Links for the Week of October 2-9

Cool Links Choice Game Design Kids Skills

Many don’t know it, but the etymological root of “Tuesday” means “links day.” In French-speaking Quebec, a “tues” is a hyperlink, which derives from the Swahili “t-t-t-IS” meaning “a weak segue,” which itself emerges from the Proto-Indo-European “ut” which is the surprising etymological connection between “tuesday,” “links,”  ”Wikipedia,” and “butt.”

Yeah, that’s a word made of fries. Photo courtesy Kona99/Flickr

Today, we’ll talk about playing roleplaying games with toddlers and random dungeon generation, railroading and choice, breath and inspiration, a “you always succeed” approach to skills, and those special times when you reach into someone’s pocket and find something wonderful. Holy wow-wow, that’s a lot of links. Stick with me–I’ll be your Virgil and I’ll carry the torch for you. I’m also totally going to loot your corpse after you “find” the poison dart trap. Who knows, maybe we’ll discover the hidden language behind that PIE being guarded by the orc.

Roleplaying Games with Toddlers

Inspired by a recent Fear the Boot in which a father games with his child using Batman, Superman, Iron Man, and gigantic dinosaur toys, I set about finding a game I could play with my four-year-old. I knew I wanted to avoid “war gaming” because I’ve seen where that leads (Justin, I’m looking at you). In all seriousness, I was interested in finding a game that would let him tell a story, and had “just enough” mechanic to prod us forward.

After looking over a number of kid-friendly RPGs (including a cursory read of RPG Kids, which I bought a year or two back), I realized that was a little too far beyond my toddler’s attention span–and furthermore, he hasn’t really expressed an interest in fantasy. So, I turned to 3 things I knew he’d be into: superheroes, Duplo blocks, and 2d6.

The rules are simple. Build a city out of Duplo blocks on a Duplo mat. Give your kid a couple superheroes, and play the villain. (Or reverse it, and start a fund for your kid’s therapy.) Each pip on a Duplo is 1 space of movement, and you move by adding the two dice. If you roll a 6 on either die, you get to use a super-power. What’s it do? Ask your kid. In our case, the superheroes could climb/jump/fly over walls (getting more quickly across the maze of the city), or shoot gobs of sticky stuff at the bad guys to make them skip a turn, or in one astounding case of cross-over ingenuity, push Thomas the Train in front of the door that the villain was trying to open, forcing the villain to use her own superpowers to escape.

The villain is trying to escape, the supers are trying to stop her. If they catch her, they pretty much do stop her- and at one point, my son asked if he could use a “super roll” (a 6 and a 4 this time) to use his superpower against the villain who was within 10 squares, instead of moving. I was pretty damn proud.

A day or two after playing this game, I read a novel new way to generate random dungeons at Gnome Stew using a bucket of dice. If the “Duplo Supers” game was a fun way for my toddler to participate in a storytelling game, chucking a whole bag of dice and making a map from it is surely the best way to hone his GM skills.


Choo-Choo Chugging and Combat

It probably isn’t fair of me, but I realize I’ve always had a rough gaming calculus that places “mechanical stuff” like combat in a similar mental corner as “plot railroading.” I suspect it’s because I’ve experienced these two things as “limiting choice.” Combat gives you a smaller menu of options, and generally an even smaller range of effective options, and I don’t think I need to explain how railroading limits choice.

A short “thought of the day” post from Justin at The Alexandrian challenged my views on this topic. Justin speaks to the the rise in popularity of the “delve format” of adventure, and how these sorts of adventure make “combat” the only area where player choice matters. I’m pretty firmly in the camp of “player choice drives story, and combat spices things up,” but it’s always nice to have stodgy views challenged.


Aspiration and Inspiration from Evil Hat

The Evil Hat blog presented a treasure heap of ideas big enough for Smaug to sleep on this week. That is to say, I read things there this week that really have my gears turning. I’m breaking the rules of “links week” a bit by linking a resource 41 days old–but in fairness to me, I only just read it :)

Fred talked (recently!) about creating a dice pool game mechanic out of a simple phrase about breath. He acknowledges at the end of the article that the mechanic is neither finished nor polished, but this article is still a great opportunity to get a sense for how a game designer thinks about mechanics. I appreciate the number of parenthetical comments that explain the thoughts behind the decisions he made. Great reading for anyone dreaming of designing their own system.

In a similar vein, 41 days ago Rob wrote about a “you always succeed” approach to using skills. This article scratched not only my “wannabe game designer” itch, but also my “project benefits analysis” itch. How do those connect? Project managers focus on weighing factors such as cost, scope, time, risk, quality, and many other factors–and anyone who has managed a project knows that this is a trading game. In other words, you can probably find a way to do a project cheaply and quickly, but it might not be the best quality in the world and it presents a high risk of failure. Want to reduce risk and improve quality? Then you’ve gotta cut scope and increase cost.

Rob has elegantly begun to work mechanics representing these balances into a skill system. The core of the system is that “the character always succeeds,” but the choice factor comes in the compromises he’s willing to make in some of these areas to gain advantages in others. I’m doing a readthrough of Night’s Black Agents right now, and I gotta tell you, Rob’s skill system would have a phenomenal home in this badass superspy game.


That is a Flute in your Pocket!

This last one’s a quickie. Kobold Quarterly presents a random table of treasures for characters to find on enemies. What’s wonderful about all of these items is that they are the story-equivalent of “characterful” (is that “storyful?” “plotful?”) In any case, it’d be hard to stick these treasures into your game without giving your characters whole new worlds to explore. They also serve as a reminder that it’s time for Intwischa to generate some more lists!


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