UPDATE: Here’s a tri-fold thingy with my experiences:
https://drive.google.com/file/d/1108ntiEfeQaSOWPYUQz2vIe33IwdWrHI/view?usp=sharing (print-ready PDF)
— Original post —
I’ve been playing for a while now with my 4yo daughter and I’d like to share my experiences so far and show you my mindset when it comes to prepping and GMing with her.
LESS NUMBERS: We roll a d12 vs the target, which is most of the time between 4 and 6.
At the moment, she isn’t able to read numbers like “16” and compare that to let’s say 13. Hence, we’re using smaller numbers. In the beginning we started with a binary die with and on it (built from scratch). After that we moved to a boardgame playing d6 (with dots, so she was counting). Meanwhile she recognizes numbers between 1-8 by seeing the number. So we moved into the d12 so she can learn more numbers.
It is a 1 and a 0. That’s a ten!
Comparing numbers is also a big thing. When using a “real” die, we rolled for “3 or more” and that worked like a charm.
TAGS OVER STATS: You are strong? Roll again if you don’t make it!
Adding a roll bonus is too much for a 4yo. So I started offering her descriptive tags like strong, fast or smart to allow her to describe her character’s abilities. They simply work like a automatic hero coin
Oh, only a 3
But you are strong! Roll again!
PLAYER FACING: The cat tries to hit you with its paw. What do you do? […] Cool, let’s see if you’re fast enough!
The concept of a Defense stat makes no sense to small children. They want to DO IT on their own (I’m not even allowed to flush the toilet for her anymore )
Let them shine, let them be heroic.
SIMPLE EFFORT: You repel the cat away from the bird’s nest. Now it’s close to fall from the tree
As Hank already suggested: Effort doesn’t always need Hearts. Going with a 2-step progress is fine. Remember: Rolling a 12 with a d12 should of course count as an extreme success… shove that cat away at once!
Also, avoid HP on enemies or even heroes - unless the kids are ready for that abstract concept. No need to use different dice for effort types. That’s neat but belongs more to traditional ICRPG imho.
SHORT ADVENTURES: Give them a mission, move towards it and hit the climax. Don’t waste time!
When experimenting with adventure design for my regular group, I started to use a 3-part story structure with Exposition, Twist and Climax. That’s nearly the idea for kids play: Given them an exposition scene with a purpose, move them towards their goal in another scene and then confront them with their goal in the climax. Attention spans are short - keep the game in motion and kick out things that are too complex or unnecessary.
SUITABLE THEMES: Violence is difficult to handle. Play with their empathy instead!
This is also a question of parental style: Do you want to enforce violence as a conflict solution paradigm? Can they distinguish between violent in a game and violent in real life? I don’t think I can answer that for you. This point is here for only one purpose: To make you think about it yourself!
PLAY WITH, NOT AGAINST
This is always true in tabletop roleplaying. But it’s especially true when playing with children. In my case, she’s the only player. So be a good player too, and join with a sidekick character that can give tips, question decisions, asking key questions and aid in difficult situations. This is a friends game - present it as such!
And here’s a photo from today’s session climax:
Mouse knight BLILU fought bravely against the huge cat on top of a tree. His fellow mouse DEERIC lost balance but grapped the tree branch in the last moment.
Oh no! If I don’t help you, you may fall. If I help you, the cat will come closer.
Dilemma placed, now watch and learn something about your child(ren)!
PS: After the game, my daughter told me, that this entire adventure way “sooo dangerous!” She was afraid of falling from the tree.