Actual Play – Boxcar Children #134: Mystery of the Sunken Submarine (7/20/2013)

FAE-Bookcover_300x450GM: Sean Nittner
Players: Geoff McCool, and three awesome kids (including mine)
System: Fate Accelerated
Variations: YP Game

Game Description (for Good Omens Con)

When the Aldens arrive on the coast for a summer vacation, nobody expects to find bits of an old submarine washing up on the shore. How did it get there, and what does it mean?

This is a Young Players game. All ages welcome.

Prepping to run for the Boxcar Kids

My 10 year old, who is really well versed in Boxcar Chilren helped me make all of the characters. They were really simple, which appealed to me for this game. For instance, each one had a high concept like Friendly Kid, Curious Kid, etc. Watch, being the watchdog, had the concept “Quick-witted Dog”. Their troubles were a bit more varied, but even they were pretty simple “Easily Distracted” and “Always Hungry”, for example.

Also, we talked about the approaches, we also decided that two approaches really needed to be folded into the existing ones. The kids solve mysteries by being inquisitive, friendly, and tenacious. Inquisitive was already covered well enough by Cleverly (and sometimes Carefully), but we wanted the others to have  home. We decided that Friendly was a part of Flashily, and that Tenaciously was a part of Forcefully (an more appropriate than the typical use Forcefully in).

So, some though was necessary, but no major tweaks or hacks for the game.

Writing a Mystery

I realized that I boxed myself into a corner here. I don’t usually write mystery games. My experience with them is that they usually feel (both as the GM and player) that the characters must be led around by their nose and that any true discovery is generally tangential to the core plot/mystery.

Yet, there it was, my game submitted with people sign up to play it and my own daughters telling me how excited the where about it. So, a mystery was needed.

I decided to have two sets of people involved here. Legitimate/Complicated authorities and Villains. The authorities were good guys, but would have some kind of catch that made them obstacles. The villains appeared to be good guys (or authorities) but have a less than honorable motivation.

I came up with this: Treasure Hunters wanting to look a submarine (which was miraculously sunken not far off the coast of a beach) before the officials found it. Their cover up, which was also the first clue for the kids, and the prompt to action was pretending that their had been a chemical spill and using that excuse to close the beach. Issues for the game: “Sunken Treasure” and “Beach Closed”.

What blew me away was how much we were able to build off just that. I just kept asking myself (or asking the kids, or having them ask me) questions about how this would work. Some of those questions were before the game started (like, if someone is going to shut down the beach they probably work for the County, so one of the villains is a Hazmat employee of the county… oooh, better yet, she’s a ex-employee who’s down on her luck and filling out fake paperwork posing as her old position).  Most of them, however were asked and answered in play.

Character Selection

We made the character half-baked. They had high concept, trouble, approaches, and one stunt. This still left room for two more stunts (or more by buying down refresh) and a couple more aspects.

Since FAE is so simple, and most of the players (my kids included) were familiar enough with it, we started playing within the first 30 minutes of our time slot. Record timing!


The play ins the thing

TL;DW (Too Long; Didn’t Write) My two kids plus two others played Jessie, Violet, Benny, and Watch on an adventure to uncover two miscreants trying to steal treasure from a long forgotten submarine! Good times.

What I loved the most was how the kids were both adventurous and brave, while still being kids. We didn’t have a single fight in the game, but we did create aspects like “Newspaper Article” and “Secret Swimsuit”.

Geoff wrote me after the game:

I just wanted to say thanks again for running yesterday.  I kept having these visions during the game that if “normal”, older, risk-taking gamers were playing the game (playing the kid characters) they would be trying to use the old/new diving equipment to find the sunken treasure.  Then I imagined real kids, yours or mine, actually donning the equipment or boating alone out in the Pacific and trying not to panic.  Good times…

I really liked that.. The were brave, but not careless, and they solved problems by being friendly and curious, not by hurting people or taking things that weren’t theirs. Pretty damn cool.


Nobody took stress in the game, in fact if I run a Boxcar Children game again, I’ll remove the stress track and just have consequences (which is what I effectively did in play). There was one consequence however, and I really liked how it turned out.

Late at night the Jessie and Watch snuck into a cave where they knew the villains were hiding an inflatable raft and diving gear that they had been taking out to explore the submarine. The tide was up however, which meant that had to get wet. For Watch, this wasn’t a problem, but the water was really cold and so although Jessie did it, there was a cost.

After the scene, I told the player (who happened to be my 8 year old daughter) that the water had been really cold, and she might have gotten sick from being in it. She rolled her Tenaciousness (Forcefully) vs. the Water’s cold and missed the roll by two. I had her take a mild consequence of the “The Sniffles” from her late night swimming in the Pacific.

She took this with a smile, and later played up her sniffles, which was a lot of fun. Still though, I think she got the idea that some things can have consequences, and I like to think there was a certain learning moment there as well. The upside of course being that her sacrifice was worth it, as they found the sunken submarine, and the villains trying to rob it’s treasures.

Thoughts on the game

I was worried about filling up four hours. As it turns out, the kids threw me so many twists and turns that we finished up just in time.

I found it really easy to make up things for this game, way more so that for other games, because embracing American classics was baked into the setting. We had characters like Sandy Fairweather, Moe Hollander, Col. Maurice Acres (Moe’s great-great Uncle). The names were almost comical (especially Sandy, a park ranger spending all her time inspecting the beach), but it never detracted from the game. They were appropriate, not a pun or farce.

As mentioned above it was great that the kids were super adventurous while still being kids. And I never had to tell them to step back from the gonzo, they knew it intuitively.

Kids tend to be very forgiving. A submarine from the 1930s sunk off the coast of Santa Cruz??? Yeah, there was a couple plot holes there I could have fixed with a bit less making it up and a bit more Wikipedia, but even when we all realized something didn’t make sense we either edited the detail or folded it in to the “mystery”.

Prep for this game was four characters, two issues, and about an hour of asking myself questions. That was great!







3 thoughts on “Actual Play – Boxcar Children #134: Mystery of the Sunken Submarine (7/20/2013)”

  1. OK, I love that. I love that a lot. I had never really thought of using the Boxcar Children as an adventure series before. Now I need to go look through all my old books.

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