Role Playing Games for kids

Our son loves reading.  He’s recently gotten way into The Magic Treehouse series and we’ve since completed the full series (all 45 books!).  It occurred to me, since he’s so interested in storytelling, that he might be into those Choose-Your-Own Adventure books that I wasted my youth reading and re-reading until every possible scenario had been played out.  That had mixed success (mostly due to the actual story — which was some crazy alien space opera with names that had more consonants than they had a right to).  I started wondering about the options for RPGs for kids — surely they’re out there, right?

I came across this article from GeekDad, who has been trying to introduce role playing to his kids.  Apparently, Dungeons & Dragons has wised up and started tapping the limitless potential of getting kids hooked on gaming before they’re in their double-digits.  And why not?  It’s storytelling, it’s family time, it involves math and reasoning and — if you run it well — could bring in history or social studies or any number of other educational subjects.  Plus, it’s fun as hell to bash on a monster and rewarding when you emerge victorious.

So I downloaded Monster Slayers: Heroes of Hesiod, which is a little mini-scenario with a very basic framework with the idea of introducing young or novice gamers to role playing.  I got the pages printed out at the FedEx Office, laminated the character tokens and mini character sheets and the badges they are awarded when they defeat the monsters.  The general premise of the scenario is just a training exercise — the player characters are kids who have to be trained to fight because their village is always being attacked by monsters. It was a hit!  But it quickly became evident that the limitations of this particular scenario would start cramping the kids (and, honestly, the adults — my wife and I) pretty quickly once we ran through the same basic hack and slash adventure a few times.

So, I decided to modify it a bit.  Create a little halfway house between the basic, stripped-down Monster Slayers rules and full-on Dungeons and Dragons D20 rules.  I created similar character sheets, adding a new Monk character just to throw in some variety, and gave everyone some basic weapons and armor based on their classes.  Each character has one special ability, which correlates to some spell or skill or feat that their character can do (based, again, on actual D20 rules — possibly a bit fudged here and there).  I came up with a very simple adventure (which lives entirely in my head), designed a couple maps, and grabbed some monster pages out of the D&D Monsters Manual.

!! Spoiler alert! DMs Only! !!
The scenario goes like this: a pack of wolves have been raiding the village’s chicken coops on the north end of town.  The heroes (now in their basic, level 1 equivalents) meet Loomis at the cabin where they’ve been conducting their training, and Loomis tells them about the situation and asks if they could help out and find out what’s driving the wolves into town and take care of the situation.  To the north (which, if you’re playing along, is equivalent to two lengths of the first map in the adventure’s documents) they find the pack of wolves led by a single dire wolf.  The wolves will attack the heroes, but they’re not really out for a fight, and will retreat — if possible — if their hit points get too far down.  If the heroes slay the dire wolf, they effectively complete the mission and the rest of the pack leaves the village alone.  Of course, I wouldn’t be much of a DM if that was all that was going on, would I?

Since Beholders played a role in the training, I decided to throw one into this scenario as well.  To the far north (the second map) there is a cave in the mountains where a lone Beholder has taken up residence, pushing the wolves out of their former territory.  Inside the cave there is some loot for any adventurers brave enough to try to defeat the Beholder.  This is a standard Monsters Manual beholder, so should be a pretty tough cookie for a bunch of Level 1s, so the loot should be worthwhile if they care to venture further.

The importance of visuals

In playing Monster Slayers, the visual aspect seemed very important to the kids, who really needed a visual reference to understand what’s going on.  It’s much harder to ask them to visualize a cluster of rocks which is blocking your view of the monster than to just point on the map and say “there”.  So I continued and made the maps for my scenario.  I also took some Lego people and fashioned Lego heroes for each PC.  It added to the interest and, I think made the whole thing a lot more fun.  Now I’m eyeing the Playmobil dragon we have and am waiting until the PCs are a high enough level to possibly take on a dragon — the relative size between the Lego minifigs and the Playmobil dragon are just about right…

I made the monster tokens for the same reason — because it’s important for them to be able to see their enemies and where they are coming from and going.  Additionally, I added illustrations to the character sheets of the weapons and armor (if any) to provide even further visual reference and more visual cues about what their character is holding and/or wearing.

We’ll see how far we get until I have to modify the rules again.  To be honest, I’m not entirely sure what I’m going to do once they level up in terms of their special abilities — I’ve considered either allowing them to do their initial special or a new one, or just giving them a new one that’s more powerful than the last one.  We’re playing with precocious 3 (almost 4) and 6 year olds, so I’m thinking simpler is probably better.

You can download the DM resources here, via Scribd.  You can also find a copy of Monster Slayers on Scribd, or download the PDF from Wizards of the Coast.

Free Halloween Blogger Template: Pumpkin Patch

Celebrate Autumn. Revel in harvest. Decorate with pumpkins. Dress up your blog for Halloween.

This fall blogger template is just the right balance of cute and all grown up, conjuring crisp weather, rich autumn colors and the smell of pumpkin pie. It would be a perfect choice for Halloween if spooky isn’t your thing, or you’d like something to enjoy for the whole fall season.

Download Pumpkin Patch 835KB

Pumpkin Patch

Celebrate Autumn. Revel in harvest. Decorate with pumpkins. Dress up your blog for Halloween.

This fall blogger template is just the right balance of cute and all grown up, conjuring crisp weather, rich autumn colors and the smell of pumpkin pie. It would be a perfect choice for Halloween if spooky isn’t your thing, or you’d like something to enjoy for the whole fall season.

Download Pumpkin Patch 835KB
Downloaded 193 times

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aaand this is why digg > slashdot

so, don’t get me wrong.  i ♥ slashdot, i even like reading the comments for their biting snark, but it’s pretty much a given that if you post something stupid, lame, or sentimental, by anyone‘s standards, you’re asking for a lashing on the old /.

sometime over the summer or early in the year there was this viral vid of a kid who had just come home from the dentist’s and he was tripping on nitrous oxide, and pretty much freaking out about it.  his dad was mildly supportive, but mostly he was videotaping the thing and laughing.  then he posted it to youtube and his blog because he thought it was so funny.  if you look at it from the kids’ perspective, dad was being pretty f’d up.

i mention that video because this one is not that.  it’s not a parent videotaping their kid in order to laugh at, jeer at, or make fun of them.  it’s mildly amusing because of the dad’s reactions, and because the kid is so grateful and well-spoken about it.  but, more important than the video, and why i’m currently digging digg more than slashdot, is the comments on this link.

The Only Prepubescent Kid Who Deserves an Xbox 360 (video)

rather than automatically being on the aggressive side about the video, the link, the submitter, the kid, the dad, and pretty much life in general, the comments are overwhelmingly positive.  being so used to reading flames and sarcasm, the difference is striking, and refreshing.  and probably being a parent has made me a bit more sentimental, as well.  so yeah, i think this puts digg above slashdot for commenters not being dickwads.

the not-so-hidden value of netflix

i’m pretty much completely in love with netflix.

it started with some casual experimentation through a friend during college.  he had a netflix subscription and we’d often get triple features of obscure asian action flicks (digging deep in the early career of jet li with the once upon a time in china series — which i highly recommend, btw) and post-modern art films like  eXistenZ and naked lunch (and pretty much anything else by david cronenberg).

after graduation, netflix and i drifted apart, and i spent more time with the cult classics, indpendent and anime sections at hollywood video.

all that changed when erin and i had kids.

what used to be a simple 20 minute trip to see what we haven’t watched already and browse the new video releases, suddenly became: “do we take G with us?  should one of us go alone?  this sucks…maybe we can just download something…”  suddenly, netflix was not only a great library of obscure videos, but a welcome replacement for what used to be the friday night trip to the video store.

sure there’s the fact that you don’t get your videos right away.  but i think that’s just a matter of retraining your brain.  rather than expecting you’ll hit the video store on friday, if you already have a queue set up of stuff you want, one that you’re watching and updating in between deliveries, you’re guaranteed that when friday (or whenever) hits, you’ll have something you know you want to watch.  and the recommendation engine really is pretty good (most of the time).

but even that isn’t what makes netflix a comcast- (or insert-cable-company-name-here) killer.  no, the real secret (that isn’t really a secret) of netflix is their instant viewing catalog.

i’ve been using the watch instantly feature a lot lately.  much more so than the dvd rentals themselves.  often, we’ll forget to put the dvd’s in the mail — something that was completely unfounded a couple years ago.  but i don’t beat myself up over losing value in the membership with netflix by hanging onto dvd’s longer than we need to anymore.  and the reason is that there are hundreds — if not thousands — of titles i want to watch that i can check out right this second.  my 4 year old just finished the full run of the original astroboy series, which he’s been working on for the past several weekends.  we watched wall-e for the first time streamed through netflix, and then for the second and third times.  we’re not really  huge on dora the explorer, but the fact that you can stream the full first and second seasons means that if and when it comes up, we can play it for the kids and not have to own the dvds.  and we’ve discovered great new kid shows like kipper and the rubbadubbers that we wouldn’t have found otherwise.

watch instantly is perfect for hermetic parents like us, who are more likely to buy books on amazon than hop in a car to barnes & nobles or a used book store because the latter means making oneself look vaguely presentable to the outside world, getting the kids’ jackets and shoes on, remembering to take the kids to the potty, making sure to take the dog outside to pee…by the time all that’s done, it’s time for lunch (or dinner, or bed, etc…).  i’d love to be able to go see new movies, but being able to see new-ish rentals streamed via netflix isn’t too bad, either.

it’s all thanks to their recent partnership with starz, a premium cable channel like hbo and showtime that honestly, i’d never even heard of before i read this article in wired.  but i’m sure glad they forged the deal, because all of a sudden, netflix exploded with streaming options the like of which longtime subscribers had never seen before.  and not just the weird, obscure, b-movie indie-type films like cannibal: the musical or B.U.S.T.E.D.(both of which you can stream, by the way, and i recommend both of them).  no, as previously mentioned, mainstream — and top selling — flicks like wall-e and bridget jones’s diary can be streamed as well now.

how netflix pulls it off involves a complex system of who has access rights for broadcasting films that i only understand half of.  i recommend reading the previously mentioned (and linked) wired article for a better explanation than i could begin to articulate.  what i do know is that it’s one thing to rent out dvds (or cds, or videos) because ownership law states that once you own something, you can pretty much do whatever you want with it shy of reproducing copies of it yourself and profiting off it — which includes renting out your copies of the originals.  once you decide to stream content — this applies to any content, be it video or audio — you enter into a whole different world of copyright law as it applies to broadcasting and who gets what royalties.  by partnering with starz, starz essentially deals with the legal stuff — because they already have that in place.  netflix shares starz’s access to new (and old) movies, and passes along the streaming content to its’ subscriber base.  i only hope that eventually hbo and showtime decide to stop fighting netflix and jump on the boat, because it shouldn’t matter to them — either way they’ll get their paycheck, and i’m guessing a whole bunch more people will jump onto netflix if netflix has a vast new library that includes everything hbo or showtime has access to.

this, of course, makes netflix public enemy number 1 in the eyes of the other content providers for movies and television — your cable company.  it will be interesting to see how things play out, but already there’s momentum to move stuff online and content providers will need to think (and act) more like isps to keep their users.  soon it will be hulu + netflix vs. cable tv with hbo.  i know what side i’m on: i may have a cable subscription, but it’s not tv that’s running through that coax — it’s data.