Adventures In Wonderland (1-4)

Last October our family started this fun series of children’s adventures. We had an ESL student we had hosted some time ago visiting for a few days, and it seemed like a great activity we could all enjoy.  We shared a review of Adventures in Wonderland #1: Chasing the White Rabbit at that time, and the kids loved it. So much so Kelly ran the second adventure the same night with only a quick scan of the PDF before playing. The third was played the next day.

Then a long time passed. Our former student returned to Japan. The kids begged and begged to find out what happened to the white rabbit. We played another fun kids adventure. And eventually a new chapter in the AIW series came out.

With Rugrat #3 old enough to not be napping, but young enough she can’t quite grasp everything that’s going on, we set her up as Kelly’s animal companion. She sat on Kelly’s lap, rolling her own set of dice randomly and chiming in to repeat what people said.

“Perfect summer day.”

Chasing the White Rabbit

Adventures in Wonderland #1

It had been a long time since we’d played, so we presented the rugrats with the idea of starting over. Rugrat #1 wasn’t too sure about it; he wanted to move on to the next part. We asked if he wanted a friend to come join us, and pointed out his friend might want to start at the beginning, and so it was agreed.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the series, it starts like this: “On a lazy, do-nothing day the relaxed cloud-gazing of a group of young adventurers is interrupted by the mysterious appearance of a strange, teleporting white rabbit. What follows might be the oddest game of tag ever played, as the adventurers chase the white rabbit through a peculiar and colorful wood only to run afoul of an angry tree.”

This initial part is run much like a board game, introducing kids to their character sheets by way of skill challenges. Once players reach the end of the path they face off against the large tree, giving everyone a chance to test out their combat skills.

This first adventure is a great primer to games in general, not just roleplaying games. It gets the players used to rolling dice and moving their miniature across a board that is not unlike the board used to play Snakes and Ladders. Along the way, they will be introduced to Pathfinder RPG game terms, such as saving throw, attack roll, and skill check, as well as being introduced to the game’s central mechanic.

The rugrats remembered this from last time, and our 5-year-old barbarian grinned as he got the final blow (again).

When we finished this adventure, we asked the kids to summarize what happened.

Friend: “We landed on magic things.”

Rugrat #2: “I landed on a paw!”

Rugrat #1: “The tree picked up the rabbit.”

Down the Rabbit Hole

Adventures in Wonderland #2

“After chasing a white rabbit through the wood, a group of young adventurers find themselves falling down a peculiar rabbit hole! Can they puzzle their way out of the hole by feeding a hungry dictionary and playing the oddest game of peek-a-boo ever?”

Words for the Dictionary

Kelly and the kids were sucked in the rabbit hole and Rugrat #1’s friend looked a bit nervous. Then he asked if he could tie the rope in his inventory to an arrow, and attach that to the wall in case they started to fall. As written, there is no real threat here, but it was inspiring to see the problem-solving in action, so we had him roll it up. He looked so pleased when he succeeded.

And so we began the dictionary challenge. Friend recognized the weasel song the dictionary sings right away and bobbed his head along to the song. Rugrat #3 just continued to repeat what I said about the book.

Rugrat #3: “It flies out! It looks crazy.”

Rugrat #1, who loves to read, enjoyed this challenge immensely, and even Rugrat #2 confidently chimed in with a few words.

The part with the potion and the cake was a little more troublesome for the kids. Our rugrats have been lectured extensively to never consume anything that isn’t food and that we didn’t give them (there were a few too many cases of them chewing their nails, biting lego, and licking shopping cart handles). It took a bit of urging, and Kelly going first, for the kids to try the consumables, but in the end they did, and through the door they went, into the next adventure.

The second adventure is really fun and reinforces the idea that the players can use their imagination and their wits to overcome challenges. Clever players can likely make their way through this adventure never needing to roll dice. The module is also tame enough that even the most sensitive person will have no problem playing through it.

We don’t want to spoil all the surprises in this adventure, but once again we asked the kids for a summary of the journey so far.

Rugrat #1: “We met the diary!”

Friend: “We met the Peek-A-Boo!”

Rugrat #2: “We saw the book.”

 

The Dodo’s Race

Adventures in Wonderland #3

The third adventure has the players run the Dodo’s obstacle course. There are dragonflies, representing tally marks, following the characters around; anytime they were addressed, I had them respond by saying their names were all Mark. Rugrat #1 loves puns, and the idea of the dragonflies being called “Mark” was hilarious to him. When I said there were pictures of large dragonflies on the ground where they were meant to stand, and that their names were “Mark” as well, he looked amused.  When they started saying “Hey, I’m Mark” too, he broke into hysterics.

Honestly, this whole adventure had the kids in stitches once they figured out what was going on. At first the dodo’s strange way of speaking and constant misuse of words confused the kids, but once they figured it out, they just kept giggling.

Adventures in Wonderland #3: The Dodo’s Race has the PCs face off against some gelatinous blobs.  When we played the adventure the first time (in late 2016), Kelly made Jello jigglers; this time she opted for a bag of candy. The small pieces of coloured sugar stood in well for the opponents on the battle board, and the kids were able to eat them once the foe was defeated.  Needless to say, this was a hit with the kids.

By this point in the adventure path, the kids had the hang of some of the common RPG terminology and the dice, including which one was used for which purpose.

Kelly: “Roll your initiative.”

Rugrat #2: “Or your d20, whatever you want to call it!”

Rugrat #1 and his friend both wanted to heal Rugrat #2 when he got hurt. They started asking around the table who had the best heal and were super concerned, but thrilled they won the prize chest from the Dodo.

Friend: “Is the chest full of gummies?”

 

And this adventure’s summary?

Rugrat #1: “Hey, I’m Mark!”

Friend: “We wanted to eat jello. We saw jellyfish.”

The Dodo’s Race is another good installment in this series. It promotes team play, and reinforces that each character is going to have strengths and weaknesses, and that we work together to deal with situations as they arise. It also does a good job of giving the players choices. At no point are they forced to combat the various jellys, but they will make the subsequent tasks easier if they do. It’s a great mini-module for young players.

 

Message for the Duchess

Adventures in Wonderland #4This was new for the Rugrats, and for us, which brings us to the biggest disappointment of this series – it takes forever to be released. There is amazing art, fantastic maps, and a great story, but the huge gaps in release dates makes it difficult to keep the momentum going in any campaign, but especially one with kids.

The players made their way into the duchess’ home and eventually found their way to the ball pit where they were set upon by the snake-like baby mimics, who seemed to come out of nowhere.

Rugrat#2: “So it’s camouflaged in the balls?”

We rolled up initiative again, each time easier than the last as the kids were getting the hang of where to find the information. Rugrat #1 remained the best at adding the necessary numbers, but with a little encouragement, he gave his friend a chance to work on his own arithmetic helping out only when he or Rugrat #2 got stuck.

Friend: “I use snake attack! Snake attack! Oh wait, that’s sneak attack.”

We used the candies from the third adventure to represent the baby mimics, and once again, the kids were thrilled to defeat them. When the first one was destroyed (aka: eaten), the kids all chimed in saying it would be a great idea if each of them defeated a snake (and ate the corresponding candy). The thoughtfulness of that admittedly surprised Kelly and me who expected them to just fight over the candy. It also worked out really well that each child did take out their own snake, with a little help from Mama Witch who used a sleep hex on each of them. There was, of course, a bag of candy just in case the barbarian took out more than just his share.

We were running short on time at this point, so I truncated the search through some small tunnels and moved everyone along to the final encounter of the module (skipping the mirror ray encounter), which Rugrat #1 crushed due to his knowledge of the colours of the rainbow. The players then discovered the Duchess’ message around the neck of a cute stuffed bear. The bear is intended to be given to the characters as a reward, but the Duchess decided against giving it to them, since they opened her message without permission… whereupon the roguish friend decided to steal it from the narcoleptic woman, reasoning that it was okay because the game is just pretend. The party then moved on in the direction that the Duchess told them she saw the white rabbit move in, and the game ended.

A Message for the Duchess is a fun little mini-dungeon for new players to romp through. None of the challenges is too much for clever players.

What was your favorite part of the whole adventure?

Rugrat #2 & Friend: “Eating the gummies!”

Rugrat #3: “The bunny!”

Rugrat #1: “Hello, I’m Mark!”

I would highly recommend these adventures for new players. The way they gently increase the learning curve is excellent, acclimating the players to each mechanic as its introduced. On the whole, the only negative aspect of this mini campaign is that the modules are coming out slowly, and that the kids ask daily when the next one will be released.

What’s your favorite thing about playing Pathfinder?

Rugrat #2: “Being a character and all the stuff you can do, like sneaking!”

Rugrat #1: “The funny parts in the story, and the voices.”

 

Do you play any RPGs with kids in your life?

Have you checked out the Playground Adventures line of products before?

Let us know in the comments below!

 

 

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.

Comment Below

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

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!)

For the Hive Image

For the Hive – a Review

For the Hive is an adventure for the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, published by Playground Adventures for their “Fun & Facts” educational adventure line.

In this module, for four 2nd to 3rd level characters, the sprite Bzzercup approaches the PCs to help her liberate a fairy bee hive from Chuft, a pugwampi gremlin, and along the way, they learn a few things about real-world bees. By default, the adventure takes place in Playground Adventures’ village of Glavost, which has been showcased in several of their other adventures, though the village doesn’t play a prominent roll and the adventure could be transplanted to any other village or town with no fuss.

Details for Potential GMs Only

The adventure begins with a visit to the library where the adventurers meet up with apprentice wizard Owen who introduces them to the aforementioned Bzzercup. Once she has described her dilemma, the PCs need to solve the first problem: making themselves small enough to fit in a beehive. To accomplish this, there is a puzzle to solve which will net them a potion that allows them to “be the bug.” The puzzle comes with two levels of difficulty, which is nice for GMs with younger or less patient players.

When the young adventurers solve the puzzle and shrink themselves down (and get sprayed with bee pheromones), they must deal with the next challenge: crossing the yard to the hive. The yard is represented with a gorgeous full colour map (with a player friendly version at the back of the book), and allows the players to determine their route to the hive, with the chance for action during the journey, depending on the route chosen. Travel across the yard is well portrayed, with challenges appropriate to the PCs’ state. From an encounter with a now giant-seeming mantis, to escaping the “river” created by  a watering can, to evading a hazardous field of flying dandelion fluff, there are plenty of iconic Honey, I Shrunk the Kids moments.

Once the yard has been crossed, it’s time to get into the hive, but first the PCs must contend with Chuft’s minions, which take the form of origami paper wasps. The wasps are neat foes, and allow the players to unleash the full weight of their characters’ combat abilities without worrying about hurting anything. Defeating these foes lets the PCs enter the hive which is a linear five room dungeon, with a small challenge to overcome when transitioning from area to area. My comment about the linearity of the hive shouldn’t be taken as a complaint. This adventure is for children as young as four; the focused nature of the dungeon is appreciated.

At the end of the dungeon, the PCs meet face to face with Chuft and two or three paper wasps. I personally have a few reservations about pugwampis… I ran Legacy of Fire Part 1: Howl of the Carrion King for my regular group and the pugwampis bad luck aura caused men in their thirties to have tantrums… this adventure is for kids… fortunately, in play, the one pugwampi didn’t cause any emotional outbursts. Once Chuft is defeated, the adventure is over – save a bit of wrap-up.

Summary

For the Hive is a well written adventure that isn’t too taxing of a read and, as written, doesn’t look too taxing to run. The read-aloud text is copious and the challenges are varied; both do a good job of making the players feel like their characters have shrunk down to the size of insects. The combats tend to be against insects or constructs (that look like insects), so there isn’t too much worry on my part about the level of violence in the adventure.

Formally, the module is gorgeous, with thematically appropriate graphic design, beautiful maps, and nice artwork, all in full colour, though a printer friendly version would be nice for those that print their pdfs out.

There is an instance of layout weirdness regarding the puzzle mentioned above: the simpler version of the puzzle isn’t located where the text indicates it is, but rather three paragraphs later, which is confusing. I think it would make sense to box the puzzle text, which would dispel the confusion.

The adventure is stuffed with tidbits about bees, so teaching opportunities abound. If you are a parent looking for a nice adventure for your young kids, you would do well to pick this one up. Five Stars for For The Hive!