So, Bad Debt. Bad Debt is specially written as an introductory scenario. It takes place in a cramped, crowded and corrupt debtor’s prison, which keeps the action – and the characters – confined. It makes special use of one of the things that makes Zweihander stand out – the Peril mechanic, which models physical and mental stress and strain. As you can imagine, being in prison piles on both. It’s loaded up with difficult choices for the players and is very much focused around role-playing. Combat in Zweihander is brutal, deadly and best avoided, so smart players will learn to start by talking…
Do you want a map showing the locations of mythological creatures from all over Europe? You Do? Well that’s good news because the Journal of Maps have just published one in 2013, compiled by Giedrė Beconytė, Agnė Eismontaitė & Jovita Žemaitienė who must have really liked their mythology and folktales…
Thanks to this map I know that I grew up where Ettins come from (number 65) and currently live somewhere surrounded by Elves (number 62) and Goblins (86) in the Netherlands.
Needless to say this is all great inspiration for making up Amazing Tales. Who could resist an encounter with a Wolpertinger. “A being composed from body parts of various animals –wings, antlers, fangs and webbed feet of a duck, all attached to the body of a rabbit. Has a weakness for female beauty” or the last on the list Zilant, “A winged dragon with one head, four chicken legs, a bird’s body and a snake tail, wise and benevolent.”
And if you’d like to get your hands on a copy of Amazing Tales, the role-playing game for kids aged four and up and their parents you can…
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
Creative problem solving
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 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.
#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?
#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.
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
I was play-testing a Zweihander scenario last night and was reminded just how useful it is when the GM has *all* the stats they need right in front of them for combats. I like combats to run fast, and pausing to look stuff up always feels like unnecessarily glitchy to me.
The good news was that the reformatted character sheets I’d provided for the players worked really well. Less good news was that I ended up with NPC stats spread across three pieces of paper, which is two too many.
So here’s the solution. A single page which can record the stats for five NPCs plus a dozen damage tracks so if you decide you need say five guards you can just keep track of them there.
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.
This has nothing to do with Amazing Tales. But if you play the Zweihander Roleplaying game and you’d like a one page, form fillable character sheet I’ve made one. (This post has been updated 5 April 2019)
“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.
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.
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.
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.
A band of adventurers armed with sword and spell venture underground to kill monsters and claim treasure. That was the original dungeons and dragons concept and it’s propelled the hobby for the subsequent forty years. But games don’t have to be about violence, and, there are lots more ways to set up a good conflict.
The good news is any kind of conflict, whether it involves violence or not can be summarised in the following form
I want …
I can’t have it because … and …
If I succeed… but if I fail…
The appeal of violence in role-playing games is straightforward, a fight provides the essential narrative elements in condensed form. You’ve got a conflict, you’ve got stakes, you’ve got motivation, all of it right there in the time it takes to say ‘there are five goblins in the room’. If your story isn’t going to feature violence it still needs those things. So let’s look at them one at a time.