Child-like gaming

I’ve been thinking a lot about this over the past few months.  Partly, I’ve been thinking about it as I see my friend’s and family’s kids grow up, and I think about the challenges of running games for children, rather than adults and partly I’ve been thinking about it in relation to games based on children’s literature, partly inspired by the Redwall game a friend ran a while back, and a lot of it has been crystalised by the superb Moomin’s World an Apocalypse World hack for Tove Jannson’s creations, that could easily be adapted to almost any form of children’s literature. One of the reasons I keep coming back to it is, of course, because LARP and RPGs in general are often simply a structured form of the children’s game “Let’s Pretend”, and I suspect there’s mileage in trying to strip games back to very simply, childlike concerns.

Moomin’s World, I find particularly interesting, in that the usual character skills have been simplified down so that you roll when you “have to keep on going”, “have to be brave”, “don’t know what’s going on”, “trick or fool someone” or “try to help”.  And that’s it.  They immediately and perfectly give a sense of the scale and stakes of the game, and work perfectly for Moomins, and indeed, just about an children’s literature.  A friend has been talking for years about wanting to run a Care Bears game, and I’m certain this would work for that.

And yet, just look at them again.  I could run a horror game with those, with zero alteration.  I could probably run a game set in the trenches of the first world war pretty effectively, too.  And a something set on a space station.  Or one of a hundred other settings.  In sliming a system down to children’s literature, and children’s concerns, I think the developer has come pretty close to the soul and centre of a lot of narrative gaming.

In terms of LARP design, I suspect that can be simplified further, depending on the goals of the LARP. A well put-together horror game, for example, probably doesn’t need “be brave” – it can rely on the players to judge an appropriate emotional state for their characters. A zero-combat indoor LARP wouldn’t need “have to keep going” – Moomin’s World intends that as an environmental challenge, a stat for pressing on in the teeth of a snowstorm, or when very tired, but it would obviously be applied to combat easily enough if one wanted. “Try to help” is expressly about teamwork on one of the other four, not a generalised “do something nice” stat, although now I think about it, in relation to the Care Bears game my friend is thinking of, perhaps it should be that, but in any event, I’m not 100% sure every LARP would need it.

I’m not really sure where I’m going with this, it’s just been on my mind.

London Under

Yeah, this still exists, doesn’t it? A couple of people periodically nag me to write something on here again, and this time I’ve actually got something I want to write about so, yeah, back on this horse.

For the first time in a good few years, I went and played in a LARP, oh two months ago now. My usual line on why I run LARPs but don’t play them is because I can’t find any I want to play in, so all I can do is run the kind of game I want to play.

Criteria to get Alasdair to play a LARP: indoor venue in London, no hard physical skills (running/airsoft/rubber sword wielding are not for me) required, system-light, ideally a single-day event, and a setting that is not cod-medieval fantasy (I will make exceptions to the last one, but I will require Significant Reassuring about the nature of the game.). Oh, and the game has to be stand-alone. I like the World of Darkness as a setting, but the Isles of Darkness games are not for me.

But in fact, in about six years, I literally have not been able to find a game that ticks all those boxes. And then a friend tipped me off to London Under, a game based on Neverwhere, the works of Kate Griffin and Ben Aaronovitch, and basically directly using all the same kind of stuff I was reaching for in coming up with Armistice – which to be honest, makes the game much more accessible than my own efforts. In any event, it sounded absolutely perfect to me.

It pretty much was. When I wrote up my feedback, I had two minor niggles, and loads of things to praise. I’m really hoping there’s another event, although given the amount of work this clearly was to put on, I cannot blame anyone involved for saying that twice was enough (I missed the first event).

So, this post, in the short term, is going to serve as a aide memoire for me – thoughts sparked by playing in this game.

  • Playing games is plainly good for me. Feel enthused about the hobby in a way I haven’t in a while.
  • Starting players groups off geographically distant from the venue – doesn’t need to be more that 20-30 yards – gives a much more natural session open.
  • Longer sessions can be structured in chapters – and this doesn’t need to be subtle at all, in fact, having an obvious clock ticking and marking off intervals can really help.
  • Writing up very specific briefs for PCs and assigning them goals does not abrogate player agency, and is actively helpful to new players.

Some of these are probably obvious techniques to others, but the fourth one particularly goes against my own instincts, hence the notation.