In part 4 of the increasingly inaptly named 2-part series:
‘A Year in Family Gaming’
we conclude with the latest two roleplaying games we have tried out:
Both, as is evident from the titles, are clearly aimed at children. They have some common factors as a result — but are different in a variety of ways and fulfil very different roles in our family gaming.
In the interests of full disclosure (in case you haven’t read any of my previous articles and haven’t heard me repeatedly harping on about it) RpgGamerKids is the roleplaying game we (the RpgGamerFamily) developed to play the kind of game we like best.
Compared to many roleplaying games, it is free-form and allows (even encourages) wholesale rule-bending. This is a section of text from the introduction:
The rules are often vague. This is a deliberate choice to encourage imagination and cool storytelling. If there is any uncertainty about how things should work (which should happen very often), discuss as a group what the most exciting thing would be. This doesn’t always mean the most successful thing. It can be far more fun and exciting for things to go wrong!
This is a form of gaming which we as a family enjoy very much. I also enjoy a good adversarial-DM session of 1st edition D&D on occasion but, as a family gaming-group, this is what we default to. It leads to character skills such as:
Dodge all damage from one attack or be acrobatic in a cool or useful way.
We love this kind of skill because it allows the kids to come up with cool ideas and then have them happen! But it does require everyone playing to be on the same page and relies on the GM to keep an eye on which players/characters are getting the most spotlight-time. This is covered in the rules too:
GM means Gamesmaster. This is the person in charge of telling the story (often a grown-up). They tell the other players what their characters see and hear. They play the role of any creatures the players meet on their adventure.
The GM often has the last say on what happens and it is important to be fair. Younger children will probably enjoy succeeding most of the time and showing off their amazing powers. Older children, teenagers and grown-ups will probably prefer to be challenged. However challenging you choose to make the adventure, be consistent and give everyone a chance to shine.
As any GM knows, the devil is in the detail and it can be difficult to keep track of everything that’s going on. When I am GM, I cope with this by doing very little planning! This frees me up to listen to the players so that I can run with their ideas as much as possible.
In comparison, Hero Kids RPG has a much more traditional feel. The introductory adventure in the rulebook involves going into a basement and fighting rats. (This is a deliberately tongue-in-cheek homage to old-skool gaming).
Before we played our first Hero Kids adventure, I had the pleasure of interviewing creator Justin Halliday for RpgGamerDad Podcast. I had already read through the rules and was very impressed but I was even more impressed after talking to Justin himself.
Conventional wisdom on gaming with kids has it that kids have enormous imaginations and automatically come up with awesome roleplaying gold without needing any guidance or steering. This has not been my experience and Justin outlined the exact reasons why you can’t just get a bunch of kids together and say ‘Right, use your massive imaginations. Ready, steady, go!’
To paraphrase, he said that roleplaying has many conventions and expectations that are so ingrained in adults that it is difficult for us to realise that they aren’t natural for children. Hero Kids guides children through this process with a series of increasingly involved stages. The following is a shortened summary of the description of this in the Hero Kids core rules. The full version is well worth a read:
Hero Kids can be played as a quick and simple single encounter skirmish game, a multi-encounter delve, an adventure with combat, exploration, and role-playingor even as a proper campaign with persistent heroes, a plot, and a wider world to explore.
Skirmish: A handful of heroes tackle a group of monsters in a pure tactical challenge that requires good teamwork and strategy to overcome.
Delve: Delves are short combat-oriented adventures that string together a handful of encounters as a quick adventure.
Exploration: When the players are ready to branch out beyond just combat encounters, you can progressively introduce various exploration elements to the game:
Role-Playing: Players can use their heroes’ appearance and characteristics to determine how they act or speak. A good place to start would be a simple conversation between our heroes and the quest-giver at the start of an adventure to tease out important information.
We played a relatively advanced Hero Kids adventure with plenty of scope for roleplaying. It is called ‘Curse of the Shadow Walkers’ and I would recommend it.
Given how relaxed and free-form much of our gaming is as a family, it was nice to sit down with a module that dictates the action in a more traditional way (think D&D as compared to Fate). The kids found it quite refreshing not to have to come up with new ideas all the time – although there was some confusion in the combat scene. They attempted to avoid fighting by coming up with outlandish schemes – as they always do – and were a bit surprised when I basically said:
‘No, the wolves come crashing through the window and are about to attack you. Run or fight!’
But I am repeatedly on record saying that there is room for all types of gaming and I make no value judgement on what is ‘the best way’ here. Personally, I find that a great deal of variety is usually ‘the best way’ for me!
Overall, what I like about both systems is what they have in common: they are founded on a great deal of experimentation and observation of how kids behave at the gaming table – what they enjoy and what they can achieve. Both systems have a strong ethos of encouraging positive and creative elements of this.
Of course, when it comes to RpgGamerKids I am entirely biased – but I can say that our kids absolutely love it. But I’m not at all biased at all about Hero Kids – and am very happy to report that our kids love it just as much. So, check out both games if you get a chance.