Kids RPG Journal – #38 Session Zero Thoughts

It’s been nearly two weeks since we made our first foray into the Harrowlands game. I figured it was finally time for me to write up my thoughts. There were some things that I liked and others that I didn’t, which is to be expected. More importantly, the boys had a really good time and are still talking about it nearly two weeks later. It helps that they’ve been watching me put together the audio clips and they’ve asked to listen to them over and over again.

In this session zero, we did the following:

1) Explained the core rules and basic moves of the game, including reviewing the character sheets and the various props (10 minutes)

2) Went over the guidelines for how we would play: be respectful, work together (no PC infighting), and no death. (5 minutes)

3) Player Character backstories (20 minutes)

4) Travel montage and local lore (10 minutes)

What Worked Well

video recording of Harrowlands session zero

Player Ownership. One thing that seemed to resonate was when in each backstory I had the player choose the villain from a couple of options. Additionally, I made them roll one of their moves to see how well they fared. The backstory was completely railroaded, where the outcome was written regardless of the rolls, but the dice revealed how they got there. The kids responded well to being able to choose, and it was kind of neat for me to be able to later illustrate their choices for the audio clips. (I’ll also be repurposing the illustrations for the Adventure Journals)

Fart Jokes. This one is pretty obvious, but once I threw in that Plunk was gassy and smelly, it really upped the engagement with the boys. They’re still talking it two weeks later: “Daddy, you know why I didn’t like Plunk?” “Why?” “Because he kept farting all the time.” I guess it really helps to know your audience.

Recording and Camera Setup. I definitely wanted to have a record of the session, so I recorded with OBS. I set my laptop on the game table in front of me, a webcam on the kitchen counter to get the whole table, and my Yeti microphone. I played around with some pretty basic overlays for the video, and was pleasantly surprised by the results we got playing on a folding table in the middle of the living room. This was the first time I used the Yeti to record audio for an entire table and I feel like it picked up all of the voices without being overly loud with the items on the table (the padded dice boxes definitely helped). 

At one point, my oldest pug decided to trot around on the hardwood floors which was quite distracting. I may have to lock them up somewhere during the sessions, but they are pretty needy and would likely bark or whine.

I don’t know if I will put up the video or not, but really glad that I put in the effort to get it going. I believe it will really help me as a GM to hear and see where I tend to lose the thread and fall short, and where I have everyone involved and where I lose them.

What I Didn’t Expect

too much temptation for little hands

Playthings. I was so focused on making sure that the gameplay would be a visceral experience for the boys that I did not stop to think about how all of the stuff I was putting on the table would also serve as distractions and playthings. My wife and I quickly took away pencils, extra dice, and candy hearts so that the boys could focus and work on sitting still. 

Basic Moves. Part of the distraction problem might have been that I started with some boring rules. I’d spent a lot of time going over the custom moves and they boys were already pretty well acquainted with what each did. However, I just kind of threw together the basic moves and it really showed while I was trying to explain each one quickly. The boys eyes glazed over pretty quickly and they focused on the toys in front of them.

Some of that was the approach. I could have just skipped it entirely and worked it in later. I’m planning to have mini-quests where I explain a related basic move in game play context, so Saturday’s session will have a good amount of focus on Discern Realities, with possible use of Defy Danger and Spout Lore.

Scheduling. We started the game nearly 40 minutes later than I wanted to as we were working on other projects. This added a little tension for me to try to figure out the timing of the session. In particular, once the backstories were done, we only had about 20-30 minutes to go and I struggled with rushing through the travel montage portion or spending more time on it. I ended up doing the latter, but it felt pretty awkward as I was distracted on if I would have time to get the actual gameplay quest in.

Overall, the experience was really positive and I’m sure as I learn to roll with the game. Next session will have some actual game play and player interaction, so it should be a much different experience.

Kids RPG Journal – #37 Travel Montage

Lore cards for Hugrun's Cauldron, the Scar, Jarnfelt, and Gripa

This is the final audio clip for the first session of our Harrowlands game. We were coming up against time, so it ended up being a little bit more of a travel montage than I was expecting, but the boys had fun and that means we will start right into the action with the second session this weekend.

In the audio, the party travels with Plunk through Saksaland on their way to Kraghall Academy, braving skeletons and foul odors along the way.

Travel Montage through Saksaland

Kids RPG Journal – #36 Iona Backstory Audio

Iona of the Willows exploring an underground ship graveyard before the yarring ghost pirates came for her.
Iona of the Willows exploring an underground ship graveyard before the yarring ghost pirates came for her.

Last weekend, we ran through the first session of the Harrowlands game with the boys. Here is the backstory for my wife’s character, Iona of the Willows, where her fetch travels deep into the earth to meet ghostly pirates in a ship graveyard and has a rough encounter with a dwarf before meeting Plunk and the other members of the party.

Iona of the Willows backstory

Kids RPG Journal – #35 Bursten Backstory Audio

Bursten Claw-Jaw with the guardian spirit of the woods - an aurochs, facing the terrible venomous serpent
Bursten Claw-Jaw with the guardian spirit of the woods – an aurochs, facing the terrible venomous serpent

Last weekend, we ran through the first session of the Harrowlands game with the boys. Here is the backstory for Bursten Claw-Jaw where he meets an aurochs and a terrible beast… and maybe a couple of new friends.

Audio clip of Bursten’s backstory

Kids RPG Journal – #34 Thule’s Backstory Video

Thule Bonecrusher against the troll woman with stork legs

On Saturday, we ran through the first session of the Harrowlands game with the boys and pretty much spent the entire time going over rules and the character backstories. I’ll post a post-mortem of the game soon, but here is a short audio clip of Thule Bonecrusher’s backstory.

Audio clip of Thule’s backstory

Kids RPG Journal – #33 Tinted Paper Letters

On my lunch today, I played around with tinting some paper for another handout, the acceptance letter from Kraghall Academy. Each of the player characters get this letter in their backstories, but I will only do the handout on the last story, Iona’s. I want to have focus while everyone gets their backtory time to shine. Their first NPC, Plunk, will be the one to hand it to them.

sacrificing some of my coffee to tint the paper for the letter prop

I brewed myself a loverly cup of coffee and saved a touch out to make the stain. A light brush on the paper with a quick pat down from a cloth napkin to reduce rolling, and it was ready to dry.

finished letter prop

Later in the afternoon, I threw it in the printer for the text and then trimmed the edges. Now it’s sitting in a box with a couple of aromatic tea bags and will be ready to unearth at game time. 

Kids RPG Journal – #32 Printables & Handouts

With the game only days from now, I’ve been plugging at getting the printouts and handouts all ready to go. First I proofread and printed out the character sheets and any maps for the first adventure.

player character sheets and Saksaland map

Then it was time for me to write up the Dungeon World basic moves I will be using, keeping the language as concise and simple as I could. I added the icons in and realized that I never drew one for the Defend move, so I threw down a basic shield (though in hindsight, I should have had a round shield to match the Viking flavor of the campaign) with Eihwaz, the rune of defense.

Dungeon World basic moves with simplified language and custom icons

We’ll see how well the basic moves work for the boys. I’m a little concerned it will be overwhelming at first to have so many, but I think we can get through them in play.

Finally, I started printing out item cards for the first quest. These will fit nicely in the Equipment Packs from r-n-w.net. The cool products Rose and Niels (https://www.patreon.com/rpgtoons/) put out are a big inspiration for what I want to do with the boys.

item cards and paper equipment chests

I’m getting a little close to the wire on the remaining items. I have to finish writing and designing two more handouts (a quest sheet and an acceptance letter to Kraghall Academy), design and build one more table piece, and write the backstory scenario for my wife’s character. Then all that will be left is to flesh out how I want to role-play the initial NPCs.

Getting excited to roll this out to the boys and start exploring the world with the characters they’ve made.

Kids RPG Journal – #31 Dice Trays

This last week has been a little difficult getting items posted to the blog, as my routine has been messed up. I typically get my posts ready in the mornings after I drop the kids off to school and before I have to log in for the day job, or on the weekends when Monica takes them to the gym with her in the mornings. So far this week, I haven’t had any of that morning time and therefore no posts.

But with only 4 days to go until we run the game, I’ve definitely been busy with prep work.

Since I’m going to be recording the game, I have been a little worried about the sound quality and reducing things that will make it difficult to record. I don’t have any solid plans for what I will do with the recording. It’ll probably be some time — if ever — before I get into putting the recordings up on a podcast, let alone doing video on Twitch or Youtube, but I want to make what I do have as clean as possible.

The first thing that came to mind was dice trays. First, to reduce the audio clatter of rolling, and to temper the enthusiasm of six-year-olds who will hurl the dice across the room.

Initially, I thought about making my own from scratch, but I just don’t have time for that right now. The boxes would be simple enough to cut the wood and assemble and probably even stain, but I’m not the quickest woodworker and I think it would take me a while.

I can’t afford the beautiful trays from Wormwood and I would have some serious reservations with letting the boys play with them if I could afford them. So I chose the next best option: quick and dirty dice trays.

I picked up some cheap unfinished pine wood trays from the craft store for about $5 apiece, and come sheets of foam in assorted colors.

quick and dirty dice trays using pine boxes and foam sheets from the craft store

For the first session, I am just cutting the foam sheets to size and sticking them on the unfinished trays with some wood glue. Perhaps if I find a little time, I’ll go back and stain them with a little weathered stain I made using steel wool and vinegar.

cutting the foam sheets to size for the dice trays

But for now, the kids can roll their dice for the game in their cool dice trays and the foam keeps it nice and quiet. Not a bad deal for the time and money.

trying out the finished dice trays with kids' new polyhedral dice

Kids RPG Journal – #30 Thule’s Background

For the first session of the campaign, I am going to treat it as a part of a session zero – an introductory session where the players learn the ropes of the game and how to interact as their characters and with their adventuring party. Sly Flourish, DM and author of Return of the Lazy Dungeon Master, just posted a really good overview of his session zero prep on Youtube (starting at about the 18 minute mark to skip the finale of his previous campaign).

My session zero is going to feature a lot of the backstory of the characters, how they end up together and going a bit over game mechanics, then finishing off with a mini-challenge to put it all together. As I want to keep the sessions at around an hour to an hour and a half, we won’t have a lot of time to get into role-playing, so most of that will begin in the next session.

I’m going to treat the first few sessions as a continuation of the session zero, as we all kind of figure out what we’re doing. Then we will get into the meat of the stories and advetures. Last night, I wrote the first bit of backstory for the players, featuring my youngest’s character, Thule Bonecrusher.

Thule Bonecrusher, you come from the frozen north. When you were a tiny child, your parents were swept away in a terrible storm.  You were rescued and adopted by a clan of nomadic barbarians. The storm left a mark on you and as you grew older you became dedicated to the thunder god, Thor, in a desire to control the skies themselves.

To the east, beyond the rim of the world, is a terrible giant who wears the form of an eagle, hight Hraesvelg, or Corpse Gulper. His form is so impossibly large that when he flaps his wings, it sends mighty storms of snow and ice through Midgard.

Last week, one of the wise-women in the clan let slip that the storm which you lost your parents in was indeed created by Hraesvelg. Vowing revenge, you set off to the east to find and punish this Jotunn, an evil type of giant. Unfortunately, you didn’t get very far before you were running for your life across the tundra.

What was chasing you? Was it a troll-woman with legs like a stork? A slobbery giant wolf? Or a starving Lindorm, a snake-like dragon with yellow eyes?

Adding questions for the players to do some world-building is one of the core features of Dungeon World, and it allows the backstory to feel a little more interactive while still being able to keep the pace up.

While you were running, you did not see the sink hole in front of you and were going to pitch right into it. 

Roll 2d6 to Defy Danger using your QUICK modifier to see if you can grab onto the tree next to the hole.

On 10+ (success) he grabs onto the tree and does not fall, but the monster pushes the tree into the hole, on 7-9 he grabs for a large branch, but it’s not strong enough and breaks and he falls with the branch into the hole, on 6 or below he just straight up misses and falls in. (The end result is going to be pretty much the same, but I want to introduce the moves mechanics)

You fall for what seems for minutes and land in an icy underground river. Grabbing the remains of the tree, you float into darkness. You don’t know how long you were stuck on that tree in the darkness, but it felt like days. Luckily, you’re used to the cold and were able to tough it out. Eventually, the water began to flow more rapidly and you saw light at the end of a tunnel coming quickly. Followed by a long drop as you plunged over a waterfall into a large lake.

You swam to the surface, and as your eyes began to adjust to the bright daylight, you saw a burly man in a row-boat looking at you with his arms crossed.

“You’re late”, he said.

Kids RPG Journal – #29 Character Sheets

Working on building a new character sheet and hacking a game for children borrowing elements from Dungeon World and Sidekick Quests has been really illuminating. By digging into the details and questioning how I would simplify for little ones, it made me realize the base assumptions I just follow without even thinking.

Bursten Claw-Jaw character sheet final version

I feel like I did a pretty good job of cutting out a lot of the cruft, simplifying the moves and other aspects on the character sheets to make them more user-friendly.

Simplified pools

Even though I want to promote math skills for the boys, I didn’t think that having huge numbers for the health, energy and experience pools was helpful for gameplay. I want them to see what they need at a glance, so I simplified how certain things work. Most notably damage and health.

When a player takes or deals damage, the base damage is going to be 1 health and then modifications can be added. This allows for simplified health pools and combat. This gives the ability to display health with individual icons. It’s obviously not going to be very well balanced, but I’m focusing on the story, so it may not matter.

The one drawback is that it seriously reduces the types of dice used on a regular basis. Right now, the game is geared toward using d6 for the majority of rolls. I will need to find other challenges that use the different dice, so the kids can get used to identifying and using them.

Iona of the Willows character sheet final version

Simplified Design

I limited what I have on the sheets to four sections: profile, abilities, custom moves and pools. Everything else is either on another sheet (basic moves), or have individual cards (inventory and weapons). This gives the boys easy to read graphic segments, so that they never have to search around for things in the middle of play.

 Maybe when the character’s go up a couple of levels, I’ll have to put the basic moves on the character sheets and then have the custom moves on their own page, but I’ll tackle that when I get there.

The liked the different colors Sidekick Quests uses for difficulty levels and whatnot to allow the reader to see where things are at a glance. My palettes are much more muted, but I took this concept for the three move results (success, success with consequence, and failure).

I’ll definitely be tinkering with the design over the course of the campaign.

Thule Bonecrusher character sheet final version

Simplified Moves

I am starting to get the hang of PbtA (Powered by the Apocalypse) type moves, and feel like I was able to pair down the descriptions and details of the moves to keep them from dragging down play, making them usable for six-year-olds. Additionally, I moved away from just making arbitrary bonuses and instead allowed the class to use more favorable abilities for certain rolls when the move is triggered.

Once game-play starts, and we’ve got a dozen sessions or so under our belts, I’ll know a lot better what changes need to be made to the custom moves. But I think that will go for all of the Dungeon World and Sidekick Quest rules I’ve  adopted and modified.

Now that the character sheets are designed and completed, I have a style I can build on. I’ll start in on monster sheets, NPCs and inventory cards in the near future.