Roleplaying is both fun, educating and a wonderful way spend time with your kids. Yet, roleplaying with kids is not as playing with adults and you need to take their age and maturity into account. Having fun is paramount.
When my older son was 8 years old he asked me whether I would like to roleplay with him and his friends. He had never tried it, though he had often seen me roleplay. He understood what roleplay is and found it interesting. Sure, I said and asked, what would you like to play? In a rather long and complicated answer he described what he had in mind, which was more or less D&D. After we had talked to his friends and their parents we found a suitable date for the first game.
That night I sat down and browsed through my modules, in hope of finding something that would fit his ideas. After a while I discovered that the content I had didn’t quite fit his age, since most published modules, though easily modified, are for older players. Not that the material was or is PG rated, but simply the depth of the narrative was more than I imagined that he and his friends would handle. I had used RPGs in classroom and often seen how important it is for players to have reached certain cognitive maturity, to enjoy roleplaying games as published.
Now, almost 5 years later and countless games later, I’ve learned a few things – in fact, a lot. Roleplaying with my kids is actually something I really enjoy, it brings us together and it’s fun. I’ve also witnessed how they’ve grown and learned through the many sessions we’ve played. And as a bonus, I believe it has made me a better DM, but that is just an added value to having a great time with my kids.
Keeping things simple
The first thing I learned was to keep things simple. Children don’t have the ability to think in abstract way, the way we do (they learn it around puberty), so they need to have the things cut and clear. They need to have a clear objective, i.e. this is the BBEG and you need to stop him in enslaving the townspeople, and they need to understand what will happen if they don’t succeed, i.e. the townspeople will suffer horribly as slaves.
Narratives can’t be over-complex or multi-layered, but straight-forward and easy to understand. Think more in terms of Star Wars, where you have a very clear distinction between good and evil. The same goes for roleplaying with kids, they need this distinction and they need your help to understand it. Where they can recognize the underlying lessons of the narrative.
This also applies to the gaming system. Too many rules, too much complexity, simply slows the game down and you find yourself constantly explaining this rule or that. It doesn’t matter if you’re using D&D, Star Wars or what-not, just remember to go rules-lite into the game. I’ve been slowly introducing more and more rules to my kids and their friends. By gradually introducing more and more rules, you can keep the game interesting and make sure that they are on-board and learn each new rule.
I also learned that by keeping things visual, e.g. using props to indicate initiative, was a huge help and made the game move faster.
Let them take part in the narrative
Children have wonderful imagination and often see things ways we grown-ups could never fathom. Give them a chance to be a part of the narrative, allow them to affect it and have their say in it.
Shortly after Star Wars Edge of the Empire was released I decided to try it with my kids. Deep into the first session the group was fighting Black Sun Syndicate thugs in a speeder hangar of a skyscraper on Coruscant. They had just gotten the hang of the advantage/disadvantage part of the system. One character saw as the BBEG took the last speeder and raced out of the hangar. That character decided to run and jump after the BBEG, but to no avail, since the player rolled no success. But he scored three advantages and yelled triumphantly: I land on another speeder. Can I take control of it?
The idea was simply too good, so I went along with it. Since then I’ve always given them enough freedom to interpret and describe their character’s actions as they like. The Rule of Cool is one of the most important rules by the table and long as everyone is having fun I go with the flow.
Cause and Consequences
Roleplaying is a wonderful way to teach kids about cause and consequences. Even though you’re just playing a game you should not let this opportunity slip through your finger. Just make sure that the kids understand fully what’s happening and why.
Remember to take their maturity and age into account. They can’t be held responsible if they fail to save the townspeople from the BBEG, especially if they were actively trying to save them. They can however be held responsible for stealing from a merchant and be made to reimburse the merchant.
This can be tight rope walking, since often they are doing something they think is cool, e.g. my son decided one time that his character would get drunk in the town’s tavern (something he thought every hero was supposed to do while in town). I told him, that it could possibly have bad effect on his character in the morning. He was still adamant in his character getting drunk. The morning after his character had -5 to all rolls due to hangover (this was also a chance to teach him about the consequences of drinking alcohol).
By explaining cause and consequence to young players they are more able to make enlightened decisions. Experienced players might realize that every action could have consequences and they constantly take calculated risks. Younger and more inexperienced players need more help in understanding what the consequences are.
Keep it short
Kids have shorter attention span than grown-ups. They don’t have the stamina for long gaming sessions, pre-teens in my experience need at least a break after about 2 hours.
Also, by making sure that each session isn’t too long and that the narrative fits easily within the given time frame your players will return to the table in next session still hungry for more (hey, this can also apply to older players).
Make it fun
This is a after all just game, but for them this is not only a game, but also a chance to be with you doing something that they know you love to do. Use this time wisely, make it fun and entertaining. You have a chance to reach out to your kids, be with them doing something great and that is priceless.
Make it fun, go the extra mile in describing things, voice act and exaggerate NPCs. Make it all come alive and let yourself go.
Trust me, it will be more fun for all participants.