The other day I was thinking about how much I wish I had a D&D group when I was a kid (or heck, even now), and that made me realize that I have a potential party of roleplayers right under my roof. I got fascinated with the idea of introducing pen-and-paper roleplaying to my kids to see how they’d take to it — and to spend some quality time playing a game we all enjoyed.
So I polled friends and did some research on what a good introductory PnP game would be for kids ages 5-9. There were a few interesting suggestions, but I ultimately landed on Hero Kids. It turned out to be a perfect choice and affordable as well. I bought the entire bundle of print-it-yourself materials — which included the core rulebook, over a dozen campaigns, five packs of heroes, two packs of pets, and one pack of equipment cards — for just $20. Past that, all I needed to do was print out the materials, scrounge a handful of regular six-sided dice, and we were good to go.
While Hero Kids is kind of a very streamlined D&D-type game, its strengths are that it’s easy for kids to grasp and start playing without trying to explain a billion rules to them. There’s no leveling or complex stats, just easy-to-intuit strengths, weaknesses, abilities, and equipment on each character.
The idea for Hero Kids is that it focuses on youngsters who are called to take care of local issues around their home town while their parents and other adults are off adventuring somewhere else. Each player takes on the role of a character whose attributes are dice — one for strength/melee, one for dexterity/ranged, one for intelligence/magic, and one for armor. This is flexible enough so that it can be used both in combat and in adventuring scenarios (the same strength dice are used to swing a sword, lift a door, or bend iron bars, for example). Each character gets three hits before they’re knocked out (but they can be revived or healed as long as someone is still up and around), and everyone gets three abilities and an assortment of special skills (tracking, lore) and equipment (healing potions, rope, gold).
With that, the GM — that would be me — takes the party through a campaign that’s broken up into encounters. If the party completes an encounter, which usually but not always has a fight, then they can move on to the next one. There’s a lot of flexibility for roleplaying, teamwork, and creative solutions, and the system is simple enough that the GM can quickly decide what ability rolls need to be done and what is and isn’t possible.
My kids got really hyped up about this over the week, as I had them choose their characters (one tank and two ranged attackers), think of names (Shelly, Rebecca, and Cederick), and come up with a title for their group (Team Cuteness). Then we sat down and played through the introductory campaign — which dealt with rats in the basement of a tavern, of course — in about 45 minutes.
There was a bit of a learning process, but overall it went smoothly. We took turns and I gave them hints as to various options they could take. Early on, my daughter threw some food into a corner to distract one of the rats, who took the bait. Then my oldest son decided that since he had a speech skill, he’d go over and try to make friends with the rat. This just cheesed the rat off, because rats can’t talk, and Shelly the Knight got bit for his trouble.
Everyone wanted to feel special and there was some anxiety over someone else getting a kill or people blocking each other. We didn’t have a healer in the group, but I was proud that my kids rushed to each other’s aid with healing potions if someone got hurt (which rarely happened, since these were really weak rats).
My five-year-old’s time to shine came when his amphibious frog-kid swam down into a 30-foot pool to retrieve a chest of treasure at the bottom. It wasn’t anything super-useful, but everyone was happy to draw a random equipment card even so.
The highlight came as the team squared off against the Rat King, which I embodied as a madly cackling jerk. I had a really good laugh for him, let me tell you. I think all of the three of them got a whack at him before he finally went down thanks to an arrow from my daughter. That made her day.
We’re all looking forward to our next session, which I hope will be more than just combat like this one was. I might have to tweak it if not.