If you’ve spent any time watching kids play you’ve probably noticed that most of their time is spent establishing the parameters for a scene or playing through the scene they’ve established, often simultaneously.
“I’m a queen and I’ve trapped you in my dungeon and you have to get out!”
“Okay, I’m a warrior and I have a big sword and I break the wall like this! *psh*”
“No you can’t because the wall is too strong, I made it with my ice powers!”
“But my friend dragon comes and melts the ice! *fwoosh* And now we’re going to get you!”
“Okay, but like, you’re in love with me and the dragon is my friend too, and so after you hit me you’re like ‘I’m sorry, my love! Let’s get married!’ And everyone comes but then *grabs sister* the evil witch shows up-”
“On a Panda!”
“-on a Panda and casts a spell on us and is like, ‘now you will live in darkness forever!'”
A few minutes of this and it should be pretty obvious that kids would probably like roleplaying games. That was my conclusion anyway, and so when my kids were 4, 4, and 6 (yes there are twins) I started looking around for a system that I thought they’d latch onto. Enter Hero Kids.
Hero Kids is a D&D style tabletop roleplaying game designed for kids. The art is fun and cool, and there’s a bundle of adventures available with simple scenarios from 30 to maybe 90 minutes in length, though kids being kids, even a 30 minute adventure might end up taking 2 hours spread across multiple sessions.
The rules are straightforward and extensible. At their most basic, each character has an attack ability, a special action, and a bonus ability, all of which are typically combat-related. These are backed by a few statistics, which basically boil down to strength (melee attack), dexterity (ranged attack), intelligence (magic ability), and defense. So a fighter might have two dice in the strength skill, which are rolled every time she uses her melee attack ability. And since these stats represent physical attributes, you can extend the game for more mature players by using them for skill checks. Want to break down a door? Roll strength.
In practice, the system works very well. The rules are easy to understand, and no math is required to resolve actions. Also, the kids get multiple dice to roll for each action, which just magnifies the fun.
When I played with my kids, we went through the list of heroes and they each picked the one whose portrait they liked best. We printed out the character sheets, and they spent the first session coloring the portraits. Then we mounted them on cardboard and “laminated” the cards using clear packing tape.
The intro adventure is a rescue mission. A kid has gone missing in the cellar of an inn, and it’s up to the Hero Kids to find him! Each area has a printable map complete with grid lines, and there are printable tokens for each hero and the creatures they will face. The system actually includes movement and range mechanics, which may work if your kids like board games, but I felt like this was too much and left them out. Instead, I’d describe an area and then lay down the map and place tokens as a visual aid. From there, the only thing that mattered was whether something was adjacent to or at a distance from something else.
This 30 minute adventure spanning maybe 5 areas took two full sessions to complete, with session breaks occurring whenever seemed appropriate in terms of the kids’ attention span. Altogether, we probably spent 90 minutes playing through it. The kids had a tremendous amount of fun, to the point where during their play time they acted as their characters for weeks following the game. Success!
And that was a year or so ago. In the interim we’ve moved away from Hero Kids to experiment with other systems, and I’m still finding ways to make things interesting and fun for them. All of which will be covered later. Consider this some background on how we got started, and a suggestion for a good first roleplaying game.