I am an involved dad. I help out at the local elementary and teach
my kids about the microscopic animals in the pond near our house.
After finishing our homework we often play games before bed.
And here has been the rub. When playing a game with my children, one
wins and everyone else looses. While I've been pretty good in the
past at coordinating the outcome of the games in order to alternate the winners,
the children are also competing for the scare resource of
While the near-constant scraps and barbs between my kids may
be good for their development, the escalating contention isn't good for my
sanity. What I want is family interaction where cooperation is
encouraged and winning is immaterial. Is that too much to ask?
That is when it dawned on me: role playing games. I was given a
copy of Dungeons and Dragons as a Xmas present when I was 12, and
loved the game, and something like that would be perfect for my
kids. Role playing games could be fun for my girl who is into stories
and characters, and of course the concept of destroying monsters
would appeal to my boy.
I'd like it because the kids would have to work together to solve the
puzzles and defeat the monstrous encounters. Oh, don't forget the
constant math associated with calculating attack bonus modifiers and
hit point loss. Yes, it would be perfect.
The challenge would be for me to stitch together a series of stories
with interesting characters for my daughter without loosing my boy's
interest in defeating goblins. Oh, and the rules shouldn't be too
difficult. I felt I could compensate for any complex rules… at least,
I thought I could.
I haven't played Dungeons and Dragons for many… many years. After
playing "AD&D", I moved on to GURPS and promptly forgot those rules.
I picked up a copy of D&D's "Basic" set, called the Red Box, since
it was the same sort of box I had as a kid. It was perfect, as
it walked me through the rules quite well.
The Red Box set came with "battle maps" where you could place tiny
disks with a picture of a monster or character on it, to keep track
of where everyone was. But this was hardly satisfactory for young
kids. Enter the Lego minifigs and other plastic toys. Not only did
I have an abundance of these, they were cuter and I felt they would
be more accessible than standard minatures.
The other change was The Internet. As a kid, I had to come up with
the adventures from my own imagination and drawing abilities. Now, I
could download PDF tiles and print them off on card stock on my inkjet
After getting everything ready, it was time to unleash the game on
these kids. I began with having them "build" a minifig to be their
character. Seeing what they came up with helped me come up with
technical details like class and equipment. I dropped the idea of
race for the first run… in their mind, all hereos were humans.
The power cards that came with the Red Box were a great idea. When
you use a daily magic spell, you just flipped the card over for the
rest of the "day". Easy way to keep track. However, the cards were too
wordy. So I entered simplified versions the powers, feats and spells
in a spreadsheet, and printed out some new cards.
The other thing I realized was that two many options seemed to
frustrate the kids. Sure, I could limit character abilities or even
the rules, but that wasn't quite the issue. When we played the kids just
needed to know what to roll "to hit". So, when I put the adventure
together, I anticipated what they would do and made up little
tables. Hit with an axe, was an 18 … Fire off a Magic Missile
needed a 15, etc. This helped keep the game moving.
The next discovery that helped was pre-building props out of Legos beforehand.
I didn't have to do everything, but building the door to the crypt,
along with the tomb (including the secret hole where a gem was hidden)
worked really well. They squealed with delight when I took the scarf off
the hidden area when they came to the enchanted graveyard.
As a kid compaigning with the other teenagers, I needed to come up
with fairly elaborate puzzles and traps. Not so for my under 12 age
group. A simple gas trap or arrows from the wall really excited them.
More than the story, the kids seemed to really enjoy the NPCs…
even more than the monsters. A wacky gnome who talked in a high
pitched voice brought out the smiles.
Did the role playing game get the kids to play better together?
Oh yeah. The next day found them talking about last night's game
and being best of friends.
What about the morality associated with torching a goblin community
in an ambush? Good question. I've read enough psychology articles on
the effects of video games and morality to realize that kids are
pretty good at separating behavior in a game or story from the
real world. That said, with the exception of the animated skeletons
(which Lego supplied us with in abundance), my monsters tend to not
be humans nor humanoid… unless I can have an excuse of having
the monsters attack first.
After running a few of these adventures, I tend to have more traps
and puzzles and less monsters. The problem with this approach is I
need to do more work beforehand. Yeah, after describing what I've
done so far, you're probably rolling your eyes when I mention the
But my kids are now addicted. They want to play every night. Sure
we only play an hour or so (we call it a "chapter" in our adventure
"book"), but I do need to drum up a lot of imagination.
Have you geeked out with your kids and have some ideas to offer?
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