How old does a child have to be to play a role-playing game? I know of children who’ve started role-playing at the ripe old age of three and a half. My rule of thumb is that if a child can read numbers up to ten, and follow a bedtime story that lasts 20 minutes, then they’re ready.
But making that first game a success is still a challenge. Here are five ways to make sure that first game is memorable for both of you.
#1 Keep cool
For you, your kids first adventure might feel like a very big deal. They’re about to join you in your favorite hobby. If this goes well you’ll have a shared love that will last you for the rest of your lives. A joint gateway to your favorite fictional worlds and real life pastimes. And that’s great. But don’t tell them, it’ll only confuse them.
Tell your child you want to play a game, together with them, and that it’s going to be fun. Tell them they’re going to get to roll those cool dice you have. Give them the dice. Tell them that you’re going to make up a story together and they can be the hero. Kids love it when their parents want to spend time with them, and they can tell when you’re really looking forward to it. That’s going to be enough.
#2 Keep it small
For grown-ups a role-playing game usually means a Dungeon Master and four or more people sitting round a table with snacks and drinks. For your child’s first game keep it small. Just you, and them. Running a game for a child is different to running one for grown ups, and you don’t want to be distracted by friends, toilet breaks and the inevitable moments when attention drifts as the spotlight lands on another player. So for the first time out, don’t invite friends over, this is for you, and your children.
#3 Say yes to their ideas
The promise of a role-playing game is that you can be anything you want to be. So when your child says they want to be a pirate, with their own ship, a pet tiger and a crew of fifty ferocious cat-pirates you say yes. If you’ve been imagining the game as a classic fantasy quest to slay a dragon and they tell you they want to be a caped superhero with a laser-gun, you say yes.
Kids don’t know about genres or rules. Their first game is not a time to tell them what they can’t do, it’s a time to reward their imagination. And remember, with just one or two players you don’t need to worry about game balance at all.
#4 Take them where they want to go
Whatever your child came up with in character generation, make sure they get to show it off in their first adventure. The pirate ship has to sail, to fire it’s cannon and to race another pirate ship. The pet tiger has to growl and eat a bad guy. The fifty ferocious cat pirates have to do ferocious feline things. Make sure your child’s hero gets to be the hero they imagined them as.
#5 Make the ending awesome
Make sure your child’s first ever role-playing game features an epic ending. Face to face with the villain on a cliff edge as the counter ticks toward zero; returning the stolen jewels to the temple moments before sunset while pursued by ghosts; wrestling the controls of the star-ship from the pirate moments before it crashes into the sun. That kind of epic.
If your child’s first experience of role-playing delivers on these five things, I think you’ll have a gamer for life.
And if you’d like to give this a go, I’d like to recommend the Amazing Tales role-playing game. I wrote it to play with my daughter when she was just four years old, and since then it’s been enjoyed by thousands of families around the world.