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Teaching my kids how to play a roleplaying game
Posted by WJWalton on Wed 16 of Nov., 2011 07:12 PST

Though I am doing all I can to help promote it, I will not be directly participating in Teach Your Kids to Game Week. I hope that doesn't sound hypocritical, but my current circumstances prevent it - I've got a heavy work week, and my time off this week will be spent helping my partner Paula get a job, and working on some other time-sensitive projects.

Also, there's another reason - I taught my kids to how to play a roleplaying game a long time ago. In fact, I think I'll share that story, and maybe it will inspire someone else to do the same. And maybe that will count as participation.

It was a rainy day, not much different than today, and my daughters were cooped up in the house, watching the same DVD they'd watched maybe a hundred times. I had been thinking about trying some sort of simple RPG with them in the recent weeks, but I wasn't sure if they were really ready - Aylish was 5, and Nolah only 3. But they were already somewhat accustomed to interactive storytelling, since one of our favorite pasttimes involved me making up a bedtime story on the fly, with the two of them interjecting characters and places and names and events whenever I stopped for a moment.

So, I switched off the TV and told them we were going to play a storytelling game. Ignoring their moans of despair, I pulled my copy of Teenagers From Outer Space off of the shelf, and handed them photocopies of the character sheets to look over, so that they could choose a character that they liked. (Yes, I had copies all ready to go. Remember, I said I had been thinking about this!)

I had even prepared for the possibility that both would choose the same character - "Okay, fine, you're twin sisters. We'll just rename one of you. You look exactly the same, and everyone always gets you confused, even your parents!" But they both managed to latch on to different characters that they liked, based on the pictures on the character sheets. One of the benefits of running TfOS for kids is that the character sheets all have illustrations of the anime characters on them.

For the benefit of those not familiar with the setting of Teenagers From Outer Space, it's an anime-themed RPG based around teens from various planets (including Earth) who go to a high school in space and deal with typical teenaged-type situations, but in a more humorous and outer-spacey way.

Another benefit of the game is that it comes with play money that you can photocopy and hand out to the players as allowance, pay from their summer jobs, and so on. Which I did, and told my two teenagers from outer space that they had just received their allowance money, and were taking the public shuttle to Planet Mall

What's that? Explain the rules of the game to them? Tell them how the dice work, and what their skill ratings mean, and all that? Yeah, sure, I got around it eventually. But by giving them a character sheet with a cool picture on it, sticking some play money in their hands, and telling them where their characters were and giving them a place to explore, I thrust them into the story in a way that was irresistable to them. They couldn't help but start exploring, and looking for places to spend their money.

After poking around in some shops to find something interesting to buy, the girls noticed that some of the people wandering about the mall concourse looked odd - they were moaning, shambling around like zombies, and were blue all over (not that it's particularly unusual to see blue folks at Planet Mall, mind you).

Eventually, they came to the plot of the story - someone was creating a mind-control serum and sneaking it into a slushie machine in the food court - and the victims were trying to force others to drink the blue-colored slushie so that they could become blue zombies, too!

Once the real story was underway, my girls had an opportunity to use their skills. That's when I explained how the system worked, in the simplest possible terms - roll the dice, add the number on your sheet to the number you rolled, and if it is higher than the number I told you to beat, then you did it! Nolah, who couldn't read yet and was still pretty shaky with adding, needed just a little help here, so I just told her to count the dots on her dice. I told her how many dots she needed, and let her tell me if she had "rolled enough dots" or not. At one point, she was looking at her character sheet at the list of skills, asking me what all of them said, and what she could do with them - she was completely on board with the concept of an RPG, she just couldn't read the words yet!

Eventually, they took down the bad guy who was poisoning the slushie machine and trying to take over Planet Mall. Aylish surprised me with a bit of ingenuity when she said she wanted to get one of the slushies and dump it over her head so that she would look like one of the blue zombies, so they would stop trying to attack her. (I hadn't even thought of that! Of course, I let it work for her - how could I not?) The poisoned mallgoers all recovered from the mind-control serum, the bad guy was arrested by the Interplanetary Police, and our heroes even got a cash reward for helping catch him!

And that is the story of how I taught my kids - ages 5 and 3 - how to play a roleplaying game.

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