Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Little Furry Critters

I made a big breakthrough this weekend with my youngest daughter, Nora.

Older than she looks, but still young (8)
Since introducing her to RPGs almost two years ago, I've been challenged to make adventures that appeal to both her and her older sisters.  Livie and Sophie thrive on the danger of combat, but Nora shies away when the ride threatens to get rough.  On good days, her halfling druid hides until she is critically needed, or until her animal companion Pinky the riding dog is in dire jeopardy.  On other days, Nora declines to play altogether.  This puts me in a pickle because on the one hand we consider these sessions to be valuable to her education, but on the other they're supposed to be fun.  I don't want to make her play if she's not going to have fun doing it, and if she's miserable, she isn't going to learn anything anyway, except perhaps how miserable playing RPGs can be.  That would be a shame.

I thought about this all weekend as game day approached.  I decided that the session would be required for Nora, but I was determined to make her want to play rather than force her to play.  Then, once I got her to the table, I would aim to make it as fun for her as I could.  So the first thing I did was set up the table the night before, then pulled her aside to ask her where she would like to sit.  I told her I was giving her first choice of seating.  She did not waste the opportunity.  She looked over the map, pointed at the only two rooms drawn on it, and asked, "Which way is it going to go?"  

I told her where I anticipated most of the action would go down, and she chose accordingly, putting herself front and center.  Apparently this made a big impression because she mentioned it to my wife the next morning.  So far, so good. 

Getting her buy-in was all I had planned on doing, but then Sunday morning it finally hit me:

Little furry critters.

The section of the dungeon they are in is populated by Ratfolk.  Their goal is to try to capture the characters and sacrifice them to their "god," a gruesome creature made of worms and mud (this is the final boss for the level).  The Ratfolk ride around on oversized rats and use them to do all their grunt work.  This much I had already planned.   

The new thought was this:  what if the rats don't want to serve the Ratfolk?

You see, Nora is reading Redwall by Brian Jacques.  She also has watched the entire animated TV series several times.  Something about it obviously appeals to her.  Having read the novel myself some years ago, and having some familiarity with the TV series, I get the gist of what it's all about.  It's anthropomorphized woodland critters going on heroic quests to protect the ones they love, usually against cruel woodland critters with dreams of conquest.*  

So Redwall is about little creatures with big hearts, while Nora's a little kid with a big heart who plays a druid who can talk to animals.  How perfect is that?

I didn't have enough time before the game to really nail down all the particulars, but I did just well enough that the session really lit her up, and I was able to sew the seeds for an ongoing influence of little furry critters in our game.  Here's how it went down.

The characters came across a room of junk where the rats store, well, junk.  They saw two rats who were terrified of the party.  Fiona (that's Nora's druid) quickly jumped in and cast a spell to speak with the animals.  The rats said they were frightened, but once Fiona had put their minds at ease, they cautioned the characters to avoid the "Cult of Oogma."  When pressed, the rats said that the cult consisted of Ratfolk.  Later on, while the other characters were trying to get over a river, Fiona spoke some more to the rats and learned that the underground city that she and her companions are seeking is "just beyond the waterfall."

"Oh!  Where's the waterfall?" she asked, excited.  

"Follow the river," they replied.

Fiona dashed from the room to find the others and tell them about this important discovery.  In real life, Nora was standing up shouting, positively elated.  We had to calm her down a bit, but I was taken aback.  This was the most emotion she had ever shown in the game, save once when Pinky almost bought the farm.  I had struck gold.


Now, how to keep her interested?  That's what I've been thinking about all day, and I think I finally have the answer.  

What I plan to do is to create a set of events running in parallel to the player characters' main adventure.  These events will involve a cast of furry little critters that Fiona will get to know in her travels.  They will have their own quests, unrelated to the main thread, but they will come into contact with the party from time to time.  Information, goods, and services can be exchanged between the critters and the PCs.  Along the way Nora will periodically get caught up on what's going on in the little creatures' story, and she'll be in a position to help them out from time to time and impact the outcomes of their quests.  In turn, the information she obtains from her tiny friends will be important for the overall quest she shares with her sisters.  It's a win-win scenario.

Our next session, coming up this Sunday, should see this strategy blossom.  The characters really screwed up last time, and they're all down to their last few hit points and floating down a river toward a waterfall.  No big deal, the Ratfolk have nets just beyond the edge to catch them with.  In fact, their whole strategy is to fire arrows from the banks, thereby herding their victims toward the nets.  Players will always surprise me, so I suppose they could get out of this mess, but this time their situation is rather dire. I predict they will be captured.  Well, not all of them...Norma the dwarf and two NPCs took different routes and are safe for the moment, though separated from each other.

While captured in the nets, Fiona will meet Slave Abigail (Abigail, Abby, Redwall Abbey...see what I did there?), a rat who plans to lead the resistance against the Ratfolk.  The rats are being forced by their masters to drag the party to a holding area.  Abigail will whisper to them, "Please free us!  We wish to be slaves no longer.  You must slay Oogma!"  She will then begin gnawing at their ropes, but will be interrupted by a Ratfolk sentry before she can finish the job.  As she leaves she risks one final message: "Wait for my signal!"

The idea here is for the party to rest overnight in captivity and heal up, so they'll be ready to face Oogma.

When/if Norma and the others reunite and show up, and when the party breaks their binds, Abigail will give her signal ("Rise, my brothers and sisters!  Rise against our oppressors!  Free the topsiders!" or something like that), and chaos will reign supreme.  The characters should emerge victorious, as they are wont to do.

The next time they see Abigail, she will have a new title:  Seeker Abigail.  She will be questing for the Lost MacGuffin of Chikkitok.

...an artifact that a certain weasel by the name of Dweezil, with designs against Abby's people, will also be interested to acquire.

* Ironically, Jacques - like nearly every other author who writes about anthropomorphized woodland creatures - portrays mice as the innocent, virtuous protagonists, and rats as the wicked antagonists.  The truth, as I have learned through my hobby of captive snake husbandry, is quite the opposite.  Rats are highly intelligent and fairly gentle creatures.  Mice are just plain mean and kill each other for sport in the brief time it takes to get them home from the pet store.  


  1. Are you familiar at all with the rpg Mouseguard? It's specifically designed for kids and might be a good fit for your family.

    Also Ben Gerber (of Troll in the Corner) has an rpg out for kids where they make sock puppets, and it's called Argyle & Crew. Might be worth checking out too.

    1. Thanks for the suggestions.

      I saw a reference to Argyle and Crew late last night on Reddit, bought and downloaded the pdf, and hope to read it in the next few days.

      I have heard of Mouseguard before, and it sounds awesome. I wish I had started with something like that. Now, though, we've made significant progress with the Pathfinder system, and my kids are tired of me experimenting with other systems ("C'mon, Dad, can't we just go back to our Pathfinder adventure?"). It's not at all that Pathfinder is the best fit for my family. It's just that it's the system we happened to be running when the adventure grabbed them, and my kids finally feel comfortable with their stat blocks and what to expect.

      If we had more time to play, I would grab a whole bunch of games and play them all, then review them in the context of family play. I think that would be a great use for this blog.