A little play, a big experience

I’ve mentioned that I’m not skilled in bringing role-playing to kids. I’ve done it a fair amount – for instance, all the way back in 1986, with Mentzer’s D&D, when I was working at a neighborhood center. But I don’t have any special techniques or insights about it as a specific task, and as a father, I don’t think I’ve done a very good job of “bringing them up role-playing” as I’ve seen many do, or at least present themselves as doing on social media.

So here’s some reflection on playing Tiny Dungeon with my son Jonathan, age 10, at Spelens Hus. He’s the one who’s really turning on to the place, especially with minis-and-model-terrain competitive play, and this time, he actually suggested that he and I do some role-playing. Patrons know that this game is among the bunch I’ve slated for use in the next few months, especially since pick-up play with a dungeon-y emphasis seems to be what parents would like their kids to encounter at Spelens Hus introductions, rather than, say, Spione.

It’s a pretty rich batch of topics considering one session of a lizard-guy and a dwarf fighting hyena-faced cultists, invoking quite a lot of Big Model terms: Stance, Authorities, IIEE, and the role of damage in fun. I even forgot to talk more about the Beliefs, so maybe we’ll get to that in the comments.

All thoughts are welcome!

(The lead image is from Shadow Over Mystara – it seems to fit well.)


6 responses to “A little play, a big experience”

  1. It was a very interesting

    It was a very interesting recap, and it sounds like you had a great time! It seems like a fun game. I wonder how it works for inexperienced GMs. Also what's up with it not having XP/levels. Looking forward to more Actual Plays. 

    • I’m still a little on the

      I'm still a little on the fence about whether I could just run "hyena faced cultists dungeon fight" using a stick and some open dirt, meaning, whether any game system in operation is anything but an excuse for me hitting the right notes and the players therefore saying "what they do."So I am not sure I even can fairly reflect upon a system I'm using for it.

      That's why I'm focusing more on what Jonathan did and said; he's the real source of reflection in this play-experience.

      I've been informed that the second edition has two (2) improvement systems in place, presented as options.

  2. As a parent, this was quite

    As a parent, this was quite fascinating. My daughters are too young right now but I often wonder if/how I will introduce them to the hobby. This was somehow reassuring, it feels like your son focused on the right notes and everything went well.

    It's interesting how he triggered that "here is where something should happen" moment. Without training or previous experience he immediately went for something that adults working in the hobby seem to struggle with since its inception. 

    • Given some social media

      Given some social media sharing about how this or that parent was raising their kid as a fine young role-player, I was a little disappointed in myself that my kids were not doing too well with it, mostly due to their limited ability to get along. This was a big breakthrough, apparently, especially as you'll see when I get around to recording my reflections on the next phase of play. So maybe there's hope for us who, as parents, have not created little Critical Role All-Stars out of our kids before they're ten.

      Your observation about adults' difficulties with these insights was discussed a lot at the Forge, a little bit concerning kids, but mostly about newcomers to role-playing are very good at it, then seem to undergo a very rapid, even single-session entrainment that shuts down nearly everything good. A friend of mine used to say that the hobby suffered from its terrible strength at transforming role-players into gamers – by which, he didn't mean Creative Agenda, but rather subcultural identity and narrow, disempowered habits of play.

      I was struck at the time by the similarity to teaching science: that kids and curious adults are consistently excellent scientists once you show them the basics, especially when really doing it rather than simulating it, but that even a little bit of the following social context or feedback (within education, let alone the larger society!) consistently shuts it down.

    • Oh, isn’t that so fascinating

      Oh, isn't that so fascinating how all the "I introduced my kids to roleplaying games" reports seem to have gone swimmingly, when those same kids (adorable kids, I'm sure – I'm thinking of a few I actually know in real life) seem to be unable to sit down for 10 minutes in a row?

      My elder daughter is 4, so it's a bit early for her, but she's fanatically into boardgames right now. Like I can't put her to sleep unless we played a couple games of Viva Topo! or Monopoly, or Fantablitz or… she has so many. It's impressive how she (and I imagine the same applies to most kids her age) doesn't struggle not just with remembering rules but also understanding that rules are meant to drive the game, and how she can set immediate goals for herself during play, but that process you describe (immediate buy in and enthusiastic initiative slowly devolving into obsessing over those goals and need to "win" somehow, which I guess we could describe as a change from playing to gaming) is something I'm already noticing, to the point I ended up asking her teachers whether this notion of "winning play" was something she was taught. They insisted it isn't, which makes the entire process somehow facinating – if a bit scary. I've been involved in a discussion on the concept of reward in play with a few other authors a couple weeks ago and halfway through I was utterly confused because I was convinced of most of the arguments sustaining the need for rewards but I couldn't say why. Maybe it is something we already pick up as kids, but where?

      At the risk of being slightly off-topic, there's a few design choices I'm agonizing over for my Crescent project and it all ultimately ties into this – the choice between pursuing the solutions that are more coherent with what the game is about and how you think it should work and the pression to strip down and de-regulate things, because "people won't learn/people will not adapt". And it seems to me that this process and the discussion that surrounds it fundamentally is a slow erosion that leads all games to work in a certain, familiar way, ultimately making all games in a certain genre essentially the same game. I wonder if there's some relationship with that formula of play and societal norms, if people tend to naturally gravitate toward certain mechanics because they echo things we teach them as acceptable/correct behaviours ("wait for your turn to speak, keep your place in line, respect authority, keep it simple, delegate to qualified professionals, pick up a role" etc).

      And that makes watching kids play interesting to me, because they often don't have pressure to "do well" and they just do what they want. But even that ends so soon. Ok, rant over. 

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