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Monday, May 4, 2015

Playing as a Parent: James A. Walls


Wait... You're saying I am not your baby?!
So, I am not a parent. In fact, I was one of those people who shuddered each time I saw new parents struggling with their kid in a super market. I always thought 'oh god no! I still need to see X amount of countries and be this successful in my writing career' before I would even consider the possibility of the thought of having a kid.

However, as I grow older things have started to change. The tiny fingernails that terrified me now kind of seem cute. The snotty noses are something I want to wipe rather than run away from. Each time one of my friends who has kids brings them around I want to cuddle the kiddies and give them candy (worst auntie in the world) - rather than force a smile and ignore the children.

So, as my biological clock begins to tick down to some unforeseen d-day -  I need some answers! Namely, I need to know how being a parent changes (or not) my favourite hobby: role play. So, I've invited a really great host of people to talk to me about this topic in a series I am calling: Playing as a Parent!

The first in this series is +James August Walls and he spoke to me about running games for your kids!

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James A. Walls who runs one of my favourite RPG talk shows on YouTube called Living4Crits with his kids. He also has a great blog by the same name - Living4Crits. Finally, if that didn't make him busy enough I always seem to see him popping up with posts about running different and cool games for his family!

Liz: Now James, I have actually already hinted at my secret agenda for having you on the blog, but first off, could you please tell us a bit about yourself and also your kiddies^^.

James: We're a pretty crazy family!  I'm thirty-five, and originally from the Philadelphia area although I now live near Pittsburgh.  My parents were already incredibly supportive of my interests in gaming, and they were always bringing home new board games and card games for my brother and I to try.  RPG's ended up becoming my favorite kind of tabletop game.  I started playing roleplaying games when I was twelve years old, with the basic Dungeons & Dragons red box.  I had the edition with the Larry Elmore cover.  My daughters, Carrie and Evie, are eleven and eight respectively.  My son Cooper is four.  All three of my children have taken part in role-playing games.  Typically I've started them around five years old, but this past summer Cooper was feeling left out so we bought him some dice and let him join in. 


Liz: Now, on to my secret agenda - you play a lot of games with your kids and your family in general. Did you plan to be a 'gaming' dad or is it just something you fell into?

James: I always wanted to have a family full of gamers, from wife to children.  With everyone in my house interested in role-playing games every time we play we have a full adventuring party!  That said, I didn't intend on starting the Living 4 Crits blog and YouTube channel.  That happened by accident.  A little over a year ago I was trying to figure out a way to share post-game play summaries, and thought that Blogger.com would be quick and easy.  Soon I noticed that other people, outside my gaming group, were reading the blog and commenting.  I was already running games with my children, so I started posting summaries and pictures from those games as well.   The feedback was always incredibly uplifting, especially from my fellow gamer-parents.  Eventually I wanted to include more interaction from Carrie, Evie, and Cooper so we kicked off the Living 4 Crits YouTube show, which allows everyone in the house to participate. 

Liz: Could you give parents (or aspiring parents) some tips on getting their kids into role play games?

James: I get a lot of questions about "what system" or "what setting" to use when trying roleplaying games with your kids.  In the past I've made some suggestions, and have pointed to those that I use with my family (Numenera, Savage Worlds, Basic Fantasy RPG), but truthfully the answer should be "any".  Just play the games you are passionate about and your children will be excited to join in the fun.  So long as you have reasonable expectations for rules adherence, and a high tolerance for silliness, any game can work.  Heck, if your children are really young just do some interactive storytelling... it's pretty much the same thing! 

Carrie says that it's important to keep the games interesting, adding cool characters that kids can identify with, and acting the part when game-mastering.  

When we run Numenera and Savage Worlds - The Last Parsec, we put Disney twists on the games, allowing the kids to play familiar characters from their favorite movies.  During the holiday season we ran a trio of Santa Claus inspired games, incorporating the jolly elf into The Last Parsec, Accursed, and Numenera.

Finally, don't think that you have to run full, four hour sessions for your family.  You can get a lot of gaming done in an hour or less, so long as you are creative.  In a recent video we ran a game of Savage Worlds in thirty-minutes... about the time it would take to read four or five stories.  In thirty minutes you can run a great, quick encounter, have some witty dialogue, or deal with a single significant challenge.

Liz: Ooo! I remember your cosplay Disney post, it was super awesome and adorable. It also made me think that I want to run a Frozen/Vampire the Masquerade session for my players, but I really need to figure out how to do that without utterly ruining a movie (Frozen) and a game (VtM) that I really love :P. I just want to be Ice Queen for a day - is that so wrong? Speaking of - do your kids have any favourite characters that they've played (they don't have to be Disney :))?

James: Admittedly everyone in our family, from grandparent to four-year old, is a Disney fanatic.  The only times they've role-played as popular characters it has been Disney themed, otherwise they've created original characters on their own.  Since our very first "campaign" included my girls playing as Anna and Elsa from Disney's Frozen, albeit in the Ninth World of Numenera, these are still my daughters' favorites.  We even visit these characters on occasion for one-off adventures, even though we've moved on from that campaign. 

Liz: I am loving all the advice so far! I've tried running systems that I wasn't excited about for my players and even with adults it just doesn't work - so this is a great tip for any GM. However, I was wondering, even while GMing systems you really liked - were there things that just didn't work for you when GMing for your family? Something they weren't interested in or something that just doesn't translate to playing a game with your kids?

James: I've noticed that offering my children a "sandbox" experience, the opportunity to explore an open world, tends to throw them for a loop.  This is not to say that they don't enjoy going off the rails a bit during the game, but typically Carrie and Evie have a more enjoyable time taking part in clear, somewhat linear adventures.  Perhaps this is because I've tried to mimic a "bedtime story" format in the past, and it has just stuck.  Granted, it would be very difficult to try any kind of open world gaming in the short duration games we often play, but I hope to one day make another attempt at letting the kids create their own stories. 

Liz: This is probably my most evil and difficult question, because I can imagine so many answers - but what has been the most enriching and best thing that has come out of playing so many great games with your kids?

James: That is an evil and difficult question!  I want to make sure that my children learn that it's truly wonderful to be different and unique, even when they feel the pressure to act like everyone else around them.  Last summer we were taking part in a little experiment we called #GetOutAndGame, in which we would play RPG's in public places.  We played Numenera in a few public parks, a Five Guys Burgers and Fries, and a Panera Bread.  While this was pretty fun, we were trying to push the boundaries of where you could run an RPG, and there was an open invite from a local italian restaurant to host one of our club's events.  So we made a reservation, and five of us (including two club members and my two kiddos) set out to play.  We were assured that it was a pretty quiet night when making the reservation, but when we showed up the place was packed.  There in the middle of the room, in front of EVERYONE was the only open table.  We wouldn't just be playing an RPG in public, we'd be playing in front of an entire room of people.  My two daughters looked at me, and seemed very nervous about playing with everyone looking at them.  But I quietly told them to just focus on me, enjoy the game, and keep playing. We were given quite a few strange looks, and even I felt a bit weird, but we soldiered on and had a great time.  I thought it was a terrific lesson for both girls, that its okay to feel weird and out of place, but that doesn't mean that you should stop being yourself. 

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I want to say a HUGE thank you for James for being such a great sport and answering all my questions!

 Please check out his blog, it is a great read and so much fun for read about all the adventures he has. 

Next week, I'll have Misha B. on talking to me about how her personal play has changed since having kids!

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