I love gaming with my kids. I especially love playing tabletop roleplaying games with them. Over the years, I’ve come up with a handful of tips that keep the game smooth and fun, even if your players are still in grade school. I’m posting them here, both as a public service to gamer parents, and as a reminder to myself: this, future-self, is how you have fun.
Let Them be Silly
When given the freedom of an RPG, my kids will express their creativity by being silly. They give their characters silly names and silly clothes; they respond to serious situations with goofy in-character comments and outrageous courses of action. Thing One’s first reaction to any situation is to ask, “Can I eat it?”
This used to drive me crazy. I’m trying to run a serious game here, exploring the depth of the human condition and the themes of violence against elves… while they’re making fart jokes.
I’ve learned to embrace it. (“Sure, you can eat the glowing moss, but you suspect it would make you sick.”) As long as their silliness isn’t disrupting the game for anyone else, let it go. Their fun is more important than whatever highbrow experience I might have had in mind.
Let Them be Awesome
Part of the fun is RPGs is doing things in-game that we could never do in real life — face down orcs, explore strange new worlds, make decent time on the freeway during rush hour — so it’s easy to try things that are a bit beyond what the game world supports. “Instead of just swinging my sword, can I leap off this balcony, bounce off the dragon’s head, and land on the minotaur’s shoulders so I’m riding it?”
Instead of just saying “No” when a kid proposes a ludicrous stunt (even if it seems unlikely they could possibly succeed), consider the worst case scenario. Does it break the game? Does it make the game less fun for others? If not, go ahead and let him or her roll. Doing cool things should be encouraged, not punished.
Let Them Surprise You
It’s a truism that RPG players never do what the GM expects. This is twice as true if the players are under 12. Rather than exploring the dungeon you’ve meticulously designed, they decide to go hunt for frogs in the woods. Rather than face the hideous monster, they decide to leave and call the police from a safe location. Rather than kill the undead dragon, they beat it into submission and ask it to become their pet.
Roll with it. These are their characters. You’re all playing those characters’ adventures. And if that means making up a frog-centric adventure plot on the fly, or figuring out what it would take to convince a draco-lich to stop eating people… then so be it. It’s a small price to see the delight on their faces when their crazy idea, rather than bringing the game to a halt, affects the world in ways they couldn’t have predicted
Leave Them Wanting More
Finally, keep your sessions short. Be aware of your players’ attention spans. It’s okay to play for just an hour, or even less. It’s far better to run 15 minutes of fun gaming that leaves the kids excited and looking forward to more than to try to keep them focused for three hours.