Kickstart Your Kid into Roleplaying

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Some parents dream of seeing their kids’ names in lights or appearing after the words “Olympic gold medalist”. As a GeekDad, I dream of reading my son’s name in the credits of the kind of old-fashioned tabletop role-playing game I grew up with. You can achieve this hallowed status for your kids, or yourself, via the rewards offered to the backers of two new crowd-funded RPGs:

    My son and I collaborated on this map/illustration for "Caves of the Beast Mistress" in issue #9 of Fight On! – that's his drawing of a bestial minotaur calf, next to the field of mushrooms it eats.

  • Argyle & Crew uses sock puppets as a bridge between imaginative play, storytelling games, and roleplaying. Making the sock puppets is fun and engaging, and as soon as you put one on your hand it immediately elicits play-acting. This helps get over the moment where adults self-consciously trip over explaining the idea of playing a character in a RPG to kids who already know all about let’s pretend. The draft of the game I’ve read looks like a great hook for introducing younger kids to RPGs, especially girls – author Ben Gerber‘s first playtests were with his daughters, age 5 and 8.
  • Adventurer Conqueror King is a fresh take on the kind of old-school RPG campaign where Conan progresses from being a freebooter to a ruler brooding on his throne. Its focus on a self-consistent fantasy economy makes it suited for teens or detail-loving tweens who are into simulation games like Civilization and ancient or classical history. Plus, the way that economy allows players to pursue a wide range of cool activities like building strongholds and running a thieves’ guild may help get your kids, or your fellow gamers, interested in the ancient history of classical roleplaying; the rules for managing your imaginary kingdom in the 1974 edition of D&D and in Dave Arneson’s First Fantasy Campaign (1979) were direct influences on Adventurer Conqueror King.

It’s common practice for Kickstarters to promise to list the name of their backers in the credits and on their webpage. Both Argyle & Crew and Adventurer Conqueror King offer rewards on this theme, although neither offers an “E. Gary Gygax” level of support where only you get your name on the cover of the book, plus your initials will be spelled out by the walls of a dungeon that is really a crashed spaceship.

What’s more noteworthy is the way these two Kickstarter efforts offer a reward level that gives backers a unique creative involvement. The goal of both funding efforts is to take a ruleset that already exists and give it the illustrations and layout necessary for mainstream publication. So one of the things they offer supporters is the opportunity to specify what one of the illustrations in the finished text will be, and then have the project’s artist realize that vision. Becoming an art director for a day requires a $75 pledge to the Adventurer Conqueror King campaign or a $1,000 pledge to Argyle & Crew (although here you also get the original piece of art signed by the illustrator, four copies of the book, a nice lunch in Boston, and you’ll know, in your heart of hearts, that you rock.)

Uncredited illustration for my article "Shamans of the Body and Mind", copyright Wizards of the Coast. I think my art order for this one was "This dude can, like, totally summon a ghost shark."

One of the ways to express your family’s vision of what art should be in a role-playing game product is to draw it yourself. That’s what my son and I did for a piece I wrote for the superlative fanzine Fight On! – I drew the map, he contributed the marginalia. Since the desktop publishing revolution is so far in the past that our kids don’t even know what that means, there are almost as many outlets for this kind of creativity as there are gamers, or you can self-publish on Lulu etc. It’s fun, easy, and is the kind of contribution to the scene that Gygax identified as the qualification for becoming a “Master of the Game”. The big limitation of doing it yourself is that the result is only as good as you can draw it. I think my son’s minotaur rocks, but am unhappy with those squiggly ‘m’ shapes that are supposed to be the curtains.

Telling someone else what to draw lets you supply the vision while someone else provides the talent. When I worked as a freelancer for Wizards of the Coast, having my name in the credits of an honest-to-goodness Dungeons & Dragons book was a huge thrill. But better yet was opening the book and seeing the way that the art orders I had submitted –

This lithe and athletic survivor is wearing HIDE ARMOR made from the gray, spiky plates of a macetail behemoth. Her skin is dark brown, and her curly black hair is kept short; on Earth, one would assume that she was from Africa. She has a simple, functional, and deadly-looking GREATAXE strapped over her back, and a coil of rope at her belt.

– had been realized as beautiful full-color visions; gazing proudly at these has cost me far more in lost productivity than I was paid for my writing.

Illustration by Ryan Browning, from a description by Tshilaba Verite

So when I helped create the backer rewards for Adventurer Conqueror King, I wanted to let others experience this pleasure of seeing a skilled artist turn lumpen words into a vibrant picture. I also wanted to see what visions our text evoked in others’ minds, betting that the the process of translation across a distance which allowed the British Invasion bands to see clearly what would make great rock n’ roll, and for Hong Kong cinema to understand better than Hollywood how to make Hollywood-style action films, would allow our Visionary-level backers to come up with the best expression of what made this game unique.

The results so far have been fantastic; the image at left nails the game’s emphasis on exploration and discovery and makes me want to set off on a fantastic voyage, but isn’t something I ever would have thought of asking Ryan to draw.

Ben’s Kickstarter for Argyle & Crew has just started and doesn’t have any backers at the art-director level yet. I hope it does soon, because I think it’ll be fascinating to see what images others imagine will best exemplify a roleplaying game using sock-puppets.

A final free way to obtain a measure of fame for kids’ gaming creativity is dndkids.com, which allows you to submit quotations of “funny table talk collected during D&D games with children.” Your classic gaming moments are immortalized for viewing by other visitors to the site.

dndkids.com is a part of new venture by Uri Kurlianchik, a teacher at several afterschool RPG programs in Israel and the author of a series of articles for Wizards of the Coast about his experience teaching kids to play D&D. His decision to not filter the submissions for content means I’d hesitate to direct the kids in my own after-school class there. My eight- to eleven-year-olds aren’t ready for some of the language in the quotes on display; they are at the stage where double entendres about treasure chests keeps them busy for our full eighty-minute class. For exactly that reason, though, I find reading dndkids.com fascinating. It’s a window into the ids and over-active imaginations of a bunch of young roleplayers, plus it gives me a rare glimpse into the Israeli scene where afterschool RPG programs are much more common than in the US – Becky Thomas’s Roleplay Workshop being a much more notable exception than my own Adventuring Parties. Becky and Uri are both people who play roleplaying games as their full-time job – what a great career path for young geeks to aspire to!

Get the Official GeekDad Books!