I’m a dad who plays RPGs. Even if that sentence is the only thing you know about me, you can probably guess how eager I was to introduce my kids to my hobby. I myself started playing RPGs around the age of 11. There was no way my kids were going to wait that long.
I could have gone for a kid-friendly RPG such as No Thank You, Evil!, but I don’t have the time and money to routinely learn new games. I did have a copy of the Pathfinder Beginner Box and a pair of kids who couldn’t read but who loved the idea of delving into a dungeon.
It’s been more than a year since my kids played their first actual tabletop RPG. Character concepts included a zombie and a princess. The group ultimately slew a dragon. Much fun was had, and I learned a few things about introducing kids into the world of tabletop RPGs.
Rules Don’t Have to be Visible
At the time they played their first game, my kids had very little in the way of math skills beyond counting. Naturally, making them roll a Will save while factoring in elven resistance to enchantments plus the effects of a mind fog spell while shaken would have been too tall an order.
Luckily, at the low levels we were working with, I didn’t need to include all those effects. The math stayed behind the GM screen, so everything from their perspective boiled down to, “Roll a d20 and get X or higher.” In later games, we added one modifier so they could practice basic addition.
This took the complexity away and turned the session into a familiar game of “let’s pretend.” The only difference is that their characters sometimes failed at a task. Revealing the rules gradually also allowed for the building of some math skills – the more advanced they got, the more numbers they could crunch.
The Fewer Restrictions, the Better
Restrictions on what paths the PCs can take are for video games, not the tabletop. Naturally, there have to be some boundaries to keep the game challenging and give the GM time to think, but a default answer of “Yes” or “Yes, if you roll high enough” works better than saying “No.”
My daughter played a princess kicked people. By the rules, that only does 1d3 nonlethal damage. But those rules are there to reflect situations where a PC doesn’t have a weapon. If her character was built to use a longsword but she chooses to kick people instead, why not let her kicks deal 1d8 damage?
Rules are helpful in RPGs, but it’s worth looking at why a certain rule is in place and how it serves your group. If enemies got an attack of opportunity every time the princess tried to kick them, I’d wind up with a crying daughter and no game. Princess Kicks-A-Lot is much more fun.
Expect the Unexpected
Young or old, new players tend to come up with solutions that a seasoned gamer doesn’t expect. They don’t know the physics of the setting, which them to try things that people familiar with the rules wouldn’t consider. Personally, I think the game is more fun if those new things have a decent success rate.
When dealing with a giant spider, my son tried to negotiate his way past the creature. By the rules, spiders have no Intelligence score and so aren’t open to negotiation. Since I liked that he was going for a peaceful approach, I let him make a Diplomacy check and the spider became friendly.
This turned out handy later on when the spider came back to help the PCs in the climactic battle against a black dragon. It arguably made the fight too easy, but my son loved that he turned the tide, and I’ve never heard players complain that I didn’t kill off enough PCs.
The Bottom Line
Most RPG starter sets come with a recommended age group of 10 and up, or close to it. I think this is really more from a reading comprehension level. If you like gaming and you’re comfortable fudging rules once in a while, there’s no reason you can’t bring kids into the hobby. In the end, it’s just a game of make-believe, but played out at a table instead of in the backyard.
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