Friday, January 30, 2009

Supercrew with the Kids

I recently purchased a .pdf of a very simple superhero roleplaying game called Supercrew. (You can read a review of it here.) The game rules are presented in the form of a 28 page color comic book, which is a nice touch.

A few days ago I read the game to my daughter and son, who are nine and six, respectively. Tonight mom was out at a work-related function and I asked the kids if they wanted to play a boardgame. My daughter suggested that since Mom isn't really into rpgs, we should try playing Supercrew.

Mutant Mayhem
I should preface this by saying that I tried playing Mutants and Masterminds with my kids about a month ago, with disastrous results. This was really my fault. My son, who has Asperger's Syndrome, reads at a high level and loves anything with numbers, so he's been reading my MnM books with joy. He's memorized a bunch of the rules as well. But I neglected the obvious point that being able to recite the rules doesn't mean comprehension, and that my lack of gaming experience with those rules would make me less effective as well. So that experience sucked, because the kids were confused, I was hesistant to make rulings, and my son got distracted by the Heroclix we were using as miniatures. Not my finest hour.

The Rules
This time was much better. With Supercrew you pick three powers for your character, each rated 1, 2, or 3, respectively. That determines how many dice you roll when using the power. A roll of 4, 5, or 6 on a die equals Effect 1--a 6 is re-rolled and any additional effect is added to the total. You also get to describe three tricks (which mechanically work the same for all characters--re-roll the dice, turn one die result into a 5, or automatically get Effect 2--but are described differently for each character's unique powers and style). You can use each trick once per gaming session.

You need to spend a hero point to use your level 3 power. How do you get a hero point? By using your wimpy Level 1 power and/or as a compensation for getting knocked out. Everyone has 3 toughness unless they've got a special ability that changes that (rules are kind of vague there). You define all your powers--there's a simple framework presented, but you can be pretty free-form.

The Set-Up
My son made a size-changing character with Shrinking 1, Growth 2, and SuperSizeShift 3 (which let him go back and forth in size in a single turn). He named the character SuperSizer.

My daughter made a character called Alien Z. Alien Z had Bulletproof Costume 1, Superspeed 2, and Trained Pet Monkey 3. Yes, my daughter's superfast character (who for some reason had heat vision as one of her tricks--I assumed it was based on her costume but let her make it her automatic Effect 2 trick) had as her most potentially powerful ability a trained monkey. She's very creative.

I basically copied the stats for two villains (even simpler than those for the characters) out of the book. One could control flocks of crows. I named her Blackbird. The other was called Miss Decibel and had sonic powers. And there were stats for a gang of ninjas, so I used those.

The Call to Action!
On the fly, I decided that the high-tech toy company where SuperSizer worked in his secret identity was being robbed by a gang of ninjas--he got a text message from a terrified co-worker. At the time he and Alien Z were working on her costume in his garage lab. He shrank to tiny size, hopped on Alien Z's shoulder, and held on as she raced at superspeed to the toy company's warehouse.

Back in Black--Ninja/Crow Throwdown
There they encountered a gang of ninjas robbing the warehouse. Alien Z decided to surprise attack the ninjas by racing toward them from a distance at high speed so they wouldn't see her coming, while SuperSizer snuck up in shrunken form once Alien Z left him by the side of the building. Alien Z rolled very well and took out half the ninjas on the first turn. SuperSizer cornered a ninja in the warehouse and grew to giant size. This, plus a series of bad attack rolls/good defenses on the part of the ninja, led to a comedic sequence where he put his head through the ceiling, then tried in vain to stomp the frantically dodging ninja. Alien Z knocked off another ninja, catching a shuriken in the back for her trouble, then noticed that a bunch of crows were flying off with the computer chips the ninja had previously been loading into the back of a truck.

(You may ask--if Blackbird could simply have had her minions fly off with the chips in the first place, why were the ninjas loading them into a truck? This is what happens when you take 5 minutes to set up a game and have a map handy that shows a loading dock with trucks on it. The kids never thought twice about it.)

Alien Z saw Blackbird guiding her flock of feathered fiends and tried to charge the villain. Blackbird used one of her trick powers to send a swarm of crows against Alien Z. Blackbird scored a higher Effect, so her attack went first. To make matters worse, Alien Z flubbed the defense roll, resulting in enough damage to knock her out after the shuriken hit. I ruled that the crows kept Alien Z from seeing where she was going, sending her careening into a truck at super speed and knocking her out. Blackbird then summoned a bunch of crows to lift her up into the air and fly her away.

SuperSizer sees all this because his head is sticking out of the top of the building. He uses his SuperBreath trick, rolls well, and blows away all the birds holding Blackbird, who tumbles to the ground and is knocked out.

SuperSizer and Blackbird engage in some rather awkward roleplaying banter with their captives before the police arrive. My daughter is good with the quips but just keeps asking the same questions and wants to use her heat vision to set Blackbird on fire. She says violence against prisoners is not against the law on her home planet. My friend Aaron might recall that my daughter gets her direct approach in these matters from my wife.

SuperSizer gets caught up in explaining to the villains just how they were defeated, possibly the first hero monologue I can recall. A little nudging gets him to threaten to shrink super small and crawl up the nose of one of his captives, which is sufficiently gross to get a little info out of a ninja--they were supposed to rendezvous with their employer at the docks. Then the other ninjas shut him up.

The police come for the prisoners and Blackbird uses another of her trick powers to turn into a bunch of birds and fly away to freedom.

Awkward Sleuthing
The next part did not go smoothly, as I eventually had to railroad the kids into trying to find clues to help them figure out what ship on the docks the bad guys were heading toward. I had this idea that a Japanese engineer had left from a military company because he didn't want to use his artificial intelligence breakthrough to control war robots, but to create lifelike robot pets for kids. The Japanese company wanted to steal the chips back and had hired ninjas and two supervillains to do it.

I don't think the kids got much of that. Eventually they figured out that ninjas were from Japan (a blatant, silly clue that my son actually grasped). Then they talked to the people in the warehouse and got enough info for my daughter to look up ships headed for Japan from the dock that evening. They found one and headed for it.

I probably should have just let the kids do whatever popped into their heads, but I really couldn't understand what they were trying to do. So my bad for not realizing they weren't getting the hints I was dropping.

Final Act
They got to the docks to see the ship ringed by crows keeping lookout. I can't really accurately relate what happened next, because I didn't quite understand it. But my daughter unleashed her pet monkey, which snuck on board the ship and rigged up a zipline that the two heroes used to swoop onto the deck at high speed past the startled crow lookouts. SuperSizer went giant-sized on the ship as Blackbird and Miss Decibel came to confront them.

At this point it was getting late and it was increasingly hard to keep my son even remotely focused on the game. So I wanted a quick ending with a bang. Thus I decided not to pull out any additional ninjas (they don't come cheap).

It was even faster than I expected. My son unleashed his SuperSizeShift ability, combined with his re-roll trick and a 6, to generate an Effect 4. Miss Decibel's defense roll of Effect 1 meant she would be knocked out. We described this as SuperSizer suddenly shrinking as Miss Decibel unleashed her sonic blast harmlessly overhead where his giant body had been a moment earlier, then leaping toward her like a flea, landing at her feet, and finally enlarging to full size with a punch that sent her skyward and into the water with a splash. Awesome.

My daughter engaged in some witty banter with Blackbird and then came up with a neat plan--to use the water nearby to soak the crows so they would be unable to fly, negating Blackbird's power. She got a 1 die anecdote bonus (another once-per-game-session deal) for an entertaining story about how she got the idea. Then she unleashed a staggering roll: 4, 6, 6, with the two re-rolled dice coming up 4 and 6, and the re-re-rolled 6 coming up 5, for an Effect of 6. Particularly considering that Blackbird had used up her power tricks for the session, she was toast even with an excellent full power defense roll.

Unfortunately, I could not for the life of me understand how the actions that my daughter described taking had anything to do with the plan she had laid out. It's like she forgot the water aspect entirely. Which was fine with me, I just can't remember it. The way I recall the conclusion is that she ran past a surprised Blackbird and leaped onto the water, creating a massive waterspout that shot up and drenched all of the crows, rendering them helpless as Alien Z rode the waterspout onto the deck of the ship, tapped a dazed Blackbird on the shoulder, and cold-cocked her when she turned around. Because that's more along the lines of what my daughter had said she was going to do, and that was beyond awesome.

There was no denouement, as it was time for pajamas and teeth brushing. But I was really happy with the visuals of the two final coup de grace moments, which would have looked great on a splash page or in one of the DC animated cartoons.

Much happier with this game session. If we started it earlier and perhaps took a break in the middle, we could get a could couple hours of fun. The rules are pretty simple and the tricks, particularly their limited resource nature, added some fun. My son seemed to have the best grasp of the rules, which I had to explain a couple of times to my daughter. She had the better focus on the game itself and contributed pretty much all of their clever dialogue.

My daughter tends to want to control the story more than the interactive format allows, especially as she's not the GM. The oddest aspect of this is that she keeps trying to hold the non-player-character's side of the conversation, talking back and forth with herself. On the other hand, she's getting better at thinking up stuff to do and tends to keep the action moving, which is a critical skill and much appreciated. My son has the attention span you'd expect of a six-year-old but also the associated enthusiasm when things go very well or very poorly. Basically great success or disaster got him equally thrilled and anything in the middle lost his interest fairly quickly. I also need to learn to hide the box of Heroclix when we are actually playing!

I think if I have just a little more fleshed out in terms of options (which wouldn't take long) so the kids could have more freeform choices (which I need to be willing to accept no matter how odd), and I figure out some ways to nudge them more gently into getting moving/doing, and they get more of the hang of how roleplaying games work (or narrative--you'd think that with all the animated adventures they watch, they'd recognize cliches and plot points more easily, but that just isn't natural connection for them), that they we will all continue to have fun.

I'm very happy that they gave me a second chance and that they did such a good job of being creative and fun, and I told them that.


Aaron DaMommio said...

Too much awesome. Takes a lot of patience, doesn't it? I've done a few games with Ethan, but the ones where we tried to include Chloe were much more difficult to manage.

Doug said...

Yeah, it's hard to remember at times that there is a give-and-take flow to the RPG process that, even in an awkward game with adults, you assume the players all understand, even if they don't agree with.

But the kids just didn't know what I was getting at on certain times. Like when the first battle ended, I think they were waiting for the cut scene before they moved on.

Good practice in my communication skills and patience, though.

smausy said...

I just stumbled on this blog entry while looking for reviews on the supercrew RPG, and MAN you do a great job of selling it! Sounds like such a great time with your kids. I'm charmed. Thanks.

Doug said...

Wow! Thanks.