TEENDOM is a RPG for teenagers to just be themselves

Hi everybody!

I've spent the last few months putting together the work born out of the gaming sessions I've had as an educator with some groups of middle school teens.

To cut a long story short: it all started with SHADOWS by Zak Arntson (with whom I haven't been able to get in touch through several weeks of tries), a little brilliant RPG.

Slowly, starting from the core system of this game, TEENDOM took shape: an experience designed for teenagers; so that they can be themselves and explore the dynamics typical of their age in an RPG environment, in a fun, safe and potentially educational way.

The result can be downloaded for free on my website:

TEENDOM

I would be happy to receive feedback and opinions!

Moreover I want this game to be open source: the idea is to expand the Scenarios Anthology ( this is how Teendom Playsets are called) with the contributions of those who want to try their hand!

Thank you,

Fabrizio

Comments

  • edited June 2018
    Quick look, nice game. Traditionally games for teenagers give them superpowers as a mode of expression. With this you can pick more mundane settings. It definitely can work.
  • Interesting business! Will definitely be taking a look
  • Thank you! Let me please know what you think
  • I think the concept of "being yourself" is counter-productive for growing people. You create your identity when you are socialized so your personality traits will express themselves differently in different environments. The concept of a visible and a hidden (dark) personality stinks of Freudian psychology, which is unscientific, wrong and useless as a tool to interface with reality.

    This bit stood out:

    "I remember a very shy boy whose "hidden" dice used to say "I do
    not have the courage to talk to her ... I reject the invitation
    because I'm ashamed".
    I remember his amazement when, after several of these failures, I
    told him how a girl was positively impressed by his shy and
    reserved personality, thus deciding to invite him to eat an ice
    cream with her."

    What is the purpose of this lesson? This seems psychologically unrealistic on top of breaking the rules of the game. I don't think I would have enjoyed this as a teen and if I had a teenage child I would not want them to play this but instead something that inspires them to go beyond their "self" and conquer fear, build relationships and pursue long term goals.

    The game is very constricting thematically and mechanically. Instead of a large possibility space and growing your own physical and social resources as a person you present them with a literally zero-sum game.

    In short my reaction is very negative. At best this is a boring game and at worst something that teaches social dysfunction and helplessness.
  • edited June 2018
    I'm on a similar wavelength, @Krippler. Not necessarily with the exact same texture or extremity, but I remember playing rpgs as a teenager pretty well.

    I started playing rpgs before adolescence and it was a very important social activity with my best friends through our teens. Maybe this works well with particular special education groups, I can't say, but we got a lot more out of exploring fantasies. No matter how fantastical, no matter how free-form, we obviously used the games for personal and social experimentation. We didn't need or want a game structured towards the specific goal of extracting that experimentation from us.
    And I can tell you with absolute confidence that the games any of us played which were run by adults were very different and much more like a cross between a board game and literature class with a cool-ish teacher than they were like our own explorations without the adults involved.

    I think this would be a lot more eye-catching and convincing to me if it showed even a hint of that awareness.
  • It's a good first draft. The competing d20s make quite an interesting system. On the other hand, I do see several problems. First, there doesn't seem to be any real relationship between the words you write down on your personality sheet and the feelings you have in the game. In your example from the rulebook, being "funny, generous, modest, and loyal" doesn't have much to do with not wanting to ruin the party. If he's feeling excluded, there's no-one at the party for him to be loyal to. Mechanically, it seems like character creation is an exercise in self-examination in preparation for a series of moral judgements that you make on the fly later.

    This brings me to my second question: do the players have to play themselves? It seems like they're encouraged to. Teenagers who are comfortable announcing their failings to a group of their peers using sentences like "I'm arrogant", and who have found a peer group who are going to be supportive rather than laugh, don't really need an RPG to be themselves. They've found a life that lets them do that. It might be more interesting if you could say "I'd like to consider what would happen if I were arrogant." Just a thought.

    I agree with @Paul_D_L that games played with adults at the table are not spaces for opening up or exploring yourself. A company of soldiers don't carry out their socialising on the parade ground in front of their superior officer; they do it in the barracks when they're alone. Adults have more power than teenagers, and teenagers know it. That differential means that teenagers view interactions with adults as inherently structured, quasi-formal occasions. Think how they address teachers: "Mr. Sutter, Miss Smith". At my high school, we went all the way and called them "Sir". That's not an environment in which we can talk about the messy, informal, non-respectful thing that is the teenage psyche.

    The biggest problem, though, has got to be your scenarios. This is meant for 13-16-year-olds, and, while a 13-year-old would probably buy some of them, a 16-year-old rarely would. Take "Someone just beat the record at the strength tester" at the amusement park, or "I know where they keep Coca-Cola" at the youth club. Both of these are entirely inconsequential to teenagers: most teenagers these days have enough disposable income to get Coca-Cola when they want it, and any who define themselves by their skill at the strength tester probably need more serious help. A large chunk of your seeds would be completely uninteresting to a teenager. You may want to apply the "So what?" test: if the response to a seed could legitimately be "So what?", as in "So what if someone else has beat the record at this fairground game" or "So what? I can recognise a fridge full of Coca-Cola too", the seed probably isn't worth developing. On the other hand, "So what if my friends think my other friend's a creep?" isn't something you can legitimately say without causing further issues, so that seed might be more promising.

    The major risk here is falling into the Breakfast Club trap: trying hard to make something nice for teenagers but failing to understand them and coming across as patronising or saccharine. The way out of this is intensive testing with actual teenagers. Play it with as many teenagers as you can, take as much feedback as you can, and write a second draft. The mechanics have the germ of something great, but right now it's buried under a lot of other stuff. This is true of all first drafts of everything, everywhere. I can't wait to see what the game looks like when you dig out that germ.
  • To me it seems that who wants to play teens? Non-teens. Kids want to play teens because they look up to them and think they are cool, and older people want to play teens because it's cathartic and nostalgic. Games like CyberGeneration and Masks where there are mechanics that explicitly model the awkward lack of identity non-teens project on teens are popular with older folks because that's a way for them to re-experience and deal with teendom. Same goes for MonsterHearts where instead of lack-of-identity, it's hyper-identity. Instead of struggling with responsibility, you are The Chosen etc.
  • This isn't meant as a slag on the game, just that it might be better suited for a non-teen audience. Older story-gamers, esp author-stancers, are willing to invest in anything the game presents, like strength testers (which were in vogue in the 1910s/1920s). They're like "Ooooh, yeah, my char would TOTALLY care about that!" because that fits with the tropes they deliberately want to play into. I was listening to RollPlay Oddballs yesterday where a bunch of older gamers play teens and they're like "Oh, my pristine white sneakers are the most important thing in the world!" They were ironically using words like radical and bodacious.

    There's your audience.♥
  • I was expecting a bit more of a power fantasy actually. At that age escapism attracts more than being yourself in the normal world, and the real lessons you learn from RPGs are that no matter how much power you have you still can't escape consequences and responsabilities, and that you can count on others as they are not really so different from you. The game forces you to interact with others but at the same time gives everyone a common fictional ground and a structure for that interaction. Focusing on all that makes you lower your guard, which is why in-fiction interactions and decissions tell much more about the people around you than whatever they can say about themselves.

    For the game as it is, non-teen audience is the real audience as Sandra says.
  • I am curious about the difference between the text as read by folks here and the experience of designing it through actual play with actual middle schoolers.

    Fabrizio, can you tell us how your middle schoolers interacted with the rules etc. in your document? I think that would give us a better perspective from which to comment.

    I am also wondering about cultural context. What country are you in?

    Finally, I think that perhaps your use of the word "teenagers" is eliciting critique as if this is for ages 13-19, when in reality it may be more for ages 11-14. What do you think?
  • I feel so guilty for sounding negative♥
    thanks for releasing a game like this
  • edited June 2018
    Thank you all for reading and for the constructive criticism. Here are some spare thoughts in response to your comments.

    I agree with those of you who pointed out that playing with an adult at the table is a very different experience rather than just being among peers. When I was a teen I used to play RPG to experiment myself as you did, and I did it freely because we were all teenagers.
    However, what led me to design this game is the idea that my audience is very different from me when I was their age, for multiple reasons.
    I built this game literally through playing it with three groups (about twenty teens) between 13 and 16 years: all Non-gamers who didn’t even know what an RPG was since 8 moths ago.
    I started with them with more classical experiences (i.e. D&D) starting from the assumption that role playing is nice because you have just not to be yourself.
    In response, however, it did not work very much. The boys and the girls lived as a childish fiction the post-apocalyptic, Fantasy or horror settings... I also think because RPG lacks all the glitter of video-games where these settings comes catchy for them.

    It turned out that trying to imagine themselves being in some life contexts was much more fun for them. It made me thought about when I ask them which TV shows they like, and they all tend to talk about "Thirteen" and "The end of the fu***** world" rather than about Stranger Things. Of course both the TV showed I mention have a lot much more drama than the taste of my game. Anyway the message I received from them was “Let us play the bitterness-sweetness of our age

    Another thought I have regards the sociological differences on being 14 in Italy rather than in the USA (I suppose you are all American?). I feel that here they’re (we’re) all a bit more irresponsible and immature, still immersed in a world of appearances, exaggerations and small-big transgressions. Moreover Strength Testers are still in vogue in our seasonally amusement parks, we must be stuck in the 1920's :smiley:

    Anyway they were all excited to explore their teenage life imaginatively, even with my presence at the table. I would dare to say thanks to my presence at the table. I really feel that they are looking for someone a little older than them they can open up to.
    It is true that I am 30 and not 50, also I am not a teacher but something more like a tutor, and they see me as a link between them and the still-incomprehensible-world of adults.

    In addition I must say that the teens I worked with all have some special educational needs (this could mean a lot/this could mean nothing… it’s a big gate to open). Also many of them are immigrants of first or second generation, and in our area this is strong and creates particular dynamics of individuation and interaction in adolescence.

    This said, can you sell me more on the idea that “Non-teens are my real audience” and/or how to make this more suitable for your idea of teens? I really feel what you mean but I don’t think I get it completely.

    As for the relationship between character creation, personality traits and game dynamics:
    I found it very consistent. The behavior of Lucas who does not want to ruin the party, to me fits perfectly to his personality: loyal, correct, he keeps a low profile, even when he feels excluded and has no one to be loyal to, he wants to stay right and tends to stifle his anger. I think this justifies his choice to assign the green die to the "not accepting the let’s prank them offer" outcome.

    However I see that four words indicated as personality traits do not do much justice to an attitude or behavior.

    The idea that comes to me from your comments is this: What if instead of speaking of “visible personality” and “hidden personality” I speak of behaving in your own comfort zone or out of it? would it make more sense? replacing the personality traits with short sentences where you describe your habitual attitude and others where you describe some relational positioning that you don’t usually feel to take. (this way “Negative” and “positive” traits could fit both categories of comfort zone and out of it.).
    It sound to me that this way it could be more open to new possibilities for every character's behaviour.


    Finally some words for @Krippler whose comment seems to me very strong and extreme. First of all Psychoanalysis has a solid scientific basis and there are many studies that talk about the connection between neuroscience evidences and psychoanalytic concepts. However this is not the point. Talking about “visible and hidden personality” does not refer to psychoanalytic theory. It’s just a simple idea about our personal theories of mind: there are parts of us of which we are more proud of and that we show more easily, while there are others that we like less and we tend to suffocate.

    As for the example of the shy boy and the girl who invites him to eat ice cream, I find that this is just how life works. We learn to accept ourselves even in the parts that we like less because someone returns them to us as positive or at least not that negative or something not to be so ashamed of. The whole psychotherapy relationship works this way :)

    I can assure you that guys and girls have done everything but get bored. We laughed a lot, someone got angry, someone else came out a bit 'sad, but certainly no boredom.

    Also I don't really find any room for social dysfunction and helplessness in this game.
    I have seen teens so shy that they are not able to talk to their friends finding a way to interact with them and interpreting themselves (and not as some mage or superhero).
    Also if an adolescent tells you that he feels angry you can answer him not to worry that we are all angry at times. This could make him feel better. However if he is so introverted that he literally doesn’t speak you can do very little. When he decides to let you see parts of himself through his character, then you can give them back to him as something human that is acceptable when not even beautiful.

    Sorry for my English... it took me years to write all this :blush:
  • Yeah, ABT = always be testing and you seem to have done that. The game having sprung out of your actual work is awesome
  • The scenarios struck me as things we do here in secondary. It's a very educational stance, but it doesn't mean it's scholarly. So I am already on this boat.
    The point of role playing is traditionally to be someone else somewhere else. The selection bias on the forum : an interest in Spandex wearing characters. But most teenagers just want to be normal or something.
    The descriptive tags are not optimal for 2 reasons : 1 it may be too "lexical" ; 2 "it's not what we are, it's what we chose to do" sort of principle.
  • This is a fascinating little game, and a very interesting discussion. Some of the points being made here about the interest in teens (e.g. 2097's commentary on the "real audience" for playing teenagers) are right on the money.

    Were the characters in the game identical to the players, or did they make differences, in description, age, or how they acted?

    Did players seem to enjoy the aspect of losing control of their character? That sounds like quite a challenge. What if the "you" in the story ends up acting quite differently than "you" actually would? Is that an enjoyable dynamic, a frustrating one, or one that's complex but interesting to explore?

    I'd say that your positive experiences with the game say a lot about your relationship with these kids - they must admire you to be willing to open up to you in that way. I think that, given a different group of people or a less positive relationship, the game could be much less of a positive experience, as well.

    The "special educational needs" may have played a large role in this, as well. Perhaps there is a good reason why RPGs have been historically popular with social outcasts and misfits instead of "the popular kids". :)

    One thing I would like to see is better integration of the traits with the scenarios. For instance, if I say I'm "loyal", then we should express that in the scenario somehow - perhaps a best friend, a sports team, a family connection; some way to bring that into reality and into sharp focus.
  • edited June 2018
    Thank you all for being so active and stimulating.
    I try to answer a few things:

    I totally agree about the issue around the meaning of the word “teenager” and Yes, I also think that cultural difference may have a role here.

    I probably did not express well the fact that the Seeds in the Scenarios are simply general indications on how to build fiction, and that a good GM, and therefore an adult who knows the teens he plays with, builds them right around the descriptions they have made of themselves. I.e. "you find a wallet under a bench" was precisely in response to the “loyal” trait of a boy. Moreover the GM narrative authority is really huge and this is required: teens may have enough money for as many Coca-Cola cans as they want in real life, but maybe not in this gaming session… so let’s see how they behave.

    As for the gaming experience: I found that after some help in character creation, teenagers were enough self-aware to define the two possible outcomes when a resolution roll occurred. Also these generally matched with their real attitudes. As for the teens I knew less or those more introvert it was a total discovery.
    Of course there was room for pushing a little beyond their limits: it’s a game, and Robert will totally talk to that nice girl if his green dice permits it. No matter if he does It with his “funny” trait or with his “confident” one. To respect the game rule he just has to narrate an outcome in topic with his personality traits (“I approach her with a joke” or “I simply introduce myself”). No Power at all about how she reacts, this is in my hands as the GM (she may hate jokes thus teaching him that people reacts in unique ways, and that relying on what you are good to and confident with, does not always ensure you success).

    Note that with coins, players do not actually lose control of their character, they give control of how they behave in that very situation ti someone else, but always on a basis defined by themselves. Plus with the obligation for those who intervene to tell something in topic and to get involved as their character if they are on the spot.
    This has left ample space to see "how the others treat me". It was a complex and nice dynamic that I tried to highlight in the “How to GM” session of the manual: with attacks and revenge; alliances and also with a “we all can win helping each others” attitude. A boy and a girl who argue a lot in classroom, offending one the other, in game, after a phase of strong conflict in which they socially destroyed each other, have built a couple with a good understanding and this has also somehow affected their interactions out of the game.

    Finally, the relationship between me and the teens was certainly fundamental for the quality of our experience.

  • Finally, the relationship between me and the teens was certainly fundamental for the quality of our experience.
    Ah, there were lots of missing parts then! I mean, if everyone is having fun and on top of that the game helps players build better relationships and learn about the world of the adults, then of course it's working as it should, but the rules as shown don't manage to convey all that because there are lots of missing parts.

    The reference material is important, if the game is meant to simulate teenage fictional or reality shows then you need to get the readers into that context so they know what the game is really about.

    Next is the cultural barrier, different groups will value more escapism than something closer to reality depending on their enviroment. If people of their age feel escapism childish, the group pressure won't let them enjoy such games even if they don't feel it like childish. If they have no pressure to grow up or they are rebelling against adults who insist them to grow up, they will feel perfectly comfortable and go into as much escapism as they can.

    The group you describe seems to be interested in this game not only because of generational local trend but because it's an honest, non-preach way to learn about the world of the adults and get the social skills and confiidence to navigate it from a safe space. It's partially the fact that despite you're playing yourself, things happen so somebody else so you can easily fall back to being a player when things go wrong and get into character when things are great.

    The other part is you as a GM. Without you there to support an equally real, equally optimistic, healthy and experienced view of the adult world, the game falls apart into teenage angst and frustration or plain inconsequential fun. It shows in the way you make NPCs react to the players approaches and how you help players cope with whatever feelings they get out of control.

    I'd say that the game as a tool can't get better (my congrats there), but it will always depend on a responsible, somewhat psychologically healthy adult to be run, someone not too far away in age to the players group to have forgotten how hard was all that experience to achieve. And also, a group of players interested in learning that experience.
  • @_R8_

    I'm not sure why this game provokes me so much but your expouding on it has not made it better. I have some experience with clinical psychiatry and being a leader of teens and I basically disagree with everything you've written. Part may be a cultural difference, in Sweden being shy and reserved is the default state for most and learning how to be assertive is important.
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