This demo began with only 4 simple Tenets. The story was to be a sequel to Shrek II. It was to involve Shrek and Fiona’s children. There would be a talking crow who got the children in trouble and Shrek and Fiona would be dead. Yes dead. 2 minutes into play and we’d already killed off two animated screen icons beloved by children everywhere.
The first scene opens in the swamp with two ogre children, Brian and Jenny, weeping in front of the gravestones of their parents. Its been exactly 1 year since Shrek and Fiona were betrayed and killed by the dastardly Puss-in-Boots. They’ve been living with Donkey and his half donkey – half dragon children Benny and June. Donkey and Dragon have gotten divorced although the kids still fly off to see their mother every other weekend and on holidays.
A large black crow named Crackle has become a playmate to the four children. He’s something of a trouble maker but the kids trust him as the only adult they know other than Donkey. He swoops in and tells the children not to cry. There may be a chance to get their parents back. He just overheard his old pal Bubo the Owl say something that makes him think they still might be alive. Crackle suggests they go and ask the wicked witch who lives in the Gingerbread House in the middle of the haunted woods. She may be able to look in her crystal ball and help out. Apparently that whole Hansel and Grettle thing was just a big misunderstanding.
In the next scene we see Brian and Jenny riding on their flying donkey playmates Benny and June swoop down into a clearing in the haunted woods, right next to the Gingerbread House. Flying donkeys are awfully convenient.
Bubo the owl is sitting on the roof and challenges the visitors with a “whoooo goes there”. When he sees Crackle he calls him various nasty names. Here we have to pause play for a Challenge where we reassert that this is to be a PG movie and replay that part. Crackle swoops down with his claws outstretched. Apparently they aren’t such good pals after all. Bubo beats the air with his massive wings, causing a gust of wind that blows Crackle backwards, but not before he snags a key that hangs from a chain around Bubo’s neck.
A grandmotherly lady come from the cottage and calms the birds down. Inside the cottage Brian and Jenny are treated to a bowl of hot porridge while Benny and June wait outside. Bubo, being a psychic owl, has already informed the witch of why the children are there. Here, movie goers would be treated to a montage of images from the first two Shrek movies as the witch summarizes their events. She then informs them that Puss-in-Boots was indeed convicted of the crime of killing Shrek and Fiona and was banished to Never Never Land. She’s not sure, however, that he actually did it, nor that the parents were actually killed. Their bodies were never found.
Brian and Jenny resolve to find Puss-in-Boots and try to learn the truth. When they ask the witch how to get to Never Never Land she replies “second star on the right and straight on till morning, of course”.
Our next scene involves the four children arriving in Never Never Land. I told you flying donkeys are awfully convenient. Below them is the Hollow Tree where the Lost Boys live. They see Puss is chained up dangling from the tree while Peter Pan and the Lost Boys have him on trial. Puss has been caught stealing food and now Pan is going to pronounce sentence.
Smee is there representing Hook and the Pirates. He is asking Pan to turn the cat over to them. They will feed him to the crocodile and while the croc is distracted finally be able to escape from it for awhile.
Brian and Jenny swoop down proclaiming that they need Puss to tell them about their parents. The Lost Boys aren’t all that interested in parents and Pan gravely informs them that they’re in the wrong fairy tale. While Jenny keeps Pan distracted, Brian and June fly over to Puss, but they can’t release him until Crackle remembers the key he stole from Bubo which unlocks the chains. Puss promises them that he can lead them to their parents.
At that moment the pirates show up in their flying pirate ship. Hook is determined to get Puss by fair means or foul and a great battle between the pirates and the Lost Boys ensue. The pirate ship fires its cannon at the Hollow Tree, but Benny and June (being half dragon) fly around and use their flame breath to melt the cannon balls before they hit.
While Peter and Hook are dueling on the deck of the ship, Tinker Bell sneaks below. The pirate ship can fly because Hook has imprisoned a large number of fairies in great glass lanterns and their trapped magic is what keeps the ship floating. Tinker Bell releases the fairies and causes the ship to crash.
Most of the pirates were trapped under the wreckage of the ship, but Hook was thrown clear.
In the confusion Brian and Jenny escape with Puss on the backs of Benny and June flying up towards the star that will lead them home.
But Smee isn’t done. He manages to capture Tinker Bell in a sack, and using her trapped magic to fly, he flies after the children.
Hook sees his cat, the key to being free at last from the crocodile, escaping and begins to think many evil nasty thoughts. Everyone knows that Peter Pan can fly by thinking happy thoughts. We now discover that thinking evil nasty thoughts makes Hook happy. He begins to fly and chases after Smee.
The crocodile has been lurking in the water nearby. He has been enchanted to follow Hook where ever he goes. Since Hook is now flying up towards the stars, the Croc follows after him.
In the chase Brian gets confused and picks the wrong star. The ogre children riding on flying donkeys arrive in the sky above modern day New York. They are followed by Smee with Tinkerbell, Captain Hook thinking evil happy thoughts, and the ticking Crocodile.
We figure this would make a good pilot movie for a TV series on the Disney Channel. Each week, the children would crash through a different fairy tale until ultimately discovering what happened to Shrek and Fiona.
Featured Effect, Universalis and New Role Players:
This demo was run for a girl who was helping her parents out at a nearby booth and who’d come over to see what was going on at ours. She hadn’t really done any role-playing and at first was a little hesitant about how to start. This isn’t all that unusual in Universalis where the ability to “create anything” can be somewhat intimidating.
The routine I’d hit upon for running demos at GenCon was to introduce the mindset required for playing the game as imagining that all of the players are screen writers in Hollywood brainstorming up a script for a new movie or TV pilot. This proved effective overall at getting past the traditional GM and Player Characters division of most role-playing games. It also proved effective at getting non role-players to grasp the point of play quickly. Much more so than the typical “its like playing cops and robbers or cowboys and indians” text we often see.
In this case in particular it was a particularly effective approach. The player hit on a movie she liked, in this case Shrek, and we were off to the races. After the first couple of rounds around the table she had picked up the basic mechanics and was fully into the game throwing out ideas and plot twists with the best of us. She also quickly got the hang of the Challenge mechanics refusing to back down on the idea that Shrek and Fiona were dead or that Puss in Boots had killed them and skillfully getting other players to add their Coins to hers to defend it.
Its tempting to think that role-playing requires a higher than usual level of creativity and that non role-players don’t role-play because they’re not creative enough. But really, role-players hardly have a monopoly on interactive creativity. We just have an unusual way of applying structure and game rules to it. Often its that structure and those game rules that keep non role-players away from role-playing. That and the often unusual cultish culture that surrounds our hobby.
I’ve found Universalis to be especially appealing to non role-players because the structure of play is much more in line with what they consider a normal game structure; as opposed to the rather byzantine and somewhat opaque structure that has grown up around traditional RPGs.