Role-playing games (RPGs) are so much fun to play, and they give your children a chance to work on their problem-solving skills, math skills, and story-telling abilities all while letting their imagination run wild and free. RPGs tend to be a bit involved to set up, because, unlike a video game where someone else does the story creation and character designing for you, you have to do everything yourself. So if you want to help your budding adventurer and her buddies to go on a quest of epic proportions, here are seven steps to guide you along your way to being an amazing game master (GM).
1 | Know your players
First of all, you need to get to know your players. Are they into sports? What TV shows, movies, or video games do they think are the greatest? Do they prefer Han Solo or Rey? Are they nitpicky when it comes to rules? Knowing this kind of information will help you design a campaign that’s interesting to all of them, because you can draw on stories and characters they already like. When my husband was just starting to play D&D, his friend’s father set their campaign in Middle Earth because “The Lord of the Rings” movies just came out, and my husband and his buddies were enthralled. While they didn’t destroy the One Ring like Frodo and the rest of the Fellowship set out to do, they were able to go on other adventures in a familiar place with familiar people (or elves and dwarves).
2 | Pick your genre
There are so many different role-playing games out there, and they each cater to a different genre. For instance, D&D v.5 and Pathfinder are your medieval quests with dragons and knights. whereas Chronicles of Darkness is good for people who are into horror films. If your players are “Star Wars” fans, they’ll probably appreciate Force and Destiny. If they’ve always dreamed of being a superhero, like Batman or Captain America, you can try Mutants and Masterminds. Finally, if you are running a campaign for a younger crowd, RPGs designed for ages four to 10 like Hero Kids and Mouse Guard are great options.
3 | Gather your supplies
To play an RPG you can use as many or as little items as you want. At the very least, you’ll need a rule book, some character sheets, dice, pencils, and paper. You should also have a GM screen to keep your notes and dice behind. Everything else will simply help bring the game to life. For the first few times you play, it would be nice to have maps with a one-inch grid and some tokens to mark where all of the player characters (PCs) and non-player characters (NPCs) are. Even if the map is just a large sheet of grid paper with a poorly penciled-in path on it and the tokens are different coloured buttons, it will help you and your PCs visualize where everyone is during a combat so they can see if they are able to duck around the werewolf to flank him. Once everyone is hooked, you can buy 2D pawns or miniatures from tabletop war games to represent each of the characters, monsters, and NPCs.
4 | Create your story
There are three ways you can do this. You can use a pre-created campaign from the game you chose, you can make one up all on your own, or, like my husband’s GM, you can steal the plot from your players’ favorite TV show, movie, book, or video game. At first, your child and his friends might find role-playing to be a bit tricky, so think of the favorite plots as gateways into your players’ imaginations. Because they already know what General Leia looks like, it will be easier for them to become immersed in the Star Wars universe if she’s the one who gives them a mission to help overthrow the First Order. Then, once they’re enmeshed in the world, it’ll be easier for them to use their imaginations to tell their characters’ story. Even if you are making up a campaign from your head or from loved stories, you can use the NPCs that RPG games have premade. You can leave them completely the same or change their names, genders, race, etc. to make them suit your narrative better.
5 | Set some ground rules
Once you and your child’s friends are all together, it’s important for you to set some ground rules. For instance, you should decide whether or not your group is okay with talking out of character. This way, everyone will already know if it’s okay for them to go out of character and start talking about so-and-so’s party or how their awful teacher gave them tons of homework for the weekend. You can also discuss whether or not they want to role-play in the first person (as I sneak past the ogres, I think, “Please don’t let me trip on something”) or third-person (Heotene sneaks past the ogres and prays that, for once in her life, she doesn’t trip over something). Third-person is probably easier to start with, especially if they chose a character who isn’t like them. That way, they can avoid actually trying to come up with what their character said when they were convincing the innkeeper that there wasn’t another loaf of bread on the counter a moment ago.
6 | Fudge the dice
In video games or role-playing games, death is always on the line. It’s part of the thrill of making decisions and praying that you are strong enough or smart enough to defeat whatever monster or challenges the GM throws your way. However, you want to find a balance between a little bit of risk and paralyzing your PCs into inaction because they don’t want to lose their character. This is why you want a GM screen. It gives you the freedom to ignore (a.k.a. fudge) the dice to save someone’s life, or alternatively, to give someone a heroic send-off if one of your players wants to try a new class or race. You also don’t want to render your poor PC unconscious for the entirety of the adventure. In one of my friend’s first campaigns, her character was taken out by a giant bumblebee in the first quest. They didn’t have a strong enough healer to revive her (or enough money to pay someone else to do it), so she spent the rest of the adventure being dragged on a litter while the rest of the kids became heroes. While she brought herself into the game by having her character talk in her sleep with helpful advice when her friends were stuck, she still felt sad that she didn’t get to participate more when we talked about it in university. Don’t do that to your kids. Fudge the dice.
7 | Let each child shine
As you are guiding them through the story, make sure you set up different opportunities for each of the PCs to shine. If one of them is a smooth-talking rogue, give that person the chance to convince the city guards they should be allowed into the town after the gate has been shut. Maybe one of their characters is really good at fighting giants. In that case, you want to bring in a giant for them to clobber. Or perhaps one of them is really good at tracking. Let her guide the rest of the team to the wounded unicorn or lost child before it’s too late. The main thing is to mix it up when it comes to challenges. Otherwise, the kids will lose interest. If you have two (or more) kids who really want to be fighters, try to get them to stylize their characters differently. For example, think of the different ways that Aragorn, Legolas, and Gimli fought. One was a highly skilled swordsman, another excelled at archery, and the last one was unstoppable with his axe. Don’t be discouraged if your first meeting together doesn’t quite go as you envisioned it would. Remember, while you might be the guiding force in the story and sometimes need to railroad your PCs to get them where they need to be, an RPG is a collective game and the story is as much theirs as it is yours. Plus, some children might need a bit more help than others creating their characters or not feeling silly role-playing. So grab a bunch of snacks, be more prepared than you think you need to be, learn from your mistakes, and have fun.