Time for some mechanical dump about Children Who Play With Monsters and some more general musings.

Source Material
For the sake of disclosure, here are some of my influences, right off the bat:

  • How to Train Your Dragon
    Hiccup is possibly the Number One best example of Hang-Ups and Issues, as I have them conceived at the moment.
  • NeverEnding Story
    A good resource insofar as the relationship between Atreyu and Artax; and its hard to ignore the scene with a Racing Snail and a Bat used as a hang-glider.
  • Hook
    Especially useful for the scenes with Hook and Jack, and for seeing what the interaction between a Child and Parent might be like; another useful example of Issues.
  • Chronicles of Narnia
    To a degree, from what I’ve seen, the movie could be considered to apply with; at the least, I keep Narnia in mind as what it means to me: justifying Faith in a war-torn world, and that is an extremely strong Issue to me.
  • The Cat in the Hat
    I consider this my yardstick for a night of loose and fast play of Children Who Play With Monsters. If this can’t be replicated, then I’ve done something wrong.
  • Where the Wild Things Are
    The number one idea that exploded in my head when originally conceiving this, its influences can be seen, I think.
  • A Boy and his Blob
    A good level of adorable, an example of cooperation, and good to have in mind for how varied Monstrous Best Friends and the scope of campaigns can be.
  • Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom
    Another good level of adorable, and my personal ideal for the tone of a Children Who Play With Monsters campaign given how well it handles balancing the serious and the light-hearted; again, a good example of cooperation.
  • BioShock 2
    On here because I consider it an interesting example of Monster-heavy play, and also just how dark a campaign of Children Who Play With Monsters could get if one really wanted it; still, the interaction between Little Sisters and Delta is not to be ignored.
  • Homestuck (especially Hivebent)
    A popular multimedia story viewable online, it is ostensibly about children playing a game; it evolves (degenerates?) into children in far off lands catered to by helpful family spirits or Monstrous guardians, and the various issues and general failings to be expected of adolescents; recently the themes of growing up and lost innocence were specifically lamp-shaded and discussed by the characters themselves.

The Set-Up
In all of the resources I’ve examined, certain elements stand out and I consider them the set-pieces and concepts that fuel this style of storytelling. Across the board, in the stories about the Children who go on to play with Monsters, the ideal protagonists are immediately pre-pubescent to mid-adolescent in terms of physical and mental age: they are not yet capable of taking care of themselves, though they think but especially act otherwise to a typically heightened degree. Alternatively, they desire to act otherwise, and find themselves halted at every turn — leading into the next point.

The protagonist exists in a state of melancholy exacerbated by the actions of their parents or the dynamics of family interaction, wherein typically some element or desire is stifled through malicious action/benign neglect. This melancholy, as stated, is made worse by their home life but it typically is part of a vicious cycle that is birthed, fed into, and used as tinder by the negligible social life the Child (barely) has. Despite any efforts (and those that exist may be meager or full-hearted), the Protagonist does not connect to those around him, and will typically feel scorned and ostracized; beyond one or two mediocre friends, acquaintances, or next of kin, the protagonist is on their own and — it is vital to note — host to a sense of “benevolent selfishness.”

What is meant by this: though the Child is not a truly bad seed (yet), they do not necessarily put what is right or good for others before their own individual desires. This will lead to acts typical of a child reaching out to connect, such as acting out or testing of boundaries — and will lead to misbehaving, theft, violence, disrespect or other mild scenarios. However, overall the Child will act more out of a sense of ignorance for the well-being of friends, family members, strangers, and the community — rather than out of pettiness or more negative motivations. However, though not acting especially to harm those in their life, the Child will push them away and remain wanting in terms of relationships. These relationships, with their mutual give and take, are what are necessary to truly grow up.

From there, the protagonist will — almost always while or by acting out — find their way to a fantastic land and encounter their Monstrous Best Friend, but it is possible for it to not occur in that order. The Monstrous Best friend may appear first, and in fact serve as the guide into the mysterious world of adventure. What happens while there tends to consist of a harrying juxtaposition of light-hearted friendship, revelry, and wish-fulfillment tempered by scenes of sometimes exaggerated darkness, and the spotlighting of degenerated, stunted, or immature relationships and the bleakness surrounding them.

The protagonist will then, as a result of these excursions, grow enamored and complacent in the benevolent selfishness of their new adopted lifestyle (represented in media by scenes of plucky protagonists making plans to be best friends forever, before being told that they must leave soon). In this way, they risk growing worse or devolving into caricatures, or man-children (the titular Hook, or potentially the scenes immediately preceding the ending to the first Narnia film). There is no reconciliation, no value to any lessons learned, and usually no return to the family or the mundane world.

Or, as a happy ending, the Child will develop the capacity to regard others as they regard themself, and they will learn the lessons they were meant to learn from their excursion. Almost universally, this lesson justifies their own desire and avenue for self-fulfillment by making the object of the Child’s quest that one thing they’ve always held back — Faith, Imagination, and the like — while lifting the blame or fault from those dearest to the protagonist responsible for quashing their actions. If not this, the protagonist has simply received the tools to hold no otherwise justifiable grudges.

More recently, as I discussed elsewhere, the Death of Innocence has become a popular ending because of its strong tragic overtones and the sense of maturity attached to it. Typically, this will be deployed in fiction to showcase the Child’s own emotional shortcomings or relationship disconnect between them and others and more directly illustrate the harm that may come from it — it is almost always employed between the Child and their Monster, and no third-party. If the Death of Innocence is embodied by the Monster it is, like a true tragedy, the result of a hubris exhibited by the Child and it will be a hubris motivated by a self-interest that does not intentionally hold any malice. Should the Death be embodied by the death of the Child, it will almost always in fact be a sign of maturity, as it will occur in the defense of new and valued relationship.

What Does That Leave Us?
This leaves us with, in my opinion, the building blocks to understanding what is relevant to playing such a character in this set-up. In that spiel above there are the elements that contribute to a true story of Children Who Play With Monsters; the character traits, character motivations, the capacity for tragedy and comedy, for learning and loving. I’ve had some of the following in mind for a while, and some of this is motivated by having typed out The Set-Up above; I’m not going to bother to distinguish, I’m just going to go and let it rip.

All Children will have a Name. I am not really going to explain this.

All Children will have a Blurb, Concept, Type, or Profile. A short and sweet Two to Four word summary of their character.
Maybe other players will supply you with a couple of choice mean nicknames your Child has received, and you should jot those down so you know your kid’s self-image. Maybe you jot down “bookworm, library resident” and someone in your group shouts out “Four-Eyes.” He can do better than that.

All Children have a Hang-Up, Problem at Home, Squabble, or Disconnect. The point is, its something that tremendously impacts how they interact with the world around them, because it is what their home situation is, what their parents are teaching them, that kind of thing. It can be no art classes, no money, any of those things that sent you running to your room as a kid yourself. A Hang-Up is that moment when you come home from school, nose bleeding but stopped up miserably with tissues and your mom tells you she is so proud you didn’t swing back at the bully. That kid I just described, his Hang-Up is “Non-Violence,” “Won’t Protect Myself,” and the like. Your Hang-Up is going to color how you handle yourself, and it is going to create your Issue.

All Children have an Issue, Problem at School, or Dream. It’s that thing they want more than anything else at their age but they can’t have it. It could be wanting to be popular, wanting to have friends, wanting to have faith in God, just wanting to go to the bus stop without being tossed in the dumpster. It could be boredom, it could be just being a sour-puss. The point is, your Child’s Issue is only an issue because your Hang-Up makes it one; and you’re only hung up on your Hang-Up because you have an issue. Remember wanting to impress that girl who was really pretty back in 8th Grade, but you couldn’t speak with your fat lip from a sucker punch by the flagpole? Hang-Up, Issue, Issue, Hang-Up.

And as far as I am concerned, that is how you define a Child in Children Who Play With Monsters — no real use for numbers here, and part of that concerns me just a little bit, but I’m not too worried. Honestly, typing all this out has made me feel a lot better about it overall from where it has been percolating in my head and on my hard drive for a while now. Let’s leave it at this for now, given how long this post has gotten, and I’ll come back to it very soon to take a look at what all this means, how it relates to the Monster, and conflict resolution.

Please, leave comments and questions below! What do you think of my breakdown of “Monstrous Friendship” fiction? Again, I’m open to example that fit or break the mold as far as you may be concerned, and it’d be fun research. Share any thoughts regarding what you’ve read here, as far as what I’ve had to say about character creation so far as well.

As always, I can be reached for questions, comments, etc at alfred_rudzki[at]yahoo[dot]com. Thanks for reading!