I am a gamer at heart. I played a fair chunk of D&D in my teens but finding an adult group has always been a challenge. I don’t mean that it’s hard to find people who play D&D… there are quite a few groups. It’s the social dynamics of those public groups that can be, uh, challenging. Maybe there’s like a secret handshake to get through that part, and meet the adults. I will finish this thought by saying it’s been a solid 10 years since I’ve tried my hand in that pot, perhaps it has changed.
So it should be clear by now that I want to convert my kids to the concept of flexible gaming. D&D, pathfinder, what-have-you. The idea that with a loose framework of rules and a heavy dose of imagination, you can do whatever you want. There are two hills to climb here.
- The rules have to be simple enough for a child to understand them, and adapt them to a situation
- The setting must be relatable with a wiff of different so that their imaginations have a foundation to work from
Co-op boardgames generally make rule #1 extremely hard to manage. I’ve tried simplifying something like Descent, but there are just so many dice and so many things that it’s hard to do. Pure D&D (and ilk) have so many rules, and skills that it’s near impossible to keep track of. Has anyone read the compendiums lately? Seems like it needs a degree. I need simple.
As for setting, pure D&D is so high fantasy that everyone is farting fairy dust, lakes are made of silver, and there are more dragons than dogs. Space marines or tech-based does go a bit better, but the kids need to relate to the characters they are playing in order to see themselves as them, and apply a different level of reasoning. I’ll give an example in a bit.
There’s the unspoken issue of heavy combat vs. creative thinking. Syp is accurate that Hero Kids has a high focus on combat, but then again so does every other system. Combat is numeric and repetitive, a foundation for the rest. If you read a D&D book, 90% of it is about combat. It’s up to the Dungeon Master (DM) to be creative and add flair to the game.
Two Play Sessions, Same Adventure
The first adventure is the group entering a rat lair to find a kidnapped child. 5 maps, one boss, all rats. Map 4 is empty of enemies.
First session was with my 2 kids, 6 & 8. They picked a Brute (heavy melee) and a healer. They swatted some rats and at the first challenge (10ft vertical cliff) the healer used her magic to float up. She then used her staff, and the Brute’s strength to climb. Very little prodding needed for this, and they rolled very well. For Map 4, I wanted to put a chest in the pool in the corner. It was heavy and the needed to dive for it. A skeleton warrior appeared to protect it. They looked at the skeleton and found a weakness that caused it to fall apart. They kept going, took out the Rat king and saved the day.
Second session was with the 8 year old and my better half. My eldest has an engineer’s mind – direct and high retention. She remembered all the nuances, words, placements… everything. This time they took a warrior (sword & shield) and an archer (long hair like Rapunzel). That same 10ft cliff was harder to surmount. Only the archer could climb it, and the warrior couldn’t pull on the hair to climb up (poor rolls). They ended up working together and physically boosting the warrior up the wall. Map 4 was a lot different. I set 3 spider egg sacs in the main hall. Both of them just walked up, pushed them aside and boom – spider spawns. They were too close to the other sacs and had to backtrack. The chest wasn’t in the water this time, but behind some rocks. By looking this time, they could see there were more sacs around the chest and were able to avoid them. The Rat King room had a similar “observe before acting” test.
The first session was new to everyone, so there was a lot of creativity in what could happen on all our parts. My youngest was coming up with all sort of wild ideas (impressive mind you) to get through the challenges. My eldest was hard at work thinking her way through.
The second session was more challenging because the eldest thought she knew what to expect. My wife’s approach was even more practical, which made problem solving a challenge as there was a lack of general mysticism applied. (You use hair as a long distance attack – this isn’t Tuesday buying groceries.) It was neat to see them both work together at the end, and apply their strengths to the challenges.
I learned that I need to be nimble with challenges and approaches. “Design on the fly” if you will. That applying consequences to failed actions ins’t all about hit points – maybe it’s just a minor setback, or only a partial success. Like a bag of coins with a hole. Do it right, get all the coins. Make a mistake, half slip through.
Hero Kids works really well as a foundational game for the players characters in that early age group. If they’ve never played D&D before, even a 10 year old will have a good time. You just need a printer, some scissors, and about 4x 6-sided die. You could probably digitize all of it, but the physical media helps the kids get away from electronics.
The DM role is different. If you’ve never been a DM, you will likely find the role limiting as only being the bad guy as the adventure guides are short on suggestions. You need to read the guide and plan each map. Then throw out that plan after the first map because the players did something you didn’t expect. You are a guide to the adventure – and the main focus is getting them to have fun.
Read some blogs, watch some videos… and get creative. Maybe there’s a number puzzle lock on a chest. Maybe a song to be sung. Maybe a trade with a gnoll. Rock-paper-scissors. Googles to see ghosts. Shoes to make no sound. Snoring/blind troll. Potions of super strength. Anti-magic shields. Pets. Anything goes and long as everyone has a smile and wants to play again!