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.
Clarity is key in children’s games.
Now clarity is a big component of all games. Information is what starts how players interact with the game. When the Game Master sets the scene, that’s information coming in. Usually this is just said aloud: “You are on a desert planet a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. Your uncle buys two droids and asks you to clean them before dinner. What do you do?”
Information precedes the player’s choice.
But just as there is more than one way to shell a peanut, there is more than one way to deliver this information. And it can help structure an adventure for younger players. And older players.
As an aside, I hope by now you are able to see through my charade: what I’ve been saying applies to younger players most definitely applies to every other player. I am pitching it as “playing with youngers” is because A) I run games for kids as a side gig *ahem* and B) shooting for the entry player, the ones with the fewest preconceptions of gaming, has always been a huge goal for me. If you can reach and communicate clearly with them, you can do the same for your experienced players. You reach everyone, not just hardcore players. And now back to the show.
The method of delivering information in question today is lists.
You know what lists are, so instead of blathering on, here are three lists I’ve used to structure adventures for one hour sessions.
Gotta get ‘em all!
In an Adventure Hour adventure (that’s cute), the players were celebrating a birthday party of one of the players. (The session was actually being played to celebrate that player’s birthday IRL, which was just a cool extra detail.) They were about to cut into a cake that an NPC rabbit had made for their lunchtime picnic.
Pig-men drop in from the trees, smashing the cake and gobbling as much as they could. Meanies. After defeating the pig-men, the NPC rabbit offers to make a new cake for the celebration that night at the local castle to make up for the sudden lack of cake. She hands them a list:
Boom. Instant adventure. Get the five items, reach the conclusion and enjoy a great party and delicious cake. The players then choose the order: “let’s find eggs first!”
For this adventure, there was no beating around the bush. “Okay. Eggs first? You hear rumors of a goose that guards in the best eggs high in the mountains. You trudge far away and stand at the entrance of a temple with a moat too far to jump across. What do you do?”
Things to do, places to be
In a World of Elements adventure, the players were investigating a village for spirit-based happenings. Simply put, the village only had so many things to do and places to investigate. So make a list!:
- The river
- Goto Manor
- Fish stand
- Lee Residence
- The pier
As more of a mystery, the goal of the adventure wasn’t made clear until the players investigated a few of these locations. Something about the fishing village’s river running out of fish and being on the brink of famine and war. The players fought a corrupted spirit to free the river. The war still lurks on the horizon. You know, typical Avatar: The Last Airbender stuff.
Find as many as possible
In a Hogwarts Adventure Game adventure (some hooks for that here), the players played second year students returning to Hogwarts for orientation week. For the occasion, the headmaster revived the tradition of the Helga Hufflepuff Annual Treasure Hunt (because Hufflepuffs are excellent finders or whatever).
The staff mixed up the teams so that the members were from different houses. Each team was then given a list of treasures to find:
- Salazar’s Silver Pendant
- The Hephaestus Clock
- The Black Lake Pearl
- Hagrid’s Scarf
- Rowena’s Favorite Book
- Godric’s Lizard’s Tooth
They were given one hour to find as many as possible with each item being guarded by a challenge or puzzle. The students in the group that found the most treasures each won a new broomstick!
A fun addition to this list is, naturally, a map of Hogwarts. This is the one I found useful. Players deduce which location on the map is likely to house (hehe) the treasure. And away we go!
Once one hour is up, the session is over.
Wrapping it all up
These are all variations of the list method structure adventures, the promise being: “once you get/go to/use some or all of these items, the adventure will reach a conclusion.”
There’s something to the human psyche about being given a more explicit means of achieving a goal or exploring an area… And checking off items upon completion.
Clarity is key.