I find a blank piece of paper and a pen are essential tools for roleplaying with kids. It starts with deciding what their heroes will be – at age four my daughter was clear that her heroes would have long hair and carry a picnic basket. Only once I’d drawn these essential features onto the page would she consider lesser questions – such as could her hero do magic, or fight monsters?
As adventures unfolded drawing the various hazards and encounters was both a way to explain them and a way to remember what had already happened. Ogres with big pointy teeth, robots with telescopic arms, pirate islands with volcanoes and jungles, all brought to life with a quick sketch, drawn as I describe the situation.
I’ve also made plenty of use of Dora the Explorer style maps. If you haven’t seen the show in every episode of Dora she learns that she needs to go somewhere. To get there she needs to pass three different locations. All these points are recorded on a map for her. This is a great way of structuring a story. Plus when you’ve drawn the map you can hand it to your children and a little bit of your story enters the real world.
I can draw a bit, not as well as the amazing Iris who illustrated Amazing Tales, but if I draw an object you’ll probably know what it is. And if I practice drawing something, or copy it from somewhere it’ll be even more recognisable. Back when my daughter was young I learned to draw a lot of Disney princesses (and let me tell you, their waists are freakishly narrow). But the quality doesn’t really matter. What matters is that there’s something on paper that your kids can use to understand the story you’re making up with them.
So, here are some simple things anyone can draw to make an adventure easier. (And remember, these line drawings always look better if you draw with a nice black marker)
A stick man is easy. Give him a pointy hat and he’s a wizard. Add butterfly wings for a fairy. Add a skirt and a sword for a warrior princess. Robots are just boxes, aliens can look like lots of things, but mine tend to look like floating octopuses.
Terrain is also easy to draw. Mountains are triangles, volcanoes are mountains with a curvy line at the top instead of a peak. The sea is a wavy line. Trees are like lollipop sticks. A sea, a curved line, a volcano and some trees is an island packed with adventure. Castles are just boxes.
If you take a look at the ‘Read Amazing Tales‘ section of this website you can read some of the adventures I had with my kids, and you can see the sketches I made as we went. Often after a game I’ll hand the sketch over to be coloured in.
If you have a few minutes before a game starts the internet is a great source of sketching advice. After the first King Tyranosneak adventure which featured some truly terribly proportioned dinos I googled ‘how to draw dinosaurs’ and found this handy resource.
As my kids got older and more confident in their own drawing they started asking to draw things themselves. Especially their own characters. Now this can slow down an adventure, but I think the only way to answer the question ‘Can I draw this’ is to say ‘Yes!’. Don’t be grumpy because the climax to the epic adventure you’ve been crafting has just been delayed – ask your kids questions about what they’re drawing and work the answers into whatever comes next.
Ships, fat monsters, scary trees, rocket ships, flying saucers, witches, super heroes and sea serpents. All easy to draw.