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
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
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.