Playtest with kids

   I ran a game of VSGP last night at the request of my 9 year old son for his birthday party.

   In one respect, the game was a bust. My son had ten friends over for a slumber party, and wanted all of them to play. His friends' interests however no longer seem to align with role-playing. Nerf guns are now much more interesting for the older set of the group. My son could only persuade three of the youngest to join us at the start. He was disappointed, and lost interest himself half way through due to the distractions from his crew in the other room. One of his friends stuck it out to the end. It was weird entertaining someone else's 9 year old without my own boy in the room, but this boy wanted to see the quest through to the end so I indulged him.

Positives:

  1. Preparation was minimal, two and a half hours. In this time, I redesigned the character sheets for 9 year olds, created ten playable characters for an anthropomorphic animal game setting1, and sketched out the scenario including stats for villains and ideas for tricks and traps. For D&D preparing a scenario would have filled my time on its own.
  2. The kids picked up the game quickly, and none of them have much experience with role-playing games. They did have questions about what was on the character sheets, but the names of the stats are so clear that after a short explanation they were pouring over each other's characters and figuring out where each stood relative to one another at various activities like fighting, magic, and persuasion.

Problems:

   Armor and Shields favor high Evasion scores so combat was a bore for characters optimized for it.

   For the night, I decided to go with 3d6 for dice rolling mechanics instead of d20 which I had never done before. The change in dice exposed the issue so plainly that I could not ignore it. With an 18 Evasion score versus a COMBAT of 0, a d20 results in a 15% chance to hit. On 3d6 in the same situation the probability to hit falls to 0.46%. Against opponents with 3 COMBAT the probability rises to 9.26%, but that is still far too low since the character which exposed the flaw only had a COMBAT of 4. A superiority by only 1 in COMBAT should not result in this much difficulty to hit no matter how big your shield is.

   In response I adjusted all Armor ratings up by 1 (which lowers Evasion), and lowered Shield ratings (which also lowers Evasion). The main problem was created by shields. Arrayed from tiny to large, Shield Ratings were 1, 3, 5, and 7 respectively. I changed this to 0, 1, 2, and 3. Making these changes lowers Evasion to 15 for the character mentioned above, and thus the probability for a character with 3 COMBAT to hit him would be 37.5% on 3d6 and 45% on d20. This aligns with my goals given that all rolls also fall into graduated levels of success or failure.

Lessons learned:

  1. Sitting down to play a game presented by an adult did not appeal to my son's friends. The loudest of the bunch had no interest in role-playing, and so only three out of ten sat down to play. I don't know if that is because the setting was focused on animal characters instead of more macho sword and sorcery, but I suspect it was the role-playing itself which paled in comparison to Nerf guns, movies, and more free form socializing. I also suspect that my involvement was a problem. These kids wanted free time, and sitting down at a table run by an adult is too much like school.
  2. Emphasis on the Advantages and Disadvantages in the Description section of the character would improve the game. First, the kids honed in on the qualities listed on the sheet when trying to figure out what their character did. The numbers were secondary. For example, I gave the Cat character a Background of Swashbuckler with Advantages of Nimble and Quiet, and a Disadvantage of Fearful. One kid quickly figured out that this was a Puss and Boots character, and that like all cats he was a fraidy cat if a situation got scary. He loved it and settled on the character right away while trying to convince me that he had 9 lives. This is exactly the level of understanding you want a player to have about their character in a one-shot session. So I think these should get more space on the character sheet, and I think I should write up some rules for these beyond the character creation notes I have provided.
  3. Pre-generated characters work well for teaching a game during a one-shot adventure. This would be good to revisit with the play test scenario I have written for adults. We did not waste time learning character creation rules. For 9 year old boys surrounded by distractions at a party this was essential. Laying out character sheets for the players to choose between allowed them to compare and contrast character qualities and stats. They figured out how to differentiate the characters with minimal explanation from me, and from that figured out what to expect from the game.
  4. Formal methods of assessing a playtest are needed. While I was not going to subject the kids to a survey of questions or solicit direct feedback, without them it is difficult to make much sense from the playtest.
  5. A Game Master needs to perform and entertain for the game to really shine. I was off my game last night. I rarely run an RPG these days so I was rusty. I need to correct this problem if I am going to get people interested in my game.

Wrap Up

   I learned some valuable lessons, and made some tweaks to the game for next time. Following are a few photos of the leftovers of the game.


  1. Violence Spells Gods and Politics was not created for a fantasy game with anthropomorphic animal characters as in Usagi Yojimbo, or Redwall. This game was inspired by a last minute request by my son to run a game of The Warren on his birthday party, but based on prior experiences with his friends I knew that would not fly. So instead I picked up on his other interests, and asked him to list what animals he wanted in the game. He drew up a very long list for me, and from that I made up characters and an adventure. This was effortless with my game. I suppose any system like this that is so simple it is stupid would work the same, but I like to pride myself on good design and will go with that for now. I need to cultivate a little bit of illusion sometimes to keep myself going.