The Seven-Sided Die

Teaching kids to roleplay

Posted Wednesday October 01, 2008 at 07:54 PM

After my last post about kids and roleplaying games, a dear friend send me a link to an article by GeekDad: Teaching Kids to Roleplay is Only Natural. He points out that kids don't really need to be taught to roleplay since their play naturally involves playing pretend and experimenting with different identities and behaviours. (He goes on to talk about games that are good for different age groups, including some I hadn't heard of.)

Of course, the structured nature of roleplaying games is a different story. Teaching kids to play roleplaying games is going to be a challenge. The point of a ruleset (when compared to freeform play) is to inspire play ideas that you might not otherwise think of without them. You might assume that teaching the rules is going to be the hard part, but I think the real challenge is how to offer these tools (the ruleset) to the kids without constraining them and squashing their natural creativity. To invoke a colour-book metaphor: Being able to colour inside the lines is a useful skill, but being able to colour outside them creatively is equally (or possibly more) important.

Chatty recounts a freeform roleplaying game he ran for his 6-year-old as a bedtime story in Bedtime Campaign: Nico outsmarts Smaug the Dragon! I like the idea of creating quick fantastic adventures like that, and there are some good lessons to be learned by reading between the lines. The pacing, with its flurry of simple events and quick cuts, is particularly good.

There are some things I would have done differently to bring more of the kid's ideas into the story. For example, this exchange I thought missed a great opportunity to cede some authorial control:

Nico: Can I have a few things to help me?

Prince Guk: Sure, just go ask my Wizard on top of the highest Tower.

Nico: (Excitedly) I go there!  What can I get?

Chatty: The Wizards gives you a potion that can turn you invisible.  How’s that?

Nico: Cool!

After that first question I would have asked instead, "Sure, what do you ask for?", and kept the idea for an invisibility potion in reserve in case he had no ideas. That's not to imply that Chatty didn't do a good job since he clearly had a happy kid afterward, but it's a useful exercise to look at ways to improve on a good technique.

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