I felt was important was that parents and kids be able to sit down and make up an adventure right then and there. No preparation required. So a published adventure needs to offer something special to justify the investment. In the course of writing The Quest for the Dragon Crown I’ve worked hard to deliver on that. Here are some of the principles that guided the writing.

Some of those spiders look rather large…

1. Small players deserve big adventures

Just because children are young doesn’t mean they can’t imagine big stories. The Quest for the Dragon Crown asks them to save a kingdom. On the way they’ll have to face down monsters, solve puzzles and make new friends. As the cover makes clear, there are dragons to fight. Because fighting dragons is awesome – so why wouldn’t you include that in your game?

I’ve never been able to understand why games for kids often assume the players will want to play as child heroes. Role-playing lets you be anything you want – and a lot of kids want to be big.

2. Build in regular moments of awesome

In writing the game I tried to include what I think of as ‘moments of awesome’, events that are so cool they’re unlikely to emerge in games that you make up as you go. They might, of course, but a written adventure lets you try and hit these highs consistently.

I might be wrong – but play-tests suggest that the moment the players find out what the Dragon Crown does for the first time is going to be something that sticks with players for a long long time.

3. Make the game tangible

While I couldn’t quite work out how to include a real magic mirror in the game (that plan is on hold while I do more research) I did manage to include a few cool things. There’s a map of the kingdom to colour in, there’s your very own dragon crown to cut out and colour in, and there’s a multi-stage puzzle for parents to print out and kids to solve.

Make your own Dragon Crown (Magic powers not included)

4. Pack it full

Quest for the Dragon Crown features a ghost, dragons, mermaids, fairies, and an enchanted forest. It’s not a series of adventures about dragons and mini-dragons, because that might get repetitive. Each session brings in new fantastic material and escalates the stakes. If your kids only ever play one Amazing Tales campaign they should come away from this with a ton of brilliant stories about the things they’ve seen and done.

When you’re playing with your kids it’s easy to add extra excitement by asking your players questions. As the heroes approach a village ask questions like ‘What makes this village special’ or ‘The people who live here aren’t human, what are they?’ and watch as your story takes off.

5. Leave plenty of room

As a game Amazing Tales has a focus on improvised story-telling. So while The Quest for the Dragon Crown provides a structure there’s plenty of space for players and story-teller to go off-piste. Does your kid love mermaids? Take a few extra sessions to make up stories in the mermaid kingdom, the quest will still be there when you get back.

I hope you like the Quest for the Dragon Crown, and I hope it helps you take your games of Amazing Tales to the next level.

Buy now from DriveThru RPG

Perspective Taking and Amazing Tales

I’ve recently been reading up on the excellent work of the folk at Game To Grow. They’re a group who focus on the therapeutic value of role-playing games, and through doing so they’ve identified a number of areas where role-playing games can be of benefit to any child. The areas they’ve identified are

  • Perspective taking
  • Frustration tolerance
  • Creative problem solving
  • Collaboration

Thinking about these areas can be a great way to build interesting encounters. In this article I’m going to take a look at the first of those – perspective taking, and how you can build it into your games of Amazing Tales.

Perspective taking

Perspective taking is the understanding that other people have different ideas to you, and people usually develop it between the ages of two and three. Perspective taking is a key skill for understanding and resolving social conflicts so it’s going to be part of any role-playing game. Here are five ways you can build encounters around perspective taking in a role-playing game.

T-Rex and Rabbit often see things very differently.

#1. Identifying emotions

When my kids were four they started school. And one of the first topics they had was learning about feelings and emotions. In particular, what do they look like and how do we identify them. They drew pictures of smiley faces and frowny faces. They talked about what it’s like to laugh and cry. It’s important for kids to know when someone is sad, or angry or happy or lonely. You can bring this into your games by describing emotions rather than naming them. So instead of saying

“The goblin looks sad”


“The goblin is sitting quietly in a corner and looking at the ground. You can see tears on his cheeks”

Now it is up to the players to work out that the Goblin is sad. With older children you can use more subtle clues or simply adjust your tone of voice or body language to convey an emotion and see if they pick up on it.

#2. Understanding the preferences of others

Not everyone reacts the same way to the same things. Indeed some people don’t like things other people really like. Being able to work this out and act appropriately is an important skill.

The witch of Tom’s Hollow has her pet crow sing to her all day. She likes the singing so much she has cast a spell to make it really loud. This is upsetting for the people of Tom’s hollow who think the crow’s singing sounds awful.

The witch will not be persuaded to stop if people tell her the crow’s singing is bad. To her it sounds great. If someone explains that other people don’t like it, then she might listen.

Situations like this could also arise because of things the heroes have done. For instance if they’ve put out a fire by flooding a valley then not everyone is going to be pleased with them. Next time they might learn to think in advance.

#3. Telling socially acceptable lies

Some research into perspective taking has focused on whether people recognise when it’s appropriate to tell a socially acceptable lie. Examples from the research included being polite about someone’s appearance and expressing gratitude when presented with an unwanted gift. It is easy to imagine either of these challenges coming up in the context of an adventure. For instance…

The starship Entrepreneur has settled into orbit around the planet Grox Four. After the captain sends greetings the Groxians respond by sending the crew a present. Six tonnes of cow poo! The Groxians seem certain that this is a fabulous gift – what do you do?

Groxians are huge fans of cow poo. That’s why they’ve just sent you six tonnes of it!

#4. Resolving disputes

Resolving differences between different factions is something heroes are often called on to do. Sometimes all that is needed to resolve the challenge is to understand where both parties are coming from, and explain it back to them.

Brogor the Troll won’t let anyone cross the bridge to the village. This is because he lives under the bridge, and the sound of feet crossing stops him getting any sleep (Trolls sleep in the day). He just wants to be left to sleep in quiet. The villagers want to cross the bridge. Can the heroes resolve this problem?

In this example there might be some easy solutions. Maybe there’s another bridge Brogor could sleep under, or maybe the villagers could cross somewhere else. Whatever the resolution, this is probably more interesting than a situation where the troll is causing a problem ‘because he’s bad’.

#5. Explaining things

Being able to explain things in terms someone else will understand is often a challenge for children. In adventures it is often the case that the help the heroes need is only one good explanation away – but children often struggle to realise that the people they’re talking to might not know all the things they do.

The heroes have travelled to a far away land to retrieve a magic crystal that will save their home from a magical hurricane. But the people in the far-away land have never heard of this problem, or the land where the heroes come from. If they get a clear explanation they will help. If they don’t they won’t.

If you want to practice this don’t allow children to skate past these moments. Have your NPCs ask questions about the things they don’t understand. Have them leap to (wrong) conclusions based on poor explanations. If you make them a little foolish then this often becomes funny rather than frustrating for the players.

In the course of a quest heroes often have to explain what they’re doing again and again. This is a good chance to both practice the skill, and to reinforce the story you are making up with your children.

Finally, older players might learn that they should vary their explanations based on who they’re talking to. Should you really tell the castle guards you’re here to steal the king’s crown?

Not just for kids

By now you’ve probably realised that perspective taking is a skill we need every day, as adults as well as as children. So if you find these techniques working well for you in games of Amazing Tales, don’t hesitate to dress them up a bit and bring them into games with adults as well.

Amazing Tales?

If reading this has left you thinking, ‘that all sounds great, but I need a roleplaying game to play with my kids’ then I’d like to introduce you to Amazing Tales. It’s a tabletop role-playing game designed for kids aged four and up to play together with their parents.

Explore this site to learn more about it, or order a copy by using the links below

Playing Amazing Tales with Adults

Amazing Tales was always meant to be a kids game. It’s got very few rules, it’s intended to work with very few players, it makes no pretence at game balance. And yet not long after it came out I heard about it being used by grown ups. And so, I too gave it a go. Here’s what I learned.

It’s a ton of fun! both games I’ve tried with adults ended up being a blast, in a silly, high paced, crazy kind of way. Both featured pirate animals, both featured a lot of action. One featured a psychic bar-tender who poisoned a cthuloid monster with a giant cocktail and one included a chimpanzee pirate riding a T-rex through the gates of the bad guy’s fortress. They were those kind of games.

He could be your character.
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More on non combat encounters

Last week we looked at two ways to create non combat encounters – natural hazards, and contests. This week we’ll look at a few more. Tasks where violence is simply not an option, troublesome individuals and peaceful high stakes tasks.

When violence is not an option

“Break into the castle, get past the guards, sneak into the Prince’s bedchamber and steal his prized gauntlets. If you’re seen – you’ve failed. If you harm any of the guards, you’ve failed.”

In this situation it’s clear that the challenge should involve no violence. Perhaps the patron simply doesn’t want to be responsible for bloodshed, perhaps the quest need attract no attention. Perhaps the party are having to carry out their activities on friendly territory. For whatever reason every challenge that would ordinarily be resolved at the point of a sword now has to find a different solution.

I think it’s telling us to use our brains?

If you’re going for this approach put the onus of finding the non-violent solutions onto the players. Just because the task has to be resolved peacefully doesn’t mean that doing that is going to be easy. Make them impress you with their ingenuity.

You might also find that having solved one seemingly ‘combat ready’ problem peacefully they start to take the approach more frequently when it’s not explicitly required, something which in my experience often leads to more enjoyable games.

Troublesome Individuals

A character doesn’t have to be actively hostile to be a problem, some people are just difficult to deal with. Here are some options for troublesome encounters

The shadow has decided to follow the heroes around for a while. It could be because they think the heroes are interesting, it could be because they think the heroes are up to no good, it could be because they’re the hero’s biggest fans. It’s hard to be stealthy or secretive with a shadow, and they might get themselves into trouble and need rescuing.

Remember that heroes are often remarkable individuals, it’s only natural they’d attract attention.

The diligent have a job to do and are determined to do it well. Perhaps they’re a guard. Perhaps they’re an inspector. Perhaps they’re a particularly fussy chambermaid. Regardless they have a task to do and will do it to the best of their ability. Might this delay the heroes? Yes it might. Might it cost them money? Yes it might. Might offending the diligent mean they can’t get what they want at all? Yes it might.

Here’s Alan Rickman encountering a particularly diligent sales assistant

The grifter is someone who is out to relieve the heroes of their hard earned cash. This is particularly easy for a grifter who is travelling one way while the heroes are travelling in another. Perhaps they have valuable information on the lands ahead. Perhaps they have holy water or magical herbs for sale (how would you tell them apart from regular water and herbs?). Heroes are naturally disposed to believe stories about mysterious goings on, magic items and the like, making adventuring parties easy prey for con-artists.

If you’re looking for cons to run on your players there’s a wealth of ideas in this book.

High stakes tasks

Try giving your party something to organise that should have nothing to do with violence. Don’t just ask them to travel through the jungle, ask them to take an expedition of 200 through the jungle, supported by elephants. Or perhaps the king has made them responsible for the famously hard to please prince’s fifth birthday party. Their budget is unlimited, but if the prince isn’t pleased, the dungeons await!

I once ran a game in which the players were soldiers in a Napoleonic era army. The officers ordered some men from the ranks (the party) to prepare a dinner party for them.

The party had one factor in their favour – one of them was a butler’s son, and one against them – the NPC chef was blind drunk.

Do the job well and they’d impress their officers, perhaps gain useful information and a chance to help themselves to some choice supplies. Do it badly and their officers would remember them for all the wrong reasons.

As part of the game the dinner party was a great success, forcing the players to dive into parts of their character sheets usually left undisturbed and drove a lot of role-playing as the enlisted ranks struggled with the idea of needing three spoons per person…

So there you have it, a whole range of ways to keep a game moving without asking anyone to roll initiative. If you’ve got ideas of your own – leave them in the comments.

Interested in Amazing Tales?

Non combat encounters : Natural hazards and contests

With Amazing Tales being a kids game I’m sometimes asked about how parents can keep combat out of it. The answer of course, is not to put any in. The challenge, is what to put there instead?

A lack of combat shouldn’t mean a lack of conflict, as I wrote last week if you’re going to have much of a story conflict is essential. But as last week’s article pointed out, the range of possible conflicts is huge.

This article isn’t about how to write the perfect mystery or an investigative scenario. It’s about having more options to go in that gaming space where you’d usually say ‘And then the bandits attack, roll initiative!’. This week it takes a look at two kinds of non combat encounters – natural hazards, and contests.

What do you do when the bridge is out and the river in flood?
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