I’ve been GMing for a group of elementary school kids since last summer. Although “Dice Club” formed through the PTO’s facebook group, we didn’t make it an official school thing and just met for the first few months in the local comic shop until one of the parents offered her home for meetings. Here’s how we did it!
What Is a Roleplaying Game?
I know, right? I agonized over some kind of introductory text or speech only to find out that children don’t need to be told what roleplaying is. They already know – those awkward paragraphs in countless gaming books are for grownups.
Roleplaying is a conversation. You and the other players take turns telling a story together. This isn’t a normal story, however. We won’t know what will happen! We play the game to find out.
We have rules to help us figure out what happens when someone says particular things, and they guide what everyone should say after. Many times these rules will involve rolling dice. We might not be able to agree on what should happen, or we might not know what we want to happen, so we go to the dice. When that happens, we follow the dice and the rules. If we don’t, we’re just arguing over pretend people.
That said, we are people playing a game, and people are always more important than any game. If you need to stop or rewind, or anything makes you uncomfortable, let us know.My overwrought intro
Next, I had a glossary of nerd words like “2d6” and “GM” and “NPC” and a section for the parents if they wanted to watch some youtube videos with paracelebrities playing D&D.
My First RPG
There’s a wide range of math skills between kindergarten and 4th grade, and with only an hour per week (and one hour is plenty believe me) I needed a system that I was familiar with, had simple mechanics, didn’t restrict the kids’ imaginations, and was fast at the table. I ended up mashing PbtA 2d6 resolution against Fate Accelerated approaches, so despite having time elves, steampunk skeletons, and pokemon in the same party, everyone could follow the same rules.
I didn’t even have hearts/health on the first iteration of the sheet. I didn’t want death to be a consequence in the kids’ first game, but they managed anyway when one girl playing a teleporting cloud figured out she could telefrag the evil dragon queen. “You’ll both die if you do this, are you sure?” She was, and was adamant that nobody make a life potion or travel to the land of the dead or anything like that. She totally understood heroic sacrifice in a way that went over some of the older kids’ heads.
The Kid Hack
We started with indie, but for our second campaign I wanted to try something a little closer to D&D/OSR. The kids were into the idea, and I figured The Black Hack would be simple enough. Right away the younger kids had issues with number overload. Restricting character choices from “anything you can think of” to more typical fantasy classes was a pain point as well. We got through it, though, and I discovered that children are highly motivated by fictional treasure and equally likely to try to charm or befriend any monster that talks as they are to try to turn it into potions or clothing. Kids – the original murderhobos.
Overall, I think TBH skewed a little too old for us rules-wise. The older kids handled it okay, and there were some older middle-school sisters who sat in from time to time and they loved it, but it was just too much game for the young’uns. For the next game, I decided to show the kids a game that expanded the boundaries of what rpgs could be.
Dread: Fortunknown’s Battlenite
I’ve always thought Dread would be great for a PUBG one-shot, and everyone in Dice Club knew Fortnite (with some older kids familiar with the Hunger Games and Maze Runner). I explained the rules and smiled to myself when their eyes widened at “if you knock the tower down – if anyone knocks the tower down – your character dies”. I had their attention.
“You wake up on the open ramp of a cargo plane flying over an island. You have enough time to realize you’re wearing a parachute before men with guns push you out. You’re falling. What do you do?”My opener for our game of Epidiah Ravachol’s Dread
Our one-shot was more LOST or Survivor than Fortnite or PUBG simply because I didn’t introduce many things that could be used as weapons. They focused on alliances, figuring out who to trust, and finding things to survive. The notable thing about Dread with kids is that unlike The Black Hack or our previous PbtA meatloaf, everyone was laser-focused on the tower and who was making the pull. We did have one death near the end, when the island turned out to be an active volcano and everyone was racing for the rescue helicopter, but there weren’t hard feelings.
We’re back to our original system for our current game, which started around Halloween. Everyone made some sort of classic monster – vampires, hydras, varkolaks, medusas, witches, etc – and they formed a sort of super-team to protect Cherenkovia from bad guy monsters. Some of the kids wanted to try superheroes while others wanted to go back to fantasy, so this compromise seems to have pleased everyone so far. This time around I’m trying to ask the kids what they think should happen on 7-9 results and how failing a roll might still be interesting. My end goal is to get them running their own games, and failing that, to get them thinking about compromise and listening to others.
GMing for kids is noisy, chaotic, and tests your patience. Attention spans are short, table talk is very yes, but their guileless enthusiasm is astounding.