Kids RPG Journal – #12 Character Sketch Process

When I start designing a character, I don’t really stick to a solid process. I tend to go one of two ways:

One, I jump right in and start drawing something stiff and uninspired, then revise it a number of times until I have something I don’t hate.

Two, I look up some reference, think about it for a long while and only once the idea is clearly formed in my head, start drawing.

Since I don’t draw often enough to tell which method works better for me, I pretty much wing it every time. Since I am almost exclusively drawing for myself, I am pretty lax on reference and spend maybe a quarter of the time I should.

For the boys characters, I went ahead and did some really base drawings without much thought put into them. I knew that the Wolf Feral character would be wearing a cowl and that the Thunder Priest would be beefy. All of the characters are to be kids (which I don’t have a lot of practice drawing), so I needed to be mindful to keep them young looking.

player character sketches

My natural inclination is to draw in a very sketchy manner that I do not find appealing. I keep these in my sketchbook and draw in with mechanical pencils with either standard or red lead. Once I figure out the general shapes and features, then I can go in and clean up the line work and make everything tighter, which is what I’ll do for these in my next pass. For those, I’ll move into Clip Studio Paint on the iPad and come up with a few more sketches before going into the digital inking steps.

The Wolf Feral is pretty close to where I want to have him in terms of design, so I may have many more steps before finalizing him.

Bursten Sketch

Oliver, who will be playing the Thunder Priest, did not care for my initial design and wanted me to make him leaner, more muscular. I’m going to let him see the next drafts before I go too much further, but I’m not quite feeling the character yet, so I may do another pass or two before moving on to the iPad.

Thule sketches

Kids RPG Journal – #11 Ability Icons

Once I decided to go with four abilities instead of six for the character sheet, and to use the same nomenclature as Sidekick Quests, I needed to figure out how to get those on the page. Clever, Quick, Smart, Tough. I want to have some nice icons to use, and while the illustrations on Sidekick Quests are nice, they don’t quite fit the tone of the game I want to play.

I checked No Thank You Evil, and those are no good at all. I really don’t like the lazy association of glasses with intelligence, especially for a game with children.

So, it was time to make my own. I went with more nature-based icons and have each ability associated with an animal totem, inspired by the spirit Guides from John Harper’s, Wildlings.  I didn’t really go out on a limb with the animal associations, but here they are:

Fox : Clever
Falcon : Quick
Owl : Smart
Bear : Tough

The next step was going through a number of quick drafts, some of which illustrated very clearly that I don’t know what animals really look like. Then a couple of reference photos and search of how others simplified the forms, also keeping inspiration from the style of Wildlings and Viking carvings (which have featured prominently in my work for years).

ability icons for kids RPG

Once I had something that I was pretty happy with, I took a picture and started drawing the final forms in Clip Studio Paint on my iPad. I drew out the designs, though I debated if I should make them using vectors for more flexibility. In the end, I prefer to use Clip Studio, and while it has pretty robust vector capabilities, it does not have the ability to export into SVG or EPS, only rasterized images.

And here is the final for the ability icons for the kids RPG:

ability icons for kids RPG

Next, I will be working on the character illustrations for the boy’s PCs (player characters).

Kids RPG Journal – #10 Making Monsters

In fairy tales and folklore, when the hero of the tale comes across a monster, it is very rare that they fight and kill it. Instead they use their wits to find a creative way to banish, appease, or trick the monster.

I realize that D&D is based more on mythological heroes like Perseus and Thor, who are not only capable of going toe to toe with their monstrous foes, but almost exclusively hack and slash. Yet even in the myths, there are a large number of characters who outwit their foes. Odin and Loki rarely lift a weapon on their adventures, nor do they obliterate everything with fireballs and devastating magic. Their stories are more subtle.

When there is a monster intent on smashing Asgard, the gods rely on Thor to protect them, but the monsters in Odin’s stories are wiser and have goals other than killing and devouring.

If I want more of that feel in my game, I’m going to need more than just the character’s moves to encourage that. I need to be creative with my monsters.

Let Them Talk
One of the best ways to prevent monsters from becoming sword-bait is to give them a voice. If the players are interested in what the monster is going to say and what their motivations are, then they may be less likely to pound it into the dirt as soon as they see it. (Though some players will do this no matter the adversary.) In my world, nearly every monster will be able to speak or communicate in some way. Even the starving ones will be quite chatty about their hunger.

Make Them Hard To Kill
Another way to encourage creative solutions is to make the monster either resistant to the characters’ attacks or to make them to dangerous to get near. I will probably shy away from this method for a while until I’ve played with the boys more. I don’t want to frustrate them unintentionally.

Give Them Creative Impulses
In most RPG, goblins sole purpose is to try to stab people or fill them full of arrows. In folktales, they are interested in kidnapping people, tricking them into eating goblin fruit, or just pinching them black and blue. The second is much better suited for storytelling and finding creative ways to defend against them

I’ve come up with a categorization for monsters based on psychological impulses and the tropes in folklore. Each monster fits into one of six archetypes based on their compulsions. I’m hoping this gives me some interesting roleplaying aspects to keep things fresh. I’ll definitely explore this more in future journal entries.

Give the Players Alternatives
Each monster needs to have alternative ways to defeat/thwart them outside of combat. Last year, I put together a list of more than a hundred precautions against monsters pulled directly from folktales and stories. I have them in the following categories:

  • Consealment
  • Binding/Warding
  • Cleansing/Purifying
  • Irritants/Offenses
  • Pacification/Offerings
  • Distractions
  • Misdirection
  • Rituals
  • Bargaining
  • Core Essence
  • Destruction

Each monster I create for the game will have a minimum of two of these precautions that can be used to defeat them. The challenge will then be to find fun ways for the boys to discover what precautions can be used for each monster and see if there can be some more satisfying ways to complete quests and stop monster mayhem.

Kids RPG Journal – #9 First Look at Seether Class

Finally, I’m taking a look at the starting moves for the Seether, the chthonic shaman class chosen by my wife.

Seether

You are wise woman in touch with the dark energies of the earth. Through trance-like seething, you channel the mysteries of the deep, the ways of fire, and  serpent magic.

Burning Touch
You are able to focus your energies to make your touch red-hot. Extended contact can cause organic materials to combust.

Earth Memory
You fall into a trance and send your fetch into the deep earth to find answers. On a 7+ you can ask a single question of the GM. Anything below 7, the denizens of the deep earth notice your presence.

Serpent Dance
When you are engaged in conflict with another, you can cause your body to tremble and shake with the movements of the serpent. You can choose to either quick strike for a +1 on Hack and Slash or whip out of harms way to defend for +1.

Buried Knowledge
You know things from deep beneath the earth and gain +1 on all discern realities or spout lore moves when dealing with the underworld and things that grow there.

 

Related Links:
Wolf Feral Class
Thunder Priest Class

Kids RPG Journal – #8 First Look at Thunder Priest Class

Here is a quick view of the Thunder Priest class chosen by the other son.

Thunder Priest

You are devoted to the warrior god thunder, Thor, and have learned to channel some of the natural powers of the storm.

Hearty Revelry
You are a large presence, particularly when you have a full belly. People hang on your every word and feel compelled by your boisterous tales.  When you attempt to discern realities or parley with others while eating and drinking, you get +1 on the roll.

Bend Bars, Lift Gates
When you use pure strength to destroy an inanimate obstacle, roll +TOUGH. 10+ choose 3 below. 7-9 choose 2.

  • It doesn’t take a very long time
  • Nothing of value is destroyed
  • It is not too noisy
  • You can fix without a lot of effort

Thunder Touch
When you touch a being with your hand, you can channel the thunder from inside to push them away from you.

Storm Charge
You can charge a metal weapon with lighting to do an additional +1 damage.

Signs of Battle
When you attempt to discern realities when you come upon a scene where a battle has occurred, you gain +1

I borrowed the Bend Bars, Lift Gates move directly from the Fighter playbook. I’m not 100% sure if I am going to keep it the same. I’m curious if the multiple options would work well for the boys or not. It might be something that changes as we play the game. Flexibility will be key.

I gave this class two more investigative abilities because the play may lend itself to more combat and I want to give him other options.

Related Links:
Wolf Feral Class

Kids RPG Journal – #7 First Look at Wolf Feral Class

A quick look at the wolf feral class, played by one of my sons.

When making a class playbook for them, I am cognizant to keep descriptions simple, but mindful to not dumb things down. Each class will have some core move which will assist them in either investigation or conflict resolution outside of combat.

Here are some of the starting moves for the class. I may add one or two more after I get some of the other classes set up.

Wolf Feral

You are a member of the Ulfhednar, an order of humans who can channel the powers of wolves. You wear a pelt that gives you the senses, reflexes, and ferocity of the wolf.

Keen Senses
Your senses are those of a wolf. In particular, hearing and smell are much more sensitive than normal humans. Darkness does not hinder you, but loud noises and strong smells may make it difficult to focus.

Vicious Bite
When you try to bite someone or something, it is extremely painful. You can hold someone tightly with your iron jaws.

Wolf Step
You can move silently and quickly like a wolf, covering large distances with preternatural speed.

Natural Hunter
When you follow the trail of a living being, you roll +CLEVER +1 On 7+ you are able to follow until conditions change. On 10+ you are able to gather information about your quarry.

Kids RPG Journal – #6 Character Sheet Changes

One thing I want to focus on early is focusing on pairing down the character sheets for Dungeon World. I want to make it nice an manageable for the boys to just focus on the parts of their character that they’ll need for play.

A few things that are extraneous for our game and will be scrapped for now:

Alignment – I can’t see any benefit to trying to get the young ones to wrap their minds around the various alignments and limiting there role-playing abilities. Their actions will have consequences in the game, I think that will be enough to keep us going.

Race – Just going to start out with the standard human race for everyone. Keeps it a little more in the mid to low fantasy vibe I’m working, and gives me a little extra room on the character sheet.

Then there are a few things, I’m thinking about modifying and simplifying:

Abilities – Do I really need all six of the abilities to play? In Sidekick Quests, it has Clever Enough, Quick Enough, Smart Enough and Tough Enough, while No Thank You Evil! uses Tough, Fast, Smart, and Awesome. Clever can include both Charisma and Wisdom for most situations, just as Tough can include Strength and Constitution for most situations. I want to create an icon for each ability to make it a little more kid-friendly and appealing.

The other consideration is do I really need to keep the standard 3-18 range for abilities? I’m not sure that is the most intuitive versus a 1-10 or even 1-6 range, but changing it may make me have to adjust much more than just the numbers on the page. Since the ability modifier is what is predominantly used to make decisions, I might be able to get away with some additional simplification.

Hit Points – I like a more graphical or physical representation of the character’s health, so I may try to set something along those lines and make sure that the health points stay fairly low. Since neither Dungeon World, nor Sidekick Quests increases HP on leveling up, then I think something more graphic would still fit on the sheet nicely.

Moves – I’m really only going to come up with a few of the starting moves for each of the PC classes and some of the moves that they can add on once they start leveling up. I’m not trying to build completely new playbooks just yet, particularly since a lot of that work may change as we progress in the game and find out what moves work best, are over powered, or simply don’t serve the story. Also, it will keep the sheet less cluttered and I won’t have to create icons for each and every move that the character may gain over the course of our play.

Gear – All of their gear will be on illustrated cards where they can see just exactly what they carry on their persons. I’m not really interested in the encumbrance and weight rules of games (nor do I typically worry about a lot of money issues and provisions like rations), but I want the boys to flex their math skills, so I’ll have them keep track of all their weights and spending.

Kids RPG Journal – #5 World-Building Themes

Even before I made the decision to go forward, I pretty much had a solid view of the world I wanted to build for the game. It is a combination of four main themes over a medieval fantasy world:

Teutonic/Viking – No surprise here. Nearly everything I’ve ever worked on has some sort of Teutonic influence. I say Teutonic instead of Viking, to include other northern European influences outside of Scandinavia. Since this is for the kids, a lot of the aesthetic will be reminiscent of How To Train Your Dragon—a huge area of interest for the boys right now.

Not Too-high Fantasy – This land is not going to include dragons and flashy wizards, goblin armies and wild magic, though I may edge into that territory at times. I am more drawn to the monsters of ghost stories and regional folklore, so the scale will tend towards the frontier-level, with events affecting local farms and towns. The monsters will be a little more fairy-lore and less world-ending. Magic will be very present, but I’m going to try to keep it more like the runes and curses of the sagas and less standard D&D.

Pirates – The other design aesthetic will be pirate-influenced. This is another area that the boys like, and I think it will be interesting to meld the Viking and Pirate designs and tropes.

Academy – Finally, with the boys deep into Harry Potter, I will also be including some elements from the academy style stories. The primary setting for the game will be at a school to train young kids to use their skills and deal with the problems (usually monsters, and maybe pirates) affecting the areas around them.

I like the school theme because it includes various things that the boys are currently dealing with. It makes it nice to have a base of operations and lends itself to stories and adventures are episodic in nature. Plus, it allows for fun recurring characters and more social dynamics than dungeon-crawl and murder-hobo campaigns.

Kids RPG Journal – #4 RPG Systems for Adults

Looking into the “adult” RPGs, I already know that I am going to completely avoid any with a bunch of rules that the players have to deal with, so that means D&D and Pathfinder are automatically out. I’ve never felt compelled by the Savage Worlds system, and I simply haven’t had time to get into Burning Wheel, though I’ve had the Mouse Guard on my wish list forever.

There are other lesser known games that I have enjoyed, but just don’t have enough meat on the bones to help me run the games I want, like Seven Leagues.

So what I have on my list is FATE, Powered by the Apocalypse games, and Gumshoe. All three are not strictly combat-oriented and encourage different modes of play.

FATE

Honestly, even though FATE was my first exploration into less rules heavy games, I have only played it a couple of times. That has not kept me from being really fascinated by it. I love the cinematic nature and freedom that Aspects play in all encounters. It is definitely my speed when it comes to story-driven  RPGs.

However, I fear that it might just a little too freeform for the kids. Since I would be putting most of the situational Aspects on the table, I fear that I’ll end up railroading the group unintentionally. The kids often latch on to my suggestions, and I don’t know that I want the direction of every encounter to be limited by my own imagination. Or that they’ll pick on particular character Aspect and try to hammer that in all situations.

PASS: Maybe I just haven’t had enough actual experience with FATE to properly wrap my head around how to run it with the kids. I’m moving away from it with more of a gut instinct than anything I can put my finger on.

https://www.evilhat.com/home/fate-core/

Gumshoe

I am really drawn to investigative games and I really like some of the dynamics of Gumshoe. It is, however, essentially a resource management game and I don’t know how much fun that would be for six-year-olds. Also, I may be tempted to unintentionally make any mysteries too difficult for them to solve, just by the investigative focus. Maybe when they’re a little older, we can try out Bubblegumshoe.

PASS: Like I stated above, Gumshoe might be more my thing than something I do with the kids at this point.

http://site.pelgranepress.com/index.php/gumshoe/

Dungeon World (Powered by the Apocalypse system)

I really like PbtA games. For this, I’m only really considering Dungeon World, though I could make some interesting adjustments to Monster of the Week. Aside from the flexible story-telling focus of Dungeon World, and the incredible GM tools (which I already use pretty heavily when I run D&D games), the biggest point in favor for using this with the kids is the concept of Moves.

There are a limited number of actions that the players (and GM can perform) called Moves. While the small number of moves, may seem limiting, it actually allows for very broad interpretations and inspires creative usage. What I like about them is they can represented with a couple of key words and graphic representations, which will prevent any hurdles for the kids. The game will start with no more than a dozen actions they can perform in all situations.

I would need to create all new classes (playbooks) and their corresponding moves to go in the game, but that’s nothing really different from what I would have to do for any other system.

ACCEPT: Dungeon World is simple enough that I can easily modify portions without worrying too much about ruining the play experience. I think the boys could easily grasp the mechanics of the game and not be overwhelmed.

http://www.dungeon-world.com/

Final Verdict: I believe the best solution will be a mashup of both Sidekick Quests and Dungeon World with my customized classes and moves to encourage other solutions for monster and adversary encounters. Primarily, I will use the mechanics of Dungeon World, but will keep a lot of the presentation similar to the setup for Sidekick Quests.

Tomorrow, I will talk a little bit more of what I imagine that will entail.

Kids RPG Journal – #3 RPG Systems for Kids

Since I’ve already ruled out D&D as an option for running a game with my kids, I looked through a number of systems I own (and I own a lot more than I have actually played) that I thought might work.

First, I looked at systems specifically geared towards kids: No Thank You Evil!, Hero Kids, and Sidekick Quests.

No Thank You Evil! is a game that I like the concept of, but the application just doesn’t really do anything for me. I purchased all of the Kickstarter sets and expansions hoping that I would enjoy it more, but like a lot of Monte Cook game products I feel it is inconsistent and incomplete. Their Cypher system could be used to get the type of game play I’m looking for, but I feel like I would be spending a lot of time fighting the system and being disappointed at the handouts and extras which are close to being useful, but not quite there, I would have to make a bunch of my own.

We’ve played this a handful of times with the boys and they loved it. I was able to make up some interesting adventures, but there was less interaction with the boys as they didn’t really know what to do with their characters (except shoot at bad guys), without prodding and suggestions from the parents.

PASS: It’s quite simply not a game I enjoy running and I’m not willing to put the effort I think it would require to run the games I want.

http://www.nothankyouevil.com/

Hero Kids is a game which is very much like D&D lite meant for players between 4 and 10. It has a limited character sheet which is almost entirely focused on combat. There are some sparse rules to explore and role play, but the majority of the rules and adventure content is focused on fighting as the primary action.

PASS: It has all of the inherent problems as D&D and I feel like I’d be fighting against the system the entire time to run the type of game I’m looking for.

http://herokidsrpg.blogspot.com/

Sidekick Quests is a game I picked up on kickstarter with potential and great art which go along side a webcomic. It just completed the second Kickstart campaign and I’m interested to see what the updated game system will bring. Each sidekick character starts with four core actions, two of which can only be used once per gaming session. The emphasis is on being creative instead of always beating on monsters.

MAYBE: Of the games for kids, Sidekick Quests would be my choice to adapt. I could see myself using the character/NPC templates and the quest setup. I do feel like I could get away with providing the player characters with more than just four available actions, but I will explore that when I look at the adult games tomorrow.

https://sidekickquests.com/

All of these games have their benefits and I think if I chose any of them and played them out of the box and just play the available adventures, the boys would have a good time and appreciate their early RPG experiences. Sidekick Quests is definitely more along the lines of what I want to do and I could see myself having more fun playing that with them than the others.

Next, on to the adult games.