I recently introduced my board game loving boys, Josh (11 years old) and Evan (9 years old), to role-playing games. It was a fantastic experience that I wanted to describe in my blog. First I will go through the preparation and setup that I did before the session. Next I will describe how the session ran and what I learned.
Preparation And Setup
The first preparation that I did was to decide which system that I wanted to use. Before I started my search I tried to define all of the characteristics that I wanted in the system. This list included ease of play, very simple math with at MOST single digit addition, and flexibility. The math requirement was important to me as Josh has lots of trouble with math and I was afraid that if I chose something too complicated he would not want to play at all. I then started looking online and purchased several possible options. The one that really jumped out at me was Hero Kids. Hero Kids has several great aspects that I thought would appeal to my boys. First there is VERY little math. For most actions instead of doing addition or subtraction you roll dice and take the highest number. REALLY simple. If you are better at something you roll more dice. I also thought that Hero Kids was very intuitive to pickup but still has a surprising amount of flexibility. I felt that I could EASILY modify the system to play superheroes, science fiction stars, cartoon characters, or anything my boys might want to play. When I asked the boys they decided that they wanted to play heroes like Zelda. That means epic high fantasy…easy. After picking the system and genre I made a simple Hero Kids shield insert that includes all of key rules. This way the rules would always be accessible to the players. Here is a link to the shield insert.
Next I considered who I wanted to invite to the first session. After having taught my cousin’s kids how to play I knew that it worked well having an experienced role-player in the session. Thus I invited my brother Don to play with us. His instructions were simple, “Lead by example and try to solve some of the conflicts WITHOUT combat.” After Don I decided to invite Sermin (aka Mommy). The reason for inviting Mommy to the first session was simple. She can read the boys better than anyone and help me determine if a break is needed, keep the boys in line, or alert me if the boys were getting bored or confused.
Now that the players and system were in place I went about picking a first adventure. Luckily Hero Kids supplies several adventures to choose from and I had purchased several of them. After reading the ones I owned I chose NOT to run the one that they recommend as the introductory adventure (aka Basement O Rats). Instead I used the Hero Kids adventure titled the Mines Of Martek. The reason is that Mines Of Martek has a simple mission goal, several puzzles that do not involve combat, and it starts off with VERY little role-playing. I know my boys so I knew that they would not understand role-playing at first but would definitely appreciate the thrill of combat. The puzzles in Mines Of Martek that I liked included rescuing a miner from a sinkhole, crossing a rickety bridge, and burning giant spider webs.
My son Josh who is mildly autistic handles new things better if he is given advanced notice of what to expect. Thus I decided to get some of the preliminary discussion out of the way the day before the session. Essentially I just started talking with them about what will happen and how RPGs work. When doing this talk I used Zelda as an example whenever possible. For example, I explained that the players play characters like Zelda on a mission that I am directing. I told them that I act kind of like the Nintendo. I then described that I like RPGs better than video games because you can have your character do whatever you want…there are no pesky video game boundaries. I then explained the setting again using Zelda as an example. I told them that their home town is a lot like Ordon Village in Twilight Princess. We also picked out the dice we would use for the session. This turned out to be a very fun exercise. 😀 Doing this session the day before not only got them excited about it but got much of the preliminary information out of the way. It worked great.
After setting up the battlemat and other accoutrements I presented a brief overview of the setting and the role of the characters. In this case the role of the characters is to solve problems while their adventurous parents are off fighting dragons. I then let the players select which characters they wanted to play. The selection did not surprise me that much at all. Josh took a knight. I knew it would be a warrior and one with armor and a shield is an added bonus. Evan took a healer with a light blast spell. I knew it would be a thinking man’s support character of some type. Don took a more flexible warrior and Sermin took a water mage to round out the group. After selecting the characters I quickly used the character sheet to review the system. I explained the attributes, equipment, and their special abilities. I next explained how you tell how many dice to roll and that you want to keep the highest number (i.e. the Hero Kids system).
Once that was done I handed out three poker chips to each player and explained how these would be used. Poker chips!?! 🙂 I decided early on that one of the things that would frustrate my boys was the fickleness of the dice. It sucks when you really want to hit that big bad master villain or jump the ravine to save the Princess and roll badly. To combat that I added a bennie mechanic taken directly from Savage Worlds or FATE. If the player spends a poker chip they can reroll their dice and try for a better outcome.
Now that the rules were explained we started the adventure. I jumped right in with the local town sheriff asking the PC to help rescue two miners who are trapped. The mission statement is simple. With some brief leading by Don the group entered the mines and started to look around. In the first room they decided to fix a broken mine cart and get some gear. They got a kick out of pushing each other around in the mine cart between each room. The first major combat was with some bats. It went really well for the good guys. I rolled TERRIBLY the entire session! 🙂 During this combat I also noticed another point about Hero Kids that I enjoyed. Hero Kids has group initiative only. Once it is the heroes turn to act the characters can go in any order. This is a subtle but nice touch as it lets different players jump forward if they know what they want their characters to do.
After the first combat Evan started getting a bit distracted by the mine cart and the stuff around the bats. I was VERY pleasantly surprised when Josh’s knight reminded Evan’s healer that they needed to find those miners. This was an awesome time when Josh’s laser focus paid off. 😀
The next room featured a puzzle with a miner caught in a sinkhole. In the first room they had collected a rope. Even though it took some prompting by Don they eventually figures it out and saved the miner. It was a nice little problem to resolve.
One other scene deserves some attention in this blog post. In the third room the group comes across a dark hole where they can hear giant rats starting to emerge. Acting quickly Don’s characters pushes a rock over the hole preventing the rats from escaping. This is EXACTLY what I wanted him to do during the session (i.e. solve a conflict without combat). It showed Evan and Josh that the best way to solve problems is often with your brain not your sword.
Overall I know the session went really well. How do I know? After the session Evan asked about the village where the characters live and the underground river that they saw in the mine. He asked if they could investigate these next time. 😉 The next weekend I ran a second session with just Evan and Josh. After the second session Evan started asking about making a potion to return their bennies during the game. Oh yeah and those glowing purple rocks in the basement tunnel…what were those? I also thought it was funny during the second session when he asked if I was making it all up. My response, “Of course! That is what makes role-playing games awesome!” Hook. Line. Sinker. 😀