About this project
Teagan read over the letter carefully. As she did, her eyes grew wide. This letter said that Teagan and her brother would turn blue if they didn't get an antidote, and that they might stay blue for a year or more!
"Look! You're already turning blue!" Cael pointed at the back of Teagan's neck. Sure enough, a blue dot was there, underneath her hair.
"You, too!" cried Teagan, looking at the blue splotch on Cael's arm.
They turned and looked at me. "Daddy, we need our capes!"
I nodded. "Get your capes. I'll start the car. We have no time to lose!" They scampered upstairs, and I read over the clue sheet again. I glanced over at Cheyenne. "You've got the bottle, right?"
She held up her purse. "Yep. As soon as we get to the mall, I'll go put it in a locker."
"Awesome. Just make sure the digits add up to seven." I heard the kids charging back down the stairs. Time for our Mall Adventure to begin!
Late-Breaking News! Get a card for your Mall-Adventuring Hero!
In my experience, kids love to get mail. So I added a new backer level: $10 gets you a card sent to a child of your choice thanking them for helping support Mall Adventures. You can also add $10 to an existing pledge and get this reward, in which case the card would say something like "Welcome to Mall Adventures!"
What is Mall Adventures?
Mall Adventures shows you how to build an interactive afternoon adventure, or mission, where the kids are the heroes who save the day, set at your local mall. The mission consists of an initial challenge, request, or clue that takes them to the local mall, followed by a set of age-appropriate challenges for the children to solve, all in the context of a story where the children are the stars. The challenges might consist of a series of riddles, a word search, a coded cipher, or an elaborate scavenger hunt. Upon successfully completing the challenges, the children finish the mission and are victorious!
Mall Adventures is a book that contains instructions for creating Mall Adventures tailored to the children in your life. The book includes suggestions for mission elements, such as puzzles, allies, and villains; how to tailor the story and difficulty level to individual children, suggested rewards and story challenges, and a framework for how to construct a story using these elements. Using the information in this book, you can set up an afternoon of engaging, active fun with a minimum of overhead, building an experience to remember with the kids in your life.
Anyone can make a Mall Adventure; it's not much different from telling a story to your kids. It just requires a little more preparation. Whether you're a parent, a big sibling, a babysitter, an aunt or uncle, a grandparent, or any other adult who wants to do something special with the kids, Mall Adventures provides an inexpensive and constantly evolving option.
A Mall Adventure takes between one and three hours to complete, on average (older children can handle more intricate missions), and are suitable for children of mixed ages and ability levels. Since the book focuses on helping you to design Mall Adventures for your kids, it provides a source of entertainment that can be revisited multiple times, without ever become repetitious.
Where Did Mall Adventures Come From?
In March 2012, my daughter was 8 and my son was a few months from 4. I picked them up from school, and I wanted something to do with them that didn't cost much and wasn't outdoors (because it was rainy and then became cold and rainy). I started thinking that we'd go to the zoo, but again, cold and rainy. I didn’t have a lot of money, so the movies were out, and I wanted something more interactive anyway.
I like playing with my kids. "Play," for those of us in the education field, is huge. We talk about "free play" or "unstructured play" - that's what happens when kids are just left to their own devices, sometimes with toys, sometimes not, to just imagine. When I was young, we played superheroes a lot. Kids play "house," they play "school," and they act out scenarios that they've seen or that they understand. The value of unstructured play to young children is immeasurable; I recommend reading this article, originally published in Scientific American, on the subject (careful, this opens a pdf).
But as children get older and they become able to process and understand more complex scenarios, their style of play likewise changes. And, as a longtime roleplayer and roleplaying game designer, I like to present my kids with puzzles and scenarios and see how they respond. I'm pretty good at thinking such things up on the fly (30 years of being a GM will do that!). So I figured we'd have a little game. You can read more about that game, and about a more recent Mall Adventure, at my blog here.
I use our Mall Adventures as a way to help both my kids work on skills that they’ll need for life: interacting with others, being observant about their surroundings, honing their reading skills, abstract thinking, and, above all, remembering that wearing capes in public is awesome.
What do the kids do on a Mall Adventure?
As mentioned, the specific nature of a given Mall Adventure depends on the kids in question. With my kids, I've created Mall Adventures that required them to find specific stores in the mall based on verbal cues, to interact with people at the mall (employees, security guards, etc.), to solve riddles using math, and even to create anagrams of store names.
Whatever the particular challenges, a Mall Adventure isn't a roleplaying game. The kids aren't playing characters, they are experiencing the Adventure as themselves, bringing their own knowledge and skills to bear as they solve whatever problem is presented to them. The problems are, of course, a bit fantastical (the mission letter that Teagan is reading from in the video required the kids to find a "magic elixir" that was necessary to stop them from turning blue!), but the solutions to the problem are rooted in the kids' abilities.
What will the book look like?
8.5 x 11, full-color, softcover, hopefully glossy print, but I can't commit to that until I get everything verified with the printer. Likewise, I'm not 100% on the page count yet (because that's going to depend on layout and words per page), but I'm guessing between 40 and 60 pages.
What's in the Book?
Mall Adventures will include everything you need to design your own Mall Adventure for your kids (or the kids you babysit, or your friends’ kids, or whatever your particular situation). It includes instructions and suggestions for making up the mission, creating and presenting materials, making sure that the puzzles and challenges you create are developmentally appropriate, and crafting the story for your kids to experience.
What do you mean, "developmentally appropriate?"
Different children have different needs and different abilities. Mall Adventures will help the adult in the equation to construct Missions for children of various stages of development. Younger children, for instance, might work on letter recognition, letter/sound correspondence, simple problem solving, social interaction, and basic observation. Older children can tackle anagrams, abstract thinking, words with multiple meanings, and "what if" style scenarios.
How do you know what's developmentally appropriate?
I'm a speech-language pathologist (also called a speech therapist) for the Cleveland Metropolitan School District. You might think of speech therapists as professionals who help children with difficulty saying certain sounds (the kid who says "wabbit" instead of "rabbit", for instance, might get speech therapy), but my practice actually deals more with language than speech. I work with a highly diverse caseload, including children with attention disorders, language delays, articulation disorders, and traumatic brain injury. I have students on the autism spectrum, students who stutter, and students with emotional problems. One of the (many) things that I have to be aware of to do my job is the developmental stages that children progress through, in terms of communication, but also in terms of cognition and learning. And if I'm ever confused, I just ask my mom.
No, seriously. My mother, though now retired, was a professor of early childhood education for many years, and holds a Doctorate of Education. She's a great resource for me as a professional and as a parent, and acted as a consultant on this project.
What is The Money For?
Mainly, it's for three things:
- Art. We've got some amazing artists lined up to do illustrations for this book, and you can see their bios and some examples of their work below. Part of the proceeds from this Kickstarter will go toward paying for their services.
- Layout. Likewise, we have to pay someone to put this book into a format that can then be printed! Our frequent collaborator, Eloy LaSanta, is doing layout for us, and we'll be paying him out of the Kickstarter proceeds.
- Shipping and printing. Once the book is done, we're going to print it so that we can sell it, and, of course, we'll start by shipping out copies to those Kickstarter backs who pledge for physical copies.
How is Shipping So Cheap!?
Veterans of Kickstarters, especially RPG Kickstarters, might notice that I'm not charging extra for shipping books internationally, but I am charging extra for shipping t-shirts. Why the difference? Well, that's because Growling Door Games uses a print-on-demand service called Lightning Source, through the One Book Shelf suite of websites (including Drive-Thru RPG; you can check them out at dtrpg.com). They have printing facilities in the USA and the UK, which means that if I have a copy of the book shipping directly to, say, Portugal, it doesn't charge me for shipping from my address, it charges me to ship from the closest printing facility. As such, as long as I'm shipping books and books only, I can do it directly from the printer and pass those savings along to you.
However, the facility I use to have t-shirts made is in Cleveland, Ohio (buy local!), and that means I have to pay normal rates to ship those, wherever they might be going. And, yes, international shipping rates have gone absolutely bazonkers over the past few years. As such, for the reward levels that include t-shirts, I have to charge extra. Sorry. I wish it were otherwise.
I've Heard Terrible Things about T-shirts with Kickstarters...
It's happened on occasion that a Kickstarter will promise t-shirts, hoodies, or other such products as stretch goals and try to deliver them to every backer. The production cost and the shipping costs quickly spiral out of control, and the whole thing becomes a big mess. There is, therefore, a pervasive attitude that "t-shirts = death", with regards to Kickstarters and projects like this.
Note, though, that our t-shirts aren't a stretch goal. They're part of the reward level system, and that allows me to know exactly how many I'll need. I've done the same thing for the previous two Kickstarters I've run, and those t-shirts were delivered to the backers that requested them with no problems or inconvenience to anyone.
In case you'd like to know what the t-shirts will look like, here's a picture:
These shirts are from an online "design your own shirt" service, while the ones we send to backers will be made by a local printing company, so there might be slight differences, but this is the design (logo by Jeremy Kostiew, by the way).
Who's Behind the Growling Door?
So glad you asked, hypothetical person!
Matthew McFarland, also known as BlackHat Matt, has been writing and developing roleplaying games professionally since 1998. Most of the work he has done has been for White Wolf Game Studio, where he contributed to almost all of their game lines (including both incarnations of the World of Darkness). He spent three years as lead developer for the Dark Ages game line, and wrote the Ennie-winning demo chronicles for Vampire: The Requiem and Mage: The Awakening. He is also the author of the free children's RPG, FirstFable. In Matt's day job, he is a speech-language pathologist for the Cleveland Metropolitan School District.
Michelle Lyons-McFarland has been working in roleplaying games since 2000, working in-house on lines such as Shadowrun, BattleTech, and Dungeons and Dragons and freelancing for companies from Green Ronin Publishing to White Wolf/Onyx Path Publishing. She has a particular interest in the overlap between games and education, bringing her two worlds together. She is currently pursuing a doctorate in English literature at Case Western Reserve University with the goal of becoming a professor and game designer — a lofty goal indeed.
Jenna Fowler is a freelance artist and illustrator living and working in the United States. For the past four years she has worked on numerous roleplaying games (including A Tragedy in Five Acts for Growling Door), helping to craft new and interesting worlds. Most of her artwork is created using digital techniques, all drawn by hand with Photoshop and a Tablet. She currently lives in Bristol, Tennessee with her husband, corgi, and manx cat. Check out her work at jennafowlerart.com.
Cleveland, OH native & current resident Lauren Chaikin is an illustrator and is rather fond of the job. She graduated with a BFA in 2009 from the Cleveland Institute of Art with a BFA, majoring in illustration and minoring in communication design. Currently she is self-studying visual development and character design for animation in an effort to make even more people happy. Mall Adventures is the first Growling Door Games property for which she's doing artwork; she also helped design GDG's ever-so-lovely logo. Let's be friends on the internet!
Melissa Gay is a critically-acclaimed artist of the Imaginative Realism style. Starting her career as a scientific illustrator doing ink drawings for botany manuals, she later used those same skills to do black and white line art for roleplaying games, her true passion. Her work has since appeared on the covers and the interiors of many games, books, magazines, academic publications, and even a tarot deck, and her original paintings are in the hands of private collectors around the world. Her roleplaying game credits include work on Freedom Flyer, an Echoes Of War adventure for the Firefly RPG, The Dresden Files RPG, the Crimeworld Fate Core supplement, HERO 6th edition, Fantasy HERO and its supplement The Book Of Dragons, Part-Time Gods and its upcoming supplements, Mermaid Adventures, Camp Myth, Psi-Punk, and the upcoming Elves of Uteria. Her speculative fiction book covers include Sara M. Harvey's Penemue trilogy (Apex Press), and HebrewPunk (Apex Press) and Jesus and the Eightfold Path (Immersion Press edition) for World Fantasy Award winning author Lavie Tidhar.
When he’s not working on his own products from Third Eye Games, like Part-Time Gods, Camp Myth: The RPG and the ENnie-Nominated Mermaid Adventures, Eloy Lasanta does expert freelance layout for other games like Mecha and A Tragedy in Five Acts. Eloy’s on board with Mall Adventures all the way and couldn’t be happier to be part of the team.
Risks and challenges
RISK: The project won't be completed on time (or at all).
--> This is Growling Door's third Kickstarter. Our other two Kickstarters were completed on time, and backers have received all of their rewards. In our first Kickstarter, curse the darkness, one stretch goal (the Companion book) took longer than I would have liked to complete and ship, due to the money from the initial Kickstarter not going as far as I thought it would, mainly due to shipping. Our second Kickstarter, for A Tragedy in Five Acts, we kept our stretch goal commitment minimal, with the result that the books shipped on time. We are constantly learning from our own experiences in publishing and from those of our friends and colleagues in the fields of game design. I can't promise there won't be a problem that delays or even cancels this project, but I can promise that it is extremely unlikely. We know what we're doing, and we keep our eyes on our goal.
With that said, Mall Adventures is a more ambitious project in some ways. It's in full color, and it's not the sort of project we usually publish. We're in some uncharted waters, here, but we're professionals, and (to continue the metaphor), we don't get in over our heads.
RISK: An artist or other professional will drop off the project.
--> The reality is that this kind of thing happens occasionally, in any field. The most professional of us can fall prey to illness, accident, or some other circumstance that requires us to leave a project. I have every confidence in Lauren, Melissa, Jenna, and Eloy - I've worked with three of them before, and I have good references for the third. However, should something unforeseen happen, Michelle and I have decades of experience and contacts between us, and I'm sure that we can find any replacements necessary. This might delay things, of course, but it won't cause any permanent problems.
RISK: Non-backers will have access to the book before backers.
--> The plan is to have this book ready for sale at GenCon, which is in mid-August. If that happens, backers will absolutely have the digital form of the book before anyone else. If we hit our timelines, physical copies of the book will ship out before GenCon, meaning backers should have their copies before the book goes on sale. However, if something goes screwy with printing and/or shipping, it MIGHT happen that the book goes on sale at GenCon before physical copies are shipped to backers.
This would be regrettable, but it is simply not feasible for us to have copies of the book and not sell them at a venue like GenCon. Growling Door does not, as of yet, sell books through traditional retail markets. We sell our books via print-on-demand and at conventions, and we cannot lose the revenue we gain at these conventions for the sake of exclusivity. Again, no matter what happens, backers will get the digital product before it goes on sale to the general public. That's a promise.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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