I’m here today with a very special interview with fellow RPG blogger Steph C! Steph writes the blog TTRPG Kids which I just love and I think she has a lot to say about gaming with kids. See for yourself!
Mephit James: Let’s start with a little bit about yourself. How did you get into RPGs and what are some of your favorites from your gaming past?
The first TTRPG that I played was actually a D&D one shot maybe… 6 or 7 years ago. One of my husband’s friends was running a short game, and the group invited me to join for the last session! It was a lot of fun, and I wanted to do it again, but the mini campaign just sort of ended without another one starting.
After that, I forgot about TTRPG’s for a while until my brother got me hooked on Critical Role a few years ago while I was on maternity leave. Then… I got my cousin hooked and my sister wanted to play, so we sort of formed a group. I started out as a D&D 5e homebrew campaign DM for 6+ players at any given time, and I’ve run a few more campaigns since!
Some of my favorite RPG’s have been Adventures in ADHD, which is a D&D 5e setting that I playtested for AQH, Path of the Wolves by Fari Games, which I played as a one shot, and then… I don’t think I can pick just one when it comes to games with my kid. There’s SO MANY good ones that we’ve tried and loved.
MJ: So what made you want to start a gaming blog and specifically why focus on games for kids?
When COVID hit, my husband and I were both working as engineers at 50+ hours/week from home with a toddler who refused to nap, and it was getting really stressful. I ended up quitting my job to try and help us all find some better balance, but I really needed something to still feel engaged. Because of that, I started trying to teach my, then, 2.5 year old, how to play TTRPG’s as a fun project.
As I was researching how to do that, I came across so much variation and information scattered about! Everyone had different advice (which can be really good), and it was all scattered between different forums and websites as single questions or single feature articles. There was no one-stop shop for kid’s TTRPG’s that had all the information that I wanted.
Then, someone mentioned how starting a blog can be a good outlet, and the engineer brain kind of kicked in. I had a lot of fun researching and organizing all the information out there and teaching my kid (and myself) how to play a bunch of TTRPG’s. So, my blog is all geared to be a one-stop-shop for table top gaming with kids and sharing my lessons learned from all this so people can jump right in.
MJ: What do you think are a couple of the main differences with running games for kids as opposed to games for adults? What’s different about the prep, gameplay, storytelling, etc?
For games with kids, you need to be WAY more flexible on EVERYTHING. I go in with a very loose story, with a plot that we often determine together, and some very broad story points and goals. Once we start playing, kiddo will usually stay within the game’s path, but I have to make that path very wide to accommodate his awesome imagination and also be ready for him to veer off on something totally different without much notice.
Games also tend to be much shorter – sometimes we can get a 1 hour game or more if he’s in a good mood, but sometimes we only last 15 minutes and need to come back later. Adults generally stick it out, but you can’t really force a little one to play a TTRPG longer than they want to and still have a good time.
Story topics are another key difference. We usually base our plots off of books or TV shows because that’s what my kid is interested in (it took a while before he wanted to do anything with dragons and wizards), that’s his comfort level with age-appropriate content, and because the lore and familiarity is already there. If you only have 15-30 minutes for a quick session, you want to be able to jump in with a familiar character.
MJ: What are some innovative ways that you have seen game designers design games that will really engage kiddos?
One of my favorites is having coloring pages and puzzles! Family Fantasy RPG (all of their games), Luck of Legends (with Starsworn), and I (with StoryGuider) all have coloring pages and activities for kids to doodle on and participate with in order to keep interest.
I’ve also seen several that have some very cool mechanics. There’s lots of ways to run a game with just a couple d6’s, and they are way easier for kids who are learning to count still to manage than a d20 or needing to make multiple rolls. They make their game so that the mechanics facilitate the story instead of a being a barrier due to complication.
I’ve also seen games that have some really cool settings that grabbed my kid’s attention. There are a few where you play as cats, some where you are dinosaur, and one where you play as a cute little goblin!
MJ: Are there any parts of kids RPG game design that you think could be fun to bring back to grown-up RPGs?
Oh, coloring pages for sure – I tend to doodle on my character sheet or in my DM notebook during sessions, and I think having coloring pages for grown ups (those fancy detailed ones especially) would be a cool addition.
Simplifying the mechanics is a big one too. I can definitely track the mechanics in my grown-up campaigns, but I do tend to focus on RP more than anything when I DM. In cases of RP-forward campaigns, I think lighter rules helps you to focus on the story more – like I said with the kid games question, the mechanics, in that case, are just complicated enough to facilitate the story.
MJ: What advice do you have for parents out there who are looking to play RPGs with their kids? What are the first few steps to try and show them the hobby?
So, I started with my kid when he was 2.5 years old by just doing what I call “interactive storytime”. Instead of reading a book where all the choices in the story are already made, we told improv stories to my kid and then would ask him questions about what the character should do next. It was kind of like a very loose CYOA story format.
That was a lot of fun, and it set up the foundation for the RP in TTRPG’s. Once he was comfortable with that (it took maybe a month or two), I started adding in some mechanics. These included using coins to flip, pulling paper pieces from a cup, using a giant inflatable d6, and more to help add a bit more to our storytime.
The last step was that we just started trying out systems that were age appropriate! I made a huge list of games that are for kids or all-ages or teens with the author’s age estimate (where I could find it) because there are SO MANY games out there to pick from. With each one, it took a little work to learn the mechanics, but we were just patient and helped out with counting where needed, and now kiddo can jump into almost any kid’s game mechanics pretty quickly (he’s about 4 now and we’ve tried probably 20-30 games out)
MJ: What’s a fun, inspiring, or surprising story about gaming with a kid?
Which one to pick?! I think my favorite was probably when my kid was ~3 years old and wanted to play hide and seek with a yeti character we had come up with. He didn’t have the context to I think understand why a yeti having their favorite game be hide and seek was so funny, and it was very cute. He was looking all over the little map we had drawn to try to find the yeti and after finding them, my kid then went and hid in the house to wait for yeti to have their turn seeking. I actually ended up writing that character into a game because that whole game with kiddo just melted my heart.
Thank you for the opportunity to interview! Check the blog out here for a free resource full of reviews, interviews, podcasts lists, games lists, tips and tricks, and more all geared at running TTRPG’s with kids! I hope this helps give a little inspiration to start playing TTRPG’s with your kids, grandkids, or classes, and have some fun together!