On a recent summer day I was spending time with my son and I was looking at the weather forecast. Rain, rain and more rain. During the summers I usually like to spend time with him in more outdoorsy activities, but now that wasn’t a good option. My brain went into work. How to keep a kid entertained indoors aside from TV or computers? I considered bowling and billiards, but neither of them is really suitable for a ten-year old. Then it came to me… Roleplaying!
I knew that he likes Star Wars (who doesn’t?), so I decided to go with that. We’ve played Warhammer once before, but it was a few years back, and he didn’t remember it, so I had to explain that it is not the kind of game you play with a computer, but with our imagination, a few pieces of paper, pencils and some dice.
So I started checking out what is easily available for Star Wars roleplaying, and I decided to go with a smuggling theme. In retrospect that was not the best idea, but more on that subject later… I am a bit of a hobbyist game designer, like many role-players tend to be, so I decided to go with a bare bones version of my own homebrew system, so that my choice of adventure would not be affected by the system in which the adventure is written.
As I was pitching this idea to him, I asked if he would like to have a (imaginary) friend or two along. At this point he threw his hands up in the air and shouted “YES!” and I immediately knew that I was on the right track! So we proceeded to look at pictures of characters online, but it didn’t suit him well. “Could I design and draw them myself?” he asked. “But of course you can!” I replied, and felt a warm glow growing inside me. My son is a natural role-player! From what I’ve heard, roleplaying comes very easily to most kids.
He looked at pictures of Lego Star Wars figurines, and drew his character and two other crew members based on those. He himself was a clone trooper and the captain and pilot of the ship. One was a Boba Fett-esque character, Baba Fett Robo, who had two cybernetic arms on his right side, (one with a pincer hand and the other a knife) and a right cybernetic leg, which has metal claws. All of which are powered by some type of “atomic heart”, much in the style of Iron Man. The other crew member is called Darth Mini-Robo, and is apparently an R2-D2 sized robot with the head of Darth Vader and sporting a short lightsaber in one hand and a shield in the other. Not exactly a canonical crew, but even better than canonical, in my opinion!
He even wanted to design rank insignia for the characters. The captain-pilot has three stripes and a steering wheel. Baba Fett Robo is an assault trooper, so he has two stripes and a sword. Darth Mini-Robo is a mechanic, and has only one stripe and a wrench. Then we decided that they need a spaceship. I showed him pictures of SW spaceships, including the famous Millennium Falcon, but he wanted to design the ship himself, top-down. The result is a magnificent (for a ten-year old) perspective picture where the sleek windowed nose of the ship connects to the main hull. On top of the main hull are the captain’s quarters, with a window out into space, and under the main hull is the smuggling compartment (which seems a pretty obvious choice for a smuggling compartment if you ask me, not that I’m complaining). After these were done, he thanked me for statting them up. No, no, no, the thanks belong to you, my son…
Right, it was time for me to do some research about which adventures to choose from, et cetera. The kid could keep himself entertained with his mobile games in the meantime. Or could he…? Nope, he kept asking questions, wanted to get involved with the upcoming story by bringing his own NPCs and adversaries into the equation and so on. He was so hyped that it almost seemed he would want to co-GM the game himself! Perhaps some of these newer type story-games could be a better fit for him, but I don’t have much experience with those. So I distracted him by telling that we need a floor plan for the ship as well. He decided against it and drew a cross-cut map instead, which in hindsight is a better design choice, given the shape of the ship. Among the usual things that can be expected being found in a small spaceship, there is also a brig and a room with a tree, to assist in producing oxygen.
Eventually when I got him to go to sleep, I decided to go with an adventure that starts with the smugglers arriving at some mud-farming planet with four passengers. I changed the majority race of the planet being a race of his design, some type of mushroom people. But all of my choices regarding the adventure are pretty boring and mundane, so let me skip to the good parts.
Earlier I mentioned that the smuggling theme was not the best choice for my kid. It was because he wanted to play his character as a more law-abiding type. His character always complied with police officers, never went along in bar brawls and so on. In fact the only time there was any direct conflict was because in the next to final scene, an NPC put a rifle to the back of my son’s character, forcing him to pilot his vessel into a firefight, from which they were subsequently rescued by an Imperial ship. Yup you guessed it; the NPC in question was an Imperial Colonel in disguise, trying to reach her own ship before bounty hunters could catch her. Yup, the bounty hunters were the four passengers that were previously brought to the planet by my son’s character.
He realized this when the bounty hunters came back on board the ship at the appointed hour, empty-handed. “Do you want to tell them all of this?” I asked, and he replied to me with a horrified look on his face “No way!” So I am pleased to think that I managed to convey many aspects of what I think of as roleplaying, to him.
Before my son returned to his mother I laid out the groundwork for the next session. I told him that his ship was damaged in the firefight, and is in need of repairs. I said that during the time the ship is being repaired, Baba Fett Robo wants to go into a bar (from which the next adventure would have started), but the captain of the ship didn’t want to go along with that! He asked if there are any fun places on the planet to go play in, some amusement parks, or other such sights. I just replied that there are, but more on those later.
It seems that I have a lot to learn about running games for kids…