Gaming with Kids

So Kevin’s been trying for awhile to find a way to get his kids interested in RPGs—like many a nerd, he was about the age of his oldest (twelve) when he started, so it’s traditional. But they aren’t readers in the way that he or I were, and since one’s nine and one’s twelve, he’d been hunting an alternative that had the D&D ethos with easier rules and catering to a shorter attention span.

Gamma World seemed like a good choice. It’s fast-paced, the rules are D&D Light, and there are cards, which will hopefully activate the Pokemon and YuGiOh centers of their brains in some fashion. We picked up the box awhile ago, and there has been a great deal of begging, nagging, and passive-aggressive hinting from the offspring since, until such time as we adults had a block of free time and energy to devote to printing out all the character sheets and whatnot and actually playing a session.

And it went pretty well. Gamma World lends itself to raw creativity without much in the way of numeric punishments–the twelve-year-old wanted his primary weapon to be a green onion and the nine-year-old wanted to be a robot dog, all of which the system lends itself to well. (As twelve-year-olds are what they are, there was a Daddy-GM veto on the use of fart rockets as a ranged attack, on the principle that We Would Not Be Doing That, Thank You.)  I got the pyrokinetic plant character sheet, so I decided to be a sentient giant hogweed and spray my burning sap on my foes.

The twelve-year-old was pretty into it. The nine-year-old is a little too young still, but wants to be doing it because his brother is, and finds his father doing the melodramatic monster death scenes hysterical.  We had to do a certain amount of herding—“If you don’t volunteer to go on the mission, nothing will happen. You will sit in town all day. You probably want to volunteer…”—but in fairness, I’ve known PCs played by ostensible adults that resisted the Call To Adventure because “It’s not something my character would dooooo!” too.  They figured out the basics of attacking without too many repetitions, nobody died (impressive for Gamma World!) and fits of the sulks when the nine-year-old’s ranged attack kept missing were averted when he managed to deliver the coup de grace to our last baddy.

They aren’t good at thinking through the various options yet–Frontal Assault is their default setting, unless, say, the giant hogweed points out that they could sneak around back, or try to negotiate, or whatever, but that’s sort of learned gamer knowledge, and you do have to be introduced to the idea that you really can try ANYTHING, not just the most obvious. The twelve-year-old at least is pretty good at working out how his powers work and the best place to move to make the powers most effective, and even the nine-year-old decided that since his laser pistol kept missing, he was going to pull the pickaxe out of his climbing kit and throw it at the enemy (and how many times have adult players gone “Screw this! I’m picking up a rock and throwing THAT!” when the dice weren’t going our way?)

The only problematic kid moment came at the end of the encounter, when Kevin handed out the Omega Tech rewards cards.

“I got a music box!”

“I got a neural jack!”

Said the nine-year-old, “I got an inflatable friend!”

There was a brief silence at the table while the twelve-year-old giggled (he had no idea, he’d giggle at anything) and I could hear Kevin’s thought processes hitting a brick wall.

“I guess I could use it as a human shield…” the kid said dubiously.

“Great way to use it,” I said “Think of a–a giant balloon animal! That you can use as a shield!

“Yes,” said Kevin gratefully. “That’s a GREAT way to picture it!”

And disaster was averted, until next time.

7 thoughts on “Gaming with Kids

  1. Korbl says:

    Except I don’t think the point buy will be too readily accessible. There’s also the potential problem of it being *very* readily accessible to the 12 year old, but not to the nine year old, which could end up with, say, the 12 year old playing a “damage gives me character points” character with a thermite helmet while the nine year old is …not bending the system over his knee.

    Fate might be a good system too. It’s fairly rules light and allows a good bit of “magical tea party” style play.

  2. Patrick Strouse says:

    I found Mouse Guard to be an extremely compelling game for kids. I’ve run it for different groups and each one has taken to it well. Just a little nudge-nudge-wink-wink if you’re going to experiment with a few other systems.

  3. Katebat says:

    Munchkin is a good jumping off point too… And has a million and a half expansions for it. My brothers were really into it for a while there (they’re now 9 and 14, but when they were 7 and 12, it worked out pretty well*)

    *pretty well meaning the 7 year old didn’t have screaming fits every time his guy died….

  4. Mary the Digital Knitter says:

    Your character reminds me of Charlotte MacLeod’s “Curse of the Giant Hogweed”, a very funny book. Sadly, Ms MacLeod developed Alzheimer’s and her writing career was cut short. Upon searching for ‘giant hogweed’ on Amazon, I see by other titles that the plant is a real scourge in some areas. Is yours one of them?

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