Roleplaying for Young Players?
July 6, 2017 1:52 PM   Subscribe

My 6 year old son has expressed interest in playing a tabletop game. Help!

I have a respectable amount of experience playing roleplaying games in my youth. I've always wanted to run a game but my social anxiety has made that impossible In the past and even playing was generally not enjoyable for me no matter how much I like it in theory. He's a 6 year old boy who has a great head for math and loves storytelling and Minecraft, but has struggled with reading so far.

I've looked into different roleplaying systems, especially ones aimed at younger players, but at this point I'm trying to stick to free options. Thanks to Friends at the Table I've been looking at Stars without Number and even rolled up a character with him, but thus far it's been difficult keeping him reigned in and focused on specific scenarios in short test-runs. I admit he's probably too young to make a real go of it, but this seems like a great opportunity to encourage him to pursue reading and math, and it would probably be good for me too.

While we're at it, I asked my wife if she wanted to participate, figuring we could model tabletop behavior to her, but she scoffed at what she sees as the nerdiest of pursuits. Personally I think she'd like it if she gave it a chance, and she enjoys other "nerdy" activities like playing video games, n
watching Anime and Korean dramas.

So, what I'm looking for: Suggestions for free games that suit younger players (ones with a sci-fi bent preferred). Suggestions for how to make games more accessible to younger players, like cards or other feelies. Stories of anyone else successfully running games with younger kids/spouses.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (18 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
I think 6 is too young for a real "system" of any kind. I'd do a simple "let's-pretend" sort of game with the bare minimum of mechanics, like just a single d6, on which a 3,4,5,6 is a success at whatever thing is being attempted. Perhaps also a small stack of coins or beads for hit points.
posted by 4th number at 1:58 PM on July 6, 2017 [2 favorites]

Not free, and not really what you're looking for, but Mice and Mystics is a rpg-ish, with a scripted story that many people have spoken of playing with children of about that age.


(I'm using it as a gateway drug to full on RPGs for my 32 year old girlfriend).
posted by booooooze at 2:28 PM on July 6, 2017 [5 favorites]

I started my 7 seven year old daughter off with a really simplified version of 5th edition D&D. I bought the starter set, which is quite good, but it is too complex for her. So I instead made a very simple "module" of my own--children missing from a wealthy family's house, turned into frogs by a mildly threatening but ultimately foolish wizard. Series of tunnels and caves under the house, rooms with very basic puzzles to get out, simple traps, simple fights with orcs or kobolds etc. Some simple ability checks... getting her used to the idea of attack rolls, damage rolls. I ran it for my daughter and wife... probably took about 3 hours total.

The key in my opinion was to use variants of the prerolled characters that came with the starter set, so we didn't get bogged down in details. I gave her a prerolled sheet and let her do the naming/character sketch/history.

Great success! She asks to play again all the time. The second time I didn't have the bandwidth to make something up so I went with this--recommended.
posted by Kafkaesque at 2:59 PM on July 6, 2017 [3 favorites]

My oldest requested the D&D basic set for her birthday. She was 8, but her two sister's were 6. She read through a bit of the booklet before getting bored by the rules and then asked me when we were going to play. I last played ... well, a very long time ago and I'd never run a game, but I figured I would give it a shot. However, I didn't last much longer reading the rules than she did. Instead, I took the D20 and the box, made up a little adventure about a kitten kitnapped by a goblin and set them in motion. My wife joined in too. As it turns out the rules don't really seem to matter all that much. It was awesome. They loved it. They'd tell me what they wanted to do, roll the dice and I just made up the outcome on the fly, whatever made sense and didn't frustrate them too much. They bought equipment, could choose a spell, and I helped them roll stats which I then ignored in all but the broadest sense.

(on preview, sounds a lot like Kafkaesque's experience :)
posted by roue at 3:10 PM on July 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

You could try something super stripped-down like Lasers and Feelings. There's some stuff in there about sexy aliens that you'll probably want to skip, but that's easy enough.
posted by Ragged Richard at 3:13 PM on July 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

My 6 year old is literally playing Mice and Mystics with his dad as I write this. We've done a few other RPG-ish things including Fuzzy Heroes and my husband making up a simplified D&D system as they went through some dungeon maps he had to hand (similar to roue and kafkaesque) but Mice and Mystics, with very slight simplifiying modifications, has been the winner.
posted by tchemgrrl at 3:48 PM on July 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

Here's a quick system I've used with newbies to great effect.

Give him some pictures of characters (google D&D characters).

Let him pick one and give them a name, then ask him if the character is strong, quick or smart.

Write VERY [STRONG]. Now ask if the character is quick, or smart. Write FAIRLY [SMART]. Then write NOT VERY [QUICK] (obviously replacing those with whatever answers he gives).

Now ask what he loves doing, what he hates doing and what is he scared of. Write those down. Now ask what's his job and write that down. (you can keep on going, e.g. does the character have a pet, who is their best friend, but that's enough to be going on with. Use the picture if you want to know what gear etc the character has)

Now you have a chacter, so have an adventure! Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh is great, but really any kind of spooky adventure would do. The innkeeper asking for help killing rats, and discovering a spooky tunnel that's been dug into the earth, maybe...

For tasks, roll a d20 when the character needs to do something and add 12 if it's using a VERY quality, 8 if it's a FAIRLY and nothing if it's a NOT VERY. If the number is over 10 they succeeded, if it's 20 or over they succeeded super well. Always make sure to fail forward.

If he has a fight, then you both roll without adding anything - the loser draws a skull on their sheet (most baddies only have one skull). If he gets hit he can try and avoid the skull by saying what he does (i'm very strong so i block it with my shield! = roll and add 12, trying to break 20)
posted by Sebmojo at 5:22 PM on July 6, 2017 [8 favorites]

Games with kiddos and new adults are about simplicity so they can focus on having a good time. My spouse is a hardcore gamer. I got interested based less on RPGs and more on pattern games like Quirkle and Ingenious and over time branched out into other game types.

The fewer decisions you need to make, or the fewer times you have to break the action to consult the rule book, the easier it is for a young child to participate. They don't have the attention span for a 3 hour campaign. Keep it brief and simple and if they show information overload or frustration leave it alone and come back to it later.

Dungeon Roll might go a bit more easily. Escape the Curse of the Temple is another good one. Mice and Mystics has already been mentioned.
posted by crunchy potato at 6:09 PM on July 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

I run a monthly D&D Kids game for the local tabletop shop, and I've had kids as young as 5 sit down and play 5E. I think they get a bit bored after about an hour, but depending on the kid and their interests the starter set might be something to look into. One of the things I like to do is to use miniatures and maps. Next month, I'm making the monsters out of play dough so the kid who kills it can smush it into smithereens.

There IS a kid's based system called No Thank You, Evil which has been popular around here. It's heroes, adventures, and the system looks pretty solid. It can be a shorter game, and there really aren't many limits around it.
posted by Torosaurus at 6:56 PM on July 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

Dungeon World is perfect for this.
posted by Marinara at 6:57 PM on July 6, 2017

From a previous MeFi post: Dungeon Squad. It's free. It's "...a role-playing game designed expressly for young players with short attention spans who demand action and fun. There is a lot of die rolling and some amusing shopping and number-crunching. Characters can be generated in 3 seconds."

My squee at the time:
Each character has one each of D4, D8, and D12 to represent aspects of themselves - Wizard, Warrior, and Explorer...This mechanic lets kids hold their characters in their hands. It starts out as a fistful of different dice, d4 through d12, and each one suddenly stands for something in its own right (that is, there's an immediate and concrete link between this blue plastic cube and you throwing around bolts of lightning, or this red pentagonal trapezohedron and how good you are at waving a sword). These dice are mine. They're my dude. That's my axe. It's easy for kids to compare and contrast with their friends - your dice are lined up differently, and I can see at a glance where you're stronger or weaker. The character becomes tangible in an instant, with those chunks of polyhedral plastic serving much the same purpose as those little Skylanders figurines.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 7:07 PM on July 6, 2017

Not free, and not scifi, but Hero Kids is designed specifically with younger players in mind. I haven't played it myself, but it seems pretty well regarded.
posted by daisy55 at 7:05 AM on July 7, 2017

I played FUDGE with kids a few times years ago (at a small con, parents usually around in the same game or one table over). It's a very simple mechanic and allows the GM to decide how intricate the character sketches needed to be. We played both in Discworld and Harry Potter universes and the kids ranged from early elementary through high school.

The core rules are free.

It's pretty close to what Sebmojo suggests above, just a tiny bit more formalized.

As anecdata my husband was playing D&D with his brother by 5 or 6, and Champions at 8. I have friends that were playing World of Darkness with their kids in first or second grade. (Our group referred to WoD as the character sheets you can fill in crayon)
posted by buildmyworld at 9:03 AM on July 7, 2017

Wizards of the Coast (makers of D&D) have you covered.

Hereos of Hesiod

Even includes a simple map & some tokens, character cards, cute drawings of the monsters so they're not scary looking and nicely simplified rules that actually cover a lot of basic D&D concepts.

They even have an option for not having the old d20 & just having six sided dice.

This would be an easy system to make your own games up for too.
posted by wwax at 9:42 AM on July 7, 2017 [1 favorite]

Many GenCons ago, when my daughters were young, I got a game called The Faery's Tale, which works a little like Sebmojo's system (three stats, Body, Mind, and Spirit, with six points to allocate among them, and if memory serves me correctly, one adds the stat to a d6 roll). It's also meant to be played with simpler scenarios like many of those suggested -- brownies might want to help a kindly farm family prepare enough food for the winter, for example. My daughters enjoyed it; just note that it is not free.
posted by Gelatin at 9:59 AM on July 7, 2017

I ran Honey Heist with some friends back in March when that post went up, including one friend's ten-year-old kid, and it only took about an hour or so. It's simple fun. The adults got as wrapped up in it as the kid did.

That designer made a bunch of other one-page games, many of which could be cleaned up and made age-appropriate fairly easily.
posted by Mister Moofoo at 7:31 PM on July 8, 2017

Fate Accelerated is a nice, simple-ish rules system that can be used in a load of different settings. The PDF is pay-what-you-want at Drive Thru RPG, or it's like $5 to order a hard copy online.

As for a setting, if your son likes superheroes, It's Element-ary! is a fun, kid-centric source book to use with the Fate system, although I think this one is set up with Fate Core rules.
posted by helloimjennsco at 12:46 PM on July 11, 2017

This is all great advice. As is often the case with roleplaying and DMing the best option seems to be something custom with the best bits of various systems. I especially like what obiwanwasabi pointed out, having specific dice tied to a character's various attributes and skills seems a great way to help a young player keep track of their character.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 5:24 AM on July 23, 2017

« Older Need a recommendation for Canadian immigration...   |   Basically what I do every day, except somewhere... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.