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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.