Kids RPG Journal – #5 World-Building Themes

Even before I made the decision to go forward, I pretty much had a solid view of the world I wanted to build for the game. It is a combination of four main themes over a medieval fantasy world:

Teutonic/Viking – No surprise here. Nearly everything I’ve ever worked on has some sort of Teutonic influence. I say Teutonic instead of Viking, to include other northern European influences outside of Scandinavia. Since this is for the kids, a lot of the aesthetic will be reminiscent of How To Train Your Dragon—a huge area of interest for the boys right now.

Not Too-high Fantasy – This land is not going to include dragons and flashy wizards, goblin armies and wild magic, though I may edge into that territory at times. I am more drawn to the monsters of ghost stories and regional folklore, so the scale will tend towards the frontier-level, with events affecting local farms and towns. The monsters will be a little more fairy-lore and less world-ending. Magic will be very present, but I’m going to try to keep it more like the runes and curses of the sagas and less standard D&D.

Pirates – The other design aesthetic will be pirate-influenced. This is another area that the boys like, and I think it will be interesting to meld the Viking and Pirate designs and tropes.

Academy – Finally, with the boys deep into Harry Potter, I will also be including some elements from the academy style stories. The primary setting for the game will be at a school to train young kids to use their skills and deal with the problems (usually monsters, and maybe pirates) affecting the areas around them.

I like the school theme because it includes various things that the boys are currently dealing with. It makes it nice to have a base of operations and lends itself to stories and adventures are episodic in nature. Plus, it allows for fun recurring characters and more social dynamics than dungeon-crawl and murder-hobo campaigns.

Kids RPG Journal – #4 RPG Systems for Adults

Looking into the “adult” RPGs, I already know that I am going to completely avoid any with a bunch of rules that the players have to deal with, so that means D&D and Pathfinder are automatically out. I’ve never felt compelled by the Savage Worlds system, and I simply haven’t had time to get into Burning Wheel, though I’ve had the Mouse Guard on my wish list forever.

There are other lesser known games that I have enjoyed, but just don’t have enough meat on the bones to help me run the games I want, like Seven Leagues.

So what I have on my list is FATE, Powered by the Apocalypse games, and Gumshoe. All three are not strictly combat-oriented and encourage different modes of play.


Honestly, even though FATE was my first exploration into less rules heavy games, I have only played it a couple of times. That has not kept me from being really fascinated by it. I love the cinematic nature and freedom that Aspects play in all encounters. It is definitely my speed when it comes to story-driven  RPGs.

However, I fear that it might just a little too freeform for the kids. Since I would be putting most of the situational Aspects on the table, I fear that I’ll end up railroading the group unintentionally. The kids often latch on to my suggestions, and I don’t know that I want the direction of every encounter to be limited by my own imagination. Or that they’ll pick on particular character Aspect and try to hammer that in all situations.

PASS: Maybe I just haven’t had enough actual experience with FATE to properly wrap my head around how to run it with the kids. I’m moving away from it with more of a gut instinct than anything I can put my finger on.


I am really drawn to investigative games and I really like some of the dynamics of Gumshoe. It is, however, essentially a resource management game and I don’t know how much fun that would be for six-year-olds. Also, I may be tempted to unintentionally make any mysteries too difficult for them to solve, just by the investigative focus. Maybe when they’re a little older, we can try out Bubblegumshoe.

PASS: Like I stated above, Gumshoe might be more my thing than something I do with the kids at this point.

Dungeon World (Powered by the Apocalypse system)

I really like PbtA games. For this, I’m only really considering Dungeon World, though I could make some interesting adjustments to Monster of the Week. Aside from the flexible story-telling focus of Dungeon World, and the incredible GM tools (which I already use pretty heavily when I run D&D games), the biggest point in favor for using this with the kids is the concept of Moves.

There are a limited number of actions that the players (and GM can perform) called Moves. While the small number of moves, may seem limiting, it actually allows for very broad interpretations and inspires creative usage. What I like about them is they can represented with a couple of key words and graphic representations, which will prevent any hurdles for the kids. The game will start with no more than a dozen actions they can perform in all situations.

I would need to create all new classes (playbooks) and their corresponding moves to go in the game, but that’s nothing really different from what I would have to do for any other system.

ACCEPT: Dungeon World is simple enough that I can easily modify portions without worrying too much about ruining the play experience. I think the boys could easily grasp the mechanics of the game and not be overwhelmed.

Final Verdict: I believe the best solution will be a mashup of both Sidekick Quests and Dungeon World with my customized classes and moves to encourage other solutions for monster and adversary encounters. Primarily, I will use the mechanics of Dungeon World, but will keep a lot of the presentation similar to the setup for Sidekick Quests.

Tomorrow, I will talk a little bit more of what I imagine that will entail.

Kids RPG Journal – #3 RPG Systems for Kids

Since I’ve already ruled out D&D as an option for running a game with my kids, I looked through a number of systems I own (and I own a lot more than I have actually played) that I thought might work.

First, I looked at systems specifically geared towards kids: No Thank You Evil!, Hero Kids, and Sidekick Quests.

No Thank You Evil! is a game that I like the concept of, but the application just doesn’t really do anything for me. I purchased all of the Kickstarter sets and expansions hoping that I would enjoy it more, but like a lot of Monte Cook game products I feel it is inconsistent and incomplete. Their Cypher system could be used to get the type of game play I’m looking for, but I feel like I would be spending a lot of time fighting the system and being disappointed at the handouts and extras which are close to being useful, but not quite there, I would have to make a bunch of my own.

We’ve played this a handful of times with the boys and they loved it. I was able to make up some interesting adventures, but there was less interaction with the boys as they didn’t really know what to do with their characters (except shoot at bad guys), without prodding and suggestions from the parents.

PASS: It’s quite simply not a game I enjoy running and I’m not willing to put the effort I think it would require to run the games I want.

Hero Kids is a game which is very much like D&D lite meant for players between 4 and 10. It has a limited character sheet which is almost entirely focused on combat. There are some sparse rules to explore and role play, but the majority of the rules and adventure content is focused on fighting as the primary action.

PASS: It has all of the inherent problems as D&D and I feel like I’d be fighting against the system the entire time to run the type of game I’m looking for.

Sidekick Quests is a game I picked up on kickstarter with potential and great art which go along side a webcomic. It just completed the second Kickstart campaign and I’m interested to see what the updated game system will bring. Each sidekick character starts with four core actions, two of which can only be used once per gaming session. The emphasis is on being creative instead of always beating on monsters.

MAYBE: Of the games for kids, Sidekick Quests would be my choice to adapt. I could see myself using the character/NPC templates and the quest setup. I do feel like I could get away with providing the player characters with more than just four available actions, but I will explore that when I look at the adult games tomorrow.

All of these games have their benefits and I think if I chose any of them and played them out of the box and just play the available adventures, the boys would have a good time and appreciate their early RPG experiences. Sidekick Quests is definitely more along the lines of what I want to do and I could see myself having more fun playing that with them than the others.

Next, on to the adult games.

Kids RPG Journal – #2 System Requirements

I’m thinking about how to best select a RPG system to run for the boys.

I’m most familiar with D&D, with over twenty years experience DMing, and there is a lot I love about it, particularly the job they’ve done with 5e. However, I don’t believe it is suited for younger kids, definitely not six-year-olds. Too many rules and an emphasis on resolving conflicts by hitting them with a sword takes it off of my list. While I’ve run some very creative encounters, it is all due to extra effort by the players and DM, not built into, nor particularly encouraged by the system, meaning that most scenarios lean towards combat, and combat can become somewhat tedious.

So that means I need to find a RPG system that will suit the style of play I want, and that means I actually need to move away from a vague notion of what I want and have some solid requirements:

1) The game should be rules-light and story-heavy

2) The game should encourage creativity, without the onus all on the GM.

3) The game should not focus on combat. There are a myriad solutions for encounters without ever drawing weapons. Violence should not always be the preferred method for dealing with monsters and adversaries.

4) We should be able to run a game/play characters without reading large blocks of text. The boys are just getting into reading on their own and difficult texts will only frustrate them and slow the game down to a crawl.

5) I should be able to easily integrate ideas and practices from my own work on monsters and folklore. This is obviously a purely selfish requirement, but I have a lot of research already done that I think would be fun to play with.

6) Finally, we should all be able to focus on having fun, not continually checking to see if we can do the things we want or not. The game system will need to be flexible enough to make changes on the fly if it means a better experience.

Tomorrow, I’ll start looking at some possible systems that may work for us.

Kids RPG Journal – #1 Motivations

Recently, my twin boys turned six. It now feels like a good opportunity to begin working on something I have wanted to do for a long time: write and run RPG adventures for them.

We’ve played a couple of games with them in the past, mostly Monte Cook’s No Thank You Evil!, which the boys enjoyed. This time I wanted to do something a little more tailored to their interests as well as my own.

In order to do that, I decided to take a step back and look at the reasons why I want to do this and what I’m hoping everyone gets out of it.

Learning Experience

My first reason is purely educational. I am a long-time believer that RPGs like D&D are great educational tools and how they build problem-solving, literacy, history, math and social skills. Most of my youth was spent researching games, monsters and cultures for D&D, so naturally I gravitate towards sharing it as a learning method.

My boys are just now really digging into learning to read on their own and doing basic math. It feels like a really good time to go for it.

Interest is High

The boys are really into the How To Train Your Dragon and Harry Potter. They like Alexander’s Prydain books, and loved the Black Cauldron movie. They are excited for  us to read the Spiderwick Chronicles soon. I think they are just a bit young to make it through The Hobbit, but they go through a lot of my illustrated monster manuals and books on folklore to check out all of the strange creatures. They like the monster drawings I do and make requests for their favorite beasts.

I naturally associate all of these subjects of monsters and wizards and Vikings with gaming. Why not strike while the iron is hot?


Like most kids, my boys are awesome at creating tales and situations. They are natural storytellers. Creativity and improvisation are required for RPGs and will only improve their skills.

It’s something I want to foster and give them permission to carry that on into adulthood.

 Coming Together with Passion

My wife and I make a point to read, draw, and play with the boys. One thing we haven’t done is make time for regular family game nights. This is almost entirely my fault as I just don’t like board games all that much. I have a difficult time getting excited and passionate about them. I feel like I’m faking it for them and that isn’t how I want the game nights to go.

I don’t know what it is about games that I don’t like, but I get really uncomfortable and put out when I have to play games meant for more than one person.  Ask me to participate in a trivia night, a board game or even a white elephant gift exchange and I’ll show you my magical disappearing act. The exception to that is RPGs.

I’ve been passionate about RPGs for decades since I first discovered D&D in the mid-eighties and can show true passion when putting a game together. There’s no better subject for me to play with my kids than this.


RPGs are really only limited by our imaginations. Anything we want to add, we can. If there is something that the boys are having trouble with or are really interested in, then it can be integrated as a parallel subject/character/adventure within the game.


Finally, I want to give them the chance to play characters that they create themselves. Not something from a TV show or comic or toy that they have, but from their imagination. Since they are six, the initial characters will start off pretty derivative (So far the requests have been to play Toothless or Thor), but with time, they will develop their own personalities and histories of failure and success.

This is a lot to put on a simple game night and I don’t intend to focus on all of these for every gaming session, but I’ll try to have a specific goal in mind when we sit down to play. No matter how the game evolves, I know that we’ll all have a lot of fun and that is always be the number one goal.



The mummy is a dusty old walker originally hailing from the hot lands of the far south. Opposite of the ghoul and other abandoned dead, the mummy is unable to make the journey to the underworld because it is bound to our world by elaborate funerary rites, either intentionally or by accident.

Sometimes less is more when saying goodbye, particularly when removing and pickling parts. These rites must be undone if the dead is to find peace.



The wraith has spent so much of its life twisting every thought and every discussion back to itself that it failed to notice its own death. Its form has become as warped and wracked as the shriveled black heart inside, obsessing about losing their skill, power, or beauty.

Not only do they do this creepy backwards walking crawling thing, but their very touch, and I dare say five minutes conversation, will drain one of vigor and will to live.



The Draug is what you get when the biggest jerk in town finally eats grave-dirt. These people were so vile in life that it corrupted the body so much it refuses to die and turns into a big, bloated, blue-skinned monster.

They are vengeful wights seeking to do harm and guard wealth they hoarded in life. Unfortunately, being nasty has given their corpses some pretty sweet powers, such as ability to walk through walls, light fetch fire, the evil eye, and shape shifting.



The ghoul is the walking corpse of a person abandoned in the wild who likes to consume both the living and the dead. These leathery, eyeless husks seek revenge on those who abandoned them through snacking. They cannot end their eternal buffet until they receive proper burial rituals.




The vampire is an extremely bitey Walker who uses seduction and mesmerism to drink the blood of those whom it knew in life. Quite the flirt, these creatures can draw in victims through longing, guilt and the allure of eternal death, though they’re constantly leaving grave dirt on the floor and have dank carrion breath.