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Fill In The Gap

The Sandbox

by Matt Turnbull
Jul 29,2005

 

Introduction

Welcome to Fill in The Gap, a column devoted to individual, "one-off" scenarios, that any GM can run for his/her group.

This month's scenario is designed to be uniquely used by those preparing to start a game.

If you need to know more about the FITG(Fill in The Gap) system/column, please check out the first (and second) of these monthly columns. Without further ado, I bring you today's scenario:

The Sandbox

As always, if you're going to play in this scenario (run by your favorite GM) then please read no further, for fear of spoilage.

Today's is a scenario for your players (however many you have!) This scenario is designed to lead up to a fresh campaign start, and serves partially as a method of character background generation. It should be played before your first session (almost as a prologue) but after character generation.

The Premise

Today's scenario is built upon a set of presumptions. The first presumption is that each of your player's characters knew each other as children. The second, is that they got along well at that age. The third is that all of the characters are roughly the same age. The fourth and final presumption, is that the game system you're playing has rules for things such as 'alignment', 'morality', 'mental disorders', and other more metaphysical states.

In the Sandbox, each of your players takes on the role of the character they've created for your new campaign, except they play them at 8 years old. The game is set on a playground during a long recess from "school" (or whatever the equivalent in your game's universe) and they're interactions will determine things about their character.

Each of the 10 events as described below will state how it will affect the characters depending on the actions they take. Feel free to come up with some more of your own if you're interested in discovering more about the characters prior to having them played in your game.

Today's setting section will simply be a list of areas on the playground, designed to be generic enough to hammer into your game from medieval fantasy all the way up to hard outer-space sci-fi. Feel free to make variants of areas. If you're playing a game set on a space station, instead of a big-toy or the favored tire-swing, have a zero-g room. Instead of a treehouse, a space treehouse.

One important thing to note: All of the player characters should be friends on the playground. In order to foster group interaction early on, state that these little kids all travel in a group or a pack not unsimilarly to most children's novels.

The Events needn't be played in any particular order, but the effects of previous events shold be reflected in later events on the playground.

The Characters

Your Characters!

Your characters in this situation haven't been played before, so this is a chance for each of the players to explore the childhood of their characters, and attempt to slip into their character's boots for the first time in a more consequence free environment. I've found this to be a great way to kickoff a lengthy campaign where character improvement/growth is a focus, as it really helps attach each player to their character immediately. Make sure to adjust a character's skills and physical abilities down to childlike proportions prior to running this game.

The Theme

The theme of this scenario is possibility. When the character is played as a child, any number of things can happen, and the ramifications and complications for the character's future life can be very interesting. Try to enforce amongst your players that this is a chance to really play the deepseated feelings of their character, as this is where they first formed. The beginning urges, wants, and needs of a character can start to be explored here.

The Setting

The Playground

The Big Toy. This is the area that's most in view of the authorities (be they teachers, parents, the learning robot, whatever.) This is also where a lot of the interaction with the NPCs can occur, as most of them are playing in this area. Additionally with the Big Toy, there is a favored swing, which there is generally a line to use.

The Concrete Rock. Off in a slightly out of the way area of the playground is a concrete rock, sculpted in a strange shape that coincedentally blocks it from view. Older kids sometimes use the rock as a place to smoke, or hang out in an "up to no good" sort of way.

The Garden. A lovely garden in full bloom where the more effeminate girls tend to play with their dolls.

The Track & Field. A huge (by little kid standards) green grass field, encircled by a track. Younger kids often go to the other end of the field to be left alone, when the concrete rock is being used. Although everything they do is in plain sight, kids at that distance are impossible to hear. Touch football and capture the flag are sometimes played here (or your game equivalents.)

The Arts & Crafts shed. The only interior location open to kids during recess. This is an adult monitored shed where children are allowed to play with leftover scraps of construction paper, glitter, and other novelty bits. The more "thinky", less "do-ey" kids hang out here.

The Woods. Technically off-limits, some kids wander off into the woods anyways during recess. Heading out there can get a kid into serious trouble, but the older kids often taunt the younger ones about what kinds of interesting things are out there.

The Ball Court. The more sports oriented kids play various types of ball-games here.

The Events

1. "Psst, hey you guys. Yeah, you. Hey deliver this note to that girl over in the garden for me." An older boy (and a known bully) asks one (or all) of the members of the group to deliver a folded note to a girl his age in the garden. He tells them not to read it, or he'll make trouble for them. What the characters don't know (unless they read it) is that it's actually a trick. The note is to be delivered to a rather homely and depressed girl in the older kids class he likes to pick on, it states in no uncertain terms that one of the male PC's is in love with the depressed girl, which is definitively not the case. There are several ways this situation can go down. If they don't deliver the note, they're likely going to get into a confrontation with the bullying older kid. How they react to the older kid's threats (and or actions, if it becomes a fight) should affect the character's courageousness and/or ability to socialize as adults. Another possibility, is that the note is delivered to girl. She then begins to fawn over her new young beau, and how delicately that situation is handled should affect the character's compassion and/or subterfuge abilities, as well as be a symbol of their willingness to lie. Unless the group works together in the fight, any fight with the bully should go horribly awry. Also, the kids should be separated, but due to another scrap allowed to continue playing at recess.

2. "Holy Crud what is that thing?!" A meteor streaks through the sky, landing in the woods. The characters are the closest ones to it, and most of the other kids don't seem to have noticed. What's being tested here is the character's willingness to break the rules and take risks in favor of discovery. If they do decide to head after the rock, then they should have a couple of close calls with the authorities, but not get caught (unless they turn themselves in.) What they find is an item of some small importance (like a magic-item in a fantasy game, or a wierd piece of tech in a Sci-Fi game) which they then have to agree who gets to keep. How they go about arguing who gets the shiny new toy is another event that should affect their compassion and/or morality, as well as their ability to socialize. If you'd like, between them and the meteor might be some physical challenges that can test each character's courage and/or physical statistics. Any truly traumatic experiences here (such as falling and getting hurt badly) can manifest themselves in phobias that the adult character has.

3. "Hey guys, can I hang out with you? An undesirable hanger on (in the form of a kid slightly younger than the players) is attempting to ingratiate himself in the group, he's either annoying or has bad habits. He also brings no discernable value to the friendship, and none of the kids like him. How graciously or willing they are to allow this kid to hang out with them, and how they handle interaction with them is something that should affect their various morality and interaction abilities. If they allow the kid to be in their presence, have him 'accidentally' ruin other future events as they occur, to display how truly undesirable this kid is to have around.

4. "This is none of your business. You guys better beat it, or you'll get it even worse." A group of bullies is beating up and hustling the earlier identified undesirable kid by the concrete rock. How the characters react in this situation is important to their morality, and also a measure of their resources. Attempting to trick the bullies is a method of trying to change the situation with subtlety. Trying to overwhelm them with force of numbers is unlikely, but an interesting take on how to handle the situation. Whatever occurs here, unless the characters themselves involve the adult authorities, they never arrive in time on their own. Heck, some characters might try to threaten to tell on the bullies unless they get a cut of the kid's lunch money, it all depends on your group. Just remember to try to make notes of how they behave, so they can be rewarded for their play with tangible benefits (or drawbacks) on their character sheets.

5. "Hey guys, check this out." A slightly dumb, but friendly enough sort that's tangentially friends with the characters invites them out to the edge of the field to check out something he brought to school. It's a piece of practical joke contraband, that while not exceptionally immediately dangerous, kids can get in trouble for even having. Examples include a sneezing power, liquid heat, or skin color-changing itchy space beetles. How the kids react to their "friend's" practical joke plan is telling of their morality, their sense of humor, and their personal belief in authority.

6. "Hey you, wanna play ball? Ugh, not them, just you man! One of the characters is invited by a popular kid to go play ball on the ball-court, but the other characters are explicitly NOT invited. This is a test of party cohesion, as well as loyalty, and the character's belief in the importance of appearances.

7. "Hey no cuts! One of the larger bully kids has cut his way in line to the favored swing. The adult authorities didn't witness this action, but the characters (who were possibly in line, possibly nearby) did. How do they handle this situation? This should appeal to each character's personal ethics, and their sense of justice and fair play. This also appeals to their courage. If they confront the bully without the aid of authorities, have the bully attempt to attack them, and then have him immediately restrained by the authorities and taken away.

8. "Ohmigosh are they KISSING?! The players witness a pretty popular girl and a decidedly unpopular boy sharing some private time in the Arts & Crafts Shed. The girl immediately tries to fake as though she was being coerced, but falls apart very quickly. This causes the unpopular boy to leave crying. She offers the characters some popularity if they don't spread rumors about her. How the characters handle this is a reflection on their sense of justice, fair play, honor, compassion, need to be liked, and numerous other psychological traits.

9. "Ha ha, got your X!" Some treasured item of a character's childhood that they carried around with them on the playground has been taken by bully, who has run off into the woods taunting the characters to follow him. Little do the characters know, the bully is leading them directly into a trap, where they will get beaten up and robbed. How the characters handle the situation reflects their opinion of authorities, and their personal sense of revenge. If they do get beaten up and left behind, have them be caught by the authorities shortly thereafter, and in trouble for heading into the woods. Make this particularly tragic by having the authorities not care about their story, unless they are EXTREMELY persuasive. This can lead to jaded feelings in some characters.

10. "AAAAAAAAGH!!!" A girl falls off of the big toy, and hurts herself pretty badly. There's chaos as kids and adults scramble to get her propped up, see if she's ok, and/or get help, as it appears she's broken a limb. Several minor events occur within, including a teacher dropping a valuable test or hall pass on the ground nearby, the girl screaming to see one of the characters who she admits her like-liking as she assumes she's dying (she's not, she just has a broken leg, but kids overreact.) And other previous events having less authority intervention as a possibility as they're distracted. How the kids take advantage/attempt to help during this situation is telling of all of their psychological traits.

That's it for this scenario. Again, please feel free to come up with plenty more events if you decide you enjoy this method of pre-character interaction.

Let me know what you thought of this scenario by E-mailing me at Msturnbull@comcast.net

See you next month!

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