Childlike Wonder: Gamemaster Tips from Earthbound

It’s goofy but I don’t mind ’cause it’s the
Kind of a great adventure you might find
In the heart
Of a child
Going wild!
Source:Brentalfloss’ Earthbound with Lyrics

I talked about Chrono Trigger as a game that gamemasters can learn things from when it comes to designing adventures, but there is a lot more great games to talk about out there and today I want to touch on Earthbound, second in a series of 3 games known as Mother in Japan.

Earthbound, as the lyrics of Brentalfloss’ song show, it is the sort of adventure kids would imagine themselves on, exploring the world and playing the hero as they go. The game’s boss fights would be against all sorts of weird things, like animated circus tent and vomit, as well as your own inner demons and even a cult leader.

The story shines in a lot of ways that you don’t see from a lot of games these days. For example,

There are points in Earthbound—like when you’re stuck inside the fantasy land of Magicant, forced to battle through a windy maze of excruciatingly difficult enemies without the three friends you’ve had for the hours before—when you might feel like throwing your controller at the television. That’s what Itoi wants, he told Nintendo president Satoru Iwata. He wants you to feel distraught.
Source:Kotaku: Trippiest Game In RPG History

The big thing I think from Shigesato Itoi’s design for the Earthbound series, called Mother in Japan, is that they take full advantage of the fact it was a video game to do things that you couldn’t elsewhere.

Some people consider Mother entries to be big scenario scripts rather than games. But that’s not quite right; they wouldn’t have been interesting at all if they hadn’t been in game form. That’s what they were made to be from the very start, after all. They wouldn’t have been much fun in text form only. In game form, they’re an amalgamation of the ridiculous ideas I sometimes have as a player.

For example, in the Lost Underworld area of [Earthbound], I portray the large size of the world by making the main characters very tiny. I would give these kinds of ideas to people at the workplace, and after a while of this, other people would start chiming in with other similar ideas of their own. Those links of reckless wildness are what the Mother games are built on.
Source:Kotaku: Trippiest Game In RPG History

This is a game where your main character, the player stand-in, will suffer from Homesickness if you haven’t called home in a while. That is something you don’t see happening elsewhere. Some ideas of Reckless Wildness can make a game very interesting or it can make it fall flat on its head if they are not used right in making the game interesting without being limited with a handicap. The homesickness would happen occasionally after a lengthy period of not speaking with your mother. You wouldn’t see this sort of thing in an RPG since these are all mighty heroes, right?

Also, what makes Earthbound such a lovable game is that it had all sorts of exploration with it. There was an article I read about Chrono Trigger, as you can see here, where you can see that the game builds up the suspense and tension as it throws you into two long dungeons in Magus’ Castle and then to Tyranno Lair. As soon as you finish that, you are let loose into the kingdom of Zeal to wander around and encounter new NPCs, story segments and non-dungeon treasures in a scale that had never been seen before in that game. You will see a lot of this in Earthbound as new segments open up for you after beating one boss section, sometimes to the point that you aren’t quite sure where you are supposed to be going since there is so much happening and so much going on that you could just explore out and get lost stumbling on various bits of story. Isn’t that a big part of what gaming should be about? Exploring the world and finding new things.

Essentially, Earthbound is a game where you get to explore all sorts of amazing and childish things, basically embracing your childhood for all it is and loving every minute of it. Replaying this game reminds me so much of the CBC kids show The Odyessy, which took place in the mind of a coma kid as he tried to find out what he was doing here and completing various objectives in his search, first to get to the Tower and then to find his father. You can see its intros for the 3 seasons here. I think one thing a gamemaster could learn from these is that it plays on the sense of heroicness, exploration, challenges, and the mythos we have in our minds as children, things that get replaced with work, bills, and things like that as we get older. We need to take a moment, look back on those days when we would do strange worlds in our mind as we would play with our toys and pretend with our friends and then we could incorporate that into our games. What reckless wildness can you throw into your tabletop game /because/ it is a tabletop game?

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