Tuesday, April 26, 2011

When the Party Isn't Much of a Party

My youngest daughter, whom we shall call Fiona (her character's name), is just seven years old. That's pretty young to be playing Pathfinder RPG, a game which is ostensibly for adults, or at least for teens. So the rules and the content are difficult enough, but her biggest challenge may be her fellow players.

On Saturday, Fiona became frustrated because she couldn't get the other kids to listen to her ideas. Her 12-year-old sister Elerisa, trying her best to not be bossy, still managed to dominate the game. To her credit, Elerisa was taking a democratic approach, listing out the options and taking a show of hands. But they were her options, and the options offered up by the other kids, not Fiona's ideas.

It came to a head when the kids traversed a long, narrow corridor with spikes protruding from the ceiling above them. Halfway down the passage the character taking the lead snapped the trip line that triggered the trap. The kids had just a moment to decide: run forward, or run back the way they came. Fiona felt strongly they should run forward and said so, then raised her voice as everyone else started shouting which way they wanted to go. They started arguing amongst themselves, just for a second, but that was too long for young Fiona, in whose powerful imagination that ceiling was coming down and time was of the essence. So she reached out onto the table, scooped up all the miniatures representing the party, made her hilarious, trademark sheep-in-distress sound, and moved the party forward.

The other players cried foul, and rightfully so. Then silence reigned at the table while everyone waited for me to pass judgment. At that moment, I didn't totally understand what was going on. Just like the players, I get caught up in the game. Only later was I able to piece it all together with the help of my wife. Right then, though, all I knew was that I didn't want to embarrass her in front of everyone. Also, although her behavior needed to be corrected, it wasn't fair to the others to take the time to do it in the middle of all their excitement. I also recognized that Fiona was at her breaking point and it wasn't going to get any better. So I quietly told her to leave the table. I figured I'd catch up with her a few minutes later to straighten things out, then let her rejoin the game.

It didn't work out that way, but it did get better. My wife talked to her, and we worked out a plan with Fiona to help her deal with future issues. She will try to remember to be more assertive with me and let me know when she doesn't feel like she's being allowed to fully participate in the game. For my part I'll keep a better eye on her, try to see the game through her eyes and make sure her voice is heard. She has also identified several non-lethal spells she can use against the other players' characters if she needs to get their attention. Nothing harmful, but definitely inconvenient.

We also had a chat at dinner with her sisters about their behavior and ways they can be more inclusive. We'll see whether that sticks.


  1. Every time I read your posts, it makes me happy that someone is taking the time to use gaming a means for education.

    Knowing your kids' moods and how they react to things gives you a real leg up when it comes to dealing with inter-party conflict (especially when it's out-of-character conflict. It sounds like you handled things well during the scene described above. It's not easy to get kids to cooperate, especially when the kids are siblings.

    Keep it up. You're doing a great job.

  2. Thanks, Tracy! I constantly second guess myself when it comes to this sort of thing, so it's nice to get a little encouragement.