This is the third post about roleplaying with kids. Last time I talked about the system we are using, while this time I want to talk about the game itself – not so much what happened, but the kind of story and how it was presented.
I said before that there was plenty of room to explore other animal agents and evil planners in the O.W.C.A. universe, although I did not know when I wrote that post that there were already some canonical stories that did just that. There are apparently several Agent P’s also: a panda, for example.
Still, what we came up with was a local chapter of O.W.C.A. which is protecting Town (a small city which looks remarkably like Portland but, er, isn’t) from the depredations of The Red Mask.
As with Phineas and Ferb, the animal agents operate in the context of the human world. Obviously in the Disney show Phineas and Ferb are the primary story whereas in this game the agents are the main feature, but I wanted to give a human context all the same.
So, the stories will always start in some way associated with the Town Zoo. The main human character is a keeper at the zoo, and he has a domineering boss. The keeper is married to a television production person, and they have a son. They all live close to the zoo.
The animal agents themselves are a python who is an exhibit in the Town Zoo, a scorpion kept as a pet by the keeper’s son, and a raccoon who scavenges in the bins around the zoo.
The kinds of plots I’ve come up with so far have been of the “The Red Mask seeks to control some resource in order to execute some evil plan” variety, although I will be drawing inspiration from other incompetent-world-domination stories such as Pinky and the Brain.
In the first story, the Red Mask’s plan was to control all the marshmallows in order to extract money from campers who want to make s’mores.
Once the agent characters were completed, I gave the boys some scripts to read from: the animal agents cannot talk, so the narrative framing was done with a short play featuring the human cast. In this we learned that the keeper worked with TV companies to supply animals, and that there was a show being filmed that day, a new programme called The Red Mask, which the keeper’s wife had been working on.
We talked through the filming where the python was a bit player: this television Red Mask was planning to terrorise the world by controlling all the snakes.
Then the animal agents were called away to their briefing room where Major Çedilla told them of a strange case which needed investigating: all the marshmallows in the tri-county area were being bought up. Marshmallow factories were running at full capacity, but someone was still buying all of them.
So, we had a puzzle: who was buying all the marshmallows? This is where we really started the game, with the boys coming up with ideas on where to go to find out who was buying the marshmallows. The rest of the game was about following the agents’ investigation, and foiling the plot (pythons, it transpires, are quite effective at destroying pipes by crushing them).
Once the real Red Mask was defeated (and left covered in marshmallow goo – they also stole his car as part of the getaway) the characters returned to the set of the television Red Mask and learned that the show’s Red Mask was defeated by marshmallow good also – the snake control was chocolate-based and was neutralised by marshmallows – and so the whole narrative was tied together.
- Keep It Short. This was a two hour session (as opposed to a three or four hour session in an adult game) which is at the limit of what our younger boy can deal with. I kept things varied, giving an exit to a scene after a quarter of an hour. Still, children express their inattention in a number of ways and watching for that is important.
- Make It Fun. If it’s fun, they will engage. For the kids, keep it silly, or at least unexpected.
- Listen to the Players. Kids are imaginative – let them use those imaginations to take the game in unexpected directions.
These are in lessons I am trying to apply to my grown up game practice too.