I started playing pen and paper role-playing games with my daughter when she was four. I started with my son at the same age. Five years later here are some tips and tricks the kids have taught me…
1. Create the characters, then create the world
One of my son’s earliest, and most successful character creations was King Tyrannosneak. He’s a giant, robot ninja tyrannosaurus with four arms. But giant ninja robot dinosaurs don’t fit into lots of stories, and so we also had to think about where he lived.
King Tyrannosneak lives on a planet made of metal with lava seas. It’s inhabited exclusively by robot dinosaurs, many of whom graze on the solar panel trees. It’s an awesome place to have adventures.
When we game as adults we often build our characters to fit into a world. “This is a game about outcasts trying to make it on the fringes of a hi-tech society” or “You are all part of an adventurers guild, competing for contracts to retrieve treasure”. But it’s completely viable to do things the other way around. “Who do you want to be today?” and “What kind of world do they live in?” are good questions for kicking off a game.
2. Get right to the action
When she was little my daughter got scared easily, so I had to be careful to keep her adventures child friendly. Nothing is worse than a player stopping because they’re frightened on behalf of their character.
So I was surprised when at the start of a game she announced the following happening to Princess Melody, the in game best friend of her character Fairy Rose.
“And then an evil tree grabs princess Melody and traps her inside it”
This was strong stuff for a four year old’s game. So I checked she was sure about it, and received these words of wisdom in reply.
“Daddy, it’s a story and things have to happen in a story”
And I think that’s an important point. We’re all familiar with the moments where games slow right down. It could be when the characters go shopping. It could be describing the logistics of guarding their camp. It could be the thief’s determination to steal something from the market ‘just because’. Gaming with my kids has made me more inclined to push through that stuff and get straight to the bit where stuff happens. Because as four year olds know, things have to happen in a story.
3. Follow the players’ energy
Some games with my kids take fifteen minutes. And they’re brilliant. And some games with my kids take two hours. And they can be brilliant too. Kids are pretty easy to read when it comes to judging their energy levels and attention span, and that makes it a lot easier to peg the game to their mood, rather than the other way around.
With my kids I don’t ever add an encounter because I’m worried the game will finish early. And if the energy is flagging then I wrap things up quickly, rather than try and work through whatever plot I had in mind.
With adult groups it’s much more common to think in terms of ‘This is our night for gaming, we need to fill it’ or ‘We are going to play through this module as written’ while ignoring the dynamics at the table. If everyone’s tired cut things short. If everyone is super interested in that one side quest, well, let it grow and do the rest next week. Don’t push too hard to get things back to the ‘proper’ plot.
4. Half a puzzle is enough
Puzzles have been a part of role-playing games since the beginning, but thinking up a good one is hard. But maybe you don’t have to. Describe a problem and let your kids brainstorm solutions till they come up with one that makes you think ‘yes, that’ll work’.
My kids’ characters encountered a magical tower with a locked door. Outside the door a series of shapes were carved into a stone, each inlaid with a different colour. I described the shapes, the pattern they were in and so on, to provide plenty of room for ideas, but it was the pattern the kids latched on to.
“We have to find things in matching colours for each of the shapes!”
“What have we got that’s yellow?”
And that was enough. They spent five minutes finding things in all the available colours and, of course, it worked.
Will this work for adults? I wouldn’t make an improvised puzzle like this the showcase of an investigation scenario, but for improvised play, why not?
5. Let the cool stuff work
“A creature made of shadow emerges from the darkness and attacks you”
“I fight it with my shadow! You know, the shadow of my sword”
My son came up with that plan in the time it took you to read it. I instantly dropped any thoughts I’d had about the use of fire, or sunlight, or magical weapons. Of course the best way to fight a shadow creature was with the shadow of a weapon.
Would I have been so quick to let that work in a game for grown ups? In all honesty I might not have been. And I think that would have been a mistake.
Introducing Amazing Tales
The game I came up with to play with my kids is called Amazing Tales. Over the years we refined it, wrote it up, and worked with the amazing illustrator Iris Maertens to make it look, well, amazing. Amazing Tales features
- Rules so simple a four year old can explain them to you
- Four complete settings for Amazing Tales
- 28 pages of full colour illustrations
- 40 story seeds – ideas to get an adventure started
If you’d like to try out Amazing Tales there are a number of ways to get it. If you want to support your local games store ask them to order a copy via Studio 2 Publishing.
You can also
- Buy a hardback book directly from Studio 2
- Buy a hardback book from Amazon
- Buy the PDF from DriveThruRPG
Amazing Tales was DriveThruRPG’s best selling family title in 2018, with over 5000 copies sold.