Rolling With Kids
I started playing Dungeons&Dragons with my older siblings when I was just a kid. It's been more than 15 years since then, and gaming has been growing in every direction. That includes increasingly younger gamers. Happily, there have been products and game hacks and tons of resources for kids who want to game coming out in the years since I rolled my first twenty-sided die.
The two things I hear my friends with kids express as concerns about games, regardless of what age group they're for, is about gendering and appropriateness. They want stuff that isn't a binary of women in bikinis and men as barbarians. They want to avoid the pink/blue game-aisle morass while still being able to do gaming in a way appropriate to their kids. That's not just appropriate in terms of sexy content or violence, but customizing things like rules and gameplay to build an understanding of gaming, without making it more difficult than neccesarily needed at first.
Character sheets are a good place to start. Game to game, sheets record a lot of the same basic information: character description, skills, their gear. But system to system—or edition to edition—stuff changes. There are rule differences to every game, and some games may require multiple pages to record everything. That may be too much for the first session of introducing kids to gaming.
One of the best customizations I've ever seen was illustrator and dad James Stowe's simplified sheets, which Stowe created back in 2010. For his son's 8th birthday, he statted, sketched and simplified characters for the kids to learn some D&D ropes without getting bogged down that first time with standard sheets and massive amounts of rules. He has the sheets in both girl and boy sketches, and they're easy to navigate. Learning to play games should be fun, and having the option of learning things simplified and building up from there can be the difference between having fun with a game, or never wanting to play again.
Susan J. Morris's The Heroes of Hesiod is a D&D adventure kit that's meant for use with kids. There's still far more adventures for games that are written for adults, but some light tweaks (or more involved ones, depending) even to those, and you have a pre-written adventure to while away a few hours as glorious adventurers. Depending on your preferences and a kid's maturity, pre-written adventures could be tweaked and reskinned multiple times depending on age and if they want to revisit some of their first adventures when they're older.
As for miniatures, dice bags, and the many items that make up a gamer's gear, there's a lot of options out there, many of which are kid-friendly. Personally, I own two dice bags from Dragon Chow Dice Bags, one of which is in a super-cute bird print. When it comes to card games and board games, your choices can definetly feel vast, even when you draw lines (no overly gendered games, no games with more than 150 pieces). Games are like books, there's going to be more than we can tackle in a lifetime, and that's okay. Try out the ones that look good, and if a game didn't work out for you and the kids, it may be a great game for someone else. It's okay to not like a game, and it's awesome when we can match games to the people who will love them.
If there's a game store in your area, or a comic shop with some gaming stock, those may be places that host child and/or teen friendly events, and could be a good connection point for you and the kids in your life to meet new folks. Online, there's countless resources for general parenting. For parenting with a splash of geek, Wired has a Geek Mom and a Geek Dad blog, both with fabulous writers who want to raise happy, smart kids—and if those kids dig it, ones who play games. Whether or not you're in an area with other kids or families who game, the internet can act as a supplementary community when it comed to find others who GM for the kids in their lives (in my case, I'm an aunt and sometimes a classroom teacher) and other adults bringing that creative play into their kids' lives, whether that's with roleplaying games, card games, or other tabletop game.
In the end, some of the most fabulous, thoughtful people I know who try to make gaming a less sexist hobby are parents, other relatives, and teachers. They want gaming to be fun for everybody, whether they're 5 or 105.
Previously: Ruining My Childhood
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