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RpgGamerDad – First Time GM

There’s a Kickstarter I think you should check out – but you don’t have long – it ends on Thursday 7th May!

It’s fairly cheap, already funded and will be delivered soon after completion. This is part 2 of a Kickstarter I backed the first time around and I have found it quite useful for roleplaying in the RpgGamerFamily household. It’s called ‘Scenes of Chance II’

So, what is ‘Scenes of Chance’? Well, it is a set of large-format  cards with each picture card depicting a fantasy-genre scene. I love the artwork and, despite not being a particularly visual person I find that these scenes really spark my imagination.

Location1

Other cards contain tables which correspond to the icons on the picture cards. The idea is that you roll on these to generate more detailed situations for the location.

Table1

So you can use a combination of picture cards and icon-tables to build up scenarios for your RPG — either improvising as you go, or, used in advance to get the creative juices flowing.

I have a set of ‘Scenes of Chance’ cards from the first time around and I guess this second Kickstarter campaign is a kind of expansion — but there is an option to get both the original set and the new set if you want and I think it’s definitely worth considering adding these to your RPG armoury.

So, why do I think they are so useful? Well, the first time RpgGamerBoy was sole-Gamesmaster for an RPG session we used these cards and it went really, really well. We had decided we were going to play a game but hadn’t thought about which game — and who should run it. Absent-mindedly I said,

Who wants to be GM?

Meaning either RpgGamerMum or myself. But, before GamerMum could answer, GamerBoy jumped in super-excited saying,

Me! Memememememememe!

So how could we refuse? The challenge was that, at a young 5-years old, his reading was nowhere near good enough to get through even the simplest RPG module that we had lying around. We knew the session would have to be heavily improvised.

This had a lot of potential to be absolute chaos with no coherent story and completely random things happening to the PCs with no explanation — which could, of course, be its own kind of fun — but I love stories and I was keen to use this experience to push family roleplaying to the next level. (My eventual aim, of course, is to have a full- family campaign running with either GamerGirl or GamerBoy as GM. That way, we can game at the drop of a hat and I will never have to do any prep.)

Location2

Anyway, this was perfect timing because, a day or so before, we received our set of ‘Scenes of Chance’ cards in the mail. Like his mother, RpgGamerBoy is extremely visual and these cards seemed like the perfect tool to aid an improvised session.

The game worked really well: we had a great time, the story hung together and we all found it exciting to play. At the time I didn’t really understand why it worked so well or why GamerBoy was suddenly so confident, keen and able to GM. But now, I think I get it, so I’m writing down our experience as an example of something to try out if you want to start gaming with kids.

And the ulterior motive for this (aside from promoting the latest Scenes of Chance Kickstarter which I think is a very worthy cause) is as a counterbalance to internet forums which invariably seem to suggest that you shouldn’t bother gaming with your kids. Or, if you do, you should leave it until they are 10 or so. Personally I am definitely in the ‘sooner the better’ camp.

Location3

So, here’s what I think prepared GamerBoy for the session:

1) He was excited about the new cards which gave him an enthusiasm boost.

I think it’s worth getting shiny new RPG things on a regular basis – games, cards, books, minis, maps whatever. We don’t have a lot of spare cash so we buy old things on the cheap. Kids don’t seem to care if things are old. They only care whether they’re awesome or not. Also, try using your various games, systems and paraphernalia on rotation so that there is always a bit of excitement about the game you are about to play.

2) We built up to this step by step.

Absolutely not planned but, looking back, this was essential! We had been playing a proto-roleplaying game with Rory’s Story Cubes (picture dice) — using the pictures to build up a story together — so RpgGamerBoy was familiar with this kind of improvisation. The evening before, we used the ‘Scenes of Chance’ cards to do a similar thing. We drew them at random and took it in turns to add something to the story. I think this really helped with the essential GM skill of coming up with the next bit of the story based on what just happened.

Also, of course, he had been a player in many games. So he understood the concept of players deciding what their character should do and being told the outcome of their actions. He had also been co-DM for a couple of D&D modules so he had some experience on the other side of the screen.

3) We used a really simple rules system.

In this case, basic Fighting Fantasy. It is not actually a system I particularly recommend because combat is attritional and dull, but the basic idea is sound. There are only 3 stats and all dice rolls follow the same very simple rules. This meant that GamerBoy didn’t have anything technical to keep track of;  he could focus on the story. If we were going to do this session again now, I would certainly use Fate Accelerated, but I’m sure there are numerous systems out there which can be stripped down to fit. I suspect the best option is to go with whatever you are most familiar with as an adult so that you can suggest rolls without having to pause for thought.

4) The format of the cards really helped.

Of course, the pictures are fairly essential. No young kid is going to want to read through reams of text and hold them in memory. Pictures are great for sparking the imagination and as a reminder of the scene. Little details of the picture can be used or ignored on a whim.

But also the icons on the picture cards and the d20 tables were very important. As a GM I often ask for a dice roll partly in order to give me a moment to think. Of course, the result of the roll matters, but it is also a comfort and a pressure-release valve for players and GM. This is exactly how it functioned in our game. Whenever RpgGamerBoy got stuck for ideas, we simply suggested he pick an icon to roll on. I read the resulting sentence out for him and this was enough time and stimulus for him to come up with something cool. It also naturally opened the floor for a bit of discussion, so we were able to throw ideas in the mix without stepping on his toes.

5) RpgGamerBoy drew a map as we went.

This, I suspect, will vary wildly from person to person but, in his case, for some reason the map was absolutely essential. He took a lot of time to get it right and referred to it throughout the game. I think the general point here is to use whatever props/ GM-aids you think your kids will respond to. Personally, as a GM, I like to have one hand-written A4 page of notes and no GM screen. I feel comfortable with this. Everyone develops their own style and kids are probably no different.

6) It was important to be patient and massively, massively encouraging.

Regular readers of this column will know that I try to shoe-horn that phrase in each week. I don’t always practise what I preach (I’m not naturally a patient person) but I did pretty well here. At the beginning of the session we didn’t naturally take on distinct GM and player roles. We instinctively fell into the same pattern of collaborative storytelling we use for Rory’s Story Cube games, but we stuck with it and, fairly soon, things clicked.

If you want to hear how we got on, the game (in edited form) is featured in two parts on RpgGamerDad Podcast episodes 13 and 15.

Happy listening and happy gaming!

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