As my children grow older, I have been trying to think of ways to integrate them into my gaming hobby. I donâ€™t want to have games be a thing that is separate from my being a husband and a father. Rather, if possible, I would like them to be a part of the family culture that I am trying to encourage. This has been working fairly well in the world of boardgaming. I have played games like Reiner Kniziaâ€™s Lord of the Rings, Heroscape, El Grande, and Blue Moon City with my children, and as they grow older, I introduce them to other games of mine. But roleplaying has been a trickier beast. Several years ago, I tried playing The Pool with them, and I just donâ€™t think that they were quite getting what was going on. Plus, I went into a roleplaying slump for a while, and boardgames were easier to teach them.
Cut to a couple months ago. Iâ€™m feverishly working on Dirty Secrets when my daughter Arianna comes into the room. Sheâ€™s nine, and very much a daddyâ€™s girl. So, of course, she wants to know what Iâ€™m doing, and starts asking all sorts of questions about detective fiction and noir and roleplaying and the like. She says that she wants to play Dirty Secrets. Iâ€™m not sure that sheâ€™s really up for it, so I encourage her to try reading The Maltese Falcon to get a feel for the genre and to see if she would like it or not. Iâ€™m also painfully aware of the sort of topics that get addressed, so Iâ€™m wanting to ease her into things and see what questions come up.
She gets bored with The Maltese Falcon, and I sigh in relief. Another bullet dodged. Still, though, I know that she wants to be involved with what Daddy is doing, and I want to honor that desire. When we start working on August Moon, she will definitely be in the loop, but that will be a while.
Cut to this weekend. Iâ€™ve been recovering from GenCon, and Iâ€™m feeling that my children are needing some time to reconnect with their father. So, I figure, letâ€™s try out this roleplaying thing again. Iâ€™m stoked from GenCon, and I just got the promised playtest copy of Ben Lehmanâ€™s game-in-development, Land of 1000 Kings. I had a chance to play at GenCon, and at that time, I had commented, â€œI could see myself playing this game with my children.â€ So, we wrap up the chores for the day, and I sit down to play with my three oldest children.
How did it go? Really, really well.
First, letâ€™s introduce you to the players.
Sethâ€”This is me. Of course, to my players for this game, I was â€œDaddyâ€.
Ariannaâ€”My eldest, and my only daughter. Age 9. Loves fairies and butterflies and things that are pink. If you know me at all, you are already laughing at the total irony of this. Already, she can draw better than me. This means very little, because I embarrass myself making stick figures, but I think that Arianna will be quite good someday.
Isaacâ€”My oldest son, and second in the birth order. Age 7. Loves monsters and superheroes and swords and ninjas and things like that. (Thatâ€™s not a typo. My childrenâ€™s understanding of ninja really does categorize as ninjas.) He is our budding engineer, which resulted in some early bumps in play as Isaac slowly engaged his imagination.
Samuelâ€”Third in the birth order. Age 6. Loves swords and knights and ninjas. A very protective guy, who is concerned about taking care of others. Also thoughtful and caring.
In Land of 1000 Kings, you play yourself. After all, the whole conceit of the game is that you yourself are going to the Land of 1000 Kings. But you donâ€™t create your own character. Rather, you help create everyone elseâ€™s character. As described by Vincent over here, you start the game by going around the table, sharing real memories about each other. Each memory needs to demonstrate why you think that the other person is Strong, Brave, Sharp, Kind, or Beautiful. Itâ€™s the opposite of Best Friends, in a way. You are allowed to give yourself one memory, but thatâ€™s it. Also, you can only give two memories to another player. So, the best way to improve your effectiveness in the game is to get other people that you know to play.
As Ben commented to me in IM, â€œThe game is an evil viral marketing strategy for itself.â€
So, we spent some time getting this going. Samuel caught on pretty quickly to what was going on, but Isaac needed some help. In short order, though, we managed to get our initial character sheets ready to go. I picked up some points as well, even though I was going to be the gatekeeper for our trip.
This was a neat experience. I was able to tell my children stories that I remembered about them, like when Arianna was born or when Isaac fished a chair out of the pool. Plus, my children all learned this use of the word â€œSharpâ€. Later that day, I heard them talking. â€œWell, I canâ€™t fool you, because youâ€™re sharp!â€ Gaming and vocabulary. We all win!