It is only AFTER release that I realized what makes Adventure Hour! so special.
I mean, I already knew it at some level, but often intuition comes before introspection. That’s why it’s intuited.
Let’s take a look.
Summer of 2020, I’m a summer camp counselor at the YMCA. There are so many things are up in the air with the current state of the world. It’s the perfect time to change things up and add something new to my kids’ experience. I start running “The Adventure Game” for the seven year olds under my care. It starts with one boy and by the end of the session, there are three. Details here. Then three girls join as animals in a future session. To announce a session, I simply say, a little too loud, “so who wants to play The Adventure Game?” It’s usually met with one kid yelling “ADVENTURE GAME!!” hence the much-needed exclamation point added to “Adventure Hour!”
I start to figure out that “succeed” and “something bad happens” are two equally exciting outcomes, if framed properly. I also find out that kids like stuff and things in the world more than boring, boring numbers. I write an article about death and it blows up on Reddit.
But how am I actually RUNNING the game?
Well, I have a clipboard, 2d6 in a shakable tupperware container, and a printed copy of Maze Rats. But I’m not running Maze Rats. I keep track of everyone’s equipment on a single sheet of paper. Suddenly that’s a design goal for me: “Can I keep it compact and manageable enough that each kid can remember what they have and maybe even what some other kids have to help with problem solving?” Each kid has around five items, and never more than ten, which also encourages sharing when a kid hits their inventory limit. I can show any kid the equipment that they and twelve other kids have with one pass of the clipboard. I can manage equipment without having to worry about any sort of cheating. Kids detest cheating (until they do it, the little hypocrite snots, haha).
Where are we playing? In a yoga room, in a LOUD gym, under the trees, on the playground. We all gather around each other to hear better. Sometimes we’re standing, or even walking. Some kids do this adorkable thing where they say their action like “Mr. Sam, I do THIS!” and then run off swinging their invisible sword or using a magnifying glass without hearing the consequences of what they said. It’s a great game in their minds, often better than the one we’re actually playing. But who can compete with the special effects budget of a kid’s inner-world, amiright? 🙂
Two young boys, we’ll call them Evan and Chris are fighting outside of the game a lot. They hit each other during kickball, they have to be separated during lunch. Chris has a tough family life, only cared for by his dad who struggles to manage his four kids and get them ready for camp each day. Chris acts out a lot, but even more on days when he comes late in an unwashed shirt and a lunch that’s too small. It’s part of the reality of summer day camps. Evan is a prime target with his large glasses and large eyes and a tendency to be a bit too loud for his size. He’s also really scrappy and doesn’t back down.
But when they play “The Adventure Game” they have to cooperate. A lot of my party conflict management guidelines came from this era. “No Chris, you can’t hit Evan. There’s a monster in front of you that needs to be dealt with and you can’t take him by yourself. What do you do?”
Now, this isn’t the part of the story where the two boys make up and become friends over my Elf-game. That’s not how life works. What did work is having these moment of relative peace each day where both boys would sit down and enjoy a game together. A moment where everyone was oriented towards the same problem like an abominable snowmonster or a castle full of traps and pigmen.
Did Chris eventually get booted from camp after starting many, many fights with other campers? Yep. But even the day he left, he was still asking about his character in “The Adventure Game.”
It became other piece that helped me realize the impact these types of games. It was still important to Chris. It became a little more important to me.
And we were playing at a summer camp, rain or sunshine.
It’s around this time that I start teaching on Outschool. I haven’t hit my stride for a couple of logistical reasons. Then the fall comes and I’m student teaching so anything outside of that becomes instantly untenable. February of 2021, I’m giving it a shot again, good and proper this time. I start an ongoing group that continues to this day, nine months later. A review of Young Adventurer’s Guide gets me thinking about leveraging the collective understanding of DUNGEONS AND DRAGONS. I’m told and later realize that as long as it’s “close” to D&D and it’s understandable, kids and their parents don’t care. And it’s true. I have a couple of kids come into my class with a three-page character sheet and instantly drop it for a five bullet-point character. It’s often closer to what they had in mind anyway.
I start hitting the metric of “We’ll make everyone’s character in 10 minutes and be playing within 5 minutes after that.” I very often beat those numbers and I’m proud of it.
But how am I RUNNING the game?
Clipboard again, but this time it’s called Google Slides. It has all of the character sheets visible. I share my screen and click the dice from Google every so often. I experiment with diceless and find that the lizard brain still gets a rush out of the spinny, clattery things that it gives meaning to. But the game runs FAST. One hour is my limit for these suckers. We churn through dungeons like they’re nothing.
The dice and sheets are online, the players are online, and the rules are in my head. And it all still works.
Why wouldn’t it? Making a game that’s lightweight enough to be run while on a walk or online should do fine at the table. But just to be sure, I run it while sitting down. You know, as an experiment. No one declares their action and then runs away to the playground at least. 😛
Ain’t no LARPing in this town.
There’s the context of to the release of Adventure Hour! So what makes it different?
It’s been tested in so many environments. It’s been enjoyed in so many contexts. The rules are easy enough to memorize.
You can play it anywhere.
You can have the rules on a phone, tablet, computer, or printed out into a booklet.
You can play it on a bridge. You can play it on a walk. You can play it on a page. You can play it with some chalk.
You can play it in a house. You can play it as a mouse. You can carry it in a box. You can have a small pet fox.
You can play it here or there. You can play it everywhere.
You can play it in the States, or even Amsterdam.
Yes, I say it’s so. For I am Sam I am.
A joke that took 23 years of my life to pay off. My goodness.