Playing with Youngers: 50/50 Resolution

Snow White. A. Shipwright.

This is part of the “Playing with Youngers” series, but requires no additional context to read and enjoy. Find the rest of the series here.

At this point, I’ve played about a dozen 20-40 minute sessions with six and seven year olds over the past two weeks. There’s about ten or eleven kids in the rotating cast. I only run five kids at a time at max and not every kid is there every day, so the game naturally contains a bunch of open table elements. Some of the kids just love to watch like it’s a TV show.

Not to pat myself on the back too hard, but the “Adventure Game” is a hit.

But the “resolution” in this post is not a conclusion of any sort. Instead, it’s an opening of this philosophy and way of gaming to a wider, more mobile audience.

So let’s talk about dice.

Both Adventure Hour! and the boiled-down version I’ve been running both use a simple mechanic to resolve conflict: the player and the Game Master both roll two six-sided dice (2d6). If the player rolls higher, the player succeeds. If the Game Master rolls higher, something bad happens. Re-roll ties. Easy enough.

It’s a 50/50 shot with the results being modified in the results of the roll and the impact that follows.

The Game Master should always roll first. The GM rolling first sets the stakes for the roll. “Oh man, I got a 10. Try to beat that.” Or “Geez, only a 4. You might have me on this one…” Then hand the dice over so they can roll. You want THEM to explode with excitement when THEY can clearly see the results.

Also if you (the Game Master) roll first, you can (and should) set the stakes for the roll before rolling yourself. I often find myself saying “If you fail, then XYZ will happen.” This is because success is generally easier to define. They do what they wanted to do. But “something bad happens” always has room for interpretation (as is the right and privilege of the Game Master). Saying what will happen on a bad turn of the dice BEFORE it happens lends more credibility to the roll. Then you aren’t throwing a softball to be nice. You just have happen what you already said was going to happen. It’s also nice to just confirm with the player, giving them a chance to reconsider. They can’t blame you if they checked the metaphorical “read the terms and conditions” box. It’s on them (though they’ll say it was the dice).

Now having spent fifteen of my twenty-two years alive playing Settlers of Catan has taught me that rolling 2d6 will always feel better than a single die. They fit in one hand. They clatter together. For the kids, I even put the dice in a small plastic container that they can shake around and around and over their head like a Christmas present.

But what if you don’t have dice available?

What if you’re on a walk or don’t want to take dice with you? (Happened to me a couple of times already).

Here are some alternatives to produce the same 50/50 shot:

Rock-Paper-Scissors: Classic. The rules are quick and easy. And if you’re working with a kid who doesn’t know rock-paper-scissors, teach them. It’s a life skill, for sure. 80% of the little quarrels between children can be solved with this game anyway. It uses your hands and even has a fun little “animated bit” when its over (scissor hand snips paper hand, paper hand covers rock fist, rock fist smashes the poor scissor hand).

“Same or different”: Stand face-to-face with the player. On the count of three, put forward one hand or one foot. If you and the other player picked the same side (your left and my right or your right and my left), then “the player succeeds.” If you and the other player picked opposite sides (our left or our right), then “something bad happens.” It’s actually a cleaner version of rock-paper-scissors as there’s no possible way to get a tie. I’m also certain there’s more things you could use then hands and feet.

Draw from the bag: Get a bag of stones, pick an equal number of two colors, and assign one result as “you succeed” and the other as “something bad happens.” Draw one, then put it back.

Urim and Thummim: Bible-speak for “black and white stones to see if God says yes or no.” It’s the same as the last example but with just two objects. One is “you succeed” the other “something bad happens.” The Game Master put them in their pocket and draw one or hide them behind their back and have the player choose which hand.

“Eye of Sauron”: Stole this from a Lord of the Rings board game I played as a kid. It’s just another variation of the previous two examples. Get one small, palm-able object. It’s either “the player succeeds” or “something bad happens,” you pick. Put it behind your back and pick which hand to put it in. Have the player choose hand to reveal. If they pick the empty hand, then the opposite result of the object happens. The original board game used a small, evil marble to decide your fate. Have fun messing with the kids’ minds about which hand “looks larger” and therefore “must” contain the object.

Toss a coin: Of course! Use that pocket change for something FUN. Heads = “the player succeeds,” tails = “something bad happens.”

Deck of cards: Shuffle, shuffle, shuffle. “Pick a card.” Red = “the player succeeds,” black = “something bad happens.”

Are there more ways to do this? Absolutely. Post below if you so choose. But I’m tired and have another game tomorrow… Not that it takes any prep, but being well-rested is the first (and maybe only) item on my “playing with youngers” prep list.

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