The Gassy Gnoll: Secret Lives of Gingerbread Men with Nine Kids (New Year, New Game)

The “New Year, New Game” efforts from the great folks at Gnome Stew and DriveThruRPG suggests something we should do as gamers anyway – try new games. Though not every game is for everybody, by trying new games, settings, tools, and techniques we can keep ourselves from falling in the ruts we sometimes fall into. And it also gives us the opportunity to glean new ideas we can integrate into our old favorite games or even introduce us to new favorites. (This post was written for the first annual New Year, New Game blog carnival hosted by Gnome Stew as part of the 2012 New Year, New Game challenge.)

A few weeks ago during Family RPG Day at Petries’ Family Games, my local game store, my daughters had a chance to play The Secret Lives of Gingerbread Men by Annie Rush. It’s one of the most inspired RPGs I’ve seen in a long time, combining actual gingerbread cookies, candy pieces, and a childhood imagination to explore a magical world where cookies come to life for a short time on Christmas Eve and have grand adventures. They played with a couple of adults and a few kids for a total of 5 or 6 players, and the gentleman running the game was a teacher (with plenty of patience for the little ones). Though there was some teamwork and cooperative play, there was also some inter-party aggression, a few challenges here and there, and despite that all the cookies eventually made it to their destinations.

Immediately after that day at Petries’, my eldest daughter asked if I would run a game of Gingerbread for her and her friends at her 11th birthday party. Now fast forward to this past weekend when we actually had the party… We had nine kids, ages 6 to 11, with one boy and eight girls attend. And it was crazy.

Though Gingerbread was designed as more of a Christmas-themed game, I managed to come up with a New Years’ Eve scenario where the goals were to make it into the box going to the troops overseas, a plate bound for a local teen homeless charity, and the last possible opportunity to make it into the decorations box to go back on the tree next year. For two hours on New Years’ Eve (somehow the family was away at someone else’s house for a party), this group of nine cookies dealt with obstacles like the Frankencookie in a drawer below the counter where the cookies “wake up,” plus the two dogs and a cat scattered around the house. Like our initial exposure to the game, there was an interesting amount of cookie-on-cookie violence between friends. Not sure if the game evokes that or it was just the group of folks we’ve had play the game!

At any rate, one of my favorite parts of the session was when one cookie fell while climbing the Christmas tree and landed flat on his back on the cat sleeping in the warmth of the lights at the base of the tree. The cat freaked out of course, which was part of the fun. But there was another cookie in the tree, and she asked the Blue Fairy at the top to drop a rope down to save her friend. Instead, since the fairy didn’t have a 6 foot rope handy, she worked some magic and convinced the cat to climb back to the top with the cookie clinging for dear life to its back…

You’d think the insanity would stop there, wouldn’t you? Unfortunately, as the cat was climbing up, the cookie on top decided to drop a little hot piece of candy onto the head of the cat, which flipped it out again. As the cat entered free fall, the cookie on its back somehow managed to do some ninja moves and survive the fall unscathed. Then with no time to spare, the cookie on top convinced the Blue Fairy to help again – she pulled out a cookie-sized fishing pole, dropped the line, and reeled him up!

I swear that I’m not making this stuff up!

This was but one of the crazy events of the game, but I did my best to roll with the kids’ ever-changing minds. Some were more into it than others, but I think they all had a great time. And amazingly everybody made it either into the box, onto the cookie plate, or into history as a new tree decoration. As we got closer and closer to our deadline on time, I wasn’t sure everybody was going to make it – yet somehow everybody did (with 0.000001 seconds to spare!).

Who knew that gingerbread cookies would make a great roleplaying game? Yet it turns out to be a great combination of a simple die mechanic (a bunch of d6’s does the trick) and a creative idea for a way to get kids using their imaginations. There’s nothing better than that. It exposes kids to rolepaying in a friendly, safe way that has nothing to do with D&D, but may lead to different RPGs down the line if they like it and want to try other things. What more could a parent (and a gamer) want? Encouraging safe play and using creativity are must haves when dealing with children.

It’s been a long time since I GMed seriously, but I can truly say that I have *NEVER* run a game for nine people. The experience challenged me to come up with creative ways to engage all the kids and keep their attention, and I think I was mostly successful. I haven’t heard any complaints yet, but I was definitely exhausted by the time it was over – and it only took two hours!

Lessons learned? First, don’t panic as much. So long as I had the rough outline of a plan and could keep the kids’ interest for the game, that was really all I had to do. I never even used some of the other story lines I came up with for the session (like a crusading group of sugar cookies intent on beating the gingerbread cookies to the punch!). Second, running a game
about cookies was a kick! Third, sometimes it’s good to get out of your comfort zone to learn you CAN do something and enjoy it even though you were dreading it the whole time. :)

I definitely encourage all you gamers out there to break out of your comfort zones and try a new game – after all, it is a new year!

(And if you have kids, I’d really encourage you to check out The Secret Lives of Gingerbread Men for next holiday season!!)

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