30 March 2021
Join us as we explore a few good ways to get kids into RPGs
Words by Christopher John Eggett
Getting younger members of the family into roleplaying games early is a goal for gaming parents everywhere. Join us as we explore a few good ways to get kids into RPGs with No Thank You, Evil! Creator Shanna Germain, Young Adventurer’s Guide writer Jim Zub, and Russ Charles and Richard August the creators of Animal Adventures.
Bringing young people in your life into the world of tabletop games, especially RPGs, sometimes feels like an important public duty. If you’re like me, then you might feel like you missed out on opportunities as a child by not having a lot of roleplaying games around you. And ensuring you’re the cool aunt, uncle, and possibly parent, running a few of these games seems like an exciting way to share your hobby.
But not all games are suitable for children, and we don’t mean the simple fact that Call of Cthulhu is too scary, or that Zweihander includes too many ways to lose your head. The simple maths and probability of an RPG like Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition, however streamlined it is, is going to be a bit much for younger players.
With that in mind, we’ve gathered together a few of our favourite ways of getting little tabletop gamers rolling dice as soon as possible.
No Thank You, Evil!
Shanna Germain tells us what’s so good about RPGs for kids anyway.
No Thank You, Evil! Is probably the earliest point someone can start introducing roleplaying games to kids. Shanna Germain, co-founder of Monte Cook Games and creator of No Thank You, Evil! Takes us on a tour of the magical world of Storia.
“The idea is that kids can get to Storia from their bedrooms,” says Germain, “It’s divided up into different section. So there’s a section of story that’s called ‘In The Closet’. If you go there you might end up in a fairytale world, or you might end up in this like weird sci-fi futuristic world, full of race cars and UFO crashes. And then there’s an older section under the bed. That’s for older kids who want ‘scary’ or more dramatic games. There’s wizards and hauntings and ghosts and stuff like that in that section. Each section has a different feel. And what that allows you to do is choose for the different kinds of interests your players have and their ages, and make sure that it’s appropriate.”
“We wanted to create a game that allowed you to play with kids of all different ages, because we suspected that what parents would find useful was not, ‘Hey, we’re going to have five seven-year-olds over,’ but ‘we have a nine-year-old and seven-year-old and a five-year-old and we need something for them to do,’” says Germain, “Our original idea from the beginning ‘was how do we create a game that’s actually for families?’ And the goal of creating the setting was if a kid thinks it can happen, it can happen.”
The system is fairly rules light, we a lot of emphasis on roleplay and getting good responses from your young adventurers.
“Next we figured out how high do kids want to count before it’s no longer fun? The game is designed with very little math, although there’s a bit, right? Because you’ve got to teach on the sly, like a Ninja,” says Germain, “so they roll the dive to do everything and there’s some stats. My favourite stat is called ‘be awesome’ and you have to help someone else. So anytime you play from your awesome stat, you’re helping someone else in the game have fun, or to accomplish something.”
The awesome stat is something players can ‘spend’ to help one another. On top of this, everyone has a companion in the game, designed as a prop or NPC to help players navigate the adventure. This includes simple ‘care’ actions for the companion, to helping out players in a sticky situation. Companions can be anything, and are often represented by a toy of their choosing.
“We tried to make it really easy for them to say yes to kids,” says Germain, “and we decided that in designing the game, if we imagine the kids were playing in a room full of puppies, we had to be cooler and more fun than the puppies. And I don’t know that we succeeded, but that was our goal.”
The story behind where the name of the game came from is also a delight, “one of our co-owners, Charles, had a young daughter at the time, she’s a teenager now. And they were in a store and she saw a superhero movie on the store TV, and she said, ‘what are they doing?’ And he said to her, ‘they’re fighting evil.’ she had been learning in school to say ‘no, thank you’ to things that she didn’t want. And so she just yelled in the middle of the store – ‘No thank you, Evil!’ And we thought that would make such a great name for a kid’s game.” says Germain, laughing, “we wanted to create a game specifically for kids, but even more so for families.”
One of the barriers for getting younger players into roleplaying games is the fact that the GM might be inexperienced. The book has a whole section detailing how first time GMs should take up the mantle of guides. Of course, doing it right isn’t the most important part of the game, “for beginners the rules are less important than the experience,” says Germain.
All of this is premised on the idea that games are good for kids, so we asked Germain why that is, “Games are good for kids. The same reason they’re good for adults, right? They teach us empathy and understanding and compassion, you know, they teach us how to build stories. Obviously I’m biased, but I believe stories are so important to humanity and culture and community.”
Four tips for getting kids into RPGs
1 “Exhibiting passion and allowing children to see that is always a really good way to get them interested”
2 “One of the things about getting kids to play is like having a lot of empathy about what it’s like to be a kid at that space.”
3 “Before you get to the table, create an experience, like a letter from a character from a different world.”
4 “Make it easy. And by that, I mean, lower all the barriers. If your kid doesn’t like to read, then don’t make that be the thing that they have to do. Because those things kind of happen naturally and through time.”
Young Adventurer’s Guides
Sneaking Dungeons & Dragons into bedtime stories with Jim Zub
Jim Zub can usually be found writing comics like Uncanny Avengers for Marvel, but he’s also been creating a great way for parents to slip a bit of Dungeons & Dragons lore into their young one’s life, in the form of the D&D Young Adventurer’s Guides.
“Roleplaying games like Dungeons & Dragons have been a huge part of my life and career, so I’m incredibly proud to have developed the D&D Young Adventurer’s Guides,” says Zub, “they’re a rules-free introductions to the precepts of roleplaying. Each guide breaks down the core ingredients of character, setting and conflict in D&D to teach new players about the role they’re going to play and how to build their own creative stories in these fantasy worlds.”
These books are exactly the kind of bestiaries and spell grimoires that young players can peruse for their own entertainment, while also learning the basics of RPGs.
“I think a lot of experienced Dungeons Masters and players forget how intimidating tabletop RPGs can be for people who haven’t played before,” says Zub “these guides lay out the major concepts in a way anyone can understand and encourages them to create their own stories. Readers can use the material in these books to brainstorm a character and imagine their role in an adventuring party.”
One of the smartest moves in the books, which are lovingly put together across five volumes, the prompts section of each entry.
“A lot of the material in the Young Adventurer’s Guides is built around prompts to get the reader thinking about what they’d do in specific situations. It shows them that there’s a lot more to D&D than just combat and that the more creative they are, the more possibilities will open up during the game,” says Zub, “the ‘Do This/Don’t Do This’ sections of Monsters & Creatures and Beasts & Behemoths is a perfect example of that. They’re ideas about how to interact with creatures and strategies for dealing with them, but they’re framed quite broadly so it doesn’t close off all avenues or become a ‘one size fits all’ solution. We’ve received a lot of positive feedback about that in particular, with even experienced players saying how helpful some of those were and DMs telling us that it reminded them to switch up how creatures react and some of the non-combat possibilities as well.”
Zub got into roleplaying early, which naturally helps with creating these guides – and shows us all the value of roleplaying from a young age.
“I started playing D&D with my older brother and cousins when I was eight years old. As the youngest at the table, the game really brought a lot out of me and gave me the confidence to speak my mind. It had a massive positive effect on my creativity and desire to entertain others with my stories.”
Five Tips for Young Adventurers
1 Don’t overwhelm new players with options. Keep choices at the start simple and straight forward, then introduce more complexity bit by bit during the game.
2 The few quests should be straight forward in terms of motivation – people need to be saved, an object needs to be recovered, things like that. Having a clear through line is crucial so players don’t become stuck in terms of what to do next.
3 Don’t railroad players into one course of action or one way of solving a problem. Just because the overall quest is clear doesn’t mean you should close off their creativity in terms of how they approach it.
4 Describe your scenes using more than just visuals; What do characters hear? What does something smell like? A bit of extra sensory description can go a long way to getting people involved and invested in your game.
5 The Rule of Cool - If your players want to do something and it’s fun and cool, let it happen. Everyone’s entertainment is far more important than a strict application of the rules.
Teaching young pups new tricks with Russ Charles and Richard August
RPG box sets and starter sets are becoming more popular, but when it comes down to getting the most out of first games, adding a bit of physicality can really help. That’s is of course, where Steamforged come in, with Russ Charles (the creator of Animal Adventures and lead sculptor) and Richard August (Steamforged’s RPG writer) give us paws for thought when it comes to dungeon diving.
Animal Adventures is a fantasy tabletop roleplaying game of heroic cats and dogs, and with the release of the Starter Set, GM’s have a way to get people playing a stripped back version of Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition with minimal effort.
We asked the designers who the game is for exactly? “We have a large community of players of all ages. Seasoned players looking for a fresh take on D&D and new players alike find the idea of playing as a dog or cat very accessible. And It certainly works for younger players. The starter set even more so, as it was built around ‘instant accessibility’ and completeness,” say the designers.
The starter set contains lovely miniatures, as well at stat sheets, and adventure and even a map.
“Our starter set is deliberately intended to feel bright, friendly and welcoming, and to introduce rules and RPG concepts simply and easily. The familiarity of a dog or cat compared to, for example, a tiefling or goliath, certainly gives us a unique opportunity to encourage people to take the RPG plunge,” say the designers, “bringing new players into the hobby is one of the greatest joys and also greatest challenges faced by existing players. We all want to share the fun, excitement and epic memories that we get from RPG, but the combination of rules and lore can seem a little intimidating for new players.”
Accessibility is important, and the team has removed as many barriers as they can “the set contains a lot of material that supports completely novice players – in fact we had a lot of discussions about how much we wanted to cover the very basic ideas of dice rolling and modifiers to rolls.”
The world lends itself naturally too, “the presentation of the set, with bright colours, easy to follow examples and fun illustrations, makes it feel ‘child friendly’. In fact, we drew a lot of inspiration from Pixar studios, who are masterful at creating movies that speak to children without compromising story telling of depth and impact. As a lighter toned adventure, the stakes don’t feel too threatening and whilst the heroes may experience danger, the players should feel safe and supported by the set.”
Specifically speaking about playing RPGs with kids, the designers offer this advice, “Focus on story and character and place them at the centre of the action. Give them real and meaningful choices and show them how the rules support creativity. Be prepared to walk them through a few examples of decision making so they can understand the scope of the freedom they have – then be ready for some ideas and actions that you would never expect.”
“Children come with no burden of expectation and bring some really fresh ideas to the table. If you take the time to support them, don’t overwhelm them with too much info to start and introduce rules, abilities, even equipment, in the content of discovering their use through the story and the game, then everyone should have a blast. Oh, and when playing NPCs – especially villains– with children, there is no such thing as too much over acting.”
This feature originally appeared in Issue 50 of Tabletop Gaming. Pick up the latest issue of the UK's fastest-growing gaming magazine in print or digital here or subscribe to make sure you never miss another issue.
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