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I'm looking for a fun, easy to get into RPG for my kids. It could be simple and card-based, or more "normal" tabletop style. I'm looking for something less bloody and dark, and more fun and easy to get into. What games have you played with pre-teen children that they could easily uptake and enjoyed playing?

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Please make sure and follow the RPG.SE guidance on answering game recommendation questions found here: meta.rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/1070/… which means you should only be submitting answers that you have personally played or seen played successfully with young players. "I haven't done it but am sure it would be good" answers will be deleted. –  mxyzplk Jan 18 '12 at 21:30
    
While not a system recommendation, GM techniques are discussed here: rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/12094/… . There are some system recommendations, but the argument is put forth the the GM style is likely more important that the actual game system employed. –  EFH Sep 11 '12 at 15:21
    
For browsing purposes, here's a useful weblink: tlucretius.net/RPGs/kids.html –  Rob Jun 25 '13 at 10:59
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A relevant blog post. In sum: adults frequently underestimate or completely invert what kids can handle/are interested in/have trouble with. Everything evidence-based I've read about kids and how they manage pretend and real-life issues supports that thesis. So, to clarify the question: is the "less bloody and dark" for the kids' comfort, or your own comfort playing it with them? –  SevenSidedDie Oct 30 '13 at 22:39
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Voting to close as too broad. A roughly equivalent question nowadays would be asked to specify further details on the kind of experience the asker is seeking, so that we could provide a child-friendly RPG to suit that experience. –  Jonathan Hobbs Mar 15 at 6:59
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As this is a game-recommendation question, please adhere to the FAQ, the rules for subjective questions as outlined in Good Subjective, Bad Subjective and our rules for game recommendations. All responses must cite actual experience or reference others' experiences!

23 Answers

Make it up yourself. The basic idea of a game master who presents a situation and can tell players what their characters are doing, and that they can have lots of fun exploring their options, is really intuitive for small children. The assumptions most RPGs about numeracy, literacy and genre savviness are deadly to most of this audience, on the other hand.

I had fun with my two daughters some time back, when they were five and three, with a farmyard game with:

  1. A dice I got from some kiddies book whose faces were six farmyard animals, which I used for conflict resolution - distractions basically, such as what is the chicken going to do now? or there's a kerfuffle in the pig sty, do you want to go there and find out what's going on?
  2. A book with farmyard scenes in it, the open page says where in the farmyard we all are
  3. A big pile of plush toys, the girls hold one, which is who they are, the others are NPCs, and the girls kept wanting to switch who they were, which is good because it increases Game Fun Options;
  4. A smaller pile of things that were things that they could use to do things or because they decided their animals liked to have them.

Fancier rule systems are good if you want (i) documentation, (ii) aids to understanding a game environment, or (iii) tricky conflict resolution. I dare say your 5 y.o. is better off without.

Look at very lightweight rule systems; my perennial recommendation is Maximum Game Fun. You might be able to measure a child's ability to master game rules by the kind of board games they enjoy.

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The Princes' Kingdom is a game designed for young children up to adults. There are actual play reports with players as young as six (at end of that review; search for "The Princes' Kingdom in Play" to jump right to the actual play section, though the review is quite informative).

Character generation is quick and consists only of decisions that are interesting to make, and the play mechanics don't constrain how you can approach a problem, allowing kids' natural creativity to be quickly translated into a resolution mechanic.

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We chose D&D4e for a bunch of reasons for our family (10 and 6 year old kids).

  • My son (10) was interested in it.
  • Both kids have friends who play it.
  • They can easily play it themselves and with their friends when they choose to.

Frankly, I'm not concerned about their ability to "roleplay", they have that down.

While I'm more on the rules lite end of things myself the ease of 4e has really impressed me, and it allows them to play with mechanics and figure out how mechancis work. the game has, so far, been very enjoyable for the whole family.

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I'd recommend Faery's Tale Deluxe, a RPG that was produced by Firefly Games and printed by Green Ronin Publishing. There's definitely still fantasy elements in it, but as far as the darker side of things and violence, it's a much lighter game. It definitely gives more of a G-rated fairly tale vibe than anything.

It's also under 100 pages, appropriately illustrated, and system-light, though not systemless. It also includes a few pre-made adventures, and some nice sidebar advice for gaming with children. Rather than being incidentally good for playing with children, it's designed specifically for that purpose.

EDIT: I should add I answered you in the vein of fantasy. That seems to be where most of the "intro" RPGs are--which makes sense, as fantasy is far and away the largest RPG genre.

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This was my daughter's first RPG at age 7. It's actually fun for adults, too. I had fun anyway. :) –  Mike Bohlmann Aug 19 '10 at 21:03
    
I felt picking abilities was a tricky thing since I would have to read them to the kids and have them make choices. –  Alex Schröder Aug 27 '10 at 17:33
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It depends on the age. As my children have aged I've gone through a number of simple systems.

The first thing we ever played was Shadows a free RPG by Zak Arntson. It has a very simple mechanic and is based very much around telling a story, at the same time as introducing the concept of thinking about how your character would respond. It's an important RPG concept for a young player to grasp that they aren't playing themselves.

From there we moved on to Faery's Tale, from Firefly games. This has a little more RPG standard structures, such as character sheets, as well as stats and health to track.

Next I'll be trying Mouse Guard out. My eldest has been enjoying the graphic novels and the whole mouse vs animals premise has caught their imagination.

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There are already some excellent answers, but let me make a suggestion based on actual experience: Star Wars Saga Edition. WOTC no longer holds the license, but both the books and miniatures remain quite availabe. Many have written about the game system in other places, but I find it to truly be an "elegant [system] for a more civilized age." Heh.

Personal experience: I have run this game on and off for three years or more for my children. While their ages currently span age 3 to 11, it has been quite enjoyable. The children always enjoy playing and do not seem to be constrained by the rules; invariably the come up with ideas and actions that would be very at home in the movies.

Why do I think it works?

  1. Children are familiar Star Wars, they have seen the movies or the cartoons, played with the legos or dolls (oops sorry action figures), so there is a basic understanding that the action is "over-the-top" and the galaxy is in the balance. But even more so, the lines between good and bad are pretty simple. We don't need to get into philosophical discussions, a seven year old KNOWS Darth Vader is bad news and anyone working for/with him is trouble. And it is "safe"--good does eventually win, but not without some trouble along the way.

  2. The game mechanics for this version of the rules can be quite simple. The basic math of d20 and away you go. Of course beyond the core rulebook the options blossum, but not in an uncontrolled way. Plus the community is excellent with quite a few resources that make getting up to speed easy and enjoyable.

In short, this has worked really well for us in a way that other systems have not. YMMV.

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If your young ones are into Super Heroes, I'd suggest the Prose Descriptive Qualities variant Truth & Justice. For fairy-tales there is also The Zorceror of Zo.

PDQ is really light on the rules, allowing for swift and fast play and character creation, with a lot of room for bonuses for creativity and the like. Plus, the books contain good discussion of the tone of the different genres.

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I'm partial to The Secret Lives of Gingerbread Men by Annie Rush, a game that's really easy to teach to young'uns while being open-ended enough to intrigue old'uns. Plus you get to eat your character when you're done.

Other games that my wife and I have successfully used with kids from ages 5-12 include Toon, the Star Wars RPG from West End Games, and the old TSR version of Marvel Super Heroes. And while it's not an RPG, I think that Once Upon A Time is a great storytelling game that most kids - and most roleplayers - would enjoy.

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+1 for Once Upon a Time. My daughter loves that game. –  Bradd Szonye Apr 18 '13 at 9:17
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InSpectres is a simple, easy to run game that I've never failed to have fun playing. The premise is that you are part of a start-up company of supernatural investigators. The game gives you a lot of leeway for setting a particular tone in the fiction. There is a free, bare bones pdf of the game as well as a free supplement centered around playing young children called In-Speckers.

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You didn't mention how young your kids are. My son is three, and we had a blast playing Argyle and Crew.

You start by making a sock puppet (soppet) for each player (you included). Each soppet has only two eyes and a mouth by default, but gets to have two extras upon creation.

My son, enraptured by "How to train your dragon", wanted a dragon soppet, so I drew him nostrils (which allow the soppet to smell) and drew wings on a paper, which my son coloured and we cut and glued to his soppet (now it can fly). He beamed through the creation process.

After we finished our first adventure each of us got to add an extra to their soppet.

The rules take up about eight pages (including some variants) of the 34-page PDF, and the whole of it is a delight to read with scenario examples, advanced rules for not-so-young children, insights on how to use the game as a teaching device, etc. If you have young kids (4 to 104, according to the book), you can't go wrong here.

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It is out-of-print now, but one game I'd recommend is the Pokémon Jr. Adventure Game: Pokémon Emergency! It gives you a very linear, guided adventure, but does a lot to encourages the kids to use their imagination. I played it with my kids last year, and we had a lot of fun with it. (They would've been 7 and 9.)

You might not consider this a role-playing game, but I think it is. Even if I didn't, however, I would still consider it a good pre-RPG game for the youngest players.

Another unfortunately out-of-print title I would recommend is Prince Valiant: The Story Telling Game by Greg Stafford. Neither you nor your kids need to know Prince Valiant to enjoy this game. Simple "pop-knowledge" of knights should suffice. Any Arthuriana can serve for additional inspiration. I think this is simply one of the best introductory RPGs ever published, and I think it could work well for campaign play as well.

I played a few sessions of this with my son when he was younger. I think when he was about 5 or 6. I thought it went very well, and we enjoyed it a lot. I used a few of the sample adventure/encounters from the book as well as improvising a "rescue the princess from the dragon's castle" adventure.

I should also add that I think this game would be very good for the inexperienced GM, whether a parent or kid.

Another out-of-print suggestion: The c. 1981 D&D Basic Set edited by Tom Moldvay. This was good enough for myself and my friends when I was 10. (And it is a game I still play today.)

I played a few session with my son when he was 5 or 6. It was fun, but I think this game is more suited to kids closer to 10. Also, I think it doesn't really shine in a one-on-one (one DM + one player) setting as it was with just my son and I.

I think this game works well for kids 10+ even with the lack of an experienced DM or interested adult. As that's how I and my friends started.

System-wise, the c. 1983 Basic Set edited by (our own) Frank Mentzer is identical as far as I can tell. (The differences between 1981 and 1983 D&D don't show up until the Expert Set.) The presentation is different, and many people find it even more accessible than the 1981 set.

Labyrinth Lord is a retro-clone of the 1981 Basic/Expert D&D, so I would assume that it would be a suitable in-print alternative. Though I haven't actually had experience playing it with kids yet.

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These were originally separate answers as, at the time, that was recommended so that they could be voted on separately. Has that policy changed? –  Robert Fisher May 9 '13 at 19:43
    
Note that PDFs of the 1981 D&D Basic Set and its companion Expert Set are now available through dndclassics.com. At this point, I’ve used that system to introduce six people to the hobby in recent years. One of those is my 10yo daughter’s first campaign that we started last year. –  Robert Fisher May 9 '13 at 19:47
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I'd highly recommend Kids Dungeon Adventure

One of my friends has two young boys (around 6 yoa) and they have loved this game, he's constantly blogging about their adventures and they are always badgering him to play some more!

It's initially aged at 3-6 year olds and there's only one stat (HP) they play using their own toys as heroes and their blocks/lego/etc make the dungeon. For older kids there's more choice which involve cardboard cutouts and some more stats.

Take a look, it's only $6 which is a steal really.

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I would highly recommend introducing pre-teen kids to Broomstix (the free pdf and character sheets for which can be found under "free stuff", a Harry Potter role playing game. The great thing about this game is that it

  • is a world familiar to almost all school age children
  • is easily age adaptable - younger kids can go searching for the missing sorting hat while older children can compete in the triwizard cup or fight deatheaters
  • has a wealth of supporting online (though not directly related) resources, including wikis with compendiums of spells and magic creatures.

I played a homebrew adaptation of this game with my nephews (6, 8, and 10) and they never wanted to stop playing!

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Thanks for making my post look pretty Pat! I need to play around with the buttons to figure out how to do this soon... –  Cat May 8 '12 at 12:26
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Not sure how old your kids are, but my 11 and 9 year old play D&D4E. The 11 year old is at the point where he joins games at the weekly meetup that I'm not DMing or playing at, he's able to handle the game on his own. For my 9 year old, I still keep him at the same table where I am either DMing or playing another character. They both like making characters on the character builder.

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Wizards put out "Heroes of Hesiod" in April 2010. It is a free download of a modded version of DnD designed for young kids (think elementary school). The game is fun and comes complete with badges that you print and cut out for each player at the end. It's very cute and easy to run.

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I'm currently playtesting a game called Story Realms which is a part board game part role-playing game geared toward younger gamers. You can find their forum here: http://www.escapadegames.com/storyrealms/forum/

I also agree with making up the game yourself. I remember learning to play that way. I had a great GM that geared the game to be simpler for us younger gamers and it was awesome!

There's also my own RPG, Challenger, which is free to download in all formats across the internet. I tried to keep away from dark themes and make it playable by players of all ages. I have a new version coming out soon which I hope will be even better. I tried to focus the game on storytelling and role-playing first and foremost. The combat system is also highly simplified to make it easier to run and quicker to understand and play out so you can get back to the good stuff in the game. I'd love any opinions on the game system if anyone's willing. My contact information is in the copyright page of the book.

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Obviously you'll benefit from using flexible games with minimal mechanics, but there are a lot of those. Here are some specifically oriented to be child-friendly:

  • The Secret Lives of Gingerbread Men

    Baking and adventure in one neat package. And when you're done you can always eat the character sheets.

  • Inspectres

    Ghostbusters against the world, with a simple d6-based mechanic, player-imagination-controlled results, and only five stats/skills to worry about.

  • Flatpack

    A recent Kickstarter and not out yet, but looks promising - post-apocalyptic without being grim or dark, and with a bizarre yet wonderful premise. And any game that refers to its GM as "The Troublemaker" is doing something right.

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Depending upon one's own tastes, I can recommend three different game engines I've used with children.

Tunnels and Trolls - any edition. If the kids can handle rolling and adding piles of dice (a typical starting character is rolling between 3 and 10 dice for attacking). Requires additions well into the double digits, but otherwise, it's simple, and encourages narrative. Deluxe Edition should be releasing shortly; 4E, 7E, and 7.5E are all available in PDF from DriveThroughRPG. If they want to play monsters, the companion game, Monsters Monsters, is also available in PDF. My now 14 YO played this at age 9, and was relatively math challenged, but was able to play since it's all addition.

Star Wars: Edge of the Empire. The problem here is that many actions are taking upwards of 8 dice to roll, so a dice cup is essential. My 9yo plays this with us. The cancelation of results is handled well by kids. The Beginner box is a straightforward adventure that I've run kids from 9 up through, and it teaches the game well. If you like it, it's not hard to transition kids from the beginner game to the full game. Biggest issue, expense - corebook plus two sets of dice, you're looking at $60-$90. Beginner box lists at $30, includes one set of dice, and has only a couple rolls that need more dice. Your standard polys can be used, but really are suboptimal. Further, because it supports opposed rolls for other than combat actions, it weakly encourages non-"Kill 'em all" play.

Mouse Guard I've also run for a pair of 10 year olds, and my then 9 yo played with the adults prior to getting a friend in on a session. d6's, count successes, and generally, only 4-6 per roll. Plus, it's playing anthropomorphic mice. Character generation is a bit involved, but can be done in 15 minutes with a character sheet. Note that it also uses the same basic mechanics for combat, debates, and a variety of other extended conflicts, so it encourages non-combat solutions. Problem: Hard to get a copy other than in PDF. And the box set lists for $80.

A fourth, weaker recommend, borders on board game (and can be played as either board game, RPG, or both): Gorilla Games' Battlestations!. If the kids want to just be doing "kill 'em all" type games, this is fine. There is one Roleplaying adventure for the game: The Planet of Dr. Moreau. The authors when asked if it is RPG or Boardgame generally don't answer, or if they do, answer "yes." My then 10yo was able to play effectively; math is limited, but planning ahead can be trying. Thematically, it's related to Star Trek, but with more shooting. (Link is to Boardgamegeek, because the mods refused to give it a second entry when RPGGeek opened.)

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I've heard good things from fellow gamers with kids about rpgKids. It could best be described as a simplified and streamlined 4th ed Dnd.

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Can you relate some of their stories to us? Why is it good? –  Brian Ballsun-Stanton Jul 18 '12 at 3:02
    
Had to downvote because this answer doesn't provide info on a game you have any real experience with. –  gomad Oct 21 '12 at 15:22
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How about Mice and Mystics? It is an excellent game for kids.

Another my kids enjoy are the DND series games Wrath of Ashardalon, Legend of Drzzt and the name of the first one is eluding me but it is a vampire mansion game. All three are perfect for kids.

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Mice and Mystics is more of a board/card game than an RPG. It does look like a good bridge game though. –  SevenSidedDie Apr 13 '13 at 17:32
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Advanced Fighting Fantasy, reprint from, Arion Games. Only three core Stats - Skill, Stamina and Luck, with just 2 more for magic-users - Mana and Magic.

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I'm finding Pathfinder very easy to pick up for kids since it's actually the first RPG I've presented to my kids. My youngest is 9 and she loves it, my second youngest is 16 and she is so enamored with it she's getting some of her friends to come over this next week and wants them to play.

Let me add a caveat to this though: We've been playing with the Beginner Box which has a simplified set of rules and gives you a very basic scenario to start out with. The cool thing about this though is that as your children (and mine) age, there are hundreds of campaigns that can be added to the system and made to make it more complicated and interesting for thinkers who become more critical as they age.

Another option, albeit an expensive one as the game is out of print now, is Amber Diceless. If you can still find a copy of it the rules are very easy to learn. One page character sheet, combat is basically comparing the sum of different character values. Other than that it's all story telling. Looks like a new version of the Amber diceless book goes for 127 bucks on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Amber-Diceless-Role-Playing-System/dp/1880494000 Amber diceless is based on the world of Amber and the Courts of Chaos by the late, great, Roger Zelazny. If you want more info that isn't in the amazon quote or if the wiki info is too obscure in reading feel free to pm me and I'll give you a rundown on the world, I lived it for a good ten years in my youth.

All kids are different in their likes/dislikes and what clicks with them though so a lot of times you just have to pay attention to what kind of things your kids like. I have some nieces and nephews that never could grasp the whole idea of Magic but when I tried Pokemon (not a fan myself, but to each their own) they just ate it up. So it's a matter of reading your audience.

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Well, it could also be that Pathfinder is an extremely complex rules system that even mature adults can have trouble comprehending, though apparently the beginner box simplifies it somehow. –  Jonathan Hobbs Mar 15 at 7:00
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DriveThruRPG has a product called FirstFable which is aimed at younger children.

Characters have three attributes and three or more 'Shines' (skills) and one or more weaknesses. They combine attributes and shines to make a dice pool (which won't go over 5-6 unless they're really focusing on one thing) of D6s. They roll those, and on 5 or 6 they get a 'star' (success). 'Special Things' (magical items, animal companions, etc) can add stars, but only a few times.

The system is really easy to understand, extremely customizable, and can be tailored to children of any age (so long as they know the numbers 1-10 and can do minimal addition).

Best part is, the whole system is free. This includes the books specific to each character type (pirate, knight, fairy prince(ess), and animal keeper).

I like this system because it is flexible, it can involve adventures that are as simple or complex as you like, it introduces the dice pool mechanic, and it really exercises the imagination. Really, it feels to me like Exalted (or another White Wolf game) with all the angst and complexity drained away.

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