I don’t have kids. In my life, even as a kid, I have spent relatively little time around them. However, I believe that children are our future…or at least that the tabletop roleplaying hobby will not continue if we don’t make it fun and appealing for younger audiences. Additionally, my wife and I have folks in our social circles who have had children over the last few years, and some of them are reaching the age where they might enjoy aspects of the hobby. So, I figured I should probably try to get a handle on the idea of running games for kids.
To that end I looked around a bit and found a few games folks have made with children as the target age for players. No Thank You Evil and Starport were two that I gravitated toward. However, both are a touch pricey (Starport is listed at $25. for a slim softcover which is a bit much for me to put down on a game I have no idea about and No Thank You Evil is almost twice that for a boxed set). Though I might be willing to pay those prices for things I was more familiar with or more sure of, it just didn’t feel right for me at this time. Thankfully, I found Hero Kids by Justin Halliday, which is, if nothing else, a cheaper entry option. A print copy is only $12. from DriveThruRPG. There are a ton of PDF options, including lots of adventures. But I tend to be a fan of print material.
Hero Kids very much feels like a pre-Dungeons & Dragons for kids. This makes sense, as D&D is the biggest RPG out there, even though it’s not my preference. The setting, the characters, and the overall vibe feel very much like something meant to introduce youngsters to themes and concepts that will continue on into D&D if they choose to stick with the hobby. Mostly, the characters go out to explore dark woods and deep caves, fight goblins and skeletons, and gather cool items. I haven’t checked out any of the pre-written scenarios yet, so I’m not sure if maybe some of them focus a bit more on problem solving VS fighting. But the feeling that combat is the primary focus of the game was my biggest disappointment. I believe both the other games I mentioned are specifically about problem solving and doing things without violence, which I felt might be a bit more appropriate for younger kids. Characters don’t die, they’re just knocked out. And there is reference to the monsters “running away” instead of being killed. Still, I’m reminded of D&D’s penchant for carnage, which feels like a holdover from its pre-RPG, tabletop miniatures days. This game even features grid-style encounters, which generally encourage combat over problem solving.
As far as the rules go, they’re intended for ages 4 to 10. Again, I don’t have kids or much experience with them, so I don’t know if that’s really the right age, but I’ve seen some reviews that indicate it has worked for that range. The rules are meant to “grow” with the kids, too. You add some layers of complexity as the player ages and learns. On the whole, the system seems pretty good. It reminds me a little of some other games, like those using the Year Zero Engine (Tales from the Loop, Forbidden Lands, Alien, etc.). It’s basically just rolling some six sided dice and adding up the number of dice that come up to a high enough number. There’s some basic stuff about damage, armor, magic, and special items. But the mechanics of the game are meant to be straightforward and easy to use. I don’t love the use of icons to indicate objects and statistics, if only because making personal character sheets might be difficult if you’re not an artist (I’m not). But I believe there are a lot of PDF resources available for various things.
In spite of my misgivings about the emphasis on violence, I’m still hoping to give this a try at some point. I’m sure I can come up with some problems that can be solved by means other than bashing it with a sword. I will probably grab at least one of the premade modules just to see if that is addressed.
If you have run for younger kids, please let me know how it’s gone and what your take-aways have been. Do you have any specific advice?
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