Children as players in roleplaying games

A father GMs for his wife and children, two daughters, all of whom are sitting around a table covered with Dungeons and Dragons paraphernalia.A friend of mine recently posted a link to an article about playing D&D with your kids. It was short, but had some interesting points. In particular, there was the part in which the author described a gaming session with his group that includes some parents who’d brought their children to the game. In this particular session, the three-year-old daughter of one of his fellow players was having fun with his miniatures. He states,

…as I was explaining what each monster was she began to ignore me and make up her own names and stories for them all. I smiled and played along with her. As we played however, I noticed that this was really kick starting her imagination. Stories of strange beasts and dragons with giant spiders as pets…

I don’t have any children. My wife and I have chosen a different life path for ourselves. But I know several gamers who do have children. John Trobare, whom I interviewed recently, has a few, and he plays board games with them all the time. I don’t know if he’s ever tried to get them into roleplaying. But I have known other parents who have.

As the above quote indicates, children have boundless imagination. The referenced article says that this is an asset for roleplaying games. He also points out that for people new to the hobby, the smallest of treasures becomes a wonder. It’s like a real-life version of strip 151 of the Order of the Stick, particularly when Haley says, ‘I remember how it is when you’re new. Everything is kobolds and copper pieces, and you get excited over a potion of barkskin. Good times.’ As the author of the article states, ‘Suddenly a +1 sword isn’t cool, its a wonder! That dumb goblin isn’t mundane, he is a strange threat.’

But I find myself wondering if D&D is really the best game to use in introducing children as new players to roleplaying. Not just in terms of complicated rules, but in the game’s tone and dynamics. If we refer back to the Lawsian Gamer Types, then we can say that D&D strongly appeals to Power Gamers, Butt Kickers, and Tacticians. With the unbridled imagination and unfettered creativity that most children have, wouldn’t it be better to start them off with games that cater to Storyteller (or perhaps even Method Actor) gamer types?

I’ve held forth at some length in the past about my personal favourite rpg: Changeling: the Dreaming, but even without my biased opinion, it seems like a perfect game for children. Especially since the game emphasises children as characters and wellsprings of Glamour; one of the decisions you must make during character creation in Changeling is what ‘seeming’ your character is; this is a general gauge of the character’s age. Childlings are usually between the ages of 6 and 12, and start play with the highest Glamour and lowest Banality ratings (though they also start with the lowest Willpower scores).

In case you’re wondering, Wilders are the middle seeming, from ages 12 to 25, with balanced scores in Glamour, Willpower, and Banality. Grumps are the elders of the Changeling world, being those above 25 in age, and having the highest Willpower but the highest Banality and lowest Glamour ratings.

Especially if the game moves into the Dreaming, where anything that people dream exists if even for a short time, the limitless imagination of children is a wellspring of ideas. If the GM is stumped, he can just turn to the nearest 6-year-old and say, ‘What’s over that hill?’ No matter what the child says, the GM can’t say, ‘That wouldn’t exist!’ Because in the Dreaming, it can!

But even if we look for other games to play with children, there are so many possibilities. Another excellent option is Little Fears, in which characters are children between the ages of 6 and 12. After a child reaches his thirteenth birthday, he loses the ability to perceive the monsters of Closetland, creatures who feed off the innocence and purity of the young. In this game, because adults have forgotten about Closetland and its threats, children must rely on themselves to fight off these dangers. From an adult perspective, this game may seem too dark and frightening for children, but if GMed correctly, it will become more like Neil Gaiman’s book Coraline which, according to the author, ‘children experienced as an adventure, but which gave adults nightmares.’ Children aren’t always predisposed to view gloomy things the same way as grown-ups. Even some adults can retain at least a portion of that mindset; that which some people see as spooky is comforting and welcoming to me. I find abandoned buildings to be very intriguing; they have a charm and beauty like no other place. Children will likely not be terrified by Little Fears (there are, of course, exceptions; all parents should use their own judgement in deciding whether to introduce their kids to this game).

But even in a game that doesn’t feature or focus on children, playing games that foster creativity, imagination, mathematical ability, spatial reasoning, teamwork, planning, and/or goal-setting cannot be a bad thing. Especially if you use games with imaginative settings, like Shadowrun, playing roleplaying games with your children can be an excellent way to help them develop skills that will be beneficial to their long-term well being, and allow you to have fun bonding with your offspring at the same time! For that matter, it doesn’t even need to by your own progeny. You may find that playing games with other people’s children can be just as rewarding!

Something about which to think, at any rate. I’ll see you back here next week, and until then,

Game on!

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J was introduced to tabletop roleplaying games in high school, where he found that he enjoyed telling epic stories through the medium of games. Since then, he has only grown more fond of games, and is now an active supporter of his local board game cafe. He's been blogging about games at gamingdork.blogspot.com for a while, and is even working on play testing his own original RPG. He lives in Oklahoma with his wife, a cat, and two rats.

About J

J was introduced to tabletop roleplaying games in high school, where he found that he enjoyed telling epic stories through the medium of games. Since then, he has only grown more fond of games, and is now an active supporter of his local board game cafe. He's been blogging about games at gamingdork.blogspot.com for a while, and is even working on play testing his own original RPG. He lives in Oklahoma with his wife, a cat, and two rats.
  • Jewelfox

    I’d just like to note that I really like Fate Accelerated Edition (FAE) as a starter role-playing game. The rulebook is almost pocket-sized, around 40 pages long, and costs $5; IIRC, Evil Hat actually gave away a bunch of the books and sets of Fate dice (you can use normal d6’es as well) to a kid trying to start up a roleplaying club at their middle school.

    You can also check out the rules free online at the Fate SRD. The writing seems very accessible and kid-friendly, and the game rules seem like they’d empower kids to roleplay out any story they liked. “Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple” is a cool example of a (potentially) Fate-powered game tailored to kids.