July 6th, 2010 — games
Even though my son and I have enjoyed playing Star Wars miniatures, I’ve wanted to adapt for it a while, to make it more like an rpg. Now, you might ask, why not play a straight-up rpg?
- We have a lot of star wars minis, not to mention some 10 maps. Many of these characters aren’t very useful in a normal Star Wars mini game, but in an rpg, they become very useful.
- The Clone Wars offers very good, strong female characters that my daughter likes.
- The Star Wars universe, especially the Clone Wars, is really quite rich in existing characters, plots, and intrigues. It provides both ready-made resources as well as room for creative ideas.
- The kids know these characters and can play them while adding their own touches. We don’t have to spend gobs of time creating characters and stats.
- Though lacking the subtlety of d20 RPGs, adapting minis allows for simple but flavorful checks and rolls. The story and the interaction are the most important parts of playing while the checks add some element of chance but do not dominate the game.
- My kids love stories and role playing, so giving them the chance to interact in the game in ways other than fighting is a sure success.
I’ll briefly describe what I did to adapt the game and then describe our first session.
Adapting the minis game
I explained to the kids that they could talk to each other, could interact with anything that was logically on the map or on fallen characters, and could take whatever action they wanted as long as it wasn’t impossible or unreasonable. For example, the kids wanted to immediately leave for a planet and started pulling characters to include in their ship, but I reminded them that they couldn’t simply recruit without going through the proper channels, which was the Jedi Council in this case.
Star Wars minis have only basic numerical traits–hit points, attack, defense, and damage. I broke down skills into basic types: physical feats, computer hacks/repairs, stealth/tracking, dialogue/persuasion, demolition/traps. Anyone could roll a d20. To figure bonuses, I used the characters’ attack bonus but only if it made sense for the character to have that bonus. For example, Sev is a sniper and would have stealth or tracking abilities. Fixer, on the other hand, would have computer hacking, repairs, and trap bonuses. Jedi always get dialogue/persuasion bonuses. To make it work, I found that using 1/2 the attack bonus worked well. For example, if Ahsoka was trying to convince a character to talk, she would get a +5 persuasion bonus on her roll–her attack bonus is 9, so half of that is 4.5 which I round up. If a clone trooper tried to persuade, he would get no bonus. [Yeah, there's threaten, but I consider that different and would use it, if the kids called out that specific action.]
Death and dying are a little tricky. Normally in minis, a character who loses all his or her hit points is removed from the game. I adjusted this somewhat but only for major and secondary characters–once they lost all their hit points, they were unconscious. If their surviving party members won or even retreated, the fallen character lived to fight another day. Fallen characters cannot be revived during a battle, however. But I think I need some way to allow the players to render an NPC unconscious, particularly a grunt who might give up information. I think a simple option is to allow them to say they are shooting to maim or stun, not kill, before an attack.
Other than this, I stayed with the standard rules for Star Wars minis. [Unfortunately, Wizards of the Coast no longer has the Star Wars license, and they have removed the minis products and downloads from their site, so I have no active link for the rules. The closest that I have found is this Word doc at the Kansas City Star Wars Minis site. You can still find starter sets and boosters on Amazon for decent prices.]
The result? So far, it’s working wonderfully. It’s fairly easy to get up and running, and the kids really wanted to keep playing it today in our first session. I may tweak it, but I think it’s a great intro to tabletop RPGs without getting bogged down in the details that put off young kids who just want to play. In fact, after we finish our little campaign, I might create something like it to use with my son’s friends. I love the idea of a house full of kids playing some tabletop games, especially if they played together when they’re older.
For those who don’t want to read the following, I really enjoyed when my daughter suggested taking the uniforms of the would-be assassins and pretending to be them to go to the next planet. I wasn’t expecting that at all and it forced me to rethink the next adventure somewhat. It was exactly the sort of thing, though, that I was hoping for, the bit of creative thinking.
As we put up the game, my wife says, ‘You’re making up a story for them? They are really enjoying that.’ Even my 87-year-old mother watched and listened for a while.
Indeed, as we played, we had a time quite unlike any that we’ve had playing any other game. It’s that experience in which we sort of let go of parent-child-sibling roles and interacted with each other as gamers. We didn’t forget those familial roles, but, for an hour, they were less important than the ones we played. I’ve played a lot of video and other board games with my kids but none of them were like this experience. And I think the reason is that the face-to-face gaming had something to do with it, a lack of a screen. But I think it was as much the fact the kids had only a few rules but lots of room for creativity. When my kids play games like Lego Batman, for example, they enjoy just running around and doing their own thing. I’m reluctant to call this minis RPG adventure a sandbox. It was much closer to an improvisational performance. I don’t want to exaggerate what we did, but it was different than games that I’ve played with my kids in the past, except maybe when they were very small and we’d play with figures in some ad hoc adventure and conversation.
But gone were the typical frustrations of computer gaming, of trying to deal with awkward controls, bad cameras, and poorly implemented cooperative action. I can’t tell the number of times someone gets upset about the other going a different direction. There was none of that frustration. Similarly, my daughter normally hates playing the minis because it’s all about moving and combat. But she likes the characters and will occasionally play with them, acting out some scene on the coffee table. This time, she was into the game. More importantly, she had a couple of really big moments that made her feel good and gave her a reason to brag.
I’m no Wil Wheaton, but here it goes. To set it up, my daughter is 8 years old, and my son turns 11 in a month. My son and I had been talking about playing some miniatures for a while. We were at my mother’s with a subset of the minis when I had the idea for a story, something to get both kids to play. I spent the night before thinking through the details of the intro part and the first adventure, collecting my cast of characters, choosing the maps, and figuring out the locations of key characters and objects on the maps.
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December 7th, 2008 — wii
The kids and I have now played three sessions of Dokapon Kingdom, increasing the number of weeks [7 turns per week] each time. The kids really like it, although my six-year-old daughter has a tendency not to venture out much and, thus, often comes in last place. Far and away the most difficult aspect of the game . . . moving. The auto move feature is sometimes frustrating, so I encourage the kids to turn it off and then, the games uses arrows to show all your possible finishing spaces.
photo by ben
I really like the risk-taking and exploration that the game encourages. My nine-year-old son has now been rewarded for a certain strategy, which is stealing and liberating towns. So, he’s setting off now for all the towns, moving into areas further and further from the starting castle, which has that ‘home base’ security that my daughter still clings to. Yet, no place is truly safe–you can be attacked by monsters or other players from afar, or you can get into several battles and lose track of your health. She sees my son succeeding by venturing outwards and is now trying to do the same. By playing a non-thief role, I’m trying to them how other roles, or jobs, can be rewarding.
Something else that is interesting is watching the kids develop informal rules, which, if you’ve watched kids play, often. For example, when the kids saw that thieves steal items from other players, they wanted to play a thief all the time, but then the advantage of the role quickly disappeared because everyone stole from each other. Partly out of self-preservation but also to advance the game, my son proposed that we not focus on stealing from each, or, as he said, ‘we just steal the same things from each other.’
This kind of gaming can be difficult to find, where the official rules of the game don’t overwhelm the players and allow them to be creative and even develop their own play. In a way, Dokapon Kingdom has only a few rules.
- You can move or use an item each turn.
- You have to earn gold to win.
Otherwise, the game is dealing with all the choices and responding to the different actions and events.
In a way, the game has that kind of tabletop rpg feel, even though in the multiplayer mode, there’s not a story per se. But it has that feel of finding the unexpected–that dynamic gaming feel. In a party game like Mario Party, you can do a few things to affect other players, but those actions are limited, until you get to the minigames. In Dokapon Kingdom, what you do, what squares you land on, has a significant impact–with battles, levelling your character, or getting great items that help you attack or defend against opponents.
With games like Mario Party, the minigames get old and there’s not as much of a progression outside of the board itself. With Dokapon Kingdom, it’s not about moving around the board in a specific order but about getting the most gold, which you can do several ways. You can be good, or you can be evil . . . in several ways.
But right now, I’m enjoying watching the kids play in ways I haven’t quite seen before–while not completely new for them, the risk-taking and game-making is at another level. Perhaps soon, I’ll have my tabletop rpg group, and we’ll have those marathon sessions.
After the break, I’ve posted images of the instruction manual, which give you a pretty good idea of how the game works, what the different actions, jobs, battle commands, and spaces are, and how to use the game controllers [for Wii remote, classic controller, or Gamecube controller].
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October 1st, 2008 — books
A couple of days ago, I made a passing reference to the Force Unleashed novel. Trying to find similar books that my son might like [who likes the clones Episode II but not in Episode III], I came across this handy list of Star Wars books, broken down by a timeline. It made finding a book like Star Wars: Republic Commando: Hard Contact much easier, which fits in with his favorite part of that universe.
My wife and I were talking a while back about kids books in general, how much richer they seem to be now. We were both readers as kids, but the pickings always seemed a little thin. Maybe it’s deceptive appearances, but it certainly seems that kids, pre-teens especially, have a lot more available to them that isn’t kiddie but isn’t for adults.
I’m definitely curious to see where his interests go. As a parent, I see my job as finding what he likes and trying to feed that interest. For a while my son just wanted humorous books, so I directed him to books like M.T. Anderson’s Whales on Stilts and Terry Pratchett’s Only You Can Save Mankind. The balance is to encourage new directions without forcing my ideas on him. [And while I've never been stingy about spending money on books for the kids, I'm glad that we have a pretty decent public library within walking distance.]
My daughter at 6 years old is now reading, so I’m anxious to see where her reading takes her.
On another tangential note, I was intrigued by a discussion at school about wants and needs where games were considered a ‘want’ while books were considered a ‘need.’ I was curious about the assumed value of reading itself, without the need to qualify.
July 13th, 2008 — games
By accident, my son has been interested in online games, MMOs and the like. Unsuprisingly, the market for the under-12 MMOs seems to have boomed. These are just a few of the ones aimed at pre-teen and younger kids. [I'm ignoring the toy-based sites like webkinz and neopets and some of the Asian MMOs, like Maplestory.]
Mini-match–This is the first one he got into, by virtue of creating his own platform games on the Ben 10 Alien Force site. It’s not really an MMO, but there are avatars. You can chat and emote, but the core of the experience lies in challenging other players and winning games for credits, which you can use to purchase stuff for your character, including emotes and clothes. It’s a browser-based game that is run by cartoon networks. It’s still in beta, and it shows at times with the lagging performance at times. As a parent, you can also also link your child’s account to yours and monitor their activities.
wizard101–This is still in beta, but it’s actually a neat little MMO that has quests but is focused on just mages. It’s like playing a card battle, so it’s familiar to kids. We just started this one, but it runs well, and it’s an installed game.
toontown–This Disney browser-based game is probably one of the best known virtual worlds for kids. It has a free version, but the membership version is $10 a month and gives you access to all of the games as well as other things. We’ve tried it before, and my kids were bored with it. [In general, they have found Disney's sites frustrating and slow.]
Powerup–This seems for a little older kids, but it’s an online game that involves saving a world from environmental disasters. It’s an installed game and seems to fall into the category of edutainment. It looks interesting, but my son has no interest in it.
Club Penguin–Another Disney browser-based game, this is another that is really a place for kids to play games with each other. You can emote, chat and interact with other gamers. Like toontown, it has a free version and a membership, but the free version seems to be pretty good.
Hello Kitty–This game requires a game client, and it might oddly enough be the most interesting of these games. It’s still in beta, but from the descriptions, it is more of virtual world than just a departure for playing minigames. It is a persistant world with quests, housings, crafting, farming. Yes, it has combat, but there is more to the game.
Kiwi Heroes–This is another installed virtual world that is in beta. We’ve not been accepted so it’s hard to tell much about it.