Archive for March, 2018

Roleplaying Games with My Kids

Friday, March 2nd, 2018

I’m getting older, and more to the point my kids are getting older. I have six kids, and the youngest is 2, which is great, but the oldest is 16 and a high school junior and she is already driving and working and applying for college. As you may already know if you read my kind-of-a-review of THE LAST JEDI, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my kids growing up, and about my dual role as the guy who raises them but also the guy who steps back and lets them move on with their lives. And I was in that state of mind as the year ticked over from 2017 to 2018, thinking that my kids were growing up and growing away from me, and then my two oldest came to me and asked if I could GM a roleplaying game for them.

Children, you have no idea how happy that makes me.

I’ve played RPGs with my kids before, starting with Heroes Unlimited about seven years ago and then again with Marvel Superheroes a couple of years later. The first failed because my kids were too young for the game, and because they still weren’t grasping the concept of rules as a boost to creativity. My son (7 at the time) wanted to be the strongest person in the universe, and built a character strong enough to throw a car into space, and then when we played that was pretty much all he ever did:

“Someone is robbing the bank.”

“I throw their car into space!”

It wasn’t really roleplaying, it was “let’s pretend,” which is still a fun thing for kids to play so we just threw out the rules and played superheroes. Marvel Superheroes worked a little better, because the game encourages you to play actual Marvel superheroes instead of making up your own characters, and that did wonders to help my kids with the actual roleplaying aspect: it was much easier for my 9yo to act like Wolverine than it was for him as a 7yo to imagine himself as anything other than a 7yo with super strength. It was fun, and they developed a taste for it, but the game didn’t last more than a few sessions until they moved on to a new obsession.

Meanwhile, my brother’s oldest was really getting into roleplaying thanks to a club in her school, and we decided in January of 2017 to do a combined game with me, him, her, and my three oldest. My brother picked Rifts as the game, because that’s the one we played a ton of in high school, and we rolled up some characters and dove in. We played every other week, but only twice, and then his schedule became crazy enough that we had to stop. It was fun, but it still had its funny kid-based quirks. Instead of a 7yo throwing cars into space, we had a 13yo who could run at 250mph, and two teenage girls who built two different iterations of what was essentially the same character: a snarky loner who doesn’t care about anything or anyone. This is a common enough character type, but a very hard one to work with in an RPG group, and especially if you have two of them, and ESPECIALLY if your players aren’t sophisticated enough to plan a character arc in which the loner comes to love the others and rely on the team. Every fight and social situation had my brother trying to play, my son advocating murder, and the two girls sitting in the back saying “why should we help? I don’t care what happens to them.” It was funny, but it didn’t advance the story in any way.

So when they came to me this year, I brought in kid number three (now 11) and laid down some ground rules: your characters have to be “good,” and they have to work together. I showed them my vast catalog of RPGs and suggested a few (Pendragon, Star Trek, and Legend of the Five Rings got the most attention), but they wanted to play Rifts again because they already knew it and enjoyed it from the year before. I talked them into Savage Rifts because I love the new ruleset, and then we worked on figuring out a story and style for the campaign: if you don’t put some constraints on Rifts, it gets out of hand really quickly. We eventually settled on a Battle Royale-style game, based on my son’s obsession with PUBG, which in Rifts terms became this: the characters are captured by the Splugorth and forced to survive on an island full of enemies.

Because they are more savvy storytellers now than they used to be, they talked me into one concession on the “everybody’s already friends” rule: Kid 2 and Kid 3 are buddies, having fought together as gladiators for a while, and then Kid 1 would come in as an outsider who would learn to work with them. So far it’s working out pretty well, though Kid 2 (the car-thrower, now 14) was a little disappointed to learn that I was actually planning a story full of people to talk to, instead of just a pure PUBG-style “kill everyone on sight.” It was a rough transition, but it only took a couple of funny NPCs to convince him that talking to these people can be worth the trouble.

Rifts being what it is, the characters are bizarre: Kid 3 is a fairly typical fantasy elf, like a female Legolas, but she relishes her role as the long-range sniper and is usually more than happy to perch in a tree or on a roof and wait for Kid 2 to signal her to put an arrow in something. Kid 2 is still mostly a powergamer, obsessed with being super good at everything, though this time I was able to convince him that it would be more interesting to be an investigator than a heavy combat monster, so he’s a cybernetic cat-man who’s half Indiana Jones and half Bruce Wayne (so, obviously, still uber-competent, but at least he’s starting to find non-violent solutions to problems). Kid 3 is a Mystic, which is a Rifts character with minor psychic and magic powers; because I am weird, I convinced her that all of her magic powers should be based around hair, so for example her Bolt power is just a lock of hair that stretches out and punches somebody int he face, and her Blind power just covers somebody’s eyes with hair.

So far, all they’ve done is meet each other, land on the island, and explore a couple of buildings. They’ve faced a couple of enemies, and made a couple of friends, and they’ve received a secret message from one of the people who captured them who may or may not be trying to help them. They don’t yet know why they’re here or how to escape, but they’re having fun and they’re actually playing as characters, and it’s a blast. Kid 1, who has an active social life, only wanted to play every second or third week because she didn’t want to be stuck at home every Sunday night, but so far we’ve played every week because they love it so much.

Roleplaying is one of my favorite things, and if you want to make me happy, “Hey dad, please GM a game for us” is one of the easiest ways to do it. I’ll post updates as the campaign continues, and we’ll see what shenanigans they get up to.