Gaming and Family Values – A Quandary

As gamer geek parents to a trio of rugrats, Kelly and I are always looking for ways to get our kids involved in our hobby. Something that troubles me however, is that the methods that most RPGs use to resolve tasks are pretty much the exact opposite of the values we are trying to instill into the ‘rats. It isn’t that we are utopian idealists; the ‘rats are still pretty young. The whole fantasy-reality divide is still a pretty complex notion for them. Rugrat #1, age 7, is sweet and sensitive; he finds violence scary and wants to find a diplomatic solution to every in-game challenge (this is not mirrored in his interactions with Rugrats #2 and #3; violence and disdain are his go-to methods for handling disagreements with them). Rugrat #2, age (nearly) 5, wants to hit everything. Hard. Finding the balance point between the two styles of play can be a challenge. Additionally, we frequently tell the Rugrats that violence isn’t a solution to their problems, but in most RPGs, the reverse is often true. How do we instill the value of discussion, compromise, and compassion in real-life while laughing at the slaughter of innocent, imaginary kobolds in-game?

Nonlethal combat isn’t really an answer; it is still violence after all, and while I’ve seen plenty of suggestions for pitting kids against non-humanoid adversaries, in the real world it is no more acceptable to beat up a dog, cat, wolf, or rat than it is another person. Many games feature mechanics regarding the use of social skills, but they can also be troubling, as often they revolve around intimidation (bullying) and bluffing (lying).

I’ll be honest, I don’t have a lot of answers to the issues I’ve posed above; mostly I write this because I’m trawling for ideas. However, listening to the kids’ entertainment selections does provide me with a few ideas.

Environmental challenges are great to pit children against. While I’m not certain that I’ve seen a full episode, I’ve heard approximately one billion episodes of Octonauts and Paw Patrol. Often the drama and challenge faced by the protagonists is provided by the environment: some innocent creature is caught up a tree / has fallen in the water / is lost… you get the idea. While I’m not keen on having them slay dragons quite yet, I can definitely see the value in having them rescue people from a village that a dragon is burning down.

Stealth based challenges are also quite nice for kids. While I don’t want to teach them that sneaking around is a good thing to do, I think that letting them attempt to tiptoe around a table full of goblins who are dozing due to drinking too much bug juice is fun. It also helps to teach the rugrats that, dire as they are, there is real value in looking at a problem from all angles and selecting the best resolution method at their disposal. To further this, I think there is a benefit in placing obvious items in a challenge environment that will allow the protagonists to trap, avoid, or otherwise neutralize a threat without resorting to beating it with a stick. If the players don’t catch on to the obvious items, mention them a few times. Be obvious. These are kids. Teaching them this lesson now could very well lead to more excitement at the game table when they are older.

So What’s Out There?

white rabbit coverBefore I wrap this up, there are a few companies making quality RPG material intended for a younger audience. In the Pathfinder and D&D 5th Edition space, Playground Adventures has released a number of excellent modules that we’ve run for the rugrats (The Chasing the White Rabbit series by J Gray has been very much enjoyed with repeated queries from the kids regarding when the remaining parts will release). I particularly like that PGA offers adventures with diverse challenges and offers non-violent resolution methods in many cases.

Legendary Games also offers the Legendary Beginnings line of adventures in both PFRPG and 5e. Legendary Games’ offerings, such as the Trail of the Apprentice Adventure Path have a more “traditional” presentation than PGA’s, and hew a bit more toward classic RPG tropes such as dungeon delving. It needs to be noted as well, that Legendary Games’ adventures spend less space than PGA’s on suggesting non-violent task resolution. All of the above aside though, and Trail of the Apprentice is a really nice series of adventures that I’m looking forward to running when the children are a bit older.

Outside the big two of fantasy RPGs, No Thank You, Evil! By Monte Cook Games strips down the already lean Cypher System even further to present a family friendly game that I haven’t read but know I will get to sooner than later; No Thank You, Evil! has great word of mouth, and I really like Monte Cook Games’ other games.

young centurions cover

Evil Hat Productions’ Young Centurions is a FATE Accelerated game of teenage pulp heroes. Young Centurions is a great read and an exciting setting for those who are looking for something other than typical fantasy/sci-fi. FATE Accelerated is also a fantastic system for first-time players. It provides the structure that the game needs while keeping out of the way of the story being created.

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Do you have suggestions or ideas regarding this topic? Any favourite kid-friendly roleplaying games or adventures? Let us know in the comments!

Rugrat #1's Electric Shocker Weapon

Weapons Galore by Rugrat #1!

There is a lot of variety in PFRPG weapons.  Like a lot.

Perhaps designers love them some weapons. Perhaps every PC needs a chance to have exactly the right weapon.  Or perhaps PFRPG just has so many darn rules and mechanics that it is inevitable there will be countless magical weapons. (I mean, there are seriously a lot of weapon properties.)

Regardless, one day Rugrat #1 walked up to me and handed me a stack of papers.

Here mum!  I thought you’d like these. You can use them for your game!

He had been sitting at the table for a little while, focused on his colouring, and unknown to me, whipping up a few weapons.  He loves to colour. We’ve even shared some of his RPG inspired art before.  Now, stats and such are not a lot of interest to him, but the ideas and art – that he was all over.

Rugrat #1’s Weapons

Dragflash
“This weapon can move at night time, and it scares people in their bed.”

 

“This is a fire type weapon.”

This is a ground type weapon. It makes the ground shake! There’s a huge earthquake!”

“This is another ground type weapon. It makes the ground shake, but not as much as the other one. It also helps you dig through the ground, and you can ask it to dig for you.”

 

fairy weapon by rugrat#1

“This is a fairy weapon. It’s really good at fighting goblins and ghouls. It has water and fire gems.”

“This water blast weapon blasts people with water, like 1000 water guns together! Like 13 water hoses!”

 

“This weapon scares people awake. It has ghost heads!”

 

Electric Shocker Weapon

 

“This is a steel weapon. It can freeze things in its tracks. It makes people wonder if they should keep going or just stare at it. If you don’t keep staring at this weapon it will attack you with shields and swords.”

If you have kids, how involved are they in gaming? Do they draw pictures about it?

Two bees on a flower

A Buzz on Spring Break – “For The Hive” Play Account

Ah spring break. A glorious time full of fun and excitement and a break from the monotony of every day life.

And as a work from home mother of three small children with no child care, it is also a really long two weeks where I struggle immensely trying to juggle work  and rugrats intent on getting up to no good (I believe it was day two that Rugrat #2 shoved half a dozen smurfs into the baseboard heater while I was showering).

Gardening, baking, colouring pictures, and Pokémon Go can go a long way, but Ken and I decided spring break was also the perfect time to break out another RPG adventure for the kids. We agreed it was time to play For the Hive, a really well reviewed adventure written by J Gray and published by Playground Adventures.  I thought it could be fun to add a fourth player to our game, and I suggested we try bringing another child into the mix. So a couple of weeks ago I called the mother of Rugrat #1’s best friend.

It was an awkward call because I have never broached the topic of RPGs with other parents. “So, uh, hi Parent! Do you have a minute? I wanted to talk to you about something.” Immediately I realized it sounded bad, like her child had done something wrong.  She was driving, using her car’s speaker phone, so there was also that awkward bit where you feel like you have to talk extra loudly while introducing role playing games to someone when you can’t even see their face to gauge their reaction.  She’s awesome though, so with the promise of letting her look over the adventure before we played it, she said it was a go.

Time to Game

A week and a half later, the first Saturday of Spring Break, was the big day.  Rugrat #1 & #2 were bouncing off the walls with the impending arrival of Friend 1, who arrived grinning ear to ear.  Getting the game started proved a bit tricky. We had gone ahead and premade the characters for the kids, guessing what type best suited Friend 1. The sheets were bang on, but the lure of the pawns, tokens, and visible map were strong. The kids kept trying to play them like a board game and had trouble listening. Eventually, with food in their bellies, Rugrat #3 safely in her crib for a nap, and pawns and character sheets sorted out, we began.

for the hive coverHere is where I jump in and say that if you want to read a review of For the Hive, you can find Ken’s here.  There are also some reviews with the product here.

Really Time To Game

With everything set, the adventure began.  Ken adjusted it slightly, setting it at a nearby library we like to visit, but as written, the adventure makes it easy for players to become invested – who doesn’t want to help a friend, and save a bee hive while they are at it?

Friend 1 sat quietly and super still, listening intently as the story unfolded.  Rugrat #1, who is seven next month, squirmed and wiggled, which is typical for him.  The key things Bzzercup had to say could have been stressed better to the kids (the Rugrats had trouble focusing), but that was not the adventure, it was our kids and the delivery of those facts – a good reminder not all kids focus as well as Friend 1! GMs playing with kids for the first time: remember your audience! 

Rugrat #1, who is an anxious child, had a lot of difficulty with the idea of shrinking in size, even when we stressed it was just pretend.  With some convincing from Friend 1, he reluctantly agreed, and we were are able to set off across the grass to the hive.  Here the beautiful map came into the play.  The kids loved this map, and we had to run off to print a few extras (how hard sharing can be).

One of the big things I noticed running this adventure for kids is how much (at least mine) needed to be reminded we were doing this together, that we were a team, and that we all had to help each other.  It’s a hard thing to learn – accepting you won’t excel at everything, but that what you may not be able to accomplish someone else on your team can.

A great example was the magical looking glass lost in the huge expanse of grass.  Rugrat #1 was super upset he couldn’t activate it, but I pointed out that without him we wouldn’t have even known what is was or what it could do. Teamwork let us jump forward across the lawn (but downside – he didn’t get to come across the praying mantis he saw in a piece of art, and there was a bit of an upset about that).

So How’d They Do?

Simply put? They succeeded in the goal of the adventure.  And not all groups do.  There were some hurdles though.

One major thing Rugrat #1 had trouble with is things not going his way.  This is a fun little educational adventure, but (much like any other RPG session) the joy gets sucked out a bit when a player throws a tantrum and storms out of the room because his dice aren’t rolling well. After being given the chance to calm down, Rugrat #1 did rejoin the party, and he was just in time for the big final show down.

Rugrat #2 remained quiet for most of the adventure, chiming in during combat to grin and yell “I hit it!” (naturally we made him a barbarian). He was feeling a bit under the weather and lounged across his chair, with his feet on me, or sat on my lap for most of the adventure.  When Ken and I game we sit in the basement on a big day bed with a table nearby.  It’s super comfortable. It’s also a space that would have kids bouncing all of the place and playing with pillows.  Be sure to find a space the kids can focus, but everyone can be comfy – sitting on our hard wooden IKEA chairs for a couple of hours with a four-year’s bony bum wiggling around wasn’t exactly ideal.

Over the course of the adventure, Friend 1 would randomly grin and exclaim “This is so much fun!”, making the afternoon so much better. He was the wild card for us as we’ve played with the Rugrats on a few occasions, and I must say he was a delight.  (There may have been mumblings afterward of sending Rugrat #1 to his house next time and having Friend 1 come by and game on his own.)

Final Thoughts

Rugrat #1 and his friend told us they had completed a unit on bees in school, and knew most of the bee facts that were shared during the adventure, but Ken and I found them interesting. I would recommend that anyone GMing to the younger crowd makes a point of these facts. It is really easy for them to get lost in the excitement of the adventure, and they are pretty interesting (plus a great educational take away).

Rugrat #1 hates conflict. And not being awesome. Obviously these are serious hurdles with Pathfinder.  On more than one occasion he stormed off, hiding in his room. I’m not sure there’s a great way to avoid this if you have a similar child in your life, but reminding him (or her) ahead of time about teamwork is a good idea.  This adventure also did a great job of not having the players “kill” anything.  Opponents were paper wasps.  Wasps actually made of paper (and it was a great tie-in to a previous PGA adventure).  This meant instead of killing a living thing, characters destroyed or ripped the paper, defeating the paper wasp – a very nice touch for children who are sensitive or otherwise upset by violence. I think this made it easier for Rugrat #1, and Rugrat #2’s favorite thing was “ripping the paper wasps.”

All in all, the Rugrats and Friend 1 had fun with this adventure, and both older kids said their favorite thing was helping the queen bee, but it seems Adventures in Wonderland is still the reigning favorite, and the Rugrats are eager for more of that soon. (More on that later!)

Colourful goblins

Rugrat #1’s Great Goblin War

Goblins are a hot topic of conversation in our house right now.  Dire Rugrat Publishing is hard at work on a product that features this mischievous little creatures, and our little ones don’t miss a beat.  We’ve been talking about goblins in general, but also sharing some of the tales and legends of this usually evil little creatures.

Rugrat #1 was particularly interested in the story of the Benevolent goblin whose magical drinking horn was stolen by a traveller, and was eventually gifted to a king.

The other day I found Rugrat #1 hard at work on a picture. He loves to colour and is always drawing things: the solar system, pokemon, dinosaurs, whatever is on his mind. This particular day it was goblins.

When he was done, he presented it to me.

All the goblins are fighting. Whoever wins get to take over the town hall.

It was quickly evident Rugrat #1 hadn’t drawn typical goblins, so we talked about them.  Turns out his love of pokemon (and their various types and attacks) coupled with his new interest in goblins merged for something pretty cool.

The Great Goblin War as drawn by Rugrat#1

The goblins you see are different types.  There’s “Stoney” the stone type goblin, “Electry” the electric type, “Icey” the ice type, “Grasser” the grass type, “Flarey” the fire type, and finally… “Klanger” the king type. You can see their various “attacks” as they fire electricity, fire, etc at each other.

I asked for a bit of clarification.  Are they teams? Are they all fighting? Who is in charge now? (I was not naive enough to assume it was the king.)

Some work together.  The King and fire type work together.  The grass and ice work together.  All of the others work by themselves. The king types don’t always take over the place.  Right now the stone type is in charge.

I think he’s got the start of a pretty fun sounding adventure, but I think my favorite part to learn was this:

The ones that win usually have a team

He understands how important team work is.

Comment Below:

Have you had any fun goblin encounters? Ever used any goblin variations?

If you love goblins, or are hoping to give them a bit of a make-over in an upcoming game, keep an eye out in March.  Dire Rugrat Publishing has just the thing!

Dinosaurs go fishing

5 Things I Didn’t Do for Dinovember

Thirty days.  For Dinovember we had to come up with a new idea for the dinosaurs. Every. Single. Day. For thirty days. And with us being several years into this tradition, and the rugrats horribly disappointed if there are repeat adventures, it gets harder.

dino-builders

I always mean to spend the time between one November and the next coming up with new ideas, but time ticks by. At first I’m just happy to be rid of the prehistoric dino-trouble, and then as the next November gets closer, I get excited – but I forget to get planning.

dinosaur rockstars
So Dinovember arrives and, inevitably, midnight rolls around, I’m exhausted from being up so late working, and I curse those damn plastic reptiles – and myself for ever introducing it.  Sometimes I have something brilliant planned, sometimes something basic, but each time I was at a loss I would look hopefully at my husband and he would either suggest something that’s been done, or come up with something a little less than helpful.

dinos making Christmas cards

Here are 5 ideas I did not use this Dinovember:

  1. dinosmoothie“Just stick them all in a pot, and turn it on.  We can have a big plastic dino-soup. Maybe stick a dinosaur head on top of it. They can find it like that in the morning.” (While I was away for a night this month, he actually did go for the blender, but he fought the urge to turn it on.)
  2. “What if we just sent them to live with someone else?” (We actually sort of did this here.)
  3. “Just skip it.  Maybe they won’t notice.” (I thought about this one more than once, especially after Rugrat #1 started making his own when he couldn’t find what we set up.)
  4. “You could just hang them from the ceiling fan, Mission Impossible style.” (You know, because the kids wouldn’t use them to pull the whole fan off the ceiling, or turn the ceiling on and have the toys become dangerous weapons.)
  5. “They could kill me.  The kids could find them standing over my dead body. Please. I’m so tired. And the police would have photographic evidence of the killers.”

And now December has arrived and the dinosaurs’ home is once again the plastic bin. While I still stumble on them from time to time (darn those rugrats for not cleaning up!), the trouble they cause is mostly nil until next year. Which should hopefully mean I can spend less time assembling dinosaur buildings and accessories, and more time on writing projects.Dinosaurs watching Rex play in town.

Dinosaur terrorizes cardboard city.

And, in case anyone was wondering, Elf on the Shelf does not visit this home.  No, if that obnoxious little creature shows up here hoping for a new pose, it might just inspire me to use idea #1 above, or a Christmas variation; I’m all tapped out of creativity when it comes to toys for a bit.

Time to relax with a glass of wine and get back to thinking about gaming projects.

Merry Christmas from the dinosaurs

Dinosaur party

Dinovember Photos

November continues to be far busier than we’d like.  Long overdue appointments, the start of Christmas shopping (I know, I know, but we like photo gifts made by Shutterfly, and shipping them up here to Canada from the States requires a little planning), writing assignments, our own Dire Rugrat projects we want to wrap up, and…. DINOVEMBER!

After doing this for a few years, the dinosaurs seem to run out of inspiration and once in awhile the rugrats tell us the dinosaurs are doing something they have already done.  Repetition is bad.  When you wait all year for remarkable magic, each and every day needs to be brilliant.  Apparently.

I imagine the dinosaurs are exhausted with this sort of pressure (I know I am). And the early morning hunts for what the dinosaurs did last night doesn’t make it any easier.

In the hopes of preventing the rugrats from waking up at an ungodly time hunting down the dinosaurs to see what sort of shenanigans they are up to freeing up a bit of time, we packed up the dinosaurs.  That’s right, no more adventures.  This didn’t come out of nowhere.  No, no.  The dinosaurs deserved it after the stunt they pulled.

Well, it wasn’t exactly their fault.  Desperate for a reprieve, I picked up a package of mini cupcakes at the store, and then, before bed, whispered in Rugrat #3’s ear about a dinosaurs party. She took off chanting “dino party” and her older brothers accepted it as her idea.

The next morning they found the remnants of a dinosaur party.

The cupcakes were gone by the time I dragged my tired self out of bed and, since I said the night before that a big mess meant a Dinovember-break, the kids knew what was coming.

Except a handful of them escaped.

Dinosaurs in the sandbox

And then went on an adventure outside the walls of our house.

Dinosaurs on the train tracks

After all, why dash our children’s happy little dinodreams when the magic of the internet can allow those dinosaurs to send pictures to our adorable kiddos? And all after 7 am.

The rugrats had mixed reactions.  Rugrat#1 was worried.  And he missed “Pentie”. He insisted on checking the sandbox in case they were still there.  (They weren’t.)

Rugrat#2 was curious.  It could come from his own love of wandering off to be unsupervised, I’m not sure.

“I hope they are okay out there.” – Rugrat#2

For one week, the kids were sent these pictures by those magical reptilian beasts.

Dinosaurs climbing

The rugrats diligently checked the areas where the photos were taken, sure they might be able to catch up with the dinosaurs.  Rugrat #1 suggested the dinosaurs could see what we were doing but were staying hidden. Or were invisible. I will say was impressed with his ability to locate the areas in our neighbourhood with just a snapshot.
Dinosaurs worshiping at a statue

Dinosaurs building a nest of sticks

Rugrat #2 continued to be thrilled with the whole experience, but at four years old, I think he liked that a) his brother didn’t discover what the dinosaurs did last night any sooner than he did, and b) he got to look at the computer to see the pictures.

Rugrat #1 continued to be frustrated.  He loved determining where the pictures were taken, and he loved seeing the photos, but a few minutes after their reveal he would get upset the dinosaurs hadn’t returned.

Dinosaurs at a playground

“I see! I see!!!” – Rugrat #3

Rugrat #3 definitely just loved the computer (screen time is pretty limited in our house).

Dinosaurs at a mailbox

Rest assured the dinosaurs are back in action and, after a little break, Ken and I are feeling a little more ready for some dinoantics. Plus, these prehistoric reptiles found the photobook of their dinofun from 2015 in the mail, so they brought that home with them.

Have you tried Dinovember yet? Share your ideas! Our dinosaurs can always use a little inspiration.

Dinovember

Warning: this post is a bit off topic for an RPG publisher’s website, maybe.  Humour me here.

If you haven’t heard about Dinovember yet, you are missing out.

This is a highlight for the dire rugrats in our lives, though by the end of the month it is often a burden on us as we scramble for yet another thing for the dinosaurs to do and Ken curses me for introducing it in the first place.

The dinosaurs got into the Halloween candy. It seems to be the way they start every Dinovember, and who can blame them?

DAY 1: The dinosaurs got into the Halloween candy. It seems to be the way they start every Dinovember, and who can blame them?

So here’s the deal: Dinovember started in 2012. The idea was that by capturing the moments when the plastic dinosaurs came to life and caused chaos in their house, Refe and Susan Tuma were “igniting the imaginations of hundreds of thousands of children–young and old–across the world.”

It took off like wildfire and since 2012 people have been sharing their own pictures of what their dinosaurs did last night.

With a new double toaster in the house, the dinosaurs seemed keen on making a midnight snack. Two points for team work?

DAY 2: With a new double toaster in the house, the dinosaurs seemed keen on making a midnight snack. Two points for team work?

It is a great way to get kids away from the screens, and back to using their imagination. We’ve often found our kids setting the dinosaurs up again, when they think we aren’t looking, and then announcing the dinosaurs did something else and showing us incredible and creative things. They are forever guessing what could be coming next, and they’ve learned to be really good sports when the dinosaurs have done terrible things (like eat some of their Halloween candy).

Another perk? I gained a better understanding of my toddler during Dinovember. How so? Well, I learned it is sickly satisfying to watch your kids scrub crayon off the fridge, after you had a great time putting it there. (Sorry kids – they’re your dinosaurs, you clean it up.)

The dinosaurs said goodbye to Halloween by smashing the pumpkins. "I am not impressed, dinosaurs," said Rugrat#2.

DAY 3: The dinosaurs said goodbye to Halloween by smashing the pumpkins. “I am not impressed, dinosaurs,” said Rugrat#2.

It’s a game we all get to play for the whole month. It forces Ken and me to be creative, and it helps the kids use their imaginations and believe in something amazing.

“There is only one thing that can make the dinosaurs come to life: MAGIC!” – Rugrat#1

I hope you’ve enjoyed the photos from this month so far; no doubt those dinosaurs will be up to more shenanigans before the month is through.

Have you ever done Dinovember? Share in the comments your favourite thing you’ve seen them do!