Since this was the last day of the Con, so not a lot happened. I did win the Scenario Contest, but I’ll talk about that in a different post at a later date when I have more information. This is basically going to be about Astraterra.
I was a bit wary about trying this out. The description said something about twelve year olds, and I couldn’t really tell from the list of names whether these were actual preteens, or not.
Anyhow, I knew the GM beforehand, so I asked him whether it was okay to participate, especially since I’m not very good at censoring myself around children. I don’t think I actually teach them anything new, but I might be normalizing behavior their parents might not be comfortable with. Gladly, that was not the case. Turned out, they were adults, although they found it hard to believe I was as old as I am (37), which I guess I should take as a compliment.
Astraterra is a game for the whole family, basically. It felt very much like Hayao Miyazaki’s worlds, which is good. I like his work very much.
Its a SteamPunk world. Actually its a series of – I guess – planetoids around a sun. There’s steam-powered ships flying between these, with life support provided by crystals, which are apparently able to produce oxygen, generate heat, and even warp the gravity. Sounds pretty wild, but its just one of those things you shouldn’t question.
Besides that, the world seemed pretty loosely defined, leaving room for creativity. The monsters are more fun than scary, and you can’t actually kill them. You just drive them away. In the same vein, you can’t really get killed yourself. Instead, you’ll just be out of action for a while.
This is good. It encourages taking risks and exploring, when there’s no actual risk involved. There won’t be a feel-bad moment for getting your character killed just because you wanted to investigate something. I bet there’s plenty of child psychologists out there who would disagree with such sheltering of children, but parents will be much more willing to let their children play a game like this than other games, where violence will have actual consequences. It also seems avoiding violence is encouraged, with alternative plans always available.
The system is easy enough. Just a bunch of d6s based on a stat and pluses from various sources. Four or better on a die is a success, and sixes count as a success and can be rerolled. Although the system is too simplistic for my needs, its simple enough for pretty much anyone to grasp, even as a GM. On top of that, the exploding die is always fun. Its good to have something that’s so simple, yet makes the game much more exciting, because rolling dice is fun. As long as there is no big let down from the high of rolling well (such as the original third edition D&D, in which a critical hit would only be a truly critical hit if you succeed in the following roll), this can only bring delight, especially to the younger players.
On the other hand, I like to use systems that do some of your work for you. I like fail-forward, and all modern additions to RPGs like it. I don’t think this game needs it, and I also understand that I’m not the target audience. This is not a game for jaded, old farts like myself, but for those who are still in more or less the infancy of their RPG hobby.
The other players at the table definitely enjoyed it, giving it maximum marks. However, I bet this was largely about the GM being able to read his players, and being able to work with whatever ideas the players had. As I said before, the game doesn’t really do any of the work. Under a different GM, the same players might have had a very different experience. However, as the game seems to promote a style of GMing, where you are working with the players, instead of against them.
I started with D&D when I was ten (back in ’87). Its all about tactical combat and DM using his power to guide the players through the adventure. The players have a very limited amount of power, even if the philosophy of the game is supposed to be all about the freedom with the story. It just doesn’t work like that.
With this kind of game, the next generation of players can hopefully discard these ideas, and find the much more satisfying, more collaborating playstyle. This collaboration, where the GM isn’t a hopefully benevolent dictator, with a sadistic streak, but a part of the team with just a different role, is just so much better than the old model.
This isn’t the destination, but it can definitely be a part of the journey. I can’t say its a great game, but probably a great place to bring the very young into the hobby.
One final note: As I’ve been paying more attention to the components of games lately, I have to say I liked the small innovation of having the character sheet be in two A5 parts: one for your species (or I guess race, in RPG lingo) and one for your class. Although this wasn’t utilised in any particularly great way, I think it might have potential.