Roleplaying With (Little) Kids

Recently I started up a little role-playing game with my kids and wife. My daughter (who will often wander in after bedtime to illicitly greet my gaming friends on the computer screen) not long ago wanted to know if I’d play one of my games with her.

So I figured that meant that it was Time.

The two of us have played some storytelling card games together, and I’ve encouraged both the kids to tell stories, although making the leap to actual roleplaying was something I hadn’t decided to tackle yet. But she asked, and so we jumped.

I asked her to make up a character, she landed on Foxy the Fox, and she immediately asked her mother to play too. So my wife decides on Lucky the Rabbit, and then my son of course doesn’t want to be left out, and he makes up Terry the Dinosaur.

My daughter is 7, my son 5. My wife doesn’t “get” RPGs, but is amazing and encourages me to pursue my hobbies regardless.

Balancing these three players is an interesting DM challenge. My daughter is excited to play and focused, but has a limited attention span—an hour, tops. My wife is happily in it for the kids, but not intrinsically enthused about the whole thing. My son, who has Cerebral Palsy, is overwhelmingly excited to play with all of us, but is functionally younger than his age in some regards, and his attention will often wander. So on the fly, I tried to make up enough mechanical framework to play together without getting too complicated.

Character Generation

I came up with this list to define the characters:

  • An adjective.
  • Three skills. (One of the five senses and two others.)
  • A special ability or magic spell.
  • A method of attack/self-defense.

We cut some letter-sized cardstock in half for character sheets. My daughter drew portraits for each of them on one side, and I wrote their answers to the questions I asked about their characteristics on the back. Here are their stats:

Name: Foxy the Fox
Adjective: “Sly”
Skills: Seeing, Hiding, and Finding Things
Magic Spell: Can make plants grow, even in winter.
Attack: Makes a tree grow that grabs bad guys with its branches.

Name: Terry the Dinosaur
Adjective: “Scary”
Skills: Hearing, Climbing, and Roaring
Magic Spell: Make light
Attack: Giant Stomp

Name: Lucky the Rabbit
Adjective: “Lucky”
Skills: Hearing, Hiding, and Digging
Magic Spell: Can change the weather.
Attack: Big Kick

Task Resolution

Initially, I just grabbed an oversized d6 and had them roll against a (largely arbitrary) number, but I’ve recently realized that a little additional definition might be in order.

We’ve played a few times now, and I’ve decided that although I did a good job of coming up with character stats that work for us, the way I’ve been using die rolls (often the kids’ favorite part) has been lackluster, so I’m moving to a dice pool using standard 6-sided dice. (Because rolling a fistfull of d6s is one of the best things in gaming.)

Here’s an example of a simple task, digging a hole.

Condition Additional
Dice
Total
Dice
Any character can dig a hole.  – No roll
Any character can try to dig a hole quickly, or under difficult conditions. 1 1 die
A character with the skill Digging is better at digging. 1 2 dice
If two other characters pitch in, it’s even easier. 2 4 dice
If one of the helpers also has the skill Digging, that also helps. 1 5 dice
If the player describes how they do it using their adjective, that helps too. 1 6 dice

(Characters that are helping can’t use their adjectives to get more dice.)

Standard difficulties also help the game be more predictable:

  • Easy tasks have a target of 4. (Roll at least one 4, 5, or 6 to succeed.)
  • Normal tasks have a target of 5. (Roll at least one 5 or 6 to succeed.)
  • Hard tasks have a target of 6. (Roll at least one 6 to succeed.)

I like the dice pool idea because it sets up the possibility of additional complexity in the long term—counting successes, making 1s cancel successes, and so on. I’m also a big fan of how the mechanic has a built-in motivation to collaborate, because I’m a dad and that’s the kind of thing I want my kids to be enthusiastic about. It’s not a robust system, but it boils resolution down into a meaningful & flexible mechanic that the kids can understand, enjoy, & learn from. (“Can you find a five, buddy? How about a six?”)

I spent some time looking at various kid-focused systems, and took some recommendations from Twitter, but finally decided that this is the way to go for us, for now. Feel free to steal with both hands.

Let me know what you think—if there are any suggestions (or even better, happy experiences) I’d love to hear about them.

Keith

I've been gaming since before I could convince my parents it was okay to buy polyhedral dice, and have been all wrapped up in my own fantasy worlds ever since. I'm older now, and busier with life, but still make time to tell great stories with friends whenever I can.

3 thoughts on “Roleplaying With (Little) Kids

    1. I had read that one too—it’s pretty chock-full of good advice. However, it wasn’t the story part that I was struggling with, but the mechanical. Coming up with something that’s easy enough for the kids to wrap their heads around with just a little bit of baked-in learning proved beyond my google-fu, so I made it up.

      1. Well, props to you my friend! I think the counting dice mechanic works well – as long as the kiddos can read numbers. Otherwise maybe a coin flip or color-coded dice? Will you post the synopsis of your “home brew” game? Or just leave it in-house? I’m curious what kind of adventures the Fox, Rabbit, and Dinosaur can get themselves into.

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