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Star Wars and Trainer Wheels

Started by Gethyn, September 16, 2003, 11:54:18 AM

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Hi folks

I'm new to the board but I've been reading avidly for quite a while as an unregistered user.

I was wondering if anyone was interested in hearing about something I'm quite excited about.

I'm a crusty old roleplayer of many years' standing but since marriage, kids and the evils of work, my days of running games have faded into the past.

Until recently that is - when my two oldest boys (almost 5 and almost 7 years old) showed a spontaneous interest in my Feng Shui rulebook... :)

In a nutshell, I gave them their very first roleplaying experience with real dice and real mechanics and everything, just last night.
And it was fantastically successful!

We played with a wild and freewheeling system that I made up based some of the ideas I've seen here and inspired to some extent by Paladin.

If anyone's interested I'd love to share what we've been doing and the design ideas I approached the challenge with.

Let me know - and let me know if this would be better in a different forum too!




(leads applause for Gethyn)

Slight threadjacking, in that I've no advice: my boy's just coming up to 5 years, and he's already interested in dad's let's pretend games (they have pictures of scary monsters, and are therefore A Good Thing in his opinion). I've now got a copy of Unversalis on order...

Please, PLEASE share your experiences!
Pete Darby


Well OK, you twisted my arm... :)

I started off thrilled that they were interested in roleplaying (even though I knew they didn't really understand fully what it was all about) but had the whole thing pegged in my mind as something that would have to wait a couple of years at least.

But then I came across Clinton Nixon's Paladin site and suddenly everything fell into place.

My boys are mad about Star Wars.
It was a forehead-slappingly obvious choice for a game!
We needed a game where they could play Jedis and do all sorts of wild, cool Star Warsy stuff.
It was perfect.

All I needed was a system.

These were my design considerations as I saw them:

1) The system must be very permissive and explicitly rewarding of imagination and creativity

2) It must be devoid of number crunching

3) It must be simple

4) It must be "positively gamey". By this I mean requiring chance to evaluate success during conflicts but involving choice in the detailed resolution of those results.
[What I mean by that will become clearer in a minute. Basically I'd categorise Snakes and Ladders as "negatively gamey" - dumb luck rules supreme; Poker (say) might be thought of as "positively gamey" - you get dealt random cards and choose how to make the best use of them. It's a profound difference.]

5) It must be impossible to "lose". I know my boys and was certain they would hate any game where you roll the dice and fail.
This is closely related to the previous point.

6) It has to feel like Star Wars. The mechanics have to illuminate and dovetail with that whole setting.

OK. So that's where I started from.

I mulled over the key concepts - you've got your Jedi, your Force, all your Dark Side and Light Side stuff going on there - and came up with the following ruleset.

Character Generation
The characters are Jedi (duh).
"Draw me a picture of your Jedi."

This swiftly produced a great deal of enthusiasm and resulted in a couple of very cool, alien Jedi with nicely illustrated, funky "force powers" and a pair of the most whacked-out Light Sabres I've ever seen. :)

Sorry, *what*?
These are 5 and 7 years olds remember. Who cares about numbers and skills and all that rubbish?
Jedi can do anything. Fly spaceships. Fight. Do electronics. Use Force powers. Mind Tricks. Whatever you like. They can do it.

You Are Jedi and Jedi Can Do Anything.


Works like this.
You got two dice. A red die and a blue die.
Red Die = Dark Side
Blue Die = Light Side

You want to do something "conflicty"?
Tell me what you want to do and then roll the bones.

If the Blue die is higher, you succeeded. Cool! You tell me what happens (or we'll work it out between us).

If the Red die is higher then Something Went Wrong. I'll tell you what it is (or we'll work it out between us).
Could be an injury (although probably not). Far more likely to be a complication of some kind to make things more interesting and chaotic.

A tie simply means that Something Good happens and Something Bad happens.

Essentially that's it.

There is one little twist to it, though.

Force Points
At the start of the game I gave them each three, white poker chips.
These, I explained, were their Force Points.

If they roll the dice and Something Goes Wrong they then have a choice:

a) Hand over a Force Point and make it Go Right instead.
b) Accept the complication and earn a bonus chip for later.

You don't get Force Points for a tie.

If you've run out of Force Points you can take a deep breath and Turn to the Dark Side...
In this case, Things Go Right for you, but only because you gave in to your Fear or your Anger or whatever.

Simply this is going into the Force Point debt - you get a red poker chip.
Once you get three red poker chips, the next time you have to buck the roll of the dice to survive, something Really Bad happens (and you then go back to zero Force Points).

Think of Luke fighting Darth in the Emprie Strieks Back. He's losing. Darth is kicking his butt and he's only surviving through fear and desperation. He burns those Force Points again and again...goes way into the red...and then...Darth Vader chops his flipping hand off..!

As a side note, I'm toying with the idea of giving a bonus Force Point for rolling a six, and certainly for oustandingly cool acts of Jediness.

So there is it.
The System.

Nothign particularly radical, I don't believe.
Certainly a breeze to play and so easy to understand they picked it up literally straight away.

If you're still interested I'm more than happy to describe our initial session to give you an idea of how it works in action, and some of the funky challenges I had to rise to when actually GMing the thing. :)




Wow, absolute coolness (though if I were playing with older players, I'd probably make dark side slippage a bit more dangerous... and I'd not give chips for rolling a six, but definitely for doing / saying anything that make the GM grin like a cheshire cat... DAMMIT DARBY, STOP TINKERING ALREADY!)

But already it feels more "Star Wars" than most of the sessions of either official version I've played. Heck, it fells more Star Wars than parts of the movies...

Consider your system thwacked for future use!
Pete Darby


Hey, feel free!

On reflection, I think I'll definitely go with the "cool things" reward rather than the "blind chance" method.

If your lad's anything like my boys, the main tip I'd give when running the game is this:

<echoey voice on>
Let Go Of Reality, Luke...
</echoey voice>

To illustrate, my two young Jedi apprentices are arbitrarily escorting the daughter of some Important Person back to Coruscant when their passenger ship is attacked by unknown craft.
(Hey, it doesn't have to be orignial - just fun, right? :) )

The first thing they did was look at me blankly.
Then, after I'd outlined some of the possible things they might want to do they decided to fly out to meet the bad guys head on.

So I carefully described a couple of small ships for them with laser guns and R2 units and all that jazz.

The second they got into space this is what they wanted to do:

a) "Press a button to open a hole in the spaceship so that I can throw my lightsabre at one of the baddie ships"

b) "Jump out and land on top of the ship near me and slice it up with my lightsabre"

Me: blink...blink...

The conventional GM in me immediately kicked in:

Me: "Nnnnnn...weeellll...I don't think your ship really *has* a button that see there's this thing called vaccuum and...ah...."
Response: "Why not...?"
Me: blink...blink...

Then I suddenly *got it* and just switched to:
"Know what? You're right. That sounds extremely, very cool! Roll those dice!"

There then followed a fantastic, weird space battle full of Jedi leaping from ship to ship at enormous speed in hard vaccuum; the explosive slicing off of engines; the use of Force attacks to dive *right through* a ship, blowing it up in the process; the deflection of incoming laser fire with nothing more than Force-powered sweep of the get the idea.

We had a blast!
It was like flying. :)

Plus I even got a bit of plot going too.
Has their teacher *really* just been blown up as he flew out to help them..?
What is that *other* ship doing attaching itself to the passenger vessel..?
And just why can they see blaster fire through the windows...?

Tee hee!  :)

We're all raring to play again of course - the great thing with the kids is there's always a perfect half-hour slot just before bedtime...

Don't know how it will go in the future, but at the moment, even Harry Potter's fallen by the wayside in favour of Star Wars roleplaying. Yay us!

Give it a go - make sure you let me know how you get on, too.


Mike Holmes

OK, anyone know where I can get forced-growth technology? My kid's not even three yet. Damn.

Member of Indie Netgaming
-Get your indie game fix online.

Bob McNamee

Wow, this should go right up on a webpage... sounds like a really fun cross of the essenses of Shadows and Paladin!

I'm pretty sure that one will get a quick playtest from the indie netgamers some night when there isn't anything specifically planned... fun stuff!
Bob McNamee
Indie-netgaming- Out of the ordinary on-line gaming!


awesome. It's very freeform, but the basic tenants of a structure are still there. Its definetly a good intro to roleplaying game.

Gah, i wish i had had a dad like you.

John Kim

Quote from: GethynThe conventional GM in me immediately kicked in:

Me: "Nnnnnn...weeellll...I don't think your ship really *has* a button that see there's this thing called vaccuum and...ah...."
Response: "Why not...?"
Me: blink...blink...

Then I suddenly *got it* and just switched to:
"Know what? You're right. That sounds extremely, very cool! Roll those dice!"
Heh.  :-)  This makes me ponder who is teaching who here.  Are you teaching them how to play RPGs, or are they teaching you how to play make-believe?  Of course, the answer is probably: both!  

Just today my wife Liz showed some RPG books -- mostly D&D -- to our friend Ellen, who is 7.  She was interested in playing.  I'm not sure what to run for her, though.  I know that she has to play a princess or something darn close, and I'd like something with nice colorful components and pictures.  I'm still contemplating on that front.
- John


Thanks for all the comments, everyone!

I'd be really interested to hear about it if any of you have a crack at this sort of thing yourselves - however big the kids are you game with... :)

For what it's worth, there are a couple of other rulesey things I forgot to mention, the main one being:

The Bad Guys Get Force Points Too
I mean it's sort of obvious.
The Big Evil Bad Guy (tm) will have a stock of chips to affect the players' successful rolls to his advantage.

What you end up with is a sort of tense bidding war to decide narration rights.

It works very simply:
The players roll and succeed in clobbering Darth Maul with a lightsabre, say, but Darth isn't having any of it and plays a chip to turn the successful roll into a failure.

The players then have to choose whether to play a chip of their own to reclaim the success, or earn a bonus chip for accepting the complications.

If they decide to pay up, and if it's crucial enough or fun enough, the Bad Guy can then play another chip to reverse things again.
And so on until one of the sides can't stand the heat and stops spending chips.

Note that you don't bid the chips, you spend them and hope for the best.
It's a risk.

It does a really nice job of building tension and creating a definite meta-game sense of battling, especially when you have to decide whether to Turn to the Dark Side or not in order to gain a critical advantage. :)

How many chips does the Bad Guy start out with?
Depends how tough he is.
Rule of thumb would be twice as many as the players have in total going into the conflict. Could be more, could be less.

So far, I've been playing it with the Bad Guy's chips hidden
I might try it with them visible to all too and see what the difference is in play.
Might makes for more tempting decisions...not sure...

Also, unless you've got a really good reason to do otherwise, Bad Guys don't get chips back for any reason. That's reserved for Jedi.

Note that if a player rolls a success that's ultimately 'broken' by the Bad Guy spending Force Points, the player gets a chip back for 'accepting' the complication.

If a player turned a failed roll into a success, and that eventually gets reversed by the Baddie, they don't get a bonus chip (because they'd already decided not to accept the original failure).

It think that has a kind of intuitive sense to it.
Or should that be "contorted logic"?
It's felt right in play anyway, and everyone's certainly got it easily enough.

NB: Coming up with a particularly cool action should always earn a bonus, regardless of when it happens.

The other point I wanted to mention was:

Think Obi and Qui-Gon vs Mr D M Sith.
Here you have a big nasty with loads of Force Points fighting two guys at once (rather successfully, it must be said).

In the game, players explain what they're aiming to do and then make one roll between them.

The nifty bit is that they can then:
a) both play Force Points to get the better of the opposition, and
b) choose who suffers the setback should one occur

This payment of chips works best as narrative.

For example, the boys wanted to bring the roof down on a pesky Sith warrior.
The initial roll to do this was a 'failure' - the roof proved stronger than the Jedi expected.
His fellow Jedi, however, immediately pitched in and added his own powers to the demolition (ie he paid a chip) and the roof gave a creak and came roaring down.
The Sith chipped in one of his own points to successfully hold up the falling rubble before it crushed him.
The first Jedi poured forth his strength and shifted the masonry around his enemy's defences (paid another chip).
Sensing the jeopardy, our Sith hurled himself clear (burning another chip).
The players counted their dwindling resources and reluctantly decided to let him go for now.
No-one gets a 'complication chip' because the original roll was a failure.

I'd be more than happy to let players co-operate pretty much any time - even if they weren't directly (or even peripherally) involved in the initial conflict.

The players decide for themselves who gets a bonus chip from complications.

Erm, I'm sure there was something else I was going to talk about but that's probably way, way more than enough for now.

Thanks again for your responses.
Any questions or comments, just let me know. :)



QuoteAre you teaching them how to play RPGs, or are they teaching you how to play make-believe?

Man, I'm not teaching them anything - I'm too busy running to keep up..! :)


Big Simon

Cool.  I've been working on something similar, but maybe a little more on the complex side - a supers game for my three kids (since all of them appear interested in RPGs).

I've got a character sheet up at

What I've been doing is rolling d6+skill against a target number... but I think I like your system better.  Still... I'm not sure it would work with powers that have different levels.


I tried it this way, though:

Player rolls Xd6 (where X is the number of points in a power) of one color die and compare it to the result of 1d6 of another color.  Highest score wins.

It seems to work, and I might switch to it.

Current projects: Exile, Hero Academy
-~•~- -~•~- -~•~-
Opiates are the religion of the masses. - Mr. Wednesday


A few years back, as part of a summer day-camp program, I ran a long Star Wars adventure for a group of four boys and two girls, ranging from six to nine years of age. I used Michael O'Brien's Maximum Game Fun rules tweaked by the addition of Unknown Armies' Passions and a variant of its Madness Meter (my "temptation meter", more fully described here. This suited my group of young Jedi Knights and the turmoils they would have to endure quite nicely, and the players had little trouble grasping the basics. I posed the following MGF questions to the players:

[*]Name five things you do better than the average Jedi Knight;
[*]Name five things you do worse than the average Jedi Knight;
[*]Name five things everyone knows about you;
[*]Name five things no one knows about you;
[*]Name three things you believe are true;
[*]Name one thing that angers you;
[*]Name one thing that frightens you;
[*]Name one thing that causes you to strike out;
[*]Name a favorite possession;

As randomizers I selected the nifty little dice from West End Games' Assault on Hoth boardgame. For those unfamiliar with them, these are very similar to FUDGE dice but, instead of plusses and minuses, they have little iconic lightsabers (Sabers) and Darth Vader helmets (Vaders). Sabers represent the Light Side and Vaders the Dark Side, which is to say successes and failures respectively. I gave the dice mechanic a wicked twist, however, in that a character could call upon the Dark Side at any point, which reversed the meaning... Vaders became successes and Sabers became failures. It made the temptations of the Dark Side quite palpable, especially when a player's luck was poor.

Success was automatic in most cases, except when there was significant risk involved or resistance to a character's efforts. Two dice were rolled and the result was interpreted based upon the symbols which turned up. A pair of blanks or mixed symbols meant that nothing was accomplished and that the character would have to approach the contest in a different way (a great tool to get players thinking of alternate plans). One Saber meant the character was successful in a small way, and two meant the character was successful in a big way. One and two Vaders meant that the character had failed in a small or big way respectively (but calling on the Dark Side could change things, as noted above).

The children had a blast. The boys were initially into the lightsabers and blasters and such, while the girls were somewhat disinterested. By the end of the first session, however, I had everyone firmly drawn into the story and actively participating. Each and every character proved essential to the successful conclusion of the adventure, as the mix of character strengths and weaknesses was very complementary (even though the players were not cognizant of this until partway into the second of five sessions). Both the boys and the girls appreciated in the end what the others contributed to their overall success, I think, and it was nice to see that.