Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Gaming with Kids

I don't remember being nine. I like to think of myself as young of mind, but it's not the same.

I got the opportunity to DM a session with ze Bulette's nephew and he said he was interested in my thoughts on the experience. Here are some loose thoughts:

First, adult players around my table drinking whiskey, talking, and being goofy have at times been more of a challenge to DM than Josiah. It wasn't a bad experience at all. But there do seem to be some differences with a younger player.

He really seemed to enjoy the broad strokes of the hireling personalities. I try to steer away from cliches, but yeah, hirelings tend to head that direction: the Hick, the Grouch, the Shrew, etc. He seemed to get these and be amused by them.

Kids seem to have a lot of energy and less attention and I'm sure the two are related even if not perfectly. Roleplaying out getting a hireling because Bulette knows from experience that things are going to get brutal takes a long time in a young mind. Not only does a younger player not have that experience, they may not realize all this blah, blah, blah, is even about getting another sword arm. And they have this energy and want to do something.

So the younger player can zone out (my character's asleep) or try to interject something impulsive to get things lively again (just jump the fence an catch the chicken, dammit).

Although, I think both of those actions are probably also related to being unsure of what is expected of you, what "good" roleplaying would be, what an adult would do in a certain game situation.

And something else that is most interesting of all, I think the younger player might be interacting with the fantasy world in a way that is closer to the root of why we do it. "Wouldn't it be funny if the elf just hopped the fence and grabbed a chicken? What would happen if I just rapped this guy on the head?" With experience we know that these things can lead to complications in game and actually get in the way of what we want to do. As adults we sacrifice spontaneity for a little more control of desired outcomes. But I think the playfulness still survives in the more "gonzo" games and even in the mosts serious games as jokes and table banter; I find myself saying "No, no, no, I was joking" as a player a lot.

So what does this mean? I would say it means it would be a good idea to try to get kids involved, not just in their own "kiddy" games but with us at our tables, at least every now and then. It would remind us of that experimenting spirit and keep us from getting too bogged down in dickering over the prices of barrels or something. It would remind us of certain rule complications or world assumptions we've taken for granted.

But it is interesting in another way too. Even today I experience a stigma around gaming for it being childish. But here was a social event where a boy could hang with some men and interact. He was able to see how men talk, make decisions, even disagree. It seems pretty important as a society to have social spaces we can interact that way.

That might seem ridiculously obvious, especially if you have kids, but in my life kids were often sent off to the little kids table, to the little kids church service, away from adult interaction.

But enough from me, I know some of you must game with your kids. Instead of me speculating off of one experience, what is different about DMing younger players?

What challenges would you foresee in including a younger gamer into an adult gaming group?

What would an adventure explicitly for younger players encompass?


  1. What a wonderful and thoughtful post. With two young boys, gaming with kids has been on my mind a lot lately. We've already dipped our toes into the elementary gaming situations (http://www.risusmonkey.com/2010/05/my-boys-first-dungeon-crawl.html) but we are few years out from the type of experience that you described with ze Bulette's nephew. We did, however, invite the 11-year-old child of one member of our gaming group to a couple of sessions of our BtVS:RPG series. He had a great time but we had to make sure that we were all on our best behavior since that campaign tends to involve a lot of adult innuendo. That is, in my mind, the biggest challenge to integrating young players on a regular basis. My group likes that adult content. At the same time, I would like to involve the kids in adult games as much as possible, for all the reasons that you mention.

    Interesting aside: I played in a DC game Day event that was GM'ed by the 7-year-old daughter of a friend of mine (with occasional help from him). I did it to support an up-and-coming player and it turned out to be a very good time. The type of adventure that she ran (a very linear "quest" type adventure that didn't feature mean-spirited violence) is what I imagine I'll be running for my boys when they first get started.

  2. Thanks for the great comment. You mention innuendo and I was actually thinking hard about whether it was possible to "hide" horrific or terrifying aspects of the adventure in "horror innuendo." Maybe I'll post about that later, it turned out to not be necessary because the party didn't make it to the caves.

    Though we did have a result for one of Josiah's hireling's personality of "abundance of - appetite body" that we bumped up one result to "abundance of - appetite money."

    I didn't catch your post the first time round but those chalk dungeons for your boys, especially the ABC room, are genius. Good job.

  3. I recently started playing Labyrinth Lord with my daughter, who is 8 years old. I decided to start with a more or less improvised scenario: Goblins have kidnapped several of the town's kids, and a party of adventurers has been hired by the town mayor to rescue them.

    In game terms, a PC (Lavender the Thief) and four NPCs (cleric, two fighters, and a magic user) set off on a three-day wilderness journey to some distant hills where the goblins are rumored to be hiding. When they get there, I'll have a goblin-oriented dungeon. Once they level up, I'll add harder levels/monsters.

    The use of the NPCs in my game is to give me a way to introduce my kid to "good" gaming practices (e.g., checking for traps, how combat works, how to interact with other NPCs to get what you want, etc.) They are her in-game "peers," and I'm milking the peer pressure aspect to get her socialized into the game. I do the NPC voices, and really try to make them entertaining and interesting for her. It also keeps me from ordering her about and making it un-fun for her. Instead, the NPCs offer commentary and advice, which she can choose to heed or ignore, with appropriate consequences.

    So far, we've created characters, learned about the probable location of the goblins, and encountered (and dispatched) a goblin patrol in the wilderness.

  4. This is a great topic. To my mind a big part of the OSR is about passing the torch too. I have not yet got my daughter playing (she is only 5) but she is certainly interested at some level. She's drawn a dungeon and loves "Thundarr the Barbarian" & "Adventure Time!" although I think the latter is a little too old for her.

    I've been meaning to recruit more players, since my group rarely makes a quorum of four lately, and I know that it would be pretty easy to get some younger players at the local FLGS but I've been hesitant to risk spoiling the current dynamic. But as you so eloquently note, younger players can bring in great enthusiasm and energy and it may be possible to rein them in enough for some serious gaming too. So I guess it is a question of is it worth restrain our gutter mouths a little for the sake of other players, and come to think of it we did when a player brought his girlfriend, who turned out to be a fairly good player but the presence of a girl did make most of us clean up our acts. We could do it, so I guess we could handle younger players too.

  5. Great comments.

    @Doc: that sounds very much like what ze Bulette was writing about DMing one on one; without other adult players the DM has to provide npcs as examples of how to play.

    @Mike: I know this is unrealistic with all the difficulties of just being able to game at all, but I like the idea of getting to game in different social spaces-- a family game; a game with friendly couples; and even a raunchy, drinking, guys game night.

  6. Based on my one experience GMing for niece and nephew I think an important thing is to respond to the different kinds of personalities and expressions involved. Know that kids will have play styles ranging from the serious, to the goofily exuberant and antisocial, to the timid, and accept and have fun with it all.

  7. Great write-up and thanks for taking the time. Playing alongside him offered a new perspective. "As adults we sacrifice spontaneity" - very true. The unpredictability of kids' style of play can teach us a lot as DMs and designers. They can be very much a kind of random dice roll themselves.