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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RPG Theory: Creating conflicts

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.

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DriveThru RPG Metal Tiers

Since Amazing Tales has now earned all the various ‘best selling’ metal badges from Drive Thru RPG, and since I see questions about this pop up from time to time I thought it might be useful to explain exactly how they work.

The metal badges are based on how many copies your game has sold. That does include products sold at a discount, but it doesn’t include products sold for free or ‘at cost’. So the dozen copies you bought for yourself to send to reviewers aren’t included.

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Shadow vs T-Rex

Kris and Big sent us this account of their first ever game of Amazing Tales. As you can see they had an epic and prehistoric time. If you’ve got an Amazing Tale to share send it in, or share it in our Facebook group.

Big (a real life five year old boy with a great imagination) is a crystal raptor. This is a raptor dinosaur made of crystal so that he’s almost invincible. His name is Shadow, and his best talent is clawing and tearing things with his razor sharp claws. He can also run super-duper mega-fast (adjectives supplied by Big), build things, and swim.

Amazing Tales Character

Shadow lives in a hilly forest with a nice stream running through the middle and between the hills. One day, as Shadow takes his morning walk to the stream for a refreshing drink and to catch a few breakfast fish, he hears a small mewling sound. Upon investigation, he finds a tiny baby triceratops (Meepmeep) who seems to be all alone.

Thump. Thump. Thump. Tyrannosaurus Rex can be heard in the distance. He’s coming closer! Shadow grabs Meepmeep and takes off running.

[Roll for run. Miss!] Shadow’s weighed down by Meepmeep and can’t get away as fast as easily as usual. T Rex is now right behind Shadow, almost in chomping distance.

[Roll for build. Critical hit!] Shadow quickly puts Meepmeep down and, with his outstanding building ability crafts a strong wall out of forest material right in front of T. Rex. As T. Rex moves to go around the wall, Shadow builds even further. Eventually, there is a wall dividing the full length of the forest into two halves – Shadow and Meepmeep on one side and T. Rex on the other.

Shadow and Meepmeep settle down to enjoy their belated breakfast and rest for a bit. T. Rex can be heard thumpthumpthumping along the wall looking for a way to break through. Just as Shadow starts relaxing, he hears a desolate sound from Meepmeep. Meepmeep explains that he’s sad and worried because his mother is caught on the other side of the wall with T. Rex.

Shadow comes up with a plan to save Meepmeep’s mom. He’ll hide Meepmeep in the safe half of the forest, then take down a small portion of the wall atop the river. He’ll swim through the river so that T. Rex doesn’t notice him.

[Roll swim. Hit!] Shadow stealthily swims underwater past T. Rex. T. Rex continues stomping along the wall while Shadow searches the dangerous side of the forest for Meepmeep’s mom. He finds her and begins the trek back to Meepmeep on the safe side.

[Roll swim. Hit!] Shadow and Meepmeep’s mom make it past T. Rex by swimming underwater to the safe side of the island. From his hiding place, Meepmeep spots his mom and runs over in excitement. The rush of movement catches T. Rex’s attention, and he once again tries to break through the wall. He finds the weak spot where Shadow had to remove part of the wall to cross over. T. Rex starts making his way through.

[Roll build. Miss!] Shadow tries to hurriedly rebuild that portion of the wall, but does not finish in time. Now T. Rex is on the same side of the forest as Shadow, Meepmeep, and Meepmeep’s mom! T. Rex gets even closer, eyeing the group hungrily.

[Roll fight. Hit!] Shadow uses his razor sharp claws to defend Meepmeep and his mom. T. Rex is injured in the scuffle and takes a few steps backwards.

[Roll build. Hit!] In the brief period while T. Rex is recovering from Shadow’s attack, Shadow very quickly rebuilds the missing portion of the wall, effectively shutting T. Rex on the other side of the forest again.

Rex continues thumping along the wall looking for another way through but seems to be stuck on his side of the forest. Shadow, Meepmeep, and Meepmeep’s mom live together happily ever after as a family, safe from T. Rex.

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.


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.

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Amazing Tales: A story-game for children aged four and up

Five years ago I made up a game to play with my four year old daughter. Now it’s a beautiful book, and thousands of parents are playing the game with their children.


Amazing Tales is a role-playing game, like Dungeons and Dragons, but with simple, child friendly rules that fit on one piece of paper. Your child makes up a hero, anything from a dashing pirate to a space alien, and you make up a story for them. When your child decides their hero should take a risk you roll dice to see what happens next.

“It doesn’t have a ton of crunchy rules you’d be used to seeing when you open an rpg, and I almost didn’t want to buy it because money is tight, and why do I need a reference if there aren’t a lot of rules, right? BUT, the kids are so excited to have their own book, their own game, that I absolutely recommend buying it. They’ve been reading over it and reading over it and excited to tell their own stories like we adults do on game night.”*

Amazing Tales includes 28 pages of full colour illustrations to inspire adventure, and four complete backgrounds; the deep dark wood, magical kingdoms long ago, the pirate seas and adventures beyond the stars. Each background includes ten story seeds, exciting ideas to get an adventure started.

“I just bought the pdf last night and had our first game with my almost 4 year old twins. Wonder woman and Flash flew into space to save Spiderman, dangling from a planet with giant bean stalks and a blue furred alien with ten legs named deni. We had a blast!”*

To work well for small children Amazing Tales is different to many traditional role-playing games. Here are some of the key differences

Traditional role-playing games Amazing Tales
Have extensive rules Has rules so simple a four year old can understand them
Limits what kind of hero you can be Heroes can be anything your child can imagine
The story needs to be prepared in advance Designed to be played with no preparation
Can take hours to play Fit a whole adventure into 30 minutes
The games-master rolls dice against the hero’s player Only the hero’s player ever rolls dice
Heroes can be hurt or killed Exciting things can happen, but the heroes always survive

Unlike most kids games Amazing Tales is a workout for a grown-up brain as well. You work with your child to invent the world and the adventure, and decide what happens after the dice are rolled.

Magical Fight

This is more fun than snakes and ladders.

For parents who are new to role-playing games or gaming with children Amazing Tales has plenty of advice on everything from making magic magic, to keeping fights child friendly.

“I ordered two copies of the standard hardcover for my children and my niece for Christmas, but now that I’ve seen them in person I don’t think I can wait that long. The illustrations are absolutely beautiful! I’ve read through the instructions, they’re very easy to understand and seem to cover everything. I love how the focus is on the children’s creativity and creating a story with them; it seems like the perfect introduction to RPGs.”*

Buy Amazing Tales as a hardback book or PDF from DriveThruRPG

Still not sure? Watch me play a game with my children

All quoted reviews can be found here or here.

Amazing Tales Lesson Plan

Just before the summer I wrote about Amazing Tales in the classroom. In particular what happened when my friend Baz Stevens of the Smart Party podcast ran a game for his class.


In that post I promised that a lesson plan would be forthcoming, and here it is. Baz provides some explanation:

“I’ve attached the files for my lesson planning for the Amazing Tales lessons. I pitched these at my year 4 class and it went down incredibly well. I think it could be run as-is for any year in Key Stage 2 (7-11). Teachers looking at this will be able to see what’s going on, and will adjust for their own differentiation and text subject. Mine’s sci fi, but they can do whatever.

I’ve also included two Smartnote files. This is a commonly used teaching software that can be used on interactive whiteboards. The second file is full of imagery which the teacher can use to spur on the story. I only used two or three in the lesson myself, but they’re all there if needed. Again, teachers can and will customise to suit.”

Download the files here. 

Introduce your child to Role-playing games this summer

Role-playing games have long been touted as a great way to develop social skills, creativity and vocabulary in children. And while they’re usually seen as something for older kids to play among themselves, here are four reasons to start your kids on adventures, even before they can read:

1. Playing role-playing games with your kids is so much fun

It really is. You and your children make up a story together. They invent the heroes and decide what they do, and you pose the challenges. They will amaze you with the things they come up with and it’s a stimulating work out for your brain too as you improvise responses and new challenges. Or you could play snakes and ladders, again.

Magical Fight

This is more fun than snakes and ladders.

2. Role-playing lets your children practice interaction and build confidence

For a four year old approaching someone, making a request and agreeing a deal doesn’t come naturally. Asking a friendly wizard for a spell to chase away a ghost gives them a chance to practice this skill. And if the friendly wizard asks for something in return, then they learn about bargaining. For shy children learning what it feels like to have a conversation when they’re a mighty hero can be truly empowering.

3. Role-playing is a great way to learn about problem solving

The space-ship is damaged and spinning out of control, what do you do? The treasure map is burned and you can only read half of it, what do you do? You’re trapped in a cave and the noises are getting closer, what do you do? Role-playing games teach children to take on problems that aren’t structured. Learning to look at the resources available, make a plan and carry it out is a valuable life skill, and it’s at the heart of role-playing games.

pondering - small

Pondering how best to fight a sea-serpent

4. Role-playing stimulates creativity

Young kids have amazing imaginations, and naturally mix and match everything that crosses their path to make new ideas. Playing a role-playing game with your kids allows you to share in that and build on their ideas. Together parents and children can create unique, shared stories that will last.

If this sounds good then I’d like to introduce you to Amazing Tales, a role-playing game written for parents to play together with their children. What makes it so good for kids?

  • Rules so simple a four year old can explain them
  • Packed with advice for new role-players, and role-players new to gaming with kids
  • Designed to be played with a parent and one or two children
  • Fit a whole adventure into the time it takes to watch a cartoon
  • Nothing to prepare so you can play when your kids are ready

The Amazing Tales book features 28 pages of full colour artwork to get the creative juices flowing, and four different settings ready for your adventures.

Compound Image

Four amazing worlds to get started

  • The Deep Dark Wood:  Where animals talk and fairies fly in secret groves
  • Magical Kingdoms long ago: Where knights and wizards seek adventure
  • The Pirate Seas: Follow a mysterious map to treasure islands, mermaids and sea-monsters
  • Adventures beyond the stars: Robots, men and aliens

What kind of character would your kids create? What kind of adventure could you take them on?

If you want to find out by playing Amazing Tales you can download a PDF or order a hardback copy from DriveThruRPG.

Note that European orders printed in and shipped from the UK.

Amazing Variations

Thousands of children and their parents have played Amazing Tales in the six months since it was released. And they’ve come up with all kinds of new things to do with the game. Here are some of the best.

kids playing_final

1. Play one scene a day: Like most grown ups I think about role-playing games in terms of sessions that last for hours. Amazing Tales is designed for kid friendly sessions that take less than thirty minutes, but you can go further. Play out one or two scenes a day, right before bedtime. And right there you’ve got a five or ten minute daily dose of role-playing for parents and child.

And who doesn’t like a daily dose of gaming?

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