RPG Talk: Play with Your Kids

RPG Talk: Play with Your Kids
Category: (RPG) Advice
Last article published: 20 August 2018
This is the 66th post under this label
Because somebody asked and it somehow put that bit of Dan Bern's "Kids Prayer" in my head, the verse that includes the words "play with your kids", here I am talking about how to introduce role-playing games to your kids.

The short answer is that kids are smarter than most people think, and more imaginative than you are, so there's no special trick to it.

The longer answer isn't that different from how to introduce an adult to the hobby:

1. Play something that interests them. Kids consume an inordinate amount of genre fiction, through cartoons, toys, video games and, for the older ones, young adult books. RPGs are very genre-driven too. It should be easy to understand what their interests are and hook them into playing in a world they already know or understand the rules to.

2. Crunch is your enemy. New players, young and old, get bored if there's too much math in a game (unless every player is a math head, which is certainly possible, in which case, throw out this rule). Character generation and play both have to be smooth and quick. Crunch (heavier rule sets) can slow things down, and for new players, hearing "you can't do that" (a frequent corollary of crunch, for crunch is usually the ally of realism) is a Negative Play Experience. Games with less crunch can normally be counted on to be looser and more flexible. In the same basic category: Keep the game sessions short (90-150 minutes sounds good, but you could go shorter), so as to keep the energy and focus up.

3. Let them play. When I was a teenager running games, I was asked by the family patriarch to run one for the family by way of encouraging my hobbies. That family included my 6-year-old sister. She saw a picture of a winged Zephyr in my book and of course wanted to play that, and she dumped all her points in the Intelligence attribute even though she didn't have the maturity of any of the other players. I let her play it. Again, it's no use saying "you can't (or even shouldn't) do that". Make it work. You're the GM. In that case, I could give her more information than others, let her artificially draw conclusions. It's not like I know how to shoot a bow even if my character does. The mental stats are there to compensate for one's own weaknesses, even if it's not as satisfying as figuring out a puzzle oneself, or whatever. Let them pick a crazy race or class, and let them try crazy stunts during the game, and just change the rules to make those easier, or to match how they think it actually works.

Always remember this is an introduction. When they get more comfortable with gaming (or older), you can graduate to harder, crunchier games. And again, this is true of any new gamer regardless of age. But there are unique factors to consider when we play with pre-teens especially.

One of these is the role of violence. Many games are murderous indeed, with hit point attrition causing deaths even when you don't mean it. The easy fix is to make all damage the "bashing" type. There's fighting, but it leads to being knocked out. Kids don't need to see their PC killed any more than they need to be committing manslaughter all over the place. Non-sentient robots are also good opponents for that thrill of blowing stuff up. You've seen cartoons where there's no killing, right? Just adapt those tropes to your games.

That's not to say death can't be an element in a game. After all, if you're the parent in this story, GameMastering gives you excellent opportunities to teach life lessons through the games. What does death mean? What is fascism? Or just good old-fashioned educational bit where they learn about flora, fauna, culture, law, medicine, history, etc. through the game.

I'm not going to suggest any specific games because there are too many to account for and I don't feel particularly up to date. I hear good things about Hero Kids, for example, but my own touchstone might be Toon. Truth is, any game with easy-to-intermediate rules systems could work, and have the advantage of scaling up as the kids get older. Making the game's genre match their interests is a far more important concern, and then it's up to you and maintaining a positive attitude.

I'd be very interested on parents' insights on this topic. You know what the comments section is for.

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