Creating an RPG campaign for children, Part III

The lad's intrepid band of heroes is crossing the peak of a snow-capped mountain, where they are outnumbered by frost zombies.

This is the third installment in a series about designing and playing an RPG campaign with my 7-year-old son, from setting design to playing out battles. The first article in the series can be found here, while the second is here.

After three sessions of play using the free Dungeon Squad! rules, the lad’s campaign is starting to take shape. His character was approached in his home town of Tiny Village by the village elder, a fellow named Sedgewick; the elder asked if the hero would deliver a message to the tower of the wizard Snevlin, which is located across the mountains. Sedgewick warned that it would be a dangerous trip, and that the hero should round up a few friends to help him fight off the dangers. After recruiting an adventuring party, with members named after the lad, his favorite stuffed animals and Mom the Deadly (playing herself in this drama), the group set off for the mountains.

At the outset of this project, one of my goals was to keep the lad involved in the creative process, and so I allowed him to select foes from my miniature collection. Using the figures as a guide, I crunched up combat statistics for the beasties using other Dungeon Squad! monsters as a template.

While we did play one battle on a printed poster map from a D&D module, I found that the lad had more fun when he had an active role in designing the battlefield. We used D&D Dungeon Tiles, particularly from the Wilderness Master Set and the Witchlight Fens supplement. Usually, my son had as much fun creating the battlefields as he did playing the game. The only exception was when the party was crossing the mountain’s snow-capped peak, and we used the Caverns of Icewind Dale; he enjoyed the tiles even more than the battle on that occasion.

Time for an important note to self: the greater my son’s role in creating the game, the more he seems to enjoy it. At this point, I don’t know if that is true for most children, or if my son is a born gamemaster and inclines toward that side of the screen (chip of the old block and all that).

At this point, the lad seems more interested preparation for and playing battles, an interest I’ll feed by asking his help in determining combat abilities for monsters, which have all been homebrewed thus far. I’ll try adding more story elements before the next report.


Creating an RPG campaign for children, Part II

We've now given names to many of our campaign locations. My personal favorite is "Wrong Turn Ruin," as people ending up there must have made a wrong turn...

This is the second post in a series about creating an RPG campaign world for children; the first post can be viewed here.

Work has continued apace on my 7-year-old’s campaign setting, which he has a hand in designing. Dubbed during our previous work session by my son as “The Land of Good and Bad,” the setting is starting to take shape beyond the land forms and settlements that we placed last time. Our most recent work on the setting map involved labeling the various features and settlements we placed, which became a productive, collaborative exercise. We took turns providing names for the most important areas of our setting.

Granted, naming a bunch of villages on a map isn’t really newsworthy. But what appeared worth noting after the fact was the ease with which my son imagined what could be found there and why. For example, when naming the evil city in the northern mountains, the lad casually decided (while munching on a stick of string cheese) that the site would be inhabited by “evil grape men.” When asked what evil grape men were, he answered, “I don’t know, but they’re there anyway.”

Fair enough.

That point in the conversation marked a moment when I suddenly found myself a pupil instead of a teacher. After nearly 30 years behind a Dungeon Master’s screen, a 7-year-old reminded me of a pretty basic tenet: any project like this is fantasy, and it is your own, so you may as well run with it and not worry about what others think.

As a DM, I’ve spent considerable energy managing player expectations for a D&D game, and the results have been generally good. But I’ve never devoted much energy to creating something without a specific audience, such as players or blog readers, in mind. There is a chance that, by doing so, I may come up with something totally unique. Or not. But either way, it’s an exercise worth attempting.

Creating an RPG campaign for children, Part I

Here is a not-too sophisticated map of my 7-year-old son's campaign world, 'The Land of Good and Bad.'

This is a multipart series on worldbuilding for a children’s RPG campaign. The second installment can be read here.Miniatures and gaming have been part of the background of my 7-year-old son’s home environment for his entire life, but his interest in what RPGs and wargames actually entail has piqued in the last couple of years or so. Initially, I introduced him to very episodic, skirmish-style games, such as brief scenarios for Kids, Castles and Caves and Song of Blades and Heroes. He enjoyed those games, although some of the more tactical elements of both games were beyond him at the time. He and I were talking yesterday about the concept of a campaign – an extended adventure that only ends if you want it to, and during which heroes become increasingly powerful, in order to take on ever more powerful enemies.He was sold on the idea in about 30 seconds, but that was the easy part.

The difficult part was to come up with a way to mimic the experience of playing an RPG, while keeping mechanics and tactics at a level that he could easily understand.  Clearly, this required a light rules system – I’m using Dungeon Squad! in this case – that will feel like an RPG but won’t tax his young mind with complicated math or battle tactics. He’s learning single-digit addition and subtraction in school, after all.

I thought it may be fun to take the lad through the steps an adult Dungeon Master uses to create a setting for the campaign. We fired up an old version of Campaign Cartographer 2 and set to work developing a small continent, a few hundred miles across. It was a useful learning experience for the lad, as I was able to teach him about how different landforms give rise to or are impacted by others, and why settlements end up where they are in the real world.

We also talked about the major villains that would plague the land – a dragon-riding wizard and a group of pirates – and set aside some appropriate terrain for them to reside: the wizard as king of a lost city in the mountains, and the pirates in a sheltered cove along the eastern coast.

We didn’t name anything but the continent itself. It is called, “The Land of Good and Bad,” a highly descriptive, but not very poetic, title invented by my son. We plan to work on it more this weekend, so future blog posts will be dedicated to this experiment as time passes.