Anyone who has played pen and paper role playing games for any amount of time will recognize this scenario: It’s night time. Five or six guys sit around a kitchen table, arguing loudly about the specific wording of an obscure rule. Half empty two-liters of soda and bags of chips litter the table along with scattered dice of various shapes and colors and loose piles of paper. Maybe there’s a map in the middle of the table with a few miniatures on it. This goes on for hours until everyone present is too tired to argue anymore and they shuffle home. It’s now 3 a.m. and no one involved really remembers why they keep doing this to themselves, other than some vague memory of fun, action filled gaming sessions from the past.
This doesn’t have to be your gaming life, especially if you are a parent. What I’m about to suggest may seem inconceivable, or maybe it’s something you’re already doing, but it will greatly improve your RPG life: Make gaming a family affair. There are a lot of great reasons to blend your hobby with your family life, and doing so will be good both for you and your kids.
Role playing games can be a fun family activity. Rather than letting your kids sit off in their own world, engrossed in solitary activities like video games, you can bring the entire family together for a session of collaborative story telling. The bottom line is that pen and paper role playing games are rewarding on many levels. The anticipation surrounding the random roll of the dice, the challenge of coming up with creative solutions to problems, and the satisfaction of overcoming obstacles and adversity. This enjoyable play is a great way to bring the family together.
Role playing games can be educative. The free-form game play of an RPG lends itself well to teaching a variety of important life lessons. It’s a great way to explore the concepts of decision making and consequence. It requires players to be active, sociable members of a group. You can incorporate math and language into the game as your kids learn the economics of earning money and using it to buy needed supplies. And, by encouraging your kids to get into a character, and really think about how that character would interact with and react to his or her environment, you’re teaching your kids how to be empathic toward others.
Kids have awesome imaginations. In many ways, life experience stunts the imagination of adults. Grown ups’ worldviews are shaped by their environment over time, and so sometimes adults’ imaginations are railroaded by their own notions of how life should work. Children are not necessarily burdened by this, and can be much more creative and imaginative than their elders. So, bring your child to the gaming table, present a scenario, and see how they would handle it. If nothing else, your kids will enhance the entertainment at the table as they come up with wild ideas that you would never have thought of, and maybe you’ll learn a little something in the process yourself.
Once you decide to include your kids in your role playing games, you’ll quickly recapture the excitement and magic that first brought you to games when you were a kid. They’ll bring a fresh perspective to the game and will enrich your family life.
The next thing to consider is which game to play.
The pen and paper role playing game has evolved much since Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson published their first edition of Dungeons and Dragons in 1974. It has grown from a simple extension of table-top war games to a broad landscape encompassing every imaginable genre — from fantasy to horror to science fiction and even historical reenactment. The rules for these games have also branched out like a factorial pattern of various degrees of difficulty, complexity and realism.
Gamer parents today probably grew up with classic systems like TSR’s Advanced Dungeons and Dragons, White Wolf’s storyteller system, or the myriad variants of GURPs and Palladium. But when it comes time to bring our children to the table, it becomes apparent that while these are all great systems, and a lot of fun, they really are written with an adult audience in mind. Whether due to mature content or just complex rules, parents may hesitate to introduce their younger kids to settings like World of Darkness or Rifts.
Fortunately, there are a wide range of fantastic games made specifically for children, and games that are simple enough that they can be tailored to be appropriate for your kids.
Here’s a short list to get you started, but feel free to search around on the Internet for more resources.
Mouse Guard RPG
Based on the award winning comic book series of the same name, Mouse Guard allows you and your kids to play members of the Mouse Guard, who defend their fellow mice from predators and other dangers of the wild. Intended for children aged 10+.
In this enchanting game for children aged 6+, you play a fae creature such as a sprite, a pooka, a pixie or a brownie. Faery’s Tale is based on classic faery mythology and features a simple, narrative based system that is easy for children to grasp.
This is a game your kids will really be able to identify with. In Meddling Kids, the players form a rag-tag group of mystery solving teenagers, a la Scooby Doo or any other Hanna-Barbera cartoon. This game lacks the violence of many other RPGs, and focuses more on the mystery solving element. Once you catch the bad guy, the police show up to take it from there.
Broomstix: The Harry Potter Roleplaying Game
Broomstix allows kids to start the game as first year students at Hogwarts, and then play through their advancement to full fledged witches and wizards while having adventures along the way. The Broomstix core rules are a whopping 15 pages long, so it won’t take hours to explain everything to you kids, and are available as a free PDF from Memento Mori games.
You might want to check out, Toon: The Role Playing Game as well.