The Red Box Blog

Ramblings about D&D.

Kids’ RPG – A Fruitless Quest in Game Creation


Have you ever had an idea that you thought was original, but you went on to discover that “its all been done”? Just recently I read a post, in which the author describes his struggles to make an rpg for 8 year olds. Reading that reminded me of my own struggles to make an rpg for 5 year olds, and inspired this article. But before I could even write the article I see a review of a game for 4 to 7 year olds that is already on to version 1.5. I guess there really is nothing new under the sun (heck, my intended title of Kids’ RPG is pratically identical to RPG Kids), but I think my tale is worth sharing anyways. (though obviously the fact that there is an existing product that contradicts some of the assumptions I had been making perhaps makes my thoughts invalid)

My story began 18 months ago when my son was 3 and a half. I was looking for a creative outlet when I began wondering what was the earliest age a child might learn to play rpgs. I have a few rulebooks with 12 listed on them. I learnt to play at age 11 and taught friends who were 10 and 9. Obviously 8 would not be unrealistic.

So, I asked myself just what the core of rpgs is, what makes a game an rpg? Surely the complex and archaic rules that might elude an 8 year old are not the heart of role playing games, but rather playing a role.

It was then I recognized an interesting dichotomy – that while with age comes a greater capacity for understanding complex rules (as most rpgs have) it also brings a lessened capacity for playing pretend. Young children are natural role players, we just don’t call it that.

With that realization I decided to make a game for a younger audience than I previously would have imagined possible – 5 year olds. Some of my friends told me I was crazy and it was impossible, while others eagerly awaited the results.

Unfortunately, changes in my life forced me to abandon the project long before it came to fruition; I no longer had the time needed to work on it, nor will I till my son is already 6 and it would have limited value to me. But before I was forced to abandon it, I had spent quite a bit of time working out just what I though a game for 5 year olds ought to be.

I had started by trying to gut various existing rules systems so as to give me an idea what a rule set for a 5 year old might look like. I was never satisfied with the resuls of this; no matter how much I took out, I always felt like what was left was more than a 5 year old needed till I reached the point that what was left wasn’t really a game.

Next I decided to work the other way, and try to determine what it would take to move a typical 5 year old’s game of pretend in to the realm of a rold playing game. I came up with this list:

  • a GM
  • a conherant story
  • the possibility of continuity

This list led me to the most important idea I think I had; for an rpg for 5 year olds to work it needs to have a story structure that children understand. If you look at tv shows aimed at the 5 and under demograph, the most successful ones all have very rigid story structure. Think of Dora the Explorer – 90% of the episodes follow the format

  1. Dora and other characters say hello
  2. The problem is introduced
  3. The Map explains that Dora needs to go to A, then B then C
  4. Dora travels to A
  5. Dora overcomes an obsticle at A
  6. Dora travels to B
  7. Dora overcomes an obsticle at B
  8. Dora travels to C
  9. The characters review the journey and celebrate

Along the way there are certain plot points that occur every episode, such as dealing with Swiper the Fox and having to get an item from Backpack.

At one point I was so enamoured of the formula used in Dora, that I wondered if I should just make a Dora RPG; it certainly would have appeal to 5 year olds.

A lot of my ideas outside of story structure were in constant flux. At various times I considered

  • A D6 based game, with just raw attributes
  • A card based game
  • A diceless game
  • A very simple, but recognizable character sheet
  • A character sheet that was more of a log, where kids could draw a picture of each adventure
  • A reward system like XP
  • A reward system that didn’t impact the game, but instead gave the child positive renforcement

and countless other things as well.

So that’s the gist of what I had in mind. I won’t ever get back to it, so if anyone sees any value in any of these ideas they are yours for the taking. I, on the other hand, will be purchasing RPG Kids.

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September 20, 2010 - Posted by | RPGs | , ,

1 Comment »

  1. Hey, you know, I’m also of the belief that everything has already been done.

    Although I guess I jumped the gun on you, you should still make your game. Just like there are multiple rpg’s for *us*, nothing says that there can’t be tons of games for kids.

    I started mine to play with my kid, based on her limits and sensibilities. You should still make yours man, go for it.

    Just call it something else please. 🙂

    Comment by newbiedm | September 20, 2010 | Reply


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