Nico’s Lego RPG: Assault on the Crystal King’s Cave, Part 1

I was thinking how long it had been since I played a post-worthy RPG session with my soon-to-be 8 years old son Nico.  A few weeks ago, I made him a Swords and Wizardry PC and we started doing a random dungeon crawl but I made the bad decision of using the 1e DMG dungeon generator and he got bored of waiting for me to determine the angle and width of yet another corridor.

I’ve long been convinced that geeks waste countless occasion to show how awesome RPGs are by getting caught in useless systemic details while teaching them!  I should have winged the dungeon as my 9 year old friend used to do when I was 8!

Anyway, a few days ago, Nico asked me to play with his recently built Lego Power Miners Rock Wrecker and Crystal King sets, his two favorite gifts for X-mas.  Now I’m sure many geek dads and moms have had a semi-unpleasant playtime experience with boys. As soon as you sit down with them, they start dictating how the game will go and, more significantly, how invulnerable the figures they play always are.

(Hmmm, sounds like some GM’s I’ve played with too…)

I must confess, like many Game Masters dads, I absolutely hate that.  In my mind, Role Playing games were, in part, created to stop the whole ‘Bang, you’re dead!’ ‘Am not!'” ‘Nuh huh, I just shot you!,” No you didn’t!” thing.

Anyway, as Nico was sitting, waiting expectantly with his completed Lego sets,  we started another chapter of our gaming career.

Chatty:  Okay let’s make a battle adventure game!  Why are you trying to beat King Crystal?

Nico (Thinking):  The humans need the Crystals found in the cave and knock out the bad guys.

Chatty: Okay, but why are the Crystal guys bad guys? (It’s not clear what the crystal monsters have done wrong in this Lego Collection).

Nico: That’s easy, while we need the little crystals the monster produce to power everything, they come out of the caves to eat Humans!

Chatty: That’s a good enough reason. Okay so you are going to use your team of three guys, a motorcycle and the Rock Wrecjer. Do the guys have names?

Nico: No, I don’t want to give them names

(But I will, to simplify the story)

Dramatis Persona, Good Guys

  • Driller Jim: Lone mini, backpack with long-shafted triple-bladed drill
  • Mortorcycle Willy: dude on a motocycle from a previous Power Miners set
  • Rock Wrecker Joe: The guy who drives the Wrecker

Bad Guys:

  • Little Crys: Little crystal monster (Quebec French bonus: Petit Crisse, my wife stifled a laugh)
  • Crystal Ogre: Large sized rock elemental type of brute
  • Crystal King: Huge, multi segmented rock monster

Chatty: All right lets make this adventure game into 2 scenes.  In the first one, Little Crys and the Crystal Ogre are going to be waiting for your 3 guys in in a cave camping site while the Crystal King awaits in his throne room a bit further back.

Nico: Okay!  (He sets up all 3 members of his team)

Crystal Thugs Campsite

Chatty (Setting up the area with books, boxes and lego figurines): Okay, let’s determine who can attack first.

Nico: Please daddy let me start! (He always does that).

Chatty: No, we’ll do Rock Paper Scissors to see who gets to attack first, then we’ll alternate sides until everyone had a turn, okay?

Nico:  Okay. (He wins the contest) Yay!

Chatty: All right, you first.

Nico (Picking up a Driller Jim) : Driller Jim will move toward Little Crys to break him into pieces (He loses the contest).

Chatty: Awww, so sorry!  Jim lunges with his driller but the little guy dodges.  In fact I’ll use my turn to have Little Crys try to bite the drill shaft in half!  (I lost the contest).  Oh man… he bites the shaft (clamping the mini on it) but nothing happens…

Nico: Ha ha!

Chatty: Oh wait, I’ve got an idea.  While Little Crys is latched on the shaft,  Jim makes it turn faster and faster, with  Crys doing the same thing until he flies away screeching into the darkness. Where did he fly to?

Nico (Laughing): We’ll say he got crushed on a wall somewhere but that Crystal King will make another one in the next room.

Chatty: Works for me.  All right your turn, you have to beat the Crystal Ogre now.

Nico: The Rock Crusher has a net thrower (It really does), so I shoot it at the Ogre to capture him. (Missed)

Chatty (Mouseguarding it): The Ogre catches the net and throws it at Motorcycle Willy (Missed)… and the net is lost deeper in the caves.

(During a later turn)

Chatty: Okay, the Ogre gets real mad and grabs the Motorcycle (with Willy on it) and tries to crash it to the ground.(We mimed everything we attempted with the Legos, at that point, the Ogre was holding the motorcycle with both hands, with the cycle’s exhaust in its face).  Okay, I just missed, what happens?

Nico (Thinking for a few seconds): Oh, I know, I start revving the bike’s engine really high, sending a cloud of toxic fumes in the Ogre’s face.

Chatty: It chokes and drops the bike, letting it roll to safety.

Eventually the ogre was defeated and Nico moved on to the Crystal King’s throne room.  The action was too fast and furious for me to keep a play by play example in my mind like I did for previous Nico games.  Suffice it to say that I got Nico use the play system I used with Mouseguard which is ‘Describe it until the point of uncertainty, “roll” and narrative control goes to the winner’.

When playing with an 8 year old boy like Nico, it works like a charm.  Nico was enthralled and so was I.

And so the team of Power Miners explored deeper in the cave, in search for more fabled Power Crystals… and the evil King that guarded them.


  1. I have no words for how much I like your “mouseguard/rock-paper-scissors” system and game reports. It’s so absurdly oversimplified, it might just work.

  2. Thanks Trabant. I keep realizing that Nico appreciates the uncertainty of where the story will go (provided he has the best chances of winning) more than any rules or mechanics.

    In part 2, you’ll see Nico bring in more complexity to the system by himself.

  3. Very cool! The narrative system sounds very interesting. Is Mouseguard based on a generic system or could it at least be adapted?
    .-= Monele´s last blog ..RP with Parents – UP =-.

  4. That sounds very fun! I love the part when Nico injects his own compromise into the game (Little Crys gets crushed, but the Crystal King is making another one, who will be back to terrorize everyone). Sounds like he’s really warming up to this roleplaying thing.

    You might eventually want to look into typing some of this up into an “RPG Jr.” sort of system, release it via PDF, that sort of thing.
    .-= Andy´s last blog ..Breakin’ Down the Christmas Tree, Part 2 =-.

  5. @Monele: Mouse Guard is based on the more complex Burning Wheel Role Playing game, so it’s not based on some Generic engine. But the concept of adding twist to failures is rather easy to adopt as a playing style.

    @Andy: Nico’s addition is what makes those games so cool and worth it. I plan to release a ‘RP’ with kids e-book at a certain point in time. I’ll keep everyone posted.

  6. I actually tried a little roleplaying with my three-year-old nephew the other day. When he decided he was a crab and I was his shell, I told him Ottie the Sea Otter came by. He pinched him. So I used the “factions” concept from DMing and had the starfish come by and say “Thank you for keeping Ottie from picking us up” — then they came inside his shell, hung out and got their arms bitten off by sharks so the crab had something to pinch. He’s not old enough for rock paper scissors though so it’s a mix of DM fiat and 3-year-old fiat (“Now a good shark comes by!”) Good fun.

  7. Monele Mouseguard is based on Burning Wheel which is based on Fudge so it has two generations of generic rules systems behind it. The best parts of mouse guard, adventure design, scene work, how to control pacing, DM and PC narrative control turns are all very easy to pull out and use in another game system. If you aren’t afraid of having non-matching systems in your game, it might be worth stealing the whole social combat system for your other rpgs. (In burning wheel, the assumption is that when social combat is over, if the participants can’t agree on the results, then it goes to physical combat, which will work with whatever rule set you want. You do need to have some personality traits assigned by the players for social combat in the system.
    .-= Michael Phillips´s last blog ..Sanctuary’s Dragon Slayers =-.

  8. Great post, Phil. Playing with kids was the key to re-energizing my interest in D&D a few years back. The narrative sharing elements of Mouseguard and the willingness to participate in narrative sharing (which kids do naturally) are things I’m trying to bring into the other games I’m running. Lots of good fuel for the creative fires in this concept, for players and GMs!

  9. @Noumenon: Role playing is a child’s natural way of playing games. It’s just the “sharing” part of narrative control some have trouble with. It’s great to see you play that little adventure with a 3 year old.

    @Michael: Thanks for the historical perspective. I’ve never looked at Fudge.

    @Anarkeith: The DMG2 has many elements to bring the crustier D&D player into narrative sharing mode and all those new agey stuff. It’s worth a look in parallel to mining other games for ideas.

  10. @ChattyDM and Michael: thanks to both of you! I somewhat remember Mouse Guard being based on Burning Wheel but I had no idea BW itself was based on Fudge. Interesting! I’ll have to look up some more information on these then.
    .-= Monele´s last blog ..RP with Parents – UP =-.