Lately I’ve been trying to get my closest family interested in role-playing games. Hitherto without any real significant success. During our last session of Hero Kids, however, something extraordinary happened.
My family gaming group consist of my beloved (age 32), my eldest son (age 13) and my daughter (age 9). My youngest of nearly 2 years will have to wait a few years to join the fun.
The three players have had their different problems with truly getting the hang of this interest of mine. My girlfriend is overbearing and admits it is amusing, but kind of silly. Not the right kind though, more like the giggling kind of silly. My oldest has played to many video games, and has difficulty grasping the concept that there is no «winning». He is also, understandably, slightly embarrassed of playing with his dad. Further he’s prone to argue a lot and it has proved a problem accepting that I (his dad), as the GM, have the final say. My daughter has been the most susceptible, and that is probably an age thing. She really enjoys every aspect of the game, but has the problem of being a little uncertain and self-aware. In other words she really wants to do it «right». All of this has made the process of getting into the right frame of mind, that fantasy role-playing demands, quite difficult. The last time we played though something just clicked and I believe we all had a lot of fun.
The group have played the same team of pregenerated characters for a couple of sessions now. They are Hjertrud the Healer, Layla the Secret Hunter Princess and Erl the Trick Archer. The basic rule are very simple. The characters have four attributes with a corresponding dice pool of d6: Melee (Strength), Missile (Agility), Magic (Intelligence) and Defense. The pregenerated characters typically have four to five d6 divided between these attributes. In addition they all have three check boxes for health status, i.e. they can sustain three hits before being knocked out. Combat, and task resolution, is solved rolling the dice pool associated with the attribute being used and compared either to the opponents defense roll or a difficulty number determined by the GM. It is that simple. There are some further rules regarding movement, healing, equipment and so on, which we use as needed, but not all the time. Everyone seems OK with this.
We play in the basic setting of the game which is situated in an isolated vale. All the characters live in the little town called Rivenshore and their parents are, supposedly, great adventurers that quite often leave the town in the kids’ quite capable hands. Dangers are all around this otherwise peaceful town, and it is up to the kids to save the day more often than not.
One of the great things about Hero Kids is that, besides pencils and six-sided dice, it comes with everything you need to play. Each adventure has its own set of map tiles and small paper miniatures to be used in play.
The starting adventure, Basement O Rats, is sadly not that exciting. It might be my skills (and by that I mean lack of) as a GM, but a rescue mission/dungeon crawl with only rats, just a couple of obstacles, no weird features and a really bland rat boss at the end almost killed our enthusiasm for Hero Kids from the get-go. However, it must have left some impression, because the next adventure went a lot more smoothly.
I prepared less for the Escape from the Ghost Pirates-adventure than I did for Basement O Rats. To my astonishment my daughter had thought a bit about her own character, Layla. The character looks like a Rapunzel in rags, and has the pretty cool ability to use her exceptional long hair to strike at enemies from afar. Previously she has also used her hair as both rope and lasso. My daughter had now decided that she must be a princess (don’t they all?), and that she was on the run and nobody knew who she really was. She had to sell her fancy princess dress to survive, and she lives as an orphan hunter in Rivenshore. This was great, finally some creativity.
The adventure starts with the village folk waking up and discovering that the fog that drifted into Rivenshore last night was magical and that it had put them all to sleep. They are now all trapped aboard a pirate ship and only the kid characters are small enough to slip through the bars of their cells. The kids do so and handily discovers their equipment in a pile just outside the cell. As they moved about I described the surroundings and the sounds and movements of the sea and the ship. They didn’t seem very impressed, until the moved further along the lower deck and entered the part where they were attacked by vicious pirates. The pirates acted menacingly and called the kids ugly names (that they themselves have been taught not to say…). Naturally, combat happened, and the poor pirates got a bashed so hard that they vanished into a cloud of dust and smoke leaving only their clothes behind. This told the party that perhaps these were no ordinary pirates. At this moment the game had progressed basically as the previous game, i.e. not very exciting. But then the thing happened.
I described the area the characters now found themselves in: heavy cannons, cannon balls, some rope and lots of crates and barrels. This is the moment something clicked in the mind of my players and they suddenly began to actively interact with their surroundings. They began to search the ship, discovering things and, most importantly taking advantage of it for both role-playing and for combat. They discovered that everything is allowed and that there are practically no set boundaries in role-playing games.
This is probably what was missing from Basement O Rats: an interesting environment that encouraged role-play and stuff to use and interact with. The rest of the adventure went like a dream. My daughter picked up everything she could find, dried peas and rotten fish from the barrels, and she even picked up all the pirates’ clothing. Why? I asked her, and on the spot she made up a story about her boyfriend at home that liked to dress up (yeah, I know… no idea where that came from). The piratewear was for him. The other players tried to use dried peas to trip their enemies (unsuccessful due to bad dice), and there was action involving throwing of cannonballs, rotten fish and skeleton heads. The high point was my girlfriend and daughter successfully using their magical staff and hair to pick up two skeleton heads each and dropping two advancing skeletons simultaneously. There was even green flames. And blue flames. The archer repeatedly firing two arrows at once. Much bashing of heads. And pulverized enemies. The players aided each other, and role-played the living hell out of Escape from the Ghost Pirates. The only complaint I have with this adventure is that it is probably a little too easy. It is most certainly my fault as a GM, but more advanced guidelines on matching the difficulty would have been nice. I added some enemies in the last couple of encounters and even some «hit points» to the boss, but it didn’t seem to do much.
I recommend Hero Kids for all adults that would like to introduce kids to fantasy gaming generally, and fantasy role-playing games specifically, but skip Basement O’ Rats. Go straight to any of the other adventures in the Hero Kids-line and you should be set. You could possibly and quite easily just skip all the role-playing and play some of them as tactical miniature games to begin with and slowly add in elements of back story and characterization. Don’t expect the first couple of sessions to be like actual role-playing games. That would probably be my advice if I should start afresh.
You can read more about Hero Kids on Justin Halliday’s blog about the game, or you can just go ahead and buy one of the very reasonably priced bundles on RPGNow or DriveThruRPG.