Gaming and Family Values – A Quandary

As gamer geek parents to a trio of rugrats, Kelly and I are always looking for ways to get our kids involved in our hobby. Something that troubles me however, is that the methods that most RPGs use to resolve tasks are pretty much the exact opposite of the values we are trying to instill into the ‘rats. It isn’t that we are utopian idealists; the ‘rats are still pretty young. The whole fantasy-reality divide is still a pretty complex notion for them. Rugrat #1, age 7, is sweet and sensitive; he finds violence scary and wants to find a diplomatic solution to every in-game challenge (this is not mirrored in his interactions with Rugrats #2 and #3; violence and disdain are his go-to methods for handling disagreements with them). Rugrat #2, age (nearly) 5, wants to hit everything. Hard. Finding the balance point between the two styles of play can be a challenge. Additionally, we frequently tell the Rugrats that violence isn’t a solution to their problems, but in most RPGs, the reverse is often true. How do we instill the value of discussion, compromise, and compassion in real-life while laughing at the slaughter of innocent, imaginary kobolds in-game?

Nonlethal combat isn’t really an answer; it is still violence after all, and while I’ve seen plenty of suggestions for pitting kids against non-humanoid adversaries, in the real world it is no more acceptable to beat up a dog, cat, wolf, or rat than it is another person. Many games feature mechanics regarding the use of social skills, but they can also be troubling, as often they revolve around intimidation (bullying) and bluffing (lying).

I’ll be honest, I don’t have a lot of answers to the issues I’ve posed above; mostly I write this because I’m trawling for ideas. However, listening to the kids’ entertainment selections does provide me with a few ideas.

Environmental challenges are great to pit children against. While I’m not certain that I’ve seen a full episode, I’ve heard approximately one billion episodes of Octonauts and Paw Patrol. Often the drama and challenge faced by the protagonists is provided by the environment: some innocent creature is caught up a tree / has fallen in the water / is lost… you get the idea. While I’m not keen on having them slay dragons quite yet, I can definitely see the value in having them rescue people from a village that a dragon is burning down.

Stealth based challenges are also quite nice for kids. While I don’t want to teach them that sneaking around is a good thing to do, I think that letting them attempt to tiptoe around a table full of goblins who are dozing due to drinking too much bug juice is fun. It also helps to teach the rugrats that, dire as they are, there is real value in looking at a problem from all angles and selecting the best resolution method at their disposal. To further this, I think there is a benefit in placing obvious items in a challenge environment that will allow the protagonists to trap, avoid, or otherwise neutralize a threat without resorting to beating it with a stick. If the players don’t catch on to the obvious items, mention them a few times. Be obvious. These are kids. Teaching them this lesson now could very well lead to more excitement at the game table when they are older.

So What’s Out There?

white rabbit coverBefore I wrap this up, there are a few companies making quality RPG material intended for a younger audience. In the Pathfinder and D&D 5th Edition space, Playground Adventures has released a number of excellent modules that we’ve run for the rugrats (The Chasing the White Rabbit series by J Gray has been very much enjoyed with repeated queries from the kids regarding when the remaining parts will release). I particularly like that PGA offers adventures with diverse challenges and offers non-violent resolution methods in many cases.

Legendary Games also offers the Legendary Beginnings line of adventures in both PFRPG and 5e. Legendary Games’ offerings, such as the Trail of the Apprentice Adventure Path have a more “traditional” presentation than PGA’s, and hew a bit more toward classic RPG tropes such as dungeon delving. It needs to be noted as well, that Legendary Games’ adventures spend less space than PGA’s on suggesting non-violent task resolution. All of the above aside though, and Trail of the Apprentice is a really nice series of adventures that I’m looking forward to running when the children are a bit older.

Outside the big two of fantasy RPGs, No Thank You, Evil! By Monte Cook Games strips down the already lean Cypher System even further to present a family friendly game that I haven’t read but know I will get to sooner than later; No Thank You, Evil! has great word of mouth, and I really like Monte Cook Games’ other games.

young centurions cover

Evil Hat Productions’ Young Centurions is a FATE Accelerated game of teenage pulp heroes. Young Centurions is a great read and an exciting setting for those who are looking for something other than typical fantasy/sci-fi. FATE Accelerated is also a fantastic system for first-time players. It provides the structure that the game needs while keeping out of the way of the story being created.

Comment Below

Do you have suggestions or ideas regarding this topic? Any favourite kid-friendly roleplaying games or adventures? Let us know in the comments!

3 Things for Young Gamers to Read

My love of roleplaying games was ignited when I received the Dungeons and Dragons Basic Set (Mentzer/BECMI) for my eighth birthday. I imagine my mum picked it out for me because she knew how much I had enjoyed reading The Hobbit and The Chronicles of Narnia the previous year. The truth is, while I truly had enjoyed these newly discovered (by me) fantasy classics, I was not a fussy consumer of the written word. I could, and did, read almost everything I could get my mitts on, from Greek myths, to The Great Brain, to the Babysitter’s Club, I read it all. And once I was introduced to D&D, all of it informed the kinds of games and characters I wanted to play.

Our eldest rugrat is approaching the age I was when that iconic red box with the Larry Elmore painting was seared into my psyche, and he is as voracious a reader as I was. We have played a few, mostly successful, sessions of Pathfinder RPG, and I am eager to keep him enthusiastic between adventures. The following is the first in a series of musings about stories that are universally excellent, and will appeal to both kids and their RPG loving parents – in my opinion at least.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

L. Frank Baum

The Wonderful Wizards of Oz coverLong before Narnia, Middle Earth, Prydain, or Hogwarts, were committed to paper, Lyman Frank Baum introduced the world to the land of Oz. Bordered on all sides by desert that will reduce anyone who sets foot upon it to dust, Oz is a kitchen sink land wherein Baum mashed together fairy tales and fables with a healthy dollop of imagination and a pinch of good, old-fashioned psychedelia.

I’m not going to write at length about The Wonderful Wizard of Oz; you likely already know the story (or at least the classic film’s version of it). It makes my list because it is the first of a fourteen book series Baum wrote about the setting. That’s right. Fourteen. (Not including the dozens written by other authors after Baum’s death.) Each of which is better than this first one (in my opinion, of course), and all but one of which have numerous beautiful illustrations by John R. Neill.

It is also worth noting that, for a series written in the last years of the 19th and first years of the 20th centuries, the Oz books are remarkably progressive with regard to gender equality. There are numerous female protagonists, among them Dorothy, Ozma, the Patchwork Girl, and Betsy Bobbin, all of whom are the equal of any of the males in the series. In the interest of full disclosure, however, the human characters are largely, though not entirely, white and there are a few troubling ethnic stereotypes evident (which have been stripped out, along with those gorgeous illustrations in many modern editions of the books).

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and the series that followed, offers young readers hours of reading that will ignite their imaginations and give them plenty of fodder to fuel their roleplaying adventures.

Bone

Jeff Smith

Bone cover imageJeff Smith’s Bone is a marvel from its hilarious beginning to its heartbreaking conclusion. The series begins with the titular protagonist, Phone Bone, travelling through a wasteland with his cousins, Phoney Bone and Smiley Bone, after being run out of their hometown due to Phoney’s most recent scheme. The Bone cousins soon find themselves driven into the Valley by a massive locust swarm, where they meet one of the best casts of characters ever evidenced in a comic book, and get drawn into a tale of legacy and destiny.

Bone introduces its plots very deftly, drawing the reader in with humour and appealing artwork, but peppering the trail with questions and mystery. Who is the Lord of Locusts? Why is he obsessed with Phoney Bone? Why is the Great Red Dragon watching over Phone Bone? Where did the rest of the dragons go? Why does that one rat creature love quiche so much? How did Kingdok get so BIG?

Further, from the perspective of a role player, the protagonists model the general dysfunction of every single party of PCs I’ve ever experienced. Phone Bone (neutral good) wants to help Thorn (neutral good) and Gran’ma Ben (lawful neutral) but scheming Phoney Bone (neutral evil) ropes Smiley Bone (chaotic neutral) into his capers and inevitably leads everyone into danger.

I have no criticisms of Bone. It is one of the few comic series’ that I have purchased as individual issues, collected black and white trade paperbacks, the massive black and white one volume edition, and the colour Graphix/Scholastic trade paperbacks. I don’t have the colour hardcover collections, but there is still time – don’t test me. Better yet, go get them for your kids (and read them yourself if you haven’t already).

Nancy Drew Mystery Stories

Carolyn Keene (pseudonym for various authors)

Nancy Drew Mystery Stories coverYou could replace this with Hardy Boys Mysteries if you wish, but I always preferred Nancy Drew. She was the gateway for my lifelong love of girl detectives (shout out to Veronica Mars and Liv Moore). Like many of the books I read in my childhood, I stumbled upon my first Nancy Drew mystery, The Clue in the Crossword Cipher in my grandparents’ pool (as in billiards) room. Nancy was talented, intuitive, and sassy; it was love at first read. In my first exposure to her, Nancy solves a number of mysteries, via means that would likely be considered quaint, if not antiquated, by modern standards, that eventually lead her to the Nazca Lines in Peru.

The story kept me captivated throughout, and had me scouring my grandparents’ bookshelves for other Nancy Drew Mystery Stories… of which there were several, along with mysteries featuring those aforementioned Hardy Boys. Nancy has been solving crimes since 1930, so there are hundreds of novels featuring her just waiting to be placed in your kids’ hands. I was recently perusing the shelves at a local used book store when I noticed they had a massive collection of Nancy Drew mysteries; it may be time for me to go pick some of them up.

How about you?

So there there it is, the tip of the iceberg. What material do you recommend for kid gamers? And were any of the above favorites on your childhood bookshelf? Sound off in the comments below!

Two bees on a flower

A Buzz on Spring Break – “For The Hive” Play Account

Ah spring break. A glorious time full of fun and excitement and a break from the monotony of every day life.

And as a work from home mother of three small children with no child care, it is also a really long two weeks where I struggle immensely trying to juggle work  and rugrats intent on getting up to no good (I believe it was day two that Rugrat #2 shoved half a dozen smurfs into the baseboard heater while I was showering).

Gardening, baking, colouring pictures, and Pokémon Go can go a long way, but Ken and I decided spring break was also the perfect time to break out another RPG adventure for the kids. We agreed it was time to play For the Hive, a really well reviewed adventure written by J Gray and published by Playground Adventures.  I thought it could be fun to add a fourth player to our game, and I suggested we try bringing another child into the mix. So a couple of weeks ago I called the mother of Rugrat #1’s best friend.

It was an awkward call because I have never broached the topic of RPGs with other parents. “So, uh, hi Parent! Do you have a minute? I wanted to talk to you about something.” Immediately I realized it sounded bad, like her child had done something wrong.  She was driving, using her car’s speaker phone, so there was also that awkward bit where you feel like you have to talk extra loudly while introducing role playing games to someone when you can’t even see their face to gauge their reaction.  She’s awesome though, so with the promise of letting her look over the adventure before we played it, she said it was a go.

Time to Game

A week and a half later, the first Saturday of Spring Break, was the big day.  Rugrat #1 & #2 were bouncing off the walls with the impending arrival of Friend 1, who arrived grinning ear to ear.  Getting the game started proved a bit tricky. We had gone ahead and premade the characters for the kids, guessing what type best suited Friend 1. The sheets were bang on, but the lure of the pawns, tokens, and visible map were strong. The kids kept trying to play them like a board game and had trouble listening. Eventually, with food in their bellies, Rugrat #3 safely in her crib for a nap, and pawns and character sheets sorted out, we began.

for the hive coverHere is where I jump in and say that if you want to read a review of For the Hive, you can find Ken’s here.  There are also some reviews with the product here.

Really Time To Game

With everything set, the adventure began.  Ken adjusted it slightly, setting it at a nearby library we like to visit, but as written, the adventure makes it easy for players to become invested – who doesn’t want to help a friend, and save a bee hive while they are at it?

Friend 1 sat quietly and super still, listening intently as the story unfolded.  Rugrat #1, who is seven next month, squirmed and wiggled, which is typical for him.  The key things Bzzercup had to say could have been stressed better to the kids (the Rugrats had trouble focusing), but that was not the adventure, it was our kids and the delivery of those facts – a good reminder not all kids focus as well as Friend 1! GMs playing with kids for the first time: remember your audience! 

Rugrat #1, who is an anxious child, had a lot of difficulty with the idea of shrinking in size, even when we stressed it was just pretend.  With some convincing from Friend 1, he reluctantly agreed, and we were are able to set off across the grass to the hive.  Here the beautiful map came into the play.  The kids loved this map, and we had to run off to print a few extras (how hard sharing can be).

One of the big things I noticed running this adventure for kids is how much (at least mine) needed to be reminded we were doing this together, that we were a team, and that we all had to help each other.  It’s a hard thing to learn – accepting you won’t excel at everything, but that what you may not be able to accomplish someone else on your team can.

A great example was the magical looking glass lost in the huge expanse of grass.  Rugrat #1 was super upset he couldn’t activate it, but I pointed out that without him we wouldn’t have even known what is was or what it could do. Teamwork let us jump forward across the lawn (but downside – he didn’t get to come across the praying mantis he saw in a piece of art, and there was a bit of an upset about that).

So How’d They Do?

Simply put? They succeeded in the goal of the adventure.  And not all groups do.  There were some hurdles though.

One major thing Rugrat #1 had trouble with is things not going his way.  This is a fun little educational adventure, but (much like any other RPG session) the joy gets sucked out a bit when a player throws a tantrum and storms out of the room because his dice aren’t rolling well. After being given the chance to calm down, Rugrat #1 did rejoin the party, and he was just in time for the big final show down.

Rugrat #2 remained quiet for most of the adventure, chiming in during combat to grin and yell “I hit it!” (naturally we made him a barbarian). He was feeling a bit under the weather and lounged across his chair, with his feet on me, or sat on my lap for most of the adventure.  When Ken and I game we sit in the basement on a big day bed with a table nearby.  It’s super comfortable. It’s also a space that would have kids bouncing all of the place and playing with pillows.  Be sure to find a space the kids can focus, but everyone can be comfy – sitting on our hard wooden IKEA chairs for a couple of hours with a four-year’s bony bum wiggling around wasn’t exactly ideal.

Over the course of the adventure, Friend 1 would randomly grin and exclaim “This is so much fun!”, making the afternoon so much better. He was the wild card for us as we’ve played with the Rugrats on a few occasions, and I must say he was a delight.  (There may have been mumblings afterward of sending Rugrat #1 to his house next time and having Friend 1 come by and game on his own.)

Final Thoughts

Rugrat #1 and his friend told us they had completed a unit on bees in school, and knew most of the bee facts that were shared during the adventure, but Ken and I found them interesting. I would recommend that anyone GMing to the younger crowd makes a point of these facts. It is really easy for them to get lost in the excitement of the adventure, and they are pretty interesting (plus a great educational take away).

Rugrat #1 hates conflict. And not being awesome. Obviously these are serious hurdles with Pathfinder.  On more than one occasion he stormed off, hiding in his room. I’m not sure there’s a great way to avoid this if you have a similar child in your life, but reminding him (or her) ahead of time about teamwork is a good idea.  This adventure also did a great job of not having the players “kill” anything.  Opponents were paper wasps.  Wasps actually made of paper (and it was a great tie-in to a previous PGA adventure).  This meant instead of killing a living thing, characters destroyed or ripped the paper, defeating the paper wasp – a very nice touch for children who are sensitive or otherwise upset by violence. I think this made it easier for Rugrat #1, and Rugrat #2’s favorite thing was “ripping the paper wasps.”

All in all, the Rugrats and Friend 1 had fun with this adventure, and both older kids said their favorite thing was helping the queen bee, but it seems Adventures in Wonderland is still the reigning favorite, and the Rugrats are eager for more of that soon. (More on that later!)