Howardism Musings from my Awakening Dementia
My collected thoughts flamed by hubris
Home PageSend Comment

RPG Re-Introduction

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 parental attention.

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 printer.

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 continual upkeep.

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?

Tell others about this article:
Click here to submit this page to Stumble It