Not matter what Table Top Role-Playing Game you are a part of, chaos is always just around the corner. One joke, one poor roll, one mischievous player can send the narrative off the rails. Depending on the group you’re with, the errant tangents and loss of thread might be what makes the experience all the more special. Eventually though, too much chaos can begin to chip away at the fun for the whole table.
When young people play Roleplaying Games like D&D, Pathfinder, Call of Cthulhu, etc all the behaviour you can expect at the table with adults can appear in extremes. Students of mine have often been the best sort of players I have run games for, but they can also be the most challenging.
We must be careful with the “your fun is wrong” sort of mentality, but we can all be at fault of poor gaming from time-to-time, and its especially true for young players with less experience.
The freedom can go to their heads
When you are told that a TTRPG allows you to be what you want, do what you want, it can be so easy to test those boundaries. “Actions have consequences” is a good rule to establish with all players.
With young players, its paramount. Before you get going with a new adventure, when you’re explaining the rules, magic, combat of the game, letting your young friends or students know that the people that live in this world will react to them is a good way to start.
When a group of ‘grown-up’ players enter a town, they may try to steal from the shopkeeper, intimidate the townsfolk or just generally make a nuisance. With young players, one or more of these behaviours is almost guaranteed. And when one young player makes this choice, you are also likely to see the rest of the team join in.
The reason anyone does this, is because its funny, and its not something you can do in real life. With grown up players, this short term mischief is fleeting, its back to the campaign shortly after, but in young players the next thought is usually “what other mischievous things can I do?”, and the heroes’ journey is quickly forgotten amongst the giggles.
If your entire group is up for this, then this can be the adventure. Nothing wrong with playing a more free-flow, sandbox game… or even an evil campaign. What you’ll find though, is that most players find mischief fun in the short term, but want to get back to the main event but don’t know how to steer things back.
In my early days running games for kids, I had students genuinely ask “when are we going to do something?” or “when does the adventure start?” after derailing the story themselves with such antics for an extended period of time. I’ve actually had an entire group suddenly realise that they haven’t done any hero-ing in twenty straight minutes, and wished they could get the time back.
And that’s actually part of the solution.
You see, you can try and stamp out mischief as it happens, but that’s not fun. Besides, if you pull on the reins too hard, players may feel less inclined to think outside the box. Also, calling out the silly actions may only put a pause on the mischief.
Though it may feel like your letting a group of young players down, letting the random aside play out to its full conclusion actually helps the game in the long term. When it becomes clear that one or more of a group has gone too far off the path, let that scenario run its course. Let them learn by doing: a random comment or silly act here and there is great fun, but this has gone on for a while, and its not going anywhere. Also, everyone looks a bit bored.
Don’t chastise or lecture, just allow the overplayed shenanigans to run out of steam. Give fewer and fewer prompts until their really isn’t anything left of the scenario. Then, when the adventure ramps back up, renew the enthusiasm and get everyone re-involved in the current quest. You might find that the player/players feel the momentum shift.
It may cost you a half hour of play, or perhaps even longer, but it’s so worth it for the long term. And as I said, if the whole group still wants to be mischievous, then make them the antihero party (or villain party).
You should only be intervening if one player doesn’t get the message. After they are given complete freedom to test the boundaries, a single young player might still continue to push every possible tangent and random comment. Only then should you step in and discuss this with them. More often than not, they are likely trying too hard to impress the rest of the group. In the rare case that they don’t listen to reason, continue to go from mischief to mischief whilst the group looks on, they may need to rethink why they come to your sessions.
To this date, I’ve not had that last scenario this happen, largely because I let the the players try out the space, working out how much mischief is conducive to a fun adventure. It’s also a good way for you to see how many random tangents your whole group wants/tolerates. Let them have a more vague space to play around in, and they’ll show you what is fun for them.
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