What is Fall of Magic
If you don’t know what Fall of Magic is, there’s no simple way to put it: You should. It’s one of my all-time favorite story games, beautiful in its simplicity, and gorgeous in its form-factor: an actual scroll that you play on, with exquisite coins. (Note that you can purchase the PDF version to play online, or if the scroll version is out of your price range!)
This role playing game is something you can play with people from hardcore RPG fanatics to those who’ve maybe heard of “D&D”. It’s not everyone’s jam, because you have to be ready for extremely light mechanics and heavy story bullshit-ery, but man-o-man have I had some excellent experiences with this game with people of all experience levels. But I’ve written about it (and the soon-to-be-released Sci-Fi hack Autumn of the Ancients) before, so I won’t gush too much longer on that score.
Gaming with Kids
At Strategicon - our local LA convention - I’ve been running Games on Demand: Kids Edition, for over a year now. We get anywhere from 2-4 GMs who come ready to run games that are kid-friendly, and have consistently been getting about a dozen 8-12 year olds (my own daughter being in that zone) showing up to play role playing games. Some say this is what they’ve most been looking forward to. Games have included Tiny Dungeons, Goobles and Goblins, The Warren, The Deep Forest, and more.
But this time I ran Fall of Magic…
There are a few things that went exceedingly well here, and lessons to be learned. I’ll break it down into a couple of paragraphs.
As always, definitely have your safety tool conversation. Some of these kids are pros at this point, and I did that thing that Kate Bullock mentions in this Gauntlet GM Masterclass episode, where instead of explaining everything about the X-card, for example, I had them tell me about how it works, and then I’d flesh out anything they were missing. Best thing about explaining the X-card and safety tools to kids? They just get it. Unlike some adults.
Let’s start with an introduction to some of the characters (where they often decided to use their own custom names). Unfortunately I don’t have them all because some of them ran off with their gorgeously drawn index cards, and I didn’t take a picture until too late! There were at least two transforming cats, a literal fox, and definitely some elements from Harry Potter and similar pre-teen fantasy novels and movies. Here’s a flavor for some of them:
April the Scholar of Istallia
Fire the Ranger of Mistwood (“I use soreds and bows”)
Nihao the Apprentice of Ravenhall
Luna the Fox of Mistwood
One of them played a Golem, where the golem was a girl made from shadows.
It’s important to note that most of the kids wanted to commit only about an hour or two maximum for the game, because they had competing interests at the convention (you know, shopping at the dealer room, painting minis, etc). But, once we got going, they just got into it. In the end we played for 3 hours.
I’d recommend being pretty loose about maintaining the (few) structures in the game. As an example, I took away the standard way of playing the Magus. Instead of the Magus accompanying them on the journey and them taking turns playing it, I just played the Magus as a sort of Head Witch of the magic school at Ravenhall - a trope they were comfortable with - and used the Magus to give them the quest of heading to Umbra. As I’ve done in other sessions, I allowed them to define rumors about the Magus, so that I wasn’t just making up my view of this character, but more a conglomeration of their various ideas. This also allowed them to just play their own characters, which is I think, cognitively, about where you’d want it for this game.
We played in the first location (Ravenhall), but I knew we wouldn’t have time to explore too much. So another change we made was to just fast forward to locations that the players wanted to explore, for example those that their characters were from. To that end, we played a large scene in Mistwood that ended with the forest burning behind them, and then moved on to Istallia and the boat that would take them across the sea. Finally, we had a finale in and around Umbra, where magic was born.
I want to talk about Mistwood burning, because it was one of my favorite parts. One of the kids was very much into wanting to drive some conflict into the story, and was trying to introduce some elements around that (like an out of control fire). At first, the others were trying to solve this problem using their various skills and narrative abilities, but you could see that the first kid was a little frustrated at that. I stopped the game for a moment so we could have the meta-conversation. What was she trying to see in the scene? She explained to everyone that she wanted to see conflicts, and we had a quick discussion, and everyone was on board with it. So, instead of solving the problem, I asked everyone, “OK, you are trying to fix this situation, but you fail. What does that look like?” And they all just ate it up, and had some fantastic story elements around the struggles and failures involved. I am particularly proud of that moment in the game.
We had six players initially, but one had a competing, scheduled interest after the 2 hour mark. The other five got to the end, and so we did a round of epilogues to round out the story. And wouldn’t you know it, they were dark as shit. These kids spared no feelings, and almost all the characters came to a pretty grim or unhappy ending, with lost souls, or lost abilities to transform, and even one death. But holy crap did they appear to have a good time. As did I.
All said, this game can totally work for kids, but I’d recommend simplifying a few of the (already simple) mechanics to accommodate their interests.