Legendary Games has a new Kickstarter aimed at introducing kids into roleplaying games, specifically D&D 5th Edition and the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game. Read the interview with game developer and author Paris Crenshaw below:
- How did you get into game-mastering and writing RPGs for children?
I’ve been playing RPGs for over 30 years. I did some writing for West End Games and a couple of fanzines back in the mid-nineties, but it wasn’t until about 10 years ago that I really got serious about writing. (As an aside, I’m not ashamed to say that I really didn’t start to become productive in the field until I got my anxiety and depression under control, so don’t let anyone talk you out of getting help.) Anyway, by the time I was really starting to build a freelancer portfolio, my daughters were about 6 years old. I was anxious to start gaming with them, and I looked for ways to bring them into the hobby.
As I became more active in the RPG community, I realized that many of us gamers are getting older. The themes and content we include in the things we write are meant to appeal to people like us. I love the work that companies like Paizo is putting out (it’s one of the reasons I love being able to write for them, too), but many products have some gritty and complex subjects. I wouldn’t feel comfortable handing books like that to a 10 year old (the age I was when I played my first game of D&D). I decided that I wanted to produce something that I could play with my kids and that, hopefully, even parents who didn’t play would be willing to let their kids read without having to look over their shoulders…except to see what cool stuff was in the book, of course.
The more I talked to other gamers who were parents or who were just interested in helping younger players join the hobby, the more I realized how important and fun it can be. I ran a couple of workshops at my daughters’ school, and it was gratifying to hear that some of those kids later asked their parents to get them the Pathfinder Beginner Box, which is what I used to teach them. I still love writing more grown-up stuff, but Legendary Beginnings lets me do something that I hope will help keep our hobby going for a long time.
In a strange twist, although these adventures have been in some form of completion for years, they weren’t my first kid-friendly adventure publication. That turned out to be the first Legendary Beginnings adventure, Into the Feyweald. That adventure grew out of an event for my daughters’ Girl Scout troop. My wife learned about Gary Astleford’s Dungeon Scouts program (dungeonscouts.com) and the girls decided to do the workshop. Gary ran an introductory game and at the end, they all got Girl Scout badges for Tabletop RPGs. They had a great time, so we decided to have a Daddy-and-Daughter Game Day, where the scouts sat next to their dads and I ran a game for all of them. I tend to over prepare for games, so in the process of creating the adventure, I realized I’d written a manuscript for an adventure. I joked about it on Facebook and Jason Nelson asked me if I was interested in having it published. The result is Into the Feyweald. When I thought about the next adventures in the Legendary Beginnings line, the Trail of the Apprentice was first in my mind.
- What unique changes or differences did you encounter in this genre than in traditional writing?
Well, in some respects, this was actually easier for me, because there just aren’t many people doing it. I’ve been working on these manuscripts for over five years. When I started, there weren’t many games aimed at kids, and I didn’t know of any Pathfinder RPG or D&D games being published for them. There was already an established “right way” to format adventures and supplements in RPGs for older players, but there was no one to tell me that I had to do things a certain way for these. I’m not sure Legendary Games knew exactly what they were getting into when they agreed to publish the modules, but they’ve been awesome about keeping my formatting ideas, allowing me to keep stat blocks alongside encounter text, or do other “strange” things with layout or content that you don’t see in most RPG books, these days.
There are also differences in the way you have to structure stories. Younger players don’t have the world experience to organize information as easily into “important” and “not important” categories. Any GM knows that it’s tough for adult players to do; it’s even harder for kids. It’s best to organize the story so that events lead logically from one thing to the next. Some people call that kind of thing railroading, but without the ability to clearly see how events are connected, kids can quickly become confused and frustrated. The adventure stalls, and it stops being fun.
From a writing and content standpoint, it’s also tough to find the balance between the modern definitions of “cool” and “kid-friendly.” Kid’s today seem more sophisticated than I was at that age, but there are still topics that can be too scary or complicated for younger kids, and it’s challenging to figure out the best way to handle those. Some of them, you can just avoid. Others, you want to approach in a different way. I’ve tried to establish clear lines: the “bad guys” are “bad.” They aren’t over-the-top evil or doing things that would give a module an R-rating, but they are clearly not “good guys.” I can’t claim to be the voice of morality for the RPG community, either. Some parents may not want to deal with certain topics that I, as a parent, have no problem sharing with my kids, or vice versa. I try to stay in a middle ground, and allow the GMs to add or remove elements as they see fit.
- What do your children think about the games they played being published?
My girls think it’s pretty cool. They especially love seeing the art for characters they’ve created or NPCs they’ve met. They’re 14, now, so they are developing their own interests that don’t necessarily include me. They’ve recently discovered anime and manga, and they both have their own activities outside of school, so we don’t have as much time for tabletop games, but they’re still interested. They are both pretty talented artists and love drawing RPG-based comics and pictures of their own. I think gaming will be something they enjoy for a long time.
- What main piece of advice would you give to new GMs?
For new GMs, I’d say the best things you can do are keep things simple, use what you know, and allow yourself to make mistakes. There are two kinds of GMs, really. One kind is the GM who does it because none of the other players won’t. They want to make sure there’s a game to play, so they take on the responsibility, even if it’s not their favorite part of the game. For them, GMing can start to feel like work. The other kind of GM is the one who loves the world-building, storytelling aspects of the game. Trying to create all of that detail right up front can be daunting.
No matter what kind of GM you are, if you’re starting out, you probably aren’t completely confident with the rules and you don’t yet know how to manage all the moving parts of an adventure or a campaign. It’s better make things easy for yourself.
Don’t worry too much about having a fully detailed setting with all the NPCs named and a full history. Just start with a small area and build out from there. Let your players work with you to develop the story, but have some ideas on hand to keep things moving if your players don’t give you enough to work with. One of the easiest ways to have those ideas on hand is to base your story on things you’ve seen before. Don’t be afraid to play with tropes or to borrow from great storylines. Honestly, one of the best things about RPGs is that it allows us to imagine ourselves doing things that we’ve seen in fantastic literature or film. There’s no reason to shy away from those elements when it comes to figuring out what direction to nudge your players toward. Having that common ground makes it easier for the both you and the players to work together to tell a fun story.
And if things don’t work out, either because you forgot a detail or applied a rule incorrectly, don’t beat yourself up over it. Do your best to take your session notes and remember what happens, make the rules calls as best you can, and then focus on having fun. Eventually, you’ll all know the rules so well that you’ll get into strange discussions about physics, metaphysics, and psychology, trying to figure out how the rules apply in a given situation. But if you start from the right place, you’ll always know that the real questions you need to ask yourself are “Is it what the story needs?” and “Is it fun?”
- What do you have planned next?
The first priority will be to finish the work on the Kickstarter products. My writing on the adventures is done, but if the campaign goes well, we’ll be including a gazetteer for the setting, which I call Terrallien, in the compilation. One of the things I’m really looking forward to from the kickstarter is that people get to provide feedback and can even contribute funding for a chance to pitch adventure ideas. I think it’s going to be fun to work with fans to help turn their ideas into more great adventures. After that, I hope to keep writing more adventures and maybe even some supplements for Terrallien. It has a different feel, taking inspiration from early Colonial American style but using a history that isn’t related to Earth at all. There are things happening on the unexplored continent of Terrallien, and I’m excited to reveal some of those secrets to players and see them creating new adventures of their own.
Trail of the Apprentice is a 5-part series of exciting adventures suitable for all ages, available for 5th Edition and Pathfinder. These modules use simplified stat blocks and other rules adjustments to keep gameplay fun and fast for new players, with helpful sidebars that provide advice on how to run RPGs for younger gamers so your whole family can Make Your Game Legendary!
Trail of the Apprentice #1: The Bandit’s Cave
The people of Corbin Village are hardy folk, familiar with the dangers of the region. But when a band of orcs raids the village, Sheriff McBride realizes she has more troubles than she can handle and calls on a group of heroes to bring the orcs to justice. To complicate matters, the orcs have stolen an item of great historical value from the local sage, and he wants it back. Can the PCs survive the dangers of a nearby marsh and locate the bandits’ hidden lair? If they do, can they take down the orc raiders and recover the sage’s precious statue? The Bandit’s Cave is an adventure for 1st-level characters.
Trail of the Apprentice #2: The King’s Curse
A local sage, Ithamar Ruggles, has asked the PCs to visit the Lord Mayor of Port Fairglade and warn him that someone might try to rob him of a statue, which he calls the White Serpent. Ithamar recently lost the statue’s twin, the Green Serpent, to bandits and believes there is a deeper plot involved. The PCs arrive to find that thieves have already taken the White Serpent from the Lord Mayor’s private family museum. He tasks the PCs with discretely investigating the robbery. But when the nobleman’s museum is robbed a second time, the loss of the statues becomes the least of their worries. The King’s Curse is an adventure for 2nd-level characters.
Trail of the Apprentice #3: The Thieves’ Den
Lord Mayor Wolfe of Port Fairglade has discovered that someone hired the notorious thieves’ guild, the Elverin Skulk to steal a valuable statue from his private museum. The nobleman wants to know who the guild’s client is. But the only person who knows that information is the guild’s leader, the infamous Fox Prince. The PCs must venture into the monster-infested Umberwood to locate a secret entrance to the guild’s headquarters. The heroes will find that, when trying to infiltrate the den of the Fox Prince, very few things are what they appear to be. The Thieves’ Den is an adventure for 3rd-level characters.
Trail of the Apprentice #4: The Oracle’s Test
A mysterious plot is unfolding. Following clues about the theft of a pair of ancient statues, the PCs have discovered who hired the Elverin Skulk thieves’ guild to rob the Lord Mayor of Port Fairglade. It’s clear that the guild’s client is a dangerous and powerful man, but without further information, they can do nothing to stop whatever plans he might have. But there is hope. Deep in the ancient ruins of Sol’Ithmanna rests a stone portal. When opened with the proper keys, the portal will grant access to the domain of a fey oracle who can help them discover the villain’s true purpose and how they can stop him. But the oracle only gives his aid to those who can pass his tests. Are the PCs up to the challenge? The Oracle’s Test is an adventure for 4th-level characters.
Trail of the Apprentice #5: The Wizard’s Dungeon
Armed with knowledge of a villainous wizard’s plans, a party of heroes must venture into the dreaded Shadescar Rift, a deep cave that leads into the dark tunnels beneath the earth. Legends say that it was created by the claw of some terrible beast. Locals stay well clear of the rift and claim it is the home of nightmare creatures that prey on the unwary. But only by braving such dangers can the PCs hope to stop their mysterious enemy. If they fail, he will unleash a great and terrible power upon the world. The Wizard’s Dungeon is an adventure for 5th-level characters.