Bedtime Campaign: The Sword of Dreams

This post is part of a series where I made the going to bed story of my son into a free form roleplaying game.  See the first post here and the whole series here.

While I’ve been doing Interactive stories with my son since I came back from Gen Con, not all of them were worthy of being blogged about.  As my creative surge of last summer ebbed in the gray doldrums of Autumn, my drive for these stories abated somewhat and I mostly went through the motions.  The stories became less interactive and often less inspiring.

Nico is also a somewhat conservative player who likes to stay within well defined bounds after the initial discovery of something he likes.  Thus, many of our stories revolved around ‘fetch this’ or ‘help so and so’ with the same cast of characters.

We did have a Indiana Jones period where the stories were entertaining, but we ended up mostly retelling the movies and changing Indy for Nico.

Although i must confess that having Nico’s plane crash whenever he took one (and having the character survive unscathed) was hilarious.

Anyhoo, all this just to say that last night, when Nico asked for an interactive story, I decided to push the enveloppe and try to get my brain out of its DMing funk.  Play acting with my son is the perfect occasion!

So here’s how this experiment turned out:

A friend’s Dream

Chatty: All right, what are you doing now?

Nico: Daaad!  You know I don’t like when it starts like that!

(Yeah I noticed, I was just confirming… Adult players hate that too.)

Chatty: All right, I was just kidding.  You are playing in your castle’s courtyard when a friend of yours comes to you.  Who do you think that is?

Nico: That’s probably Sandshrew!

Chatty: Right you are!  He’s got something to tell you.  He had a dream he wants to tell you about, Interested?

Sure!

Well, he tells you that last night he had a dream where was told by a strange voice that he had to find a friend and go to the Highest Place, the Lowest Place and the Wettest Place to get 3 pieces of a secret.  Only when brought together would the secret be uncovered.

Nico the Dream Reader

Chatty: What do you think that dream means?

Nico: Hmmm.  I guess I’m the friend!

That would make sense.  What about the 3 places Sandshrew was told to visit?

(Notice here how I try to find a way to give Nico narrative control without him going defensive? That was the breakthrough I was seeking… )

Nico: I think the highest place is the Palace’s roof.

Chatty: Sure, that works.

Nico: And the lowest place is definitively the Castle’s Basement, its one kilometer deep (yeah, my kid has gone metric… I’m so proud!)

Chatty: Whoa!  That’s deep and by the way, a Castle’s basement is called a dungeon!

Nico:  Oh and for the wettest place… (Pause as he thinks), its the Mountain of Weight!

Chatty: The Mountain of Weight?

Nico: Yeah, the mountain is so heavy that huge, heavy clouds gather around it, like it was a cloud magnet!

(Hey, who told my 6 year old son about gravity?  I’m gonna have to start going scientific soon it seems)

Chatty: And its wet because?

Nico: Well the clouds are so heavy that when birds fly through them, it creates a hole and water gushes out of it and pours on the mountain, creating a huge lake around it!

(I’m so making this little man my writing protegé later!  Hey did I tell you that he’s almost French literate now? He’s even reading a few English words! )

Chatty: That’s just a great idea!

The High Place

Chatty: So, do you want to help Sandshrew explore what his dream means?

Nico (Getting excited): Yeah!

All right! So you start by…?

The roof!

Okay, so you start climbing the roof and it’s very slippery…

No its not, it’s got pieces of wood all over the place and we can climb those easily!

(I guess he meant shingles, and I guess he really wants narrative control today… “hey let’s roll with this” I told myself)

Chatty: Sure, okay so you see one of those metal birds that indicate the direction where the wind blows, its called a  Weather Vane (Girouette in French) and on top of it you see a shining piece of metal… it looks to be a piece of a blade.

Nico: I take it and then i go in the Castle’s basement!

The Low Place

Okay, well, you spend a long time climbing down the stairs…

Well, I take out my sword and I melt the stairs with my fire Gem!

(Yeah, for those new to the series, Nico has a Laser sword that also shoots fire…)

You what?  Why do you want to break the stairs?

I don’t want to break them.  I just want to melt them a little.

Why? (I was completely baffled but I tried to resist the urge to go paternal and let him follow his idea through… Say “Yes” and all that stuff.)

Because when its melted, Sandshrew and I can slide to the bottom like it was snow!  We’ll get down there real fast!

(My jaw dropped! That guy is amazing!)

Chatty: Okay so you grab a shield that hangs on a wall and you guys start sliding down the spiraling stairs down to the bottom.

Nico: Yay! What do I see?

(He was really into it, more than I have seen him in weeks! This is what drives a GM to keep coming back at the table!)

Chatty: You see an ancient suit of armour standing alone in a round room.  It has another piece of the sword in his hands.

Nico: I take it!

Before you can grab it, the suit animates and says in an empty voice “WHO DARES TAKE WHAT BELONGS TO THE OWNERS OF THIS CASTLE!  ONLY THE OWNER CAN TAKE IT”

I’m the Owner’s son!

PROVE IT

Well, my father is the King and I yield the laser sword, I have power Diamonds and I wear the Magic Armour of Weather Control!

VERY WELL, TAKE IT!

Yay!

All right, Nico, time for bed!

Come on Daddy, we’re almost done…

Oh no, the mountain will take a long time to explore!

Daaaaaadddy!

(I love it when he does that!)

Chatty: He He!  Okay, one last scene!

Getting to the Mountain of Weight

Chatty: The mountain is far away, many many days by foot.

Nico: Do we have a vehicle at the castle?

Sure, your father has a Royal Coach (French: Carosse).

What’s that?

It’s a fancy word for a Horse-Drawn Car.

Okay, let’s go!

Sure thing! Sometime later, while traveling down a road crossing a big forest, you see a fallen tree across the road with a man standing behind it, signaling you to stop.

Okay. (Sounding unsure)

As you look outside the Coach, you see 2 more men pop out from behind the tree and wearing Red Bandannas to hide their features.  They’re Bandits and they want to steal from you!

I get out and I draw my sword.

The Bandits aren’t as brave as they initially were but they stand their ground.

I tell them “Do you want me to do this with you?” and I use my lasers to chop the whole tree in pieces and use my wind power to sweep the firewood back in the forest!

(Nico has Badass blood I swear!  Must be from his mom because I’m a total wuss)

The bandits scream in panic and run away, promising never to do this again!

Yay!

Okay boy, sleep time!

Daaad!

You had your extension, we’ll finish this one another night! Good night kiddo!

As I write these lines, I realize that in my 25 years of gaming, all my great games were the ones where I shared narrative control with the players.  I want to reconnect with that and make this like a second nature to me.

Not as easy as it sounds for this old Crunch Overlord.

Stay Tuned for part 2.

Credit: Nicolas Ménard (Story), Costume Kingdom (Picture)

Comments

  1. This is pure awesomeness!

    I believe that sharing narrative control is probably the most exhilarating thing, if pulled right and with equally cooperative parties.

    My fondest DnD memories often revolve around parts of stories built by having the players and DMs weave their creative energies together.

    Kind of like that “tag-team DMing” we used to do in college: 1 campaign, 3 DMs. We switched DM almost every game, the new DM picking up where the other one left off.

    You never knew where the plot line you created last month was going to be when you’ll be back at the helm.

    It could have been disastrous, but we did it cooperatively (while mischievously derailing plot lines).

    Eric Maziades last blog post..Do you even like playing a warlock?

  2. Kevin Richey says:

    I love your bed-time stories, thank you for sharing. I look forward to my son being old enough for this (he’s two years old now).

    I’ve been reading about Shared Narrative Control around the RPG Blogosphere with much interest. As a new DM, I really want to mold that concept into my style. Partly for the practical reason of less responsibility for world building and session prep. I am including “Shared Narrative Control” in my list of core RPG principals, next to “Say Yes” and “Don’t Write the Ending”.

  3. Wow, Chatty this kid will be awesome at DnD… Could you clone him and send him by air mail to me, he’d be a great addition to my group :D

    I think I might share narrative control in the future… should get my players inspired…

    OneManHordes last blog post..DM’s Advice: Let your players play the characters they want to play, and possibly save money.

  4. Hey Chatty! Thanks for the linkback. I hope, should I ever find myself in the situation, that I can raise my kids with half that much creativity at that age! It’s a great way to get them into gaming, learning vocabulary and critical thinking at that age.

    In fact, you should get together with an artist and put together a book on GMing for kids. 1/2 picture story book 1/2 adult how to.

  5. @Eric: Glad you liked it. I agree with you… but shared narrative control is truly alien for many DMs. I think it goes against a deepset habit that DM = control at all levels.

    @Kevin: I’m happy to have written another one. It truly is an amazing activity and writing about it afterward opens up so many insights. I too will explore narrative control issues more in the future.

    @OMH: Cloning my son? What do you think I am… some sort of Suburban Overlord working in a Human Genetics lab? Oh wait… I am! You should have your copy shortly. :)

    @John: Thanks for writing your piece, the timing was perfect! I really am floored by how awesome his ideas are… I’m pretty sure its because he’s not burdened with the same rigid sense of verisimilitude adult gamers have. Funny how we try to phrase our actions and stories around believable concepts even though this is all a fantasy game.

  6. “What do you think I am… some sort of Suburban Overlord working in a Human Genetics lab? Oh wait… I am! You should have your copy shortly.”

    Project Warforge has failed and now the empire relies on human genetics through alchemy to win it’s war selling it’s creations off to the highest bidder to fun more and more experiments…

    :D hmmm I wander…

  7. @ChattyDM: I think the way you’re interacting with your kid also has a part to play. Fear to displease is a great censor… and I don’t think there are many urges to please greater than the ones to please your parents. The fact that you welcome such bursts of creativity in your children is certainly a great motivation.

    I consider myself a pretty creative guy, but there are some circumstances when I completely sensor myself – for fear of being foolish. My dad was one of my greatest sensors on that part.

    I remember having a pretty hard time at college playing improv for fear of being ridiculous.

    However, in drawing or writing – which were more personal means of creation for me back then – I could completely let go… As long as my dad didn’t find my stupid drawings.

    So kudos to you for helping your children’s unbridled imagination flourish!

    One day, if you’re lucky, he’ll DM for you :P

    Eric Maziades last blog post..Do you even like playing a warlock?

  8. Chatty,

    I agree 100% – I try my hardest to share narrative control in all my games, and so far, I’ve always had a waiting list of at least 4 folks wanting in on my games! The players love it and so do I! :D

    Ashys last blog post..Dead Men Driving, Ep. 05

  9. This story is awesome. You’re raising a fine future Dungeon Master!

    Jonathan Drains last blog post..Lou Zocchi and the Science of Dice

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