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Gamer Tots – Making RPGs Kid Friendly

Written by Krys - Published on September 5, 2009

Gamer Tots – Making RPGs Kid Friendly

 All gamer boys and girls grow up some time, and when a gamer man and a gamer woman fall in love, they have a gamer baby. Unfortunately, many kids may not be ready to grasp all the rules. This article gives ideas and tips to simplify the rules and create adventures that work for your kids, allowing them to try DnD sooner and giving them a great way to express creativity and de-stress, just like us big kids.

Crunching the Numbers

 Making an RPG kid-friendly begins with the simplification of the stats. This can be as simple as doing away with the character sheet altogether, as Chatty DM dad does with his son Nico, and using rock paper scissors to determine the success of an action. As your child develops as a player, however, you may want to add in some dice, ability scores, AC, skills, and hit points. It takes a little time to convert your favorite game’s character sheets to a kid-friendly version, but once it’s done, you may find you prefer it as well because it makes for quicker combat and more opportunities to role-play.

I have some basic suggestions for each stat type that can be adapted for most RPGs. If it’s not working for yours, take the basic idea of the stat change method (reducing the steps to get the stat) and modify it for your own needs. As far as when a child is ready for character sheets and stats, there is no set age. Basically, when your child can add and subtract two-digit numbers, then they are ready. Generally (very generally – every child is unique, and numerous factors go into mathematical readiness), this age ranges from six- to nine-years-old.

 Hit Points

4E has already done the work for us on this one. Each class adds a specific number (10, 12, or 15) to the Constitution score. When leveling up, each class adds a specific number (4, 5, or 6) to the current Hit Points. However, you can always simplify this further by making every class have the same added number. I recommend taking the middle ground, with 12 as the original number added when creating the character and 5 as the number added at each level. Also, I add it to the simplified Body ability, but more on this later.

If your child is struggling with addition and subtraction, use 10 and 5 as the numbers. These are easier to add than other numbers. Also, you can choose to start out with a base HP of 25 for their characters, and add 5 at each level. Many children can count by fives in Kindergarten or even younger, so this formula works well for many kids.

 AC

 The simplification method I use for this stat is to start with the Body ability (we’re getting there) and add one point for each level. So if the Body ability starts at 15, at level one the kid PC would have an AC of 16. At level two they would have 17, level three 18, etc. Not only does this make a one-step method, but the child is simply “counting” the AC.

 I hear it now: “Time out, Krys, what about armor bonuses and modifiers and all that?” My answer is: throw it out, at least for now. When your child begins asking why the scale mail she’s wearing isn’t helping her any more than her brother’s leather, or Gamer Jr. can’t get why if he’s such a quick little Halfling the frost giant doesn’t get any negatives for trying to clobber him with the hammer, they’re ready for the big time. Switch to standard character sheets, and dive in to the armament shop.

 Abilities and Defenses

 Here’s where it gets a little trickier to simplify. I can think of numerous ways to look at these scores as reducible figures, and no one way will satisfy everyone. Please remember, the method I’m recommending is just one of many, and I’ll discuss some other points of view as I go over each.

 With this method, I’ve combined Defenses and Ability scores. Depending on your needs, this can be changed as well. I’ll cover the full method I use first, and then provide information on modifying it.

 With 4E in particular (although I believe this can also be used by most RPGs), I’ve reduced the six abilities to three: Body, Mind, and Spirit. It can get a little grey when we get into the original abilities that these three umbrella. Strength is a given for Body, and any related stats previously affected by Strength are now affected by Body. Constitution is the other Ability I tie to Body because it affects Hit Points, and I see this as a largely body-related stat.

 Intelligence and Dexterity are the stats I label “Mind”. Intelligence fits perfectly into a Mind ability label, but Dex is definitely arguable. Some would prefer Dex as a Body Ability since it involves movement. I call it a Mind ability for two reasons: (1) some part of your mind controls the ability to move quickly, and even if you are not a muscle-bound meat shield, you can still have good defense by being quick-witted and, lo and behold, dexterous; (2) it fits my idea of having two abilities merged.

 Lastly, Spirit is a combination of Wisdom and Charisma. Both really make sense to me to be in the Spirit category. Wisdom is an ability that can be seen in very young children, showing that it is not a learned (Mind) ability, but rather an innate (Spirit) ability. Charisma also fits this innate vs. learned definition.

 When creating the original scores, I recommend starting at 10 for each Ability and letting them add in another 10 points and dividing it up however they want (with advice from you in regards to what’s best for their class). Or you can just put two stats at 13 and the most important stat at 14.

 To simplify this even further, I make Body my Fortitude defense, Mind my Reflex, and Spirit my Willpower.  Here’s where it gets a little complicated. In 4E rules, the Defenses depend on the modifier of related Abilities, and of course ½ the level. Under the leveling up rules, Abilities level up once every four levels and are given no bonuses (although their modifiers are) based on the level number itself. What I’ve chosen to do is not use the related modifiers at this level, but instead give a full point per level for each Body, Mind, and Spirit. I do not use modifiers at all, as this method increases the modifiers far more quickly than needed. I’ll get into attack and damage bonuses and skills and how to accommodate for this later.

 Some other options for the Ability and Defense stats are to keep them separate and use modifiers for skills, attack, and damage bonuses. I still wouldn’t use them for Defense because it’s just easier to add 1 for each level than for the kid to figure out if the modifier’s changed again. If you use this method, level up the Defenses +1 at every level, and level up all three Abilities +1 every 4 levels. I recommend this method when the child starts wanting more complexity from the game.

 Yes, both of these methods will throw off the numbers slightly from the standard deviation, but it is still pretty slight and in the PC’s favor. When it comes to kids, it’s always better to give a little boost than make it more difficult for them.

Skills

Skills are pretty simple…training is still available because it’s a +5, and kids can count by fives at a fairly young age.  With my favored method, again modifiers are not used. Instead, give the kid a full point per level instead of a ½ point.

Also, I like reducing the number of skills as well. This also simplifies things once you begin using the modifiers. Athletics (which involves any kind of movement), Knowledge (covers all knowledge-related skills, including Heal), Thievery, Stealth, Perception (which also covers Insight), and Speech (covers all talking-related skills, including Streetwise, Diplomacy, Bluff and Intimidation) are the six skills I use for 4E when playing with kids.

Languages

Most kids can comprehend that some people don’t speak the same languages they do from their first day in school when they meet other children from different cultures. Our multi-lingual society makes it easy for children to grasp the fact that language can create barriers between different peoples. I recommend keeping these in the game.

Weapons

My advice is to let them pick whatever weapon they want and give a base damage of 1d6. When they begin questioning why a dagger does as much damage as a hammer, then go to the standard version. For attack and damage bonuses either give them 1 point per level or use the modifier, depending on the method you choose. The first method does give large bonuses at higher levels, but if it begins to seriously affect game play, adjust the monsters’ levels to something more challenging.

Keep the ranged pretty simple. You can count the squares if you want, or you can estimate and let them make reasonable shots at a target.

Powers/Prayers/Spells

With 4E much of the work has already been done. An additional option would be to give one new power at each level instead of giving the long list of options at certain levels. Pick something you think your kid will like and give them that. When they are older and have a better idea of game play rules, have them choose from the list.

Another consideration is to make daily powers encounter powers. It’s not really necessary, but it can help with really young kids to only have to comprehend two power types instead of three. I still keep the three types separate, but I do not generally make a distinction between Utility Powers and Attack Powers. I just call them all powers, and only differentiate by how often they can be used.

Feats

Just get rid of them. I always forget to use my feats anyway unless it’s something added in to my stats via Character Builder. This method also helps alleviate the additional bonuses due to the other changes, especially at higher levels.

Healing Surges

This is where some more difficult math comes into play because surges involve some basic division. However, there is a trick that most kids can grasp. You may have even seen this on your 3rd grader’s math homework when they must show their work.

Not long ago we were still using the memorization and draw the box and reverse multiplication and all that to learn to divide. Our teaching methods have improved quite a bit thanks to some very insightful mathematicians. Say we have 25 hit points and we want to figure out our healing surge. We could try to rack our brains to remember that 25 divided by 4 is 6 with a remainder of 1. Or we could draw four circles since we know that a healing surge is ¼ the total HP, and then put a line in each one and repeat until we get to 25. Check out this link to see an example. And yes, I did this myself. Do not, I repeat, DO NOT make fun of my (lack of) artistic ability.

The first circle will have seven lines, and the rest will have six. Explain to your child that this means that ¼ of 25 is somewhere between 6 and 7. We always round down, so the healing surge value is 6.

Another suggestion you might want to try is making healing surges standard, at-will actions but doing away with the second wind. Let the characters use them more often than once per encounter, and maybe you could even put a cap, say three uses per encounter instead of just one with the second wind.

Saving Throws and Death

I’m not a big fan of character death and TPKs, and I tend to do my best to keep the PCs alive, even in adult-only games. This has nothing to do with any beliefs on whether a kid should learn about death or anything like that. It really has more to do with the fact that I want my players to get to the next part of my campaign that I’ve worked so diligently on. One thing I recommend is giving out special healing tokens for good roleplaying that the kids can use to spend a healing surge while unconscious.

Don’t just give these out for any attempt at roleplaying, though, unless you’re trying to encourage the shyer kids to develop their rping skills. And I really wouldn’t do it for adult players at all. It’s actually pretty hard to die completely in Dnd 4E anyway, with rituals and saving throws and certain powers that can grant hit points to allies, even unconscious ones. I recommend using the saving throws as intended, but remind the other players of ways they can help their friends out while they are dying.

Magical Items and Other Equipment

I don’t use the standard magical items as written in 4E for kids. Generally, I just tell the kids that they found an item (such a brilliant sparkling gem set in a gold ring) and when they put it on they feel its effect (you can recall more information from your studies) and then give more detail about how they apply the bonus (+2 to their Knowledge Skill Bonus). You can do the same things with the specific magical items available through PHB, Adventurer’s Vault, etc., but I find that it gets the same reaction.

Action Points

Keep them. They give the kids a chance to practice strategy, and they don’t add much, if any, difficulty to the game.

Dice

Keep it simple at first. Use the d20 as written for the rules. Use the d6 for all attacks unless or until you include different levels of damage based on the weapon. 

Initiative

 I take the Sorry™ rule on this one: youngest goes first. When you want to get more complex, you can start rolling dice and adding in the initiative stat.

 Combat

 Get rid of all the status rules, combat advantage. Keep line-of-sight, but don’t over-complicate it. If they can see the monster through the trees, don’t bother with bonuses or penalties. No marks, nothing that would change the rolled number other than their base attack bonus or what’s allowed by the power.

 Speed

 Keep it at 6, regardless of other factors. Once they are ready for standard rules, switch to those.

 Monsters

 You can use the same basic rules for monsters, or just leave them the same and wing it during actual play.

 Adventures

 Go heavy on the story telling, and let the kid tell the story and develop it whenever possible. This is the players’ story, and keeping them as involved as possible in its progression is key whether you’re playing with kids or adults.

 This is by no means an exhaustive list of the ways to modify RPGs. What have you done to adapt the rules to help your kids get involved with role playing at a younger age? How did they work out? If you’ve tried out the methods mentioned here, how did it affect your game play?

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Written by Krys

Krys Underwood has been playing DnD for a couple years, and DMs most of her group’s campaigns. Krys is graduating from Texas A&M Commerce this spring and plans on teaching elementary kids. Krys is married with a six-year-old gamer girl and has been 21 years old for six years now.

Krys is the author of Scrolls of Destiny which is available at http://games.dungeonmastering.com/scrolls-of-destiny/.

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 Comments

14 Responses to “Gamer Tots – Making RPGs Kid Friendly”
  1. Cyric says:

    Hey Krys!

    Nice summery even for a dad who does not play 4th ed and thinks about starting with Basic D&D (Red Box). But your suggestions are all centered about the rules. Any hints about adventure design and the problem with “killing” as a more or less typical solution in an D&D adventure?

    Greetings
    cy

  2. The Reaper says:

    Wow…..If only there were also younger Magic The Gathering players, I’d be set!

  3. Yax says:

    I haven’t played MTG since the 90s! Did it really get that complicated?

  4. Krys says:

    To Reaper: My husband is the MTG player. It’s not my thing…I lose my cards everywhere.

    To Cyric: I’m not a big fan of violent endings (or beginnings…or middles, for that matter) for kids’ adventures. I like to focus on the problem-solving end – logic puzzles, riddles, and MacGyver-style escapes – anything that builds those higher-level thinking skills. I completely rip off Monkey Island, Nancy Drew, and similar games for my adventures. Make sure you give enough clues, especially for younger kids, though. If they receive a letter from a patron saying, “Enclosed is a rubber band, a paper clip, and a drinking straw. Please save my dog,” they will probably not get it.

    A free logic puzzle scroll in .doc format to whoever gets the quoted reference first.

    Yax – I don’t know how complex it was in the 90s, but I get confused just looking at the MTG cards now. Casey (the hubby) says, “Yes, especially the new powers – vigilance, fear, and the strike powers. I don’t remember those being in the original decks.”

    ~Krys~

  5. DandDGuy says:

    I happen to agree with “Cyric” on this Children should be learning DnD in it’s most basic and stripped down form which is dnd basic (red Box). However, Krys has made it a lot easier for children to understand the basic concepts of 4th Ed. It is also a good thing to shelter children form the violence of DnD and focus on the problem solving and lateral thinking and logic puzzles.

  6. DandDGuy says:

    Another Good RpG for children is called Mouse Guard it is based on a comic book and is the winner of the origins award and beat out DnD 4th ED which says a lot for this RPG.

    The Link is below if you all want to check it out.

    http://www.mouseguard.net/

  7. Cyric says:

    Hey Krys!

    Would be great to see such a blog entry complete focused on you problem solving / riddle approach for a kids game.

  8. Krys says:

    To Cyric: It’s in the works! Should have it out within the next few weeks.

    To DandDGuy: Sounds interesting. I’m ordering a copy to try out with my little gamer.

    Still waiting for a winner on the free puzzle scroll. Where’s the quote from in my earlier post?

    ~Krys~

  9. GroovyTaxi says:

    MacGyver? Nice article by the way. Too bad I would actually need kids to apply the tips given in there…

  10. keith says:

    the actual refrence is from family guy i think. also im going to try this out with my 5 year old she has been wanting to play dnd since she was 3.

  11. Krys says:

    Congrats, Keith! The website will link to my freebie puzzles page, and my email address is in the first freebie puzzle. Just email me, and I will email you back your puzzle prize (which is not a freebie puzzle and will be published in my logic puzzle pack later this year).

    Please let us know how the tips worked for your daughter!

    ~Krys~

  12. Krys says:

    Just click on my name next to my pic, and it links to the first freebie. Or follow this link:
    http://www.scribd.com/share/upload/15529083/1n6hahwcjwjcabw6ie89

    ~Krys~

  13. Ken Marable says:

    I’ve been playing with my kids (ages 6, 8, and 9) and they are handling 4e pretty well. I use the Character builder for PCs, so that helps immensely in guiding us through PC creation and leveling (which we do together). Sometimes my youngest needs help with picking what to do, but as they learn their PCs, it’s becoming easier.

    I have them rolling and doing the addition since my older two can add numbers in that range easily (even my youngest can, she just is a little slower and sometimes needs correction but we all know to be patient). It’s much better math practice than the big sheets of repetitive math problems they get for homework.

    As for the violence thing, hit points are so abstract already that there’s no reason that “0hp = death” for bad guys. I have them surrender or get knocked unconscious or trapped under a heavy object or in the mud pit/slime/etc. or whatever. Basically 0hp = “out of the fight”. At the end of the area (dungeon, bad guy’s home, whatever), I used to do a little hand-waving with “And you help the police get the bad guys to jail” but usually even that’s not needed. If you watch most kid action cartoons, typically the bad guys are defeated and the heroes go home. End of story. So the kids don’t really need every detail explained of what happened to those kobolds they fought. They are just happy to win the battle.

  14. Krys says:

    Great ideas on the violence issue, Ken!

    ~Krys~

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