Monday, January 9, 2012

When Geeks Celebrate: Story Games

As my wife already mentioned, for her 7th birthday, my daughter requested that I invent a story adventure game for her since she knows I am a game designer and we have made up several stories together already. For theme she simply told me, "Rainbows and Unicorns" which we had as the theme of the whole party. I wasn't sure how the party guests would respond to the idea and we didn't have a lot of time for polish, but It turned out to be a lot of fun. I was actually surprised how complicated some of the logistics turned out on writing the whole thing. There are several pieces that came together and I'll touch on each to give you an idea of what we did and how well it worked.

You might describe the idea of a story game as more of a LARP (Live Action Role Play) with young kids. There were no weapons and no fighting involved. there was also no running around in the woods like a stereotypical LARP and very minimal cosplay. The idea was for all the kids to help each other, not fight each other and technically they weren't even "in character". Calling it a LARP is kind of a stretch. I prefer "Story Adventure".

Pictured: NOT what we had in mind for our party.

The birthday was in December so there was a chance the weather would be nasty and we would all be inside. I planned for this contingency, but it turned out to be a fairly beautiful day and the lawn was dry and snow free, so we did get to go outside part of the time. Jackets were required though. It was mostly a scripted story with little mini games and creative ways to uncover the party prizes. To complicate things,  I decided that it would need to be run entirely by my wife and I, as I didn't want to count on any other adults at the party to be able/prepared to help and have it all fall apart. We were expecting about 12 kids, so we also decided that there would be two separate questing parties working together.

The Basic Game Design and Story:

I started writing it by outlining all the prizes and games and party events, then writing the story around those.

We found some neat blinking led star shaped necklaces on for favors (we find one bigger item is a lot more fun for the kids then a bunch of little stickers and candy in a bag). My daughter also wanted a rainbow pinata (so we ended up with candy bags anyway). There were two craft activities involving unicorns and food that would be served in the middle of the party.

I came up with several "mini games" we could play with the age group (I'll get to those later). The idea was to start with an introductory story to introduce the world and the game, break into teams, and have each group busy going to different "stations" and meeting the characters and doing different mini games concurrently. As they finished a game, they would uncover a clue or get directions to travel to the next event. It would end with the cake celebrations and gifts back in the house. Also, it all had to happen in under two hours. It is all more complicated to plan and write about then it was to actually play (and no, I won't post all my notes and story and diagrams, that would be excessive... a GM has to have some secrets).

My daughter decided to call the world Ryana (Rye-Ana). The basic story is that the guardian unicorn has  disappeared and you believe he was captured by the villain. The guardian unicorn was entrusted by Isis with the care of the rainbow, which must appear for the rains to stop falling. Since he is gone, the rains will keep falling and flood the lands (See... Rainbows and Unicorns!). There is actually a bit of back story for all this that I have written for another project I am working on, but we dumbed it down a lot here.

The kids were given the quest to find the rainbow and the missing unicorn by finding the 7 colored gems representing the colors of the rainbow which would allow them to summon the rainbow themselves. We only knew who had two of them at the start, but "maybe by asking those keepers of the gems for help, they could find the rest." We got a bag of large plastic multicolored gems online as well for this prop. The bad guy was already ahead of them, also trying to find these.

Large Plastic "Rainbow" Gems

There were characters linked to each color. My wife got to play the Red Queen and the Purple Sorceress. I was the Blue Wizard and the Bridge Troll (who was the last creature to see the Orange Knight alive). My youngest daughter played the Yellow Princess. They also got to travel to the nest of the Green Dragon and the Birthday girl was gifted the Indigo Gem at the end. Every time a kid found a gem, there was lots of squealing and "oohing". Each team found three colors. As we could only play one character at a time and there had to be two active games running, that added some fun logistics to the writing and planning. 

Playing the Story:

The story began with the Red Queen welcoming the kids to the castle and everyone started on crafts at the table. One of which was to color a unicorn button that got pinned to their shirt. These has dots of color on the back denoting the teams. The kids sat down for a story by the Red Queen telling them about the world in general. Then the Yellow Princess ran in with a letter she found when she went to find the unicorn for their daily maiden ride through the forest. This was written "in unicorn language" and the queen read the letter (story intro). The teams then split up and went off to the first games. The Yellow Princess had the location of her gem in an envelope and the Purple Sorceress was outside in her forest home. 

Mini games Part 1:
One team played a beanbag toss game involving matching the pattern found inside the yellow envelope and the other a "puzzle box" on a table. For the puzzle box there was a wooden fantasy themed jigsaw puzzle (a clue to the next location, but the bad guy had cursed it) inside of a cardboard box with holes cut out for arms to reach in. If the kids touched and looked at the puzzle at the same time, the clue would be lost. Two kids could touch the puzzle and the rest could give directions by looking over the side of the box. they only had to place a few pieces... doing the entire puzzle would be insane. Still...Craziness ensued.  

"Don't look or the clue will shatter into exactly 32 pieces!"

There was a little bit of story exposition and one team found the Yellow gem and the others got a scroll with a trick for fighting bridge trolls. Then one team headed for the Purple Sorceress and the other for the castle, but they were intercepted by the Blue Wizard. 

Mini games Part 2:
The Blue wizard would be happy to give them the blue gem, but they had to help him find some magic stars nearby that had fallen to the earth and would help them on their quest (queue "egg hunt" for the missing star favors scattered all over the yard). The other team did the Puzzle Box and got the purple gem and another troll spell.

Glowing LED Star Necklaces

Mini games Part 3:
Then all the teams headed to the castle to get the red gem from the Red Queen, but were all intercepted by the bridge troll (wearing a re-purposed brown Jedi cloak) on the bridge to the castle (aka the front porch). This gave the Purple Sorceress time to slip inside and become the Red Queen to set up a nice "tea luncheon". The troll gave them 3 chances to guess his name. The scrolls had instructions for tricking him, which involved asking about the letters of his name without guessing the name (queue Troll Bridge hangman). The kids had no trouble playing this (and I hammed up the troll a bit), but needed a parent to help them get started guessing letters. They guessed letters and uncovered the first and last names of the troll and then were able to pass. (If you want to know his silly name, you will have to guess it yourself.) On the way over the bridge they found the Orange gem left by the Orange Knight ("knights shouldn't try to swim across a river to avoid trolls, armor sinks you know...").
Them Trolls are Mean and Ugly!

Then we had tea while the Blue wizard handed out stars and turned them on ("they blinked when they got closer to the lost unicorn"). These were beloved by the guys and girls both. They had a nice tea luncheon and we discussed the story. It turns out that nothing can bind a unicorn, but because the Guardian Unicorn is magically tied to the rainbow, he must be able to be captured or tied up by the rainbow itself. We can use the blinking stars to find the unicorn and the colored gems to make the rainbow appear.

Ooooh fancy!

Mini games Part 4:
It was then back outside for one team to visit the Green Dragon by the jagged cliffs near the lonely tree (yeah, we have one tree in the middle of the yard with a rock border) while the other's used the Red Queen's code to unlock her gem at the bean bag toss game. The Dragon refused to help because she was distraught after someone evil stole all her eggs. The kids had a blast running around finding the missing speckled dragon eggs (Easter leftovers, but nice solid green and blue colors). The eggs had a green gem inside and little plastic bags in case they found treasure at the end of the rainbow. One of the kids later said via her mom on Facebook "that was a really fun party, they had dragon eggs!"

"Dragon eggs must be carried gently one at a time."

Finding the Rainbow:
Now we have most of the gems, the Blue Wizard led them on a hunt around the house to find the unicorn. They were able to find and pick up unicorn hair (tinsel) scattered along the path (all the way around the house) till they came to the Great Tree. There were still missing one color, but the birthday girl got a belated letter form the unicorn entrusting her as the new Indigo keeper. As soon as the gems were arranged in the proper rainbow order, the rainbow appeared.

That rainbow doesn't stand a chance...

Then they had to break open the rainbow to rescue the captured unicorn using the Troll's club. (Pinata time!). Incidentally there is treasure at the end of a rainbow (you just have to "end" the rainbow to find it, kind of like the Restaurant at the End of the Universe). After the pinata busted and they recovered the candy, pencils, and other neat stuff, they found a toy unicorn inside tied up with rainbow colored twine. They rescued him and all was well with the world again... except the bad guy was still around and we never actually saw him, maybe next year.

The Unicorn Guardian we rescued
(as seen at the store I, um, rescued him from earlier in the week).

Then it was time to head inside for the rainbow celebration cake and the gifts!

How things went: 

The mini games were fun, but the beanbag one was a little hard so the kids had to move really close. The puzzle box blew off the table and scattered the pieces so that didn't go as well as it could have. The kids were also surprised that some of the games were actually not in the pushover simplistic category, but they had fun playing them. The dragon eggs and blinking star hunts were beloved by all. The pinata of course was a big hit, especially as they had a story reason to actually bust it open and this really added to the intensity of it.

It was also a lot of fun for them to discover and earn the prizes and things throughout the party instead of just being handed a bag of stuff at the end.

A few of the costumes could have been better. The Purple Sorceress (in a purple Jedi vest and black cloak), the Red Queen (in a crimson cloak and shirt), and Yellow Princess (wearing a yellow Belle dress) looked great. The kids also really liked the scary troll in the brown Jedi cloak. The Blue Wizard just had a blue dress shirt and a closet dowel as a staff though. He could have used a nice wizard's hat (or a Gandalf / Dumbledore costume) :D

(That last line was just another excuse to post this picture of
Sir Ian McKellen playing with dolls.)

No one seemed to care though, the kids really got into the story and the gem quest (and you could see they were taking it seriously by their expressions). The birthday girl felt important and included the whole time. They enjoyed the games well enough as obstacles. The other posts will talk more about the food and the crafts. The few parents who were around for the whole party said they had a great time too. If anything there was too much to do, the kids hadn't a single moment to find themselves bored as it was "go... quest... save the unicorn!" then entire time.

My younger daughter did have some tears near the end, due mostly to missing nap I think. My toddler did really well, I held him part of the time and he ran around playing games too.

We had some nice help too, one parent went around taking pictures for us and a few friends set up the food while we were outside so the Red Queen didn't even need all of the delay the Troll provided.

A few parents showed back up after 50 minutes of a 2 hour party (as we said on the invites) and then acted like "oh, yeah, we can wait cause you did say two hours... don't mind us looking impatient" :P
I have no idea what was up with that.

I had lots of fun writing the story, designing the games, and planing all the logistics and props. I think the kids had a blast too, so it might be worth doing again. One of my co-workers even suggested I should write a book on Party Adventure Story Games... um, yeah, I'll add that to the list of books I apparently need to write.

Want to see what else we did at the party?  Head back to the introductory page.

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