GM Advice: Learn from Kids TV Shows
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  1. #1

    Magsman (Lvl 14)

    Join Date
    Nov 2010
    Brisbane, Northside

    GM Advice: Learn from Kids TV Shows

    Last night while watching PJ Masks with my 4 year old I thought of a theory I'd like to share. I think that most GMs could learn a great deal from writing adventures like kids TV shows. It's a working theory, but it has three parts to it.

    1) The stakes are clear and important, but not life or death.

    The PJ Masks, Mystery Inc or My Little Ponies are not going to get violently dismembered on screen. That is not the crux of the drama or action. Death is not the penalty for them failing. The stakes of the conflict are so clear that even 3yr olds understand them. If the heroes fail, then X happens. X does not involve death generally.

    From an RPG perspective, this solves two major problems. Firstly, it lets the heroes lose. Losing adds drama and adds consequence to their actions or failures. Too often RPGs are a game of playing through how the PCs win, not IF they win. A villain succeeding in a plan, the heroes being defeated and the terrible X happening are great ways to move the story forward.

    The second pro of this is that failure does not disrupt the story via death. A failure adds to the story, generally death detracts from it. Also, if death is the only consequence, players tend to think their characters have plot armour and cannot fail. That is largely a gaming group dependant issue though.

    Lastly it makes the GM think about more interesting options for the villains plans and encounters. Something as simple as an encounter with 6 orcs can be made better by just considering what else other than life and death could be at stake. What are the orcs doing? Destroying a damn that will flood the smurf village? Summoning something? Raiding a caravan of nuns? Playing hide and seek? (I actually used that last one in a very funny encounter with 4 ogres and an under-levelled party)

    2) Action does not equal violence.

    Heroes in kids shows are often using their weapons and abilities to fix problems in action sequences that are not all about violence. I have become a big fan of running in-initiative action sequences that are not all about combat.

    Most recently we had a ship in a storm being called onto rocks by sirens with sharks in the water. The action was about cutting ropes that were tangled, steering the ship, wrestling the helmsmen away as he tries to steer into the rocks, saving sailors who jumped overboard and are swimming to the sirens, putting out fires from badly stowed lanterns etc. Attacking the sirens without dealing with the other issues would have been disastrous.

    My second example was in a Star Wars game, they come out of warp suddenly to find an asteroid field. Now we effectively have a combat scene, trying to use missiles to blast asteroids that the pilot cannot avoid. Doing repairs on the ships. Saving people trapped in depressurised areas of the ship. The droid going into space to fix the hull. The slicer trying to boost the computer so it can navigate a warp jump the second they are clear of debris, the caged Nexu they just captured getting free in the cargo hold (which happens to hold the kit they need to repair the ship).

    My games have become a lot more action intensive since adopting this style of encounter design. Roughly a third of my action scenes are fairly straight fights. A third are chases or action scenes where there is a fight, but the object is not to kill the baddies e.g. stop the bad guys taking off in the ship, plant these bombs then run, stop the ritual summoning. The last third of encounters are just disasters, things going wrong that require action scenes to fix e.g. Saving orphans from a burning building, shipwrecks, turn on the space stations thrusters and inertial dampeners as it hurtles towards the planet etc.

    3) Look at a kid watching Scooby Doo. They feel so clever for working out that Old Man Whithers was really behind it. We don't look at kids and tell them that is stupidly easy and it is bad wrong fun. The point of Scooby Doo is to make the kids feel clever for working out the mystery, not to show off how clever the writer is. Sure the plot could have been more convoluted and clever, Agatha Christie could write a very different Scooby Doo, but would anybody enjoy it more?
    The point of a mystery is to not to be clever. It is to make the players think that they were clever for working it out. I save myself a lot of time and effort by remembering this. A rule of thumb for my players is, I set mysteries as one step harder than 'patronising'


    None of this is news to veteran GMs, but I found by tying these reflections to kids TV shows, it helps me remember them when designing games. I hope that this is of some use as a reminder to veterans or some helpful ideas to newbies.
    Last edited by Unwise; Friday, 2nd November, 2018 at 03:28 AM.
    XP Josiah Stoll, DMMike, LordEntrails, Cobalt Meridian gave XP for this post

  2. #2
    It helps that there are some really fantastic kids shows, too.
    Samurai Jack, MLP, Gargoyles, and Last of the Airbenders all have huge followings-even among adults.

    I also like how most of the above shows-Samurai Jack being the kind of exception-feature bigger casts that probably make a better model for a party (no edgelords, yay!) than most popular movies do.

  3. #3

    The Great Druid (Lvl 17)

    jasper's Avatar

    Join Date
    Jan 2002
    montgomery al
    Thanks for the updated cartoon. Back in 3E I told people to use Jackie Chan adventures as good start to play with kids.
    XP Josiah Stoll, The Monster gave XP for this post

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