22 August 2014

The Younghammer Contract




(With thanks and apologies to Zhu, who inspired this post with his Oldhammer Contract, which if you haven't yet read go and do so first! I'll be using snippets of it as quotes below, but you should go and read them in context as well)

At BOYL it became pretty apparent that the majority of Oldhammerers (or at least, active members of the British Oldhammer "scene") are men in their mid-30s to mid-40s who are, contrary to popular stereotypes of those who play pretendy-elf games, fairly well socially-adjusted and with decent personal hygiene. In some cases, even dashingly handsome, witty and urbane (oh stop, you're embarrassing me!). Unsurprisingly, then, quite a few of us have children who are just starting to hit viable gaming age. So, how do we encourage them into gaming the Oldhammer way, giving us that point of shared enjoyment? When is the right age/time, and what games should we use? Is painting an important part of it, or might that drive them away as we wince at their charming but hamfisted glooping of paint over a grudgingly spared model? A lot of it will depend on the child, on you, and on what you're trying to get out of it; as their parent I hope you'd know best, but I've tried to put together a few outline principles which I hope might be helpful, or at least give you something to think about, as you start that adventure with them.

I've split this into two sections ("At home" and "In public") because these two different venues require two different approaches that place different demands upon you, the parent. I'd hope that all of the "At home" stuff would apply any time you game with your little 'un, but as soon as you start onto the social side of things which we all seemed to value at BOYL and in our usual gaming circles, other factors come into play (no pun intended).




At home 

1. Gaming is interactive storytelling
This is the big one, the guiding principle, because from it all the others follow. No matter what rules you are using (more on that later), unless there is some kind of narrative drive for the unfolding action, why are you playing? Seriously, what is the point? I mean that both in the "motivation" and commonplace pejorative sense. It has to be a story, otherwise it becomes a competition, a sport. And, to quote Zhu's Oldhammer Contract:

Oldhammer is not a sport. It's a game. And unlike Scrabble or Chess is far too reliant on random factors for player skill to really count in the win/lose/draw stakes.

Fortunately, children are instinctive story-tellers. How could they be anything else when they know so little about the world; it's how they make sense of all the crazy stuff like seasons, caterpillars and what happens when they're asleep. So, use that! Rescue the princess, find the treasure, steal the sheep, defend the village, fight off bandits as you take the medicine back to the castle. It's easy, and it's more fun! Nobody (or nobody I'd want to game with) reminisces over rolling eight "four plusses" and then three sixes, but they would revel in the time their peasant archers defeated a charge by fully armoured chaos knights. The problem I have is more stopping them relaying the whole game of the story to their not-a-gamer mother...


2. You can't win a game
Sounds like nonsense? I don't think so. If you accept that gaming is storytelling, then the story is the thing. If you simply walk into Mordor, then there is no excitement and no story. The legions of the Dark Lord "lose", but without them there is no story and, for our purposes, no game. With them, a vast set of interlinked adventures is possible.


All players win by having fun playing the game

Now while that might sound like the sort of "prizes for everyone" mawkish guff that children can get exposed to on sports day, this isn't a sport so the purpose really is the taking part.


3. Interaction, or, the rules do  matter
No, I don't mean in a slavish, hidebound, rules-lawyery sense, but unless there is meaningful player interaction then you've chosen the wrong rules for Younghammering with. There are all sorts of boardgames that are fun to play (Keys to the Kingdom, Talisman, etc. etc.) that have a fabulous fantasy feel but player agency is fairly limited. These are canapés, if you like, appetisers before the feast. You can, and I have, Younghammer with Songs of Blades and Heroes, just as much as with the classic Oldhammer tome, Warhammer Fantasy Battles (3rd Edition). Both allow meaningful player interaction, both are easily made scenario driven, both allow interactive storytelling. Other rulesets are available!


4. The referee, or Games Master
My kids are six and four; they can't devise their own scenarios that are playable yet, although they do enjoy adapting their motivation or suggesting improvements to a scenario (everyone's a critic!). They also don't know all the rules, and they are too immersed in achieving their goals to consistently be able to step back and consider what is best in an unfamiliar situation. This is your job. If you are going to introduce them to Younghammer, you need to GM, and all that entails. It may be that you'll be player-GM, especially if you have only one child to game with or you are being "the baddy" against their combined "goodies". In addition to all the usual roles of a GM, you have some extra ones when Younghammering; you become the intermediary between the players and the rules, you enable their intentions to become actions in a way that maintains consistency and isn't arbitrary permission granting or denial for whatever has been asked for. In this way, player independence is increased and they can make meaningful choices within a stable context. Eventually, you'll end up with an independent gamer you can Oldhammer with. Hurrah! Remember, whatever they get exposed to (painted or unpainted models, scenery or the table, scenario or "line 'em up, knock 'em down") is what they will think gaming is. You bear a heavy responsibility!


5. You can't have nostalgia if it's your first encounter
Quite important to remember, this one. The value of gaming for Younghammerers is not in nostalgia for their formative years; these are their formative years. Gaming itself is what will grab them (or not), not the fact that it's an unreleased Jes Goodwin wizard, or that you've recreated Dale Jones' Tzeentch warband exactly, or that you're using the actual Warhammer Townscape cardboard cutouts. This is it, the first time that the great wave of fantastical possibilities hits them - make it good!





In public

Right. This is aimed at the parents, really, and there are two sections: managing the expectations of your offspring, and managing their behaviour. Oh, and make sure they want to game with others first; it might be that they love gaming because of the time it means they get to spend with you...

6. Managing expectations, or, the GM is always right
We all have house rules, even if we don't realise it. Sometimes it's just because we've always got a rule "wrong", sometimes it's just because we like it better that way. Being mature adults, or approximations thereof, we cope with this. The Siege game at BOYL 2014 was a particularly good example of this; twelve players GMing by consensus for the most part and having fun even if we would play it differently at home. Help your child understand this and that the GM is always right.

7. Managing behaviour, or, how to get invited back
I'm a teacher, as many Oldhammerers seem to be, and I daily come up against children whose behaviour is poor. In fact, it's part of my job to tell them and show them how to behave, so I have no problems writing this bit (As an aside - many Oldhammerers are teachers, be prepared that they might unconsciously tell your kids what to do or how to behave as a professional reflex - be prepared for this and don't take it personally! For our part, we'll try not to.), although doing so in front of parents is more... awkward. I think the following is a good minimum list of what you should prepare your kids to expect, and be prepared to enforce:

  • Don't touch someone else's figures unless invited to
  • The GM is always right
  • No getting stroppy if you are losing (you can't lose - see point 2, above)
  • No crowing if you're winning (you can't win - see point 2, above)
  • The GM is always right
  • Listen to the GM, because the GM is always right
And for you, the parent?
  • You are ultimately responsible for your child's behaviour (the GM is NOT running a crèche, you should probably stay at the table, or on an adjacent one with a drink and a proud look on your face)
  • No vicarious gaming (the anti competitive dad rule). Seriously. Just don't.
  • The GM is always right

Phew! A long post, but it's important to get this right if we're going to see our favoured style of gaming continue. While you're pondering what I've written (and do leave feedback), why not have a look at these examples of Younghammer in action?

Let me know what you think,
Rab

26 comments:

  1. Spot on good sir - an excellent treatise and one I hope we put to practical use at some point in the near future!

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  2. I'd love to sign up but I have no progeny of my own and the time it takes to get my own ready for a battle would take a very long time indeed (I may run out of loctite).

    I do however salute any efforts in the area - HURRAH!

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    1. You don't have to be parent of the kids yourself, Dave; you're an uncle aren't you? Get Younghammering!

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    2. Glad you clarified that with the Uncle comment!

      Indeed, it's something I've often considered and I think I'm going to add painting up my Heroquest set to my year's jobs to do. If it worked for getting me into the hobby it'll work for others!

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    3. I suppose just grabbing random children to play games with isn't really the done thing, is it? Heroquest is a great idea, the first gaming for many (if not most) of us, I reckon.

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    4. Don't underestimate kids, if they are ready to experience the whole thing a real skirmish (or dungeon exploration) with the real rules and a GM is best than using too simple rules (ie Heroquest). By the way they will be ready sooner to be real gamers with whom you'll be able to have games for a long time :)

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  3. Damn it, where did I put this growing potion for my 7 months old son ! He needs to play and he doesn't even know it yet !

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    1. Noooo! Don't wish the time away, it will pass so quickly. You could use some of that time to get more amazing and fantastical knights painted up for him to play with...

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  4. A stirling and valuable post, methinks, Mr Rab - very well put. Especially point 2. I think there are quite a few adults that will need to consult the Younghammer contract too...

    Alas, I still have a few more years to go before I can lead my child to the heady heights of wargaming, but she's already very familiar with the 'Don't touch someone else's figures unless invited to' rule - chiefly, daddy's figures!

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    1. Thank you, sir. Point 2 took me a while to fully appreciate; I blame Bloodbowl as my reintroduction to gaming :)

      To stop her touching your figures, just stop following her instructions to paint everything pink!

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  5. Rab, you have excelled yourself!

    This should be spread far and wide. I for one will be talking my son through it before we play our first game together.

    Sir, I applaud you!

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    1. Cheers, Chris - several of our chats about the most enjoyable games we've had helped crystallise things for this post, so you can take some of the responsibility for it. Now preach the good word to Euan!

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  7. Very well thought out. I'd wondered about the oldhammer/teaching connection several times. Not having my certificate is just another excuse I haven't played too much of the earlier editions....

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    1. Thanks, tomw; odd about the teaching/oldhammer link, isn't it? I can think of six active oldhammering teachers off the top of my head and I'm sure there are more.

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  8. Excellent post, and well put at that. But wait NO WINNERS....just kidding.

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    1. Haha! That's right, no winners. Or, to be more precise, everyone wins.

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  9. Great post, I love the idea of a YoungHammer contract.

    I've played a handful of 40k games with my brood, and my biggest challenge was keeping it simple. The newer GW rules are specifically designed to have the rules spread all over various books. I presume that's to make it difficult to copy rules for one unit. However, for someone like me who hasn't memorized the rules, there's a lot a page flipping. And kids CANNOT stand waiting, and games over an hour tend to bore them.

    So, I've had to keep things simple and sort of make-up some rules as we go, and disregard the more complicated rules. They really don't care about whether Grey Knights pass an initiative test to power up psychic weapons or whatever - they just want to know what # they need to roll to kill the little green nurgle dude with a hammer. Things like "auto wound on a 6" helps speeds things up too.

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    1. Good work, TB, and I may pick your brains at some point when I get some sci-fi painted up. As it's the only set of sci-fi rules I own, I'll be sticking with Rogue Trader which does have the advantage of "all the rules in one book" to avoid the problem of dead time. Never a good thing with kids, as you say.

      Do you have any bat. reps to share?

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  10. Kids are wonderful gamers and your advices are spot on !
    My two kids (a 11 year old girl and an 6 year old boy) are almost the only persons I do game with lately and this is great to share all this with them !
    We have been using WFB3 and some house rules and I believe that we are ready to begin a campaign next winter.

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    1. Thank you, Bruno, and fantastic to hear that you're gaming with your children so successfully. Campaigns are ideal for Younghammer; each battle becomes one chapter in the longer story.

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  11. Nice work. By the way, it might be worth adding something from the Lawhammer blog to your list of family-oriented posts. Also quite a bit of dadhammer on the warmasterdk blog.

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    1. Thanks Paul, and I've added those two links in. Some good stuff on those blogs!

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  12. Very good post. I've come up against the issue of winning and losing. My son hates "losing" and so we're having trouble getting past that. I think games that are cooperative work better for us at the moment. Many things for me to think about. Cringing at my son's painting is spot on.

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    1. I'm glad you like it. Our games have been much more fun, regardless of outcome, now that they've got the hang of "no winners, no losers". Painting on the other hand still hurts!

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