If you’re like me, you started playing games as a middle-school or high-school student in the late twentieth century. And if you’re like me, you now have one or more kids of your own who are in or approaching that age range, that you’d like to introduce to the joys of tabletop gaming. This holiday season, DriveThruRPG offers us a great opportunity to invite our spawn to the table, with their Teach Your Kids to Game sale.
Update, 12-31-18: The Teach Your Kids to Game sale has ended, but I stand by these recommendations for introducing younger players to fantasy RPG gaming. I believe that DriveThruRPG runs the Teach Your Kids sale every holiday season, so I expect that at least some of these games will be included again next year. Until then, I stand by my recommendations–even at their every-day prices, my top three picks are great games for roleplayers of all ages.
Here are my top three picks from the Teach Your Kids to Game sale. Together, they form a complete pathway to adventure for aspiring young gamers, covering every age from pre-Kindergarten to eighth-grade graduation and beyond!
(Regularly $5.95; Sale price $2.38)
Amazing Tales is a beautiful, 96-page book, but the rules can be explained to a kindergartner in five minutes or less. The rules are covered in a handful of pages at the front of the book, followed by a dozen or so pages of advice on involving the players in inventing the story and incorporating their ideas in exciting, dramatic ways. The remaining two-thirds of the book are filled with ideas for creating adventures with your kids in each of four settings: the Deep Dark Wood, Magical Kingdoms of Log Ago, the Pirate Seas, and out Among the Stars. Though these worlds can contain dozens of adventures each, once you’ve read them and run a game or two, you won’t have any trouble inventing new settings of your own in any genre that appeals to your particular emerging gamers.
Amazing Tales is very much a collaborative story-telling game, sort of Dungeon-World-meets-Dr.-Seuss. The minimal dice mechanics inject suspense and uncertainty to an adventure that the young players essentially make up for themselves, with the guidance of an adult gamemaster. There’s no tactical map, no miniatures or counters. Paper and pencils (or, better yet, colored markers) are used mostly for drawing the heroes and the setting, not for tracking stats, spells, experience points or inventory. The key here is for everyone involved to work together and exercise their imaginations; problem solving and monster-bashing are secondary at best. Play is fast and wild, and an adventure can easily be completed within the attention span of your average five-year-old. The video below shows the game’s designer, Martin Lloyd, running a session for two kids that I assume are his own children…
This is very much a game for the “read me a story” age bracket, inviting kids to become active participants in the stories they enjoy. Kids in the pre-K to second grade range won’t notice how much Amazing Tales relies on the adult gamemaster to provide heavy-handed, deus-ex-machina-style control to keep the story on track and moving forward. But since Amazing Tales assumes on a certain degree of maturity and selflessness in the GM, I wouldn’t expect a child to be able to successfully gamemaster a session for other children. Third graders and older children will likely prefer a slightly more crunchy rule set, which quantifies risks and rewards a bit more concretely. That’s where Hero Kids comes in.
(Regularly $5.99; Sale price $2.39)
I’ve already recommended Hero Kids here at PnPG, but I mention it again because during this sale, it’s available at the best price I’ve ever seen. I also bring it up because it’s the logical next step for young gamers who have “graduated” from Amazing Tales. Hero Kids offers somewhat more complex roleplaying scenarios as well as simple, tactical combat played out with miniatures on a battle mat. As a more traditional, D&D-style roleplaying game, Hero Kids does requires a bit of pre-session prep. Fortunately, an introductory adventure is included with the core rulebook, and a dozen or so more complete adventures are available from DriveThruRPG. The adventures are straightforward enough that an experience roleplayer can run them after a single read-through. The core rulebook comes with character cards and printable miniatures for the player characters and an assortment of classic fantasy foes. Every published adventure includes additional minis and monster cards, as well as printable battle maps for each encounter that fit neatly on a single letter-sized sheet of paper.
If you buy Hero Kids during the sale and like it, I recommend picking up the Hero Kids Complete Fantasy Bundle. This package includes almost $80 worth of Hero Kids expansions and adventures for less than $20, and DriveThruRPG automatically deducts the price of any products you’ve already purchased from the cost of the bundle when you buy it.
(Regularly $7.99; Sale price $5.35)
Beyond the Wall is a straight-up OSR roleplaying game, every bit as complex as original D&D (but much better organized!). Its appeal to younger gamers is more thematic than mechanical—it is influenced heavily by “young adult” fantasy adventures like Ursula LeGuin’s Earthsea Saga, Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain, and C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, as well as the Disney film, Brave. The game and its attendant character playbooks and scenario packs guide players to create young heroes defending a small, medieval village against goblins, faerie lords, and other very Celtic-inspired foes. Young veterans of Amazing Tales will easily adapt to collaborative character- and setting-creation process in Beyond the Wall, while Hero Kids’ more conventional adventure format will have prepared them well for its richer, deeper tactical and roleplay challenges. With its tight focus on source material that is familiar to pre-teen and teen-aged readers, coupled with its well-designed OSR rule system, Beyond the Wall is a great game to transition middle-schoolers from simpler, kids’ RPGs to the richer, more complex experience of “grown-up” games.
Even if you don’t have children, there’s plenty of value in Beyond the Wall for indie RPG fans. As I mentioned in my mini-review of the Beyond the Wall last July, it does an amazing job of merging modern story-gaming techniques with familiar OSR mechanics to vividly evoke a very specific sub-genre of fantasy literature. If you like collaborative, improvisational spirit of story games, Beyond the Wall is a great introduction to traditional, D&D-style roleplaying. If you’re an experienced old-school gamer, this game will show you how powerful and enjoyable collaborative story-building can be. I enthusiastically recommend Beyond the Wall to tabletop roleplayers at its regular price; during this sale, it’s a must-buy!
Games I’m Considering…
There are a handful of games included in the sale that I haven’t purchased yet, but I’m considering picking up while they’re discounted. If you’re familiar with any of them, please leave a comment with your opinions!
- Mouse Guard (Regularly $34.99; Sale price $19.99) Two people (or maybe four) have gotten me interested in Mouse Guard, Luke Crane’s RPG based on David Petersen’s graphic novel series about medieval mice. The first of these is, of course, acclaimed game designer Luke Crane; I’ve been curious about Crane’s unique RPG, Burning Wheel, since I heard rock-star GM Adam Koebel describe it as one of his favorite games. The third person is Bryan Jacques, author of the Redwall novels; I was a little too old for them when they first appeared in the mid-1980s, but I still read and enjoyed a couple of them. The fourth person would be Wil Wheaton; I saw him play Mice and Mystics with his own family on his web series, Tabletop, and didn’t realize until just now that they weren’t playing Mouse Guard! The main thing holding me back is the fact that the PDF lacks the cards and other accessories included in the boxed edition of the game. (Did you notice me slip in Dungeon World co-designer Koebel as person #2?) Also, Mouse Guard would give me a golden opportunity to actually play with OkumArts’ Mice and Rats miniatures I bought a while back!
- Pugmire (Regularly $14.99; Sale price $10.04) Another anthropomorphic animal fantasy RPG, the well-reviewed Pugmire is based on the 5e SRD, so it should be very accessible to modern D&D players. Although I haven’t played it, Pugmire reminds of Disney’s classic take on Robin Hood, in which Robin and Marian were foxes, Little John was a bear, and the Sheriff of Nottingham was a crafty wolf voiced by Slim Pickens. If I shell out for this game and it won’t let me run that sort of campaign, I’ll be disappointed.
- Tiny Dungeon: Hatchling Edition (Regularly $13.99; Sale price $9.37) I haven’t read this one yet, but I own and love the game it’s based on, the minimalist RPG Tiny Dungeon. Based on a simple, versatile d6 mechanic, the Tiny Dungeon games don’t let rules slow down the storytelling. Even more appealing to me in Tiny Dungeon 2e are the twenty unique and creative campaign settings sketched out in the “Micro-Settings” section, which makes up more than half of the core book. I can only assume that the nine settings covered in the Hatchling Edition are just as interesting, since they were penned by many of the same authors who wrote the original micro-settings.
Not on Sale, but Good for Kids
They’re not part of the Teach Your Kids to Game sale, but David Okum offers two tabletop games that I think are especially good for grown-ups to play with their children. Darkfast Dungeons is a GM-less dungeon crawler, in which the classic assortment of adventurers team up to explore a monster-infested labyrinth and escape with all the loot they can carry. The dungeon is generated and populated randomly as it is explored, built out of print-and-play tiles included in the game files. The core game includes cards and miniatures for the heroes as well as a wide array of classic monsters, and two expansion sets—the horror-themed Realm of Shades and the steampunky Steam and Sword—add more heroes, enemies and rules.
Save the Day is a fast-playing superhero RPG that builds upon the mechanics introduced in Darkfast Dungeons, but relies upon a gamemaster to prepare and run the adventure. Character creation is an amazingly elegant process in which you combine one of ten origins—like Mutant, Strange Visitor (alien), or Mystic (magical)—with one of ten classes—like Crime Fighter, Gadgeteer, or Shapeshifter. Each origin and class offers a different set of powers to choose from, allowing thousands of unique characters to be generated using a process that can be completed in minutes. Okumarts has also released several collections of villains and a handful of prepared adventures to support busy gamemasters, along with a wide assortment of the printable superpowered and civilian miniatures that David is famous for.
One Last Thing: Free Kid Minis!
If you’re playing fantasy games with your kids, you’ll probably need some young fantasy heroes for your tabletop. Fortunately, onemonk.com—your 0ne-stop shop for free cardstock miniatures—offers Imperfect Child Adventurers, part of the immense Imperfect People line of free minis from Dryw the Harper. These little guys and gals will represent your junior gamers with pride! And while you’re at it, be sure to check out all of Dryw’s free miniatures at One Monk!
If you love your games, and you love your kids, I hope these suggestions help you bring the two together at the game table. And if you know of other tabletop RPGs that work well for younger gamers, please share them in the comments below. Until next time (whenever that actually arrives…sorry!), keep on printing, and keep on playing!