Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Gaming with kids - part one

I thought I would share my thoughts and experiences of gaming with children, that is having players as children, not using them as some sort of miniature.

I'll start off by looking at rules, not specific ones, just a few general guidelines and what to look for from my experience.

I think there are two camps here, one is that with a competent GM the rules make no difference whatsoever. The second camp says that the rules should be simple enough to enable children to understand and play them.

I can see both viewpoints, in the past I have been a great GURPS fan (since I was about 15, give or take). I could easily give my kids a GURPS character and run them through an adventure. I'm sure they'd have a blast but I'm not sure they'd understand all the nuances of a rules heavy game (paticularly the maths which advances quite quickly in Secondary Schools here in the UK).

From the above it is probably clear that I fall into the second camp, that easier rules are better for kids. This may also be aligned with my move towards simpler systems, I'd say not, but you may see a natural bias.

To justify this decision I have the following comments.

First, character creation, a simple character is usually simpler to create (not always though!).

Children in my experience often suffer from analysis paralysis, give them too many choices and they find it really difficult to pick one option. On the other hand you want children to be able to express their ideas and so I find a simple list of skills, templates or archetypes (which includes classes) is often the way to go.

However simple character can also suffer from this paralysis, let's look at Risus.

Risus characters look very simple, usually 4 clichés arranged in the 'classic countdown', lets take Steinhoff as an example:

Northern barbarian of Kodran the Colourful's tribe exiled for flatulence [4]
Wine, women and song [3]
Outdoorsman [2]
Smart ass [1]

Now clearly I've made him as a comic character, but look at the variety of clichés. The first is extremely verbose, and the third and forth simple one/two word phrases.

It is the whole freeform nature of Risus characters that is difficult for those new to role-playing to grasp immediately in any meaningful way. This is why having a small skill list, or relying on an archetype, I believe is the ideal.

As my comparison I suggest Danger Patrol. I'll use the standard rules for now, players should choose a Style and a Role. This gives special abilities and the character's 'peak skill' which is represented with a d12 (all target numbers are 4). Players can then assign the other polyhedral dice to the remaining 7 Roles (that is d10, 2d8, 3d6 and a d4). This is simple enough to be done by anyone but still leaves room for player differentiation.

My second set of observations are on mechanics.

It doesn't always follow that a simple character means simple game mechanics, and I believe that mechanics need to be understandable, for example if everyone knows a static target number then they know whether they are succesful or not, and they can judge the probabilities better.

So, here take D&D, just for the record I have not played D&D since the 80s. D&D characters are fundamentally very simple, basically revolving around a single class (this ignores the added complications introduced later). I would never run D&D for my kids, Armour Classes, To hit modifiers, the whole panoply of thief rolls etc. either fail to make sense or are just complicated.

I can run fast and loose and spit out target numbers, sure, but why should I? Why not start with fast and loose in the first place? Will my kids grok the system whan I am spitting out 'you need a 12 to hit' and moments later 'give me a roll against 67%'? Ultimately I believe this means a simple core that varies little.

This is somewhere that games like Fudge could excel, the whole no numbers required aspect could be an incredible selling point but it seems to have never met this potential and is being overtaken by Fate.

I love Fate, it is very clever, but 3 seems to be adding unecessary complication and stunt based rule twists which seem to serve as things that get forgotten (at least to me).

Maybe at some point I could mould Fudge/Fate into a truly starter friendly version (yeah, like I have that time!).

This again is one of the reasons I picked Danger Patrol. Broken down to its core there exists a static target number of 4. In my adapted version I do away with the whole Danger mechanic, relying solely on the 8 Roles and a new, much simplified, damage mechanic borrowed from Fate 3/Cartoon Action Hour 2.

My next installment will look at that all important factor - fun!

Until next time Steve


  1. Thought provoking. I've flailed about for something to play with my kids that truly engages them. So far it's all pretty rules heavy.

  2. Stay tuned for my follow up posts, they are designed to get your kids engaged whatever the ruleset, but I think ruleset definitely helps to get the feel across.

    Something simple they can understand really gels with my kids.