Development Update

How’s Amazing Tales going? Pretty well. We’ve got 23 out of 26 full page illustrations nailed down. The text is done. The layout is happening. Indeed below are a couple of screen grabs showing the layout which is being handled by Duncan at Sparkwood and 21.

There will be changes, but this gives a feel for what the book is going to look like. And the whole thing will weigh in between 90 and 100 pages.

Layout 2

And another

Layout 1

It’s about a year since I began serious work on this book, and it’s amazing to see it coming together.

The Amazing Tales Story

Today was one of the bi-weekly departmental meetings at work, and since I’m the head of the department, I get to set the agenda. And so, by way of inspiration I thought I’d share the story of how I’ve developed Amazing Tales, what I’ve learned and where it might go next.

This wasn’t just showboating, the team I run are all communciations / digital / engagement professionals, and working with design and development, audience testing and the like is relevant to our day to day work. At the start of the Amazing Tales project I’d set out to try some techniques related to audience centered design and it was time to share the learnings.

And it was a ton of fun. It was great to go back through my notes from interviewing parents about roleplaying with their kids, and to revisit my research findings. I talked about the whether or not to do a Kickstarter decision, and how Lightning Source is basically what makes this project possible.

And I got to go back to the concept sketches and being able to show the development of some of the images. I’ve learned a lot about giving feedback on this project, and about the need for ideas and concepts to percolate for a bit.

Best of all though was the enthusiastic reactions of the team, we finished the session with ten minutes of playing the game, because as gamers know, the best way to explain what a roleplaying game is, is to play one.

Progress report

I know, there haven’t been updates for a while. But Amazing Tales has been progressing quietly behind the scenes. How far along are we?

  • The text is finished, the game is written!
  • The text is being laid out for publication
  • Most of the illustrations are complete
  • We’ve just about finished the front and back covers

That, is a lot of progress. How much more is there to do? Well, a bit. Once layout and illustrations are finished then we’ve got to have Drivethru rpg deliver a sample copy, check it’s good, make any remaining changes and then we’ll have a book that’s ready for the world.

To give an idea of how things are looking these days – here’s a finished piece of artwork, showing a fairy from the Deep Dark Wood. The finished book will probably have around 25 full page pieces like this, all by the wonderful iris of www.irisistible.design/

male fairy web.jpg

Settings

Amazing Tales will include four full settings to help fire up your creative juices. Each setting will include suggestions for characters, game ideas and advice on how to make the best of the possibilities. I picked the settings to be ones children are often familiar with, through other books, TV, film and make believe. The settings are

The Deep Dark Wood – home to fairies, talking animals and all manner of magical creatures

Magical Kingdoms – where knights in armour, dragons, princes and princesses adventure

The Pirate Seas – treasure, adventure, mysterious islands and the smell of gunpowder on the sea air

Adventures beyond the stars – take your adventures into space, with aliens, robots and rocket ships

Each setting will be illustrated with a full page image, crammed with inspiration and ideas for stories. All the full page illustrations have now reached concept art stage, so we can take a look at how they’re coming together. And here they are

Most recent, and least developed is this, for magical kingdoms. Lots of things in here are ideas that will develop further.

mk_small

In contrast, the first piece we worked on, and the most developed is the Deep Dark Wood

ddw_small

Still very much at the sketching stage is this for the Pirate Seas. Even so, the figure leaning off the front of the first ship is packed with adventure.

pirates_small

And here we are, beyond the stars.

space_small

Art is happening

As you might be able to tell from the new look of the website the process of illustrating Amazing Tales is well underway. Nothing is finished yet, so all the things popping up on the site are concept art. (I know, amazing isn’t it?).

We’re working on four full page showcase illustrations. One each for the settings Deep Dark Wood, Adventures Beyond the Stars, The Pirate Seas and Magical Kingdoms. Supplementing those will be character art pieces for everything from aliens to wizards, and, you know, Badgers.

brigitte_small

 

I’m having a blast working on this, and can’t speak highly enough of the wonderful Iris at www.irisitible.design who is making it all happen.

A quick update

I’ve been working away on a new draft of Amazing Tales, and lining up some support to ensure that the next version will look a little more wonderful.

Editing, layout and illustration is now lined up, which I’m really excited about.

The new version will feature suggested backgrounds for adventures in Space, adventures in Magical Kingdoms and adventures on the Pirate Seas, as well as the existing Deep Dark Wood background.

The idea is to have a free to download .pdf file available as well as a print on demand option, which will obviously have a price attached.

Review : No Thank You Evil!

When I started looking into roleplaying games for kids there were a number that fell into the broad ‘dungeons and dragons junior’ bucket, and one that didn’t. That one was No Thank You Evil!, a 2015 release from Monte Cooke Games.

unboxing

No Thank You Evil stands out from the crowd in a few ways. It comes in a box. The box contains a rulebook, a book of scenarios, a lot of cardboard counters, some colourful character sheets, some big dice and a lot of large format cards with pictures on them. The game is story driven, set in the big wide world of Storia, rather than a tightly confined dungeon. The rules are simple and scale in complexity as your children age.

My kids loved the colourful box, and were delighted with the contents – colourful card counters, illustrated rule books and big chunky D6s. Most popular were the cards, which cover character archetypes (with male and female versions of all characters offered), monsters, pets and cyphers – these last ones are text and so less exciting for kids. Plenty of thought has gone into making the illustrations for the character archetypes interesting and unusual, giving plenty of fuel for player’s imaginations.

The setting is broad, aiming to fit in anything kids might want in a game. Spaceships, dinosaurs, castles and haunted houses all feature. These appear in different areas of Storia, are fleshed out with some background in the rules, and appear on a nice illustrated map. My kids got the concept of Storia immediately and started poring over the map looking for cool places to go.

The system behind the game is a simplified version of the Cypher System, which I’m not familiar with. The simplified version is simple though. Tasks are handled by rolling a D6 against a target number, and things can be made easier by spending points out of characteristic pools. These are tracked with card counters which makes keeping track a breeze, even for five year olds.

The scenario guide ‘Let’s go on an adventure’ which comes in the box contains three scenarios. We started with the first one, a super simple dungeon crawl featuring witches and a cave that took us about half an hour. Character generation took about twenty minutes on top of that. The second session we played used the second scenario, essentially a four room setting with linked challenges, so the contents of room three were needed to resolve room two, and so on. Since the scenario takes place at a party we did that one to a disco soundtrack. This one took about an hour. We haven’t played the third scenario, but that’s a similar beast, a series of encounters in a theme park which can be taken in any order, but relate to each other. Looking at it, that’s probably more of a two hour play through.

The kids had plenty of fun with the first two scenarios, as did the guide (that game’s term for GM). Both of which I intentially played very much as written. I would have liked to see something showcasing a different style of play though, Storia as presented in the background is basically a giant sandbox, so providing novice guides with a scenario that showed how to exploit this, and let the players travel between locations might help people take their games to the next level.

The authors have put a lot of thought into making this game accessible for kids. Only one of my players can read well, which was no problem. While neither of my kids are colour blind the components are designed to account for that. The math required is counting to eight and being able to add or subtract one or two. All the dice are rolled by the players (when a monster attacks you you roll to defend), which means the Guide is never a direct antagonist of the players. All characters get a companion creature – a dragon, a talking car, an invisible friend or even a little brother or sister! These companions provide plenty of extra backup for player characters, not that they need it, heroes in Storia are pretty much unstoppable, which for kids is just fine.

My criticisms of the game are largely ones that could map to roleplaying games as a whole. There’s not a lot of system, but what there is is heavily focused on combat. Special abilities tend to be expressed in extra damage or advantages gained ‘for one round’. More emphasis on puzzles and social challenges as part of the gaming experience would have been welcome. (Although my kids are generally happy to bash their way through pretty much any scenario).

I also found that there wasn’t much mechanical difference between the different archetypes. A  ‘Strong astronaut’ will be significantly less strong than any ‘Fighter’ which might not feel great to the child who elected to be strong but didn’t see it turn out that way. My kids didn’t notice this, but they did spend time carefully comparing all their stats, and I can see it being a bit of an issue for older children.

Overall though these are minor quibbles. No Thank You Evil is an excellent game, well written, well presented, with high production values and plenty of potential. The colorful box, artwork and components will be a big draw, and probably help your kids with the all important challenge of convincing their friends to join in.

 

ps  – Having just posted this I remembered something else. While the character sheets are great, you don’t get a lot of them, and I can’t find a place to download more. but you can download more here

 

 

 

The Royal Stag

Storm clouds gathered over nightmare mountain, blocking out the sun. Lightning flashed and crackled. In Andrew’s Castle Dumonin told the king that this was a sign the fourth beast was approaching. The Royal Stag that had once ruled the kingdom and would try to do so again, driving out all speaking people.

King Andy called for his heroes, and together they agreed that the time had come to face the witch in Monster Tower. If Roman Dragonshield and Els could not retrieve the Golden Collar and Hunting Horn the beasts would overrun the land. Outside in the zoo the Molten Cat ate ever more coal, and looked less and less happy with its captivity. Meanwhile the attendants of the Caledonian Boar had to play the magical harp constantly to keep it calm.

Before they departed for Witch’s Wood Els had an idea. Fairy Millicent had promised to help the heroes if she could, and so Els and Roman began their journey at Owl Wood. “Millicent, Millicent, Millicent” shouted Els at the edge of the woodland, and soon enough the fairy appeared.

“You intend to fight the witch?”, Millicent looked worried. “I can offer you little firm advice. But I know that long before the witch Monster Tower was built by the elves, and Witch’s Wood belonged to them. Elf magic is very strong, and lasts a long time. It may well be that even in the tower itself you might find safe places.”

Part 1 – Monster Tower

Armed with that piece of advice Els and Roman Dragonshield set off for Witch’s Wood. As they reached the edge of the wood they decided to try sneaking in. They did their best to be quiet, but a murder of crows appeared above their heads, squawking and flapping and following them as they went.

[Els rolls Climbing and Exploring, fails]

“Chaaaarge!” from out of the woodland shadows a band of goblins rushed upon our heroes, waving rusty swords and snapping with their sharp teeth. Roman Dragonshield fought back with his mighty strength, picking up a goblin in each hand. Meanwhile Els and Snowflake the Husky chased away another band that was sneaking behind them with bows and arrows. The Goblins faded back into the trees. But the murder of crows remained overhead, squakwing and cawing.

[Both roll fighting monsters, both pass]

Roman and Els pushed on into the woods, but the crows followed them. When it got dark they stopped to make camp. As they prepared to sleep they became aware that the forest around them seemed even thicker and darker than it had when they stopped. As Roman stood to investigate a tree root seemed to wrap around his leg, it jerked, and he fell.

[Roman rolls strength, fails]

Suddenly they could see red eyes gleaming in the trunks of the trees as knotted wooden branches reached for them. The trees of the forest packed close around them and closed in, an impenetrable wall of wood.

Roman was being dragged into the dark woods by his feet. Els leapt forward and together with Snowflake managed to tear him free from the tree. But the other trees were closing in. There was no way to run. Somewhere behind the trees could be heard the sounds of goblins, and overhead the squawking of crows.

[Els rolls fighting monsters, succeeds. ]

Dragon Piet can help, yelled Roman Dragonshield and encouraged Dragon Piet to breathe fire. The Dragon’s breath scorched a path through the trees and the heroes ran through. “Follow me!”, shouted Els and she ran into the woods followed by the others, and the squawking crows.

[Roman rolls Dragon Riding, succeeds. Els rolls Climbing and Exploring, succeeds.]

Els found and followed a narrow path. Suddenly it opened out into a beautiful forest glade. The grass was green, and suddenly the crows were gone. All around them was peaceful quiet. And in the middle of the glade was a white marble fountain, overflowing with crystal clear water. Elven writing was carved onto the sides of the fountain. Feeling that they had finally found a safe place to rest Els and Roman went to sleep.

In the morning they set off again, and could soon see Monster Tower in front of them. They had expected a bleak, ruined tower. But Monster Tower wasn’t like that. Monster Tower was a huge fortress protected by a moat, and a drawbridge, and a portcullis. Black banners flew from its many towers and orc and ogre guards paced about the walls. It was vast, dark, terrifying, and reeked of evil.

Els and Roman thought for a moment and came up with a plan. Later on they would concede that it wasn’t the best plan. They climbed onto Dragon Piet and flew toward the top of the castle. The orcs saw them and sounded the alarm, then they fired arrows at Dragon Piet, but he dodged them easily.

[Roman rolls Dragon Riding, succeeds]

Roman Dragonshield and Els leapt onto the top of Monster Tower. Below them they could hear the sound of guards rushing toward them. But first they had to clear the monsters away from the battlements. Fighting ferociously they drove them back down the stairwell. But no sooner had they done that than there came a shouting from below and a group of ferocious orcs in iron armour charged up toward them. The fight on the stairs was furious, eventually Roman tore the door from its hinges and charged down into the stairwell using it as a battering ram. But he slipped and fell, and the orcs wrapped him up in chains. Els leapt forward to rescue him, but she too was captured!

[I rarely do this, but the plan to just fight their way into what I’d explained was a massive fortress full of monsters really deserved to fail. Had it not been the last session in the campaign I might have let it ride, but I had something a bit more cinematic in mind. So I let the fight on the roof go on, with wave after wave of monsters until both heroes failed their rolls. Which allowed us to move to a new scene.]

Orcs, goblins and trolls hauled Els and Roman deeper and deeper into the tower. Then they were dragged into a vast room, at the far end loomed a bone throne on a raised dias. Behind it hung shields, many of them belonging to other heroes who had gone missing in the Witch’s Wood. The orcs and goblins pushed them forward toward a tall figure. A knight carrying a vast double headed axe,  clad in black armour.

“Did you really think you could do this? Did you really think you could simply walk up to this castle and fight your way in? You are without doubt the worst heroes I have ever met. And when my mistress returns from the Nightmare mountain I’m sure your fate will be truly painful.”

“You won’t win! We’ll beat you!”

“Yes. I can see how that’s working for you. The getting captured and thrown in the dungeon plan must have taken a long time to think of.”

“My Husky is still out there. She’ll save us.”

“Hmm. You orcs. Take some raw meat and a net. Come back with a dead dog.”

“She’ll never fall for that!” Els did not sound too convinced, and it began to dawn on the two heroes that things had gone very wrong indeed.

“Take them to the dungeon”

Dragging them by their chains a pair of trolls hauled Els and Roman Dragonshield out of the throne room. They bounced and scraped down dark corridors. But there were fewer guards now. Roman Dragonshield braced his feet.

“Raaaaarghhh!” exerting every ounce of his super strength Roman Dragonshield tore the chains from his jailers hands, and then broke the shackles around his body. Metal links dropped to the floor. The trolls looked on in horror.

[Roman rolls super strength, passes]

Els used her chains to strike out at her jailers. As she did so a barking white shape leapt out of the shadows and sank its teeth into a troll. “Snowflake!”

[Els rolls fighting monsters, passes, and is rewarded with the return of her companion]

Not all the guards were overcome with shock. From behind them came the sound of an alarm bell.

“We’ll fight them all” yelled Roman Dragonshield

[Hard stare]

“I’ll find a place to run to” said Els, leading them into the corridors. Roman smashed aside some goblins as they dashed along. As they ran Els began looking for little used passages, finally finding some that looked as if they were never used. At the end of one was a door, marked with a triangle containing elven writing. Checking they weren’t being followed Els and Roman pushed open the door and stepped through.

[Roman rolls fighting monsters, Els rolls climbing and exploring, both succeed.]

The two of them glanced around. The room was made of white stone. On the walls hung silver armour, swords and shields. It looked like this was a room monsters never came into, or perhaps could not come into. Roman eyed up a sword

“Can I take one?”

He tried. Nothing happened. Encouraged, Roman took a helmet, armour, sword and shield. Els went for the same, and added a spear for good measure. Decked out in their new elven wargear the two got the feeling that their luck was beginning to turn.

“The witch has gone to Nightmare mountain. We need to find the treasure and go after her” said Els. Then she crept up to the door on the far side of the room and looked out. At the end of the corridor a huge troll was guarding a massive locked door. On his belt was a set of keys.

Els and Roman charged. Els drove her spear into the trolls body, and Roman leapt forward to cut off its head. The body slumped to the floor.

[Both roll fighting monsters and succeed. The new equipment makes no difference to the rules, but the change in attitude on the part of the players was extraordinary, and kept going for the rest of the session.]

Using the keys on the troll’s belt the two got the door open. Inside was what was obviously the witch’s treasure chamber. Gold and silver was piled high in chests and jars. Displayed on a red velvet pillow was a magnificent golden collar. Next to it was a case, just the right shape to hold a hunting horn. But it was empty. As Els took the collar there came a sound of alarm from the corridor.

“Lets get out of here!”

Els and Roman ran back through the castle, always trying to head up. Higher and higher they climbed, but the sounds of alarm got closer, and a pack of chasing monsters formed behind them. At last they found a window, and discovered they were high high up in the tower.

“Jump” yelled Els

[At this point there was a brief pause, while I explained that they were very high up. That it was a long way down. That this could go very wrong.]

They jumped, and as they plummeted toward the ground Dragon Piet swept down from the sky, plucked them out of the air and flew off, leaving the enraged monsters of Monster Tower far behind.

Part 2 – Nightmare Mountain

Dragon Piet flew toward Nightmare mountain, and into the teeth of a raging storm. Thunder boomed above them and rain pelted their faces. The Dragon set his jaw and strained his muscles, beating his wings against the wind.

Crack!

Lightning split the sky around them, then struck Dragon Piet and they crashed to the ground. Dragon Piet struggled to his feet, but it was too dangerous to fly. They struggled on foot for the last miles to the foot of the dark mountain.

[Roman rolls Dragon Riding, fails]

Nightmare mountain was steep and sheer. The great cave that was visible in the mountain from miles away began half way up, and so Roman and Els had to climb. The rain and the wind made it dangerous, but they struggled up the side of the mountain.

[Els rolls climbing and exploring, passes, Roman rolls running and jumping, passes]

As they peaked over the top of their climb they saw a camp fire, and gathered around it a dozen or so orcs. Creeping closer they heard them discussing what would happen after the witch finished whatever she was doing in the cave.

“We’ll be able to do what we want. We can burn the villages, steal the food…” their thoughts of future victory were cut short when Els and Roman burst out from the shadows swinging their swords. Four orcs fell, and the rest fled, their victory would have to wait a little longer.

[Both roll fighting monsters, both pass]

After establishing that orc cookery was neither interesting or edible, but definitely disgusting and creative Els and Roman investigated the back of the cave. Further and further back it went, and in the dark they found footprints leading into the darkness. They lit torches and followed them.

They hadn’t gone far when they encountered a blazing ring of fire suspended in the air. Looking around carefully Els found four strange marks chiseled into the wall around it. Following a discussion about what to do they decided to get past as quickly as possible. Els and Roman dashed by, the flames roared and scorched, but they came through unharmed.

[Roman rolls running and jumping, Els rolls climbing and exploring, both pass.]

On and on into the dark they went. As they entered a large cave the air became cold and their breath misted in front of their faces. Roman glanced up, and saw that the ceiling above them was covered in huge icicles, each the size of a man. As he watched, one of them came loose and plummeted toward him, Roman flung himself to the side as ice splintered all around.

[Roman rolls running and jumping, passes]

Being very careful now Els and Roman tiptoed through the cave. Eventually they reached the other side, and followed the footprints into another tunnel. In the distance they could hear a funny chanting sound.

They crept closer. In the distance they could see a flickering torch, and so they put their own out. Three figures in long cloaks were chanting, it sounded like some kind of spell. Roman slipped on a stone in the dark, and the figures turned to look.

[Both roll running and jumping, Roman fails, Els passes.]

One of the figures sketched strange signs in the air, and a ball of fire whooshed toward Roman, who had to shelter behind his shield. Els leapt out of the darkness to strike one of the wizards with her spear. He gurgled in horror as it impaled him.

[Both roll fighting monsters, pass]

As the two heroes pressed their attack the remaining evil wizards tried to summon magic to their aid. Sparks crackled around their fingertips and shadows coiled around their heads, but before they could unleash their powers they were cut down. As they fell their bodies slowly turned to smoke and drifted off into the caves.

[Both roll fighting monsters, pass]

Beyond the wizards Els and Roman found themselves in a huge cave. At the far end of it a fire was burning. In front of the fire stood a tall woman with pale skin and pointy ears in a bright red dress. On her head was a simple silver crown, and in her right hand a golden hunting horn. In her left hand she carried a wand.

Next to her, kneeling, with its head bowed was an enormous stag.

Face to face with the witch Roman rushed forward to attack swinging his sword. The witch raised her wand and snakes rose out of the stony ground and wrapped themselves around his legs. Els also rushed in to attack, and the witch found herself stepping back to avoid the attack.

[Both roll fighting monsters, Roman fails, Els passes]

Now they could see that the Witch had bound the stag with silver chains. Els broke away from her attack on the witch to try and free the stag. Roman pushed forward with his spear. And so as Els broke the chains around the stags hooves Roman Dragonshield smashed his spear through the witch’s eye. She screamed, and shouted and dropped to the floor, dead.

[Els rolls running and jumping, passes. Roman rolls fighting monsters, passes]

At this the stag leapt to its feet and bellowed. The whole mountain shook and rocks came crashing down all around. The whole front of Nightmare mountain was collapsing. Roman and Els crouched under their shields as rocks fell all around. Finally, the dust settled and they could see laid out before them the whole Kingdom of Magical Scotland. The Stag bellowed again and pawed the ground with its hooves, looking more wild and more terrible by the moment.

Els seized the horn and blew into it as hard as she could. The sound echoed around the ruined mountain, and the stag leapt forward. Els blew again, and the stag, panicked, began to spring up the mountain. It reached the top of the mountain and leapt into the air, climbing and climbing until it eventually came to rest in the heavens, a new stag shaped constellation shining down on the kingdom.

And that, was the end of the adventure of the Four Beasts of Magical Scotland Long Ago. Els and Roman returned home, and were welcomed as heroes. The cat, the boar and kelpie calmed down and remained happily in King Andy’s Zoo.

royal-stag-for-blog

 

Notes : The last session was something of a monster, taking up, I’d guess about three hours. But the kids remained engaged the whole way through. I took a big risk by capturing them in Monster Tower, they could have got demoralised,  but in the end it made for a really nice session.

The exploration of the mountain was originally going to involve four elementally themed magic traps. Fire and Ice happened, as, according to my notes did water but I can’t remember the details of that one. Indeed, the only thing I can tell from my notes is that the water trap was solved so efficiently it justified skipping the earth trap that would have come last.

As I mentioned in the main text, Roman and Els became a lot more gung ho once they’d acquired new armour and weapons. In many ways the closing session became a bit more serious in tone than the ones that had preceded it.

If we ever want to play more games in Magical Scotland Long Ago there’s plenty of potential left in the setting. The Witch might be dead, but her Lieutenant in Monster Tower is still there, as is the army of evil creatures guarding it. But I suspect we’re done with this setting now. Ruben’s doing pirates at school this term – time to dream up a game on the great blue ocean…

The Kelpie

King Andy called Els and Roman Dragonshield to the throne room. He was very excited. “Your friend Dumonin has sent a letter” he said. “Let’s read it!”

“Dear friends”, wrote Dumonin, “As I suspected, the Molten Cat and Caledonian Boar are the first two of four beasts that could destroy the kingdom. The third beast is a kelpie, and the fourth a stag.

The beasts were once tamed by the elves, but I don’t know how they did it. They say that there is an elf who still lives on the Misty Isle Tower. You should travel there and ask them.”

And so Roman Dragonshield and Els set off once again. They flew on Dragon Piet till they reached the coast, and then flew on over the sea toward the Misty Isle. The isle was easy to find, and as they approached they could see a wide sandy beach, a green forest and standing in the middle of the island a high white tower. They landed at the bottom of it.

The tower’s door was made of silver and pearl, and covered in what they now knew to be elvish writing. When they knocked on the door there was no answer, but above it were three triangles, each with elvish words inside, and they began to glow. One glowed green, one red and one blue. Remembering the rocks that fell on them last time they encountered something like this they resolved to be careful.

Looking around they spotted three triangular holes in the paving opposite the door.  One lined up with each of the triangles.

After a bit of a discussion Roman and Els decided to light a torch and place it in the red hole. When they did so it glowed with a bright red light. Encouraged they hunted around for something green and put some flowers in the green hole. That too began to glow with a strong light. Then they were stumped because they couldn’t find anything blue. Roman was about to fly all the way back to the mainland when Els realised they could use ‘seawater!’ so they did. With all three holes filled with something of the right colour the lights flared and the doors opened.

Inside was a beautiful white room with a staircase leading up. Up went Roman and Els.

After climbing a long way the staircase entered a room. There was nothing here, but the walls glowed with light from torches. As Roman and Els looked around they realised there were two shadows in the room. Shadows that looked like knights! They raised their shadowy swords and attacked.

Els swung at a shadow with her telescope, but missed. The shadow knight brought it’s sword through her arm, and she felt a chill through her body. Roman Dragonshield kept out of the way of his shadow, but couldn’t work out how to hurt it.

[Both roll running and jumping to avoid the shadows, Els fails, Roman doesn’t]

Thinking fast Els grabbed a torch from the wall and thrust it toward one of the knights. It recoiled from the fire, but Els followed it, and it dissolved into smoke when she pushed the torch through it. Seeing this Roman grabbed a torch too and now armed effectively made short work of his shadow foe.

[Both roll fighting monsters, and pass]

After catching their breath Els and Roman carried on up the tower. In the next room they found a beautiful woman with pale skin, pointy ears and a green dress sitting next to a crystal ball. “Welcome Roman Dragonshield. Welcome Els” she said. “My name is Silmarine. And since you have opened the doors and defeated the shadows I know you must be both clever and brave.”

Roman and Els were flattered, but cut to the chase. What, they wanted to know, could she tell them about the four beasts?

“Long ago.” replied Silmarine, “all of magical Scotland was home to the elves. Then the Molten Cat, the Caledonian Boar, the Kelpie and the Royal Stag came, and rampaged through the kingdom. They would have destroyed the whole land, but we made four magic treasures. A collar for the cat, a harp to calm the boar, a bridle for the horse, and a horn for the stag.

When we left for other lands we left the treasures behind. Two we left in a tower in the woods. One buried in the cliffs, and one we gave to the mermaids beneath the sea. I can tell you that the witch who lives in Monster Tower now has the horn and the collar, you have the harp, and the mermaids have the bridle.”

“Now, let me show you something.”

Silmarine gestured and her crystal ball sprang to life. In it Roman and Els could see an image of the sea. And into the picture strode a huge horse, two hundred meters high. Waves crashed around its legs as it strode toward a distant, familiar shore, and a lonely tower.

“When the horse reaches the land it will drown the whole coast. You must visit the mermaids and convince them to give you the bridle.”

Roman and Els had lots of questions, about elves, where they’d gone and what Silmarine was doing, but quickly decided that they should go and see the mermaids. There was just one problem

“How do we see the mermaids?”

“Go to the shore and sing”

Kelpie 1 for blog

And so Roman Dragonshield and Els stood on the beach of the misty isle and sang Humpty Dumpty. Then they sang it again, loudly.

A bit later a lady’s head appeared in the ocean, closely followed by the rest of her. They could see a big fishy tail where her legs belonged.

“Who are you, singing for mermaids on the Misty Isle?” she asked

Roman and Els explained what they wanted. Daphne was not impressed.

“Well, I can take you to see our Queen. But there’s a good chance she won’t let you go again. She’s very cross about all the things that have been dropped and thrown away into our sea.”

Roman and Els agreed to take the chance. Daphne called them into the water and as they waded in they felt their legs transforming into fishy tails. To their amazement, they could swim underwater without any problems.

Daphne led them far beneath the waves, deeper and deeper into the ocean, until eventually they could see a coral palace. There were many mermaids and mermen around. They were led past guards and into a throne room, where Queen Rossail of the Mermaids looked at them from her throne.

Roman and Els explained why they had come. About the Kelpies and the elves and the bridle. When they had finished Queen Rossail did not look happy.

“For hundreds of years we looked after that bridle.” she said “and all we got was rubbish thrown into the water and washed down the rivers. The people on the land know that mermaids live beneath the waves, but they never think of us.

Eventually, some of my people became so fed up with this that they took the bridle and threw it into the Devourer’s Cave. It’s still there. If you can retrieve it I will let you go, on condition that you tell the people on the land to stop throwing their rubbish into the ocean.”

This was not what Roman and Els had been expecting from the mermaids. But they had the information they needed. There was just one question left to ask

“What’s a devourer?”

And so our heroes set off in search of a giant beast with tentacles that could eat whole ships, and which lived in a deep dark cave.

It wasn’t hard to find. The mermaids knew the general location of the cave, and the closer they got the fewer living things could be seen on the sea floor. Eventually there was just bare rock and deep hole. Els and Roman crept up to the edge. Deep in the darkness Els thought she could see something glistening. The bridle?

[Els rolls finding things, and gets a 10!]

Carefully Els and Roman Dragonshield swam down into the cave. Roman pushed some seaweed away from his face. Only it wasn’t seaweed. The water was thick with tentacles!

[Both roll running and jumping (and swimming I guess) to sneak into the cave, both fail]

The tentacles wrapped tight around the heroes and began to haul them down into the depths. Below them they could see a giant maw opening, filled with row after row of shark teeth. Roman Dragonshield slashed around with his sword and cut himself free. Els wriggled and struggled but was still trapped.

[Roman rolls fighting monsters, succeeds. Els rolls Running and Jumping, fails]

Roman dived down to Els, grabbed hold of the tentacles and pulled them away from her. Freed Els dived into the inky water in search of the bridle, and found it!

[Roman rolls Super Strength, succeeds. Els rolls finding things, succeeds!]

With the bridle secured Els and Roman swam for the surface as fast as they could. The tentacles pulled and tugged at them, but their merbodies were fast and swam out of the cave at speed.

Queen Rossail was surprised to see Roman and Els return, but kept her promise and so it was that Roman and Els found themselves on the beach below Wreckers Cliffs, a golden bridle clutched in Els’ hand. Over the water a vast stormcloud full of thunder and lightning was pouring rain onto the ocean, and beneath it a vast horse strode toward the land. Straight toward the lonely tower.

“Roman! You have to put the bridle on it. You can ride Dragon Piet!” yelled Els. “I’ll get Dumonin!”

Roman took the bridle, leapt onto Dragon Piet and flew toward the kelpie. Els ran as fast as she could toward the Lonely Tower.

Over the ocean Dragon Piet battled the winds to get Roman close enough to the giant horse. The dragon powered through the wind, Roman could see the massive mane of the horse ahead of him, and its wild eyes. He took aim, and launched the bridle toward it’s mouth with all his strength – and missed!

[Roman rolls dragon riding – succeeds, and super strength – fails]

At the lonely tower waves were crashing over the cliffs. Els struggled along the cliff top path to the door.

[Rolls climbing and exploring, succeeds]

Roman pushed Dragon Piet into a dive, the wind and water whipping past his ears. He caught the bridle at the last moment, flew up and thrust it into its mouth. The horse reared up, and then, still striding toward the shore began to shrink. Step by step the horse shrank and the waves receded until it stood foaming and champing on the beach, no bigger than a normal horse.

Kelpie 2 for blog

Notes : Guess where we went? Yes The Kelpies , one of the most stunning pieces of modern civic art I’ve ever seen. I mean, what’s not to love about giant Clydesdale Horse heads towering over the landscape? So they had to go into the game.

This game covered a lot of ground. Meeting the elf on Misty Isle, getting the potted mythical history of the land, visiting the mermaids and tangling with two gargantuan monsters. I was really pleased at how well the kids picked up on the overarching plot. I know they did, because they explained the whole thing to their mum over dinner.

The puzzle to open Silmarine’s front door was another example of ‘make up a problem, and wait for a solution you like’. And once again it worked.

Finally I loved the ending to the game, with both kids really concerned about the fate of Dumonin in his tower – they’d even debated evacuating him before visiting the mermaids, but eventually decided the urgency was about getting the bridle. And then Els urging Roman Dragonshield to take on the Kelpie by himself – and him missing the first time. High drama.

Fairy Rose and the Spider Witch

This write-up originally appeared back in October 2013 on the actual play forum of UK Roleplayers. It’s an account of the very first roleplaying game I ever played with my daughter, who was then aged about four and a half. The rules have changed a bit since then – but not a lot. The game went really well, and was the first of a linked series tales about Fairy Rose – the rest of which are sadly lost to history…

Character gen worked as follows. Lisa chose from from the classes of adventurer she’s familiar with – Princess, Pirate and Fairy, and selected a Fairy. After a bit of pondering she was named Fairy Rose.

Fairy Rose was assigned a D6 for Bravery, a D8 for Strength and a D12 for Magic

“Help, Help!” Bushybrow the squirrel came running through the forest. “Princess Melody has been kidnapped by the Spider Witch and taken to her castle! Can you help Fairy Rose?”.

Fairy Rose was sure she could. She walked to the castle. It was very frightening, but she was very brave (roll brave vs 3) and made her way to castle’s door, which was locked tight. After realising she didn’t have a key Fairy Rose used her magic wand to unlock the door, the end of the wand turning into a key that fitted the lock perfectly. The door swang open.

Inside was a dark room. Fairy Rose had a choice, she could bravely go into the dark, use magic to make a light, or go and gather firewood to make a torch. She bravely went into the dark (roll vs 4). Inside was a big room, as her eyes slowly adjusted to the dim light provided by strange glowing fungus she saw a giant spider dropping out of the roof to catch her in its web.

Fairy Rose waved her magic wand and the spider was sent back into the ceiling, where it waved it’s legs helplessly. (roll magic vs 4). Her opponent dispatched Fary Rose saw stairs going up and down, she went up.

On top of the castle the roof had fallen in, making it easy to see. There was also a chest. It was too heavy to pick up (strength vs 3), but with an extra special effort (bravery vs 4) she managed. It rattled when she lifed it. Fairy Rose put the chest down and opened it. Inside was a silver ring, with a blue jewel. Fairy Rose put it on. Immediately it glowed with a soft blue light, and Fairy Rose felt much braver. (magic ring, +1 bravery, provides light)

Now she decided to go all the way down the steps. She went deep, deep down underground. But with the magic ring she could she what she was doing. At the bottom of the steps was a rope bridge, stretching across a deep dark cavern. The bridge didn’t look safe, so Fairy Rose just flew across+. On the other side of the bridge was a tunnel, she went further into it.

Suddenly, she heard someone calling out. “Help, help. Can someone save me? I’ve been trapped here by the Witch!” It was Princess Melody! Fairy Rose rushed over to find her trapped in a big spider web. Bravely (roll brave vs 4) she climbed into the web to free her.

On the way back Priness Melody was too scared to cross the rope bridge. Fairy Rose tried to carry her, but Princess Melody was too heavy (roll strength vs 3). So instead she used her magic to give Princess Melody wings (roll magic vs 3). The two were at the foot of the stairs when they heard the sound of the witch coming home. “Princess Melody – It’s time to eat you up now’ she cackled, and her footsteps could be heard coming down the stairs.

Princess Melody and Fairy Rose tried to fly past the witch, but she made a magic spell and cobwebs appeared everywhere. Their fairy wings wouldn’t work (failed roll, magic vs 4). The witch cackled “Two of you then? Well, I like eating fairies too!”. Fairy Rose tried to magic her way out of the webs* but it didn’t work (failed magic roll vs 4), and she couldn’t struggle free either (failed strength roll vs 3). As the spiders got closer and closer the ring on her hand suddenly glowed with bright light, sending the spiders scuttling away (bravery roll, vs 2). Now Fairy Rose used her magic to make the webs disappear (magic roll vs 3)

The witch cast a spell to turn Fairy Rose into a slug. Fairy Rose tried to grab the witches wand to stop her (failed strength vs 3), but the witch was too strong. Fairy Rose could feel her legs getting slimy. Then she used her own magic to turn the Witch into a Spider (roll magic vs 4). The witch turned into a big fat spider, ran away and hid.

Princess Melody and Fairy Rose ran out of the castle. Princess Melody was very greatful to Fairy Rose for saving her.

+ Yup, I’d forgotten fairies have wings. Four year old girls don’t forget stuff like that though.
* I didn’t do this. Lisa decided she’d been trapped in the web.

Notes : I’ve been thinking about trying this with Lisa for a while. We tell lots of stories to each other, which I try to draw, but this was a big step up in terms of decision making. My basic GM technique was to ask lots of questions to get narrative answers, and when Lisa seemed stuck to give her an option for each stat. Strength had started out as Fighting, but made more sense as ‘any physical task’.

Difficulty levels for dice rolls were kept really low (especially once she was getting +1 on brave tests) but to my surprise she was completely OK with failed rolls. When a roll failed I’d immediately offer an alternative action based on a different stat, but try to leave the narration with her e.g ‘she’s too heavy – do you want to try magic?’

She hasn’t really worked out yet that the bigger dice are better. Either that, or she’s determined to test Fairy Rose’s courage at every opportunity.

And for those who like such things, this story conforms nicely with both the Hero’s Journey and Booker’s ‘Defeating the monster’ story structures…