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No Thank You, Bullywugs

For the past year, I’ve been trying different RPGs with my oldest son. Lately, one he really likes is No Thank You Evil! by Monte Cook Games. After we’d played through all of the adventures included in the box set, I ran for him the next adventure I had on hand, Frogs of the Feywild.

Frogs of the Feywild played into some fairy tale tropes, so the adventure seemed like a good fit to play for young kids. Of course, the adventure is written for 5e, so I had to do an on the fly conversion into the Cypher System that forms the core of No Thank You Evil! Besides that, the adventure consists mostly of combat encounters; this was the first adventure I published for sale, and combat was what I was most comfortable designing for at the time. I decided to alter some of the combats, both to better fit the No Thank You Evil! aesthetic, and because I felt better about presenting an adventure with more nonviolent options throughout.

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Note: I’m spoiling the whole plot of Frogs of the Feywild, you are warned.

No Thank You Evil! takes place in the world of Storia, with thematic regions that the protagonists can access from their homes. ‘Into the Closet’ is the vaguely Narnia-esque land of fairy tales and fantasy; ‘Under the Bed’ is the spooky realm of ghost stories; ‘Behind the Bookshelf’ is a diverse land for historical or mythological adventures; and ‘Out the Window’ leads to distant sci-fi worlds and high seas adventures. With the strong Feywild connection, Frogs of the Feywild seemed to fit best within ‘Into the Closet.’ I decided to nix the entire plot hook involving the dastardly Prince Jermyn, and instead used something direct for young kids: a wedding invitation! This got the characters to the venue quickly and also provided an excuse for them to have access to a map of the gardens. I noted that the wedding was for Princess Tania, but made no mention of her suitor.

The opening of the adventure remained fairly unchanged: the characters witnessed Bullywugs chasing guests out of the garden where the wedding was taking place. I decided the difficulty level for checks against these Bullywugs should be fairly low, a 2 or 3 at most. A ‘Smarts’ check allowed the characters to recall what they knew about Bullywugs; namely, that they could sometimes act like bullys, but like all bullys, were cowards at heart. (Is that too Dad of me? Oh well.) The wizard was able to use an illusion to scare off most of the Bullywugs with ease. Since my son still seemed to want to fight, I decided that the leader of the Bullywugs at the gate was unfazed an stayed to fight (in 5e, this was a Bullywug Croaker who also does not flee). However, this Bullywug did surrender when disarmed.

Gale the Gardener remained unchanged, giving the characters information about the current goings on and explaining the challenge of the Chaotic Maze. This challenge worked well; my son initially tried to just navigate it normally, regardless of the warning, but kept getting popped out. He figured that the Bullywugs had probably gotten through by jumping (they are frogs, after all), so he made some springs to jump over himself; I ruled that the magic vines were suitable for this task. As long as a character comes up with a way to get through, the difficulty should still be low at this point, 2 or 3.

In the section of the ruined party, my son got excited and grabbed a bunch of stuffed animals to play the lingering party guests. This led to a new NPC, Madame Elephante (a stuffed elephant), who was able to give more information about Tania and the events of the morning. I added a detail of a bright light and a swirling cloud emerging from the fountain when Tania dropped in the Golden Ball that summoned the Bullywugs. These two phenomena settled in either of the terraces, giving a clear choice for the two paths forward. My son chose the Summer Terrace to proceed.

rpg print out maps and materials with crayon colored on
The adventure got an art upgrade too!

Now, the Południca in the next section is sort of a wicked character from folklore, and here I decided to soften the encounter somewhat. I described how the terrace felt incredibly hot, like the hottest summer day, and how the characters felt overcome with sleepiness. This sort of mirrors the Południca from folklore, which personified sunstroke in the fields. Once the characters had their nap (they failed the 3 difficulty) and found the giggling Lady Midday, she told them how she and her sister, Lady Snow, were accidentally pulled into the garden from the Land of Faerie (rather than the Feywild), and how they’d very much like to go back. No combat, just an environmental challenge and some flavor. She was able to come along to the next stop, but then went off to find her sister. If the characters were to choose the other path, the Snegurochka could be played fairly similar.

At this point, I decided to simply skip the fight at the fountain with the Wodnik Watercrafter. This was actually for time reasons, more than anything: I was making dinner at the same time, and wanted to wrap the adventure before we ate. I do think the Wodnik would be a fun character to describe, turning into water as he does, but since there is another combat immediately following, I’d probably tilt this more towards non-combat like with the Południca. Maybe the Wodnik could play tricks on the characters, without actually fighting? The Wodnik would have had a medium difficulty of 3, maybe even 4.

The final battle with Dragomir and Tania I played as written, with one important difference. The original was a trick battle, where Tania’s antagonism towards the PCs was disguised as part of Dragomir’s action in order to throw off the characters a bit. In this version, I specifically called out the fact that whenever Tania spoke, that made the effect that made the characters want to run away (higher difficulty here, at least 4). My son had been wondering why Tania had dropped that Golden Ball into the fountain to begin with, so this caused him to flat out ask her: what’s going on? At this point, I immediately stopped the battle and gave Tania’s exposition which would normally come after Dragomir was defeated. In this version, though, Dragomir was always the intended groom, and it was always a misunderstanding that made the guests flee the Bullywugs, and the Bullywugs in turn act rudely towards the guests. Dragomir and his soldiers all apologized for their part in it, and Tania had the characters assist in a magic spell to send the fey magic back. Afterwards, the wedding proceeded as planned, with a heart shaped cake (my son’s idea 🙂).

This conversion is all completely unofficial, given the terms of DMs Guild’s licensing agreements; however, I do like how the story turned out with the ad hoc changes. As I mentioned, Frogs of the Feywild was the first adventure I wrote for sale, and since then I’ve developed more of a personal design philosophy which I’ve added in after the fact here. If you’re looking for a fun RPG to play with kids, I can’t recommend No Thank You Evil! enough, and if you want to try my adventure (with the above notes), since you’ve made it through the article, help yourself to a discount code to get it on DMs Guild.

Have you changed adventures to run with younger kids? Leave a comment below!

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Of Origami and Kings

This isn’t a review, exactly, so much as a story about my experience with the game. Though not my first Mario RPG, The Origami King was my first foray into the Paper Mario series. I received it as a gift, and while I was excited to play it, I had no real expectations for what it would be. I had no idea that its poignant story would become a bonding experience, but it did: it’s the first game I finished with one of my sons.

We’d played video games together before, including Mario Kart 8 and Animal Crossing, but none of them hooked him like this one. My oldest is 4, my younger son was born just a few months ago. I’d usually be the one up with my oldest when he woke up, and very often we’d end up playing Paper Mario after breakfast. We’d take turns with the controls, he’d do much of the exploring while I’d do most of the battles, whose puzzle mechanics are still a bit much for him. He still enjoyed choosing which power to use and, since it’s a Mario RPG, doing some of the button pushes to make Mario’s attacks hit harder.

If it were just a matter of mechanics, I think it would have eventually lost his interest like those other games, but the Origami King really has a wonderful story. On the one hand, it is a very simple story, easy for a young kid to grasp: there is a clear villain, the titular king, and it’s not too scary since the characters are made of paper and are just getting folded up. On the other hand, the story is deeply resonant one of friendship and loss. I want to talk about it in three moments, spoilers ahead:


The first comes midway through the game, when one of Mario’s companion characters, a Bob-Omb nicknamed “Bobby,” sacrifices himself (the way Bob-Ombs do) to save another character, Olivia. The game actually slows down here for a beat as Olivia grieves the loss of Bobby in game. She leaves the party and refuses to go forward. It takes some encouragement from Mario (potentially guided by Bobby’s lingering spirit) before she can pull herself together to continue her quest with Mario as Bobby had wanted. I’m not sure my son entirely understood what happened, and I tried to spare him some of the detail, but he went through a similar process as Olivia: first he expressed sadness that Bobby could not travel with us anymore, but then found comfort knowing that no matter what, Bobby was still our friend.

The second moment was at the end of the game, where Olivia, the origami fairy princess, in order to restore the Mushroom Kingdom, uses a wish to undo all of the origami, which includes herself. While Bobby’s sacrifice was sort of telegraphed (I mean, he was a Bob-Omb…), this last one caught me off guard, and my son too. He actually sniffled some tears as Olivia floated away. Seeing that made tears well up in me too. I tried to comfort him by making sure he knew that we could always to go back and play the game with Olivia at our side, but I also let him know that it was okay to be sad.

The last moment occurs after replaying parts of the game. Revisiting the levels where Bobby had adventured with us, there were several points at the rest locations where Olivia would reminisce about the time we’d spent with Bobby. Unfortunately, this happened when I played by myself, doing some of the backtracking to go for a 100% ending that I loved and my son found tedious, meaning he missed these dialogues by Olivia. But as we’ve continued to run around the open world following our whims, he did eventually want to go back to some of these spots, and he brought up to me his own reminiscences of our friend Bobby.


I’m sharing this story for two reasons. First, as a game designer, it reminded me how powerful the medium can be. I’ve had similar reactions from other media, but most of all from games. Games are both a larger time commitment than most other media and require more active engagement. It takes time and effort to reach the end of a game, and that alone makes the experience more emotional and bittersweet. Even though you’ve won, you’re saying goodbye to this world that you have given so much of your time to. Some other media have long time commitments, for instance long running television shows, but games’ immersive quality also adds something to the equation. Olivia and Bobby weren’t just Mario’s friends, they were our friends. And their sacrifices really punctuate the fact that, just as their time with Mario has come to an end in game, their time with us has come to an end just because the game is done. We can go back and replay levels with them, but it is still an emotional moment to reach the end our journey.

Second, as a father, it made me think about games as a bonding experience. Ever since I had kids, I’ve looked forward to trying new types of games with them as they grow simply to share my love of gaming with them. But they do more than that, because it’s not just letting them try something I like, it’s a shared experience for us. It’s a chance for me to watch how they are developing their skills, their emotions, their whole personalities, really. And it’s a chance for us to feel the same joy, the same excitement, even the same sadness in a safe environment.

I love how games can facilitate the connections between people, and I’d like to make this more intentional in my design, as well. I’ve usually thought more about what sort of story I want to tell, but it is also useful to think, what kind of stories do I want to empower the players to tell? Players will tell their own stories regardless, but I think making this a part of the design process can make the resulting game richer.

I really enjoyed the journey of playing this game with my son, of having this shared experience. That bittersweet feeling of ending the game encapsulates a lot of parenthood, of the joy of watching your children develop alongside the sadness that they are growing more and more independent of you, a theme that has been heavy on my mind as he gets ready to start preschool. Thanks to the lovingly crafted story, which hit all the right notes of humor, tension, and sadness, this is a game that is going to stick with me for a long time.

One final note: maybe because I don’t want to let go of this experience yet, I found patterns to fold some of the characters in the game (pictured in the preview). Along with a flat printed paper Mario, it means we can still tell stories about these characters together: https://drive.google.com/file/d/13ZFoJHcvRm9LPOEOHg5EYtqoofruiSq9/view And though I’m usually not so driven for 109% completion of a game, I did it this time just so my older son could see a final extra cutscene in the ending: a little origami Olivia, and a reformed King Olly, happily sitting on their paper thrones.

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RPGs with Kids: The Knight Story

As a dad who enjoys playing ttrpgs, I’ve always hoped to one day play rpg games with my kids, but never quite knew where to start, especially since many published games have suggested ages of 4 or 5. However, I thought there could be ways to start to introduce the concepts before sitting down to a formal game.

So, a couple of months before my older son’s 4th birthday, I started telling him a story. And I started asking him what the characters should do, and what comes next. After a few minutes of the story, when I’d normally end the story as it was time for bed, I instead told him that we’d have to find out what happened the next time. After a few nights of this, my son wasn’t just asking for a story at bedtime, he started asking, “Could we tell part of the knight story?”

Eventually, I also had the idea to draw pictures of some of the characters. I folded up a piece of paper into eight rectangles, and I started drawing. First of course was brave Sir Knight, aka “Sir Knight was on his Pite,” the hero of our story. Then I drew more characters, including some characters we hadn’t met yet. I didn’t fill up all of the rectangles at first, but drew more over the next day or two as I thought of more to add, and my son added a character we hadn’t met yet as well, and elephant named Blowey. The unmet characters added some extra excitement, especially as we got closer to meeting the whole roster.

Crayon drawings of fantasy characters
Clockwise from top left: Sir Knight (was on his Pite), the Wizard of Odd (and his cat), Blowey the Elephant, Zeti the goblin, Ladders the dragon, Princess Elma, Mr. Nettlebottom, Sir Bams-a-lot

The “Knight Story” eventually reached a satisfactory conclusion as Sir Knight completed his quest, though of course left open for Sir Knight and his friends to have more adventures. And indeed, after a few “one shot” stories, Mr. Nettlebottom started his own adventure, and my son eagerly asks to continue the “Knight Story, I mean, Elf Story.”

Since I began the “Knight Story,” I’ve discovered the StoryGuider ttrpg, which takes some of the stuff I’d been doing and adds some more structure. Before our next story (my son has requested Princess Elma get her own story next) I want to try to ask some of these questions ahead of time. I love how we’ve been telling the story so far, but I want to make sure I remember to give my son plenty of inflection points to make decisions so I don’t end up hogging the story telling! You can find some StoryGuider products here: https://ttrpgkids.itch.io/

I wanted to chronicle the rough course of the Knight Story, mainly so I can remember some of the finer points, because my son has a much better memory for it than me. As an example, I once mentioned that Mr. Nettlebottom was good with animals, and days later my son suggested that he solve a task by working with animals, because he’s good with them, just like I said! So, without further ado…

The Knight Story

The quest started when Sir Knight met a wizard who wore grey robes with a gold sun on them, and she told him where he could find a treasure. He took the treasure back to his castle but went to look for the wizard again, and she was gone. He wanted the wise wizard to tell him where he could find some friends. He did meet an elf named Mr. Nettlebottom, who thought that the best place to look for a wizard would be the nearby mountain.

At the base of the mountain, they saw a red dragon flying around the summit. They climbed up the mountain to look for the wizard, even though they were scared of the dragon. There was no wizard, but the dragon was friendly,her name was Ladders, because she always carried two ladders. Mr. Nettlebottom thought to try the swamp next, and Ladders flew them there.

In the swamp, the met Zeti, the goblin with the triangle face, who brought them to his hovel and made a meal with something for everyone to eat: sandwiches (I think?) for Sir Night and Mr. Nettlebottom, swamp grass for Ladders, and an old boot for Zeti. Sir Knight and Mr. Nettlebottom briefly became lost in the swamp, but found their way back to the hovel, and found a talking frog, who was actually Princess Elma. A kiss turned her back. She had been transformed by the Wizard of Odd (not the wizard with the grey robe), but the Wizard of Odd was sorry, it had only been an accident.

They found a mine, and en elephant named Blowey who was able to climb walls. She helped them down by climbing straight along the mine shaft. In an ornately decorated room, they met Sir Bams-a-lot. He’d seen the wizard go through a door, but couldn’t find the door again because it blended in with the walls.However, they found a doorknob with a triangle-shaped lock on it. They fought a series of dragons in the mines, recovering keys of varied shapes, but finally discovered that the triangle key was held by the biggest, meanest, orange dragon who had triangle claws and triangle teeth and triangle horns. The dragon loved triangle things, so he grabbed Zeti (who had a triangle face) and flew off.

They followed the orange dragon to his lair in the desert but were stopped by a gate they couldn’t get past. They went back to the Wizard of Odd’s house, and Mr. Nettlebottom found Odd’s cat in the basement under an invisible couch. They returned, and the cat was able to slip under the gate to pull a lever, opening the way. Sir Knight and Mr. Nettlebottom padded Sir Knight’s armor so they could enter the dragon’s lair stealthily, then the two snuck up on the dragon and tickled him while the other companions grabbed Zeti and the triengle key.

They returned to the mine, unlocked the door, and after going through a long tunnel, they found themselves in a valley open to the sun. There they found the wizard in the grey robe, whose name was Magic. Sir Knight asked where he could find some friends, and she pointed out that he’d just made seven of them! (yes, yes, the real treasure was the friends he made along the way… fyi, the quest to find friends was my son’s idea) She cast a spell to return them all to Sir Knight’s castle, where his new friends were able to hang out in all the extra rooms whenever they wanted. Magic the wizard walked off, but she told Sir Knight she would see him again some day.