The day that my kids would ask me to play one of my monster games had finally come. My kids were referring to the small miniatures and maps my friends and I use when playing our role-playing games. Since my first child was born, I have held in my deepest and geekiest heart-of-hearts that my kids would show an interest in tabletop role-playing. The responsible parent in me knew that pushing my hobby on them before they showed interest could have backfired. Thankfully, the timing could not have been better to run a quick introductory game. The day they finally expressed interested was on the weekend and we had no immediate morning plans. The kids had a full night of sleep and a belly full of breakfast, so their attention span was at its peak. The other fortuitous element was that I had recently been sent an evaluation copy of Hero Kids on the heels of my recent story about my home brew role-playing rules that I used to introduce role-playing to a friend’s 9-year old son.
Hero Kids is a fantasy role-playing game for children ages 4 to 10 years old, written by Justin Halliday. As soon as I had read through the beautiful 20-page full color PDF I knew without a doubt that my daughters (ages 4 and 6) could easily understand the basics of the game. Our one-hour game session was filled with cheering, clapping, and moments of tense situations that were overcome through teamwork and creative thinking.
Campaign Setting for Hero Kids: The provided backstory is that the kids are all from a town called Rivenshore, a town surrounded on all sides by danger. So much danger that the adult adventurers are always kept busy, leaving the kids to keep the town safe, rescue lost pets, and fight back rodents of unusual size that kidnap the occasional tavern keeper’s son. The introductory adventure is called Basement o’ Rats and served as an introduction to the town and campaign world. Since the adventure started in the tavern (like all good adventures do) I used this opportunity for the kids to meet all of the people in the town like the town baker, cobbler, mayor, and made fun of the haberdasher for his silly name over a few classes of milk and a plate of hot cookies.
Pre-Generated Characters: Amongst the four base classes for Hero Kids, there are male and female versions of each class (although there was no female thief), each allowing for a variety of play styles and specialties. The core mechanic uses six-sided dice and character attributes are associated with four basic primary attributes (melee, ranged, magic, defense). Each pre-generated character is well-balanced and given specialty maneuvers with clever-sounding names. As you would assume the fighter would be good at melee and defense, hunters excel at ranged attacks, healers can harm and heal with magic, and wizards can create area effects.
Artwork: The character sketches of each pre-generated character are age-appropriate, and made it really easy for my kids to identify with the characters. My 4-year-old daughter instantly snatched up the Rapunzel look-alike with her long hair whip-attack and my 6-year-old daughter liked the idea of having healing magic to help her friends and a long staff to bop monsters on the head. Each simple character sheet also included an identical paper-cutout figure for use on the battle mat.
Downloadable Adventures: I will admit that there are times I barely have time to prep for my regular role-playing campaign, and to have half a dozen pre-written adventures available for Hero Kids is fantastic. They provide the basic encounters, basic framework, and cool-looking maps (for those that have a color printer). I’ve had great luck with my regular campaign using pre-written adventures as the underlying foundation for a story. I then build off the module with additional details and story lines. My kids have already asked to re-play the Basement o’ Rats adventure which is not much of a surprise. Developmentally, kids want to experience the same thing over and over again – just like that movie you have in your DVD player right now or the movie in your Netflix instant queue that has been played 20+ times.
Maps & Miniatures: The quality of the maps and the provided figurines is as high quality as I find in mainstream pre-written adventures. In fact, for those that don’t like the idea of wasting color ink the PDFs all come in color as well as black and white printer-friendly versions.
Tips & Tricks:
- Keep it simple - Don’t over-complicate the storyline and give regular reminders of their goal (if Dora the Explorer has to repeat the goal every 7 minutes, there is a good chance you will too). Keeping kids on-task in a role-playing adventure is a lot like keeping them on-task picking up the clothes off their floor. They will easily get distracted by shiny things if not given regular reminders of why they are there.
- When in doubt cheat - It’s one thing to create tension and build a compelling story, but a TPK (total party knock-out) should not be your goal. Remember, you want them to like role-playing games!
- Reward teamwork and creativity - I found it very reinforcing to dole out bonus candy hearts whenever they teamed up to overcome a challenge or came up with an out-of-the-box idea. Positive reinforcement works great to promote healthy gaming habits early.
- Telling a story that they can relate to - Think about what your kids are watching on TV, the movies they like, and the books they are reading. Rescuing people, building things, exploring magical lands, and putting bad guys in jail are popular themes in my house. Focusing on the elements that they can draw associations to will help increase both their understanding and their enjoyment of the game.
Use props when possible - I have golden wrapped chocolate coins for treasure and the hard candy hearts for health tokens. The reason I do this is because kids like rewards, especially when the reward doubles as a treat they get upon completion of the adventure. Developmentally kids are very tactile, and giving them physical objects to create associations with will help them develop a greater understanding of the working mechanics of the game. I’m going to be looking for additional ways to integrate other props and rewards for future games. One suggestion I found was to create treasure chests out of small jewelry boxes and put their prizes inside. You can even take it one step further and introduce trapped chests, or locked chests. The possibilities for tactile exploration are endless.
In conclusion, Hero Kids hits the mark in both quality and ease of use for parents that have been looking for a new family-time activity. A great start for young role-players that are ready to take their first steps into a life long story fueled by their own imaginations.